Learning from Students

Lest anyone be mistaken about my attitude about teaching and students and the work  involved, I feel fortunate to have participated in such a magnificent profession for decades. Can you think of any other career in which a person actually gets paid to read, write, and share ideas with people who are in the process of laying a foundation for their lives? To be honest, there are people who are in college because of parental expectations,  peer pressure, financial assistance, and a host of other reasons.

But (with a capital B), teaching is still a tremendously rewarding career for those with the right temperament, skills, and interests. Those are attributes for another day. Today I want to spotlight the heart and soul of it all: students.

Right now I’m thinking of a near meltdown I had on I-95 coming back from a fun family weekend in GA when I learned of the brutal murder of one of my former students, a beautiful, sassy, spirited young wife and mother. We had become Facebook friends, and I enjoyed reading about her interactions with her patients, her many mission trips, and her strong faith. One day I realized I hadn’t seen any posts from her in a while and consequently checked her page. Stunned, her cover was a photograph taken at her memorial service held several weeks earlier. Although there was no mention of it, I knew who had taken her life. Cruising along I-95 nearly a year later, my niece confirmed it and gave me the horrific details.

It’s okay to care. Students are people too.

And then there was the young woman who often slept in the back of the classroom, the back right corner. Was I annoyed? Sure, sometimes, but I felt like I needed to cut her some slack. One day, she awoke, stood up shakily, and lumbered toward the door. Somewhat amused, I asked “Are you leaving us, Lola?” She turned around and announced, “No, I got to go to the bathroom.” Some people giggled, others looked momentarily uncomfortable, but others had the par for the course attitude. Lola returned, stumbled back to her corner desk, and continued her nap.

It was a problem, yes, and one I intended to address before the following class. But she didn’t return—not for the next class or the one after that.  I later learned that she had been stabbed to death by her boyfriend. True story. Someone in a night class shared that she had been awakened in the night by the screams of the student’s mother who lived in a nearby mobile home and had come home to discover her daughter’s lifeless body. The class and I had “a moment,” several of them actually, as we processed this information.

Students have outside lives that creep into the classroom.

Let’s end this on a happy note. One semester there was this angry looking young man in a morning class. His everyday look seemed to say, “Go ahead, try to teach me something.” What have I done to warrant such glares? I wondered. One day, there was a little extra something about his appearance—gloomy on top of irritated. I handed him his paper back and commented that he didn’t look very happy. He looked up at me with a doleful expression that pierced my heart and said, “Oh, Mrs. Bowers, my little puppy is so sick, and I hated to leave her this morning.” Taken aback and surprised by his humanness, I told him I was sorry. He lowered his head and said he could think of nothing else.

His puppy lived and I was reminded not to make snap judgments.

The above are just three examples that came to mind this morning, and they all have something in common. Love? Maybe love and maybe just caring and compassion—ingredients common to all decent teachers.


April 25, 2018 at 4:26 pm Leave a comment

My Slackness

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that all teachers need to get on the other side of the lectern every now and then. Doing so will remind them of how it is to be a student with a life outside of the classroom.

Yesterday I finished a course I’ve been working on for about eight weeks on how to build a website using WordPress. I took it through Ed2Go, and although I didn’t ace the course, I learned a wealth of new information and have incorporated some of it into my blogs. For example, I now know how to make a gallery with my photographs and how to vary its presentation. I can develop a slide show, a mosaic tile display, or a series of circular pictures for the gallery.

However, as much as it pains me to admit this, I did not successfully complete the course. I did none of the assignments that the instructor asked us to do, and I contributed on the discussion board only once. I satisfactorily completed all quizzes except for the final. Unfortunately, without the final, I won’t get a certificate. Since the course was for personal enrichment and not part of a degree or a requirement for my work, having a certificate doesn’t matter all that much. I hate to think of myself as a quitter. But alas, there it is.

Since the instructor encouraged us to save a copy of the final, I did so and had planned to go back and study the questions. To pass the test and the course, we needed to make at least 65, and we had to do it on the first try. Uh-oh. I knew that wasn’t going to happen without some serious study time.

But here’s what happened. I went to a concert with friends last night, and when I got home, I wasn’t motivated to take the final. To be perfectly honest (why not?), I had forgotten all about it. I can’t believe that I am guilty of what so many of my students do: procrastinating until it’s everlastingly too late.

Just like me, many of my students ignore the discussion board and the assignments as if tests and quizzes are all there is to the course. This is true despite my frequent reminders to log on and post something at least once per week. I also regularly remind them of two blogs they can post on for extra credit. Do they? Not really. Once in a while, a gung-ho student who doesn’t really need any extra credit will post blog comments, but the ones who need additional points don’t bother with it.

I have no excuse for my slackness except that the course wasn’t as important to me as prior courses have been. It was not part of a curriculum, and I wasn’t getting a grade for it. With my students, however, the psychology courses they take are part of their programs, they do get college credit for them, and if they don’t complete them successfully, they are often in financial aid hot water.

