end of sem rants

I teach at a state university in Southern Luzon. I applied immediately after graduation and was fortunate enough to be accepted. In my limited three-year stay in the university, I always find myself frustrated at the end of the semester.

I believe that we have intelligent students here, which is exactly why things are more frustrating. If a student does not perform well or fails a course, it’s not because they are stupid or dumb or lacking in intelligence or <whatever verbal camouflage you can think of>.

Being one of the premier universities in the country, I believe that students who are accepted here are the brightest in the country. Now, I constantly find myself wondering what we did wrong, what we weren’t able to discuss, or what we did not do. They’re performance in class seems to decline as they stay longer in the university. We love handling classes for freshmen students. That’s when students still raise their hands for recitation – and more importantly pass their outputs in advance. As they grow older, they develop evasion strategies – avoiding eye contact with the teacher, taking imaginary notes, looking for something that doesn’t exist in their bags, a thorough inspection of the halls ceiling, or texting and sleeping in plain sight. And deadline, well, what deadlines?

I am constantly surprise by some students’ self-centeredness, expectation that everything should be easy, inability to process instructions, disregard for deadlines, <… this list could go on…>, and most importantly, the lack (to some, absence) of passion to learn and the will to maintain and challenge the existing standard for quality/excellence. College seems more like a place for socialization, a paid vacation from home, rather than a place for learning to learn.

I see students who are proud of being accepted – there’s nothing really wrong with that. Except maybe, if one fails to realize that being accepted in the school means one has to earn the bragging rights. And it’s way more than having the oblation or the parrot in one’s ID.

I  encounter students who take great pride in their outputs – perhaps too much for their own credit. They may have exerted much of their effort in the aesthetics, instead of the content. Excess in confidence, lacking in substance.

I handle writing courses. Students expect to learn journalism writing styles in a lecture class. They want to hone their skills in writing, they say. But they don’t read newspapers. They write supposedly journalistic pieces because it’s a requirement. Not really because it’s something they’d want to do. Only a handful of students in each class really pay attention. They’d avoid consultation with instructors because they’re shy, embarrassed with their outputs, they fear the instructors, the instructor seems to be in a bad mood, they’re too busy their schedule does not match with the consultation hours of the instructors (how about online/email consults?). Really, when was college education promoted as something easy? Is it really possible to graduate without overcoming these excuses?

Some of the most important lessons, they say, cannot be learned in the classroom. I do agree. Some of the most important lessons are not part of the course outline. It’s excluded in the questions in the examination. But the curriculum is designed to develop some of the essential things these would-be professionals need to develop for their post-college lives.

Quick wit, the courage to overcome difficulties – financial, fear (instructor, exams, worst case scenarios, etc), the ability to adjust – to learn, unlearn, re-learn, and  professional judgement – self-imposed quality control on outputs, working for the nearest to ideal possible output, high regard for oneself (that no shitty output will bear his/her name on it). The list was developed through six semesters of dealing with today’s college students.

The idea for consultation is to come to the instructor’s office and ask him/her what to do about their dilemma regarding the course. (What do I do? )I get excuses like they have run out of ideas. How is that even possible? I constantly find myself asking if these are the students that passed the entrance examination. There was a time that when students consulted their instructions, they laid out options. What they asked during the consultation was which option made the most sense.

They tend give up immediately. They say that exercise are difficult even before they start working on it. They prefer to take the easy path, some would rather have their intellect insulted with easy examinations. Their priority is their convenience. They demand for higher grades. They turn in elementary level outputs. They expect everything t be customized according to their needs. If there is miscommunication, they’ll blame the instructions (or instructors). They’ll start working on outputs during the week or day of the deadline, submit late, and/or then tell the world that the instructor sucks because they received a failing grade.

What was expected in a student before has become such a rarity. In a not so distant past, if students did not use that mass between their ears, they are at least be polite, eager, and industrious. Today, more students are leaning towards the none-of-the-above category.

It’s during the last month of the semester that I usually ran out of patience. If one could buy patience, I  would have saved up for (a LOT of) it. It’s just the middle of the month and I’m out of patience. This week, it feels like I’ve consumed all my sarcasm batteries on reserve. Frustrating it may be, the standards have been lowered and deadlines have been extended and all the while that feeling of betraying the university’s  reputation for academic excellence lingers. It’s being unfair to all the minds that were honed in this institution who established the university’s stature for academic excellence.

All adjustments and extensions made, one still gets outputs that are haphazardly prepared, lacking substance, up to even being -unworthy of even a failing grade (because even the instructions for format was not followed). Our grading system is 1 to 5, with one as the highest. And I find myself contemplating, perhaps there’s a need for 6 (heck, even 10 for totally some outputs). They say we have very high standards? (“high” from whose perspective?) The standards we keep were those imposed upon us.

Our job is to teach, to educate, to encourage students to learn, … (it’s quite a long list). And when students suck at things, the teachers usually get the blame. While it’s our job to educate, there is a limit to what we can do.

We cannot teach students who are absent from class. We cannot discuss student progress/outputs for students who do not show up for consultations. We cannot rate nonexistent requirements. We cannot force students to study for their examinations. We cannot excuse the from the exam for forgetting the exam date, for acute upper respiratory tract infection, et cetera.

While we hope to inspire and motivate all our students to learn to love learning, this isn’t just a one-way transaction. But for students to learn, they also need to want to learn.

One of the greatest frustration teachers may have is to see students opt to settle for what’s easy and to give up even before trying – and be okay with it.

No teacher gave a failing grade without asking him/herself what they were not able to do for the students. No teacher wants their students to fail.


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