The Divide

Lately I have been struggling with what I view as an issue of student entitlement. Most of my students consistently fall into three categories: those who attend and participate regularly, showing a genuine interest in the subject matter (this group is much smaller than I wish it was); those who attend but remain quiet, apparently listening but probably spending a fair amount of class time surfing the web; those who never attend but turn in assignments as expected. Most of the time, I adopt the policy that my students are adults and which category they want to join is really up to them. If they choose not to attend class, they know from my syllabus that they are likely to miss information and reminders, and I expect them to accept the grade they earn as a result. Same goes for those who are there but barely pay attention. Personally, I’d rather invest my energy and enthusiasm into the students who actually want to be there and learn.

The students I struggle most with fall into a slightly different, but ultimately loud, category. These students may overlap with any of the three categories above, but they tend to be either low-attention or low-attendance students. These are students who can’t be bothered to attend office hours but bombard me with emails, inquiring about information that can easily be found on the syllabus. Those who claim to not understand why they earned a certain grade despite the fact that I provided a clear, point-by-point rubric. Those who try to get a friend to turn in assignments for them that I set up to necessitate attendance, hoping that I won’t notice I didn’t see them in class that day. Those who only show up to class to come argue with me while I am trying to set up the lecture and go on with my daily plan.

The major problem I have with these students is a lack of accountability and responsibility. They fly in the face of my decision that college students are adults and should be treated as such, and they bring up unfortunate stereotyping that my more diligent students don’t deserve. I didn’t think it was too much to expect students to write down and monitor their own deadlines, to plan ahead to make up missed work effectively, to approach me respectfully when bargaining. But these students act like I’m out to get them, chasing down and beating them with a rolled-up copy of the syllabus, gleefully punishing them at the first sign of confusion or lack of preparation. More importantly, for many of these students, they act like I haven’t helped them before, haven’t ever taken pity on them and let a deadline slide a bit. I don’t have any problem getting constructive feedback; I take issue with being criticized only when you feel slighted. Why is it always about this unspoken “pay for an A” contract, and never about learning something from the course?

I guess this is something that everyone faces, and you have to decide to either soften your course policies to make them more palatable for these students or stick to your guns in the name of teaching students how to be more responsible. My problem is that students like these make me question why I care so much in the first place. This creates a divide between my passion and excitement for teaching and their lackluster, passive reception of my work, and it makes me pull my hair out to set students up to succeed and still get the feedback that the class wasn’t “clear” enough. Why spend so much time trying to make class interesting and engaging if a number of the students won’t bother to attend anyway? Why shape my deliverables to be more application-focused if students will just complain that I ask too much of them, and it would be better if I just had three tests and nothing else like the rest of their teachers? And, in my current course, why share my knowledge of and appreciation for real-world issues in mental health if no one cares to really listen?

I know the answer is that other students do benefit from that effort. But in the end, are they the majority or minority?

1 Comment

Filed under Preparing the Future Professoriate

One Response to The Divide

  1. Kate V.

    I was shocked the first time I was a TA at how many students just completely did not care about the course. That set my expectations really low, so by the time I taught my own class, I just focused on being pleasantly surprised that a decent portion of my students put in a fair amount of effort. I think it’s best to just not focus too much (in terms of brain power) on the students who don’t care. I also try not to judge them, because I never know what’s going on in someone’s life. I would just think of them as annoyances, and not let them get me down too much.

    Also, I was always one of those super quiet students who went to class, turned in assignments, but usually didn’t participate beyond that. I was listening, paying attention, and learning, and I bet many of your quiet students are as well.

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