I come to my classes with a sense of compassion. The first week is a major clusterbug for everyone. And, we can ratchet this higher for the new students. What I find that I need to work on is my sense of patience during the upcoming weeks. No matter how many times I gently remind students, some will not bother to review the syllabus and email me queries that can be answered ever so quickly with a glance to the course syllabus. This term I have done something different–the quiz and the mid-term have a question related to the syllabus.
I also am aware that my class is one of four or five and once the students get into the routine, they will have a better idea regarding the protocol on campus. Until then, I read the emails, pause, smile and reply that, “As the syllabus states…” If anything, the flip side, is that the student is bothering to care to make sure that s/he gets the right information and reads the material, shows up to class on time, comes to my office hours at the right time, right? And, let’s be honest, there are moments when a keen student eye finds an error on the syllabus and I appreciate it! So, I am not perfect and I know that my students aren’t either.
I also wish that patience worked the other way. Students need to remember that I am one person serving many. My office hours are limited to some 4 because I have to teach my classes, get some administrative work, prepare for my courses, and possibly steal time for my own work. We are at the start of month two of the new term, and I am sure it will be another great, busy one. At this moment, I am thinking of Guns and Roses. Smiles. This is a reference to their song.
Mid-terms are about to begin and I’ve been struck with a few things. I can announce things in class, send messages via our on-line learning platform, hold office hours, and attempt to hold G+ Hangout office hours. But, there are those moments when students just do not pay attention. It’s not yet important, as the assignment or exam is weeks away. Then, snap, suddenly everyone needs me. I had to remind myself of a few things in the last week.
1. Keep the hockey schedule in mind. Some of my students are avid hockey fans and my office hours cannot conflict with the game.
2. Remember that instructors need to remind students. They are taking three to five other courses and have multiple deadlines and are juggling so much. The majority will need the reminder. Move on.
3. Be more patient around this time of the term. Students will appreciate the patience and the last thing they want is for you to chastise them. Really–do I need to put any emotional energy in chastising students? No. I have other places to expend my energy.
4. Related to the previous point, I need to also be more available the week of the mid-term. I am also juggling multiple projects, but my first job is teaching and I know that this week my students need me.
This short post really serves as a reminder to me–patience, compassion, and support. These are the three things that I must have this week. Wishing all students good luck on their mid-terms. And, sending an extra deep cleansing breath to other instructors, mentors, and ancillary staff who work with students. Ommmm!
These post its work for this week!
There are easy terms and there are terms that make you earn a every penny. About three years ago I was in a car accident over the Summer and when the Fall term started I was quite aware that this would not be a normal term. I tried to work my schedule so that I could make a good impression on the job and meet the needs of my students. I was partially successful. And, this post offers me an opportunity to reflect on what I could have done better.
In most situations in life we do not get a change for a “do-over,” but it’s good to occasionally have the chance to think about the what if situation. Thinking about that Fall term I wish I had moved my afternoon class to earlier in the day, so that I would have had full use of my mind and body. That term was one of the toughest ever, as by about 4pm I was absolutely exhausted and could barely walk across campus. It was a rough. I was mildly embarrassed, but did announce to the class that I had a car accident and that I would not be my usual self. I stood by the podium must of the term and didn’t walk around and was not my usual peppy self. I found that most students were quite patient with me and I thank this for them. The morning class got the regular me, but the afternoon got the extremely tired, stiff version.
I have found that some students, though, have no patience for anything short of perfection from their instructor. And, this makes things interesting. You see, I have to accommodate students who are registered with the Resource Center for Students with a Disability, have notes from Health Services, are student athletes, and the like. And, I have no problem with flexibility, when it’s warranted. Some students are a little thick to understand that an instructor could have an illness or some other issue in their personal life. And, I learned that term to just roll with it and let it go. I also think that if I could go back I would have reminded the students more than once that I was struggling. I tried to act like things were fine. I’m not going to lie, though, the student evaluation that noted, “We don’t care if you were in a car accident–keep your personal life out of the classroom” really stung when I read it a few months later. I hope that person is never in a car accident or faces any physical hardship. This is really the only negative reaction that I recall.
My morning evaluation numbers were normal; however, the afternoon class numbers were slightly lower than the previous four times that I taught that class. Was the .7 difference because of my health? Maybe. What I do know is that term taxed my patience and I bet that some students felt the same way! My advice to other faculty–honesty. Let your students know if you are facing an unusual term. Most students will understand and offer you some compassion.
Reviewing graded work with students is not an easy task. This typically happens when a student wants to contest the mark, complain about the Teaching Assistant or about my assessment. Some students come in and they really want to learn from the assignment and do better the next time. Other students want to have an opportunity to complain. They merely want someone to listen to them. To be heard. I do not blame them–we all want someone to listen to us. It’s like Festivus–the airing of the grievances.
Educators need to remember that for so many of the students coming to office hours to chat with you is hard. Most students are a little nervous to come into the office and it’s best to immediately explain what the process is with the review. The student needs to know that you might lower or raise the grade. The student needs to know that they might have the option to revise and resubmit or contest the grade. The process will vary in different departments or different campuses.
All of this said, what I will do is re-grade the work and then review the graded work line by line or paragraph or by paragraph so that the student has a complete understanding of the grade. I also refer to the university grading system, so that the student understands that I am referring to the standards outlined by the institution. This is actually important as I feel it allows the student to understand that the grade is not personal–it is about the work and the guidelines for the assignment. This is also the appropriate time to review the assignment with the student.
Likewise, during the meeting in my office, I will allow the student to share her or his thoughts. This is the time to listen and to then respond as needed. I always end noting that the grade reflects the assessment of the assignment and not a judgement about the student as a person. I do think it’s important to add this last part, as many students really do think that the grade represents them and their effort. It does not.
Now, the last point that I want to speak to is effort and grade. I am hearing more students discuss how the grade does not reflect the effort that they put into the assignment. I listen to their explanation and think: I deserve to be paid more, but I am not. Effort does not entitlement to a better or strong grade. Some students will spend lots of time (revisions, office hour visits) and earn a B. Others will cram and pull an all nighter and earn an A-. It is not fair, but it happens. In my classes, the papers need to offer coherent analysis and follow directions. The assignment stipulates all the guidelines and some will not do well solely because they waited until the last minute or did not follow directions. Other papers will earn a weak grade due to the poor organization and writing. Effort does not equal a strong grade.
Now there will be times when you review student work and you think that you might have been too hard. If so, admit it and raise the mark. My dad used to tell me, “I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect, nobody is perfect.” He’s right. Sometimes we make mistakes or are too harsh with a mark. Re-assess the work and move on. Explain why you are revising the mark and change the grade while the student is in your office, so that you don’t forget. Have fun grading and reviewing graded work!