Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Window on Society

I'm not sure whether or not I can attribute this to the prevalence of cell phones, texting, chat, and tweeting, but I was absolutely blown away by something that happened in one of my classes today.

In this particular class the noise level is a problem. I have a small group of students in the back who are chatty, and (until today) I had been trying to deal with the problem by patiently working with these students to bring them to a point of understanding appropriate classroom behavior. It may sound strange for a teacher to say that - I mean, just kick 'em out, right?

Well, it's an entry-level class (basic arithmetic for adults), and I'm more patient there than I would be in another class because part of the class for some students is learning how to learn and how to be in a classroom as well as learning how to do math. Today, however, I finally had to come down hard because the noise level is such a problem, and we're now beginning week 2. Yet even after coming down hard I STILL had to give reminders to quiet down. Tomorrow I have no choice but to start kicking people out. I've only ever had to do that once before in 15 years of teaching at the college level, and I'm not looking forward to doing it.

But, I digress . . .

Back to today. At the beginning of class I explained the structure of class for the day and gave the students a project to work on while I was handing out papers. I also assigned some reading in case they got done with the project before I got the papers handed out. Just prior to giving directions was when I had come down heavily about the noise and let them know that while doing this work (even though I wasn't lecturing) it needed to be quiet so people could focus. After handing out the papers I asked if there were any questions on the prior homework assignments. One student said "yes" and was looking through his work to find his question. I waited as he found his place.

At this point a student from the group in the back raised her hand and asked what we were doing. I restated that it was time for students to ask questions if they had them. She said:
"This is so confusing! It's so quiet. I don't know what we're doing!"
She was clearly very uncomfortable with the quiet, and I think that's what's going on with that group of students in the back. They're not being belligerent. They're not wishing to be disrespectful of the students around them. They're just so panicked by silence - and, I think, so used to "chatting" (text, tweet, etc.) all the time even when with others or when doing something else, that we now have a society where some people are growing up not knowing how to be quiet or how to be comfortable with silence, even for a moment!

I jumped right in and said something I don't think has ever occured to her before:
"It's OK for it to be quiet!"


strangerland said...

reassign seating no free choice of seats for this class

Anonymous said...

Good for you Heidi!
It's crazy that college students age wise, even if not level wise, don't understand proper classroom behavior. In, I believe, yesterdays Letters to the Editor of the Modesto Bee a man from Turlock wrote a letter on this very subject. He was critical of the MJC instructors for not being pro-active and demanding acceptable classroom behavior. You can also "experiment" with those lost in the back that they slect a closer seat. When a person sits in the back they easily become a spectator instead of a participate. Paula

Heidi said...

Yes, that was quite a letter in the Bee.

At a JC we have to accept everybody - which makes our mandate rather different from that of a university. This is something that can be difficult, but it also puts us in a unique place of making a unique kind of difference in the community.

For the most part I've had great classes and phenomenal people to work with whom I've appreciated very much both as students and as human beings (including some who were pretty rough around the edges to begin with and then came around). Some of whom I have had the privilege of building rich and lasting friendships with.

Some of my strongest students are returning (i.e. older) students who share with me that they are back 10 or 20 years later, after having been there the first time - and that initially they were there because their parents told them if they didn't go to college they would have to move out, get jobs, pay for their own insurance, etc. At that time they didn't take it seriously, blew it off, skipped classes, failed . . .

But let me tell you, on their second go-round they were dedicated and did really, really well, A's in every case I can think of.

I'm afraid some that I have this semester are on that first go-round.

That's not to say all first time students are in that spot - not at all! But some are.

And, yes, separate seating will be happening Monday. I was all set to do it this past week but then half of those students were absent, and class went well, so no point doing it then . . .