Posts tagged ‘teaching’

Failure

Half of my students are currently getting a D or an F in one of my three classes.

That’s 11 out of 22 grades, exactly.

This makes me really upset.

Any time a student is doing badly in class, there are only a few possible reasons: 1) the student is not applying him- or herself, 2) the student is not capable of completing the coursework accurately, or 3) I am not teaching the material well.  Realistically, it is often a combination of all three.

Do my students apply themselves?  Sometimes students are genuinely lazy and they don’t want to do their homework.  Maybe passing with a C or a D is good enough in their book.  Often, they never learned good study habits in high school, they are accustomed to having assignments and deadlines spelled out for them repeatedly, they simply don’t stay on top of their work.  In a 12-week term, there is often time to catch back up.  In a 6-week term, it’s a lot harder.  You don’t check the syllabus, you fall behind, and suddenly, the class is done.

For reason number 2, I originally phrased it as “the student isn’t capable of learning the material,” but most of the time that really isn’t the problem.  The reasons why they can’t complete the work are legion.  My students often work 40+ hours a week, have children to raise, partners and family members to spend time with, household chores to do, and on top of that they are trying to get a degree.  So often there isn’t enough time to get everything done.  Add to that the fact that, in my computer classes (which account for 19 of my 22 students), many students don’t have regular access to a computer at home, or the Internet, or both.  They are expected to do 2 hours of homework outside of class for each hour they are in class — that would be 16 hours of homework each week.  And many of them need to do it on a family member’s computer, or a friend’s mom’s computer, or at the public library, or during the few hours they have on campus just before or after class.  If they have a computer at home, they may not have Internet to allow them to email me their homework assignments.  They may not know how to install the trial software that comes with their book.  Even if a computer is readily available, I have students who don’t speak English as their first language, so the directions, “Point to the Title cell style in the Titles and Headings area of the Cell Styles gallerty to see a live preview of the cell style in cell A1” is extremely confusing.  Even I find it confusing!  Hell, despite the fact that I have walked them through the process at least one time per class, I still have students, on Day 8 of class, who don’t know what to do when we are in Word and they need to send me their assignment as an attachment to an email.  They can’t remember how to open Internet Explorer and navigate off the home page and go to their online email provider.  I have students who have had so little exposure to computers during their life, they can only type roughly 10 words a minute.  So whether it is because of a lack of access to computing resources, or reading comprehension skills, or previous exposure to computers, many students are unable to complete the work I assign them.

But I always, always worry that the real reason my students are failing is because I am not teaching them what they need to know.  I know that computer classes are difficult to teach in a large group setting.  I know that I have students of all skill levels in the class, so some are surfing between steps during demonstrations because they are so bored, while others are completely lost.  Knowing those things doesn’t make it any easier when you see your students failing, and you don’t know what you can do to help them.  When there are dozens of zeroes in my grading spreadsheet, is it because they are too lazy to turn their work in, they can’t do the work, or because they don’t understand what they are supposed to do?

I don’t know.  And without knowing why they are not turning their work in, I can’t help them.  And that’s the worst feeling of all.

Class Personalities

Every teacher knows that different classes have different personalities.  When I was in school, I thought that the personality of the class was set by the teacher.  But now that I am teaching, I think that it is really the students who determine how the class runs.  This seems more pronounced the smaller the class is.  And it seems that a single person with a strong personality can really influence the tone.

Strategies is my smallest class — 4-6 students — and this is where I have seen the most variability in class personality.  My first Strategies class had 2 men and 2 women.  One of the guys was very open and willing to share his thoughts and feelings about coming back to school and the choices he had made in his life.  Because he was a very open, friendly guy, that class became good friends.  They teased each other a lot, and had a good time in class.  I had the timing of my lessons down perfectly, and I could count on a lot of conversation when I threw some discussion questions at them.

My second Strategies class had 2 men and 3 women.  One of the men was a jokester, and I thought he would set the tone for the class, but one of the women was very reserved.  She tended to stay disengaged from class, and would give short answers when asked to participate in a discussion.  She and the jokester would bicker good-naturedly in class, but she had the ability to shut him down.  With this class, getting a discussion going was like pulling teeth, I think because of her reserve.  I often found myself with extra time at the end of class, and had to have exercises on hand to fill in.

My third Strategies class has 4 women in it.  They are much more comfortable putting their thoughts onto paper than speaking out loud.  I have a hard time hearing many of them when I ask questions, because they are uncomfortable raising their voices.  Once again, I think I will need to have additional exercises on hand, because discussion will not fill up our time like it did with my first class.  I have been a little worried about how I will get this class to engage with me, since their class personality is so subdued.

