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Monday, August 20, 2012

Here's a Really Bad Thing That's Really Easy Not to Do as a New Prawf (or, What I Learned From My Second Semester Spanish Class This Summer)

As none of you will remember, last summer, for various personal and professional reasons, I took an intensive first semester Spanish class at the Boston University summer school.  It was great fun, and very interesting to be on the other side of the lectern for a change.  This past summer I took second semester Spanish.  Among other things, I learned that doing a group presentation with several 19 year olds is surreal.  Also, did you know just how often these kids check their phones in class?  Anyway, in case you were wondering, none of the students asked me to buy them beer (I would have said no, but still, it would have been nice to be asked).  Unlike my first semester teacher, who was outstanding, my teacher this time around, while possessing many excellent qualities, did a few things wrong (in my view). One of those things was not dismissing the class on time.  This was a pet peeve of mine when I was a student in law school and other places, and when I started teaching, I made a point never to do it.  For a while there, I was almost militant about it, stopping in mid-sentence to announce that the class had just ended.  In recent years, however, it's been a little less in my consciousness (though I don't think I've ever kept the class more than maybe an extra minute).  The Spanish class reminded me, though, just how incredibly infuriating it is to be kept in the class when it's over.  It shows disrespect for the students' time--after all, students have a million other things to do, other classes, jobs, interviews, meetings.  And while you might think that if a student really needs to leave, he or she will just leave, that's usually not the case, given the typical teacher-student dynamic in the classroom.  Many a class this summer I sat there arguing with myself as the post-class time kept ticking away, "Should I just get up and go?  I'm 43 years old, after all.  No, she's the teacher, I should stay.  But I have work to do, I should just leave.  No, she'll be done in another minute anyway.  Maybe I should just get my books together and that will send a signal?  I don't know.  Why is she still talking?  Why am I still here?  Why can't I be more decisive?"  I bring this up here mostly because I know that about this time lots of new prawfs are starting up their prawfing career, and they'll be extremely excited about teaching the material and helping students and getting into interesting conversations with some of their students and one thing they might not be focused on is how when the class time has come to an end, the class time has come to an end, and they should therefore end the class.  There's always the next class session to finish up whatever the point was, and interesting conversations with students can always continue after the class in the hallway or the office.  Now this post is over.

Posted by Jay Wexler on August 20, 2012 at 09:58 AM | Permalink

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Well said. I bet you also promptly gather your materials and erase the board even while talking to students who approach you after class, and then move yourself into the hallway while talking to them so that the next prof can get set up.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Aug 20, 2012 10:53:42 AM

When I started teaching, I made this mistake, under the belief I was giving my students "more value."

Posted by: Brian J. Foley | Aug 20, 2012 2:24:35 PM

As Jeff implies, this bad act is made much worse when there's another class waiting to use the room.

My worst experience like this, though, came when I was in law school and, at the same time, teaching an undergrad course for the PPE program at Penn. The class I taught started 10 minutes after the end of a class I was taking, a little ways across campus. The droning on and on of the professor whose class I was taking (I don't think we ever ended on time) lead to my being a bit late for the class I was teaching more than once- something else I find very annoying.

Posted by: Matt | Aug 20, 2012 2:45:23 PM

I could not agree more on both accounts. While ending late may be unavoidable on occasion, chronic lateness is totally inexcusable and surprisingly common. When I have to end late to finish something, I always give the students back the extra minute or two in the next class, which they seem to appreciate even though it is just a minute or two. On the other side of things, starting on time is equally important and coming in late is, likewise, totally inexcusable. One more pet peeve --the Professor who comes in early and commands the podium as soon as the last class ends. There is always ten minutes between classes and I have always thought those ten minutes should be split between the departing and arriving professors, again with exceptions when necessary. But only when necessary.

Posted by: MS | Aug 20, 2012 3:05:21 PM

Well, finally, I have an issue I feel passionate enough about to post a second comment. I agree with the last comment about professors coming in at the second the preceding class ends, but if you use a lot of audio-visual, it can take a bit to set up. Since most of the post-class stuff can take place away from the podium, I disagree mildly about the 50-50 split. I think the departing prof is obliged to use reasonable dispatch to clear out. There, I've said it.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Aug 20, 2012 5:00:08 PM

I agree with Jeff on the issue of splitting time between the departing and the arriving prof. The departer should get off as soon as reasonable because the incomer may need time to set up.

My big peeve is cleaning up after a class is taught. My rule is, if you made a mess (wrote a ton on a board; moved podium, chairs, etc. to unusual locations; changed settings in electronic equipment into something very unusual, and so on), you have to undo it before the next class. Too many people think it's the job of the next prof to clean up their messes.

Posted by: anonprof | Aug 21, 2012 10:25:52 AM

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