This post provides the reasons why I’ve come to dislike teaching my writing class, a class I originally thought I would adore.
First, and least, the class is a LOT of work. I spend far more time on the writing class than any of my other classes, and much of that extra time involves grading and commenting on student assignments, which is not my favorite part of teaching. No one can learn to write without writing, so I have to get my students to write a lot, and I need to respond to those pieces to help them grow and improve.
Second, I wouldn’t mind the workload if it actually translated into student improvement. Unfortunately, many students seem to pay attention only to the grade rather than the numerous other comments I write on their papers, and they become so focused on grades that they begin to try and “not loose points” rather than trying to get better at the process of writing. I hear, every semester, “so you focus mainly on APA style in grading?” Every time it’s asked I say, “no.” But APA style is the easiest thing for them to fix so they continue to focus on it. I do have students who take what I say to heart and strive to get better. These students don’t necessarily make the best grades in the class, but they develop the most as writers. But these seem too few and far between, numbering 1 or 2 out of a class of 25 rather than the 10 or 12 I might hope for.
Third, this class evokes arguments with students about almost everything. When you ask an objective question, as in, “who developed the concept of classical conditioning,” there is one specific answer that the students have been taught (Pavlov) and, if they miss it, they won’t argue about it. But it sometimes seems that students want to argue about everything in the writing class. If they wanted to argue as a basis for learning, that would be one thing. But it’s clear they want to argue so they can try and squeeze out another point or two for their grades. Many of the arguments take the form of, “But that’s what I meant to say…” and they either don’t understand or don’t want to understand that “meaning” to say something is not the same as having said it. At the end of the semester I never fail to have 2 or 3 students, usually ones who got “B’s” but wanted “A’s” come to see me in my office to argue and argue and argue about the situation. Good writing is somewhat subjective, although not completely so, and I stress to the students that I take off most points for objective mistakes and not subjective ones. But even a mark of “awkward sentence” can evoke arguments from students who don’t think it’s awkward. When I won’t give in to these arguments, the result is often tears. That really makes my day, let me tell you.
Fourth, and worst, plagiarism. I’ve never taught this class yet without having at least 2 out of 20 or so papers plagiarized in the first round. And not just a sentence here and there, but whole passages lifted with no quotation marks and either no references or the wrong references, the latter of which indicates an active attempt at deception. This is despite the fact that I have a lengthy statement about plagiarism on my syllabus. The book talks about it at length. We cover it in class and I have two quizzes with questions on plagiarism in the first third of the semester. There are two inevitable responses that I get from students when this happens: 1). I just messed up on my references, 2). I didn’t realize that was plagiarism. I don’t accept these excuses and indicate to the students that they should drop the class because the likelihood of them passing has now been greatly diminished. Unfortunately, many of the students have reasons why they feel they can’t drop the class, and when I tell them that I will go over future papers with a fine-toothed comb, they say, “OK.” The final result: usually a poor grade and more tears.
In fifteen years of teaching this class, I’ve had more students cry (at least one a semester, often when caught at plagiarism) than in any other class I’ve taught. I’ve seen more students argue over each and every grade they make than in any other class. I’ve seen more students look completely bored in class than in any other I’ve taught. I’ve gotten far more frustrated questions (Why is this important? Why do we need to do it that way?) in this class than in any other. I’ve gotten more outbursts of anger than in any other. Is it any wonder that I don’t really look forward to teaching this class?
The negative aspects came to a head for me in Spring 2011 in this class, with a student who went to the chair and the vice president of the university about her unfair “B” grade, which was the “highest” grade she received that semester in any of her classes. She told our chair that she didn’t care so much about herself and her grade, but she just didn’t want future students to have to deal with my unfair policies in the class. The policy in question was me requiring classroom attendance as a portion of their grade for class participation. After dealing with that, I was the one who felt like crying.
Be careful of wanting to do what you love.