And here it is again, like every semester. The phenomenon that is, to me, the biggest mystery of higher education. It's not the matter of why the student lounge has better vending machines than the faculty lounge - that one is easy. And, no, it's not the question of whether admins have souls. It's not even the enigma that is our IT department.
It's the "dead room."
I had two sections of the same class today, back-to-back. This rarely happens to me, but it gave an excellent opportunity to observe just how much responses can vary to the exact same material and presentation from one class to the next. I pretty well gave identical experiences: classroom business, a little "getting to know you" thing, and the set-up lecture for the semester. I kept my energy level high for both classes. Even the little jokes were basically the same.
One class ate it up, and the other just sat there staring at me.
I have seen it before, but never so starkly illustrated. The classes were of almost identical size, gender-balance, and age range. They were essentially indistinguishable. If it hadn't been for the gal in the back with the extensive tattoos and the outrageous highlights, I would not have had any easy visual signpost to use for telling the two groups apart (she is, for the record, in the first class). Exactly ten minutes separated the end of one class and the beginning of the next.
And yet. One class was all over it: responding to questions, laughing at my jokes, apparently really into the material. The other? Zip. Zilch. Zero. Nil nada nothing. Like zombies, these kids, just sitting there, staring at me, glassy eyed.
You know what my take-home from this has always been?
It's not me, it's them.
I have colleagues who freak out when the kids don't seem to be responding. They obsess over whether the material is uninteresting, whether their presentation is bad. They are constantly trying to fine-tune their classroom personas, to tweak the balances between "fun" and "informative," "authoritative" and "accessible," trying to find that sweet spot where everyone will love them and become majors.
Fuck 'em. You can have one class in the palm of your hand, and another one that is only barely aware of your existence, with the exact same material and presentation. I got the proof right here, baby. I do my thing, and most of 'em like it well enough. And even if they don't - they still gotta take the tests.