The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1287  Friday, 10 May 2002

From:           Marcia Eppich-Harris <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 9 May 2002 11:58:29 -0500
Subject:        Results of the Experiment

Hello Shakespeareans,

As you know, I used Hamlet and Macbeth in my classroom this semester as
focal points for a freshman research writing class. The results, meaning
the grades, are in, but I don't quite know how to feel about them.

I started the semester with 54 students and ended the semester with 35.
High drop rate, don't you think? Statistics at our university, though,
have shown that about half of all freshmen drop out within their first
year, so going from 54 to 35 is about right, according to the stats. I,
personally, have never experienced such a high drop rate in my three
years at ISU until now. I have lost up to about ten students per
semester, but never 19.

I know that the reasons for dropping are multifaceted though. I have a
very strict attendance policy that a lot of students have a hard time
coping with. Actually, I think it's not that bad. My attendance policy
is if you receive a failing grade in attendance, then you fail the whole
course. In order to fail in attendance, a student has to miss class
seven times. You wouldn't believe how many people in my class have six
absences. But a lot of people ended up dropping because of absences by

I did have a few people drop as soon as they found out that we were
using Shakespeare. I think there were about five drops immediately. Not
terrible, I guess. I didn't really want people in there who didn't want
to be academically challenged (as bad as that may sound). For the
remainder of the students, the 35 who stuck it out, six of them
plagiarized on their final papers and I was terribly disappointed. Four
more students didn't pass either because they didn't fulfill the
requirements of the research paper, or just didn't end up turning one
in. But 25 of the students out of the original 54 did pass and mostly
did well. I had 6 A's (three of which went to Japanese exchange students
who worked their tails off all semester), 3 B+s, 5 B's, 7C+s, 2 C's, 2
D+, 0 D's, and 10 F's. This grade distribution wouldn't have been so
heavy on F's if I hadn't found six plagiarized papers. In fact, the
distribution of grades seems, to me, closer to what was once a
traditional grade distribution. The people who got A's did in fact go
above and beyond the call of duty and worked hard.  That's what "A work"
should entail, right??

I haven't decided whether I think of this semester as a failure or a
success yet. I think that the grades are okay, but they aren't great
indicators of how things really were in the classroom. There were some
students who were outright hostile in their evaluations of the class. We
have scantron evaluations that the students fill out, but I always have
them write an additional evaluation of the class so that I can get a
less standardized response from them -- see how they really feel. Many
of the evaluations were glowing, saying things like "I learned a lot" or
"I was really challenged to do my best" or "Thank you for believing that
we could do this." But some of them were awful, saying "I didn't get my
money's worth in this class" or "You're attendance policy sucks" or "I
hate Shakespeare and I hate you too" or "I should get my money back."
Basically, it was a split -- either they liked the class or they hated
it -- but there was a slight percentage more who liked it than who hated

The fun continued when I had conferences with my students for them to
pick up their papers after I graded them. One of the plagiarizers called
me a "b*tch" to my face and stomped out of my office. Two days later, I
had to go out of town for a funeral, and while I was gone, the insulting
kid's mom called me five times and left messages for me each time
wanting to yell at me for insulting her kid with an F. Basically, that's
how my whole semester felt. Every single day was an uphill battle, and
it was exhausting to the highest degree.

The first thread that I used on this listserv on the topic of using
Shakespeare in this environment was called, "Are they too stupid?" I am
still trying to answer that question myself. I really think that the
kids who got C's and up did a good job. No, they weren't great papers,
and some may have been a touch naive, but they earnestly tried to work
hard, and they did the best that they could do. I can say with
confidence that this group of students who have "survived" will be
successful in college and probably in their lives. The rest? I don't
know. But the ones who persevered are the ones who will be able to take
on challenges in college or in life and overcome them, doing the best
that they can do. The rest?  They'll find a way to get out of being
challenged; they'll slide by in everything they do. Is that a blanket
judgment? Yes, I'm sure it is. I still think I'm right. But what I've
found is that teaching this class has taught me a lot about what college
is today and what it should be.

College today is something that kids do after high school. It's not
really about learning anything or being challenged to be the best you
can be. It's about getting a diploma so you can get a job. But my class
this semester was a challenge, and I think it showed me -- now more than
ever -- that some people should just not be in a liberal arts college
environment. Some people should just go to technical colleges and forget
about "general education" requirements. Some people are NOT cut out for
college -- period.  This semester was a lot of separating the sheep from
the goats.

The good news is that some students were awakened to the beauty of
Shakespeare's works. Excuse me if I'm waxing noble, but if there was
even just one student who ended up being touched by Shakespeare's works
this semester, then I feel like I've done a good job. The uphill battle
was not in vain. But a lesson I have learned this semester is that not
everyone is either capable of understanding Shakespeare, or interested
enough to try. I won't be able to convert everyone in the classroom, but
that doesn't mean that I should stop trying necessarily.

It doesn't really matter now, though. I'm not going to be teaching for
the next couple of years because I'm going into an editing assistantship
at Marquette. I think I need a break from the classroom though, so I'm
looking forward to editing.

Thanks for all the support I've received on list and off this semester.
I appreciate it! (And sorry for the overly long message!!)


S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

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