Thursday, 23 February 2012

That'll teach 'em

Most of my students are conscientious, engaged and thoughtful. Some aren't - to the extent that I wouldn't know them if they walked past me in the street. Those students on one module have just received a stern email from my estimable boss:

Dear students,
If you are receiving this email, it is to inform you that we are aware you've missed a substantial number of seminars on the module. Indeed, many of you have never attended a seminar at all.
It is certainly your right to choose to cut your educational experiences in half, and to risk severely limiting your ability to perform well on your assignments.
You should also be aware, however, that when it comes time to marking assignments, the benefit of the doubt on borderline cases balanced between two grades will be given to those students who have engaged with the whole module and demonstrated their commitment in trying to help themselves to succeed. These are also the students who will find us amenable to writing supportive letters of recommendation.

Attendance isn't formally compulsory here: there's a debate around whether people should be treated as adults capable of taking their own decisions. In my own first year, we were told that tutorials were compulsory but lectures weren't. We could attend everything, faithfully transcribe all that was said and come out with a 2.2. We could attend, listen, study independently and maybe get a 2.1. or a First, or we could not turn up at all. Some of those people might be studying independently: good luck to them was the message. Others would skive and do no work: up to you, my teachers said.

What did I do? I went to pretty much everything. I missed two or three lectures when I had a fencing competition a long way off, and one guy handed out transcripts of his lecture at the start, read it out word for word, then left. So I didn't feel too bad occasionally picking up the transcript and leaving. If he'd added anything to it, I'd have stayed. I have to say though that English students didn't have a particularly onerous timetable, even with a couple of extra subjects in the first two years. I spent most of my time reading or writing scurrilous articles for the student paper. Or demonstrating. Or attending SU meetings about astonishingly dull disagreements.

As a teacher, I don't personally mind people not turning up. They're paying for it: if they want to waste their time and money, it's their problem. It's better than the ones who turn up, text, listen to music, answer their phones and giggle away at the students putting the effort in (or as I saw at University College Dublin once, playing the trumpet!). As long as they don't subsequently turn up begging for help when the essays are due. Everyone gets a free pass once or twice - people make mistakes. But if there's a pattern of idleness - you're on your own. As my colleague says to them 'I've got my degrees already - do you want one or not?'.

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