The last week of the semester is over, and I must admit I’m feeling a bit bittersweet. I did enjoy teaching my classes this semester, and I was fortunate to have a good group of student teachers this semester. Being in a Spanish classroom for the first time in 24 years wasn’t as daunting as I thought it would be, and I actually learned some things while observing the social studies student teachers. I got the pleasure of having a class interrupted by a fire drill and by a lockdown drill, and I survived the semester without losing a day of instruction because of snow (unlike last year, when we had five snow days—which prompted the desire to film the U.S. history survey class and History of Pennsylvania).
Recording the classes also provided me with an opportunity to reflect on how I teach, and, honestly, I didn’t see anything that I didn’t already know. I talk too fast. I pace a lot. My hands don’t stay still. My jokes are corny and sometimes go over the students’ heads (although it helped to have two non-traditional students in the U.S. history survey class who are old enough to share some common experiences, such as remembering when men first walked on the moon). Plus, it does look like the camera adds at least 10 pounds, depending on the camera angle—and it doesn’t do a very good job of distributing the extra weight. In addition, I suspect that the frozen shoulder is making a return, as the left shoulder is quite sore (and in some of the videos it looks like the left shoulder is slightly higher than the right—unless I have developed a hump like Igor in “Young Frankenstein,” but one that does not shift from one side to the other).
At the same time, I have experienced the frustration of finding out that students don’t always take advantage of the opportunities given to them. A prime example relates to the research paper rough drafts submitted at the end of March; maybe ¼ of the students actually made all the changes suggested, and maybe another ¼ attempted some (but not all) of the corrections (and at least one turned a moderately decent paper into one that is resulting in academic dishonesty charges after making the corrections). I guess the students either didn’t think I would penalize them for not fixing the problems (a big mistake on their part), or they just didn’t care. Either way, I’m probably going to be awarding more D- grades on research papers than any previous semester; the only reason why those students aren’t failing is that they must pass the research paper assignment in order to pass the course, and, despite their inability to write an acceptable research paper, I don’t think it’s a fatal error on their part (except possibly for the one who plagiarized). Of course, maybe my expectations are too high; I just want them to follow directions, write grammatically correct sentences, provide historically accurate information, and document their sources. On the bright side, I suggested on two of the papers that they consider submitting them for the North Hall Prize (an undergraduate research award sponsored by the college library) and presenting them at next spring’s Phi Alpha Theta Regional Meeting.
At the same time, sometimes their attempts at conveying their thoughts become a bit amusing. This past week also saw the last book discussion in History of Pennsylvania, in which students made a presentation of Sports in Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania Historical Association, 2007). It’s always interesting to see students make a presentation (and write a review) of a book I have written (this is the only one I force them to buy, and I do not get any royalties from sales). The first time I taught the class, one student proceeded to write a 5 page review essentially complaining that the book only talked about sports in Pennsylvania and not other states without saying anything about its actual content. This time, the student reviews included the following gems:
“In the following text, she also describes how this game is played, and gives incite to how it was different from rounders.”
“This book is a factual based book, so there is no stretching of sources, so they work well for the situation being discussed.” (my former profs will be so proud to know I didn’t stretch my sources!)
Some of the final versions of research papers, too, make me scratch my head as I try to understand what they intended to write:
About the colonial wars of the first half of the 18th century: “These hostilities were what motivated the colonies to increase their population from 250,000 in 1700 to about 1.3 million in 1750.” (Of course—constant warfare always is a lure for immigrants)
About legislation passed by Parliament in the 1760s: “Based on the many acts that were passed by Grenville, the colonists had a very little tension span, and did not want anything else happening within the colonies.” (A prime example of “spell check is NOT your friend if you don’t choose the correct word)
This coming week is finals week, when my students share with me the knowledge they have acquired during the last 1/3 of the course (since early April). All of the exams are take-home (essays and short answer), and they have already been warned to follow directions or be penalized (with it implied, of course, that they will be penalized anyway if they provide me with incomplete or historically inaccurate information). All three classes will also have bonus questions (sort of a reward for coming to the classroom to turn in the final exam instead of just submitting an electronic copy to the dropbox—although they do have to do that, too, to be checked for plagiarism). I’ll post the bonus questions in next week’s blog; I don’t want to spoil the surprise if any current students read the blog (although one class already knows the bonus question). All of the bonus questions will refer to material covered previously in the course, some from last month, some from as far back as February (or, as some would say, the distant past).
And now, to borrow from Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, your moment of Zen…