Monday, February 7, 2011

Can only teach the willing . . .

Blog Pictures 060
Where the magic happens
I've been thinking about teaching lately, since I'm not doing much of it this semester. The 20th century political history course I complained about having to TA has been, so far, a whole lot of nothing.

The way classes work here is the students attend lecture two days a week with the professor, and one day a week attend a discussion section with me.  I am responsible for attending lecture so I know what the students know, leading the discussion section, and grading most of the exams and papers.  The prof may, if he feels like it, grade half of the final papers.  This is a little less grading than most profs here do--most split the grading evenly--but not abnormal.

Except that the sections for this class are voluntary--attendance neither hurts nor helps the students' grades, so they have no incentive to go except to hang out on Friday afternoons with me and other students with nothing better to do and talk about the development of 20th century American Socialism.  So they don't go.  The first week of classes I had 8 students, the second, 5 students.  I'm guessing this week will have even fewer.  

This, paradoxically, makes more work for me, or at least less return on the work I put in.  I still have to put enough time into the readings--more than 200 pages a week--so that I can lead discussion on material I've never seen before.  That takes the same amount of time no matter how many students show up to class.  And now I've had several students emailing me saying they can't make it to the scheduled section time, and could I please email them the discussion questions.  And I figure that as long as I email them to some students, I might as well email them to everyone, so that at least when the exams roll around I'm not flooded with "I don't understand the readings, can you explain what the important parts are?"  Which is almost a certainty.  

But I don't know if that will just encourage students to not come to class.  And am I obligated to go out of my way to do more work if the work I'm supposed to be doing doesn't show up for class?  I want everyone to do well--I want them to get the material, and if discussion questions will help that, then great.  But showing up to discussion would help that more.  I don't know.  Some days I want to help as much as possible, and some days I just don't care.  I've got almost 2000 photos from the disastrous State Capitol research trip to go through--I guess this week I don't care.


  1. That sounds terrible. From a bad student's perspective, it sounds like this would work better with the discussion session midway through the week between two lectures, and maybe the second lecture has a quiz at the beginning. Are you teaching undergrads or grads?

  2. I teach undergrads. Usually freshman, but this semester, it's seniors in an upper level class. And it's worse because I sympathize with them not coming to discussion! Second semester senior year, I had no motivation.

    The prof has given me no authority to require anything of them, even quizzes. But they have a mid-term coming up in March, so I expect to see more in discussion after that wakes them up a bit.