Okay, so I almost lost it today. All of my students can attest to the fact that I am generally a very laid back guy. In most cases, my students can give me a hard time in class, try to distract me by encouraging me to chase rabbits in class, they can even jest about how complicated the material is. I generally play along, all in good fun, and even use their comments to springboard into some great illustrations of application.
But every once in a while, I get pushed too far. I don’t yell. I don’t scream. I don’t turn red-faced. I really don’t even get angry, nor do I let it distract from the lecture at hand. But I do respond. Today, I responded by making good on an off-hand threat I made last week: “If they continue to deride this subject and make attempts to get me to dismiss class early, I will begin adding problems to their homework.” In other classes, I have simply invited the students to leave and drop the course if they are so disinterested in making an effort.
Now, for the confession. I honestly feel bad about “punishing” the entire class for the offense of a couple of students. I put the word in quotes because, honestly, more homework helps them better understand the topic, but I know that in the eyes of the students, it was a punishment. One rationale for increasing the homework load based on the behavior of a couple of students is that it will curb that sort of behavior in the future, both from them and anyone else. But at the same time, there are not very clear boundaries. I allow the regular discussions of “Why is this difficult?” or “How can we use this?”. I often play along with their joking about dismissing class early, even though they all know how improbable it is. Nevertheless, after every theorem and every proof, is too often.
Despite by doubts, the current assignment will stand as it is now, after the added problems. If there are future such occurrences, I will recognize the fact it failed to meet the goals of stemming this behavior for the entire class and I will likely direct the “punishment” toward any offending individuals. In the end, I hold no grudges or ill will. Any students involved in today’s class have clearly demonstrated their commitment to the mathematics program as a whole so I am not upset with anyone. The primary goal is that the students learn a lesson: Even though there is a casual atmosphere in the classroom (or workplace), we maintain a certain level of respect for the course (or job) and for the professor (or employer).