Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Bathroom Pass

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So, a few notes–

First, I thank Mike for worrying about my computer, but my guess is that it’s less my computer that’s at issue than my Internet connection, because I’m probably the last person on earth to have dial-up.  Yeah, yeah.   I know.   I get that argument whenever my son goes to college.  But it’s a long story.

For John–my place calls itself a university, although it grants master’s degrees but not doctorates.  But then, practically every place in the US calls itself a university these days.

For the rest of you–I agree with Gail, that every teacher has horror stories about students, but I wasn’t complaining about the students in the last post.

I was complaining about the administration.

I would have complained if the new disciplinary rules had applied only to my kids, who are after all in special remedial programs and very possibly in need of a lot more structure than the average student.

But the new rules apply to everybody, even in honors classes. 

They’re very like the rules in elementary and high schools which assume that every student is a delinquent until proven otherwise–no going to the bathroom without a pass, and all the rest of it.

There’s a teacher in my place who will ock a student out of the classroom if he leaves to go to the bathroom, even with permission. 

Now, I fully agree that the felt need for all this is a function of the fact that my place is not exactly first tier–it’s barely fourth tier–and that therefore the quality of the students we get is generally low.

But what low quality consists of is more complicated than you think. 

Yes, we get plenty of students who don’t have much in the way of intellectual ability, who in any sane world would never go to college at all–not because there’s something wrong with them, or because they’re in some way inferior, but because their talents lie elsewhere.

And yes, virtually all the students we get, even the very best ones, lack the cultural context to do real university level work. 

But lately, the big issues have been…well, discipline.

“Pass your papers in, ” I say, and a horde pf people stampedes towards my desk.  It seems they’ve never simply sat at their desks and passed papers forward before.

It’s a little thing, but it astes an enormous amount of time.  I used to not bother to ask, assuming that they’d know that papers were due today and they should leave them on my desk before the end of class, but that resulted in howls of protest–but you didn’t collect them!  so it doesn’t count that I don’t have my paper in!

Then there is the simple problem of classroom noise, the constant talking at high volume–no need to whisper or pretend, you’re just talking. 

Again, it’s the kind of thing I expect from my kids, because of who they are, but I get the same reports from other teachers who have honors students or kids in regular classes.  They waste a third of every class period just trying to keep order, and sometimes it does’t work.

I think Gail has a point, too, when she notes that many of them come from schools where “getting an education” meant just showing up, or maybe not even that.  It didn’t matter wht they did.  They passed.

I still don’t think we should have instituted the new rules we have.  Granted, nobody can teach anything in a classroom that has been reduced to chaos by students who won’t shut up, and no course goes very well when half the students aren’t doing any of the homework.

Hell, in the kind of course I teach, which is workshop-oriented, the course is literally impossible when half the kids don’t do their homework.  If you haven’t done the paper, you can’t bring it in and have somebody else critique it.

But I don’t think the answer to any of this is the kind of rules we’ve n ow instituted.  It’s not treating these kids like they’re four year olds.

My optinum solution would be to end this incredible idiocy of insisting that “everybody” has to go to college.

Barring that, I’d say let’s go back to the old system–if you didn’t show up or do your work, you failed; if you disrupted the classroom, you got kicked out of the course.

I generally lost half my class before the end of any term.

But I think the body count was only so low because I was really far too lenient about deadlines.

Written by janeh

September 16th, 2009 at 5:54 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'Bathroom Pass'

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  1. I have dial-up at home. It does what I need, and it couldn’t be cheaper. I do sometimes get the impression other people think I’m the last person chiseling out messages on slabs of rock.

    Anyway, the problems of students and administration and teachers are all interlocking. Students (adult ones, anyway) behave the way they do because they’ve had years of doing exactly that and being accepted in class anyway. Some teachers insist on order and achievement, some have bought into the idea that spontaneity and making everyone feel good is most important and some have simply given up because of the incredible hassle that ensues if any student is given a below-average grade or if a disruptive student is tossed out of the classroom. And administration….well, administration wants the institution to continue to exist and possible grow. That means you need bottoms on seats, which you aren’t going to get if your students get fed up – for whatever reason – and go elsewhere.

    The problem of irrelevant education? I don’t know where to start. I don’t think the problem is as extensive here, but some students think it is. I’ve heard of one, in a program strictly tailored to a particular trade, designed in consultation with the industry in question, no ‘academic’ stuff – who firmly believes that he’ll learn what he needs to know on the job, and everything being taught in class is irrelevant. You’re always going to get some of that, but it does sound as though things are going to extremes in the US.

