Four of my eighteen students are late for Reading Circle. Taken singly, no one student is a surprise: two of my habitual failers, the-one-who-shouldn’t-be-here who came in with high language scores but is being led astray by her charismatic hockey-playing boyfriend, and my star student, who often bites off more than she can chew and comes rushing in with sheaves of graduate level research. However, with so many students missing, the Reading Circle routine is barely hobbling along. The stragglers finally stroll in, the two failers proffering handouts that barely even merit the name. The-one-who-shouldn’t-be here is carrying a tray of Tim Horton’s coffee: clearly punctuality was not a priority. I decide that it is time for us to have a serious talk.
It’s going to be quite tricky phrasing this, though. The problem with a pass/fail course is that I have little extrinsic to offer, or to threaten them with. Reading Circle performance accounts for some portion of the 10% Class Participation mark, but the students have done the math. Most of them are passing, and the weaker students have considerately taken themselves out of the running by consistently failing to complete their work. In either case, the portion of the 10% represented by the Reading Circle will have no impact on their status. They had an assignment from another class due the previous day, and, quite sensibly, they have chosen to focus their energies on that.
I ask myself why I am unhappy with the situation. It’s not that they’re not learning — their work has been relatively good, compared to that of the previous year’s class. It’s not that they’re disrespectful — even the most abjectly lazy students are polite and affable face-to-face. It’s more pragmatic — if we are going to be in a classroom together, we have to have a way of being in the classroom. I cannot spend the remaining 10 weeks of the course reading off a script while students sleep or play games on their phones. I want to be teaching; I want the class time to be interactive and stimulating, if only for my benefit. That’s a hard sell to them, though. I’ll have to try to convince them that the class work is something that they want to do. We need a collective suspension of disbelief to get through this.