Monday, January 3, 2011

The New Semester

Every new semester offers its own sense of excitement. This semester starts next week and there's a new book involved. I haven't even read it yet--just scanned it briefly when it arrived. I haven't looked at thePowerPoint presentations or my lesson plans or the assignments. I haven't written the syllabi for the classes I'm teaching. For the first time in four years, I've been enjoying my time off. 

There's two issues for me with that statement. The first is I really enjoyed my time off--really, really enjoyed it. My son came home for a very short visit (one week) and I resolved to teach him new recipes to take home with him as well as enjoy his company. My husband and I spent much needed time together. The cats got to have Mom's attention for more than just a few minutes at a whack.  I got to sit down and bead every day to my little heart's content. That right there was such a balm to my frustrated, anxious, and disappointed psyche. Beading is very necessary for my soul.

The second issue is that I enjoyed myself. Meaning I'm behind on getting ready for this upcoming semester. I'm going to have to bust my butt to get ready to teach next week.  And I need to do this while I'm still enjoying my time off. Because I don't have to be at work until next week.

See what I mean?!?!?! ISSUES!

Seriously, I LIKE teaching statistics. It is a challenging and innovative class to teach. It makes me look outside my comfort zone while pulling students outside of their comfort zones. It expands the mind and opens up whole new possibilities. It's rewarding when I run into a former student months or even years later and they tell me they actually have been able to use what they learned in my class.  
I've had to reflect on some concerns that cropped up last couple of semesters with both my undergraduate and graduate students. One of the main problems is that I teach statistics. Statistics is one of those courses that every one is required to take and it's also one of the most dreaded courses to take. It's the course that even mathmeticians hate. So most students come in with the student role attitude.

The student role attitude is simply this: "I don't know why this course is necessary. I'm never going to use this information in my career so it's another one of those waste-of-my-time-and-money courses. I'm doing to do whatever I have to do to survive this course, get through it, and get out with my GPA (Grade Point Average) intact."  

Some of you may recognize it immediately. From the first week of classes, I'm fighting an uphill battle from the get-go.   I have to overcome that student role attitude with difficult material and a frustrating class. Having taken several semesters of statistics myself, I understand this. I can even relate to the students because I've been in their shoes. However, most of my students need this course and the knowledge for licensure, competency, and/or state board exams. 

So I tell them from the get-go: "I'm not worried about your grades. I'm more concerned about you learning this material. If you learn the material, your grades will be good." 

Unfortunately, most students are worried about their grades and could care less about learning the material. Some of my graduate students are on a special scholarship that pays for their tuition, books, travel expenses, computers, and gives them a nice living stipend. Those students have to maintain a B or better in grade point averages (GPA). If their GPAs drop below a B, they lose their scholarship and have to repay all the money back. It really makes learning difficult when one's mind is anxious about passing a course with high enough grades. 

Another concern is the rampant cheating that occurs in my online courses. Because of this, I have to revamp my assignments every semester so they are not easily recycled into the next semester. Some semesters give me more difficulty because of the possibility of cheating. Last semester, I had a married couple and three roommates taking my class. This meant for exams, I had to devise three separate ones so none of the students could take advantage. However, this doesn't alleviate cheating on the assignments. Most of the time I can catch that because students who are cheating usually will give the same wrong answer, especially when it's an answer that really far out. The chances of that happening are slim.  

I've had to develop a zero-tolerance to all forms of cheating for all my classes. This disturbs me. Last semester, I was forced to fail students for cheating. That always frustrates and disappoints me when I'm left with no other choice but to fail students for cheating. Interestingly enough, I don't have a problem failing students who fail to show up to class or do the course work. 

Finally there is what I call the Demanding Student. The Demanding Student is the one that will use up most class time and interferes with other students' ability to learn. The Demanding Student does not want to work for his grade, but expects me to give him a decent grade. The Demanding Student can give me all kinds of reasons why he cannot get the work done but insists that I give him extra time to complete assignments. The Demanding Student comes to class unprepared and views the review sessions I hold for ALL my students are his one-on-one personal time with me.  Failing to convince me, the Demanding Student starts using attack mode, such as filing grievances against me, naming me as part of a lawsuit against the university, or sending me emails several times a week, telling me how unfair I've been to him. When the Demanding Student fails the course, he immediately demands to receive either an Incomplete grade  or at least a C so that he does not lose his scholarship, funding, or class standing. 

He is the most draining on the instructor and his classmates. It's bad enough when an instructor has one Demanding Student in a semester, but it makes teaching difficult when there's several Demanding Students in a class several classes. By the way, the Demanding Student is the only time I pull out my "adjunct faculty" card. It's similar to the "Get out of Jail Free" card in Monopoly. As in: "I'm adjunct faculty...I may not be here next semester to teach so you HAVE to get your work into me this semester." Or "I'm adjunct--that means I'm on contract and my contract ends on such-n-such date. I'm not working for free after that date."

So while I prepare for the upcoming semester, I'll be thinking of hopes and opportunities. Have you run into similar situations where you work or in your life?


  1. This is why I admire teachers so much. It's not just about learning the material and teaching it to others, it's about coping with all the different personalities and expectations. I've never dealt with the Demanding Student but I have dealt with the Demanding Boss who doesn't do the work and then takes all the credit for it or passes off the blame when it's wrong. There's no person for whom I have lower regard.

  2. Your online students don't realize how lucky they are to have you as their instructor. Just the fact that you actually have Powerpoint presentations and review sessions for them is amazing to me. The most extra help our grandson got from ALL FOUR of his online instructors last semester was if he would send them an email they might get back with him within the week. VERY frustrating for him. I know this to be totally true because he was at our house everyday to do his assignments. Basically it was read the assigned chapter(s) and complete the assignment. Nothing extra - just read the books and learn it on your own. Sorry for the personal rant but it's just to let you know that you are an amazing instructor willing to help your students and they should appreciate all you do for them.

  3. Oh gosh, I hate to admit how much Statistics kicked my butt -- and I have no idea why! I rocked out Calculus and all that level of math but got a C in Statistics. My TA told me that usually if a person was good in Calculus and liked that manner of thinking, they usually hated Stat -- not sure if that's true! But I NEEDED Stat for Genetics. Sigh. I hated not being good at something.

  4. Unfortunately those same students seem to carry the attitudes into the work place !
    There are the ones who only care about salary.The ones who are so demanding they seem to drain their co-works.And sadly the cheaters are still with us!
    Whenever our teachers are able include though love and life lessons into a curriculum everyone benefits. But, sometimes the systems don't let teachers really teach !!!
    Best of luck and good wishes for your new semester !!! Hope you still find time to unwind with your beads . I am looking forward to the re-opening of your shop !!! m.e . :)