Thursday, August 31, 2017

"Did we do anything in class?"

I often get questions phrased like this:

"I have to be absent Friday. Are we going to do anything?"
"I was sick yesterday. Did anything happen in class?"

Teachers do not react well when you say it like this. When we are talking to other teachers, we get incredibly snarky about such questions. We're tempted to say, "Nothing happened at all. We sat there counting our fingers as usual." But that wouldn't be helpful.

Where the question comes from

I have to assume that the student asking the question is genuinely interested in keeping up with the work. That's good.

I also suspect that high school teachers do not publish lesson plans or assignment schedules, so every day is a surprise. If a high school kid misses a day of class, the reading assignments, homework assignments, and major paper assignments also get missed.

And it's true that some college instructors will take off in a radically different direction with little warning. I would call that a rookie mistake. Most of us have figured out the lesson plans and reading schedules weeks or months in advance and publish them for everyone to see.

Figuring out what we did

For our course, you have three major ways to get the daily readings:
  1. The printed schedule. Many of our readings are online, so you will need to somehow get to a computer, but at least you will know the textbook readings and the due dates for papers. We have a number of in-class writing activities, and there's no good way to figure them out from home, but at least you will know what we were doing while you were gone.
  2. The alternate website. The reason for this one is that Writing Center people can get to it (and sometimes Blackboard has a bad day). Here you can get all the essay assignments and an electronic copy of the schedule, with internet links to many of the readings.
  3. Blackboard. All of the online readings are here. In addition, you will find any additional handouts and PDF copies of any slide shows we did.

Let's not forget friends

One of your best resources is a smart pal who can tell you what else happened. You want the attentive person who is jotting down notes, not the goof-off who is playing with Facebook or sleeping. If someone asks a good question in class or the teacher gives a memorable illustration, your smart pal is your best hope for getting the information.

Why I don't type out my notes for you

After only a couple of classes, you should have realized that I am not reading from a typed manuscript. I don't even use a detailed outline very often. Much of the time, I'm using the material on the screen as my outline, and the extra comments and illustrations are impromptu. That means that to give you my entire lecture, I would struggle to remember, type the whole thing out, and hope that I had included everything. That sounds like a couple of hours of work.

I've been at this teaching game since 1995, and one result is that my standard set of things to say has become pretty refined. Stick around long enough and you will probably hear the "Caramel Macchiato Rule" and the barrel of sewage illustration more than once. You will probably see them somewhere in this blog too. Don't worry. I'm not going to test you on those.