EducationHigher Education

The ones we’re in it for

One of my regular courses is that notoriously difficult course that’s required by several different programs for completion and has all sorts of rumors swirling about it about how hard it is and how evil I am etc.  The course is intended to ensure students have proficient problem solving skills and mastery of the scientific method before they do complete their programs as well as some basic but difficult content requirements that I try to make applicable to the different fields represented by the students.

Most of the students are prepared enough for the class but find it (as intended) challenging but not impossible.  The primary complaint is how much time the students spend on this class compared to their other ones, and frankly I always find that funny as it’s the course I assign the least amount of homework in.  That’s because the homework is hard, really hard and there’s a lot of reading, and yes the students actually have to do the reading to understand and do the homework.  I design it and the whole course to make students figure out how to put together all the pieces we’ve been teaching them for 2-3 years.  Many of them see that about halfway through the course and there’s a sudden shift in their performance as they pass that threshold.  Some come in with those skills already and do very well throughout.  Some never see it at all, but by sheer determination can succeed.  It’s actually rather difficult to fail the course but final grades reflect that journey as it’s equally difficult to get an A.

There’s usually a baseline level of grumbling, but most of my students are in it for some fairly specific goals and see the course as aiding them in achieving their goals.  These I can work with to get them to see the pieces and the way they fit together.  Some students never really “get” why they have to take this course, and hate it from beginning to end.  Their dislike interferes with their ability to make the connections I’m trying to push them towards and for them, just finishing with a passing grade is enough, though some have made teaching the course unpleasant especially of they were the whiny kind of student.

And then there are the students who make you remember why you went into teaching.  This semester, one of my non-traditional students came into this course, did the initial work but not well, and immediately sought my advice, even though she finds me kinda scary.  She also arranged without my knowing it to see BOTH the tutors available for the course (one works days, the other evenings), and upon recognizing the most pressing issue was her own lack of organizational skills, embarked on retraining her brain to be organized.  Her work went from failing to being solidly good.  She has never complained even once, though she must be spending a HUGE amount of time on this course, while also raising a large number of children and dealing with her own health concerns.  She embraced what the course was designed to teach her, and decided she was going to learn it no matter what.  She has never given up and on her last homework assignment, she left me a note telling me how really proud she was of her answer.  And it was good.

Just watching her progress reminds me that yes, the work I put into the course is very much worth it, and this student, whose grade will not reflect the effort she put in, will have evolved greatly due primarily to her own efforts.  It’s this kind of student that makes me want to keep going, to keep this course the way it is and not give in and make it easier, and to keep working on all my courses to encourage that kind of development.

So yeah, it’s been a good semester.  My classes went well and I got to work with this amazing woman along with all my other students.  It’s finals week now, so I will soon be buried in grading, but that’s pretty normal.

How did your semester/term go?

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Apostrophobia

Apostrophobia

Apostrophobia is a college professor at a women's college in the US. She teaches biology, does pedagogical research on her guinea pigs (aka students), and has an existential fear of misplaced apostrophes.

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