Strength to Witness

I am in an open lab for faculty who need help with the college’s learning management system. At least one other colleague shares my heartbreak over students present levels of learned helplessness. What else can we do to support their learning? No amount of effort on our part will increase the minimum level of engagement on theirs. A majority of students in one of my subjects failed their Midterm exam even though the article and prompt for the in-class essay was available online a week earlier. Friday, another colleague recounted how his students failed an open-book test. We are weary beyond words.

I called a student who had confirmed her office visit via email and yet was 15 minutes late for it. Happily, she was on campus and came right up. Sadly, nine weeks into a 16-week semester she is still reeling from the ‘discovery’ that the class is a hybrid. When she asked what the chances were of her completing the course with an A or B, I told her plainly that it is unlikely that a person who cannot extract basic information from the first page of a syllabus, or every screen in the course shell online, one who does not check for a reply to a question sent by email and who does not take the initiative to find a faculty member’s office location on the day of her appointment is not likely to take the initiative necessary to submit timely, above-average assignments.

We went on to discuss a few of the assignments and how deliberately repetitive they are so students can master basic paragraph form and sentence skills. She asked me where I got the ideas for the assignments I give. I said I got them from students and explained how the Spaghetti Edit came to be. This provided an opportunity to share how I made it through a rough transition from private to public school during 10th grade and she ended up saying that many members of the class think I should be a motivational speaker. I can’t find any evidence in their grades that what they say should be. The drop rate remains unchanged and the pass rate has plummeted to new lows. What am I missing?

I am part of a team facilitating a campus-wide faculty retreat to build community and reenergize our commitment to teaching. How will we create a space to hold the tensions of despair against dwindling hope? I pray the Source of All Knowing to give us continued strength to witness.

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