ice cream

So when my students tell me they are lazy, I want to ask them “What kind?”

  • are you lazy because you want to stick it to your parents?
  • are you lazy because you have an undiagnosed learning disability?
  • are you lazy because you’re so homesick that you don’t even want to get out of bed?
  • are you lazy because you’re in love and all else pales?
  • are you lazy because you are in the throes of an addiction to video games?
  • are you lazy because you are working two full-time jobs under the table?
  • are you lazy because the only thing you want to be is a stage magician, and stage magicians don’t need academic strategies?

— any of these is possible.

But I don’t ask.

Because it’s not my job.

But I have started to question this.

Affective Living  is a blog  written by a teacher of high risk kids.  When he talks about laziness, he examines the reasons behind it, as I did, but he goes beyond this, seeking out the students, challenging them, wrestling them into engagement   We don’t do that.  Why not?

Here is the rationale:  Students come from schools where discipline is rigid and where instructors are heavily invested in having the students pass.  Therefore, students are used to being monitored and micromanaged. In contrast, the  University of Toronto is a big unfriendly place where professors are too  busy with other concerns to nursemaid the students.  Besides, they have little to lose when students fail their classes.  In first year, then,  former ifp students will be left completely to their own devices.  If we go out of our way to help the students, we will be enabling them, weakening their ability to survive unsupported.  It is best for all concerned if we provide the students with the necessary information and leave them to make all decisions, no matter how foolhardy, on their own.

I wonder,  though.  The argument makes sense, but it could also be that we overuse the realism defence, that it has become an escape, what my yoga teacher describes as a release valve.  Perhaps it is too easy to use U of T’s unfriendliness as an excuse for our own inactivity.  And is the University even that cold? After all, when I was a TA, I would call the students at home if they missed an assignment.  I know professors who did that too.  To be sure, there are many instructors who would not bother, but is it strictly necessary that we emulate them every step of the way?  Maybe I need to examine my own reactions and my own teaching practice: when I encounter laziness in students, are there ways that I can reach out to them without pandering to them; are there ways that I can make my lessons more motivating without undermining their academic integrity?  I’m not sure that I have the answers, but I think I owe it to my students, lazy and not so lazy,  to search a little more diligently.

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