I still struggle

I still struggle with knowing the line between being a supportive, but firm professor and essentially, wiping my students’ collective asses.

Here’s the deal. My particular university tends to serve lower-income, rural, first-generation, minority students. Our clientele, as it were, are simply not college-ready when they arrive. Broadly speaking, of course. Which presents an interesting challenge in teaching, because not only do I teach content, I’m teaching study skills and “how to life” skills as well. I tell you, this wasn’t exactly in the job description.

And I suspect many professor simply don’t do it. They just let the students fail. And there’s some merit to letting someone fall on their face, assuming they will learn from that spectacular failure, and be more successful in the future.

That’s the tricky part for me – how do I identify when it’s the right time to let them fall face-first, and when they actually need a steadying hand? Because if they’re not ready to learn from the spectacular fall, they will continue to fail and eventually will leave the university. And maybe that’s best for some folks. But my state is currently pushing to up college grads across the board and I see the general trend that a college degree today is what a high school degree was 30 years ago. It opens doors. And, beyond that, I am all for educating the masses. We need an educated population.

But when that population is lacking the very skills needed to even learn…how then do you educate the masses?

My general feeling is that at the 100 level, there’s a lot of ass-wiping. Second, third, and fourth chances. Hand-holding. I refrain from singing kum-ba-ya, but it’s close. But at the 300 level…I think the hand-holding should be a minimum. They should wipe their own backsides. They should be close to fully independent learners.

I am teaching a 300-level course this term. It’s an interesting course as it is required by several different majors on campus and is generally interesting to a wide range of folks. Which means I have a wide range of interests and abilities in the class. There are some students who have mastered the “how to learn” and “how to life” skills and they are ready! READY! To seize the education I have to dish out.

Then, there are folks who are, frankly, still completely unaware and unable to function properly in a classroom. Folks who are consistently late. Turn in their work late. Miss quizzes and do not even realize it. It boggles my mind that this kind of behavior and general lack of awareness continues into what should be that student’s 3rd year. In fact, consideration of student data shows some of these clueless students are in their last term of college. So I’m left to wonder if it’s a complete apathy for the course (they just needed 4 more credits to graduate?) or if they truly are about to leave our institution, degree in hand, still completely and utterly under-prepared and unable to function effectively in a classroom.

And it’s all well and good to say a classroom is an artificial environment; the real world is something else entirely. True. No argument here. But…the problems they’re having in my classroom: poor communication, tardiness, absenteeism, lack of awareness, poor quality of work, for example; will be problems in the real world if they continue into the work place. That list of issues in a single individual is likely to get said individual fired. Repeatedly. And what then? Will they finally learn their lesson? Is that when they finally fall on their face?

It would have been better had it happened in university, right? That’s what the artificial environment is for. A safer place to fail and fail until finally, one learns. I just wonder at how they got this far (to their last term of university) with the lack of skills they are presenting.

It’s concerning.

Does it mean I should stop with the hand-holding and ass-wiping at the 100 level? Am I contributing to this gross failure at the 300 level? Or is the 300-level the right time to let them fall on their faces and see how that turns out?

That feels right to me – lots of support at the 100 level, and then face-falling at the 300 level. But then they’re IN IT. Right? At the 300 level you’re in your 3rd year. You’re in IT. If you don’t have what it takes…wouldn’t it have been better to have found that out your first year? Before you were too invested?

Anyone know the answer here?


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