Posts Tagged ‘Rules’

Are we accomplices?

May 5, 2013

We are allowed to drop students who miss more than a week of class, if we have it in our syllabus. The student gets a W grade for withdrawal. I’ve rarely done so, because I feel the student’s transcript should represent what he has done. The F says the student flunked or didn’t care enough to withdraw. The W might be because he had issues that had nothing to do with the particular class. For example, his job might require him to work when class met.

Students who are on visas or receiving financial aid usually need to be full time students. The student who disappears after a few weeks of class might be fooling the someone about his status. Although we report the last day a student attended, a student could appear in class at the end of the semester. His record wouldn’t show that he missed months of class.

By not dropping them, we are fooling the government agency that issues visas or the source of the financial aid. The financial aid situation is clear cut. If the student doesn’t get financial aid, it will probably go to someone else. If the ones who cheat are eliminated, there is more room for the ones who actually benefit from it. The visa situation is harder, since many students need full time jobs to support their full time education.

Some students are simply fooling their parents, who think they are spending their time in college. I’m not all that concerned about that, although I feel sorry for parents who pay for college and get partying.

Should I drop students who stop showing up? I don’t know.


Trading favors

April 14, 2013

I covered for one of my colleagues a few weeks ago. It was in a math lab and for less than half an hour. She wanted to return the favor immediately. Although I applaud her desire to do so, if I did it at her convenience, it wouldn’t really be a return of the favor. She wanted me to cover for her because she had something she wanted to do. She had a reason to leave early. I want to save my return favor for a time when I need it.

I realize it would be nicer to her if I just told her, “Sure, I’ll take the time off today. I could use a rest.” It would ease her mind and make her comfortable with the trade. Instead I want to hoard the favor for when I need it. I may never need it, but, like money in the bank, I like to feel I can draw on it.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. My experience has been that most people either won’t remember the favor or won’t feel the need to return it. There are many who give out favors without feeling the need to receive a return, and I have benefited from such people. (A former neighbor comes to mind.) I’ve covered many more classes for other people than they have covered for me, but I’ve been healthy. I may need the favors returned someday. Alternatively, I may retire leaving people who resent the fact that I didn’t let them return the favor.

The phrase I like is to pay it forward, because we can’t always pay it back. Unreturned favors are like money in the bank. We may outlive the money, but it is nice to know the value is there.

The misuse of statistics

March 31, 2013

A certain clinic advertises that the death rate of people between the ages of 45 and 65 is 14 out of 100, but the death rate of people in that age range who go to the clinic is one out of 100. This looks very good, until you look at how the statistics was gathered. The clinic says these statistics are for the last decade. This means there are no people who were followed for the entire age range from 45 to 65.

Even assuming the clinic finds out every time a patient dies, the way the patients are in the study guarantees bad statistics. The clinic is in an expensive area, with many high powered jobs. The man who retires at 62 due to bad health, moves to Florida and dies a year later, is not counted.

In addition, assume that a 64-year-old man starts coming to the clinic and he lives past 65. He counts as someone who beat the odds. True, but he was not picked out of all people who entered the 45 to 65 age range, he was picked out of all people who reached 64 who were sufficiently health conscious to go to the clinic. His chances of reaching 65 were much greater than a random 45 year old.

If a school system decides to spend money to ensure that as many students as possible pass a certain test, they are likely to spend more money on students where it makes a difference. The students that are slighted are the ones who would never pass the test, no matter what was done, as well as the students who would pass the test regardless of the money spent on them. Statistics on test passing would be a misleading indicator of the general quality of the school. A school that spent money to improve all students would not have as impressive results.

At least in the case of the clinic, the statistics may have been gathered in ignorance, but the hypothetical school system is trying to beat the system. At least it is an honest way of beating the system, honest in the sense that if everything is revealed to the public, it won’t lead to indictments. Recently, the Atlanta school system tried a less honest way of trying to beat the system, and those indictments are making headlines.

In view of the stakes, I suspect many schools are putting their money where it can do the most good. By that, I mean the most good for the school system, not for the students.

False Assumptions

March 25, 2013

A student sent me an email after I went to bed last night. It said that he was Jewish, Passover started in a few hours, and he would miss three classes due to Passover. He knew that the absences would be excused.

Really? I suppose he didn’t know it was coming until last night.

I will not excuse the missed work. He could have emailed me the homework that is due tomorrow. I don’t have the assignments for the next classes, but if he told me early enough, I would have something I would accept. I’m not going to bother now, since apparently he’s not allowed to use electricity for much of the time and won’t be able to communicate with me. If he is going without electricity, he will be cold, since it is 35 degrees now, and will get colder tonight.

He is missing more than ten percent of the classes, since it is a twice a week class. One of my colleagues commented that this would make it hard for him to function in the modern world, since there are many Jewish holidays.

If he had told me the first week of the semester, I would have gone out of my way to accommodate him. He didn’t and I won’t.

I’m not sufficiently sympathetic

March 16, 2013

A student told me that he had health problems and financial problems. He was doing fine in his other courses, but had difficulty in mine. He asked me to tell him honestly if he should drop. I said yes, he should.

He continued with his sob story. I think he hoped I would tell him not to worry. That I would give him a C even though he did not do C work. When I was a new teacher, I might have felt guilty about following the rules. Maybe I’m old and cynical, but I don’t feel guilty anymore. If he has health problems and can’t keep up with college, he should drop the one course that he is unlikely to pass. It is not my job to solve his problems, nor to give him a grade he hasn’t earned.

