Tuesday, February 15, 2011

An Open Letter to Bad Students

Yes. I teach a super-basic English course. I teach you how to correctly put words into sentences, how to put sentences into paragraphs and how to put paragraphs into an essay. I've been doing this for a long time. Longer than you've been here, and I will probably still be doing it long after you've gone, whenever and however that may be. I work hard to make a very dry and usually boring subject somewhat interesting. I know you think this is a stupid, easy, fluff course, but you would not be in this class if you didn't need it. You took a test for placement and failed badly enough that you are mine. 

And so here we are. You on your side of the desk and me on mine. And guess what? No matter what, I win. For the time you are in my class, I am the most important person in your world. Or at least you should act that way. Why? Because teachers aren't stupid. When we're in the lab and you're tap-tapping away on your keyboard or clicking away at your mouse, I KNOW you aren't paying attention to me. And believe me, I know who you are and I will call you out on it. If you're sitting there, slack-jawed with your book closed next to you as I am lecturing about a chapter, I know it's not English you're thinking about. And it adds up. 

You start as a blank slate in my class. By the end of the first day of class, I have identified the students who are going to be most difficult. You know who you are. You are the student who thinks you're so damn wonderful that you can be all cute with the teacher and she'll fall all over herself to give you an A because you're just that amazing. If you think that, think again. Because, in conjunction with me being the most important person in your world while you are in my room, I also have little to no patience for your "cuteness". Your cuteness is not awesome, it is not amazing, and your winning personality will not get you an A. I don't care if you know this; I don't care if you don't want to do the assignment. If you want your grade, you have to earn it. You do not pay my salary. I earn it. You pay for the amazing opportunity to be in my class.

You are also the student who keeps a notebook of excuses. I'll let you in on a secret... I don't care if your dog's uncle's cat's brother ate your homework. I don't care if your car caught fire and burned all your books inside it. If you didn't call me, email me, or leave me a message, it's an excuse. And, if you do this at least once per class session, I probably don't believe you anymore. If you cared about my course, you'd find a way to make those excuses nonexistent. 

My patience is wearing thin. I've explained something just to have to re-explain it five minutes later because a student was doodling flowers in her notebook and is now lost, and I've done that 5 times in half an hour. When a "cute" student ignores me for the better part of a class only to interrupt me five times as I'm trying to explain the assignment, it makes me want to stab my eyes out with a pen. When I'm trying to explain a concept and a student full of excuses is interrupting me to answer a question on the lab assignment that they are doing instead of listening to me, it makes me want to unplug the computer and throw it through the window. Even worse, it causes a deep wellspring of pity for the students who do care and are trying to learn. Because while I am stuck with them for a month or two (or three), these guys will work with them in all their other courses.

I'm sorry, smart, conscientious students. I am sorry that there seems to be such a vast chasm between you and your peers. Do not fall into their trap. Do not think that because they passed, you do not need to work as hard as you do. Because, at the end of the day (or college career) you can come to me for a letter of recommendation and I will give it. I will not be "too busy" for you. If you need help understanding something in another course, I will be more than happy to sit down with you or act as a go between for you and your instructor. You have fostered that trust and you have earned your place. And it is nothing to be ashamed of, so do not fall into their trap.

The bad students are a swampy morass of helplessness and entitlement. They don't know anything, don't want to really improve their lot if it means work, and don't think they should have to do anything anyhow. They pay their money, they should get a degree. That's not how life works. And, by God, that will not be how my class works. So go ahead. Yell at me. Roll your eyes at me. Grumble beneath your breath about these "stupid assignments" and complain just in earshot about how worthless you think they are. I don't care, and in fact, it makes me giggle a bit on the inside because you'll be doing them again when you fail. Tell me how your cat ate your car and that's why you missed 3 classes in a row. It makes no difference to me. You'll take the course again and I will still get paid. I'm not going anywhere, sweetheart. Get used to it.


An English Teacher on the Edge

1 comment:

Itin said...

Paragraph 5 just made me grinned. Do you mind me reposting this to my blog?