Advising athletes must be hard

First, a process thing: I’m using the combination of Twitter + Hahlo + my iPhone this semester to encourage me to reflect a little on each class.  It’s a good habit to think about your teaching regularly, and this combination (140 characters, plus playing with the phone) makes it fun enough to do.  (For more academic uses of Twitter, see academhack’s great post.)

Ok–now the actual point of this post.  One of my early tweets from this semester is about the makeup of my League of Extraordinary Gentlemen class.  Upon further reflection, The class isn’t really half athletes–more like 35%.  But about 1/4 of the class plays the same sport.  A few thoughts:

1.  I’m not a professor with a bias against athletes.  While I have concerns about how quickly the cart of Division I athletics begins to wag the tail of academics (and at such a high expense!), that systemic problem’s got nothing to do with my experience in the classroom.  The proportion of athletes who are engaged students in my classes is at least as high as the general student body.

2.  Having said that, it is a Very Hard Thing to stare at the cold fact that 25% of my class (i.e., the ones on the same team) will definitely be absent on certain days.  The problem isn’t even that they’re missing more classes than are allowed according to my policy, which I don’t think is the case, but that so many students will obviously be gone on the very same day.  That sort of thing is hard to miss, and it’s demoralizing, both for me and for the other students.

3.  And yet, whoever’s providing academic advice to the athletes is doing exactly the right thing: I’m the only person teaching an English course explicitly pitched to nonmajors this semester, a course which also satisfies the International gen-ed requirement.  It kills 2 gen-ed birds with one stone, and in an environment that’s friendly to to students without a strong background in the formal analysis of literature.

It’s a pretty strange position, but probably unavoidable without several more sections of courses like this one, to spread the impact.  (Again, I’m not speculating at all about the performance of the students themselves in the class!  “Impact” here is only “the psychological impact of the travel days.”)

How have you dealt with similar situations?

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6 Responses to Advising athletes must be hard

  1. billie says:

    I understand your concern and potential frustration. I’m writing a dissertation about this very issue…the teaching of student-athletes (Division I-A, revenue-producing sports). My focus, however, is on the institution’s responsibilities after admitting (academically) underprepared students to play those sports (I understand that this is not your focus). Anyway, for me, it hasn’t been difficult teaching a course when 25% of the class is gone . . . it’s making sure that 25% stays caught up with the work they are required to do.

    I don’t know that I have an answer for you, though. I don’t know where you teach or the general student demographic you have (Division I-A, revenue-producing sports can provide its own demographic). Is it that when 25% of the class is gone that the demographic shifts? (Fewer men? Few men of color? ….)

    At my institution– and in my case– the majority of students are White. The student-athletes are Black (vast majority). Many of the courses I teach are a majority student-athlete student population. It’s interesting the shift that comes from the majority/minority roles that students assume. In my classes, that majority/minority role is frequently reversed (Black as majority). When a large percentage of students are missing on any given day, it might shift that majority back to the White side . . . that shifting can be problematic.

    But my question: why is demoralizing for you (and your other students) to have that many students miss a class at the same time? It’s not as if they are skipping class to play a pickup b-ball game or something. They are “working.”

    I’m interested in knowing more about your situation if you are willing to share.

  2. jbj says:

    Thanks, Billie, for this message. I certainly take your point about keeping the 25% who are gone engaged and caught up. This class features daily online reading quizzes, which are accessible from anywhere, as well as a nifty online class notes assignment. (Which is itself harmed a little by so high a percentage of students being gone at once–it’s slightly tricky to constitute fair groups for maintaining the notes.)

    Actually, this class is strange for an English class–it’s almost exclusively male. And the class’s visible racial/ethnic mix doesn’t change.)

    My problem isn’t some misplaced frustration that the students are “skipping”–I know that they’re doing something meaningful, and generally assume that they are trying to keep up. I’m fine with that, the same way I’m fine with students who miss class for touring musical or theater or other activities.

    It’s just REALLY HARD to muster the energy needed for a productive discussion–which in an English class is almost always the main point–when we walk in and see so many folks gone. The same way it is on the day before/after spring break, when so many people are missing. Also, the individual class session feels trivialized by the absence of so many people at once. (1 or 2 missing people out of 30? No problem. 7 missing? Plus the 1 or 2 who might usually miss on any given day? That’s harder to shrug off.) That they’re gone for a legit reason doesn’t change that. I think the mechanism is probably similar to the one described in this article on how tardiness is contagious.

  3. tbrock says:

    Might there be a way to schedule your class in future semesters so that it caters well to student-athletes? College teams that play games during the weeks typically have games on the same days every week. If you know that your class is always going to be 25% basketball players, it might make sense to get your class scheduled to avoid basketball games. I realize this is catering to the athletes, but it sounds like it will have positive effects for the entire class, and yourself as well.

  4. Dance says:

    I feel like there must be certain class activities that work better with fewer people. E.g., debating a point is really difficult with 13 on each side, but 8 on each side might work better. Groups that make a presentation at the end might be more feasible in the time slot if you have fewer groups. And reshaping the classroom will hide the empty seats.

    Anyway to develop some of those types of things?

  5. jbj says:

    @tbrock: Absolutely, in the future that’s a possibility. I don’t mind the idea of a section that’s well-suited to the schedules of students who travel a lot for campus-supported activities. (Said the former debater . . . ) My main concern wouldn’t be “catering to the athletes,” but others’ perception that the course would be dumbed-down material.

    @Dance: That’s probably true–sounds like I need to get organized about that now, though. Thanks for the tip!

  6. Pat K says:

    I definitely thought the first day of class was surprising and honestly I was somewhat taken aback not so much by the number of athletes taking the course but rather that so many athletes enrolled were all on the same team! There seems to be a few other athletes from other teams spread around the class but to have 5-7 athletes all on the same team sitting in the back rows is slightly intimidating and something I was honestly not expecting.

    From a student’s perspective especially one engrossed in the material I hate it! To think taking a class on one of the comics industry’s most revered writer(Alan Moore), and then study one of his most culturally rich works, I would absolutely hate the idea that some students were taking it based primarily or somewhat based on reason number 3!

    Anyway I’m looking forward to a great class the rest of the semester.

    On a side note whenever I get a chance to I tell people I’m taking a class on Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to people at my local comic store or conventions are jaw dropped and blown away to how awesome that classes are taking interest this material.

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