It has become clear to me that many of my students need a firm hand.
Now, why you would reach the age of 17 or 18, make the decision to come to college, and still need a punitive nanny standing over you and telling you how to behave in the classroom is beyond me. Why the students have not yet learned that, if you want to play with your cell phone, talk to your friends, or sleep, you should stay home, is beyond me. But it is becoming clear to me that what these students want is to be told, in no uncertain terms, how to behave, and to be met with uncompromising consequences when they don’t live up to expectations.
I was at a provincial CEGEP English conference on Friday and attended a seminar on “Approaches to Teaching 101.” The panelists were all from CEGEPs other than mine, two of them from a prestigious private CEGEP where, I recently learned, registration for any given semester takes place two months before the end of the previous one, because “they don’t have to take student failures or course repetitions into account.” When I asked the teacher who told me this (a former teacher from that private CEGEP) why they didn’t have to consider failures and repetitions, she said, “Because none of the students fail, ever. And if they do, they are shipped to every psychologist, social worker, dean and doctor in the place, post haste. 99% of them go on to university.”
So teachers from this college were giving me tips on designing a 101 course. They talked about the broad thematic categories they divided the courses into, the challenging analyses they asked their students to perform, the elaborate ways in which they asked students to relate Othello and Genesis to their personal lives.
When they were done, I raised my hand and said, “What do you do with students who have trouble formulating a comprehensible English sentence, or understanding a newspaper article on a purely literal level?”
They nodded sympathetically, and had no answers for me.
I sometimes get comments from other bloggers that sound slightly skeptical. “Hmmm. You’re teaching college, and yet you’re complaining about students who are unmotivated, unprepared, uncooperative? Are you perhaps overstating the case? Is it perhaps because you don’t really know how to control your own classroom?” The latter, perhaps. The former, definitely not.
Even teachers from many other CEGEPs in Montreal do not entirely understand the situation that an English teacher at my college (as opposed to, say, a science teacher, who might also have some problem students but whose classes are generally filled with the college’s brightest applicants) faces. Many of our students would not have even bothered to apply to any other colleges, because they wouldn’t have been admitted. Many of our students barely scraped through high school, and did only because no one was really paying any attention to what they were doing.
And thus, the firm hand. This semester, I am taking steps. What steps, you ask? Ah. I will reveal them in my next post.