I love to teach. I do. Of course, there is the understanding that there are good teaching days and there are bad teaching days. Sometimes a lesson hits right on in one class and fails inexplicably in another. Classes have unique personalities. Most of my students have the best of intentions. I learn from students sometimes more than I think they learn from me.
Being a professor at a community college has taught me a few things. Most of my students are in college because they want to do well in life. Some are there because it is expected of them. Most of my students are used to a come in, sit down, and shut up approach to learning – a direct conflict to my teaching style which encourages them to come in, discuss, and think, think, think until it hurts. Some students are discouraged by this as they would rather sit while I feed information to them, test them multiple choice style, and let them be on their way not remembering. I want them engaged.
I want them to learn. I want them to learn that being in college is much more than jumping through hoops to get a piece of paper that hardly reflects that they are ready for the job market. College is about learning and not about just getting a better job. The more students learn, the better the job possibilities will be. Why don’t they know this? Yes, it might be true that the college student who learns and the college student who manages to get through without learning will earn the same piece of paper and will be able to land the same first job, but what will happen after that? The student that learns has endless potential because she has learned how to learn, how to think, how to apply that thinking. The other student, however, may reach her potential in that first position, one she may hold for a very long time. Stuck without possibility for advancement. Which sounds better?
It took me a long time to learn that not all college students are like I was as a student. Many are happy with average, but of these students, many are used to receiving big, fat, red As on their average work. They struggle to adjust to my grading system. An average student is a C student. An above average student is a B student and an exceptional, impress the pencils out me student is an A student. This is learning.
Today was a good day teaching. We learned the construction of thesis statements then battled with those word swords the value between Nerds and Kit Kats. College students like candy and a good sugar high can produce some interesting thinking and writing.
But, today was not a good teacher day. I usually hit a slump on my long teaching days a couple of hours after lunch and have made a habit of stretching, walking outside in the fresh air, across the quad and into the commons building to buy a Diet Coke. Students are milling about at this time of day studying and chatting in the atrium. As I entered the vending machine area, I overheard a conversation between three students which broke my teacher heart.
I slid my dollar bill into the slot. Two of these students were sharing with another student how well they had just performed on an exam. I pushed the hand sized button with the picture of my favorite soda on it. They shared it was all multiple choice and they were excited they had figured out a system that worked well for them. I reached down for my vended soda. It as easy they said. I grabbed my change. “We coughed for A, rubbed our heads for B, and cleared our throats for C.” I realized they were talking about a system of cheating. I looked right at them. Couldn’t they see me? I wanted to yell, “I am a teacher! I am a teacher! How can you do this?” Instead, I walked away. Disappointed. I was ashamed that we, teachers, educators, create an environment of cheating with ancient assessment practices which merely test knowledge gained rather than making students engage, learn, and become better educated. I was stricken by the unethical nature of it all and worried that there might come a day when one of these young feeble minded cheaters might be my doctor or, worse yet, Vice President of the United States.