Don’t forget your students

If you are teaching, then the last week of classes, right before finals, is one of your busiest. You are returning drafts, writing exams and rushing to fit in that last lecture. It is very easy to forget one very important thing.

Your students.

One of my students came to me on Monday and asked if I would read a draft of her term paper and see if I had any comments. The thing was, it wasn’t a paper for my class, but for an English composition class. She had chosen a biology/medical topic and wanted to make sure that her information was not only correct, but aldo for any suggestions that might be helpful. I told her to email it to me and I worked the time in to read it.

It was a persuasive piece on a topic that I am passionate about. But it was arguing a position that I disagreed with. How would you respond?

Remember that in many classes that teach rhetoric and persuasion, students are asked to pick a topic, outline their personal position, and then formulate an argument against it. I have no idea what my student’s position really is, but I also don’t know the particulars of the assignment.

I have to admit, that while I wasn’t swayed, her piece was very persuasive. It approached the topic from a pragmatic angle, which I like, and to some extent was accommodationist  towards one of the sides of the debate, which in this case, I don’t like. In the end, it was enjoyable to read and it felt especially good to be trusted enough by a student to be asked for help. A heartfelt “Thank you,” is one of the greatest rewards that a professor or teacher in any field can get.

I read through the paper, pointed out parts that were factually incorrect, places where her argument was weak, and offered suggestions on ways to improve her piece, but not change it to my view. I also pointed her towards a wikipedia page that would be useful, and told her to take a look at the sources cited by the wiki, but not to cite the wiki itself. Wikipedia is just like any piece of literature a step or two removed from the source, it may not be presented properly, it may be misunderstood, and it may not even be relevant.

Again, this is a couple of days before a final, and asking a student to examine a whole new area of research for an assignment that isn’t even part of my class would be kind of rude, so this showed her a new way to use a resource to gather information quickly.

If your school has a writing across the curriculum program, then you are helping out. If it doesn’t, guess what, you are now the writing across the curriculum program! If your writing center is good at helping with scientific or technical pieces, you can always refer a student to them that is in need of grammatical or structural help, but you can still help with fact checking.

One of the goals of small liberal arts schools is to provide “that one on one” teacher student relationship. For this to work, you need to be part of that pair.

Teach on.

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