Saturday, October 20, 2007

Further development with unsatisfied students

I had just written a whole paragraph that got lost. I do not like when that happens.

I was going to tell you more about these two students. We have a 2 hour class, so I usually try to give them a break half way through, so we can all take a breather. Well, on Monday these two students left during the break, without telling me that they would, what is what most students do if they need to leave. So I sent them a message that said something like "I noticed you left, I hope everything is ok, and that you'll be able to catch up. Let me know if I can do anything." Only one of them bothered to respond, and said something to the effect that she doesn't feel comfortable in the classroom, that assigned groups make her feel irresponsible and she already has issues with group work. "The main reason I left was simply becuase of this discomfort. I know you are trying to get us to work with other people, but there are more effective ways to achieve this goal." Of course I emailed back and said that I feel saddened by this and that we should meet in person and talk. I also asked about these more effective ways. She responded only to tell me that she can't make it before class because she had another class right before and not a word about the more effective ways. I responded that she should name any time and I'll meet with her. Hadn't heard back.

Anyway, it appears that they since emailed the chair of the department to say that nothing has been done about this and to complain some more. The chair politely directed them back to the associate chair whom they had spoken to already. The thing is that it is not clear what it is that they would like to happen. Would they like me fired? Would they like to get a new instructor? Would they like me to let them do whatever they want? What is it that I am supposed to do? There are 2 students who are fuming, out of 43. Do I ignore them? What would you do?

Funny thing: Another student came by to talk to me and told me that a while back some sort of petition had been written, and that he had signed, but under pressure, and that if anybody ever mentions it he would gladly go talk to them on my behalf. I have no idea what they asked for in the petition. The funny thing is that the student who started the petition apparently decided to take the sequel of this course next semester. From me.


jonathan said...

I'm sorry about all the unpleasantness, but if you don't know what's coming, it doesn't do you much good to worry about it. And it's probably nothing, anyhow.

I'd ignore them, and grade them as I graded everyone else. If they are missing work, they should be required to make it up.

H. said...

This sounds very stressful. Hope you're able to remember that students can be upset for any reason - we've all taken classes together with peers who complained about everything in courses we enjoyed ourselves. It sounds as if you've expressed plenty of willingness to adjust and take constructive suggestions seriously - but if you don't get any there's little you can do. As for being uncomfortable with assigned groups - maybe, just maybe, their classmates are not supporting them enough in their negativity about your class, and maybe that may be causing some uneasiness when working together?

That being said, if you can find some way in which they can get out of this without losing face that would probably be best for everyone. I'd try to avoid trying to prove to them that they are wrong, even though they may well be. I'd try to convince myself that I didn't need any vindication, and from such a position invite these two to collaboration once more.

Anyway, good luck. Things like this can hurt quite a bit.

Lsquared said...

Been there, done that. A most painful experience. By hindsight, I'd reccommend:

I think it might be wise of you to talk to a friendly member of the department who has taught the course/a similar course, explain what you have heard from students, invite them to come observe the class and make a few suggestions. Then try to implement at least some of their suggestions for the rest of the course. This probably won't fix the students problem, but it will insulate you from their criticism (they won't get you fired; your chair will like you; that sort of thing).

Next semester, take a small step back and allow them to work in self-selected groups most of the time. Assigning groups has some advantages, but the amount of resentment it causes is rarely worth it. Settle for choosing a few activities that will mix them up, and have them re-choose groups where they are not working with any of their usual group members (or come up with a transparent way of choosing groups for a few activities).

Take a lot of deep breaths during the rest of the semester, and try not to take it too personally. With experience, you'll be able to finesse these things better so that _usually_ it doesn't get this bad, but sometimes you get students like this no matter what you do.

e said...

Thank you all for your kind words.

H, I definitely do not intend to try to prove them that they are wrong.

Lsquared, I had already done most of the things you suggest, including the breathing :) I have talked to the associate chair, to the chair and to the lady who's been teaching these classes for past few years. She is in fact coming to observe the class today. I had also a conversation with the whole class in which they expressed their opinions and desires, and I tried to implement most of them. The assigned seating chart actually happened because there was a group of students who kept "working" together, but had rather negative attitude that several others found distracting. So we started with self selected groups, but had to change it. I tried to reshuffle everybody, so that it wouldn't be perceived as punishment on anyone's part. That solved one problem, but it created a different one. I am reshuffling again today, and if things get better in couple of weeks I'll let them arrange themselves again in whatever way they like.

I know things will be better next time! Although it did seem as if my personality was a major complaint. I happen to like my personality!