Monday, May 16, 2022

NYT: "My College Students are Not Okay" by Jonathan Malesic

 First, here's the article:

 The TL;dr on this is that students are tired--exhausted, even--and disengaged. When they go to class, they won't speak up, as if they're watching you on Zoom. 

Based on an N of 1 (me) over the past two years, I agree on some things Malesic's saying, but not all.  

  • First of all, we need to separate out Zoom classes, in-person classes, and designed-to-be-online and asynchronous classes. These are different animals. I only taught a few Zoom classes, and they seemed to work pretty well. 
  • The in-person classes? I guess I didn't post a lot about them, but honestly, they were great. We wore masks but it worked fine (worked a treat, as the Brits say). Was it their energy, being glad to be back, that made the energy in that classroom? Was it partly me (ditto)? Was it the approximately 1.5 times the effort that I put into those classes? More effort doesn't always result in a better class experience (shudders in memories of classes past), but maybe this time it helped?
  • Online classes: these take 2 x the effort of an in-person class, and this semester especially I'd estimate that my time was spent about 80% on teaching and the remaining 10% each on research and service. This isn't ideal and is definitely not what my contract calls for, but it felt hugely necessary. Some thoughts: 
    • In an in-person class, you know how sometimes you feel as though you are emotionally lifting them, encouraging them to speak, etc. and are wiped out at the end of the class, and at other times you might be a little tired or whatever but their energy helps you? This semester, I poured so much energy and time into teaching that it wore me out--but then they started giving back, even though it was an online class--more & better responses, coming to office hours (via Zoom), etc. 
    • And they deserve the credit for coming through so well--they really do. To borrow a piece from Bardiac's post, they really did exceed expectations, by and large; those weren't "well, it's COVID so it's an A" grades at all. They know what the expectations for writing are, and some of them complain mightily about having to write in complete sentences, etc., at first. It's a kind of "Do you know who I am?" attitude that sometimes afflicts seniors and majors who claim they haven't been called to account for their writing before, but then they learn and it's a pleasure to see the change for the better.
    • While it's doubtless true, as some of Malesic's interviewees say, that you can't teach some courses online (hello, lab science!), I don't teach lab science and would say that some things can be taught & discussed just fine online. I'd say in any given class about 5-10% were "disengaged" in Malesic's sense.
    • I just looked at course evals, and the students seem to have gotten a lot out of the classes, so there's that. 

But yes, to Malesic's point: more requests for extensions than usual, etc. do point to their being exhausted and burned out. 

And so are we, aren't we?

Monday, May 09, 2022

The teacher I want to be

 First of all, I do love teaching. 

Second, I believe in flexibility, and my syllabus has all kinds of alternative assignments, escape clauses, and get out of jail free extensions built into it--all stated right up front, with no need to have class privilege to know that they're available. I talk about them. They're in the syllabus. I email students about them, if they seem not to know.

For a lot of years--decades, even--this has been enough. If a student tries, it's hard not to succeed if they put any effort at all into it, because there's always another way. They may not get the grade that they think their writing deserves, because they insist that I'm the only teacher who's ever told them about picayune details like writing in complete sentences; however, they usually come around once we've met for a few times and gone over their papers. But in my classes, there other ways to succeed.

Yet it's been a tough semester for us all. Contra academic conferences, which are so over COVID, my students are getting sick regularly despite being vaxxed, and I've made a lot of allowances for that. I've responded to emails on weekends. I've been available. I've given feedback. I've met with them. I've notified them through the course space if they didn't turn in papers (online classes--you kind of have to do this). I have put in more hours on teaching this semester than in any recent semester I can remember.

And now, a minute and a half before grades are due, students who haven't checked into the course space for literally months want to turn in assignments that they had ignored for said months. Or they've skipped a bunch of assignments but are emailing "I need an A." Or they start rules-lawyering over some minor point, which is hard to do given the really specific details in the syllabus. Or “I have a lot of work in my other [implied: more important] classes and am handing this in late.”

And with all the "take it easy on your students; COVID, etc." directives being issued, it's hard to say no without seeming like a monster.

It's probably for this reason that I'm finding this really dispiriting, even though I know I shouldn't take it personally. It's like some kind of fall from grace, or a fall from the kind of teacher I thought I was and want to be. This didn't happen in the Before Times, or happen as much, and it didn't bother me when it did because I could just point to the numbers. 

I don't want to be that tough old rounder who rejoices in saying no, but it's getting harder to keep that store of goodwill and enthusiasm flowing and to be the kind of teacher I want to be.