September 9, 2003

You will be assimilated

Well, when I first started teaching, this is something that I never in a million years thought that I'd say: "I'm sorry, but I just can't let you into my class." I always imagined myself as that teacher who would allow students to add my class if they were dedicated and interested. I wanted to be the generous teacher who could find time for her students, despite the number.

Today, I realized I can't be that teacher. It's clear that because of the recent budget cuts at our institution that fewer classes are being offered that fill the necessary CORE requirements, and those of us who teach the lower level courses feel the crunch. Students during the "drop/add" period are running from teacher to teacher begging to be let into a course that fits their schedule. The result resembles the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Today, I had an onslaught of such students. I had one student email me two times and come to my office two times to beg that I make a special exception for her and allow her into my class. She was not on the wait list, but someone told her that if I were a "nice" teacher, I'd let her oversubscribe.

Here's the catch. There are still 2 more people on the waiting list to get into the class. Both of those waitlist people showed up for class today. I couldn't very well let the first student in without letting the two students who've been waiting patiently on the "waiting list" into the class as well. Currently, I have 35 students in the class who are taking it for a grade. I have an additional student who is auditing the class through the "Golden ID" program (a program in Maryland where retired persons can return to school and take college courses). So, really, my class is already 36. An additional 3 people would push my class to 39.

So it was decision time. Do I sacrifice 1.) the class dynamic (it's a discussion-based class, so it requires that each student have ample opportunity to participate, and currently we're barely fitting everyone's comments into a 75 minute period as it is) 2.) my sanity (this adds a total of 9 additional papers plus 3 additional final projects, 3 midterms and 3 final exams to grade) and 3.) my current students' opportunity for individual attention? Or, do I become the "stingy teacher" and say no?

I said no. I feel miserable about it. It's not the students' fault. They just want to take the class. It's not my fault. I have a responsibility to protect the rights of the students already registered for the class. It all comes down, again, to the budget. I had to decide if the budget was going to make me insane, or if it was going to hinder 3 students' education. I had to settle for the latter. Maybe... just maybe these students have parents who vote. Maybe, just maybe these parents will be angry enough to use that vote and make education a priority in this state. Or, maybe my students will just go away hating poetry, hating the school, and consider me akin to the Grim Reaper.

I suppose that's what it means to be a teacher sometimes. Not what I pictured during those bliss-filled days of naivete 6 years ago. Instead, I feel like one more teacher at a big school who can't seem to make the system work for her students. How *insanely* frustrating!

Posted by c_jane at September 9, 2003 5:41 PM | TrackBack

"stingy teacher" ?? I don't think so. You were brilliant in your role as teacher. You were modeling how to say "No."

And you were in a sense reminding people who didn't get in that there are alternative paths which is what you most likely do when you faciliate the discussion and learning of those that did get in.

For those that are truly interested, for the love of learning, in accessing the course material, do they have a chance to view the syllabus? perhaps, follow open threaded discussions? There may be some intermediate zones.

Lots of issues surface: course vs credit; scheduling; student-teacher ratios. In this light your "no" is not just addressed to the studnet(s) wanting to taking the course you are offering but it is also a "no" to the administration.

Maybe next year or semester doing the right thing as you did will be come to be perceived more as being what nice people do.

Good luck

Posted by: Francois Lachance at September 10, 2003 8:50 AM |

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I agree with Francoise here CJ. You said "No" because you are a *good* teacher - you recognize that cramming more students into a classroom does not equate to a stronger educational system.

While I hope those students vote and encourage their parents to do the same, I worry that instead they will just blame the University, rather than the state-wide cuts that are largely to blame.

Posted by: Jason at September 10, 2003 10:20 AM |

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I agree with F&J. Saying "no" to this particular student is, in some sense, giving you more time to focus on the students you do have. I know that for years I had a hard time saying no, and struggled with it last year at Tech when students could sign up specifically for *my* course.

And Jason is right. The bigger problems are reduced budgets and institutional expectations that students are essentially customers.

Posted by: chuck at September 10, 2003 12:32 PM |

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Though you may by right, and I really don't know, not having ever been a teacher, I want to bring up the student's point of view.

It took me seven years to do a three year degree. Part of the reason was this "overbooking" of classes. As students who had been studying longer were given precedence, many core classes were filled when it was my turn to sign up. Electives could be taken only after having taken so-and-so many prerequisites.

It was extremely frustrating to want to study and yet to have no classes open to me.

Posted by: Tally at January 25, 2004 7:16 PM |

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