Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Time and Learning--A letter to my students

If someone had invented a pill you could take or a drink you could consume that would pour knowledge into your heads, I suspect many of you would have already taken it, and would never need to take English. But until that happens, you will need to accept a very important idea: learning takes time. While there is no formula for how much time equals how much knowledge, I can say that a lack of time spent or time improperly spent has a great deal with how much you learn now and how much you will gain from that knowledge in the future.
I have seen a few of you addressing your attention to your cell phones (despite clear  rules against it). Yet none of the information of the course can be found there. Well, maybe not none. You might have an eBook version of the textbook, but other than that I can't think of anything you need the phone for in the short time class meets. The cell phone use happens during lectures and presentations, often by someone who asks me later to explain something I've just gone over. It happens during times of class I have devoted to research or writing, usually by people who run out of time to adequately compose and revise their essays or who complain that they could not find the information they needed. (Heaven forbid those students actually ask me to help them when they are stuck!)

I have seen some of you checking grades during class time. Now assuming you don't have a computer of your own or access to one (despite the hundreds of free use computers on campus), I can see where feedback on one assignment could help you with one you are working on. But come on! I see lots of people looking up grades only, but no feedback, all when they should be writing or while I am talking to the class. I see people looking up information for other classes. Could one of you explain to me how your grade on a history test will help you in my composition class? Could you tell me what your homework assignment in Sociology has to do the essay you are writing?

Very often, I see people reading. Now, as an English teacher, I cannot say reading is a bad thing. The problem is that people are reading material they should already have covered. They come to class unprepared, despite a clear schedule, and wonder why they fail quizzes or do poorly on assignments. They are rushing through the books hoping something will pop out at them instead of reading actively and thoughtfully ahead of time, and their essays reflect that lack of preparation. Some of you think I don’t know you are just trying to appear busy.

Of course, not everyone is guilty of these infractions, and if you are one of those who comes prepared, pays attention, and does her or his level best, making good use of the time and resources provided, then you should ignore what I've said above, pat yourself on the back, and keep up the good work.

But sadly, those students are the minority.

We are at a point in the semester where you have been given (yes, it is a gift) more time. Less class time is spent on lectures or discussion, and more is set aside for research and writing. You get to choose what to do with that time. I may seem to step away, but it is only to allow you to take what you have learned (or should have learned) and do your best (not my best) on the projects you have been assigned. I am a teacher, not a cop. That means, that when you have questions, I will do what I can to answer them and help you. When you turn in work that is less than what you are capable of, I will try to give you feedback to help you improve. I will not hover over you with a gun and force you to work.

You need to know that when you mess around with your cell phones, you are insulting your instructor.  You are saying that Facebook and texts are so much more important than your education and the people who have worked hard to bring you that education, you cannot wait an hour to pull them out of your pockets, purses, and backpacks.

You should know that when you use the computer for tasks other than what is going on in your class you have insulted the people who have made such technology possible. You tell them that your curiosity is more significant than the learning these technologies are supposed to develop.

You should be aware that when you are not prepared for class or spend your class time catching up, you are insulting your future employers. You are telling them that only your time is valuable, not theirs. You are saying that the attitude of "I'll get to it when I get it" is your philosophy of work and that the people who pays your wages should just suck it up.

Most of all, when you do these things, you insult yourself. You say that what you want to do right now is more important than the education you supposedly came here to receive. You put yourself away from the good discipline of learning to control your impulses, and you miss out on many of the rewards of a college education. You tell yourself, "I can always catch up."
But you rarely will.