Tuesday, September 18, 2007

New thoughts on crying students...

Today seemed to be a day of student tears...

My early-morning logic class didn't cry when they got their quizzes. After a stern talking to about being on-time and ready to learn at the start of class, they perked up and asked some good questions. The ones who needed help are getting with the tutor, so there is hope for them yet.

No, the first round of tears today was from a male student, about his paper. He brought something printed, about three sentences that were supposed to describe Hobbes (philosopher, not tiger), and then object to Hobbes. He had it rolled up in his fist -- he really didn't want to give it to me. He was anxious and knew it wasn't good.

I took a quick look at it and handed it back to him. He was right not to want to turn it in. It wasn't good work. As he stood in front of me, his eyes got red and he actually cried about not doing a good paper.

The thing is, I'd rather have a student cry than blow off an assignment. The crying student is crying because he cares. He wants to do a good job, but doesn't have the tools to do so. He knows he's struggling and he cares enough about his education that it makes him cry when he fails. That is a student I can work with.

I tried a different approach with this one. I first told him about my own struggles with writing philosophy. How I had to ditch what I thought was an acceptable and interesting area paper because it had a fatal flaw -- a paper I'd worked on, off and on, for YEARS. I told him about my frustration and about how it made me feel like a failure. I then told him that the result was me starting over on a much better paper, and one on a topic I actually like!

Then, we made a plan. He has another paper due in a couple of weeks. Next week he'll bring me a written draft of that paper and we'll talk about it. We'll go over what works and what doesn't work. We'll talk about what is extraneous and what is missing. Then, he'll have another week to work on the paper before he turn it in.

There seems to be an unexpected advantage to the "sign-up to write on a topic" plan... Students like him have another chance, provided there are open slots, to not turn in a paper that sucks -- and to turn in a good paper later... and to do so in a structure that is fair to all students.

Something that really, really, really chapped my ass was the way that some students would get extensions on papers -- just because they asked for it. While I busted my ass and didn't sleep for weeks to get it in on time, they'd just ask for and get an extension. I suppose part of that anger was at the fact that the students who were buddies with the profs were the ones comfortable enough to get the extensions. These were the same pretentious philosophy boys who would hang out in the prof's office and suck up. As a female non-traditional student, I didn't think that was something open to me.

As a professor, I've moved to having late penalties -- but, those really aren't good either, simply because they either are applied unevenly or they punish someone for bad luck/job schedule change/flat tire/sick kid days. Now, I don't accept these smallish papers late at all (because the material is discussed directly in class, the point is to make them read it!) -- rather, they write a paper for another week. As a result, my crying student doesn't have to turn in something that is embarrassing to him, and when I give him an alternative assignment to do another one later in the semester, I'm being fair...

1 comment:

julie said...

Brilliant teaching moment: I like the insight that crying means they care. Not that I feel comfy in the presence of tears, but I know what you mean.