Separate and unequal

Is it OK to like one of your classes better than the other? This is pretty typical for me. I often have one class that participates eagerly and another that sits there like lumps every day. The same lesson plan will get the first class enthusiastically buzzing and then fall flat in the other. I used to teach at 8:00 and 9:00 in the morning, and I thought that accounted for the difference. You would think that would mean the 8:00 class would be dull and the 9:00 class engaged, but it was usually the other way around. I hypothesized that the 8:00 students were in an 8:00 class because they were morning people and wanted to be there, but that for the 9:00 students, that was the earliest class they could drag themselves to for the day. This semester, though, I teach at 10:00 and 11:00, and it’s the 10:00 students who are lumps and the 11:00 students who are lively.

I think it’s understandable that I enjoy the class that responds better to me. This is true even though the more boisterous class usually, and this is borne out this semester, has some jokers or loudmouths that I have to work to keep in line. But because the tone of the whole class is more responsive, that doesn’t take too much effort. Since the kids are on my side, they often help to check the loudmouths.

So, fine; I think all of this is normal and fair. The question, though, is whether it’s fair to treat the two classes differently. An example: yesterday, I plodded through the 10:00 class with what I thought was a good assignment (breaking down some sample papers in groups and then together as a class on the board). Because I had used my usual 10-minute ice breaker at the beginning of class, in which students bring in any kind of “controversial” topic that we can discuss, we were rushed at the end, and I didn’t get to make all the points I wanted to make about the samples. As I erased the board, I thought, “Oh, well. I’ll do this again for the next class. I’ll cut the 10-minute discussion at the beginning so we have more time, too.”

The problem was that I couldn’t help thinking, “Besides, I like the 11:00 class so much more…” I was then appalled at the idea that I was sort of giving the 11:00 class a leg up for the paper they’re turning in on Monday, because I like them better. I was looking forward to giving them the better class, which would in turn make them more prepared for the paper, which would, hopefully, result in better grades. Is that wrong? It’s not as though the two classes are in competition with each other, except in the grand scheme of things in which these students will compete for jobs down the line and what have you. But I feel guilty now about not treating the two classes equally, especially since I know it arose from my feelings toward them.

NB: Yesterday’s topic was “Would you let your 18-year-old daughter pose for Playboy?”, submitted by a 20-year-old female student. I turned it into a discussion of parental control over adult offspring. I was surprised at how many of my students were willing to say that their parents still exerted almost total control over their decisions, even though I confirmed that they’re all 18.

2 Responses to “Separate and unequal”

  1. Erin
    March 27th, 2009 15:08
    1

    I think it’s perfectly normal to treat your classes differently. They’re going to get ahead more in the “real world” by being enthusaistic and participatory and what-have-you, so they may as well get a taste of that in school, even if it’s not spelled out for them. I think the only really compelling argument for not shorting the first class on paper prep is that it’s going to make your life slightly worse when you come to grade their essays. Not compelling enough to stop doing it, I feel.

  2. erinmak
    March 28th, 2009 13:28
    2

    That’s true, although I had them turn in rough drafts to me, and I reviewed them over spring break, in the hope that my feedback in the middle of the process would make for better papers at the end. Up ’til now, I’ve only ever done this when a student asked me to look at a draft. We’ll see if it achieves its purpose.

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