But on Thursday, we had a student appreciation barbecue during class, complete with a DJ, out in the school parking lot.  Most of the students went through the food line, and then sat on the curb in the shade along the building.  Several staff members got up and started dancing to the music, in a little clump, but despite a lot of encouragement, most of the students wouldn’t get up to dance.  A line-dancing song I didn’t know came on, and the quietest of my students got up.  She got the group of staff members and a few more students to start doing this line dance.  During the remainder of the barbecue, she got all of my students to get up, dance, and have a great time.  I was so proud of her for inspiring her classmates, including one woman who said she hadn’t danced this much in her life, ever!  Other students were dragged onto the dance floor by staff, only to go sit back down as soon as they had a chance.  I’ll admit, I wasn’t brave enough to shake it in front of my students and coworkers.  But I hope she becomes the inspiration for the rest of the class to follow.  And that she learns to raise her voice.  *smile*

The Beauty of Silence

Part of the Strategies class I teach is identifying each student’s ideal study habits.  And I often tell them that I am, apparently, the last person on earth who doesn’t mind silence.  In fact, I need silence to concentrate.  Everyone else, including my students, former coworkers, and even T, all want some kind of sound in the background at all times, be that TV, music, or just people.  I’m just not like that.  And I always blame my need for silence on my parents.

I was brought up in a household where you were expected to turn off anything that you weren’t actively listening to.  So the TV never stayed on in the background, and the TV and the radio were never on at the same time.  My parents would have the radio on in the background from time to time, but it wasn’t a constant presence by any means.  So I tend to not turn anything on if I am not paying attention to it.  I have recently gotten into the habit of leaving the TV on while I check my email and goof off on my computer, but as soon as I need to focus on something, like lesson planning, the TV turns off so that I can concentrate.  I know, I’m old.

Well, after spending a few weeks taking over 1,500 photos of the books in the collection I will be selling for the herp society, I have been mostly engaged for the last week or so in editing those very same photographs in Photoshop.  All I have to do is crop, remove the background, rotate, and save.  My boss tends to listen to Pandora when he is in the office, but since all four of us who work in the office are part-time, I often find myself working alone.  When I was photographing books, it was boring, but not a big deal to spend 8 hours alone in a quiet office.  But since I have started spending that time just sitting at a desk, I realize that, when my boss is out of the office, I miss the music.

I have been telling myself for years now that music has simply never been that important to me.  I have never had much of a music collection, and never needed music on when I was at home.  Most of my exposure to music was during road trips, or just listening to the radio in the car.  It was my time to sing along at the top of my lungs, and I could make a 12-hour trip fly by just by singing along to my CDs.  And then I discovered NPR.  And books on CD.  Now, I listen to public radio most of the time that I am in the car, and books for long trips.  And I really never listen to music anymore.

But my boss’s music tastes mirror mine pretty darned closely.  It was nice hearing a lot of my old favorites while I worked, and singing along softly to them while I cropped, removed the background, rotated and saved.  I realized that I did kinda miss music.  Maybe I was wrong, maybe I had been lying to myself about not being a music person.  So I started thinking about how I could listen to my music even when the boss wasn’t around.

It took me forever to fully transition from cassettes to CDs, and I have never made the switch to MP3s.  I don’t have an MP3 player, the only music I ever had on my computer was put there so that I could burn CDs, and I don’t have any music on my phone.  I don’t have iTunes or Pandora or any other music services.  It occurred to me that I could bring T’s old Ipod to work with me, but the effort involved in getting my old music off CDs and onto it just didn’t seem worth the effort.

And then I remembered podcasts can be streamed from your computer for free.  So now I am catching up on This American Life, and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, and Radiolab when I am working alone.  And when the boss is there, I like to listen in on his music.  And sometimes I sing along, softly, so he won’t hear me.  But when I need to start posting these books to the website and writing descriptions for them, I’m pretty sure silence will descend again.  And I’m ok with that.

The Road Travelled

my new workplace: the herpetology society

It always surprises me, when I get a new job, to discover the ways in which my past jobs have directly provided the experience I need to do the new job.  Especially since it is never something that I have planned.

