Friday, December 09, 2005

Sweat, Tears, and Angst

Today is the last day of the term at the community college where I've been teaching part time. I've actually got everything graded that's been handed in, so all I need to do is tabulate the grades, work out the final averages, and assign the letter grades. That actually doesn't take very long, since I track everything in an Excel spreadsheet from the start of the semester.

It's somewhat humerous (and from another perspective, somewhat sad) how the students act during these last few weeks. Everyone is stressed, and I don't find that humerous at all, of course. But so many of the students here are more interested in trying to see what they can "negotiate" than in actually buckling down and studying. I've had a couple of students come up to me and say, "What do I need to do to be able to pass this class?" Umm, let me think... Do the work starting at the beginning of the semester, maybe? "Well, can't I do some extra credit?" Let's think about this: You want me to take the time to come up with additional (valid and reliable) evaluation instruments, give you an opportunity no other student in the class gets, spend hours grading it, and then scramble to get grades posted by the deadline?

Ah, no, I don't think so.

Or here's a classic: "But if I don't pass this class, I won't graduate this semester!" Well, gee, if you knew the class was that critical, why didn't you make sure you were actually in class and oh, maybe turn in the homework every once and a while? This one I can't fathom. I mean really, if I were graduating, I think I'd make doubly sure I was on top of everything in all my classes.

The thing is, many of the teachers around here (much more soft-hearted than me -- I'm vicious and cruel) give in to the sob stories. So many times, in fact, that the students have come to expect it. It's much less work to do an extra paper at the end of the semester than it is to actually keep up with the work and learn the material throughout the semester. They aren't stupid. The other thing I see a lot of is students who blow off a class and then withdraw in the last two weeks. Most of these students have their tuition paid by their parents. This is just extended high school to them. You can bet that if the $300/course came out of their pockets, they'd be a lot more upset about not getting anything for that money. This is one of the many reasons we are going to make our son pay his own way through school. Too many times, it's just a waste of money if the parents pay for it -- it doesn't mean anything to the kids, so they don't put in the work to get something out of college.

Ah well, one way or the other, the semester is over, and I'm glad of the break. I've had some really good students this year, in spite of what I've said above. In fact, I've actually had less of the above-mentioned behavior this semester than I have seen in years past. I'm a tough teacher, as any of my students will tell you. But they come out of my class with a feeling of accomplishment. A feeling that, yeah, I worked my butt off, but I actually did something to be proud of.

I think that lesson is just as important as the astronomy they learn.

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