Tuesday, May 3, 2016

By Request...A RYS Flashback on End of the Semester Nuttiness. From 2007.

Some Last Day Suggestions From the Center For Touchy-Feelyness.

Like many campuses, ours has a Center whose purpose is to promote teaching and learning. I won't even get into the irony of a college that has to have a special center to promote *teaching and learning*!

But this center does have some events and resources that have been somewhat useful to me in the past. One of the services they provide is sending teaching suggestions periodically through a listserv. Very occasionally these have proved useful to me; most often I read them and delete, as the suggestions are things I already know, or that are not appropriate to my field or my classes. Most of the time, the submissions are not particularly memorable, for good or bad. The most recent one, though, stopped me in my tracks:

The last day of class can be hectic for students as well as instructors. This is a stressful time for all of us, and students may lose their focus just trying to make it to the end of the semester. Many instructors feel compelled to squeeze in those extra gems of knowledge on the last day. There are, however, more productive ways you can spend your time. One suggestion is a last day of class party. Have fun and plan some closing activities.

WTF? A "last day of class party" is a "more productive way you can spend your time"?!? A way to keep students from "los[ing] their focus"? The message goes on to list other variously educational and touchy-feely things we can do to wrap up the semester.

Maybe I'm hopelessly old-fashioned, naive, or pedantic (or maybe all three!) but I just can't believe that the last day of class--at least in a course with some actual content--isn't best spent maybe reviewing that content, or reinforcing concepts, or making connections with the earlier material, or, I don't know, helping students prepare for the final exam. Then again, it seems a lot of classes here (though not those in my department) don't bother to have final exams either.

A lot of my students seem to think that: (1) nothing really happens (should happen) during the first week of classes, (2) nothing really happens (should happen) during the last week of classes, (3) they shouldn't have required assignments or exams during the week before or the week after a holiday or break, (4) final exams are optional, and (5) they shouldn't be tested on anything that wasn't said out loud in class.

In short, a lot of them appear to think themselves entitled to at least a B for showing up in class at least half the time and breathing in and out. They take it as an affront when we actually start presenting material on the first day of classes ("What? You're not going to just pass out the syllabus and let us go?") and meet on the last day ("None of my other classes are meeting that Monday.") I can only assume their other profs are the ones saving the last day for cupcakes, letters to next semester's students, and a big group hug.


  1. Center for Teaching and Learning, because, well, we stopped worrying about that at the college years ago.

    1. Well, it's certainly cheaper than paying the teaching (i.e. mostly contingent) faculty a wage commensurate with the centrality of the their duties to the university's mission, and easier than persuading graduate faculty to treat their TAs as apprentices rather than underlings whose job it is to make sure the undergraduates (and their work) are both seen and heard as little as possible.

      Mind you, the folks at our CFTL (ours has "excellence" in the name, of course; can't have one without that) are actually very good, and would never suggest that a party was "productive" (though I can imagine them suggesting how to *make* a party productive if end-of-semester parties were an expectation on our campus; fortunately, although they happen, they're not).

      Still, I concur with your theory of the reasons behind the proliferation of CFTLs (and excellence!), and mourn them.

    2. We have a CFTL: it's called "every department at the university."

      I'm not sure what that says about us or about places that actually have them.

  2. Just do it and put it in your evaluation under retention initiatives. Then take a shower to feel clean again.

  3. I love the dismissive "extra gems of knowledge." Yeah. The field of study to which I have dedicated my entire adult life, think about nearly every waking moment and some sleeping ones, that's just a collection of pretty baubles.

  4. Many instructors feel compelled to squeeze in those extra gems of knowledge on the last day. There are, however, more productive ways you can spend your time. One suggestion is a last day of class party.

    OK, let's extrapolate. If a party is more productive than extra gems of knowledge on the last day, then it is also more productive on the next-to-last day, and also on the antepenultimate day, and so on all the way back to the first day. So, a party every day of class, then---how the fuck is that productive by any measure?

    How about the radical proposal that those gems of knowledge ARE the very productivity that university is all about?

    Sometimes I feel like I've been abducted in my sleep and transported to the wrong planet.

  5. Hereinafter the office known as Center for Touchy-Feely and Kumbaya (CFTFAK).