Saturday, December 12, 2009

Winding Down

I have officially requested to take the coming semester off. I think I might have mentioned this passingly before. I had a brief talk with the writing coordinator and asked to have no assignment in the spring. Besides, she had already suggested maybe I wanted to teach the same course (introductory writing) instead of argumentative writing, which is what I usually teach in spring. I don't think she knew this was a change--she is somewhat new at the coordinating and not always attentive. Beyond that, she suggested a Monday/ Wednesday/ Friday schedule. Nothing worse than driving to campus THREE days a week for one hour long class. Waste of gas, and almost a waste of time.

I have graded all but one remaining laggard research paper, and have only the final exam to give. Could it be I am actually winding down my teaching career? Too soon to know, but it just might be.

This possibility calls to mind one of my personal favorite symbols--the last robin of summer. We all mark the arrival of the first robin in spring. But who among us notes the last robin? I used this concept once before in writing. Of course, we all do have a time when we do something for the last time: the last time we speak with someone, or see someone; the last of time we go to a business place before it closes. The point is we don't know it's the last time because we lack foreknowledge of what will come.

However, since I have broached the subject of not teaching in the spring, I know this may be my last semester in the classroom. I think I will save for future musings reflections on this portion of my career.

Suffice it for today to reflect on winding down a semester. In many ways, this particular group of students is one of the liveliest I had teaching at the community college. There were days I almost could not get them to stop general talking to focus on the content at hand. This group had the usual array of varying student types you encounter in a community college class.

One startling example of varying student types was the young man who gave a never before given answer. We were talking about the differences between men and women (for compare/ contrast). He offered that women have one more rib than men. I looked at him, and said--NO. He look positively startled. Why, it's in the Bible, he said. The metaphoric nature of the creation story simply eluded him. I almost challenged him to count the number of ribs. But I figured even that would not convince him.

There were non-traditional students--usually somewhat older, heading back to school because life circumstances have changed (lost jobs, failed marriages, whatever)--always scared of wading back into the academic pool. There were students who have gone off to a four year residential campus and bombed. Frequently these students had difficulty balancing the total freedom of being in a four year college WITHOUT THE PARENTS and they simply failed academically. Too much beer? Too many parties? Too little time management? Too bad grades? Whatever the reason, they often do not know how to study. There were also one or two international students.

And, as always, as the semester went along, the ranks dwindled. I sometimes think before a semester gets underway, that I should look at the class the first day and set up a betting pool (with myself only, of course) as to who will be there at the end of the semester. The first semester I taught at the community college, I was stunned at how many students just quit attending class. The earliest a student stops is day two. Yes, I have had some students attend day one, and then never show up again. The students who really puzzle me are those who do almost all the work, almost all semester--and then, within a week or two of the semester's end, stop attending. I always send such students an email reminding them that they MUST inform me if they are dropping the course. Otherwise, I will keep them on the roll, and calculate a final grade--which will be a failing grade.

The highest dropout rate in any semester I taught was 50%. With the class registration capped at 26, one semester I ended with 13 students who completed the course. This semester, the combined drop-out/ stopped attending number is 6. I had one student over-enrollment, so 6 out of 27 isn't that bad. But among the students who dropped, I had some interesting variations.

I had one of those one day attendees--what was unusual about him is an email I got from his MOTHER several weeks into the semester. She was inquiring about his attendance. I thought to myself--WHAT attendance? But I responded that, because the relationship is between ME and the student, I am not permitted (by law) to reveal to her his attendance. I suggested she ask HIM.

Then there was a student who was about 3 years older than the average 18 year old in class. I don't know if she had previously tried college somewhere else. She wrote in her first paper about being the youngest in a four child family, and about her father being the head of a very large worldwide known corporation. So, I checked out that fact--turns out she was telling the truth. She attended spottily for about a month, and then at mid-semester just dropped off the class radar screen. Disappeared from class. Not a word. I confess to wondering if this approach to education is a pattern for her. And I wonder if she was a bit spoiled, a bit coddled.

Finally, there was a young man who seemed quite bright. He was totally silent in class--I am sure he would rather have been somewhere with computer games or computer generated music. He indicated a high interest in these subjects. On paper number two, I caught him plagiarizing. On the off chance he really didn't understand that one does NOT do that, I gave him the chance to rewrite the paper. Of course, I carefully checked each succeeding paper as he turned it in. Everything was fine--original even--until the research paper. I had required they use primarily print sources (the Internet being too great a temptation). As I read his paper, I thought--hmmmm. I wonder. So I used Google books, and voilĂ --plagiarized again. I was all set to give him a big F on his paper, when he appeared in class, drop slip in hand. I signed it, then said--let's talk out in the hall. I told him that I had caught him again. I also told him to knock it off--stop messing up your life by cheating. I also said--you're a bright guy. Don't do this to yourself. (Just now, with NPR on in the background, I hear an announcement about Tiger Woods. . .wonder if anyone gave HIM that advice?)

What always makes a semester worthwhile is this kind of comment: a student sent me this email--thank you very much. This is my first time back in class in almost 8 years and you have made it a great experience. It is a comment such as this one that has given me far more satisfaction than any paycheck ever could.

Well, for winding down, this has been a rather long post. And to think, I intended to post a Saturday soup. Huh! Well, next week.


Anvilcloud said...

Teaching is weird. Although there is an obvious sameness, there are surprises from year to year.

Ginnie said...

Yes, you've been hinting at this off and on and it seems like you've made up your mind. It must be a difficult decision for you but I'll bet it will open a new creative path for you. Good luck.

Jayne said...

I can't imagine simply knowing that you are going to lose more than half the class in a given semester! Heavens! What on earth are those people even DOING in school if they can't stick out one class?

troutbirder said...

Interesting and thoughtful post. Somethings reminded me of 12th graders I had taught for some years and others not. I did pass on an opportunity to teach at a local community college and opted for a middle school instead. Another type of experience

Dog_geek said...

Very interesting post! I loved reading about the attrition patterns... I teach dog agility classes, and some sessions half the class disappears. Other sessions, I don 't lose a single one. But several times I have had people who sign up late - they miss the first class, but insist they still want to take the class, so they pay their money and come to week 2, and then I never see them again.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

Don't give up on teaching. Start a book club and do some informal teaching.

I started a play reading group once and we had great fund.
WARNING: limit members to those who can read fluently outloud. Those who can't will be embarassed and everyonelse will feel awkward and the meaning of the play will be lost.

Ruth said...

Teaching is a special calling. I remember the instructors I had who were gifted. I wish I could sit in one of your courses.

Mary said...

OH, Donna. I have lots of catching up to do with you and your classes. I have always dreamed of being a student in one of your sections...

I would love it! And, your red pen ;o)