2010-05-14

What to do with apathetic students

It is rather discouraging and disappointing to find that having taught for more than 20 years in various universities, I still encounter very fundamental problems in teaching. Since my life surrounds mostly around work with almost no private life these days, even small problems I experience in teaching affect me greatly and destroy my peace of mind. The problem that occupies me these days is what to do with apathetic students.

Fortunately, such students are far smaller in number in Israel than in Japan in relative terms, but unfortunately, there are enough of them in absolute terms even in this country not only in obligatory courses but also in elective courses. I am aware that I have been poor at teaching in general and "marketing" the subjects I teach in particular. But I have been unable to come to terms with the idea that even university teachers have to motivate their students. I still believe that only those who know why they study what they study must be permitted to continue their studies in the university. I may sound elitistic, but seemingly, we are paying a heavy price for the popularization of higher education: even those who are not meant to be in the university are admitted.

I know from my own experience as a student that even in the courses by the worst teachers we can always find some intellectual insights from time to time, if not always. So I find it very hard to understand those apathetic students whose eyes remain dormant and inactive all year round whatever I say. I am curious to see how they fare in other courses by better teachers.

The biggest problem I have with such apathetic students is that gradually but surely they shatter my motivation to continue to teach them. This is a vicious circle with no clear beginning. Generally speaking, its downward spiral can only worsen. Do I have a solution for this problem? Unfortunately, I have come up with no magical solution. My only humble desire is not to have my motivation totally shattered by an epidemic called apathy.