Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Why I teach night classes

A sense of entitlement and a short attention span don’t add up to academic success.

I am not a morning person. I have attempted, sometimes with professional medical help, to adjust my internal clock to run in the same time zone as everybody else locally, but the best I’ve ever done is about a month.

Therefore, I have always worked on a weird schedule. For example, I worked for a couple of years at a major metropolitan newspaper. I was on the sports desk, and that was perfect; the shift was 4 p.m. to midnight, in order to get all of the sports scores into the following morning’s paper. It was great, and it was loads of fun because I had fantastic coworkers and a great boss, but it didn’t pay much.

So when I started teaching at the community college, I sought a similar schedule. In advance of each term, I am required to fill out an online form for the people who make up the schedules. For morning classes, I select “Not Available”; for afternoon classes, I select “Not Preference”; and for evening/night classes, I select “Available.” Since I have been teaching at this particular college for several years, I have enough seniority that, mostly, I get exactly what I want, night classes only. But once in a while, I also get an afternoon class.

While my preference for night classes started as an adaptation to my miscalibrated circadian clock, I have found an even more compelling reason to prefer the late shift: mature, motivated students. Most of these students are enrolled in night classes because they have to work during the day. They are often older, what are called “non-traditional students,” who have jobs, spouses, children to take care of, and other demands on their time that make taking college courses difficult.

But they also make some of the best students. Some of them didn’t graduate from high school, and others may have graduated without learning anything. Or they may be from another country, and they need to learn English in order to be successful here. Some have served in the military and need to learn skills to succeed in the civilian world. The big thing is that they all have been out in the real world, and they know they don’t want to work for minimum wage the rest of their lives. So they’re really, really motivated.

So, while my original preference for night classes was because I don’t do mornings, now it’s because I love getting these fantastically motivated students who really take their education seriously.

This term, I have an afternoon class, and it has been really tough. Many of the students are straight out of high school, and they have never really learned any sort of work ethic. They have had teachers who gave them credit for being smart enough to do the work, rather than actually doing the work. Or they have had teachers who gave them passing grades not because they had earned them, but rather because a failing grade would have knocked them off an athletic team.

I would say that teaching this class is a lot like teaching third grade, except that would be a major insult to third graders. These students can’t sit still for more than about 30 seconds at a time, and they’re very kinetic. I can give instructions multiple times, in multiple ways – verbal, writing on the chalkboard, giving a handout – and still, one student will ask a question about the assignment, and I will give a more detailed explanation, and when I’m done with that explanation, another student, who spent the time I was giving the explanation chatting with another student, will ask me the question I just answered.

I had a student who procrastinated on getting writing projects completed, who turned in a pile of plagiarized material in place of the six writing projects that were due by a Friday-afternoon deadline – and he tried to pretend that he had turned in the work on time, even though one of the items he plagiarized was from a newspaper in North Carolina that was published the day after the deadline.

I had students who, in the class session in the computer lab, the instant my attention was elsewhere, quit doing what they were supposed to be doing and instead ran streaming music videos. This is a heavy-duty no-no, as both I and the computer lab supervisors have repeatedly told them. Streaming video eats up a huge lot of bandwidth, and the college just doesn’t have the resources to deal with it, so it’s strictly forbidden. Plus, my students were supposed to be editing their writing projects in preparation for putting them into their portfolios, so there was absolutely no compelling reason for them to be getting streaming videos. I had to be breathing down the backs of their necks just to keep them on-task.

At some point, either when I was trying to keep the video-istas on task, or taking the plagiarist out into the hall to explain to him, out of the earshot of others, that he was going to have to face consequences for what he did, two of the more kinetic students started hitting each other, seriously enough that someone decided to call campus security. I didn’t see the incident. These particular students do frequently swat each other playfully, but the person who made the report said that the young man hit the young woman “forcefully, several times.”

Meanwhile, there are four students in this class who are being short-changed. They’re working hard, and they’re doing everything they can to improve their writing skills. They deserve my help. It really hurts that I have to spend all of my time policing the other students instead of helping the ones who really care about what they’re doing.

There is a limit on what I can do personally. In the case of plagiarism, I am permitted to give a zero for the assignment, and if I feel stricter punishment is due, I can ask the Dean of Students to administer said stricter punishment. I am also required to report any academic dishonesty to the Dean of Students, so that office can keep records of repeat offenses. In the case of classroom misbehavior, I am permitted to request that a disruptive student leave the classroom, and if disruptive behavior continues, I can request that the Dean of Students impose further penalties. But I am not permitted to drop a student from the class for any reason other than non-attendance.

Meanwhile, I am very fed up with this class. The students seem to think that if they’ve paid their tuition and fees, they should be guaranteed the class credit that they’ve paid for. Apparently, nobody’s told them that money can’t buy everything.


Anonymous AdriftAtSea said...

Unfortunately, that sort of sense of entitlement and need for instant, immediate gratification seems to be more the norm among today's younger generation. Instant messaging, cell phones, high-speed internet seem to all have contributed towards it in some ways. Part of the problem is also the culture, where the parents often were too lax in doing their duties, and the school systems trying to promote the self-esteem of the students have failed to educate them in any real sense. Many of these youths also have no real concept of hard work. The real world is going to be a rude awakening for them.

Thu Apr 12, 08:17:00 AM MDT  
Blogger nseeking said...

Carol Anne, like you, I prefer teaching evening classes--for the same reasons you cite: I'm not a morning person, and I like the evening students, who are more likely to be motivated to do what they must to succeed in the course.

And I've had classes like the one you've described. It makes for a l-o-n-g semester.

On the cheery side--it's almost over!


Thu Apr 12, 09:07:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Something that is not legal in the Unnited States, but that is legal in Mexico, is interference technology that blocks cell phone and pager signals. I have heard that such technology is often used in Mexican churches during Mass.

I have also heard of U.S. businesses who have smuggled these devices across the border, in particular for high-end restaurants.

I wouldn't mind having something like that for my classroom.

Sat Apr 14, 12:11:00 AM MDT  

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