Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A tale of two students

They were the best of students, they were the worst of students...

(Sorry, Dickens, man. Couldn't resist.)

A theme that I've been continually pondering this year in general and this semester in particular is perspective--keeping things in due proportion, not allowing the negatives to prevail, not blowing positives out of proportion, either. Sometimes it's easier than others, like today.

I administered the first of four finals to the class that is, frankly, my biggest headache. Attendance is spotty, students would rather Facebook or visit with their buddies than listen, and no matter how many times I repeat the most basic of concepts, they do not seem to be able to retain anything. One particular student has all three strikes--and the grade reflects that. Naturally, it's my fault. The grade, this student said--upon looking over the test, paper, and quizzes I handed back--was "bullshit." Vocal intonation? Indignant, delivered in a rising pitch.

In the same class period, I had some slightly different feedback from a student who's coasting to a smooth A finish. "I hope you don't think I'm trying to suck up or anything, but I really learned a lot in this class. I think I'm a better writer now. Thank you." I played it low-key in my response, but those were sweet, sweet words to hear.

Again, some perspective, though--I can no more claim responsibility for the A than I can for the F.

The A student came into the course ready and willing to learn, ready to ask questions, eager to revise, and quick to be able to apply concepts from one context into another. I sit down in tutorial with this student, see one draft, sometimes two drafts if time allows, and see a substantially improved draft by the time the assignment is due. This student's questions tend to start with, "This may be a dumb question, but..."--they rarely are. In contrast, The F student was ill-equipped to begin with; I don't refer to the lack of serious English in high school--I mean general attitude. This student speaks of wanting to learn, but demonstrates by action a sense of indignation that I deign to interrupt social hour by lecturing. Frequent exclamations are along the lines of "this is stupid" and "I just don't get it." Questions are usually the ones I've already answered five times in the two preceding minutes and will answer at least twice more because said student wasn't paying attention to my answer.

I can only do so much; the rest is up to them. I can--and do--look over each paper before they turn them in, a requirement for the course. I can tell them where they need commas, what sentences are run-ons, where transitions are needed, and how to construct a thesis statement. I can take pen to paper and cross out extraneous material, telling them to focus more on the subject at hand. I can quiz the dickens (ha!) out of them over concepts. I can remind them time and time again that attendance counts, that quizzes can't be made up, that deadlines are not suggestions, and that questions should be voiced. But I cannot make them take any of that advice. I can only guide, in some cases command, and ultimately leave the rest to them.

I am but a conduit of information at the least, a guide at the best. Which I am depends entirely upon the student.

Now playing: Rumbleseat - Restless
via FoxyTunes

1 comment:

Tab Calhoun said...

Take credit for the A. It's true that the responsibility to learn is on the student, but you have the power to squash interest and demean enthusiasm. You didn't do that. You nurtured a willing student and you earned that A.

The other students...well, they shouldn't even be there until they are ready to learn to write. What bullshit that they are there.