Last night, a handful of my classmates and I went to a nice Italian restaurant for dinner. Clearly, I didn’t choose the establishment as we’d otherwise be at a pub where I could have a fresh pint of local off the tap and some hot wings–what else is there in life to go out and eat? It was nice to be in a town away from school and to socialize a bit with one another aside from things directly related to our studies and the work that always follows us (and is sitting a pile not far from where I’m typing, no doubt waiting for me).
Of course, put a bunch of teachers in a room, at a table, and inevitably the discussion of teaching will come up–last night being no exception. The conversation came around as to what group of students each of us teaches, etc, etc, and everyone at the table pretty much teachers various forms of Freshman Composition or Introduction to Literature. So when I told them that I’ve adjuncted Developmental English the past couple of years and will be doing so now on a full-time basis, I was somewhat surprised at the number of groans and eyes rolling. Here are a few of the remarks I heard:
- “I had to teach developmental students once. Worst experience ever.”
- “I had so many students failing–only about 40% passed my class!”
- “I had to teach them basic skills like the importance of coming to class, being responsible, and begin organized. I even had to re-teach sentence writing skills to them. Sentence writing!”
- “Teaching students who didn’t want to learn was the biggest waste of my time.”
Wow. Now admittedly, two of these students possess vastly different personalities and world views than I do, but as fellow teachers… I was absolutely floored and quite nearly disgusted. Thankfully, I didn’t have anything to drink that night as I might’ve demonstrated less discretion than I did. But we all know teachers aren’t “in it for the money,” so why say those things?
After teaching students with learning disabilities, students who are non-native speakers, adult learners, and frankly, students who developed very bad study habits, I can pretty sum up why some of my classmates expressed those feelings in one word: Lazy. Sure, they are very hard workers and exceptionally bright people–stronger than I am in some regards. But that is because they work hard in areas that are of interest to them. And it’s really not hard work if it is something you love. Instead, these developmental students were hard, did not conform to the teaching models that these teachers were comfortable with, and did not show up to class with the skills and abilities they want them to have. Teaching these types of students was going to be hard. And so, it sounded to me like they quit.
The statistics of a 40% passing rate (if one includes those students who gradually drop off throughout the semester as well) is about standard for most developmental English courses–give or take 5-10%. But that means there is still that approx. 40% who remain and want to learn. SO many of them are looking for their 2nd or 3rd chance at improving themselves–and often, improving the lives of their children. We as teachers have every responsibility in the world to this 40% in our class–and perhaps even that 60% who don’t make it then but have a better idea of what will be expected of them when they next return. We have to be prepared to put aside our brilliantly thought out lesson plans of creative writing, and maybe just spend 30 minutes talking about some strategies for being better organized. Sometimes, it’s actually okay to forgo that lecture on the different logical fallacies in order to spend some time reviewing some fundamental rules on how to use the dreaded and much-misused comma. If their work is showing a need, then it is our job as educators to address those needs. Why else are we standing in front of that classroom?
I remember particular instructor of mine saying (along these lines) that he wouldn’t have wasted his time if he thought I didn’t actually care. It had far less to do with my producing the exact results but whether or not I was giving my very best. The results would eventually follow–and they did. I was worked like a dog because that is simply what I needed to catch up with my peers. And these students need to be worked hard in order to catch up as well. But if they think their teacher doesn’t care or see a point in making them work hard, then they won’t waste their time on that teacher.
I was supposed to empathize with them for their frustrating experience of teaching a class that wasn’t intellectually stimulating enough for them, but I really feel bad for those students who had professors who neither know how or cared enough to learn how to properly teach and work them. Watching students who aren’t “supposed” to do well succeed and achieve academic success is about as intellectually stimulating as I could hope for.
Waste of time my ….