Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Update: My students are smart and my class is boring

So it has been a long time since I've posted anything here or even comment on other blogs.  My excuse is a combination of both being busy and having nothing of interest happen at all.  I'm that kind of busy where my days have become very routine: work, exercise, eat, read, sleep, repeat (with more eating in there).  Pretty boring, but a boring that leaves no free time to blog.

I'm only teaching one class this semester (plus another job the department has us do) and it is one of the major reasons why I am bored and busy.  I've never taught this class so I have a lot more prep work than I am used to.  I feel like I am constantly playing around with our syllabus and class website, and I'm grading the first batch of papers right now.  But...the students are so boring. This probably means that they think that I am so boring, and together we just bore the hell out of each other.  I have never, ever had such a quiet class that I know nothing about.  It is so silent in there.  They come in the room and don't even talk to each other, let alone me.  I am trying to crack jokes left and right, jokes that are, of course, hilarious, and nothing.  Not a peep.  The biggest laugh they have given me was in response to a Harry Potter reference.  I don't know if those opportunities are going to present themselves throughout the semester, but it was a nice laugh while it lasted.

I was talking to another teaching assistant who teaches in the same room and his/her theory is that it is the room that makes the students so dull.  The room is in the basement of a building, is kind of bigger than the other classrooms our colleagues are teaching in, and has rows of desktop computers where the students sit (I think I've mentioned that before).  So, we're thinking:
  • Basement=depressing.  That's a no-brainer.  It's the middle of winter and we're stuck in a dark basement. 
  • Bigger room=less of a community/friendly feeling.  My colleague thinks that the smaller rooms elicit more camaraderie and that this big room just has too much space which allows the students to keep to their isolated areas.
  • Computers=personal entertainment systems.  I curse these computers.  We use them in class and my students are really good about not going on sites they shouldn't be on, but I think it is these computers that discourage them from talking to each other.  They come in the room, turn on the computers, and never look to their left or right again.  It is also hard for me when I look out in the class and just see these big computer screens blocking faces.  I feel like I am teaching robots.
Now the good thing is that my students are actually kicking ass on assignments and the written work.  As you may know, a majority of my teaching experience has been spent teaching basic English classes at a community college.  Many of my students in those classes could barely string together a decent sentence.  I'm very excited at the skill level of my current students, but I just wish we had a better relationship.  I can tell that my class is slipping into that boring category, and I hate that.  I don't know how to fix it yet.

However, I had my first ever office hours visit from a student.  That was exciting and I don't think he/she was bored during that meeting!  It's the little things, right?


  1. Are these personal computers, or campus computers in a classroom set up? If the latter, I found that having students do freewriting with monitors off was good. The monitors off when the computer's not actually in class use helped me a LOT.

    And then having them write a real paragraph, and then everyone gets up, and moves one left (or right, or whatever) and writes a response which they sign, and so on helps a lot with getting them to interact. Then they can ask about the response to get further help.

  2. I have pretty negative feelings toward computers in classrooms, but I haven't had enough classroom experience to say if it's better to cut them out entirely – as I secretly want to do – or merely restrict their use to the class' needs. Qualitative disciplines like English and Pseudology thrive on face-to-face interactions and conversations, don't you think?

    Focus on the good little things, and the not-so-little things. Smart students are great! And I'll bet none of your students this term has tried to lecture the class about the Beatles' demonic possession.

  3. Bardiac: These are campus computers in a classroom set up. Good idea about just turning the monitors off--as simple as that sounds, I've never thought to do that! Actually, both are good ideas. They have been doing a lot of group work these past two weeks and that seems to be going well. When I force them to interact with each other, they can do it, but nobody is going out of their way.

    Dr. K: I was very excited at the beginning of the semester about having this computer classroom, but I have not been able to really integrate the computers into the class while still providing those great interactions. The thing is that the department wants first semester student assistants to use a class blog. There is a model blog for us to base our syllabus on, but I feel so tied to it that I think it is distracting me from incorporating great discussions or activities in the plans for class.

    Now, sometimes the computers are great. I can have them practice writing thesis statements, rhetorical analysis, answer questions, etc. and see their respones right away as they load them to the blog during class. It is also helpful for them to look and see what their classmates are writing. I'm just not yet successful in combining the technology with the human aspect of the discipline.

    And, Dr. K, thanks for reminding me about the Beatles' demonic possession. Somehow I had blocked that out of memory!