Someone asked me about a previous post where I said that I love teaching summer session, as the students are so much better, if there really, truly was a difference in students based on the semester. Ask anyone who has taught for a couple of years (or longer) and I think they will agree. Here is the general break-down:
Fall Semester Students: A little bipolar. There's a newness, a freshness to Fall that can't be replicated any other time of the year. Most (although obviously not all) had the summer off. They have fresh new notebooks, pencils, backpacks, and attitudes. Nothing but positive feelings and optimism for a successful semester. After about a month, reality has set in and here is where we see a student's "true" student personality. This point in time is a big drop out point for new freshmen. College is a lot harder than they had realized. The students who are left divide into two categories: first are your hard-core students. These are your suck ups, your perfectionists, you high work ethics, and those who have been monetarily threatened by the school, government or parents. They follow the rules, get things done on time, if not ahead of time, ask lots of questions for clarification, and are mostly A and B students. Second are your "other" students. They are still in your class for other reasons than getting something out of it - like they need to pass to stay on their parents' insurance, they have to be enrolled full-time to get student loan money, it's a required course and it's their last semester, or for other reasons even I can't fathom. These students are all over the board grade-wise, but most if not all of your Ds and Fs will be from this group.
Spring Semester Students: There are far fewer new students, so you pretty much know from the get-go which category everyone falls in: hard-core or other. The one catch: no one is feeling particularly new and shiny and optimistic. Even your most dedicated students are feeling cranky, uninspired and burned out before we even get to Spring Break. In general, I do notice that the end of semester is a bit easier in the spring than the fall - warmer weather, longer days, and the promise of summer break seems to help. Overall, though, this is probably the most level semester of the three.
Summer Semester Students: Although some take summer courses because they think it will be easier (only half the amount of time must mean half the amount of work!), but most students have been advised that summer sessions are more intense. Those who were ill-informed drop within the first week, two at the most. The rest of the students fall into that hardcore category. They are working on getting ahead in their education and are willing to do the extra work the summer session requires. This is the easiest group to teach. Most of my summer classes consist of A and B students. Because I know, for the majority, I'm going to get a good crop of students, they also have a tendency to be my guinea pigs for new assignments, papers, and projects. We have such a good rapport that they aren't afraid to tell me if something doesn't work.
Obviously this formula doesn't apply to every class every semester. Some classes are better, some classes are worse, regardless of the semester. This is a just a generalized pattern. It happens often enough, however, that I plan my schedules accordingly. I always wait a little longer to put semester-long groups together in the fall than I do spring or summer, as it takes a little while to weed out those who aren't going to make it. In spring, I schedule extra "break" time with assignments that revolve around movies or TV shows we watch in class. It helps to break up the monotony of my voice lecturing, especially when they're too burned out for much discussion. And, as mentioned, I use summer to try out new things.
It may be more correlation than causation, but I'm willing to work with it either way!