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“Why is this the hardest class?” November 17, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, teaching.
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I’d like to know why I keep getting this question: “Why is your class the hardest?”  I got it again today.

Okay…so I’m teaching a freshman skills class to engineering majors.  In fact, the department specifically asked to have it’s own sections.  If my students are thinking my class is hard, I have to wonder what’s going to happen when they really hit the hard ones.

I got this when I was teaching geology labs, though.  My evals came back frequently with comments about how I graded much harder than I needed to, I expected too much for an introductory science class, etc.

The coordinator for the course actually went through and analyzed how each of us graded.  It turned out that I had the most lenient lab grades and graded more harshly on the exams.  (Honestly, if you read and understood the labs, all you had to do was regurgitate your answers for the lab.)  It ended up that my grading resulted in the same average as the other TAs.

I’m trying to find out if I just look mean and intimidating because I don’t get it.  I know I demand a reasonable amount of work, and I try to help the students as much as possible so they don’t get frustrated.

But apparently my classes are hard.

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1. nicoleandmaggie - November 18, 2011

Perhaps you don’t look mean and intimidating enough.

Difficulty is all about letting their expectations match their outcomes. If they expect a creampuff course, they won’t put in the effort, and they won’t get good grades and they’ll complain about the class being too hard.

If you accept the difficulty tag and let them know that because your class is so difficult YOUR students are the ones who do well in later classes, your students are the ones who have the skills necessary for projects, or more importantly, jobs… then they’ll give you that difficult badge as a badge of pride rather than something negative.

And it’s ok to tell first years that if they think your class is hard it is nothing compared to what lies ahead. They need to be prepared, and you’re preparing them. How little they know.

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mareserinitatis - November 18, 2011

“Perhaps you don’t look mean and intimidating enough.”

You know, maybe that’s it in a nutshell.

When I taught physics labs the first time, I had a student I knew from another department. I’m a rather shy person, so As soon as he saw who was teaching the class, he turned to his friend and said, “This is going to be a piece of cake.”

I ended up failing him.

Maybe I need to start out in full-scale-witch mode so that they’re scared of me…and let them know they should expect a ton of work. That way, they don’t look at me and assume the class is going to be easy and then later get upset and disappointed because it’s not.

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