    I have found out why today’s youth can’t write longhand. A friend’s son had about half a year’s lessons in how to do it, and it wasn’t required after that. So the students all print (very badly) when they can’t type. Is this bad teaching, or is handwriting becoming an archaic skill like fencing or hand-spinning wool? And should teachers use their cell phones in the classroom to book their spa appointments if their students are doing seatwork?

    I’m beginning to feel like one of those old fogies who likes every century but her own.


    16 Sep 09 at 6:17 am

  2. I do announce the first day–we’re all grownups here, if you need to go to the bathroom, go; if you have to miss a class, just have the courtesy to let me know and I will trust you to know that missing class at this level is a bad thing that you will only do for a good and sufficient reason, etc.

    But my son is always complaining about his undergraduate classes. He is an independent learner, but he is being nickled and dimed to death with points for attendance and busy-work assignments to prove you did the reading…. And he’s in the honors program and in pretty advanced classes. *sigh* I’m afraid I’m turning into the “kids today” lady….


    16 Sep 09 at 9:40 am

  3. I am perhaps unduly optimistic–though it’s not a think I am normally accused of. But still, “higher education” seems to thrive on Freshman orientation these days. Is not basic classroom etiquette the sort of thing that might properly be addressed there?

    As for institutional purpose, surely it occurs even to administrators that giving people degrees in return for for seat time and money–and not being too fussy about the seat time–is a scam, and that scams go “pop!” suddenly and unpleasantly?

    On the other hand, education and training is a business that can go on forever, since there will always be a fresh supply of the ignorant and untrained young. Problem is, to maintain the value of your product, you then have to define goals in terms of what the student must learn in order to be awarded the degree, rather than how many courses he must pay for.

    We used to have to begin every block of instruction with training objectives–what the students would know or be able to do at the end of the instruction. I can think of some professors of mine who wouldn’t have liked that notion at all.

    As for handwriting, Kurt was in Indiana schools for Fourth Grade, and Indiana taught cursive in Fifth. Then he was in Virginia schools for Fifth Grade, when THEY taught cursive in Fourth. After some weeks of handwriting drills, I gave up and bought him the family’s first computer. His handwriting is still dreadful–but so is that of his fellow honor students in Fort Wayne, and his classmates at Johns Hopkins, most of whom can’t possibly share his excuse. I think it’s just gone, and I am reminded of being taught how to fill and use a fountain pen at a time when all the students had already gone over to cheap ball points. Education can be a bit hidebound that way.


    16 Sep 09 at 7:03 pm

  4. Robert, fountain pens – how modern! I was in grade school in the 1940s, we had steel nibbed pens that had to be dipped in ink wells.

    I’ve been rereading Kipling’s Stalky & Co. It begins with a poem (doggerel really) and one verse goes:

    This we learned from famous men,
    Knowing not its uses,
    When they showed, in daily work,
    Man must finish off his work-
    Right or wrong, his daily work-
    And without excuses.

    That seems to be something missing from education these days.


    16 Sep 09 at 10:31 pm

  5. Yeah, count me in with the old fogeys. The only thing I can say to those who maintain “kids these days can’t sit still, get their work in on time” etc., is that they can in other schools and other countries. In Russia cell phone text messaging is a classroom issue and I find Russian kids talk much more to each other during lectures than in schools of similar status in the US. But I’ve taken to just being silent until the yakkers look up or look over, and then going on once they are all paying attention. Don’t you wish you had my problems? (At least in this regard)


    17 Sep 09 at 7:24 am

  6. We were quite modern in the 1960s and 1970s! We had to use ‘ink pens’ for all writing except that in ‘scribblers’, in which we were allowed to use pencils because the ink ran on the page. But most of use had cartridge pens. I can just remember the fountain pens with the little pumps, the glass ink bottles that had to be refilled from a giant one kept in the teacher’s lounge, and the wooden desks with the little hole that held the ink bottle.

    In high school, I rather fancied peacock blue ink. We wrote provincial exams marked in a central location. We were assigned numbers so everything was anonymous and fair, but my English teacher, who was on the marking board that summer, recognized my paper by the colour of my ink.

    Students today don’t believe that 100% of our grade in all our subjects in grades 9, 10, and 11 rode on one exam at the end – an exam our teachers didn’t set and (usually) didn’t mark.

    I’ve always been fond of that system, and attribute my excellent mark in one subject to it. The teacher in that subject (not English, fortunately) and I had certain serious differences of opinion, including the opinion as to whether I belonged in that class at all.


    17 Sep 09 at 9:09 am

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