Yesterday, I walked into my English 101 class to find 7 students (that’s out of a class of what was originally 19). I don’t know if you guys have ever tried to teach a shrunken version of your classes, but I find this very hard – the dynamic is different; people feel self-conscious; it’s just kind of icky.

Now, I know what’s going on. Research papers are due on Thursday! Need I say more. . . People are either skipping class to write the paper they should have started weeks ago, OR they think they’re a lost cause and so just quit at this point – two weeks before the semester ends.

It’s a tough time for students and teachers alike. Everyone feels swamped; everyone just wants to be outside; everyone is tired. But I wonder what I’m supposed to do for these folks – can I do anything when they don’t show up? My father has always said, “You can’t motivate people.” He’s right.

This time of the semester always makes me edgy. I begin to wonder if I’ve done everything I can for these folks, if I’ve taught them everything they need to know. Apparently, since I can’t make them do anything they don’t want to do, I decide to rehash my entire semester in an attempt to control something – like I’m going to cram every last lesson on rhetoric into the final four days of class (that’ll work!).

But I do feel helpless sometimes – like I can do my best song and dance and not get anywhere. Do you guys ever feel this way?

I see other teachers thinking about similar things on their blogs . . . if not exactly the same problem then the same lack of confidence about what we do. (See Horace’s post on response papers for an example.)

It seems that teachers (or maybe I’m just projecting here) are a paradox – a mix of confidence in our abilities and total lack of confidence in our abilities. I know I’m a good teacher – I do it better than most anything, even writing sometimes; But I also doubt, almost every minute of every day, that I’m a good teacher. . . . I’m not fishing for compliments here, really, so please don’t everybody post encouraging comments. I’m just trying to figure out what makes teachers tick. What makes us who we are?

Any ideas?

P.S. All you reviewers out there – take a look at this post on Critical Mass about reviewing in university newspapers.