Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Face the Final Curtain

It's is over--it is over and done.

(You can't see me, but here at my computer, I am doing a little happy dance, spinning the chair.)

Since returning to teaching, I have taught 5 years and one semester. The one semester is this one that has just finished. In those eleven semesters, I have noticed that each one has its own character, its own mix of peculiarities, despairs and triumphs.

This semester has the distinction of being the one where I had the highest attrition rate. I began with 26 students in each section. When the students sat for the final exam today, I had 17 in one section, and 13 in the other! (WOW! 50% attrition.)

This semester also had the distinction of being the one where I had the highest incidence of plagiarism--I had 3 different students who included wholesale sections in their research papers that they failed to quote and failed to credit. My very clear policy is that such an infraction results in a zero for the assignment. One student was very angry when I returned the research paper with its zero rating.

All the final exams are now graded, and the grades calculated. And I know you are all waiting to hear how the macaroni cheese student did. She did not pass--enough said. She is convinced that I had it in for her (I did not).

So, why you might be thinking along about now--why is this blog titled "face the final curtain"?

Well, I began hearing a melody in my head this afternoon.

And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.

Hum hum hum.

My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which Im certain.

I've lived a life that's full.
I've traveled each and ev'ry highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

I am being a little melodramatic--and I am not Old Blue Eyes singing my final swan song before the curtain call.

But I feel as though there were times when I was doing it my way this semester.

Student asks--why must I observe MLA conventions?
My answer--Because.

Student asks--do I need a cover page for my research paper?
(This right after I had said--include a cover page for your research paper).

Student asks--does the cover page count as 1 (toward the count of a 10 page paper).

My answer--no.

Student sends me an email THE DAY THE RESEARCH PAPER IS DUE--and says, he can't make it to class (and of course can't turn in the paper) because he has to fly to mid-country for a family funeral.
So, I said--give me a copy of the airline ticket as written proof.
Student says--I threw it away.
So, I said--well give me a copy of the return ticket.
Student says--I can't; I rode back with my parents!

Student sends me an email the NIGHT BEFORE the exam and asks--how do I get on the library website to look at the course material stored there.
I answer--I went over that several times in class; I am NOT going to email you directions the night before the exam.

Student writes a paper that sounds just a bit too sophisticated.
I ask--please bring the source book you used to next class.
The student NEVER returns to class.

Student tells me--I missed class for 3 days because I was in an accident and hurt my foot.
I say--ok, bring a doctor's excuse.
Student brings in excuse--it says the doctor approves being off ONE day.
So, I declined to excuse the other two absences.
Student NEVER returns to class.

Student with a lot of potential comes to class, but doesn't turn in any papers.
I point out--you can't pass the course without writing the papers.
Student says--I know. Then stops attending class.

Student says--isn't there anything I can do to bring up my grade.
I suggest--do the work assigned.
Student says--I know, but I have a lot going on in my life right now (such as, his girlfriend is pregnant). But I want to do some extra credit.
I decline--do the REGULAR work.
Student stops attending class.

But for each of these students, there are ones like this--student who got into legal trouble early in the semester, buckles down and does well on research paper and final exam.
Or student who returned to school after losing job. During the semester, his father died--but he missed only one class. And came back full of enthusiasm. And as he said goodbye today said--I learned so much in your class.

Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Oh, yeah!


Liza Lee Miller said...

It's amazing . . . I can read your descriptions of your students and think which of my 5th graders will turn into those students? So much changes but so much stays the same! :)

Lynne said...

Fifty per cent attrition! Do you find that and the wagon load of excuses discouraging? Did the students that dropped the class still pay for it? How can they afford it? I'm just shaking my head...

Anvilcloud said...

That's pretty funny ... from this perspective.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

The struggle between teachers and students is funny. . .but also tragic for the students don't seem to realize that their attempts to avoid the work or get credit on the cheap is really a lost opportunity, never to come by again.

I was so scared of failure and disappointing my mother when I went off to University (after a very mediocre high school career) I had a plan. l. Attend all classes. 2. Do assignments on time 3. Make sure the teacher knows who I am personally if if I had to make excuses to have personal conversations with him (or her). It worked! I graduated top of my class in philosophy and sociology winning the gold metal and a three year fellowship to graduate school. It was not that hard! It is in fact a game I learned to play and enjoy.

I could be a bit annoying. More than once I asked for some money back when classes I paid for were cancelled.

You seem quite satisfied with yourself. I hope your school administration does come down on you for driving so many students away.

Climenheise said...

"I did it my way"? Why oh why, my dearest of older sisters, (okay, only of older sisters -- and dearest too) did you have to choose my least favourite song of all time to hum while you finished up the semester? No, you did it the way you have learned and internalized and have made yours over many many years. Yes, it's your way, but it's many other people's way too! I guess I don't like the song because of the implication that we make who we are on our own. We of all people (those who live and teach as part of academia) live in community, the community of all those who value truth more than plagiarism or anything else. we betray truth often enough, don't I know it; but in the end, we value what is right and true and beautiful, and we do so together in a long chain from Aristotle and before to you and me and whoever stands with us.

Sorry -- there's an end of semester rant for you! (Betraying the number of papers I have left to mark, about 15.)

KGMom said...

I sit reading all your comments--and, frankly, I am bemused.
To Liza Lee--if you have these students in 5th grade--either keep them, or make sure they don't get to my class!
To Lynne--I think they still have to pay, and might even get student aid! I keep thinking they will learn the value of education, but maybe not this way.
To AC--gee, thanks. Now that you're retired, you can sit back and find the humor!
Philip--yes, there are elements of education being a game. I am a bit puzzled, though. Do you mean you hope the school administration DOES or DOES NOT come down hard for me driving so many students away?
Daryl--I can tell you have 15 papers to go--you are being curmudgeonly. I think of the "I Did it My Way" song as meaning that whatever the fame is that might have come the singer's way--he or she got there not by bending to external demands, but "by doing it my way." So, if I internalized, etc.--that is still my way. See? I hum a lot of songs, so not to worry. Grade the remainder of your papers in peace--OK, I will swtitch and hum the Hallelujah chorus!

Beverly said...

I've read your post a couple of times. My son is trying to teach math to a group of eighth graders who can barely read and have no math concepts. I don't think any of them will ever make it to your class or one like it.

There is another lady who writes about her community college students who sound a lot like yours. I'll look up her link and send it to you.

Mary said...

I am so glad you did it your way, Donna. There is nothing wrong with insisting "work" is involved in order to succeed. Spoon feeding is only good for infants.

I admit to laughing at those poor excuses but I also appreciated the students who persevered in your class. They're the winners!

Good job! Attrition or not.

JeanMac said...

You (and all other teachers/instructors)deserve a medal.

Pam said...

Although I find the excuses amusing, it's all rather sad, isn't it? If they spent as much time and thought in doing the work as they did in trying to get out of it, they could accomplish a lot.

Mary C said...

Hi Donna - Pam has said it all, and I say congrats for doing it your way.