Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fed up

I try really hard to not show my frustrations with my students. I never liked it when professors took stuff out on us when I was a student, so I try not to do it to my own students. But the last few weeks I have been reaching the end of my rope with them. Part of it is due in part to my hellish migraines of late, and so I understand that my mood has been a bit unpredictable.

But lately I have been appalled at my students' complete lack of regard for what I say in class. My students have had two important assignments due this month. The first was a very complicated paper that the professor decided to grade, and that I tried to discuss a few times, and he discussed in class. The second is a much simpler, 2-3 page paper based on the reading of a primary source in their textbook. For a good three weeks in a row, I told all three of my classes that I was going to give them the option of choosing any of the sources they had left to write about. For the first paper of this sort, I made them all write on the same source and answer a specific question. This time, I told them to pick one document and then just pick one of the reading questions connected to their document to answer so they'd have a coherent thesis statement.

That's it. Simple, open-ended, easy to do, right? Choose any of the documents you have liked, pick one question to answer, write the paper. And it's been explained at least three times in class.

You'd never know it was that easy by talking to my students. I would say that a good 50% of my students have emailed me or come up to me in class to ask about this last essay. Some of my favorite questions are the ones that sound something like this:

~ "I've looked in my notes and can't find anything about this last essay. So what do we have to do?"
~ "I know you talked about the essay before, but I don't remember what you said. Could you tell me again, because I need to write the paper tonight."

What I *want* to say are things like, "Notes do not magically appear when I speak. You have to be actually paying attention and writing for that to happen. Therefore, your lack of notes about something I said is not actually my problem. You should have been paying attention."

What I really do not understand is how it became acceptable for students to completely ignore their teachers, repeatedly, then write emails or come in person, admit that they ignore their teachers, and fully expect to get whatever information they need. I refused to answer or told some students that I had already explained this multiple times in class, and they responded that their grades really couldn't handle another bad grade if they did this wrong so couldn't I please help?

Again - NO! Yesterday in class I probably told ten students in a row that what I had said in class still stood - they had no idea what I had said in class, even though every single one of them had been in class. One of them responded, "But I haven't missed any classes. I was there every week."

That's supposed to make your case stronger??? By reminding me that you were never absent, that you were always sitting less than 10 feet away from me, and that you STILL do not know what I said?

I simply do not understand. I have the great urge to tell them on Friday that anyone who emailed me asking what the assignment was will be losing 5 points for stupidity.

I often tell my coworkers that I have no problems with true ignorance - with people truly not knowing something, or not understanding, or even with those few students who really do not have the ability to comprehend something (because sometimes you do get a student who isn't at the same level intellectually, as much as you wish they could be). But what makes me angry is what I call "preventable stupidity" - students making choices that lead to them getting lower grades, failing assignments, or just not understanding things because they don't pay attention, don't work, or do something else that could with a tiny bit of effort have been changed to lead to a positive outcome.

So this week, being sick, being in pain for most of the last two weeks, and preventable stupidity abounding in my students is just making me fed up. I want so much to help them, I want them to do well, I want them to thrive, and I want them to love history. But how can they do that when they don't care enough to even pay attention when I tell them, "You have a paper due in two weeks. This is what I want:.... "?

:-( I love my students, and I want the best for them, but their total lack of caring is getting to me this semester. I fear that I am a poor teacher. If I can't inspire them to care, how can I teach them anything worthwhile?

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