October 15, 2007

Bad Cop

Bad Cop
Originally uploaded by snuggle up & read
About a year ago, I noticed I had a number of students who were showing up to class but then goofing off or sleeping and not actually doing much work.

My solution had two prongs to it: a pitchfork (slightly heated).

No, what I did was: a) assigned work in class which either I assessed in class (e.g. student interviews or speeches) or which I collected at the end of the class (e.g. quizzes, written exercises, etc);

b) where possible, refined my course objectives so as to create more performance-based objectives. My reasoning was, if the objectives involve demonstrating competence, then what do I care if they sleep or goof off? They just need to be able to it to a satisfactory level on the day of the test.

Doing b) was preferable, but not always possible (I don't write all my own course objectives). Doing a) turned out to be a royal pain in the (choose your body part). First, I had to MARK the quizzes (a 20-item quiz for up to 40 students per class takes a long time to mark). Then I got smart and had STUDENTS mark each other's quizzes, but when I reviewed their papers, I saw that about half were incorrectly marked and some weren't even bothering (they just marked everything correct! That's what friends are for, right?). Then there was the problem of how to mark assignments that were only half done, or where there were several assignments in one class, and some students had done all, some had done none, some had done one or two, etc. Give a point for each PART of the assignment completed?

I eventually asked myself the question I SHOULD have asked myself before I started down this road: am I a teacher or a cop? Do I really have to be spending my valuable time just checking up on whether they're doing the work or not? It was a rhetorical question by that time: my (body part) had got so sore that I just wanted to drop this "checking" game.

I don't think it's my job as a teacher to check up on whether they're doing the work or not, except in an informal way (i.e. walking around during class, observing and talking). I think that's a part of the teacher's job that involves exerting control over other people, usually by fear. That's an aspect that goes contrary to my stated goal of increasing or helping students to increase their own autonomy. At some stage or other, we teachers buy into exerting control over other people as part of our job description: unthinkingly, we are conned into taking on cop duties.

I refuse to do this any longer.

In one class today, there was a boy right in front doing some other (non-English) work. I made sure he knew I had noticed him, but I said nothing. I collected all the papers at the end of the class (not to MARK, just to quickly scan). I don't know when he had done it, but he had done everything he was supposed to, and had made almost no mistakes, putting him in the top percentile of the class for that day.

In another class, a boy who's in the Sumo club dozed for the first half of the class. He came awake during part 2 when I assigned conversation practice and they had to perform a conversation for me in pairs. He did fine.


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