A Fool of Myself

Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater.

[This is an announcement I posted in my ENG 101 class last week. I am posting it here for my records and for feedback from my fellow teachers. Please note that I am working to be more transparent with my students, so there’s reason for my terse words in this announcement.]

Hi, Class,
We need to have a talk. [Please note: If this were a seated class, you would be getting my angry eyebrows. The situation is THAT serious.]

I just wrapped up grading your memoirs, and I am frustrated. I am frustrated with you. I am frustrated with myself. I am frustrated by the entire situation.

Of the 23 memoirs that I graded, 17 memoirs were not written on the assigned topic.

On page six of the ENG 101 Handbook and in Lessons > Unit 1: Memoir, under Memoir Description, I provided these instructions:

For this memoir, capture an important moment in your journey to becoming the reader/writer/technology user that you are today. Show us the intersection of You as a reader/writer/technology user. Convey its significance clearly to your readers using logical organization and vivid details to tell an engaging story.

On 9/10, I posted an announcement entitled “How to Improve Your Memoir,” which included this statement:

Carefully read the assignment description. Many A-block students wrote memoirs — pretty good ones, actually — but they had nothing to do with the assigned topic of how they became the writer, reader, and/or technology user they are today.

You and I have clearly had a breakdown in communication in this class. I am failing you. You are failing me. We are failing each other.

I get it. Online learning is hard. It’s a heckuva lot harder than taking seated classes. You feel like you’ve been left to fend for yourselves when it comes to figuring out your assignments, and you don’t get to sit back and let someone else ask the questions you need the answers to. I get it.

But get this. Online teaching is hard. I love it for a myriad of reasons, but I don’t get instant feedback from you like I would in a seated class. I don’t know whether you are “getting” an assignment until I start grading them, and by then it’s too late to do anything. I am 100% dependent on you to ask questions when you don’t comprehend what I’m telling you.

If we are going to survive the rest of the semester, we need to work on our communication.

Here is what I am prepared to do for the remainder of the semester:

  • I will continue to answer your email and Q & A forum questions in a timely manner, as is outlined in the syllabus.
  • When more than one student asks similar questions about an assignment, I will post an announcement to clarify.
  • I will provide at least one other means of delivering assignment information to you (along the lines of a video or audio file).
  • I will continue to post tips and small announcements on Facebook and Twitter.
  • I will take notes on what is working and what isn’t working, so I can diminish these problems in future semesters.

Here is what I expect from you the remainder of the semester:

  • I expect you to read and comprehend our course materials, including our class announcements.
  • I expect you to ask for clarification on your assignments and our course materials in a timely manner (i.e. not two hours before the assignment is due). Ask questions until you do comprehend what I’m telling you.
  • I expect you to come to me when you are having trouble — preferably before you start having major trouble — in this class.
  • I expect you to tell me what IS working as well as what ISN’T working, so you can help yourself and my future students be successful in this class.

If you’re not prepared to communicate with me the remainder of the semester while completing the work required for this course, you should seriously consider dropping the course and taking it another semester.

Why am I being so harsh?

I am being so harsh — so honest — with you in this announcement because I need you to understand that there is a human being on the other end of this class. I’m not a robot. I’m not a zombie. I am happy when I read a great essay because I feel like I’ve done something right and because you have succeeded — you’ve won. I am sad when I read a bad one because I feel like I have failed you. I have good teaching days. I have bad teaching days. At least once per day, the thought that I suck at teaching crosses my mind. I am not perfect.

I know that you are not perfect either. I know that you have good days and that you have bad days. I’m sure that you feel like you suck at life, too, from time to time. I get it. I’m there, too. Let’s work together to make this class not suck — for either of us.

Ms. A

Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater.” — Gail Godwin


One thought on “Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater.

  1. Did this plea have any effect? Somehow I doubt it. I taught English composition for several years, in a “seated class,” and I would not wish the job on anyone. To teach it by computer would be impossible in my humble estimation.

    I understand that composition is a significant part of general education in any college or university, but why do we, as writing teachers, offer ourselves so cheaply? The sacrifice is not worth the effort because it only bring pain and frustration with poor or hostile students, indifferent administrators, and an ignorant general public that will refer to us a “grammar nazis.”

    The smart ones walk away from the job or work madly to escape the service courses. The result is that each school year brings a new harvest of inexperienced teachers who think they will be the ones to make a difference. When they do not, they make desperate pleas to their students to shape up.

    When the students do not, and they will not, teacher burn out ensues. The decks are cleared for the next wave of hapless teaching recruits. Feeling exploited yet?

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