It seems that I only ever have time to post to this blog, that is supposed to be all about teaching, when I am finished with a semester. Once again, I am finished with a semester, and I find myself thinking over my immediate past experiences with my students.
What I am thinking about the most now, two days after graduating the Class of 2016 at McDaniel College, are all the students that I was most excited about seeing graduate. I won't post their names, but some of them (if they see this post) will know who they are. They are the students who did not get awards. They didn't write the best papers. They didn't have high GPAs; as a matter of fact in a few instances, I'm betting that they just squeaked by with a high enough GPA to graduate.
But these are the students that speak to me. They move me and inspire me. These are the students that I love to teach.
Right now I am pondering, why? Why is this the group that makes me want to be a better professor? Why is it not the top students? We have some stellar students who are very high-achieving. I had the privilege of teaching one of the students who won the top writing award at graduation and one of the students who won the award for the highest GPA is in my major, and we're very proud of her.
And yet. I kept thinking of my middle of the road students: my baseball players from my FYS. The student in my class this semester whose friend died and who stepped up with her friends to make sure requirements were met so her departed friend would be awarded her degree, albeit posthumously.
I wonder if my focus on the middle is because the way we set up graduation and even education is so hierarchical. Of course I want to commend the very best students. But sometimes I worry that doing so gives the middle students a feeling of futility. I wonder if they feel that since they likely are never going to reach those lofty heights of a 4.0 GPA, they just disengage. Do our expectations of precision in citations (something that is probably anathema to admit but drives me crazy as a scholar in the field), drive students to just give up? The top students master it, sure. But what about the vast majority of the others? Where are they?
All of this has led me to embrace active learning pedagogies in my classes. They debate, read, discuss, analyze, write, meet, present, and lead. I would love to hear from them through this post. Because I want to know:
Did this make you want to learn? Do you think you learned? More? The same? Did it "stick"?
What about my colleagues? What say you? Are the middle of the pack students worthy of some love? If so, in what form?