“This is a lot of work to do in just a few weeks!” says a student in a summer school course. “You can’t possibly expect us to get through all of this reading in less than 2 months?!?” says a student in an accelerated learning program. Many students eyes bulge out of their heads when they read our summer syllabi. What we have here is a failure to communicate and negotiate expectations.
“But Nathan, my academic rigor is not something I negotiate with my students!” you might be thinking. I agree. I don’t negotiate where I set the bar, but in a way we all negotiate how our class will perceive or interpret the placement of the bar. When I’ve taught summer and accelerate learning courses I’ve use a story, analogy, or parable1, of sorts to try to win students over to my way of thinking. Here it is:
A man sits down at a fancy restaurant. As he places a cloth napkin in his lap the waiter takes his drink order. “Tonight we have a lobster bisque, tomato basil soup, or a salad. Which would you like sir?” the waiter says clutching a small notebook and pen. The man thinks for a moment and replies, “I think I’ll have a caesar salad.” “Yes sir, right away.” A moment later the waiter places the caesar salad on the table. As the first forkful of leafy greens enters the man’s mouth his face scrunches and he spits out the bite of salad. “Excuse me miss, but this is the worst bowl of soup I’ve ever tasted!” The waiter’s reaches out to take the salad away as she says, “Oh, I am so sorry sir. I thought you ordered a caesar salad.” Indignantly the man says, “I most certainly did order a caesar salad, but this tastes nothing like soup.” The waiter turns cocks her head to the left, “Sir?”
The Point: Don’t order a salad and complain it doesn’t taste like soup.
I tell my students that registering for a summer or accelerated learning course and complaining it goes to fast is like ordering a salad and complaining it doesn’t taste like soup. Of course the class is set to a rapid clip, that’s what you ordered. “If you want to take this class at a more leisurely pace, I will be teaching this in the fall,” I usually tell them. It’s crucial that you emphasize the humor in the parable. If you sound like an angry parent shaking your fist in the air saying, “kids these days!” you will only push your students away. Almost always, my students laugh at the story and jump on board with the expectations I’ve set
1. I can hear my literary colleagues bristling at my inaccurate use of the term parable. Apologies in advance.