Just because I can do it doesn’t mean I should do it. Besides, unearned grades shouldn’t go to students with the best sob story.

No pressure

December 16, 2012

I’ve heard  stories about teachers who were told to pass more students. Typically, I pass (C or better) around half the students who register for my classes, and I’ve never been told to pass more students. My pass rate is normal for math courses where I teach.

I teach at a community college. We accept virtually everyone who is a high school graduate. Although financial reasons often allow us to have some of the best students, we get all of the ones who aren’t accepted at four-year colleges and still wish to go to college.

Many  students have complicated lives. Classes often take second place to jobs and family obligations. Students who think they are taking classes seriously often don’t realize the level of commitment required for a college course.

It has been hinted that we pass too many students. The common lament is that the students pass prerequisite courses but don’t know enough. I’ve stopped wondering how students get into my class who clearly don’t know the prerequisite material. Apparently, they study for exams and forget everything afterward.

I’m glad I work at a place where standards are kept up, but I sometimes feel sorry for the students. They come to the college thinking they can pass with the same amount of work they did in high school. Usually, they can’t.

Is lying acceptable?

November 29, 2012

A student lied to me today. I told the students I would unlock their computers to allow them to do their online homework as soon as they finished a worksheet. A student said she was finished and covered half the worksheet with a notebook. I moved the notebook and could see that she had not completed it. She wasn’t embarrassed, and gave me a cheerful goodbye when she left class half an hour later.

I’m not certain as to what bothered me more, her lie or her lack of concern about being caught. I hesitated to move the notebook, because in doing so I was showing I didn’t trust her. I didn’t need to worry, because the student obviously felt no concern about maintaining a reputation of truthfulness.

Perhaps she didn’t think lying mattered. The online homework has a grade attached to it. The worksheet doesn’t. The worksheet contained information that will be valuable on the next test, but I didn’t tell them that. I realize an appropriate punishment for her lie would be to let her skip the worksheet and not do well on those problems on the test. I can’t bring myself to do that.

However, I will remember. A note in my grade book will guarantee that I never give her a letter of recommendation. She probably doesn’t care that her reputation is tarnished, at least with me. She should care.

It’s not high school

October 13, 2012

I am teaching Intermediate Algebra at a community college. One of my students complained that she did not know what her grades were, saying she was used to high school where she could check online for her grades.

I’ve also had complaints that the due date for the homework is not the same one that I tell them. I have the computer homework due later than is needed, since I want to allow leeway for students with computer problems. It is up to them to manage their time. I tell them when I expect it done, but the online assignment due date is later.

They are given a syllabus, which has the grading scale. Homework and all but one quiz scores are online. The handwritten quiz and test were returned with scores the class period after they were taken, but I did not enter their scores online. When I returned the test, I gave them a piece of paper with their grades and their current average. They have the information.

They have to do some work to put current information together. The syllabus gives the grading scale. This is a math class. It is not asking a lot for them to work with percents. And they are college students. It is not unreasonable for them to manage their time.

Mean old teachers

September 29, 2012

Recently, a student came late to my community college class and missed a quiz. He told me that the bus he took was full, and he had to wait an extra half hour for the next bus. He was politely unhappy because I would not let him make up the quiz.

When I was new to teaching, I might have arranged something for him, even though I already went over the quiz with the class. I could have written a similar quiz and given it to him later. I now have no hesitancy in refusing to do this. It’s not my job to evaluate excuses. A quiz is worth approximately one half of one percent of his grade, and most students can afford to miss a quiz. I could have explained that I noticed he came at least half an hour late in one of the ten earlier classes. Coming late 20% of the time  shows a lack of responsibility.

I simply refused. I didn’t want an argument, and I I didn’t want to explain. If he learns from this, I hope he takes an earlier bus. Perhaps he will just think I’m a mean old teacher that doesn’t understand the pressures he is under. That is probably true, but if he wants to get a good education, he will make sure he comes to class on time. If I took the extra time to write another quiz, I think he would come late more frequently, as would other students.

I don’t want to teach that lesson.


Postscript: The student was ten minutes late to the first test.

The technicalities of teaching

September 9, 2012

There are two aspects of being a good teacher. The first part is the things one usually thinks about. Does a teacher know his subject? Does he convey it clearly? Does he interact well with students?

The second aspect is what I think of as the mechanics. The teacher should arrive on  time and be prepared. The teacher should fill in all the forms needed and attend all the required meetings. The teacher should grade papers promptly, learn student names, enter grades by the deadline, respond to student emails, do their share of what needs to be done for the school and so on.

This semester I am teaching in a room I had not taught in before. The classroom is protected with a swipe card. About a week before class started, I checked my swipe card and it didn’t work. While checking it a second time, I passed the dean waiting for an elevator. I mentioned my errand to him. I also passed him on my third check, mentioning that I was still unable to get into the classroom.

I don’t think it hurt me for the dean to realize that I was making sure the first day of class went smoothly. I came across as someone who attends to the technicalities of teaching. On the other hand, on first day class met, I checked a fourth time and our campus locksmith had reprogrammed the lock to accept my card. Maybe I just came across as compulsively attending to the details which didn’t need my attention.

I’m glad I checked before the semester started, because the Powers That Be would not know about the problem if I hadn’t. I’m also glad that our administrative aid did her job and so did the campus locksmith. As a side note, I find it interesting that our campus is so big and complex that we have a campus locksmith.