Empathizing with undergrads

My undergraduate transcript is quite spotty.  In fact the addition of literal spots concealing my two years as a computer science major would drastically improve it, as a kind of camouflage from all but the best-evolved potential employers.  I should therefore empathize more with undergraduate students of mine who have a list of priorities that includes “replace muffler on motorcycle with amplifier” and “finish 10th playthrough of idol simulation” before anything that colleges theoretically exist for, like learning.

In moments I remember what I was like as an undergrad I am surprised at how strict my grading is, especially when it comes to attendance.  The last time I was in a class that took attendance was probably high school.  If my university self were a student of mine, I’d probably be making sarcastic comments like “does anyone remember what Mark looks like?” or “Someone please text Mark and hope the sound of it wakes him up”.  I dress my curmudgeonliness in good humor, but I am essentially a very judgmental teacher when it comes to 19-year-olds being unable to wake up before 10:30 AM.

Attendance is reportedly a big part of grades in universities in Japan, and the university I worked at until recently was probably very typical in that regard.  Japanese Higher Education as Myth holds (if I remember correctly) that this is part of the tendency in Japan to ritualize events to the point of simulation, where the content of an event such as learning is entirely replaced by a symbol standing for it, in this case being physically present in class standing for the building of knowledge.  Japan is definitely big on look the part, be the part.

In the case of language courses, I think this is an acceptable substitution to a degree since seeing my students in the classroom is a good indicator that they’ll be participating in the activities and such that go on there.  This is not the case for all universities, but either I’m pretty good at motivating people to speak or I’ve just been lucky.  I rarely have the problem of people showing up and just saying “I brought my brain, you do the rest”.  I wasn’t a student like that either – when I showed up, I tended to overparticipate if anything.  I expect the same from my students, but why do I set myself as the high water mark for student behavior?

In closing, I should be nicer to students who don’t do the thing I think they should or I would do in their situation.


2 thoughts on “Empathizing with undergrads

  1. I read your sentence. I understand your messeage so far difficult, but I’ll understand to read your message one of these days. I understood messeage 65%. Sorry.


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