She won’t take another of her courses

This week, our columnist Claudette Sandecki tells us how she was disappointed in an online teacher – twice

I goofed again.

I registered for another on-line writing course with an instructor who disappointed me years ago.  She offered few corrections, let us muddle through thinking we were geniuses,  repeated the titles of her published books until I concluded she saw us mainly as a potential market for her books. I promised myself that was my last course with her.

But I forgot that course, and paid for this one, looking forward to a lively interplay with other students, reading their often witty reminiscences and swapping ideas for improvements  or application of writing rules. Without that interplay, why would one student read another’s essays? What could one student learn from another, unless an instructor identifies shortcomings and offers corrections? She does, but niggardly. Her teaching style has not improved.

In the best online course I ever took (for humour)  written assignments were 750 words, twice the length of this column. The instructor spent about an hour critiquing each student’s assignment, noting every grammar  and spelling error, shifting phrases to heighten humour and clarify meaning, missing no chance to instruct. He gave his all to improve our writing.

Reading each other’s essays took time; appreciating each essay and suggesting improvements took more time; studying the instructor’s critique took longer. But our time was enjoyably and most importantly, well spent.

Twelve lessons comprise this course. But not until lesson six, when she “knows pretty much how experienced a writer is”  does she “begin to help them achieve a higher level of writing.”

For me that’s five lessons too late. In exchange for tuition, isn’t the instructor obligated to guide the student in every way possible? Why else register for the course?

Reading an assignment on how to write conversation that ran to 559 words when our limit was 100, I jumped in. Not only was the piece 449 words too long, it was one solid block of print, as inviting as a government document on foreign investment. Did the instructor note the word overrun? Nope. She even overlooked the title word, “chocoholates” – which peppered the piece – was misspelled and copied it in her critique.

The student couldn’t count? Had no Spellcheck? No dictionary? No matter if the student wrote this for grandchildren, don’t they deserve Grandpa’s best writing, even if it is “simplistic”, the instructor’s definition of writing that ignores grammar, spelling, even word length restrictions.

With my critique already posted, I asked the instructor for an itemized list of the sort of critiques we’re expected to offer each other, as noted in the course outline where it reads, “All comments must be supportive and helpful.”

Apparently my critique was neither.

“My best advice to everyone”, she replied, “is to focus on polishing their own work. When I’m critiquing a writer’s work, I am only concentrating on that one student. I never compare and I nudge when I need to. I offer tricks and tips that are geared to that person’s ability level.”

But shouldn’t help begin at Lesson One?

In response to my critique of the 559 word piece, she wrote, “I have just reviewed your LONG critique (my critique ran to nine lines, three of them complimenting the writer.) Do you really have enough time to do that? It was lovely of you, but totally unnecessary. As I mentioned above, it might be considered too much information or perhaps even unwanted.”

Since her “tweaks” to others’ assignments  are too minimal to benefit any serious student, I will access the course site only twice a week when a new lesson arrives or when I post an assignment.

And I’ll never register in another of her classes.