Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Separation Anxiety – and Gratitude for a Beautiful Class

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This post is about how I feel about my class this semester. There’s something extra special about the feel of this class, and I’m trying to put my finger on it. I’m having separation anxiety… I’ve grown so close to this particular group of students…and I don’t know why I have to let them go at the end of the semester!

First off, I wanna say that part of my pedagogy is that I start off loving my students. It’s not a forced love, it’s just the way it is. And I know for sure that every semester, I have said “I love my students” several times throughout the semester and that I do get close to many of my students, have great class sessions, etc. I am still in touch with many of my students. But this semester was on a whole other level. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I want to tease out some elements… because I wish every semester was like this.

For starters, it’s been a huge difference from last semester. Last semester I had some great students, but for some reason, class discussions were stilted. There were two really talkative students who attended almost all classes, I had 25 students and almost all came regularly, but it was *so hard* to get them to talk in large groups. I am unsure if this was their personalities or the particular classroom which was large with weird acoustics, so maybe they couldn’t hear each other well?

This semester I had students where almost half the class was always talkative and even the quieter ones participated. I had 24, but usually each class had about 18-22 students. So attendance was less regular than last semester, but engagement was higher. Things that would have taken 15 mins to discuss last semester took up entire class sessions. Students were recommending things to include in class on a semi regular basis. We ended up talking a lot about things like harassment and depression and these weren’t topics in the plan, like, at all.

For the first time ever:

  • Students loved Slack. They used it a lot. The only two different things I did this semester with Slack were to point students to the #random channel and to suggest they use it to share non-class stuff. And they USED it and so did I. I also probably used it a lot for private conversations. But the rest was the students themselves using it to build community, support each other, and just generally stay in touch all semester long. It’s been amazing
  • I encouraged students, more explicitly, to create private blogposts for very personal topics. I had maybe 5 or 6 students do that one or more times this semester. This created a kind of special intimacy between me and them. Same for the private messages on Slack. The digital games students created this semester were much more personal than ever before… and I think the private blogposts is how this happened
  • For the first time in my SGID (a way to get mid-semester feedback through someone else talking to my students when I am out of the room) students didn’t have any complaints. It was strange!!! Like, usually they would have loads of positive things to say, but also a few strong criticisms. This semester, the only thing they complained about was Twitter. Which, ok, we had only really used ONCE. So it was really OK. I mention this because I think I loved them more after getting this positive feedback, and I am wondering now, since I do SGIDs for other people, about the impact of SGIDs on their feelings vs end of semester student evaluations (which in my case tend to confuse me because of the positive vs negative comments – I guess because no groupthink from SGID? And also angry people fill them more than happy people)

But honestly. There’s no formula for when a class’s chemistry clicks. It’s just something to be thankful for, and to try to find ways to… maintain it somehow. In the past I have co-authored with students, I have invited them to be Student Technology Assistants for my department, and this semester I have invited some to join committees I am working on and to help me redesign my course for the future as part of Futurize Your Course competition. I need to keep thinking of ways to involve them more, beyond these things. Definitely hoping for some co-authors also!

It’s times like these that make me wish I was a faculty member in a discipline where I could keep meeting my students over and over. Over past 3 semesters I have had students who had been with me when I taught freshman level and taking with me again. One of them asked me if I teach any other courses… and I don’t. I actually keep conceptualizing courses for various grants/competitions and not getting them. But I should still maybe try to get something out there…

In the meantime… lots of love and heartbreak happening here as our last day of class is the coming Monday…

Header image from Pixabay

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