Friday, February 08, 2008

The Current Crop

So far, I have not written about this current semester and the class I am teaching. The course I am teaching is Eng Comp 102—with an emphasis on developing argument. I have only one section this time, and thankfully my class falls on a Tuesday/Thursday schedule.

Each semester, when I get my schedule, I keep my fingers crossed that I will be placed in a SMART™ classroom. A SMART™ classroom is equipped with a computer, projector to display the computer screen, along with DVD and VHS players, as well as overhead projectors. Even though I have gone through the requisite training, and use the SMART™ technology all the time, each semester there seems to be no correlation between my use of the equipment and what classroom I am placed in. You see, not all classrooms have this technology—and, truth be told, not all professors use it. But I do.

When I saw my schedule for this spring, I was most disappointed that the room I was assigned to did NOT have the technology. So, I checked the schedule, and emailed two professors who were placed in SMART™ classrooms. Eventually, one agreed to switch with me for the semester.

So, the semester began with a kind of comedy of errors. We met in the originally assigned classrooms the first day, and informed students to report to the NEW classroom for the second day. First, the secretary forgot to make the needed signs, so I made them up, and stuck them outside each room. Then, the other professor did not think to KEEP announcing that the classrooms had been switched; he announced it the first day, but said nothing the second day.

I had THREE students who managed to miss the first day, so they trudged into the assigned room on the second day, sat through class never saying a word. Only, it wasn’t my class—it was the OTHER class they sat through. I emailed my colleague and asked if, by chance, he had three extra students. Why, yes, he did.

So on the third day, two students appear; the third wanted to stay in the other class, so we worked that out. Then one of the two delayed students missed the next two classes (i.e. he attended ONE class out of five). Finally, he showed up at my office with a DROP slip in hand. The third student, who is a transfer student, has come intermittently, showing up some days, not on others, and generally arriving late. Not a good way to start.

Then the first paper was due. And, for the first time since I have been teaching here, we had an ice storm on that day. I have a very strict no-late-papers policy. I have found students to be incredibly creative. . .when it comes to reasons why their papers are late. So I say—if your paper is late, you lose a letter grade for each class day it is late. But, since there was an ice storm, and normally very responsible students didn’t make it to class, I relented this time.

After I had received and graded the papers, I noticed one student had no grade next to his name. Hmmmmm. Missing paper. So when I saw him in class, I asked—am I correct that you have not turned in a paper? Um, yes, he replied. So, I lifted an eyebrow and said—well? He mumbled something about not being able to get into the assignment. I just said—well, you know it loses a grade for each day late, AND you have to do all the assigned papers. Yeah, I know—he said.

The first assignment is this: take a controversial topic of your choosing; then write two papers—one brief paper explaining the topic to someone who knows nothing about, then a second paper arguing a position about the topic. One student picked the autobahn as his topic. He did not do well on the papers, so when I met individually with him –I asked, what’s the problem that you were writing about? Blank look. I asked if he had ever been on the autobahn—no, he just saw a special on it and thought it looked cool. As I talked with him, I understood that the real issue for him was that he believes there is no need for speed limit on U.S. roads. But he didn’t quite convey that.

One unusual development is that my class is not “full”—technically, I could have up to 26 students. Only 20 signed up, and since I had one transfer to the other class, and one drop out already, I now have 18. While that is a great number to work with, given the typical attrition rate, I expect to end up with even fewer students. Maybe Miss Mac Cheese from last semester has spread the word—don’t take her; she’s tough. She makes you write!

Photo of the clock tower on our campus is from our college website
The Dean of the division I am in programs the clock tower chimes which play melodies on the hour all day


Anvilcloud said...

I think I would have loved to have taught in a Smart class.

Cathy said...

It's amazing. Teaching requires so much more than teaching. I see that a sense of humor - helps.

JeanMac said...

Keep being tough!

Beverly said...

My son teaches in a new middle school in his town, and every classroom has a smart board. He loves it, but he said that there are some teachers who don't have a clue, even in this day and time.

I told him I thought if I had had one, I might have lasted longer in the classroom, and then I thought a little longer and said, "I don't think so."

By the way, he would love taking a class like that. I must tell him about it.

Climenheise said...

I know we sifted through the same gene pool for our characteristics. It seems to me that you got all the "grade tough" genes" and I got all the "grade compassionately genes"! The smart class stuff is a hoot. You would think that a bit of reflection would lead to a simple policy: ask teachers whether or not they want a smart classroom or not, then assign smart classrooms to teachers who want to use the technology. Of course, there might not be enough smart classrooms to go around, but it would reduce the inconvenience. Then they could work towards making all classrooms able to handle PowerPoint, DVDs, and so on.

You'll have to suggest all of this to the relevant authorities and make it your next great cause. Or not.

Climenheise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Climenheise said...

Sorry for the deletion. I clicked "post" twice, and got two comments (now three) out of one). Just think of it as "comment inflation". You are fighting grade inflation, but you can't stop all of the inflationary tendencies of our society!

Mary said...

Miss Mac Cheese. She's the type to spread the news. LOL!

All of the classrooms on our campus are SMART. It would be something to brag about if the technology worked properly. It doesn't. And, we don't have a clock tower. I'd love to hear one during the day.

Being the student I was, I find it hard to comprehend their lazy attitudes. Make them write

KGMom said...

To all--the advantage of the SMART classroom is that I don't need to write on the board, & I save loads of paper. I can also post the Power Points I use on our library's webpage, electronic reserves.

Daryl--I think I am "tough" on deadlines for the papers, because that is why the students are in my course. They are learning to write better. So if I don't get papers timely, I can't grade them & return them timely.
You can be flexible because your courses have a different aim (plus you are dealing with upper class students or graduate students).

Climenheise said...

I create an email list and send the PowerPoints and lectures to the students after class. Similar principle. It's true about grad students: I would find a lot of college teaching more difficult.