I finally realize why my professors always encouraged class participation and why it was always such a large component of our final grades.
When students don’t participate, especially in a discussion-based class, the learning environment suffers. I try really hard to engage my students, but I can’t force them to be interested in anything I’m teaching.
Today, in my class of 25, the same five people were participating. I was grateful for their input, but I wanted to hear what the other students had to say. No matter how many different questions I asked or how many different ways I tried to approach the text, no one seemed to want to contribute to the discussion.
I said, “I realize that you have other classes and that reading can be overwhelming, but please come to class prepared to share at least one thing. Otherwise, don’t bother coming to class.”
I tried so hard to keep a straight face, to hide the fact that I felt bad saying it. The truth is, when my students don’t participate at all, I really want to ask them to leave the room. Coming to class and not participating isn’t going to benefit them in any way – I don’t give quizzes, and they don’t have to write academic papers. They don’t even have to take notes!
They are simply required to think and share.
And then I thought about how, when I was in school, I didn’t always participate in all my classes. I was excited to contribute in my creative writing classes, mostly because I love the subject and always wanted to share, but I rarely spoke up in my history and philosophy classes, which were required by my school’s core curriculum.
To be honest, I was even lost in some of my grad school classes, like Readings in Renaissance Literature and Textual Theory. I rarely participated and was mystified by my classmates, who always seemed to have insightful things to say.
I know what it’s like to desperately hope that the teacher doesn’t call on you. It’s uncomfortable and painful, especially in a longer class.
How could I be so hard on my students when I wasn’t always the most diligent student? Am I being a hypocrite? Should I expect more from students who have signed up for an elective course? Should I ignore the lack of interest and pay attention to the students who do care? Academic karma, if there is such a thing, is biting me in the ass.
(Photo by sidewalk flying)