The first two weeks of the class I am teaching right now, Strategies for Success, deals with change and goal setting.  I spend a lot of time talking to my students about goals, planning, prioritizing, determination, and all the things that go into being Highly Motivated  and Successful People.  We go over the five steps of the Change Implementation Model — identify change, research options, identify obstacles, establish a plan, and implement it  — as well as the four steps to writing a goal — goal statement, action steps, timelines, and narrative statement.  I literally spend hours talking about the importance of setting goals, coming up with defined plans, and following through on them.  And yet I almost never do this myself.

I can’t make a weekly meal plan, because I always decide at the last minute that I’m in the mood for something else for dinner.  I can’t lay out my clothes the night before, because I’ll want to wear something different when morning rolls around.  I typically decide on the next step in my life, on what will make me happy, and do what I need to in order to get there.  Then I stay there until I am no longer happy, or until something forces me out.  And then I look around and decide on the next step.  I hate the question, “What do you see yourself doing in five/ten years?” in interviews, because the true answer is, “I have absolutely no idea.”

I do set and meet lots of short-term goals for myself, but I have never been the kind of person who decides, “I want to be X by age Y,” and then lays out a multi-year plan for achieving that goal.  I have wandered my way through life, one stepping-stone at a time.  After high school, college was a given.  After college, I didn’t want to go on to grad school right away.  An offhand comment from an advisor got me thinking about volunteering, and a few days of research landed me with the Peace Corps.  After the Peace Corps, I just wanted to be with the boyfriend I’d been on the opposite side of the planet from for the past 2 years, so I moved to the west coast.  When I became dissatisfied with retail positions, I applied for a job at a credit card company doing customer service.  When I became dissatisfied with that, a dream sent me back to grad school.  After grad school, I was tired of research and not interested in pursuing a PhD, so I wanted to teach at the community college level.  It occurred to me that I would be more well-rounded if I attended an archaeology field school, so I went on a whim.  When I couldn’t find a teaching job, I applied for an archaeology position.  When I got laid off from archaeology, I applied for more teaching positions, and actually got one.  When I didn’t get enough adjunct classes, I applied to a part-time job with a herpetology society because the hours were flexible.

And yet, each job seems to be a prerequisite for the last.  My degree in English, even though my major was creative writing, was a great stepping stone for Teaching English as a Forgeign Language in the Peace Corps.  My Peace Corps experience didn’t help much when I was working in retail, but once I got to the credit card company, the “special English” I had adopted in Kyrgyzstan was ideal for working over the phone with clients who spoke English as a second language.  I also used the grammar I learned while teaching it to my Kyrgyzstani students, and was often asked to assist the technical writer.  When I went back to grad school, the skills I had developed at the credit card company for tracking information and juggling priorities were essential for getting through my thesis.  Not to mention, the contacts I made in the Peace Corps made it possible for me to do my field research during a single 3-month summer visit.  Once I got into archaeology, the descriptive skills honed through writing poetry in my youth were essential in writing understandable reports and site records.  Even in the process of moving from CA to UT, I went from an archaeology job where I worked on an enormous Nevada pipeline project, to helping out with a large Utah pipeline project.  And all those years of writing reports in Word, keeping track of data and forms in Excel, and writing grad school presentations in PowerPoint, made it possible for me to teach a computer class.

my current work station

But this extra side job in herpetology?  It just takes the cake in terms of utilizing my past experience.  I am cataloguing and posting for online sale a number of books, prints, ceramic figurines, and other miscellaneous items that were willed to the society by two different herpetologists.  Well, I have experience with books: my very first job was in a library, I worked at the college bookstore during my undergrad years, and even got to assistant manager at an outlet bookstore after graduation.  My writing and descriptive abilities will no doubt come into play when I need to provide summarized reviews of the books, and descriptions of the objects.  But it is mostly my archaeological skills being utilized here — the ability to sort, organize, photograph, document, and track a huge assemblage of items, along with the ability to make sense of scientific and biological nomenclature.

Who would have thought that 5 years in archaeology would help me get a part-time job working for herpetologists?  Or teaching a computer class?  Or that 2 years in credit card processing would prep me for grad school?  I can’t tell if I am making the connections with hindsight, or if I have been, in my own strange way, following a path to get to where I want to go.

It almost seems as though the steps I have taken through the years have been aiming me at exactly where I want to be.  For example, if I hadn’t attended field school on a lark, I wouldn’t have gotten an job as an archaeology field tech.  And I wouldn’t have been applying to CRM firms the next spring when my landlord in Arcata decided to sell our house with 30 days notice.  And I wouldn’t have had any other reason to take a job offer and move to Redding, CA if I my housing hadn’t just disappeared.  And if I had known people in Redding before moving, I might not have decided to finally get a dog to keep me company, after halfheartedly thinking about adopting a dog for years with no action.  And if I hadn’t gotten Cara, I would never have gone to the dog park and met my husband, T.

