Posted by: codecalla | January 11, 2013

The New Semester

Challenges a professor (even an adjunct as myself) face include students who are ill prepared, hungry, irritated, unfocused, and confused.  Of course, a professor could be feeling the same things, but professionalism demands that we suck it up and go to work.  Each semester I find myself staring at the cell phones, tablets, and other handheld devices, wondering how much of the attention of the student they will capture.  I wonder if anyone has done a scientific study to look at the attraction devices hold for people? Could it be a study of the brain, or perhaps looking at electromagnetic emissions?  Is there an actual physical ailment or set of stimuli that breeds distraction?  The science of distraction.

At any rate, I view teaching in front of students as a sort of improv, since I’m never sure how the audience/students will respond.  I abhor the idea of running through the motions and just repeating notes or the book in front of class; so I try to mix it up with discussion, group work, lecture, and personal on-hands training.  My students write much of the time.  I am confident that I could lecture for 1-2 hours straight, but I’d rather save my voice, their souls, and my sanity.  One of the problems is balancing the class through the scheduled time, and configuring how much time for each activity.  I guesstimate, but it’s never completely 100% accurate.  My goal this semester is to fine tune my ability to not only keep their attention in class, but to fill the class with important information that they need.

The challenge of teaching at different writing levels is that there are always more pieces of the puzzle I could give them, but it is possible to throw too much information at the student, and they come away flustered and angst ridden.  I will attempt to tailor the situation to fit the class in front of me, as I always do, but we’ll see how it goes.  If I slow down when I speak, that should be of some help.  As a writer, I am usually more fluent in the written word than spoken, but I will focus my energies appropriately.

Another issue that students (and sometimes professors) may have is the idea of responsibility.  Many students (but not all)  throw responsibility for their assignments, retention, and completion at the instructor, without wishing to consider their own involvement which is tantamount to success.    When I was a student, I spent much of the time mucking it out, trying to discover what it was that I was supposed to learn.  Some of my classes were large, some were small, and the instruction was vigorous.  The requirements were stringent, and the sense of achievement at the end of the class was supreme.  I teach at two different institutions:  a community college and a local university, both of which are different than my undergraduate experience at a private college.   Students have views of education that differ from my own, but at the very least I try to make them more aware of alternative interpretations and experiences, to charge up their values of education.

The value of education is something that can be in flux, depending on who you ask and what they require of it.  Increasingly it is viewed monetarily, as a means of employment rather than empowerment.  That’s rather disturbing.

Here is another post that I found, via an old professor of mine who shared a post link of an old professor of his, and to carry on the tradition of sharing:

“5 Things You Should Never Say To Your Professor”


  1. Very interesting. Your second paragraph talking of lesson activity timings made me think of the ridiculous lesson plans our government education inspectors deem to be so important. Hours and hours preparing them for the inspections. In reality they are only a guide but we have to break each lesson down minute by minute. You reminded me of why I got out. Your penultimate paragraph is so true. Nice post.

  2. Timing is always a struggle. Sometimes I can cover a section or concept quickly, possibly too quickly. I always try to leave it open to go into more detail for the students if they look lost. I’m always checking facial expressions, so it’s rather disappointing if they’re texting…then I have no idea if they’ve even heard me. And that does come up. I have a stringent no-cell phone policy, but they tend to ease up toward the end of the semester when they should know better (and do).

    I’d like to engage with them in the critical discourse that I enjoyed throughout my college formative years, with incredible insights (not just by me) and discussions about all manner of topics. To make someone start thinking, or think about things from a different viewpoint is very difficult. Whetting their appetite with interesting topics (which vary depending on the class) and trying to be fair and open, and non-judgmental is the crux.

    Writing is the gateway to a world of expression of ideas and what-ifs…it takes time to develop, as well as careful thinking and planning. There are, of course, many different methods. I give them a few different strategies, and tell them to pick what works best for them and their rhetorical situation. I say if rocking out to your favorite music the night before it’s due gets the assignment finished, fine…be prepared for something you missed.

    Still, I always worry about the value of information I’m sharing; sometimes I’m sharing the methodology of thinking about things; sometimes I’m sharing the different perspectives of issues. A few past students weren’t sure what relation some of what we covered in class were to English, and I told them in a conference, “there’s always a reason I do everything.” I want to clarify it, but at the same time, I hope that they will seek out their education more.

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