dealing with student entitlement

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On the grand scale of issues, this is pretty small, but it's on my mind.  I recently moved from a lower-tier research 1 school to a relatively elite school.  At the previous school, I taught a very successful big lecture course.  I am teaching a new big lecture course (slightly different topic) at the new school, but am finding the students here more "entitled" than I am used to.  For instance, I have a relatively light reading load but will do pop quizzes in lecture.  After the second one, I got complaints about the quiz not being fair despite the reading being assigned on the syllabus and there being questions posted for each reading on the course website (which are used for short-answer quizzes that are scheduled every few weeks).  Students not doing well on the regularly scheduled quizzes have complained about criteria instead of asked for help (which is what the students always did at the last school).  The workload is a bit on the light side but my teaching strategy is to use lots of small evaluations to make sure students keep up with the material rather than cram it.  I won several awards in my previous position for teaching, so I know it works.  And oddly enough, I've never had complaints like this before in almost a decade of teaching (including my time as a grad student)

Anyway, my question is how to respond to entitled students.  I could take the hard-assed approach and simply say "it is for me to decide what's fair in this class" or I could try and explain (again) my philosophy to them.  Or something else.  I'd be interested in knowing what's worked for others.  My classroom personality is affable and entertaining, but I warn students that I don't give our As like candy even though I come off as a "nice guy."  That said, I have never, ever negotiated a grade or overruled a TA, and I don't plan on starting now.  I also don't want to waste my time on complainers when there are other students who could use my help.  Oh, I'm a large man with a booming voice, since this stuff can really vary with gender.



CC adjunct:
Do you remind students to do the readings each week?  It may seem trivial, but if you simply remind the students that they need to read sections x to y by a certain date, it can make a big difference.  You may also want to make sure your syllabus emphasizes that the pop quizzes will be over the readings.  Students will often complain about pop quizzes and there is little you can do about that.  If it gets to be a big issue, you might consider having a couple announced quizzes during the semester in addition to the pop quizzes.  You could also explain why you are doing the pop quizzes and maybe give students advice on how to study one part at a time.  If your students are used to just exams and cramming, then they will fight you.  Find out how other instructors teach at your institution and keep that in mind.  If it's a small school, you might also be experiencing the problem of being the new guy on campus, and you might be able to find out if other new faculty have experienced the same problem.

I really hated pop quizzes and would probably have been one of your complaining students as an undergrad.

The main reason would have been because I had so much to do (I had a really tough double major-- impossible problem sets, many long paper assignments) that I had to ration my sleep schedule and so even though I made it to class, I wasn't always at my best during class.

My suggestion would be not to have pop quizzes, but to get the same effect to have small announced quizzes once a week at the same time every week.  I had several classes that had little quizzes every Friday (with the same reasoning as your philosophy-- no big cramming at finals, little cramming throughout the semester) and I always made sure to get plenty of sleep on Thursday night (or at least get some coffee before class).

My guess would be that the complaining isn't about the exams but about the unexpectedness of the exams.  When there are a million things going on (as can happen at these elitist schools), you can learn all the material in a class, but not be fresh enough to present it every possible class period.

We certainly never had these quizzes when I was a student and I would never set them. Maybe they aren't used to them at this school. Here it must be in the syllabus or you can't do it.

You are teaching a large lecture, so the format may not be what students enjoy.  

I have dealt with elitist students at a small private institution, and it's no joke, and no fun.  I find that at my R1 institution, entitlement is waaaaay down the list of my problems (students who can't be here due to child care, illness, family issues, work concerns rank at the top).

As long as it is on your syllabus, it is fair game and students should read the darn things.  I think I read that a prof. used syllabus quizzes to ensure that students read the syllabus.  This may be a useful tool your first week (announce it, execute, and see what the reaction is to the pop quizzes the next time).

Of course that doesn't help you for this semester.  Just realize that these entitlement students are going to do what they will do, and move on.  You are in charge of the class, you set the parameters, and they must perform.  If you are willing to adjust this, you may be asked to adjust the C- some student got to a B for sports eligibility.  Do you really want to do that?


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