Students across the spectrum
This is the time of year when teachers and lecturers are faced with hundreds (more or less, depending on a whole range of factors) of new faces and names to acquaint themselves with. We wonder how best to engage our young and not so young changes, how to present material in an interesting way, how to get the brain cogs oiled and ready for new thoughts, ideas, facts, options, views, perspectives, terms and theories. Hours spent on preparation are finally realised in the classroom.
Nothing kills this more than the half hearted “missed class the other day, but ah sure I didn’t miss anything” from the absent student.
Tom Weyman from Utoronto has put this cringing attitude to absenteeism into poetry:
Did I Miss Anything?
Question frequently asked by
students after missing a class
Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours
Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 per cent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 per cent
Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose
Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring this good news to all people
Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?
Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human existence
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been
but it was one place
And you weren’t here
Ok, this takes both ends of the spectrum to extremes. Every class isn’t going to provide a sackful of inspired nuggets of heavenly proportions. Similarly a class that is devoid of an meaning or usefulness at all is highly unlikely.
It’s a case of degree, more or less.
I look after 3 masters levels programs. As part of the taught element of the course progresses over the year I constantly remind and encourage students to be on the lookout for that spark, that interesting little idea or fact that will point them in the direction of a dissertation topic that they can base their masters qualification on.
This spark will be different for different students. For example, student A who is attracted by the psychology of human online behaviour might not be taken by the finer points of financial accounting. Similarly, student B who is attracted by inter-cultural differences in managing new product launches might be bored to tears by the manufacturing logistics in the development of that new product.
But what if student A misses the classes on online buyer behaviour, and student B misses the classes on international differences on launching new products – because they figured ah but sure nothing interesting’ll happen in that class today so I might as well not bother going in.
The more classes missed, the more opportunities that are missed to query and examine and ponder. Why do students (or their parents) pay good money only to not bother taking up these opportunities that are being offered to them on a plate?
Of course, not all students fit this bracket. Some (thankfully) lap up every opportunity that comes their way.
I never cease to query and ponder why some students in a class are so divergent – some answering “everything” to the question while others answer “nothing”.