Thursday, January 08, 2004

Reasonable Expectations

So here is a dilemma. Where I teach, the norm for a variety of reasons, is that the first week or two of classes is basically a wash. One reason is the poor registration (no real online support for instance) and financial aid policies (disenrolling those whose checks haven't come through by the last day of registration), the other is less tangible. students seem to be around and many of them are free, but they simply do not want to attend classes (in general) in particular during the first week when they have other distractions. Many haven't fully decided which classes they are going to take, and the add/drop policy is liberal enough to allow quite a bit of time to decide. For instance I had over a dozen students add my class five weeks into last semester.
So I am stuck it appears with two options: one proceed with knowledge of these facts and schedule the first two weeks of lighter fare, limited reading and no graded work, or pretend as though this didn't happen and jump into classes immediately. The latter seems unreasonably harsh since many students are kept out of enrollment or need to be registering during my class hours. Of course, if I accept the situation, then in effect I am codifying the system as it is. By saying, well no one comes to class anyway, I might as well not teach it, I help establish the reasonable expectation that students needn't come to class the first two weeks.
There is a similar puzzle with the days surrounding holidays (in particular Thanksgiving). Students frequently start their vacations early or stay late, so do I cancel classes to accomodate them, or keep rigidly to the schedule to discourage that? I tried the latter last semester only to be countered by the President on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving who cancelled classes at the last minute, thus penalizing everyone.
This year I am trying to find some middle ground. I am teaching a 'methods' section in the first two weeks. We will be going over the syllabus. I will be giving some advice about reading philosophy, some vocabulary, and trying to prepare them for the classwork. Student who miss this will probably be worse off, but technically they won't miss any main content. At least that is my hope. The real kicker will be if anything improves because of this methods section.


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