Thursday, September 13, 2007

Dealing with Students

One of my colleagues, Dr. J, was bragging yesterday about how she had dealt with her College Algebra class. She wanted to take some time to go over their questions on homework, but it soon became apparent that not a lot of them had done a whole lot. So she asked how many people had done no homework. She asked those students to stand up and go stand against the wall. Then she asked how many had done fewer than 6 problems. She asked those students to go stand up against another wall. At this point, she had only a handful of students still seated. So she read them the riot act, kicked the slackers out of the room, and finished the class with those few students.

Well. That's Dr. J. She isn't shy to confront her students. She doesn't mind embarrassing them. She does a lot of stuff that I wouldn't do, but I think this is probably over some line. I'm pretty certain that she lost more students than she saved with this little stunt. She might have spurred a few students to action. But most of them I'm sure walked out calling her derogatory names, and figuring she's out to get them.

I thought about that today as I dealt with some problem students.

  • I had a student who had been missing for a few days. She said her grandfather had died and her uncle had been in an auto accident, and she just couldn't get the work done. I arranged for her to hand in her homework (due today) on Monday.
  • Another student came in for help with the homework at almost literally the last minute. He was in my office at 12:45, when my class is at 1:00. I helped him a little, and then arranged a standing date for earlier on Thursday mornings, so he could get the help he needed.
  • A third student showed up for only the second time, after a whole week gone. I asked what was going on. He said that he was having financial aid problems, and thought he was going to drop out. He didn't ask for extensions on the homework, and I didn't offer. But I did say that as soon as he got caught up enough that he had specific questions, he should come for help.

Is that the way Dr. J would have handled these students? No, definitely not. Is my way better? I think so. Not just better for me, but objectively better, in the sense that I will help more students succeed. There's no way to know, of course.

In any case, I'm much more comfortable with who I am. And I'm not going to change who she is. She is tenured, and she's going to go on doing things the way she does them. I think that she genuinely cares about the students, but that she's more apt to show her frustration and disappointment.


Addy N. said...

Interesting post. I sometimes feel like kicking out people who haven't done the assigned reading, because they can't contribute to the class discussion and I end up trying to drag it out of the others. I don't know that your colleague's tough love approach is the best way to go either and I know that I could never bring myself to do it. When it comes to students (or anyone, really) I don't feel comfortable embarrassing them or singling them out. Sometimes I wish I could be more assertive- especially when I have discipline problem students in the freshman class. Sometimes I think it just isn't worth making a big deal out of these things, though. It sounds like you really care about your students- even the slackers and I don't think that is a bad approach. Take care.