Thoughts on Teaching – 4/24/2012 – An uninspiring class
It is always hard to get going and motivated toward the end of the semester. I’m tired, the students are tired, and everyone is just waiting on the end of the semester to get here. We all can’t wait for it all to be done, and this is always more true of the spring semester than the fall semester. These last couple of lectures are really rough to get through for that very reason, although if the classes can help support me, I can usually make it through them without too much trouble. Monday was a show in what that means. I teach two classes on Monday, one at 9:30am and one at 11am. The contrast between these two classes is stark.
In the 9:30 class, the students are generally good, paying attention and responding to the lecture. I am not the type of person who asks very many questions in lecture, so the response I am talking about is eye contact, nodding, smiling, and that sort of thing. It doesn’t take much of that to keep me going well. If you add in a few questions or comments from the students, then I can make it through a lecture just fine with no problems and some enthusiasm, even at this late date in the semester. The lecture covered roughly the period from 1980-1992, so I talked a lot about Reagan, spent some time on Iran-Contra, discussed the fall of the Soviet Union, played out the Persian Gulf War, and ended with the 1992 election. It is not, admittedly, the most exciting lecture, and I would love to divide it up into at least two lectures to hit some of those topics in more detail. However, it flows pretty well and is not too bad of a lecture. Most students at least find the Iran-Contra explanation to be interesting.
The other class was much different. It is my two-way video class, so I know that the high school students that I connect to will be completely unconnected. I don’t know if they are monitored on that end, but I get the feeling they are only vaguely paying attention, especially by this time in the semester. What was more of a problem was the students in front of me. The class originally had 15 people in it. Two have dropped, so technically there are 13 students in the class. However, on Monday, only 7 showed up, making it a tough class to begin with. Out of those 7, only 2 of the students were actually paying attention to me with any of those visual clues that I mentioned earlier. And even those two were obviously day dreaming by a certain point in the lecture. So, I just lost all interest in it myself. If the students aren’t into it, I can manufacture enthusiasm earlier in the semester, but, by this point, it can be a struggle. I turned into super-fast lecture mode, just spewing out the material, with little regard for the ability of my inattentive class to follow it. And, none of them protested, asked any questions, or even looked up at me. The result was that the lecture that took me about 70 minutes during the 9:30 class was over in 55 minutes in the 11am class.
That is what an uninspiring class can do, and why I just feel that the lecture style is killing me and my students after a certain point. I hope tomorrow will be better, but it was a forgettable day.