To be or not to be their substitute parent, that is the question. This certainly must be a question that every teacher asks themselves at least occasionally. However, is this something a university instructor should have to wrestle with?
I have the same group for multiple classes: Introduction to Journalism, Race and Ethnicity in Journalism I, Academic Writing, and Critical Thinking. Let it be known that I have other classes where these darlings are not in attendance, so I am not limited to their lives only. Add to the list the BA and MA students for whom I am the thesis adviser. Hence, I have a full plate.
To make everyone’s life easier, I put all of the syllabi, readings, and attendance records into Dropbox, an online storage shed. Every student had to install the program and then I share the folders I want them to access. During my first classes of the semester, I give a thorough demonstration of everything there and how to access it. There is a stern warning about missing more than 3 classes a semester; our longest semester is only 14 classes for 1 1/2 hours as it is, but less if there are too many holidays. As I am a bit atypical, I bring their attention to the fact that my home and mobile numbers are on the syllabi in addition to my office and upon request, they can have my address where they are welcome.
Each fall semester, we go through this honeymoon period where everything is glorious. We are communicating, there is give and take, everything is sickening sweet. By October, the frosting on the wedding cake is turning sour. By November the signs of further deterioration become apparent as the cake crumbles.
There is a fine line between being a cheerleader and their boss. Everyone needs to feel validated; I try pouring on the gratuitous remarks as they are earned. However, this has a nasty way of turning into childlike, parent me behavior. “I didn’t realize there was a quiz today”; “I didn’t know this was my third absence”; “I didn’t know you meant it when you said the essay was due on November 1st at 8pm sharp and no excuses.” Apparently, these are only comprehended as suggestions and not mandates.
A week ago, one of my students came to the Critical Thinking class where he was to lead the class in a discussion of a reading. After we finish the textbook, I end the semester with mystery novel. I find mystery novels excellent ways to practice critical thinking and reasoning. This particular book used is The Magyar Venus by Lyn Hamilton, a Canadian author who I greatly admired, corresponded with, and was greatly saddened to find she passed away. So, this student comes into class and immediately announces that he has not prepared a thing since he had no clue what was expected of him, being this was a novel.
This ignited the internal flares, but I was able to keep them under control for a good thirty minutes. However, when it became apparent that not only had he not prepared, but had not reached out to me for clarification, my temper approached the surface. When it became equally apparent that none of his classmates had even read, I blew like Mount St. Helens.
What students do not realize and I had to make it clear is that university is like job training. You must go to work, be there on time and be prepared to work. No employer is going to tell you what to do every day. Responsibility, responsibility, responsibility! I had to dismiss them early; I was bordering on being livid.
An hour after the class, four of them came to my office to apologize “for the entire class”. Two days later, one of the group did this video. I wish I could say things have changed this last week, but they haven’t. Two more weeks and we’ll have a break from each other for over a month. Maybe absence will make the heart grow fonder once again. If nothing else, the video gave me a chuckle, but Hitler?