Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Allergic to sunshine?

A couple of weeks ago both my tutorial groups begged - BEGGED - for an extra tutorial this week to help them prepare for DrScary's exam.  DrScary gives them a choice of two from six old-school long-word complex-grammar essay titles, closed-book, all the works, and they wanted to practice working out what the question was asking for - translating the question-sentence into a little essay outline.  Sure, I'm happy to help with that, it's a useful to practice.  We agreed times today, I booked a room, and I prepared some activities and a handout over the weekend (even though it was gloriously sunny here in England - the jokes about 'this is summer make the most of it' got a lot of airing).

Yesterday was a holiday.  Today is also sunny, with a blue sky and a light breeze and some cute puffy clouds, and all's right with the world... except for the 20 students across the two tutor groups.  Two emailed to say they are sick.  One emailed to say she hadn't been able to get back from her long weekend trip, please can I explain what we did in class another day?  Two attended in one class.  And the rest... who knows?  Certainly they did not darken my classroom door.  At least NO-ONE from the second group turned up so I got to take a stroll across the campus enjoying the sun rather than sitting in the classroom going over stuff I know perfectly well...

I'm sort of intrigued to see what excuses trickle in over the next few days (we always send emails to students who missed a tutorial enquiring whether they are all right, it usually elicits some response).


  1. ..."we always send emails to students who missed a tutorial enquiring whether they are all right"...

    Wow. You guys have come a long way from "rum, sodomy, and the lash".


    One of the former colonies.

    1. I'm at a recruiting university not a selecting one, Bums On Seats and high scores in the National Student Satisfaction Survey are what matters. Increases the need for rum (I'll have mine as a toddy thanks). Students are of course kept happy by lots of opportunities to go 'on the lash' (regional term for drinking yourself unconscious regularly) and one of the ways their interests are served is through the active, university funded LGBTG-and-a-few-other-letters rainbow society which has the best parties with a lot of cheap shots, apparently, so we haven't totally abandoned the old ways ;-)

    2. There's very little that annoys me more than students who literally beg for help, and then can't be bothered to turn up to actually take advantage of the help on offer. This is especially true if I have to undertake some extra task in order to help them, like you did by preparing handouts and a lesson.

      This often happens for one-on-one types of help, too. One type of help that I offer my students is a willingness to read drafts of their essays. I tell them that they can send their essays to me by email, that I will read the essay, and that they can then come to my office hours in order to receive useful feedback that will help them to write a better paper. While not all students take advantage of this offer, those who do almost invariably end up producing a better paper, and receiving a better grade, than they would have without the help.

      In each case, I read the paper and mark up some of the areas needing improvement. I don't micro-edit or fix all their writing errors, and my markup is designed to help them think about what they've missed, rather than simply fix the problems for them. This is supposed to be a learning process for them, not a process where I write the essay for them.

      Once I've read and marked up the paper, I send the students an email and remind them to come and see me so I can talk about the paper with them. I insist on these meetings for a few reasons. First, they save me time. I can offer, in about 5 or 10 minutes, the type of verbal feedback that would take half an hour if I typed it all out in an email. Second, having them in the room allows an exchange of information, so that I can make sure that they understand the points I'm trying to make, and can ask questions if they need further clarification. Third, and perhaps most important, it is a purposeful attempt to make them responsible for part of the process. I'm happy to provide this extra help, but they have to be willing to make some effort to get it.

      And every semester, there are students who, despite being told beforehand what the process is, will beg me just to email them with my comments, rather than requiring them to come to office hours. In some cases, students who took the time to submit a draft don't receive any feedback because they can't drag their butts into my office for 10 minutes. And it's not like I'm inflexible; if they can't make my posted office hours, I'm always willing to meet at a different, mutually-agreeable time.

      I did have one last week, though, who was willing to meet. He emailed me on Wednesday evening saying that he would be available "after 6.00 p.m. on Thursday, and after 3.00 p.m. on Friday." Sorry my friend, but by 6.00 on Thursday I'm already on my second beer, and I don't teach on Fridays.

    3. And you have just highlighted why I absolutely *will not* accept drafts via email. (I used to do it--no longer.) Here's why:

      I am no longer willing to take 15 minutes out of my already-crammed and over-50 hour/week schedule to mark up a draft, only to have them no-show for the one-on-one and expect me to email comments (because it would be churlish of me not to spend another half hour writing up an explanation of what the issues are? I guess.) so that they can revise the draft 5 minutes before the thing is due. And THEN, be pissed when I grade the essay (which will invariably still have errors) on its merits, and send me emails claiming I'm unfair because I should have pointed out every single problem with the essay on the first read-through.

      Nope. I am happy to provide help with drafts. They have to print it (or have it on a laptop with enough battery life left) so that we can look at it together in real time. Otherwise, nothing doing.

      And since I have 5-10 office hours per week and I'm willing to meet after I've picked up my child from school, and they KNOW this, I have no guilt at all. It's been very refreshing. And I have all those extra minutes to sleep, or garden, or read in my discipline....

  2. During my first few years of teaching, I'd often offer tutorial sessions if the students wanted them. The immediate reaction is enthusiasm and got a relatively large turnout for the first one. But, the numbers dropped off with each successive session, with excuses ranging from the lame "too busy" to "I've got an interview", but which translated into "I really don't want to come."

    When only one or two people showed up, I cancelled them. Why did I bother going through all the effort? I used my own free time to run those sessions and prepare for them, time which I would rather have used for other course work.

    Eventually, I stopped with tutorials because I knew what was going to happen. Those who wanted my help knew where to find me. If they didn't make an appointment, they took their chances as to whether I'd be in my office and would have time to meet with them.

  3. Never care more about... oh why bother.

  4. Well, at least you've got the materials ready should they ask again. I'd be inclined to email them to the student who inquired what (s)he missed, even if they're not particularly useful without the accompanying explanation. Then again, that might lead to the sort of conference-scheduling request Defunct Adjunct describes. That sounds all too familiar.