I don’t think I’m a particularly harsh teacher. Most nights, my students take no homework out of the classroom. My courses are set up so that if you put in a minimum amount of work, you will pass. And yet, this past week, I’ve been accused more than once of not being easy enough on my students.
Scenario 1: My French 20 course does a unit on electronic press. The final project for the unit is to produce their own video news segment. They have to cover at least five stories and the video has to be at least 22 minutes long. The students have 3 weeks to complete the project, the last of which we spend in the computer lab where I teach them how to import and edit the video. So, two weeks to film 22 minutes of footage. Is that too little time? Most of the students procrastinated for the first week, scrambled somewhat in the second week and went into full-tilt panic mode in the third week. In previous years, students have done interviews with the mayor, the chief of police and other local luminaries. Suffice it to say, this year’s crowd did not have time to interview anyone other than the students’ own parents and each other (which is not to say these interviews were badly done, just that they didn’t put in the effort that previous years have done).
Now, I’m of the opinion that this was sufficient time to shoot and edit a 22 minute newscast – it has been in previous years. My students (and some of their parents) are not of the same opinion.
Scenario 2: In previous years, I’ve attempted to teach grammar concepts to my French class in the context of the content of the course. At the end of last year, I came to realise that this method was not working to get the students up to the level where the curriculum guide said they should be at the end of the course. This year, we (the French department) decided to be a little more proactive about the grammar concepts. And then the whining started: “We do this every year!” “Why do we have to do this?” “We’ve never learned this before!” Sheesh! You’d think I was asking them to memorize the Magna Carta or something, rather than something they should, by all rights, have learned by now in the course of their French studies.
Scenario 3: As required by Sask Learning, all the grade 10 students in the school are taking a reading assessment test (yeah, don’t get me started on standardised tests) to measure their reading skills. Today we did the pre-test to acclimatise students to the types of readings and questions that will be asked on the actual test. One student’s comment: “It’s not fair that we’re getting measured on how bad we got taught reading.”
There seems to be a lack of personal responsibility on the part of students for their own learning. If they don’t know something, it’s because some teacher in the past didn’t teach them well enough. If they don’t get a project in on time, it’s because the instructor didn’t give enough time to complete it. I wouldn’t be so frightened by this if it was just the students, but more and more, parents have been calling with the same attitude. At what point do the students become responsible for their own learning? If not high school, university? Maybe their first job? Or are they going to go through life expecting to be spoon-fed all the information they need and given as much time as they want to complete only the tasks that they choose for themselves? Yikes.