Monday, January 15, 2007

Repeat customers

In taking a look at my class rosters for the spring I've been pleased by how many of my students from last semester are taking classes with me again--and especially by how good all my returning students are! I'm especially excited about my Shakespeare class, where I'll have six of the eight best students from my fall Brit Lit class. By "best students" I don't necessarily mean that they got the highest grades in the class, although most of them did do very well; rather, they're smart, eager, and mostly very participatory. Even the one kid who didn't do at all well is bright--just not particularly hard-working.

So this is all nice and affirming in the same way that my evaluations were (more on them later, but they were damn good--and this surprised me, given how low the average grades I gave were and how tough I know even my best students thought me).

But there's a problem: one of the eight or nine repeat students I'm going to have this semester is, literally, a repeat student: she's retaking the same class that she took with me in the fall, presumably in the hope of getting a better grade than a D. Although I don't fully understand why she's retaking this class with me--there's another section being taught this semester, at a convenient time, and by an instructor who isn't exactly know for being demanding--I certainly don't mind having this student again; she's pleasant and quiet and maybe studying this material for a second time is what she needs in order to understand it.

Oh no, the problem here is my own vanity. I'm using exactly the same syllabus this term that I used last term. And although I don't do precisely the same thing with each text from semester to semester, overall I do tend to raise the same questions, look at the same passages, and do the same assignments. And, most embarrassingly, I tend to make the same jokes. And those seemingly spontaneous, colloquial riffs and rephrasings that always go over so well? Not always so spontaneous.

Do you think she'll notice? Or do I need to invent a whole new shtick?


Hieronimo said...

How sad would it be if you spent all that time re-prepping for the D student?! Probably she won't even think twice about it; she'll assume that she's taking the same class, so it's precisely the same class. Just like if you took Organic Chemistry again, you'd get the same lectures.

So, how did she get a D? That's a tough grade to earn in English classes, if you do all the work. Did she fail to turn something in? Or do you actually give D's on papers? Impressive.

Terminaldegree said...

I have some students taking a "reunion tour," too. I just made a joke about it: "Wow, not only do you get to save money by using the same text...but you also get to hear the SAME JOKES AGAIN!" It got some grins.

negativecapability said...

I'm betting if she's ok taking it with you again, she's probably aware that the D was all about her, not you. Depending on the circumstances of the D, she might have missed a lot of what was going on anyway, since her brain was probably somewhere else 90% of the time (I'm assuming a failure to work hard for whatever assortment of reasons here).

Also what Hieronimo said - I don't think a lot of undergrads have any idea how much control we have over the selection of texts, etc., esp. in a survey/required-type course. My students were *shocked* last semester to find out that not only was every section of their required course different (as in different texts/anthologies, what have you), but that each instructor "just made it up" :).

Flavia said...

Hee. I love the idea of a "reunion tour"--and you guys are probably right that she won't notice, and that if she does notice, she won't necessarily care. Still, it's a bit embarrassing to be forced to confront the fact that one isn't as cool and wacky as one likes to think!

And Hieronimo: I actually do give "D"s on papers, usually a couple in every batch (at least when we're talking about surveys or required classes), but this student got solid Cs on both papers, attended class regularly, etc.--but she failed both the midterm and the final exam and had a failing average for her quiz grade as well.

What Now? said...

Any student who pulled a D probably didn't spend a lot of time paying attention to the text of the course -- either the reading itself, or the "text" of your classroom presentations. I think you're fine! (Although I love Tiruncula's joke to the students about their hearing the same jokes.)

Horace said...

In four semesters here, I've already had about 7 repeat customers in this way--either students who stopped coming midway through, or a few who actually got Ds or Fs. And they're coming back to learn with l'il ol' me.

I have had that exact same moment when telling a joke that I tell every semester, and seeing these students laugh again. Now in one case (smart kid, quiet, terrible writer), that smile was, "heh, I've heard that before, but most of them seems to be laughing at the joke, because probably, they've forgotten that they've heard it before.

I think for me the moment of realization was that the vanity was not in fearing they'd think less of me for hearing a repeated joke (or stunning realization, or whatever), but rather that I was being vain for thinking they'd remember my jokes in the first place. le sigh

All that said, reunion tours (I LOVE that term) seem to be universally more pleasant the next time around: these students who often fell through the cracks the first time around feel a bit like insiders, and because they tend to act as if they have a bit of a special relation with me ("Oh, me and Horace? We go waaayy back!"), they stay more engaged--and earn Cs instead of Ds!

Horace said...

uggh. I hate re-reading comments to find typos. sorry.

life_of_a_fool said...

I'm jealous -- I only have ONE returning student. He is a great student, and I'm thrilled he's taking another class with me, but only one? (this also has me worried to see my evals, which I've not yet seen).

I've also made the "you're going to hear the same jokes," often when I have students taking multiple classes at the same time. So, they'll hear the same jokes within an hour or two. But I feel a little less lame when I announce it upfront, and make a joke of it.

Nels said...

She ain't gonna notice.

Anonymous said...

You need to throw it out there like, "so some of you get to hear the same jokes all over again -- including this one!" Granted, it's not true until the second time they repeat, but oh well.


muse said...

Me too! I'm in the same boat! I've got a bunch of students from my Renaissance Poetry seminar in my Shakespeare class. So they'll recognize Lucrece but nothing else, I hope. I also have a "repeat" student from my Renaissance poetry class-- he came to class fairly regularly, but turned in no written work and so got an F. Why's he back in another of my classes? Whywhywhywhywhy? All of the above suggestions are great.