Monday, May 11, 2015

Early Thirsty on General Education.

I have taught many non-majors classes over the years, but never in consecutive semesters.  I've often thought "Why are these kids so horrible?  I remember this being a better assignment." and "Wait, these kids are alright.  Why do I remember this teaching assignment being so horrible?"

This semester I am teaching it on the heels of having taught it in the fall and I think I finally solved the mystery and wanted to see if this pattern is recognized by others and if it happens in other fields.  Here is my hypothesis:

Non-majors courses go better in the fall than in the spring because the fall sections are full of eager beavers who want to check things off their lists, and the spring is full of loser seniors who put it off to the last minute.

In the fall, my students got overwhelmed in the beginning because they didn't know they were supposed to do the reading on the syllabus and not wait for me to announce reading assignments the way high school teachers do.  Other than that, they were open minded, energetic and curious.

This semester if I change the color chalk I use, it sparks a cacophony of indignation and I need to duck the hate rays that fly from their stinky f***ing faces.  I need to defend every word I use and every question I ask.  The rate of "Can you tell me exactly what is going to be on the test?" requests is through the roof and it is often followed up by "because I need to do well in this class I have to graduate".

That's got to be it.  I went back through old Excel files of grade books and every time I've f***ing hated my non-majors, it was the spring, and every time I've loved them, it was the fall.

Have you ever seen this? 
Does this happen in [Western Civ, Psych 101, Composition II, Yoga....], or is it a Math/Science thing?


  1. It happens in freshman comp, but differently. Comp I in the fall = fine. Comp I in the spring = dire, because the class is full of people who flunked it the last time, people who theoretically passed remedial comp in the fall but haven't really caught up, and people who are just kind of flaky and didn't register for it during their first semester even though their advisor almost certainly told them to.

    Conversely, Comp II in the spring = mostly fine, although with a bigger admixture of stragglers who took four or six semesters to complete the comp sequence instead of just two. Comp II in the fall = dire. (This was not always the case when I was in grad school at an R1, where lots of first-time freshmen came in with AP or early-college credit for the first semester, but that doesn't happen so much at the little regional state school where I teach now.)

    I haven't noticed any particular fall / spring pattern with my gen ed lit classes.

    1. Spring chem 101 classes are full of freshmen who failed the class in the fall or didn't have the algebra prereq (!) completed in the fall. It's quite a cast of losers.

    2. The math department does yeoman's work shielding us from the would be engineers who require multiple semester to pass algebra and trig.

      I don't know how they manage it.

    3. I'm sure it depends on a math department Chair who has integrity and a backbone. There are still some of them left, Doug bless them.

  2. What? You get sections of your general-ed science course that don't feel like a battery-acid-and-gasoline enema on fire? It sure must be nice.

  3. First year gen eds, of which I teach about fifteen hours per year, all suck. It's like teaching HS. My majors love me, even though I teach some of the most dreaded courses in our major and am known as a hard professor in general. My freshcritters loathe me (not universally -- I had one this year thank me for teaching the class like a college class, which made me feel good and sad at the same time.).

  4. I teach Klingon and I have to say, Wombat, your observation applies to my experience teaching foreign languages. Though, when I taught languages as a TA at my R1, the classes were generally fun. Now it's just fresh hell every single day. I can only imagine what the math and science profs go through.

  5. I teach pretty much entirely gen ed (a lot of upper-level comp and a bit of lit), and I haven't observed this pattern, but that might have to do with the particular class I teach most often (required, but/and usually taken at the end of sophomore or beginning of junior year) and/or the configuration of our student population (a fair number of students on the traditional 4-year plan, but also a lot of transfers, both from the local cc and from other schools, who show up for the first time in January as well as in September, though I believe September is still the most common starting month).

    One pattern that definitely holds true, and that tallies with those others have mentioned above: summer classes are disproportionately populated by people who took the class later than they should have, then failed it, and now find themselves re-taking it after their originally-planned graduation date. Needless to say, they are not happy to be there. Mix in a few students who are trying to "get it over with" (many of whom think summer classes are/should be easier), and a few hyper-responsible non-traditional students who have a more realistic view of the class, and you get quite a mix (and yes, often, quite a headache).

    Why yes, I'm a bit apprehensive about the summer term that will start c. 2 weeks after I get grades in. How could you tell?