Thoughts at the end of a crazy semester (part 1)

This semester’s classes end April 19 (finals end April 26), and I am limping to the end. It has been an absolute crazy semester for me. Among other things:

  • I taught two courses completely new to me (English 323 and English 621) and one class more or less new since I changed most of the way I did things (English 444). I haven’t had that kind of “prep” load since I started down the tenure-track in 1996.
  • I taught two night classes, which I think is draining on me. I don’t know how students who put themselves through school by working all day and taking courses three or so nights a week do it.
  • My wife and I were involved in a very stressful job search that involved many MANY twists and turns. I am happy to say though that EMU has offered my wife a tenure-track position and so we’re going to be staying here for quite a while.
  • I did an unusual amount of travel because of the job search, the CCCCs, some family issues, etc., which meant I had to cancel an unusual number of classes.
  • There was a bunch of other stuff in my own “unofficial life” (eg, we were living with one car for most of the semester) that made my official life a lot more complicated.
  • Oh yeah– I’ve got a ton of scholarly projects I’ve been neglecting, etc. I literally just now remembered something I promised to do by the past weekend. Shoot.

In some ways, one could say “thus is the academic life,” but it has been a bit more stressful than usual this semester. All of this is a preamble of sorts to react to Michael Arnzen’s “Ambush the White Rabbit” in Inside Higher Ed. On his own personal blog, Michael points out he means this piece as a sort of “self-mocking rant,” though some of the comments left by others on the Inside Higher Ed. piece suggest that people don’t get the joke. Or maybe folks are just a bit on edge.

Anyway, tardiness, especially after everything else going on, doesn’t bother me too much. It doesn’t bother me as much as it used to, I suppose because I have become increasingly tardy in my own life. Why? See above.

What does bother me though is out-and-out absence, mostly of the literal sort (though the student who seems “absent” in a more abstract sense can be problematic, too). Ever since I started teaching college as a graduate student in 1988, I have always had a very straight-forward attendance policy: if you miss too many classes regardless of the reason why you missed the class, your grade would greatly suffer. The details of this has varied from year to year, depending on the course and depending on the school where I was teaching. This semester, I decided to suspend that policy; I merely told students that if they missed too many classes, they probably wouldn’t do that well.

I think I’ll go back to the way I used to do it.

I haven’t had a lot of students just not turning up for class (I’ve been lucky to have 3 pretty good groups of students this semester), but I just sense that the few students I have who have missed a few too many classes probably wouldn’t have done this if my policy was more clear. For one thing, I think a policy that says “if you miss ‘x’ number of classes, your grade will drop by ‘y%'” (or something like that) helps students recognize the implications of missing class. I mean, they know I keep attendance and I know they know exactly how many classes they’ve missed. End of story.

But the other thing I noticed this semester is I don’t know their names as well. It’s not like I have a lot of students, and I do have to cut myself a bit of a break (see above bulleted list), but because I did not keep regular attendance from the beginning of the term, I simply didn’t learn the names of my students as well as I usually do. It makes me feel a bit guilty to be passing back papers at the end of the term and to not quite know who is who.

Anyway, that’s just one crazy thought at the end. More will be coming, probably.

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