Thursday, April 26, 2012

Student Stories

Today was my last day of classes for the spring semester at SLCC. I really enjoyed my students; they were a lot of fun; they worked hard; they had a sense of humor (I cannot emphasize how much this helps). My evening class especially was fun this way - not that my early morning class wasn't fun, too, but 7 a.m. is hard to swallow and hard to exhibit any enthusiasm for, even in the best of circumstances. I was kinda bummed when I came home this evening; I get really attached to some of them. 

In any case, in my evening class there had been some early-semester mocking of my artistic skills. (We had been brainstorming and the different ways in which one might organize an essay.) This week we had been discussing the students' ePortfolio, the medium by which the students will showcase their essays (as opposed to hard copies). Two of the assignments, the Writer's Introduction and the Reflective Essay, were similar enough to cause confusion, so I had to resort to drawing on the board, that the Writer's Introduction would need to be uploaded or linked, like their other essays, while the Reflective Essay would need to be copied and pasted as text above their links.

Thus, we had this conversation on Tuesday:

Me: Ok, so I'm going to draw a picture; maybe it'll help, but no making fun of my drawing. These circles are your essays; you're uploading or linking them - this link [represented by a circle] is your rhetorical analysis, this one [another circle] is your op-ed, and so on, whereas your reflection  [where I drew the squiggly lines] gets typed up here. Does that make it any clearer?

[Student raises his hand.]

Me: Yes [student name redacted for reasons that will soon become apparent]?

Student: So it's like a Flintstone's Tablet?

[Students lose it.]

Me: Dammit, [Student].

This afternoon, we had a repeat, only the student drew a little dinosaur to help.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Classroom Observation

I was observed about six weeks ago, and I finally got my class observation report this morning. It came with the acknowledgement that since this was a one-time observation, anything observed may or may not be representative of the semester in its entirety, that comments made about contextualizing assignments may have been done in a previous class, that observations are taken with a grain of salt, etc. Clearly there's the understanding - which I appreciate - that since a teacher is only observed during one class sesion (and not even an entire class session), that previous instruction is not witnessed; there's always an implication, too, that an otherwise good teacher or good class could be having an off day. The woman who observed me is nice woman, so far as I know her; she had some good things to say, and was also able to make some observations that I might take into consideration, but it got me thinking about the general strategies and policies that I've heard from other teachers.

Based on what I've heard from other teachers, I suspect my own policies are much stricter than those of other teacers:

  • I dont accept late work, although I explain and reiterate that if extenuating circumstances arise, or if a student is genuinely struggling, I want to know ahead of time so that something can be worked out. Due dates are arbitrary in a sense, but papers have to be due at some point. I have about 15 weeks in a semester, and I don't want however many students per class (and I often teach multiple sections) handing in 5 papers on the very last day of class because they couldn't, or wouldn't, do the work.
  • For the students' research paper, there are a handful of minimum requirements that, if they aren't met, will lead me to deduct ten points from their score for each requirement not met (for example, if a paper is not the minimum length; if in-text citations aren't used; if the minimum number of sources aren't used; etc.). I don't believe this to be unnecessarily punitive or arbitrary; as with any assignment or work-related task, there are requirements that must be met. The students know about this ahead of time - I give them a copy of the rubric when I assign the paper; expecting them to fulfill minimum requirements does not seem out of line. And we discuss these issues at length throughout the semester.

Now, clearly everyone has a different style of teaching, and what works for one teacher in one class may not work in another class, or for another teacher. And I remind my students as often as I can that if they have any problems whatsoever, I want to hear about them; if I dont know, I can't help them. But I consider much of what I do to be a form of high standards I want my students to reach; and you know what, most of them, if they do the work, actually do a good job. (And even if they didn't do a great job, they did an okay job.) I don't think I'm doing them any favors by allowing late work for no reason, or for telling them that it's acceptable if they hand in six pages of the ten-page research paper that I'd assigned. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012


This is about a week overdue, but last weekend, during the Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday, Ed was confirmed in our parish, St. Joseph the Worker. Our parish priest, Fr. Carley, is from Co. Tipperary, Ireland, and has a rather strong snarky side.


It was a large group of catechumans and candidates that were welcomed into our parish.

It was a beautiful service that lasted close to two and a half hours; the parish women's group hosted a reception afterwards. My parents came out from Pennsylvania to celebrate the occasion as well. (It meant a lot to both Ed and myself that they were here for his confirmation.)