Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Reasons No. 283, 186, and 119 I don't like large classes

Reason No. 283: Inflexible scheduling. I have two students this semester who are in my large class who have a conflict between class time and their work schedule. (The students have to work to pay their tuition.) Of course, there are only two sections of this class now, and they meet at the same time every semester. There are no other sections because the two sections can hold collectively nearly 500 students. I have a similar problem with students on the swim team who get out of practice across campus 15 minutes before my class starts and have to dry, change, and run to class late. (The only other section of the course meets before mine, during their practice.) The class is required for both groups of students.

Reason No. 186: accommodating individual students is prohibitive. In a small class, I'm often fairly understanding about late homework or special circumstances, unless I have a reason not to be. One student missed an online quiz? I'll take care of it manually. Forgot the date of the test? I'll e-mail it to you. In a class of 350, what was a couple of students out of thirty-five has now become twenty students missing deadlines and e-mailing me asking about quiz dates that are already published in the course policies. (Or twenty cell phones going off in class throughout the semester, but that may really be reason no. 187.) So usually I just build some flexibility into deadlines from the start and offer some blanket extensions or opportunities to make some things up. And lots and lots of online stuff that I don't have to grade by hand.

Reason No. 119: I don't know my students. I get occasional requests from students for letters of recommendation for things like tutoring or RA jobs, or for scholarships. I rarely have much I can say about my students, since I barely know most of them. Usually I can't write much more than "According to my records, came to class, turned in all homework, got a B." Wow, that will take them far. Why are they asking me? All their classes are large now, and I'm one of the few teachers who makes an effort to find out anything about my students in large sections. So I have to try to avoid writing things like
Pat turned in all the homework and is quite tall. I think Pat's hair is brown, and I am 99 percent certain Pat is male. But don't push me on that one.

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