Thursday, May 15, 2014

Every student is way above average. Exceptional!

I had a few minutes to kill, and I checked in with RateMyProfessors.com, 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!

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