Last week, when I was embroiled in a too much work, too little sleep haze, Dr. Girlfriend left the following comment on my post about the students in my class not knowing their lab partner's name.
Wow! That is crazy. It is stories like this that make me question the whole teaching thing.
These are supposed to be adults who are taking classes out of choice.
Surely they need some sort of name to use cell-phones and emails? How can they expect to pass if they are not communicating with lab partner outside of class?
A professor is supposed to be a resource, not a nanny. If a student cannot be proactive in their own learning they do not belong at university.
You care too much. And I am never going to make it as an assistant professor if I am expected to pass a certain percentage, regardless of inadequate performance.
Honestly, I wanted to bring this back up because it is something that I have struggled with as a new teacher - the balance between investment in the student/class and my time and sanity. This comes in several flavors, one of which was touched on by the above comment. In this specific case the question is how much student apathy do you compensate for with you're own time and work and in reality, I don't know the answer. To this point I have done what I needed to do in order to ensure that the lectures and labs I teach can involve everyone, regardless of whether they do something right. I know that's cryptic, but when there is a project that builds from one week to the next, I feel like it is my responsibility to ensure that if students screw something up in Week 1, I have a back-up in Week 2 that allows them to continue on with the exercise. To me, that's inherent with planning the exercise in the first place because the likelihood of all students completing an exercise completely correctly the first time they do it is next to nil, no matter how straight-forward. Do you "punish" those who can't follow instructions by forcing them to watch from the sidelines in Week 2? I don't think that helps them learn the concepts, which is why I am there in the first place.
I think the same goes for class. It sucks when you spend hours building a lecture when you have a hundred other things that need to get done and 20 slides in you have two kids blatantly texting three rows back. Part of me wonders why I am bothering working as hard as I do to try and make the class interesting to them when I could just stand up there and talk straight through the figures from the book. I'm not trying to be Robin Williams in the Dead Poet's Society, but I do care about engaging the students in the material. Maybe it's stupid of me to want that at this early stage since no one gets a cookie for teaching at the expense of research, but I also don't know how to turn off that part of my brain that forces me to take pride in whatever product I put out. I have had teachers who just didn't care, for whatever reason, and I can't be that guy. But finding the balance that gets you to "good enough" is tough and it's a moving target.
Although I don't believe that the students need to be coddled, one of the hardest things I have found in the teaching game is finding the right investment balance. Too much and I can't get other essential functions done and stay up-right and married, to little and I can't live with the job I am doing in my role as "The Guy Responsible For Helping The Students Learn This Shit". Some days I get it right and some days I am way off, but it is part of the job. It may not be what we are trained to do or what we want to do, but I can't knowingly* teach poorly any more than I can knowingly leave out data that calls my conclusions into question. I don't know where that leaves me, but I guess I will find out.
*I might suck as a teacher and not know it, which is a different problem.