Monday, May 09, 2005

End of the semester notes (Spring 2005)

Well, it has been a busy semester. I realized that I haven't blogged since February, and I have some catching up to do. For now, I'd like to discuss a few things about education since I have spent so much of my time and energy on this.

Plagiarism. I have been plagued by students who, despite all they have been taught, and all that they should know, either believe they have not committed plagiarism or want to pretend that they didn't know. Am I to really believe this? I have had a few students this semester who will claim over and over that they have not done this even when I take the time to show them how portions of their papers are word for word what I have found on the net.

Know yourself (Or at least read the syllabus). In the past couple weeks, I have had conversations with students who claim they did not know they were failing. I am inclined to believe them. I have a policy I call the "Five Error Rule." Basically it means that if a student makes five mistakes that he/she should not make at whatever level, then the paper must be rewritten, usually after consultation at our Learning Assistance Center. Students usually have a week to perform this task. This seems to work a bit better than giving the opportunity to revise after the students earns an F, because under that system, half the students just dropped the course and of those that did not, only a few papers were revised. But this semester, I have had a few students who have ignored my sometimes many notes to revise their work. When asked why, some said they did not know I had made such a request. Some had not even checked their grades online. Some did and figured that as long as they occupied a seat in the class, I would not fail them. (Of course, I fail no one. They fail themselves.)

I blame three things for this problem. First, I think that our system of organized babysitting that we call public school encourages such notions. Even when a hard working and gifted and dedicated teacher works to make students accountable for their own lack of initiative or drive, that teacher is often hindered by policies that give students chance after chance to do screw around all year and still pull it out. Second, we have a culture that hammers home the idea that if a student does not think the work of a course is important, then she/he can put less effort into their tasks. This goes with the third problem: laziness. One study showed that 75% of college students cheat. When asked why, most of these students state that the courses they cheat in are merely hoops they must jump through, are not important, and they would rather do anything else than spend the time and energy it takes to write a paper or study for an exam.

Take responsibility for your apathy. I'm sure every teacher gets students near the end of the semester who suddenly seem intensely interested in the course when previously they have shown not only no concern, but often open hostility to learning. Some of these students look for extra credit to do at the end of the term though they have not turned in some of the major assignments. Many act surprised that they are failing. One student a week ago actually told me that he figured he'd pass if he kept showing up and turned in something for each assignment. This week I have had two students take an option final exam though it could not possible improve their grades. One of the students told me she figured I would not fail her if she did it.

Look, I cannot make a student care. I try to be accessible, understand and all that stuff. I try to help students value the experience of my class and the skills they should gain, but I can only do so much. We need to quit allowing students in public schools to blow off the majority of the year only to pull it out at the end. I told a student the other day, "If you do not care about the course, that's fine. But you need to be prepared for the consequences of your apathy."

Some students complain that I do not give a "review" of their tests. Of course, I do tell students what the format of their exams is and I remind them of what material will be covered. But I refuse to try to re-teach students material they have spent weeks ignoring. There is a reason I am required to be on campus and available many more hours per week than I am in class. There is a reason I have email and a phone. Why students, after they have done little or nothing, expect me to give them a break...and don't get me started on the "I've just never been good at English." One student told me this right after telling me she usually got A's and B's in high school. My answer: You are there to learn, not perform.

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