Do I Help Too Much?

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Simply put, yes!

Of course, I tell myself that I help so much because I care, and I do; more than that, I truly like my students–no matter what their age or socio-economic status. However, just like a too-permissive parent, sometimes I help simply because it is easier to do so than not. Yes, I could say that I’m being pushed to help my students more and more, but the reality is, I am helping more to help myself feel better. If I work more and they work less, while they still maintain an A, or in some cases a B, then maybe they will like me, and they, or their parents, won’t complain to the administration or give me a poor evaluation. Maybe I can keep my retention and success rates up so that the administration will see me as a good and effective instructor because the data will prove it, right?

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Therefore, I assign work due on a regular schedule and reinforce the due dates with reminders in the morning on the day something is due. These reminders appear on a Course Announcements forum and in the students’ college e-mail, but I am aware that many students do not check their college account regularly, so sometimes I go to our college’s retention management system where I can send messages to the student’s personal e-mail as well. If their grades get too low, I report that to the student through the LMS, copy that message, and send an alert through the advising and retention system, which sends messages to a team of people, including a “success coach,” an advisor, and sometimes one of the counselors. BTW, students can access their gradebooks at any time through the LMS and know exactly where they stand as I make sure to keep up with my grading, especially recording zeros when students miss work.

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I also answer student e-mails and messages during each work day, usually within minutes, and often after 8:00 pm in the evening, on weekends, and vacations. If students say they need the assignment explained more clearly, I explain it again. They miss class and need to have more explanation than the thorough instructions already given on the LMS? Okay, I supply that explanation in an e-mail.

Why am I over-helping? I never did it before the advent of the early college or before so many online classes. Perhaps I never helped this much because all of society knew that to be successful in college, students would have to take on more personal responsibility for attending regularly, reading important material, following instructions, working diligently, and meeting deadlines. You know, like they will have to do in real life. For whatever reason, I’m helping too much, and I need to stop because it is bad for my students. Now that I’m teaching seated classes again, including a large number of high school students, I can see that doing too much leads to dependence and a lack of confidence, something I began to see in my students before March 2020.

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The pandemic only exacerbated a growing tendency to lower our expectations for the sake of younger or underprepared students. High school students should be treated differently than college students, apparaently. I mean, how can we expect them to perform as college students when they are facing so much and times are so hard? Almost all of our students have to work, so we shoud be more understanding and offer more extensions on assignments when many of us already offer a more than generous late work policy.

We educators breed some of these problems because we want, we need, our students to perform better, on paper anyway, because that is how we are judged as educators by our data-driven society. We can’t afford to let the students figure out how to do things for themselves because then they might receivie less than desireable grades, withdraw, or fail, and if that happens, it is a poor reflection on us, so we provide as much as we possibly can. To do anything less would be wrong, wouldn’t it?

But now I ask myself, isn’t it equally as wrong to deny my students the opportunities to build the all important life skills that will mean more to them, and their employers, than anything else–skills like reading comprehension, time management, clear and concise communication, problem solving, critical thinking, respect for authority, persistence, and resilency?

Students acquire these skills only by being challenged. In order for that to happen, I have to stop trying to make the way quick and easy by smoothing over every trouble and answering every question. I must take the much harder route of leading them, sometimes painstakingly, to answers they discover for themselves.

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