Sunday, September 16, 2007

Guess the answer

No, this is not a quiz

Students send me e-mail and talk to me in person on campus. Many of their sentences are interrogatives, prompting me for an appropriate answer. The answer is often very easy to formulate, and I marvel that they do not know the answer themselves.
Can I please be in your class?

Hi, I was wondering if you still had room to add me in your tuesday-thursday class? I know i missed two weeks already but i can catch up if you allow me in your class.

Can you guess my answer? Here it is:
Re: Can I please be in your class?

Sorry, no. It's too bad you were not in class on the first day, when I was able to enroll students from my waiting list. You have actually missed three weeks and it's much too late to start a lecture class.

—Dr. Z

That was easy, wasn't it? Here are some other questions:

Q: I don't live near the campus and it takes me a long time to get here. Is it okay if I'm ten or fifteen minutes late for class?

A: No, it's not okay. Leave earlier.

I admit that one wasn't very challenging. Here's a trickier one:

Q: My next class is across the campus and I'm going to have to leave five minutes early each day to get to that class on time. Is that all right?

A: No, it's not all right. I never tell a student it's okay to cut class short. I expect people to be here for the entire period.

Q: Well, I talked to the teacher of the next class and she said it would be okay.

A: Good for her. Then tell her you'll be five minutes late for her class each day.

Q: Yeah, you know, that's a good idea. That'll work!

Maybe that wasn't really very tricky after all, except perhaps in the way the student's mind worked. Or sort of worked.

Here is a perennial favorite:

Q: I missed class last time. Did I miss anything important?

A: No. We saw you weren't there, so we goofed off the entire period.

Q: Really?

A: No. We actually went over the material on the syllabus that was scheduled for that class session. You do know that the syllabus contains a daily calendar that shows what we're doing each day, don't you? It tells you what your homework assignment is for each day, too.

Q: Well, okay, yeah. I've been keeping up with the class by following the syllabus, but I didn't know how far you had gotten.

A: It's true that sometimes we get a bit out of sync with the syllabus, but we've been right on schedule each week since the semester began, so you should have been confident we'd cover the material scheduled for the day you missed.

Q: Okay, yeah, maybe. But I didn't know the class was on schedule. I wasn't here last week either.

A: Now that could be a problem and that's probably why you don't look familiar to me. What's your name? Let me check the class roster.... You know, I don't have a single point recorded in the grade book for you. You have missed every quiz and you didn't do the on-line assignment either. Why haven't I heard anything from you?

Q: I wanted to let you know, but I didn't know how to reach you.

A: My office phone number and my campus e-mail address are both in that syllabus you've been using to stay caught up with the class.

Q: Oh. I didn't see that part.

I showed the student where the contact information was (on page one, as it happened). She seemed quite genuinely surprised. In fact, she seemed quite genuinely surprised by the entire syllabus, as if she had never seen it before or perhaps had lost it immediately after receiving it on the first day of class. I'm sure that could not have been the case.

It would be nice if I had not gotten accustomed to the student who claims to have kept up with the class after a long absence, but I've seen it too often to dredge up any surprise when it occurs now. The situation leads fairly naturally to another question, one that often arises in this context:

Q: Do you give extra credit?

A: No. There's plenty of regular credit available. Go after that.

Why is it that requests for extra credit usually come from students who are slacking off their regular assignments? Not all of them wait till the end of the semester when matters are dire and you can attribute their requests to a state of desperation. No, some of them are quick off the mark, asking for extra credit opportunities during the first weeks of class. These students often provide a variation on the theme in the previous Q&A:

Q: Do you give extra credit?

A: No. There's plenty of regular credit available. Go after that.

Q: Yeah, but I've missed most of the quizzes and you won't let me make them up.

A: You're missing them because you're always late to class. You need to be here on time for the quizzes. If you make a point of being here when the class begins you'll have plenty of opportunities to earn quiz points.

Q: Yeah, I don't live near the campus and it takes me a long time to get here.

A: Oh, yes. I think I've talked to you already about this. Leave earlier. Get here on time.

Education is not only about the subject matter, is it?


Anonymous said...

Wasn't there another post here? Or am I going nuts? (2nd question requires no answer).

If someone's not on your list the first day, do you promise to add them if they come for the first three weeks and hand in all the work?

(I think the answer is going to be that I am very very confused, but I'll wait to hear it)

Zeno said...

This is a new post, Jonathan, added earlier today.

We generally try to take care of all adds & drops during the first week of the semester. (We don't always succeed, but we try.) I never add students on the first day. I make them come to the second class meeting before I'll add them, provided I have room. I do not encourage students to crowd in hoping that attrition will eventually free up a desk for them. Besides, there are deadlines for getting enrollment matters settled (two weeks) and we don't leave anyone hanging indefinitely.

Megan said...

I am very familiar with these same exact same questions. Maybe we've had the same students! I think I'm going to write up a FAQ for the common ones, and add to it as I get amusing questions. I'll post it on my course websites. I hate having to explain again and again that the reason someone's not passing is that they haven't done all the homework/quizzes and they haven't yet gotten better than a D on any test. When we get near the drop deadline and I let them know they may need to consider dropping (and retaking it when they can devote more time/thought to really understanding the material), how is their failing grade a surprise? I so tired of explaining that I can't give them extra credit unless I offer it to everyone.

And yeah, I never sign add slips until at least day 2, sometimes day three (depends on whether there's a lab, how hard the limit is). Anyone who misses any of those days and isn't enrolled won't be added.

This is much more of a problem (both the brain-sucking questions and the enrollment issues) at community colleges, compared to (at least some) university populations. I get very few of the questions like those in your post from the uni students.

Anonymous said...

I think it depends on the university. The faculty in my department seem to bang their heads on it every semester, even when teaching upper division general education classes. It doesn't show up in major classes nearly as much, but then we have a fairly small major program.

Meanwhile, in my household, answering the questions Zeno describes is referred to as "talking to cats."

Megan said...

I mostly teach majors courses, so that's probably (at least part of) the difference. Last semester I taught a course with graduating seniors who were the whiniest group I've ever had to deal with at a university, so it's not that they are always ideal students either.

I love the "talking to cats" phrase. I think I'll have to use that!

Unknown said...

Excellent. I get every one of these multiple times every semester. The one that particularly irks me is "I missed class. Did we do anything important?"

Anonymous said...

Every semester in the Welcome-to-Statistics-Let's-Go-Through-the-Syllabus pep talk I ask students to regurgitate what every teacher has told them since they achieved self-awareness and they always respond with "There are no stupid questions." Then I respond "Baloney!" (or some such word) and tell them the Original Stupid Question: "I missed class. Did we do anything important?"

Thanks for nailing it.

Anonymous said...

Once, when I had a student who skipped multiple times complain that he "never knew" when my tests and quizzes were, I informed them they were all listed in the syllabus. (I managed to refrain from saying, "If you came to class, you'd hear me announce when they are, too.")

His response? "Oh, I didn't think that [the syllabus] was important, so I threw it away."

(This was even though I had explained why the syllabus was important and what information was in it on the very first day of class)

Um, yeah. The only response I could think of at the moment was crazed laughter, and I knew that wasn't appropriate, so I didn't say anything.