As I get to know my students, I recognize potential and abilities in all of them. I want them all to do well. But some of them neglect to hand in assignments, miss important classes, or have excuses for late or shoddy work. I want to give them another chance. Or acknowledge their potential in some way, but how can I do that without compromising the standards of the course? In some ways, I guess I am tempted to take responsibility for their education, and I really can't do that. I can only take responsibility for providing a great learning environment. What they do with that is up to them.
The practical advice I got today gave me clarity, especially for a few sticky situations I am facing in my class. Here is what the teachers on the panel offered to us:
1. Pick your battles. Select a few key elements that are vital and important to the course. Inform the students that these MUST be present in order to do well and then stick to it. Build a learning curve into the course in order to allow students to catch and comprehend these key concepts, but make sure the students know what they have to know in order to pass. And then be firm!
2. You are the Keeper of the Degree! This means that how you teach should uphold the high value of a university degree, not dilute it. Grades should not be bumped up out of pity for personal problems or because you see potential or because of a winning personality. Grades should reflect actual work done in a timely manner, otherwise it is not fair to those who have worked really hard to do well. Give students resources to get help if they are struggling, offer to look over preliminary work to make sure they are on the right track, even give them a chance to redo an assignment if you feel the circumstances merit it. But if the work is not being done, let the mark reflect that. Hopefully, it will be a lesson to the student. On the other hand, if you sense that a student really has it in them to do well, but got lost in the semester for some reason, find some nugget in their work and acknowledge it, even if in a small way. It will hopefully motivate them to do better next time.
3. Have fun in class. Whatever your personality is, bring it. Let your students see your passion for the subject and your ability to engage with it in many ways. If you are having fun and engaging with the material, the class will catch your energy. Keep it appropriately professional (you are not the students' best friend) and focussed on the material, but don't be afraid to play!
4. Use your mistakes to provide teaching moments. Letting students see that you are still learning models what a learner looks like. Be sure to model anything that you expect them to learn, especially methods specific to your discipline, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
Thanks, fellow teachers, for the good advice and for bringing cranberry chocolate to the session.
the photo: a row of school desks and typewriters I saw sitting in the desert in California. Artwork or junkyard?