Riot in the classroom

The funniest thing happened today. I was doing a final sort of review exercise about the steps involved in writing a research paper, when a student decided that they just had to offer up their opinion of my class, and the university in general.

She said it was all too easy, and not challenging at all. Looking around at all the pained faces, struggling to get their papers into shape before next week, it seemed like things might almost erupt into a riot. She asserted that she learned all this stuff in high school, and so far college had taught her nothing new. I asked her where she went to high school. It was a privileged Catholic girls high school. The class nearly erupted into a shouting match, with quite a few students asserting that it wasn’t that easy, I just made it seem that way. As I look at the numbers, and review the progress of the students I feel like most of my decisions were good ones.

At least 70% of the people are “getting it.” A few are going to need a minor miracle to pass. Now, at least, I had some indication that there was someone who felt I wasn’t aiming high enough. That’s the first indication of this from anyone, and it sort of brought a smile to my face. Though I’ve never said that in a class, I have felt that way before.

I reviewed my comment sheets on this particular student when I got home. Her first essay was a B-. Her second, a complete fail. Her third, a B. If she didn’t feel challenged, that’s her problem and not mine, because she obviously hadn’t incorporated much of what I was teaching into her papers. She has not submitted any revisions on any papers, including the F. She’s a miss, but it’s a miss on the lower end rather than the upper end. You can’t reach them all. Her indictment was not aimed just at my class, but at all her classes. I’m sure she’ll complain to daddy and try to get into a private college, but as far as I can see the public school students are way ahead of her. I was proud to see the way my students held their own against her accusation, asserting that there was no way that writing was as easy as she claimed. She’ll be in for a nice surprise if she tries to write at the level she wrote in my class at a stricter private college.

The interesting thing to me was that she equated difficulty with “homework.” I was thinking back, and I can’t remember any university level classes that had anything like homework, with the exception of foreign language classes. My first thought was to tell her that she should have said something sooner, because I know I could have provided something more challenging for her. Now that I look at the quality of her work, I see that that isn’t the problem at all. She wants a nun with a ruler to crack her on the knuckles when she doesn’t do her sentence combining and grammar exercises on time, and that’s something that real universities aren’t set up to provide.

The students who are self-motivated and working hard nearly exploded. If I’ve tried to teach them anything, it’s not to accept things at face value and to dig deeper to produce informed opinions. Their revolt against this uninformed opinion made me feel like I had really done my job. What a great way to start closing out the semester!

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