I recently asked one of my former classmates what she thought of teaching freshman comp, once she'd undergone the baptism by fire of her first set of papers. "Freshmen are freakin' retarded," she said. I was having a tender moment of affection for my "little darlings" at the time and thought to myself, that's kinda harsh.
I've since concluded that that sense of affection was merely the result of misplaced hormones or something 'cause let me say, I'm inclined to agree with her. At the very least, they must come from some alternate universe where the logic is a foreign concept and deadlines function merely as suggestions.
These last few weeks seem to mark an unprecedented slide into slackerdom. There are always students who don't turn things in. Duh. I know that. I just haven't seen it to this extent. It's in my syllabus (y'know, that thing they lost by the second week) that they've got to do peer review or lose 10 points, to keep them from blowing it off. It also says I won't accept papers any later than a class period beyond its original due date (something I added after getting papers a week after they were due... the 30-point deduction made grading feel like a joke). I suppose the issue of peer review is a moot point if they don't turn in the papers (and god bless that third of the ones who showed up without drafts in hand). That same third didn't turn in the most recent essay. Yeah, like that won't hurt their final grades.
I just don't get it. Do the math. I'm a humanities person, but even I could tell you--without taking off my socks to count--that in a class with four major essays, a couple lesser essays, and daily work, missing basically 1/6 of the points will hurt the grade. And it doesn't seem to faze them. I get pissed when they give me excuses. I almost get more pissed when they don't. I shouldn't take their apathy personally, but it gets under my skin, especially when, say, the first essay was promising or they showed potential in the classroom. If they were just flat-out, across-the-board dumb-as-door-posts, I don't think it'd bother me. But they're not. They're not. They demonstrate at least glimmers of intelligence (and like will o' wisps, they are lovely, misleading glimmers that disappear in a swamp of stupid decisions). Why do they do that?
Why can't they do the reading, for that matter? It's not that much. One class in particular is bad with this, the daytime class comprised mostly of traditional students. My other classes, one-night-a-week evening classes of mostly non-trads, manage somehow to work in time to do their reading in between their jobs and families and other homework. The young snots? Can't do 10 pages. Failing their little reading quizzes doesn't seem to faze them, either, and they continue to fail them with great aplomb. Now that I've given clues to the demographics of my classes, can you take a wild guess which class had the lowest ratio of completed papers? Yep. The traditionals.
And this is the bottom line of what I don't get: the curriculum of the community college has fewer papers than the university I taught at before. There were students who fell by the wayside, of course, but they didn't usually start slipping until the second half of the semester. I could usually see it coming, and I tried to ward off the slippage. Maybe nostalgia clouds my memory, but I don't recall this number of tardy and missing papers, and there were papers about every other week (compared to about every three weeks) with a comparatively more intense reading load. Maybe it's my new department's grading rubric, or maybe it's the softening effects of time, but I feel that I've gotten more lenient--they shouldn't be flunking my class. I don't have unreasonable expectations, unless having firm deadlines counts as "unreasonable." Heck, if they let me know what was going on, what was getting in their way of functioning effectively in class, I might be willing to figure some way to help the little twerps out.
I understand that things come up--family issues, delayed culture shock from the transition between high school and college, hard lessons in time management. I've had my moments as a student--even earned a D in my senior year of college, thanks to incomplete work. There'd been an upheaval within my family that summer, and... let's just say intense social anxiety in a journalism class is not helpful to the ol' GPA (the prof could probably have--rightly--flunked me). Students have come to me with issues before, and they've managed to include outright references to the stress of college in their essays--I've listened and tried to help, maybe to the point of being too lax, but I tried to work with them when I could easily have used their (lack of) progress to encourage them to just drop the course. They can't all possibly be going through traumatic events, though--it defies logic.
What does that leave? Apathy? A misplaced sense of invulnerability? Is it the effect of a modern-day high school education? A combination of factors? They aren't much younger than me, but I almost feel like there's a generation gap. Yes, sonny, when I was your age, I had to complete all my work. And by golly, we had to do it on time, too. And you, missy, quit sulking because I forgot to write the next day's reading on the board--it's in the syllabus. Don't give me that look; I expect you know how to read by this point...
My friend got to the root of the problem, though. She said, "and yet there are those few bright souls who somehow made into one of my classes that make it all worth it, the little dears." And she's right. It's not the cynicism and disappointment that'll gnaw at me and do me in, leaving me with grey hair by the time I'm 25; it's hope--that last shard in Pandora's box.