Thursday, May 15, 2014

Every student is way above average. Exceptional!

I had a few minutes to kill, and I checked in with, and there was a new entry, from May 7th, that began with:
HE IS SOOOOOO FREAKIN HARD!! I am trying soo hard in his class but i feel like he cares more about what you know than the effort you put in your essays.
And a couple more sentences after that.

I do not feel insulted at all.  On the contrary, this is one of the best compliments ever that the student could have given me.  "he cares more about what you know than the effort you put in" ... Awesome. Thanks.

If only my faculty colleagues--not only here at WOU, but faculty colleagues across other teaching universities--would also make it clear to students that ultimately their grade depends on what they know.

Years ago, less than a year into my teaching career, a student complained to me that the grade "I had given" she noticed was way lower than what she was expecting.  I told her that I don't give grades and that students earn them.  The grade reflected the quality of the work, I explained.  "But, I came to class everyday.  Doesn't that count?" her voice an octave higher now.

We live in an education culture in the US in which pretty much every kid in the K-12 system is an achiever in some way or the other.  "You are special," "You can do whatever you want to do" are the only kinds of feedback K-12 students seem to get these days.  Back when my daughter was in high school, as much as I loved watching the kids perform, I hated the end of every single performance for the ultra-loud applause and whistles and standing ovations from the audience.  I could not, and still do not, understand how every single performance could have been exceptional!  Every town has become Lake Wobegon where " all the children are above average."

I have been complaining about such trends for years. The result is that students, not only this student, but right from my first year of teaching, have been complaining that I am one of those hard ones.  The reality is that I am not.  But, I do worry about the reputation.  After all, in a higher education system that is run like a ponzi business, if my classes do not bring in the students--who are walking ATMs, as far as the university is concerned--then I am not bringing in the money.  I then become a financial liability.

Even back in California, when commending me on my "hard professor" reputation, Lee, a much older colleague in a completely different field, noted "as long as students continue to register for your classes, you will be ok with this reputation.  But, watch out if the numbers begin to drop."

Am I not expected to care more for what students demonstrate as what they know than to merely award grades based on how much they tried?

Even the grades we--all across higher education--award are highly inflated anyway.  The following image accompanying Rebecca Schuman's piece says it all about grade inflation and student expectations:

Now, having said all these, I do sympathize with the student in many ways.  Most students would rather not be in college if they truly had a choice.  The uninterested and the unable together constitute a significant percentage of the student body.  The situation then becomes a lose-lose for all concerned.

Oh well.  I will learn my lessons when I am jobless, when I no longer bring in the student revenue.  For all I know, that day is not far off!


Ramesh said...

Oh come on - when you were a student, you sang a different tune :):):):)

Just kidding ....

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, a very different tune ... an electrical engineering tune ... muahahaha ;)

Jokes aside, I loved learning, and I continue to love learning. My hassle with the undergrad program was that I was trapped in the wrong program. If it had been the US, I would have changed majors ... but, the system in India was (and is) different.

I don't care about lots of other things in life. Like sports. I don't go to watch sports and then complain. If I were forced to, you can bet that I will complain like how students complain about my class--especially if I am not being fed tasty snacks ;)

Anne in Salem said...

Grade inflation? Never! I am constantly amazed at the grade's my Children recv given there poor gramatical skills, and spelling. Yes, an exaggeration, but it seems that high school teachers care only about content, not about writing, when grading essays and papers.

Sometimes I think college is wasted on young adults. I would be a vastly different student now than I was 25 years ago. I would demand more, blindly accept less, and discuss so much more. I'd choose Sriram's oral exam over a paper every time. Adults can draw conclusions and make connnections youth cannot. It is a pity your students do not see the value in learning, that they don't realize they are becoming better, more informed citizens. Perhaps if they saw a monetary reward for learning, not just for grades. Of course, snacks would help.

When my children were in elementary school, I ran a club for gifted students. Each month, they chose a country, and I assigned topics - government, business, daily life, etc. I always researched food and prepared a native dish for the students to eat. The students were expected to research their topic to share with the group. I like to think they learned something about countries with which they were unfamiliar, but I know they enjoyed the learning. I wish I could capture that for them forever.

Sriram Khé said...

I agree with your comments that maybe most 19-year olds aren't quite interested in the learning that we older adults seem to enjoy. Why then do we force the high school grads to college? If the "I hate college" is such an open secret, then isn't it sheer insanity to keep forcing students and their families (and taxpayers) to spend precious resources on "higher education"????
As much as we (society, not the three of us!!!) put a positive spin on education, the implicit reality is that for the most part we deal with higher education (and even high school) as nothing more than job-prep programs. If only we can openly admit to this and cut all the highfalutin talk.

Sriram Khé said...

From a short commentary in "Academe":

How did this generation of students, and their parents, come about? Changing views on grading and parenting are contributing factors, but there are others as well, including consumerism. The concept of the student as a consumer, which has become increasingly widespread in higher education, leads students to believe that their schools owe them something, allows students to blame someone else for their failures, and reinforces what students have learned through shopping: that the customer is always right.

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