I am still grateful for my jobs. Honest?
One of the colleges I work for, Local CC, just announced that it has cleared 25,000 students for advanced registration next week. Yes. Twenty-five thousand people will be trying to use the same hold-your-breath-and-pray computer registration system during the same narrow window next week. We’ve been asked not to, like, look at the server wrong or walk too heavily in its enclosure building during that time.
So if you have 25,000 people trying to register (total enrollment: 36,000), and all of them are required to take Writing classes, you can imagine how quickly these writing classes fill up. Add to this the desperation of those 11,000 other people who aren’t eligible for advanced registration — let’s call most of them “freshmen” — and you have an inkling of how the beginning of every term goes.
Me: Hello class, let’s take roll by going around the room and saying our names.
First Student: I’m X, and I’m not on your list but I really need to be.
Me: OK, X, let’s talk after class. Next?
Second Student: I’m Y and I, too, am not on your list.
…five students later…
Me: Seriously, I need someone who is ACTUALLY ENROLLED to raise his or her hand before I begin to question if I’m in the right place more than usual.
The departments I work in at both schools have told us, very nicely, that we aren’t encouraged or required to take more students than the maximum enrollment numbers set for each class. Both places, and Local CC in particular, however, have also said we need to be enrolled right up to that maximum. Great! The problem here is that at least 20 percent of the students in any intro writing class are going to drop. I’ve had more — I lost about 35 percent over the summer, for instance.
This is for a variety of reasons: some students only come to class until their first financial aid check comes in. Some students only come to class until the first paper is due. Some students have real crises that make them withdraw — and this is more likely to happen at a community college, where students are less likely to have a substantial, sustaining support system than your traditional still-do-laundry-at-mom-and-dad’s-place 18-year-old university kid.
So: if you don’t over enroll, by week 3, your class is an echo chamber. If you do, you add the challenge of lack of chairs to the first two weeks of class and the (much more serious) challenge of too many papers to grade if everyone keeps showing up.
I have decided to put this out of my own hands and into the students’ hands, by telling them, at every class meeting for the first two weeks, that I can’t guarantee them a space, but if they keep coming to class, maybe a space will open for them. Secretly, I decide that anyone who shows up for the first two weeks gets in. I encourage them to look at other classes or to share tips about other classes with the other students who are also waiting for a spot. I always address them as a group. I say, “Well, all of you are still here, so I can’t promise you anything…” to let them know that if they miss a class, they can’t come back, because I will know and the others will know, too. They keep track for me! They know who their competitors are, and so they do one of two things, usually: they work very hard to show they’re the best candidate, or they give up after seeing someone else work hard, and they stop coming to class.
This term, that strategy bit me: four students stuck it out for the first two weeks. They seemed to realize that if they all kept coming, there was no way I could pick between them. They came to every class, they did the readings, they participated and turned in work, and they did all of this without financial aid money to cover the book and without a guarantee of being in the class. I believe they actually shared resources! These are, essentially, the students I want most in my class, so I signed them in, bringing my enrollment to 22, four over the norm for this developmental writing class, in a class room that only holds 19 people at desks. One kid volunteered to sit on a tiny rolling chair against the wall; another said he’d sit on the floor or bring his own chair if I’d let him in. They’ve been asked to rotate out in the bad chair if the class is ever full again.
Luckily, it hasn’t been, this week. There’s a flu bug going around campus, and it knocked out just enough students in that class that everyone — miracle of miracles! — had space a at a desk/table this week.
But if everyone’s well again in week 4, it’s going to be an adventure.
In Weeks One and Two, most of the outside-the-class work that I do is administrative. Students have one week to attend classes or they are dropped from class. This is done right now because there are so many people trying to get into every class that we really, really, really need the seats and the spaces, so a student who doesn’t show up to either of the first two classes loses their opportunity to stay in class.
This doesn’t happen automatically, though. There’s no central database for keeping attendance, and at both of the colleges I teach at, there’s also no electronic way to report who should be dropped. Instead, it’s a small process. For each class, you must:
1. Print a roster just before class begins on the first day
2. Take attendance
3. Print a new roster just before class on the second day
4. Take attendance on this roster
5. Combine the results in case someone has added or dropped
Seems simple so far, right? But then there’s this:
6. Look at e-mail from the past two weeks to see if anyone on any of these lists tried to contact you about missing class.
7. Look at Moodle (our online course system) to see if anyone sent you a message about missing class.
8. Check your voice mail (for me this requires calling three separate systems with three separate mailbox numbers and passwords and menus) for the same thing.
9. Compile a list of non-attenders, with ID numbers and full, correctly spelled names.
On one campus, I hand this list off directly; on the other, mother of all 80s injuries, it requires faxing. To complicate matters, on both campuses, I’ve faced drop deadlines that fall before my second class is even over, making for a few really fun “You’re late!” e-mails.
In the interest of efficiency, though, I do this process every term. It never really lowers my class size — the very second I drop someone there are two or three people waiting to add — but it does at least usually guarantee me one more active person in class.
Why do 6, 7, and 8? Surely if they don’t show up, they can just be dropped, right? Well, technically, yes — but I’ve learned from experience that the place I don’t want to be in Week 2 is standing in front of the main office while someone cries in front of my boss about how I dropped him/her even after they’d e-mailed and called and messaged me about their pressing excusable reason to be out of class.
What happens then is this:
A. Re-add student to the class
B. End up having an over-enrolled class because of this
C. Student who was re-added has eighteen other emergencies and doesn’t pass anyway
D. Still, somehow, get glares from Department Chair
(I know of what I speak, here).
Of course this would all be so much easier if, say, instructors could have access to the massive database that actually does keep track of who’s registered for what course, but that would bring its own set of terrible issues. That database, for instance, would allow me to instantly enroll (instead of going through another lengthy, paper-based process) the students who want to add. But I wouldn’t know whether they’d met their prerequisites or had financial aid holds, and oh man, I don’t want to know or have to deal with anything involving student aid.
This year, I decided to cut down on some of my entry time by taking attendance directly on Moodle, our courseware. I carry my computer (or my eReader that gets the Web) to class, take attendance online, and voila — I have an updated electronic list at the end of the week of who’s been in what class. Print and (fax and) done. That saved me, probably, :40 of work, and introduced at least two students to the concept that electronics can be used for more than Angry Birds in the process.
This inefficient system persists, though, and is an early-term bane for nearly every adjunct I know. If I didn’t have a laptop, I’d be printing-checking-cross-checking. It usually eats up at least an hour during the first two weeks simply in checking and cross-checking. And that’s not even counting the Game Theory I employ to allow students to add my class, which sounds like something new to discuss in the next post.