After reading their first assignments, I discovered a couple of students had neglected to turn their personal statements in. Ensuring the students actually complete their work is a challenge in this environment because they aren't receiving a grade for this class. It is simply to help them enhance their skills so they can enter the college program later in the year. Then again, if they don't complete assignments they can--and will--be removed from the class. My supervisor suggested I ask each of the students separately if anything is going on outside of class that might be hindering their ability to complete the work on time. I intended to do just that, but teaching in a prison is all about going with the flow. Especially when that means class starts an hour late because there was a situation on the grounds and as a result the inmates are being carefully monitored between programs.
I had to alter my syllabus once again, but I'd rather push material back than rush through it. We discussed David Sedaris's piece "Letting Go" on Friday, and the students started an interesting debate about audience. I just wish we had more time to really explore their observations. I had the students go around the room and say one thing they liked or didn't like about the story. One student had a suspiciously difficult time thinking of something. And when I came back to him at the end he admitted that he hadn't read it. In hindsight I should have been more severe in how I handled that. I wish I had told him he was now responsible for writing a one page explanation on why he did not read it. Maybe that seems harsh, but I can't let these students start to think they can get away with not doing the work.
That realization was even more apparent when more students had not completed the second assignment. One in particular was extremely disappointing because I believe he has such a strong narrative voice and I was looking forward to reading his essay openings. So this Friday I will be playing the good cop/bad cop game. I will be letting them know that if they miss three assignments without a legitimate excuse then they are out of the class. And even if it breaks my heart to do it, I can't back down. I don't want anyone kicked out of the program, but I also don't want them taking advantage of the time and effort I am putting into their education.
After reading the second assignment I've also been considering if I need to give clearer directions. Only two students seem to have misinterpreted the directions. So maybe my communication abilities are fine. Regardless, I will be reiterating my expectations for the narrative essay, which will be their first major graded assignment in the class.