Xykademiqz has a good post and cartoon up about how teaching is valued at a research university (hint: aim for "decent") and What Now? has a good post about the tyranny of the online gradebook in which she discovers that her students haven't been reading comments on their returned papers but just checking their grades.
These struck a chord with me because they're examples of a slogan that gets repeated often, and cynically, over at the CHE discussion forums: "You can't care more than they do."
In Xykademiqz's case, the "they" would be administrators who care about grant dollars and researcher recognition, with adequate teaching being a baseline that, if you go above it, might indicate a lack of research seriousness, as a colleague of hers keeps insisting.
In What Now?'s case, the "they" could be students who care about the grades but not the comments. She started putting the grades in later, so they'd have to look. I did that, too, for a while, but then got lazy and posted the grades with the papers. The result has been that I'm not sure whether they're reading the comments or not.
In fact, I thought about putting in a secret word on the comments and then giving them an extra point on the paper if they could identify the word by writing it down in class. I didn't do it, because I don't want to treat grades as a game (and I "can't care more than they do," right?), but I was sorely tempted. With the final paper, taking advice from all who chimed in on this blog, I wrote a little note saying that since they wouldn't have a chance to write another paper, I wouldn't be writing marginal comments but would be available for discussions about the paper if anyone wanted to talk. The range of those who took me up on this was 0%-0%.
But here's the thing: can you live with yourself and are you happy if you approach teaching from an absolutely rational standpoint? Xykademqz, for example, has more midterms because she knows it's pedagogically sound. I write comments for the same reason and meet with students whenever I can to discuss their papers--that is, when they ask to see me (because "can't care . . ." etc.). Yes, I know that "minimal marking" has its adherents and is supported by research blah blah blah, but I think they deserve to know what's going on, especially when it's plain that they have no clue whatsoever why there's a checkmark in the margin beside a sentence.
Think about the tradeoffs that we might make if we really treat teaching rationally:
1. If you have a choice of teaching a class with a cap of 40-50, for which you have no grader but that you love, do you request that class or another that enrolls, say, 25? How about a class that enrolls 100 for which you are well suited but that takes a lot of prep?
2. Do you eliminate one assignment or an exam, even if you think the students might need it, because of the time demands?
What other kinds of tradeoffs do we make?