Tuesday, May 6, 2014


No celebrations, funny or otherwise, call themselves to mind today; it is a perfectly ordinary exam week Tuesday, and I am not administering any tests (although I do still have some work to do from having done so yesterday). I have, in fact, not yet entered any grades into the formal record system. Yet I have already begun to hear the rumblings of grade complaints; I have gotten at least one email saying something to the effect of "I should have a B--most of my papers were Bs--one paper shouldn't screw me over and make me have a C." How many others are waiting for me, I do not yet know, but I will all too soon. (They will get the same reply: "I am obliged to assess performance by its demonstration, and I must assign grades based upon that assessment." All of which is true. Little of which helps to dissuade students. Perhaps I ought not to reply to the emails--but that would get me labeled as unhelpful, and I am already much an asshole.)

I can only shake my head sadly at the event anymore. I know it is coming every term; few students are willing to accept that their performance has not been at the level they believe they deserve. Many do not know what they actually deserve; they are in school precisely because they do not know how the material functions and how their responses to the material ought to function. They forget that those who assess them know quite a bit more about the material--and that most of them have assessed hundreds or thousands of other students. They forget also that the time to worry about grades is while they are being earned, not after they have been earned; the end of the term is not the time to complain about a score on a paper due more than a month earlier or a reading done nearly two months past. Yet my colleagues and I are expected, as a rule, to entertain the ideas that the students have been mistreated, that we were overly harsh in our expectations, and that what we teach really doesn't matter because the students "will never really use it."

It creates some kind of contradiction, whether paradox or oxymoron or catch-22 I do not know. If we lean on the students, believing (as I do, for example) that the push will stimulate superior performance and that it is to superior performance that we are to lead the students, then we are being too harsh, setting our standards too high, or setting students up to fail. If we do not lean on them, trusting that they will develop their own knowledge independently with minimal instructor input, we are being too lenient (and undermining the perceived need for ourselves, which is hardly the argument any professionals should propagate about their professions--although teaching is increasingly not regarded as being a profession). Bluntly, it is a fucked situation, and one for which the remedy escapes me--unless I am to be as Machiavellian as the ever-to-be-lauded underpinnings of business would have me be...

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