I Know What I Know

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So I have finished grading.

I’ve blogged before about how difficult grading is for me. It is a draining and frustrating process, because I want to see them do as well as they can, and yet very often they do not. Many of them are simply too comfortable with mediocrity–for a number of reasons–and my pushing them to think hard and deep about their ideas, my challenging them to constantly defend their positions and their arguments, I am constantly told in evaluations and in conversations, is the first time they’ve ever been challenged in this way.

This is uncomfortable territory for many of them. Some will rise to the occasion; some will flounder. This is no different from anything else, I suppose. If you push me with something like mathematics, I’m going to do flounder…and eventually drown.

And so it’s frustrating. I’m not going to get into one of those Sven Birkerts/Marshall McLuhan/Neil Postman debates other than to say that while I have sympathies with all of those arguments, and I have in the past disagreed violently with all of them (and still do, from time to time), these past two semesters I have seen a real change in my students. I don’t know how to put my finger on it. They read and write as poorly as they ever have. Their hostility to me, my class, their own education, and the university is no different. What’s been bothering me is this: they’re far too comfortable with getting a “C.”

There was a time when I would have been overjoyed to have students content with getting a C in my class. Not anymore. I want to see them fight for that A. I want to see them with some kind of desire, with some kind of drive. With something. Anything.

And more and more, I’m not seeing it.

Again, maybe I’ve just had two odd classes. Or maybe I’ve had odd classes up until now. Most likely, something I’m unaware of has changed about my teaching.

I feel like Paul Gleason’s character in The Breakfast Club, moaning about how the students changed on me, all the while failing to realize that I’ve simply gotten old and the kids have stayed the same.

What brought all of this on? Not my students’ grades, which were very good on this assignment. They did well. I’m really proud of them.

What brought all of this on is that I graded one of my slackers. This guy is unbelievable. 20% of his grade is a 50, which means he has 10 points off his final grade just from that. He has not turned in any of the daily assignments, which are worth 10% of his grade. There goes another 10%. His daily work grades are in the low 70s, and that’s just less than 10%. So what we’re talking about here is a student who is looking at a maximum grade somewhere in the middling-C range–and that’s if he makes 100% on everything for the rest of the semester.

Normally, I wouldn’t mind. I’ve suggested that he re-think his “enrollment status” in my class, and he’s chosen to stay. Fine.

And yet he continues to slack off. He lost another few points on this last assignment, and so he’s quickly approaching a D as the highest grade he can make. Everything I’ve handed back to him, and every conversation I’ve had with him, has resulted in the same thing: no change.

To make matters worse, he writes well above the average. Indeed, if he would follow the instructions, he’d be in fine shape, usually. But he doesn’t. I can’t reach this kid. And every time I have to grade his work, it’s a reminder that I’ve failed him somehow–that I wasn’t diligent enough in my efforts, or that I wasn’t willing enough to accommodate his needs in my teaching.

I know, I know. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Sure. But if the horse dies of thirst after you lead him to water, you have to ask whether or not you did everything you could….

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Written by srogers

July 2, 2011 at 2:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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