Maybe there was a plan, and I just didn’t know about it yet.  Or maybe, if you’re lucky, following your heart will get you where you need to go, whether or not you know where that is.

Convenience Killed the Video Store

by ToastyKen

You’d never know based on my current TV watching practices, but I spent 6 years after returning from the Peace Corps without cable and rarely watching any TV.  I lived on movies, mostly rented from a video store.  As a result, I feel that I am somewhat of an expert when it comes to movie rental stores.

I was never a Blockbuster fan, even in their heyday.  They always seemed to have dozens of copies of new releases, but very little selection among their older movie shelves.  But during the majority of my TV-less existence, I was fortunate enough to live in Arcata, CA, home of one of the best video stores on the planet: Figueiredo’s.  They might only have 20 copies of the newest releases, but their shelves were jammed with all kinds of films, which meant that they had a larger selection than your average Blockbuster, but housed in about 1/4 of the space.  Older movies were available in the 3-for-3 deal, which meant three movies for three nights for $3.  Add a few more, and you could create your own 4-for-4 or 5-for-5 deal if you wanted.  They even started renting books on CD towards the end of my time in Arcata, and their selection was far better than the library’s.  They really were a hub of the community, and I fervently hope that they are still in business!

Once I left Arcata, I couldn’t find a video store that came even close to Figueiredo’s.  But pretty soon, along came Netflicks.  And then Redbox.  And we all knew that video stores were going to die off.

So when I was speaking with a fellow teacher, D, who said she still rented older movies for class from Blockbuster, I looked around and realized there was one a few miles away from me.  But when I walked in, I realized that my plan would never work.

The store was half-empty.  They still had dozens of new releases available around the outer walls, but the interior shelves of older movies were ravaged — three of the six shelves had movies turned face-out, fitting a total of 6 or so movies per shelf.  The remaining three shelves had face-out movies, alternating with stacks of movies laid on their sides, spines horizontal.  It was obvious that they were trying to make the little stock they had take up as much space as possible.  The movies that were on the shelves were either newer releases, or classic movies from the 80s — they just cherry-picked the most popular movies.  The rest of the store was bins of movies being sold 2 for $20, or 4 for $20, depending on age and quality.  It was obvious that, as soon as a movie shifted off the “New Releases” wall, most copies went into a sale bin.  So it’s no longer a movie rental chain; it’s now a movie store that rents the newest releases.

After a hour of searching, I couldn’t find the 90s-era movie I was looking to show in my Strategies class, and there were very few options for a computer-themed movie for my computer class.  Despite the fact that I now have a Blockbuster card again, I don’t know if I’ll be using it.  It would be much more convenient for me to just find the movies I want to show my classes and buy them used online.

Sorry Blockbuster.

Irresponsibility

Seeing how I’ve only had the one job as an adjunct instructor, for which I am paid for less than 20 hours of work per week, I have been a substitute whore this term.  I actually got a certificate recognizing this fact at the recent All-Staff Meeting: the Most Flexible Award, and whores are supposed to be flexible, right?

So far, I have subbed for classes in English, Psychology, Business, Criminal Justice, and Accounting, along with one class each of another instructor’s Strategies and Computer Applications.  I’ve taught full 4-hour classes, covered for an hour or two, and proctored exams.  I want the money, but I also want to show my strong work ethic to my boss in the hopes of ingratiating myself into a full-time teaching position.

I have covered classes for five different instructors so far, but one of them takes the cake.  I have covered a total of 9 of her classes this term.  She was teaching a morning Strategies class and two Psychology classes back-to-back on Fridays.  The first week I was asked to sub for her, she was in Hawaii on vacation with her boyfriend for a week.  Well, she was a new hire like me, so I figured she had planned the trip months in advance.  I covered both of her psych classes that week, and actually got called in at the last minute one morning to cover her Strategies class when her scheduled sub called in sick.  No biggie.  I was showing movies in both classes, so it wasn’t difficult work.

Then I got called to cover those same two psychology classes the following week.  But this time it really wasn’t her fault — she apparently fell and hit her head that morning before class, and was in the emergency room.  So I administered one of her midterm exams, and showed more movies in her other class.