Regardless of our motives and credit needs, my students and I are similar in our procrastination. I’m going to try to remember that when I get yet another email requesting an extension for a test or an assignment. Not that I’m going to lower the bar; I’m just going to remember their other lives, the ones outside of the classroom.

March 9, 2014 at 9:40 pm Leave a comment

Withdrawals and Poor Grades

You might think that I’d have all the answers after 35+ years of teaching, but you’d be wrong. Every semester, every week, every class, and every student offer new challenges and experiences to ponder.  Withdrawals and poor grades are on my mind today.

Since Friday, three students have told me that they need to withdraw from one of the online courses. Two of them have jobs that don’t allow the freedom to schedule a time in the Testing Center to take a test. This excuse is a bit fishy to me since they have six days to take each test. Another student said she frankly just didn’t have the time to devote to an online class right now. She had underestimated the commitment that successfully completing the course would take. Two of these three students, by the way, didn’t tell me they needed to withdraw; they said they needed to withdrawl. Ouch! Do you know how often I see that word? Never mind. You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.

I feel compassion for the two students who are withdrawing because of such demanding job requirements. If their perceptions are accurate and their jobs are that challenging, how will they ever obtain better jobs? Without an education, people have even less control over working hours and conditions. Should I say that to them or just sign the form?

I feel uneasy about the young woman who said she didn’t know that an online class would take so much of her time. Actually, it’s not her that I feel uneasy about. It’s the perception that online courses are easier and less demanding than traditional ones. Not so. Should I begin including a disclaimer of sorts in each online course syllabus?

Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, but I think online courses require a different type of personality and commitment. The person needs to be disciplined, determined, and organized. Plus, he or she must realize from the very beginning (when registering) that no one is going to be standing in front of a class reminding everyone of due dates and expectations. In an online course, all of this information is spelled out in the beginning, and it’s imperative that students read the syllabus and refer to it often. Normally, I don’t like the word imperative, but in this case, it’s the best choice.

The second issue is somewhat related to the first. Not everyone did as well as they expected to do on the second test, and a few students have written me for advice on the best way to prepare for the next test. This is an easy question to answer, and yet it’s an answer that many students don’t want to read. There are no shortcuts to making A’s, at least none that I know about.  I advise them to follow the SQ3R study method, read over the study guide, take a practice test, and then read the chapter again…and maybe a third time.

Poor grades, misperceptions about the work involved, and withdrawals are all related issues. Does anyone out there (teacher or student) have any advice for me and/or for my students?

March 3, 2014 at 9:11 pm Leave a comment

Other Side of the Lectern


Every teacher needs to get on the other side of the lectern now and then. It’s so easy to forget how it is to be a student with uncertainties about how to fit the course in, how to study for tests, and exactly how the instructor/professor wants papers written.

I’m a student again. I registered for a class about how to build a website with Ed2Go, and I need to log on and take a look at it again. After all, I paid for it, and it’s something I really want to learn more about. While taking the course is a little daunting, it helps me better understand how students feel and why they might drop a course or simply stop attending.

Since the course is online, I’ve never seen my instructor. I know it’s a “he,” but I haven’t seen an email option. I’m not going to spout off about that, though…at least not until I look again. On a regular basis, I get emails from students asking where to find information about the attendance policy, what kinds of tests they should expect, or how to format an assignment. I’m always calm, cool, and collected when I reply that the information is already within the course. Then I tell them where to look.  So it could be that I just haven’t looked long enough for my instructor’s email address.

Two weeks into the course, I better understand why online students get discouraged or overwhelmed or plain old fed up. They’re don’t see their teachers and have to wait and wonder when they’re going to be online again. They don’t understand the assignments and sometimes perceive them as “stupid.” At some point, they realize (hopefully) that the teacher probably knows more about the subject and how to get it across than they do.

That’s where I am now, not understanding the assignment and frankly, not wanting to do it. Why can’t I do it my way? When I listen to myself, I realize that those are the same kinds of questions my students ask. “Why can’t I just write a research paper? I don’t understand this journal thingie.”

Am I really two weeks into the course? Where did the time go? I’m like many of my students who forget due dates and deadlines.  They forget because they haven’t checked, and I’m guilty of the same thing!

Venting time is over. It’s time to log on, re-read the assignment for this week, find the instructor’s email, actually do the assignment, and stop complaining. When this 8-week course is behind me, I’ll have a skill that I lacked at the beginning of the year and a more empathy for my online students.

January 30, 2014 at 9:56 pm Leave a comment

New Semester Ramblings


Classes began today, and for the first time since 1975, I didn’t get up, don some teaching garb, and head for class. Even after retirement two years ago, I met at least one face-to-face class each semester, but not today. Today I checked emails from students in my three online classes.  And then I reported for jury duty, something I haven’t been free to do because of teaching commitments. It felt weird to be in a courtroom listening to a judge instead of in a classroom answering students’ questions.

