Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Football Schedule Arithmetic

Most non-football players think team members spend their time goofing off in the gym. Most football players disagree. Other sports probably have similar problems, but the football players seem to have the most intense schedule problems. Let's look at it in some detail:

Each day has 24 hours, and we can't do much with that—the number is probably going to stay the same for a while. Now let's consider the five weekdays, Monday through Friday. Weekends are a special problem, and I'll get to those in a minute. Here's what we are deducting from each of those five days:

  • 3 hours for academic classes (Assuming a 15-credit load, spread evenly over the five days)
  • 8 hours for sleep (a number you probably should not cut back on—an athlete in training might need more)
  • 3 hours eating, dressing, brushing your teeth, etc.
  • 2 hours in the weight room
  • 1 hour for required team meetings
  • 2 hours for practice

So far, I've accounted for 19 hours. Most people find that at least an hour daily is just sort of lost (the phone rings, a friend stops to talk on campus, etc.). Assuming that the team meeting, the weight room, and the practice somehow limit themselves to those five hours, the student has a full four hours to spend on ALL other activities: studying, doing the laundry, and so forth. That's a total of 20 hours a week.

Most counselors advise that you follow the "two for one" rule in studying: two hours outside class for every hour in class, so our football player should be studying something like 30 hours a week. No problem! There's always the weekend.

No, there isn't. Every in-town game destroys all of Saturday (and somehow I don't think the average player can hit the books for 10 hours straight on Sunday after a game). Every away game wipes out the entire weekend, from Friday afternoon (thus killing those four hours of Friday study) to late Sunday night. Somewhere someone has the impossible dream that you can study on the bus, the airplane, and in a strange hotel room with three teammates. Maybe, but I have trouble believing you can cram in 14 hours of quality time (remember the Friday we killed?) in a hotel room and on a bus.

There's the problem. I don't know the solution, but I do know that you can't afford to slack off, even for a moment. Most assignments keep rolling forward, no matter what your life is like outside the classroom.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

People with Issues

The spring semester has been finished for about two weeks now, and as usual, I get to thinking about the students who should have passed with a good grade, but didn't. From my reading and talking with other faculty, I know this isn't an issue that's restricted to my classrooms. These people are everywhere, and they seem to divide neatly into three groups:

1. Clueless

Some students seem totally bewildered by the whole education process: they don't know why they are here, what they are supposed to be doing, or how to do it. I have to wonder exactly what happened during the previous twelve years of public education.

These people won't be reading this blog, and I'm not writing to them anyhow.

1a. Not on my wavelength

I've always got a couple of truly smart, dedicated students, good writers, who have a strongly-defined personal style that interferes with being an English student. Often these students are artists of some variety, people who get focused on another task (to the exclusion of things such as English papers) and miss deadlines. These are the people who can't quite do what is assigned.

I know something about artists, both visual artists and writers, and often the difference between "starving artist" and someone with a bank account has to do with discipline. A person who can hit deadlines, satisfy publishers, and do what's requested gets to pass college courses and eventually become a professional. That's when the whole thing becomes more than a hobby. This kind of skill is just as important in sculpture class as it is in English

2. People with issues

As a general rule, English departments begin lowering grades for people who have been absent more than one week a semester. That's only two or three class meetings. About 25% of my students can't come anywhere near that. I don't ask too closely because it's none of my business, but this group seems to include:

  • Drunks. Nationwide, something like 25% of college freshmen drink enough to interfere with their academic work. You can't drink hard on Sunday night and be any good in class on Monday. That's all there is to it.
  • Depressed people. I was one of these myself—still am to some extent. Medical and counseling help is available. It's included in the price of your tuition, confidential, and effective. You really don't want to stay that way, do you?
  • Sick people. Dormitory living is incredibly unhealthy. You spend your time close to other sick people. You eat junk food, go to bed late, don't exercise, and forget the most elementary personal hygiene that your mother forced on you. Do what you can to break the cycle. Throw away the moldy pizza box. Eat an orange. Go to bed at a reasonable hour. Do you want to spend your entire college career sick?
  • Messiahs. I always have a couple of students whose role in life is to go home frequently to straighten things out there. That's very noble, but not always a good priority choice. You need to ask whether your intervention really did fix things and whether that's actually more important than passing your courses.

I often get people who vaguely say they "have issues," and it doesn't seem to mean that they dislike me or the course. It usually seems to be related to physical or psychological health. If that's you, get help. You really can't afford to remain as you are.

3. Athletes

We need to face several rock-solid truths:

A. Being on a team consumes an incredible amount of time and energy. Even though you get an excused absence when the team is on the road, the arithmetic never seems to add up, and it's often close to impossible to hit all your deadlines.

B. Coaches don't always get it. Some coaches understand the academic priorities very well, but there are always a few who can't seem to remember that you need to balance practice, weight room, and games with the real business of being a student. They think they hired a professional athlete. You need to pass your courses.

C. Teachers don't always get it. In fact, many teachers neither know nor care whether you are on a team. Out of town game? The lab report is still due on Monday.

D. Confrontation won't help you any. Maybe our American tradition of screaming in the face of baseball umpires is behind all this, but too many athletes think rudeness and intimidation will improve a grade. It simply won't. Want to fail the course? Want to get expelled? Want to get in trouble with the law? Threaten a teacher. Lose the image of the baseball coach screaming at the umpire (and that never worked anyhow). Look up the kinds of offenses that get someone a red card in soccer. Then look up what happens to the player who receives the red card.