Monday, January 16, 2006

Washington State Checks In.

We've received a lot of mail in the past couple of days begging us to get back to our original purpose, providing a space for professors to vent. One writer from North Dakota wrote: "Give the psychobabble a break." And another from California said: "If I wanted to be lectured to, I'd turn on a religious radio station." So, in keeping with our policy of giving the folks what they want, I've chosen this post today from the bulging Rate Your Students mailbag.

I'd have to check the records, but I believe this is our first post from the Evergreen State. A tenure-track professor of History sends this in:

With each new semester I want to believe that my students are going to be better. But afer 5 years I am always disappointed.

We've just finished our first week of school. I provide a lengthy syllabus with instructions on everything from grading to attendance to dates of tests. Yet this weekend I received more than 20 emails asking questions that are easily found on the syllabus.

Not only do I distribute the syllabus, but we talk about it in class, and I take questions over the important matters. This might seem like a minor matter, but couldn't my time be better served on something other than replying to 20 emails that never should have been sent?

"How many tests are there?" one student writes. That's on page one under a heading called 'Tests.'

"I can't be here on January 19th. Will I miss anything?" Yes, there are three readings and a comprehension quiz all noted on the syllabus next to heading that says 'January 19th.' And, in the syllabus itself it tells you the policy on missing quizzes. That's page 2, under a heading called 'Quizzes.'

One student wrote, "I have a night class on Wednesday nights, and sometimes because of so much studing (sic) I oversleep. Do you have a policy on arriving late?" Yes, under the heading 'Late Policy' on page 3, you'll find all you need.

If this material doesn't sink in, I have grave concerns about the more intricate material that we cover in the actual class. Why aren't students listening, reading? Why aren't they plugged in to what the class is about, how it runs, what I expect? Do they really care so little that they can't be bothered to read the syllabus, or LISTEN to me when I read them the syllabus? These are the rules of the game, the rules of the road, the map to a final grade. And these are not freshmen either; most of my students are sophomores and juniors. You'd think they'd know better, or at least know better than to reveal themselves as complete dolts in the first week.

These students who have written in with questions on material they are expected to have learned in our first classes are starting in a hole with me. I already think they lack the intellectual rigor to do well in college. They already have shown me something of their abilities, their attention to detail. I'm already tired and it's just the second week.

What on earth do we have to do to get them to care about the class as much as we do?