My last post made an analogy between kids and classes, noting that every kid/class is different for reasons that may have nothing to do with the parents/instructor. Personally, I definitely need the reminder of how much that goes on with my classes is outside my control. But part of the reason it's so easy to forget is that at the same time, instructors clearly can make a difference. To return to the parents/kids analogy: even when children in the same family are quite different from each other, there are often still behavioral similarities across families that are clearly a result of parenting. For example, in Family A, the older boy is out-going and loud while the younger girl is relatively quiet and shy, but when one of the parents says, "It's time for bed," both children whine and drag their feet, or ignore the parents entirely, continuing to play and run around. In Family B, the younger boy is the gregarious one while the older boy is artistic and sensitive, but when one of the parents says, "It's time for bed," both children respond pretty much immediately, getting changed into pj's and going about the bedtime routine.
I don't have kids so I have no firsthand knowledge why these differences really arise but my observation is that in families like Family A, the parents are not very consistent about discipline, and in families like Family B, they are. But if you asked the parents in Family A, my guess is that they would say that their kids are just 'hard to handle' or 'naturally rambunctious' and that Family B is simply 'blessed' with 'good-natured' kids.
Similarly, I think that some instructors encounter issues with their classes that they blame on things outside their control but the problem really is something about them. This is particularly true when the issues are things that actually do seem outside the instructor's control. Student complaints about a foreign accent is a good example - that certainly seems like something outside the instructor's control. But why do students only complain about the accent of some foreign-born instructors and not all instructors with accents? Similarly, it is certainly common for attendance to be lower in super-sized classes but why does one large-class instructor have only 50% attendance when another large-class instructor routinely has attendance closer to 80%?*
My point is that while yes, each class has its own 'personality' and some classes pose challenges for no apparent reason, I don't think we should take that too far; there is still plenty within the instructor's control. I would rather err on the side of thinking it's me when it's actually them, than thinking it's them when it's actually me. I guess one way to keep in things in perspective is to stay vigilant for issues that transcend courses (e.g., when students across multiple sections and semesters all complain that my lectures are confusing) and try not to worry quite so much about the issues that fluctuate from class to class (e.g., when one class is particularly cluseless while another is completely on-the-ball).
* Don't get me wrong - I am not saying that things like foreign accents or class size do not make a difference, all else equal. I have no doubt that my colleagues with strong accents must actually be better teachers than native-born teachers in order for students to consider them equally good. But while these things might matter ceteris paribus, it's also clear that instructors can compensate for them if they work at it. I just think some instructors use these things as excuses not to do that work (or to be more charitable, maybe I should say that it simply may not occur to some instructors that the problem could still be something within their control).
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