An open letter

... to the student in my "Ethics in Science" course.

Today was our second class meeting, which is essentially the first real class meeting -- the one in which, instead of just focusing on the overall arc of the course, and the assignments you'll be doing, and the mechanics of finding the information you need on the course website, there was actual content to discuss.

Owing to my sabbatical year, it's been two years since I taught this course. It's true that much of that sabbatical was devoted to thinking and writing about the subject matter of the course, but I'll admit that I had a moment or two of anxiety this morning, wondering how quickly I'd be able to get back into the swing of teaching that subject matter.

I have to say that you all dissolved that anxiety, and fast.

You were engaged. You asked really smart questions. You made really insightful observations. Indeed, the discussion made it clear that you had done the assigned reading, something that often gets lost in the shuffle (and understandably so) during the first week of class.

Basically, you all rocked.

And, you helped me remember that why I love teaching this course has at least as much to do with the awesomely dedicated students it attracts as with the subject matter.


Dr. Free-Ride

P.S. I'll be working on learning which names go with which faces this weekend, but I'll probably mess them up next week. Thanks in advance for your patience with me.

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To those stressed out students on the first day of class -

I felt pretty good after our first class meeting this morning, I had spent part of winter break organizing the course, adding new material and readings from the primary literature, polishing the lectures and providing the best possible learning environment I could give you. I carefully worked out the course's flow, the order of the lectures, the guest lectures, etc. And I was pretty happy with it.

I was excited to see so many people show up to class at 9 am, you all looked like a good bunch - engaged, excited. You even participated in lecture when I called on you, despite being a 100+ person class and despite that we don't even start with the real material until next week. I was impressed with some of your questions. After class I got back to my office feeling quite positive.

Then the emails started. "I just checked my schedule and the two midterms in your class are the day after or before my organic chemistry midterms. This is too stressful, can you change the exam dates? I know the midterms are optional, but still." First one, then two, then three, then more... Great way to ruin the start of the semester and to make me feel really under-appreciated. Great way to communicate that you do not really care about the material, but only about your grades. Nice to know that you will resent me for the rest of the semester because I did not change the midterm dates, because I was not "responsive to your learning needs". Because of my foolish thinking that in college these things happen, and one just deals and studies in advance and stays on top of the material, and does fine in the end.

Let's hope next week goes better...

Nmnzia - Why are you hatin' on Orgo students? Orgo is often considered a "make or break" course, and my daughter worked extremely hard to pass it in college. Perhaps I do not understand your words or tone, but If I were one of your students I would NOT be happy that you would be unwilling to set up an alternative test date.

Just because you get emails asking for help, does not mean that students don't respect you. However, if you actually DO NOT WANT THEM TO RESPECT YOU, then just carry on with your current philosophy and down your current path.

Me? I'm dropping you, and talking to a dean.

J-Dog - I hope you are being sarcastic. In case you are not, what bothers me is not that they ask for help, but that they have a certain sense of entitlement which makes them think that faculty do not spend huge amounts of time working to get their courses set up to provide the best overall experience, and also thinking that they don't have a gazzillion other responsibilities to their labs and departments. Already I make the midterms optional, and if they take all of them I drop the lowest grade. We have tons of tutoring and other resources available for students who have trouble with the material, and lots more resources for students who want to explore the material beyond what is taught in class. And my course isn't even that difficult! But they want more- if they perceive that something might be a bit more stressful and require extra work, they expect you to make life even easier for them, even if its not fair to the other students (who don't have orgo), to the TA's (who are already working their butts off) and to me.

So no, it's not that I don't want them to respect me, but that they show a minimum amount of appreciation and a willingness to work hard. I remember having an orgo, cell bio and math final all on the same day when I was in college. It wasn't fun, but I did fine and that's the way it goes. Am I wrong not to coddle them?

Without going into stories about 'walking 5 miles to school in the snow,' I find American students to be very spoiled and lazy. They bring with them to college many of the attitudes they acquired in highschool. Most students' responsibility in American colleges and universities is to study, no other responsiblity such as paying for tuition with having a job while studying, supporting a family or paying for rent and groceries, electricity and water. Parents or student loans have solved all these worries so the average American student can concentrate on her/his studies. Yet, most students take four years or more to receive a BA or a B.Sc.
In most European countries, these degrees are earned in three years.

By Solomon Rivlin (not verified) on 29 Jan 2010 #permalink

At my regional university, some 80% of our students worked either full or part time, and almost all were commuters. I have never considered moving an exam to accommodate another course. However, I have generally scheduled exams such that there was no midterm. I have to agree that I saw a burgeoning sense of entitlement as years went by (retired in 1997). "I exist, gimme my A." Colleagues still in the class room say they have the feeling of facing an angry mob. I enjoyed the last class I taught (a small summer section of General Education biology) so I left the classroom feeling good.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 29 Jan 2010 #permalink

Wait, you can ask professors to move exams for you??? When I was in highschool, one year I had my english and french exams on the same day, my two big "write a ton" exams, 3 hours each. I had a lump on my finger after that day and it still feels funny years later if I write too much in one go. And those were the internal exams! You could still only sit those at a different time if you had 2 exams scheduled for the exact same time, and they'd only shift it half a day. They had 6 days to give the entire senior school exams for all 5-6 of their subjects. It wasn't a small school either so there were a lot of different subjects to schedule; it's amazing there weren't more clashes. And people want you to just move them because it's the day before or the day after O__O How long are these exams anyway, Nmnzia? Of course don't coddle them, if it's optional that's MORE than enough coddling IMO.

By Katherine (not verified) on 01 Feb 2010 #permalink