I enjoy teaching, mostly I'm sure, because I love the sound of my own voice. I love the "ah ha" moments and I love being the "know it all." I enjoy the comraderie with the students and I enjoy the comraderie of other instructors. And they pay me. What's not to love?
OK, I can do without disrespectful students. I can do without downright rude and mean students. I can live without doing the same lesson over and over and over, because many students miss class, because I just can't make it that important to them. I am disappointed when students do not get the lesson either because they lack the skills or interest. I am disappointed when their product is substandard. I am disappointed when I see wasted talent and lack of effort. I am disappointed if I fail to turn on that light bulb every single time.
Yes, the cons outweigh the pros, but they pay me. And so, I show up twice a week to teach my introduction to law class. This semester I have only three students. I was sure that the class would be cancelled, but it is not. One of the students needs this class to graduate and all three seem committed to staying in the class. Teaching only three students is both a dream and a burden. When only one shows up, I can't very well move forward in my outline, because the majority of the class will be behind. When all three show up, I need to move diligently through my outline to catch up. It is not easy to lecture three students--when one's eyes glaze over, it is hard to miss and go on. When another tries to do his other class homework, it is difficult to miss. Therefore, it can't be easy to be one of the three students either--no where to hide. No down time in a two and a half hour class after school.
So I am pulling out the stops so to speak to really make this a win-win. I have the drive and I have the skills to make this class beneficial to these three students. My challenge (and I choose to accept it) is that each of these three students, while all smart, all learn very differently. One student is terrific at writing. His essays and sentences are wonderful, but his recall of facts and his attention to detail are terrible. It is like he doesn't hear anything that I say. He did the worst on our test (mostly recall from lectures), but he is leaps and bounds the best writer. When I call on him in class, he does get most of the concepts, but he is pretty slow on the details.
Another student is terrific on details. I can easily call on him at any point in class and he is right on the topic with the correct answer. He brings a wealth of outside knowledge on current events and he can easily apply the concepts. He scored almost perfectly on the test (rather rare in my class, since I make the test deliberately difficult), however, he is a terrible writer. His essays have been almost frighteningly bad. If I hadn't seen him write them myself, I would never have believed he wrote them. He is so great at details and listening and recalling, but he is very poor at expressing himself in writing.
The last student misses the most classes. He is very poor at the test, very poor answering in class and I can't tell what kind of writer he is, because he fails and practically refuses to write anything. I have rough drafts, but he sits and procrastinates actually writing the final draft of anything because he says he wants it to be perfect. I've made them all read aloud and I have his rough drafts, so this is not a problem of basic skills. The place that he shines is in making arguments. When we debate, he surprises me with insight. During my lectures, he never volunteers a response, but he will often ask relevant and insightful questions. When he is in class, he is thinking and he's very smart, but I can't get him to write or care at all about the details.
So I have forced the writing side of the class to force my two not very good writers to hone their skills, but in the meantime, I can't make enough busy work for my really good writer who flys through the assignments.
My plan is to strive to balance the class to play to each student's strenghts and work on their weaknesses. I really hate busy work, but we are going to try it. I am going to have them write out the vocabulary words and definitions, but they will have to put the vocabulary words into chronilogical order (I have them alphabetically) so that they will see the pattern of events while reinforcing the details. Next, we will debate, but the topics will be closer to the vocabulary. In the past I've always used traditional debate topics (death penalty) or silly topics (best tv show), but now I'm going to go to the concepts: Do these facts prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt? Are these facts aggravating circumstances such that a harsher penalty should be applied? Are these facts mitigating circumstances? Argue these facts for the defense--for the proscecutor. Do these facts support probable cause? Argue for and against. And then we'll do another essay on the topics we've just finished debating--they will have a wealth of details and can work on the basic skill of writing. Oh this is going to be so much fun. And they pay me.