Then the third week rolled around, and she still didn’t have permission from her doctor to go back to work.  So I covered yet again, but this time I gave 4-hour lectures on developmental psychology in each class, which I spent several hours prepping for so that I wouldn’t just be reading the PowerPoint slides she had provided.  It was interesting material, and I enjoyed it.  The students told me they enjoyed it too, which made it even better.

Then things went back to normal for a while.  I had Fridays off, and life was good, even if my paycheck was a little smaller.

A few weeks ago, I got a last-minute email to cover a few hours of her Friday evening class.  She sent me an email less than 12 hours before I had to be there?  She couldn’t even give me a call?  She was going to a 48-hour film fest, and needed to leave early.  This seemed like something that she could have given me more than 24 hours notice about, but I agreed.  The she moved up the time I was to arrive, so that she would have more time to get dressed for the event.  At this point, I was feeling a little used, but work is work, right?  All I had to do for her class was proctor an exam, and even though it was the most harrowing exam I have ever proctored and the students were furious by the end of it, from my end it was fine.

Then last night, while I was giving my own Strategies final exam, I got a text from her asking me to sub for her today.  A text.  This is starting to feel like the sub version of a bootie call.  Again, less than 12 hours before I needed to show, she asks if I can cover the last few hours of her class.  I knew this was her last class, and asked if I would be covering the time before or after they took their final exams.  She said they would be giving their final presentations during the first half, and I would be covering their written exam.  Relaxed at the thought of just needing to proctor another exam, I texted back sure, no problem.

So I get to school to cover her class, and my boss tell me she is already gone.  I was afraid that I had gotten my times wrong, but no, she just decided she needed more time to get ready again, so she left them without an instructor, I have no idea for how long.  I then find out that most groups’ presentations weren’t complete by the beginning of class, so they have already taken their final.  And I will be grading their final presentations.  I will be doing what??!?  Yup, I am to assign their grades on a final presentation, in a class I haven’t taught, on a subject I am not qualified to teach, which is worth 65 points (!).  And I am told to grade it based on “professionalism, engagement with the class, speaking, etc.”  Yeah, one of my grading criteria is “etc.”  You know what?  Every student there got 65 points.

I already decided weeks ago that this chick is not serious about teaching.  It hasn’t helped my opinion of her that her students across the board complained that they learned more from their one week of my lecture than they had in the rest of the class to that point.  But then the kicker came when I got home.

I got another text asking how the class went.  I told her everything went fine, and where I had put the exams and grades, so that she could get her final grades in by tomorrow.  She started thanking me profusely for “never letting [her] down.”  I wasn’t going to ask, but I couldn’t resist any longer — I wanted to know why she had dumped the grading of a huge, subjective portion of her students’ final grades on me.  The answer?  “I do acting so I had to go to a film shoot.  The students knew all about it. :-)”

All I can say is:

And I can’t wait until sometime next term when she calls  — or emails, or texts — and asks me to cover for her class.  And I will say no. Because I have better things to do than cover for her irresponsibility.

My First Computer Class

So, my first term teaching a computer class is complete.  I think it is the most challenging class I have ever tackled, and I know that I made a lot of mistakes.  I feel bad that this group of students were my guinea pigs.  But in the end, I think that everyone got the grade they earned, and that makes me feel okay about the whole thing.

I have never taught a computer class before, so while I knew I would be able to handle the material (an introduction to Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel), figuring out what my class could do and how much time everything would take was the biggest challenge as I was planning out my syllabus.  And it showed.

My biggest mistake was that my syllabus was out of sync with what we actually ended up doing in class, which made things much more difficult for my students who were trying to make up work.  There were several reasons for this.

  1. I didn’t realize how few students would turn in their homework.  So I built a PowerPoint exercise on homework that should have been completed a few weeks before; when it turned out half the class hadn’t done that assignment, I had to improvise.
  2. Sometimes I didn’t read through the labs in the book carefully enough, or I overestimated my students’ abilities whle planning, and I didn’t realize until we got to that chapter that a different assignment would be a better fit.  So we did something different than what was on the syllabus.
  3. I only put the Lab or Exercise number and page number in the syllabus, but that was extremely confusing as I was grading.  So I used the titles in my grading sheet.  But that meant that, when students asked which assignments they needed to make up, I would give them the title, not the Lab or Exercise number, and they often didn’t know what page to find the assignment on.
  4. They had a crossword puzzle from the book assigned for each week, but I discovered after the first week that these puzzles were extremely difficult to complete.  It took me a few weeks to start making my own and handing them out in class, so students were always confused about whether there was a puzzle to do for homework or not.

