Thoughts on the Semester

I think everyone knows by now that I had to take some extra classes this semester due to an instructor canceling on me right before the semester began.  Well the hellacious semester is over.  Still have some grading to catch up on but the teaching is done.  Never again.  Yah, I have a pretty easy job otherwise and love its flexibility, but I think that was overcompensated this semester.  After it is all done, it’ll be worth it because of the things I was able to do with the extra income (i.e. backyard project, new Mac).  It was also, without a doubt, the fastest semester I’ve experienced.

Well along the way, there are always ups and downs.  And the downs this time were REALLY down.  For example, I had to withdraw several students for non-attendance and in return was accused of discrimination and prejudice and was called (and I quote) cold, callous, unapproachable, and arrogant.  Some of the decisions were admittedly tough to make, but a policy is a policy and I can’t judge who it will apply to and who is excused.  But why does one student respond that way and another come and say “thank you; I’ve made the changes needed and it won’t happen again”?  That was a really low point in my career.  There’s always those few students, too, who make it interesting.  They just don’t seem to get it and you wonder what in the world they are doing–and how they got–there.

Take my A&P I online class. I started out with 10 and I’m going to end up with 4. FOUR! And when we met in person for lab, I just felt like we had this huge disconnect. It was a zombie room. I’d go in and give instructions, ask for questions (there’d be none), and the students would work in silence. No interaction online either.  Never had quite such a disconnected group before.  And it bothered me.

My A&P II online class was refreshingly one of the best groups I’ve ever had. For the most part, they worked steadily and showed up! I probably had the best connection with them out of the five sections of classes I taught this semester.

My Chemistry online class was pretty typical. This is a tough course to do online. I typically see about a 50% retention and that was the case this time as well. I struggle to get students to interact with me online. It wasn’t just this group; that’s been pretty typical and I’m trying to figure out what to do about it. To encourage questions BEFORE homework is due and as they study.

Those classes are what I typically teach. The two extra sections I had to take were classroom chemistry sections. Haven’t been in a classroom in a few years. I started out with 30 and ended up with 18. The reasons for the drop rate ranged from absences to personal reasons. These sections were a lot of work. I think for the most part we all got along, even though we got off to a shaky start. (I remember saying something the first day I later regretted and apologized for the next class, but it apparently stuck with some of the students.)  So no real complaints here.

But I guess the biggest thing that bothers me is the reputation I apparently have among students. And it is a negative one. I think there are two reasons for it. 1. I’m tough. Won’t apologize for that. 2. I need to work on my sarcastic humor and empathy.

To speak to #1: I’m pretty easy to get along with. I balance that with high expectations of hard work and timeliness. When those expectations aren’t met, then I have a no tolerance policy. I will come down hard. I do so out of the desire to make the most disciplined and dedicated life-long learners. If someone wants to cast me in a negative light because of that, then so be it. I want to make the best health care providers possible and I’m unapologetic and won’t compromise in that regard. I do get it, believe it or not, that life happens sometime. Yes I believe I can work on my empathy and will but we have to push on and sometimes tough decisions must be made on my part or the student’s. If they can’t get childcare or are ill or have family issues…well enough of those happen and the student just needs to consider trying the semester again later when things calm down for them. As I said, I can’t be the judge of what is excusable or not.  An absence is an absence.

To #2: I’ve been told I have a pretty dry sense of humor. (I know, you are saying right about now “you think?”)  Those students who I have the best relationships with say that people just have to understand me. What *I* need to understand is that everyone isn’t going to get me. I admittedly can become quickly sarcastic when students ask questions about matters that I have already given instructions. While I do maintain a high level of expectation (see point #1), I think I can respond in a better tone. I also teach Socratically, so the manner in which I respond in that pedagogy can use some adjusting so as not to come off so sarcastically.  I also know that when students come with an excuse of absence, I could be more empathetic in that moment while holding to the school’s policies.

I’m taking a look at my course policies to make adjustments while still maintaining a proper level of work and attendance for students.  These are going to be our health care workers, after all!  And I don’t know if I should have done this or not, but I was personally affected by things this semester, so I posted a personal message in each of my courses.  I said much of what I did above (some parts word-for-word) and asked for feedback.  We’ll see what happens…

Unfortunately, a reputation can be annihilated in an instant and take years to recover. It’s not so much that I care what students think of me–I’m not there to be friends–but it does matter to me that they feel like they can take my classes and when they do, they can come to me. (If nothing else, I need my classes to make, or I’m screwed financially.)

So that was a long and public expression of what’s on my mind. No real point other than for me to get it out and not bottle it up.

Thoughts on the Semester