Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Weekend Thirsty On Reliance.

I'm Wilma in Wilmington and I have a problem that I'm a bit embarrassed that I'm complaining about.

I'm glad when my students need me. I like when I can actually offer them help and they seek it out.

But I've got a home-schooler in my class this semester who has already worn me out. She's pleasant as all get out and I enjoyed her fierce inquisitiveness when I first started working with her outside of class.

But only three weeks in she's paralyzed about any activity unless I give her a go-ahead. She's grown overly reliant in that short of time. I want her to work on her own, too, not just wait for approval. But so many of my students over the years have been so disengaged from me and the material that it's sort of nice to have this force of nature around. I don't want to encourage her to learn the wrong way, though, and I'm not entirely sure part of my unease is just how tired she makes me!

Q: Do I try to undo this attachment, make her back off, make her do more thinking for herself, or is an educational partnership like this a modern educational path that I just don't know about yet? Should I just enjoy the whirlwind?


  1. Dear whoever...I'd say count your blessings but try to get a bit of distance. I sometimes give my students a limit to how many times I'll review a project, essay, lab, whatever. Happy to help, but at some point they have to be SELF reliant. And the sapping of the strength cannot be underestimated. It can ruin your whole day when you know so and so is going to be waiting - yet again - at the office door.

  2. It is always great when someone reaches put and asks for help but we are not doing students any favors by not helping them learn independence and critical thinking. One suggestion I have is that when the student asks you for guidance say "what do you think you should do?" And build off of their answer. This will help them learn to problem solve and build confidence in their skills.

  3. She needs to be weaned -- gently, but weaned nevertheless. You've diagnosed the problem very clearly -- this is going to be a problem for her in the long run, as well as, possibly, for you (if she doesn't receive similar attention from other professors, she may keep coming back to you, even after the class is over. As you realize, your job is to make her independent of, not dependent on, you.

    FWIW, I'm seeing a good bit of this (though not extreme), even in students who were not home-schooled. I blame the K-12 academic culture created by high-stakes testing (*not* the teachers who are struggling to do their best within that culture).

    1. Agreed. But don't forget the innumeracy of the average human. I provide a lot of stuff that's low- to moderate-stakes, for practice. Practice includes failure. But if they miss a few points (amounting to something like 0.001% of their course grade) do they ever panic!

    2. Very true. In that case, I blame not only innumeracy, but LMSs which alert them every time the smallest grade is posted.

      I've gone to mostly complete/incomplete ontime/late grading for the low-stakes stuff. It doesn't stop the panic attacks, but it does keep them from arguing about the grades themselves. It's really not a good use of anybody's time to argue over those thousandths of the course grade, but if there's anything to argue about, some of them will.

  4. Replies
    1. Katie would not express anything but love for Homeschool Hannah and how she gets to travel with her new BFF through the pathways of enlightenment, and then the wine back at her place... certainly not wanting to wean her.

  5. As a student, I feel that I can give a slightly different perspective. I don't know a LOT about her behavior, but I'm reminded of things that I occasionally do. What it sounds like to me is that she's just making sure she's on the right track. Me checking in with my professor on what I'm doing does three things, at least in my mind, that make me feel a lot better.

    -Predictability. If my professor looks at my work and gives me a thumbs up every once in a while, I can only fuck up SO badly.

    -Accountability. Even if this isn't the case, it certainly feels like if a professor is even tangentially involved in your process along the way, they can't wollop you as much for the result. I spent five minutes trying to find a good way to phrase that.

    -Reassurance. I have six classes. I am CONSTANTLY thinking I've forgotten something. An email from even one professor assuring me that I'm doing something properly (and not mentioning any assignments I've forgotten) is a huge morale boost.

    Just my two bits. That said, is she a bit over reliant? Probably. What should you do? Students are people too. Talk to her. Be very professional. Tell her that you are her professor, and you greatly value her enthusiasm, but at the end of the day you don't want to be her friend on facebook; you want to be her friend on LinkedIn. You're here to make her successful. Then, soon after you have said conversation, I would go out of my way to congratulate her on a job well done, saying something like "See? I told you you could do it." This is the kind of tough love good professors have shown ME.

  6. Conan, this is good stuff. I want to springboard off this idea of accountability, because I think you may be looking at it sideways and from the standpoint of gaming it (though you did admit trouble in wording it). If you fuck up, professors can and will 'wollop' you even if you've met with them personally and often.

    I say this as a former student: when you meet one-on-one with your professors, you increase your accountability to them. You are no longer a faceless name in the gradebook, or a nameless face in the classroom, and you know this. Nor is your professor any longer a mere talking head in the front of the room. Because it's personal now, if you fuck up for lack of honest effort, you let both of you down that much more. Sometimes that understanding can give you the extra motivation to persevere through and apprehend difficult concepts, and as a consequence of your effort, you learn more and your grade may improve. A side effect is that if it comes down that you're 0.001% below the cutoff for the next highest grade, having seen how far you've come and that your skin is most definitely in the game, your prof might give you the bump.

    Now to reassurance. As you become master of more things, you also get better at honest and reliable self-assessment, and assurance can increasingly come from within. It's a life-long journey. I think you are well on your way.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.