Monday, May 09, 2022

The teacher I want to be

 First of all, I do love teaching. 

Second, I believe in flexibility, and my syllabus has all kinds of alternative assignments, escape clauses, and get out of jail free extensions built into it--all stated right up front, with no need to have class privilege to know that they're available. I talk about them. They're in the syllabus. I email students about them, if they seem not to know.

For a lot of years--decades, even--this has been enough. If a student tries, it's hard not to succeed if they put any effort at all into it, because there's always another way. They may not get the grade that they think their writing deserves, because they insist that I'm the only teacher who's ever told them about picayune details like writing in complete sentences; however, they usually come around once we've met for a few times and gone over their papers. But in my classes, there other ways to succeed.

Yet it's been a tough semester for us all. Contra academic conferences, which are so over COVID, my students are getting sick regularly despite being vaxxed, and I've made a lot of allowances for that. I've responded to emails on weekends. I've been available. I've given feedback. I've met with them. I've notified them through the course space if they didn't turn in papers (online classes--you kind of have to do this). I have put in more hours on teaching this semester than in any recent semester I can remember.

And now, a minute and a half before grades are due, students who haven't checked into the course space for literally months want to turn in assignments that they had ignored for said months. Or they've skipped a bunch of assignments but are emailing "I need an A." Or they start rules-lawyering over some minor point, which is hard to do given the really specific details in the syllabus. Or “I have a lot of work in my other [implied: more important] classes and am handing this in late.”

And with all the "take it easy on your students; COVID, etc." directives being issued, it's hard to say no without seeming like a monster.

It's probably for this reason that I'm finding this really dispiriting, even though I know I shouldn't take it personally. It's like some kind of fall from grace, or a fall from the kind of teacher I thought I was and want to be. This didn't happen in the Before Times, or happen as much, and it didn't bother me when it did because I could just point to the numbers. 

I don't want to be that tough old rounder who rejoices in saying no, but it's getting harder to keep that store of goodwill and enthusiasm flowing and to be the kind of teacher I want to be.


gwinne said...

Yeah....I hear this. I used contract grading with a clear but flexible rubric. Theoretically anyone who did everything could get an A/4.0. They wrote self-assessment statements in which they could talk about the issues they faced during the semester and argue for some more grace. But I had folks who missed a third of the semester and turned in the majority of the work late/at the very last second think they should earn the same as someone who showed up literally every time and did everything right? I’m not OK with that it turns out. Most of those folks ended up in the B/3.0 range. I still consider that giving them a lot of grace because in the before times they would have failed based on absences alone.

undine said...

Gwinnett, I’m glad it’s not just me. The self-assessment you used sounds like a good way to go, but like you, I believe that there should be some acknowledgment that those who showed up and did the work, well, showed up and did the work.

Part of this is probably me being angry at myself for putting so much into it. It seemed as though every time I extended that extra grace or worked extra hard (on paper feedback, on getting papers back, etc.) it was a “no good deed left unpunished” response. Anyway, it’s almost over.

undine said...

That should be Gwinne—stupid autocorrect.