Student X in the back of the room is nodding off while I’m lecturing on the difference between writing for print media and writing for broadcast, telling my 18 students in Writing for the Media that people read differently than they watch or listen, that sentences have to be written differently and thoughts arranged differently and how to do that.
And Student X is falling asleep.
My fault, I tell myself. I am, after all, only an adjunct lecturer (fancy word for part-time teacher), not trained to teach what I know.
I know what I teach. I’ve written for the media longer than these students have been alive, longer than their parents have been alive. I still write for the media; I’m writing for one now – Mustang Daily. I’ve taught almost as many years as I’ve been a journalist.
Welcome to the anxieties of being a teacher. Didn’t think teachers have them? Think students are the only ones who sweat about the process of education, of learning and teaching, of getting the message out and in ” out of my intellect and into yours, intact and without slippage?
Then here’s news: From before the first class each quarter, right through and beyond the final exam, there’s plenty of sweat to go around. I may not look like it up there at the lectern, but I’m often uncertain, unsure and unconvinced about the process.
For me, it begins with the roster. I look at the names and the year; fifth-year people are going to need the grade, sohpomores are just beginning, they’re all in my class. I have to bridge that gap, reach them both.
What do they want to know, need to know? How much can I push, how abstract dare I get in dealing with theories, what’s the value of what I’m telling them in their career goals? If I tell a joke, will they laugh; better not, they won’t.
Hey, Student X! Listen, at least listen. Oh ” he got the mind-to-mind message, he’s stirred to an alert position. Then the eyelids flutter again.
The other 17 students are with me. I think they are; can’t tell for sure because they don’t say. They take notes, some follow me with their eyes. Are they following with their brains?
We have our ways of finding out. Tests, quizzes, essays ” all artificial, all one-second snapshots. The student could have learned everything except half of what was on the quiz. No way to know that, no way to cope with the disappointment in their faces when they get a grade lower than they worked harder to get.
I did something about that this quarter. I scheduled five minutes with each student after the mid-term, just us, student and teacher, going over the exam, focusing on the student’s class work and exam results. Maybe it helped them.
It helped me. Student X told me he isn’t asleep when his eyes close. It’s just that his work day starts at 1 a.m., he gets to my class at 3 p.m., and even four cups of Julian’s coffee can’t completely overcome 15 hours, much less three more in my class.
Another student told me she’s carrying 20 units this quarter. No wonder she’s not talking to me; she’s taking notes in her head.
I just thought someone ought to tell you how it sometimes is at the head of the class.
Maybe that will help you, too.
Marvin Sosna has taught journalism classes at Cal Poly, Cal State Northridge and Pepperdine University.