Friday, December 28, 2007

Sometimes The Freshmen Really Are Clueless

I do not teach at a small college that strives to give individualized attention to each and every one of the unique snowflakes that ernoll. As a large institution, we have something for everyone. We have programs meant to train people for careers (nursing, graphic design, library science). We have the standard liberal arts. We have things that you never thought could be worth college credit. We have a lot of courses to meet the needs of a lot of different students. Whether you're fresh out of high school or you're a career changer or looking to learn something in retirement, we have options for you.

And, as people who didn't go to elite colleges tend to point out, you can get a really good education here. I am thinking of someone in particular when I say this. Specifically I am thinking of someone who holds the assumption that everyone who enrolls understands how to play the game here and knows which rules you should (and can) get around. I still contend that if you have the choice between here and Princeton (and if money is not an issue), then you should go to Princeton. Deciding between here and one of the regional liberal arts schools that no one has heard of? Normally I'd say that you should come here because we have so many more options. But these clueless freshmen who keep emailing me think that there really is a place for a school where someone will tell you exactly what to do and who will not let you make stupid choices.

My project for break is to locate the students who failed precalc in the fall and to prevent them from taking calculus in the spring. In the ideal world the registration system would enforce prerequisites and placement, but I do not live in that world. I need to get class lists for calculus and match them against lists of students who failed precalc. (Really it's my computer that does this with a perl program that I am quite proud of.) I've been emailing the students telling them to change their schedules (because it is non-trivial for us to administratively drop them -- don't tell them that), and I've been getting the strangest replies.

I've already mentioned the student who felt that after failing precalc four times that he was ready to move on to calculus. I'm thinking that maybe at a school with more invasive advising that someone would have urged him to consider a different major. Then there are the students who indignantly claim that they want to take calculus in the spring and then re-take precalc over the summer. They have absolutely no sense that math classes in a sequence are supposed to build on each other; they have no idea what prerequisite means. Students like this just don't come equipped knowing how to do college; they seem completely ignorant of things that we take for granted (or, as they would say, for granite).

Today I got an email from a student who explains that he wanted to retake the precalc class that he failed, but there was a problem. He wanted to retake it with Mrs. Tetrazzini, but he couldn't sign up for her precalc class, so he signed up for her calculus class instead. He said he'd been calling since early December asking how to get into Mrs. Tetrazzini's precalc class. I don't know who he was calling (since he never got through to me, and I am the person who he should have been talking to). I explained to him that her class is full, and I told him that he could either add someone else's class or else he could waitlist her class; I also said that he was not supposed to take calculus until after he passed precalc.

I also heard from a student who wanted to know which section of precalc to take. She explained that when she went in for her advising appointment in October that her adviser told her to take calculus (on the assumption that she'd pass precalc), and her advisor built her a schedule, including which sections of the courses she should enroll in. The student didn't know how to switch her schedule because she didn't know which section to sign up for. I told her that it didn't matter, just to pick one that fits her schedule.

Some of these freshmen need to be much more closely supervised academically. Otherwise they're not going to get what they need out of this institution.

ps. I'm writing this on the iMac because the laptop is STILL RANDOMLY SHUTTING DOWN. Currently I'm doing all the assorted battery voodoo that the Geniuses tell you to go home and do, and I'm planning on doing some reshuffling of my files (using my office computer as a temporary home) to repartition my back up drive and make a bootable backup of my laptop's drive on a separate partition, and on Monday I'll be back at the Genius Bar with my LEMON. First week of class I'll be projecting PowerPoints from my frickin' iPod.