Well, I think I’ve finally turned a corner, reached a plateau, broken new ground, etc., as far as teaching goes. Based on my experience, I think there must be a pattern where when people first start teaching they really want to be a friend to their students, to be easygoing with them, to not have too many rules, to give them the benefit of the doubt, etc. But then, over time, you start to feel like your students might be taking advantage of you a little bit, and you start to get a little stricter and to put up with less bullshit, etc. Until finally, you’re probably an old, cynical, curmudgeonly teacher who’s seen it all before and just wants to do your job, teach your material, and get the hell out of there.
I’m not quite to the curmudgeon level yet, I don’t think, but I’m making progress. My first couple of semesters, I was about as easygoing a teacher as you could probably imagine. I didn’t care if students from other classes came to my class, if my own students came to a different one of my classes than the one they were signed up in, if they came late, etc.
But a series of recent events has completely changed all of that. Our first midterm this semester was yesterday, and I did a series of three review sessions – open to all ComLaw students – last week. When I emailed the students to announce the sessions, I asked them to please come on time as we had a lot to cover and so they wouldn’t distract me and the other students by coming in late. Well, that didn’t work too well, as people were still coming in to the sessions 15 and 20 minutes after it started – and they weren’t just coming in, they were coming in, realizing the room was already full, going out, and coming back in dragging chairs from other rooms, making noise, and generally being distracting. So that pissed me off.
Then, starting last semester, our ComLaw department made a department-wide rule that students could only attend their own teacher’s classes (unless they had permission from another teacher to attend their classes.) On Saturday and Tuesday, I had two separate incidents where, after I had already asked the class if everyone was from one of my classes and not another teacher’s classes, I recognized students who I was pretty sure weren’t in my class. But when I asked them whether they were in my class, they made up some bullshit about having “special permission” from the guy who heads up our student services department. Of course, when I went and asked him about it, he had no idea what they were talking about.
So I went nuts, basically. I turned both of those students in for cheating – as in my book knowingly breaking the rules to attend a class you know you’re not supposed to attend and then lying to the teacher about it is cheating, as you’re essentially helping yourself to an extra class that your fellow students aren’t able to have. But I think what really galled me was the sheer sense of entitlement – that those two students felt that they were somehow different or better or more entitled to break the rules and attend my class even though they knew I had turned down the requests of numerous other students who had bothered to ask for permission.
So then I decided that the reason they had been able to essentially sneak in for part of my class without me knowing it was because I wasn’t controlling my classes enough. Because I was letting students from my three classes attend any one of my classes interchangably, it was hard for me to do an accurate headcount and confirm that everyone present was actually in one of my classes.
So, continuing my general trend of going nuts and probably drastically overreacting, I sent my students an email saying that we were going to have a few new rules for my class for the remaining seven weeks of the semester: (1) you can only attend the specific one of my classes in which you are officially enrolled, no exceptions; (2) when I start taking attendance, I am going to put a sign on the door that says “Class Has Started,” and once that sign is on the door, no additional students will be permitted to enter the classroom and will be marked absent for the day, no exceptions; and (3) I am no longer doing the weekly summary outlines that I had been preparing for my students for weeks 1 through 5. Basically, I was spending a lot of extra time to try to distill the really important stuff that we covered in a particular week, and to restate in very plain English that they could understand. But that was taking me several hours a week to do and, sense I was feeling taken advantage of, lied to, and generally pissed, I’m not going to do that anymore. They can do their own outlines from now on.
And the head of our ComLaw department also sent out a separate email saying that any student caught attending another teacher’s class without permission may lose all 10% of their attendance and participation points for the semester, which in many cases would cause the student to fail ComLaw.
So we’ve tightened things up a little bit. After I emailed my students, I started to feel a little bad about it – like I’d kind of gone Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on them. But then I thought about it some more and realized that the vast majority of my students won’t be affected by it anyway. Probably 80 or 85% of my students are good and attend their own class, don’t come late, and do their own outlines anyway – so these new rules really won’t impact them at all. And it’s the other 15 or 20% who are constantly coming in late, sneaking into other classes, etc., who will and should be impacted – so I really don’t feel too bad about that.
I’m still going to be nice and friendly in class, and to help my students out outside of class as much as I can, etc., but I’m going to be a little stricter and more disciplined about things for the rest of this semester and going forward.
There, I feel better already.