So my girlfriend Lime told me some really nice, happy news the other day. Here’s the story:
She went for lunch with one of her friends whose younger sister is a freshman student where I work. Now, the friend has never taken a class with me, but even last semester she’d heard good things about me.
Well, this semester she has her Freshman English class in a room next to the room I’m teaching in during that particular hour, and apparently her classmates who study with me have said positive things about the class. Well, what they actually said was that for the kid who just wants to show up without practicing, and coast through the class, and doesn’t care about improving his or her English, it’s not such a good choice. But they also said that for a student who really wants to learn, who wants to study and do his actual homework and actually improve his or her English, my class is great.
This seems to be the word on the street, too, because this semester my students are mostly much better than they were last semester, or the one before. I used to estimate that only 5% of my students had any will at all to learn or acquire English, but now sometimes 10-15% seems more reasonable, actually.
I also credit a certain other teacher for attracting all the students who’d prefer to have classes routinely canceled, and who apparently gives everyone an A+ across the board; while this used to annoy and disgust me, I now see it as a kind of winnowing process. While it’s unfair that the kids who want to learn might end up with a B+ or and A in my class instead of that across-the-board A+, sometimes, I think I make up for that loss in what I offer in terms of pressure to learn. And I have a fair number of return students, this semester, despite the fact registration was blind (kids didn’t know who their prof would be, when they signed up, and a number of them had to transfer into my class), so I’m not complaining anymore about the way this negatively affects standards. What it in fact allows me to do is set up a second standard that makes sense to those people who see that learning is in fact more important than the grade and the hoop they’re jumping through. And really, when it comes down to it, seeing through that begrudgingly-jump-through-the-hoop game to the fact that learning something at University, making some effort and putting something on the line in class, is what’s really valuable is what, in my mind, makes one deserve an A+.
Though it does help to also be able to construct a comprehensible sentence.
UPDATE: There was one funny thing Lime left out, but mentioned to me after seeing this post. Apparently, the younger sister went to class late one day. She saw some poor kid standing outside my classroom, unable or unwilling to go in, but also unable or unwilling to leave. Apparently this poor soul just stood there looking in the glass door. Which, to me, suggests that having glass doors — which is great for offices, I suppose — is just not good for classrooms.
All of my students know about my strict no-latecomers policy (5 minutes is my maximum, and I don’t hold it personally against one who’s late, but at the same time, too much disruption ruins the class for others and, besides, if you miss the intro, the rest of the class often isn’t so useful anyway). Likewise, almost all of my students understand from week 2 that anyone who comes to class with no textbook or workbook will be asked to leave, to buy, beg, borrow, or steal a book for class, and penalized for the absence (but allowed late entry, on account of having been on time in the first place). Anyway, it was funny to hear about what my rules result in, out there in the hallway… but I stand firmly by the policy that students, like teachers or anyone else in this world, need to be prepared for whatever they’re doing.