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Should Class Be Harder?

Students think I’m an “easy” teacher. For a quick and not-so-credible example, I have a 4.5 out of 5 “easiness” rating on RateMyProfessors. I also catch bits and pieces from the rumor mill. My classes fill up quickly, in part because students have heard that class is “easy.” While this still does get to me a little, it’s beginning to bother me less.

Hearing students say my class is easy used to really bother me. I thought that I wasn’t challenging them enough. I thought that I was too lenient. I thought that maybe students should feel more pressure in my class, like they do in some other classes. They would sometimes talk about how they have an exam coming up that they spent all weekend studying for. My immediate reaction was to feel offended that they didn’t spend all weekend researching their essays or otherwise examining their topics.

I’m beginning to realize that my classes—I’m mostly talking about first-year writing and introduction to literature—really aren’t that easy. It’s just that they aren’t hard. I now consider that “easy” doesn’t mean class isn’t academically challenging. I actually work really hard to challenge students, even going as far as making them “teach” at certain times throughout the semester, choose some of our readings, and lead some of our discussions. I ask them questions that aren’t easy to answer. I make them make outside-the-box connections.

In first-year writing, each student finishes the semester writing about 9,000 words, a combination of low-stakes (4,000 words) and high-stakes (5,000 words) assignments. And they read. In the intro-to-lit class, they have fewer low-stakes writing assignments, but tons more reading, more than 500 pages of classic and contemporary literature. Not only do they read and write, but they also have to analyze, create, think, and all the other things students do and learn in core English courses.

It’s just that class is low-pressure. I’ve written before about my deadline policy, which I keep tweaking, but it’s still “loose.” Also, I don’t know if students have fun, but I try to have fun. I try to laugh. I try really hard to make students laugh and then hide how hard I’m trying (because the appearance of trying to make someone laugh usually isn’t funny).

Maybe I’m kidding myself or justifying a lack of academic rigor, but I like to think students view my classes as easy because they are easy to go to. I try to give students a place in the classroom that matters. I try to assign work that isn’t busywork, but will actually be seen and oftentimes utilized as part of the semester’s lessons. Students should know that they will have a voice, either on paper or out loud, but usually a combination of the two. And when students have problems, I try to be available.

At least, this is what I keep telling myself.

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