Another big mistake I made was not using the proper names for icons and menus as I walked students through assignments.  Instead of saying, “Click on the Sum Function button” in Excel, I’d say something like, “Ok, you’re going to click on the Sum button, which is this button up here that looks like a weird E.  Yes, the button that looks like a backwards E.  The one over here.  Got it?”  This meant that, when it came time for students to follow the directions in the book in order to do their assignments, they didn’t know the proper terms and often had a hard time figuring out the directions.

I’m also unsure about whether or not I gave them too much work to do.  In each class, I would first walk them through the assignment that was described in the book chapter.  Because we did this together, they didn’t turn this assignment in to me.  Next, there would be a lab that they needed to do in class, where they would follow the directions in the book step-by-step on their own, to reinforce the tasks we had just gone over.  This was followed by a homework assignment with less specific instructions, where they had the chance to be a little more creative in how they applied what they learned.  In theory, a great model for reinforcing tasks.

But I didn’t realize how many of my students were going to not only have no computer at home, but also no time during the week to come in and use the computers at school.  And even if they could make it to the library on the weekends to use a public computer, it might not have Microsoft Office 2007 on it, which would make it impossible to do the work.  I often felt like I was rushing through the example in class, so that they would have enough time to do both the lab and the homework in class as well.  Perhaps getting rid of one of these assignments and taking more time to explain new tasks, and having more time to complete a single assignment in class, would be the way to go next time around.

by art around

Another challenge was the fact that I have never taught this population of students before, and I wasn’t prepared for the kinds of obstacles they would be facing during the semester.  As a TA, I was usually responsible for 100 or more students, and there could be upwards of 300 students in a class.  Most of them got their work done, and while I might recognize their writing style, that was pretty much all I knew about them.  The occasional student who came to see me might have a question about something we covered in class, or might be struggling with a diagnosed learning disability.  But the students were predominantly white, middle class, had done reasonably well in high school, had decent reading and writing skills, knew how to write an essay, and the worst challenge they might have during a semester would be a death in the family, or a bout of illness.

With only 4 students in one class and 13 in the other, I know a lot more about my students’ lives than before.  At this college, I would say less than half the students are white.  Many speak English as a second language.  Most don’t know how to write a grammatically correct sentence, much less a 5-paragraph essay.  I had two students struggling with homelessness during the semester, one of whom was constantly sick and exhausted from living at a shelter for months; one student without medical insurance whose toddler was ill, but her boyfriend isn’t the child’s father so only she could take her child to the emergency room; a student who will be spending 4 days in jail in order to get back her license because she can’t afford to carry car insurance; students who want to start their own business because they can’t find jobs as ex-cons; a student with serious medical problems who was on oxygen; a student who is still recovering from being the first one on scene at a parent’s suicide; another student who had been her dying mother’s full-time caregiver for the past 5 years, to the detriment of the student’s schooling and career; another who was in an abusive relationship and came to school with bruises; students without cars who need to travel 60 miles or more by bus and train to make it to class; students with work schedules that conflict with class so they are consistently late or having to leave early.

These students often barely graduated from high school, or perhaps they got a GRE.  They are trying to make a better life for themselves while working full time and juggling families, poverty, poor schooling, and other problems I have never had to worry about.  I give them a lot of credit when they are willing to work hard and give up on sleep or time with their families to overcome all kinds of odds and make a better life for themselves and their families.  These are not the kids who miss class because they are hungover from last night’s frat party.  So I let them make up assignments at any time without any penalties,  offered to tutor students outside of class, and I did what I could to encourage those who were interested to do some extra credit work to bring up their grades.  And I let the student who was so frustrated with the final exam that she actually walked out and disappeared for an hour come back and finish it for full credit.  Maybe that makes me a pushover; or maybe it makes me willing to give my students a chance to learn from their mistakes.

When all was said and done, I had a rough bell curve of grades in my class, which reassures me that I did an ok job of teaching these kids.  Three As, four B, and two each Cs, Ds, and Fs.  The students who were failing a week ago but worked hard and got their assignments in to me at the last minute all passed.  The students that I offered help or tutoring to who didn’t take me up on the offer, or who half-assed their first few makeup assignments and then gave up, failed.  And I think that’s the way it should be.

But I have so many ideas for how to do it differently next time, now that I have learned from my mistakes.