It’s going to be an interesting semester. I’ll be teaching my three classes from the privacy of my own home. Or maybe from the car. And since a major reason for deciding to teaching completely online is so that I can visit my children and grandchildren more often, I could teach from Savannah, Atlanta, or Myrtle Beach. As long as I have a computer, iPad, or my iPhone, I’m in business. Isn’t technology amazing?

The teaching experience is going to be different, that’s for sure. I like the interaction of face-to-face situations, but well, we’ll see how the completely online experience works out. I’ll miss the magic of the actual classroom, but I won’t miss the stealthy but rude texting or the latecomers who come trickling in after class begins.

I don’t have to be concerned about a dress for success look either. For a few weeks I’ll be a jeans and boots type of gal and then switch to a capris and Rainbows ensemble when the weather gets a little warmer. I must admit that it felt great to sit in court wearing jeans instead of being across the street wearing professional attire.

Time to change, to move on. How can a person, including me, get to what’s next if she’s still doing what she’s always done?

January 13, 2014 at 7:28 pm Leave a comment

So That’s a C?


Semester grades have been posted, and I think today is the day when students will see them. Most will see what they’re expecting to see, but others may be surprised. Some might even be surprised in a good way. Take Ralph, for instance. As we looked at his average on exam day, he was practically laughing with delight.

“You mean I’m going to pass?” he asked incredulously.

“Well, yes. When I drop the lowest grade, your average is 73.”

“So that’s a C?”

“Unless I discover some missing work or an error in Excel, then yes,” I replied, thinking that his astonishment was a bit over the top. Wasn’t he aware of what his grades were? Didn’t he know where to look? Had he even bothered to look?

Apparently full of joy and relief, he exclaimed, “I’ve enjoyed this class so much! I’ve loved it. You’re the best psych teacher I’ve ever had!”

Amused, I simply said, “Enough already. Some of your classmates are still taking the exam. Besides, you earned the C. I didn’t give it to you.”

“Because of this class, I’m thinking of majoring in psychology,” Ralph said as he headed to the door.

Ralph will be one of the ones who’ll be pleased with his grade. Others won’t. I wish I could give everyone good grades. Hmmm. That’s the operative word: give. I can’t give anything that hasn’t been earned. Last night I read an email from an online student asking if there was some way I could help her out. Her average was 55. What can I do to help her out? Was she suggesting that I “give” her five points?

I love to give A’s and wish there were more of them. An A stands for excellent, and there’s no way a student is going to earn an A without burning a little midnight oil. Even those with superior intellects have to read and study and turn their work in on time.

A B is a great grade too, and while there’s a lot of difference between an 80 average and an 89 one, a B is a B. That’s on my mind because of a student’s urgent request to please, please, please let her do some extra credit to earn an A. Her average was 88.

A C is fine. It’s quite satisfactory actually. Just ask Ralph. If a person has at least average ability and a willingness to do the minimum required work, she can earn a C. By minimum, I mean attend 80 percent of the classes, study the assigned material, complete written assignments (on time), and take all tests.

A D grade is an eking-by grade. Some folks are glad to get this, but most are not. It’s worth one measly quality point, and in most cases the course will have to be retaken. You can’t take ENG 102 without at least a C in ENG 101, for instance.

An F. While we all know that F = Fail, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is incapable. Semester after semester, many students just give up and stop coming to class. Their lives are complicated, and college is one thing they can cut. I ALWAYS advise my students to talk to their teachers before giving up because sometimes things can be worked out.

That’s my take on grades. I don’t think it varies that much from how any other community college instructor/associate professor thinks, but I’d surely welcome opinions on that. I’d also like to hear the perspective of some college students.

December 18, 2013 at 11:32 pm Leave a comment

Needless to Say?


Have you ever heard the expression, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.”? I have. It used to annoy me, but now I just think, “Whatever.” But that’s not what I want to write about today. Today I just want to share a revelation about my wordiness.

I’ve been rereading some of my earlier posts on this blog and have realized several things I could do to improve them. The subject matter is okay, maybe even beneficial to some people, but most of the posts are far too long.

If something drags on and on, a reader is unlikely to stick with it until the end. I know this because I’ve read that advice over and over and because of personal experience. If I start reading a post that’s over 1,000 words, I’ll probably read the first couple of paragraphs and skim over the rest.

If I want people to read my blogs (not just this one) and leave a comment, then I’ve got to work on being less wordy. That’s something, by the way, I was warned about in a high school English class when a teacher struck through an entire sentence that had begun, “Needless to say.” Her contention was that if it was needless to say, I should have left it out.

My new plan is to continue with the overall theme of teaching experiences, tips, and insights but to write shorter posts. Most of the ones I’ve previously written can be divided into two parts…or even three. What was I thinking when writing such long entries???

Back to the first paragraph. If you’re a teacher, what has been your reaction when hearing those words? For those of you who are not teachers, what do you think prompts people to say make such disparaging comments?

November 13, 2013 at 5:57 pm 2 comments

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