2/23/2009

Slacker Students

I teach online at a fairly well known, respectable school. I enjoy it, for the most part, and it's reasonable pay for the amount of time and effort I have to expend. If nothing else, it keeps my toes in education, which is something I've realized over time I really want to do. Unfortunately, I am constantly amazed at the lengths to which we, as instructors, are made to go in order to "encourage success" for our students. Honestly...it crosses the line rapidly from concern and offering a helping hand to the kind of babysitting that I honestly think needs to end somewhere in late elementary school.

I have no problem firing off an email if a student misses an assignment. In all honesty, I would do that whether or not it was required. However, I really think that's where my responsibility (and I hesitate to even say that's my responsibility...I think it's just being nice) ends. According to the school, that's just step one. And what follows is a convoluted multi-step process that takes weeks to reach the end of and has to be restarted each time the student misses something. And these students are supposed to be adults.

I just can't think of any other situation where an adult who fails to deliver on a commitment would get more than a heads-up email. You miss a deadline at work? You're not likely to get a polite, "Get it in when you can" email - you're likely to get your butt chewed. You forget to run the errand you promised your spouse you'd take care of today? Same potential butt chewing (though perhaps a bit nicer than the one at work.) You don't pay your bills? Late fees. So why, when voluntarily participating in education in order to better oneself does one feel entitled to babysitting?

Two words: for profit.

The school has competition. And it's not cheap (neither is their competition). So they have a vested interest in making sure that students graduate, or at least enroll for another course next semester. And keep enrolling semester after semester after semester. Because that's how people get paid. I don't honestly believe that there's a bunch of concern in the higher echelons of the administration for students learning anything or gaining useful skills. It's all about the bottom line. And it gets frustrating - especially when you have slacker students who don't return email or phone calls and don't participate in class leaving you, the instructor, looking bad because of the failure rate of your course. (Because they don't bother to drop the course either, they just don't come and keep racking up 0s.)

My only slight consolation is that this isn't terribly different from my experience teaching at a state community college. And while they are non profit, they're funded by the state based on the number of students who graduate in the expected time frame. Meaning that any student who fails your course and therefore ends up taking more than 2 years to finish an AA degree is no longer counted as full time when funding is renewed. And so the pressure from the administration is to pass kids at all costs. Even if they don't deserve it. Because the school needs the funds. Though at least you knew that roughly 80% of the students in your classes in the community college were only there until their financial aid was used up, then they planned on going on welfare. How did you know that? They were very up front about it. They figured the state "owed" them the financial aid and then the welfare - so they were just making sure to maximize their use of the money they deserved.

Sure, there were a few dedicated students in there - just as there are online - but overall I can't help wondering why I feel so drawn to education when I am so insanely frustrated by the lack of interest most students show in their futures.

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