Friday, May 11, 2012

More end of semester thoughts

I finished grading papers at 1am this morning, and posted grades to Moodle and submitted final grades.  By 2:30am, I had my first email which begged, "But I tried really hard!"  The past two or three days I've had a number of frantic emails from students--one even used the word frantic--wanting to know when grades would be posted, can they revise, is there any extra credit they can do....Several of them began by explaining that they had just looked at their grade on Moodle and realized that they didn't have an A, which prompted the frantic emails.  And since posting grades this morning, the emails have continued.

It's weird--I used to get these emails, before I started using an online gradebook.  Once I started keeping grades online, these emails for the most part went away, as students are able to check on their average at any given moment.  I even had one student write his position paper this semester arguing that all teachers should be required to use the Moodle gradebook, as it greatly alleviates student anxiety.  So, this rash of frantic emails is rather unusual.

I admit to feeling quite frustrated and annoyed by these emails, as most of them are using emotional language and all seem to be throwing themselves on my mercy.  They beg for extra credit and even offer to write a new paper.  My annoyance stems from the fact that it's not as though these students' grades suddenly took a nosedive, or that there were lots of failing grades.  In fact, one of the most desperate sounding emails is from a student who got a B. I checked final grades against midterm grades, and individual final paper grades against earlier paper grades.  Generally, there's a slight progression from midterm to final, and most individuals show improvement from earlier papers to later (which is why the final paper is weighted heavier than the first paper--I genuinely work to structure the class so that improvement is rewarded).  I had some really great student papers--one paper, in which a student explained Jindal's position on school vouchers, and then explained how his explanation is oversimplifying a complicated issue, got me to clap at my computer while I was reading it.

Today, however, between my frantic student emails which all seem to be hurling themselves at my mercy (as I noted on facebook, my mercy is tired of having things thrown at it today) and the conversations I've had the last two days about teaching--specifically, my program's stated expectations of its teachers, what kind of teaching seems to be rewarded by my program, the program's unclear expectations of us as graduate students, and what our students seem to expect from us--I'm throwing my hands up today. The person who won the teaching award did so because he received straight 5s on his teaching evaluations--which seems suspect to me.  "5" doesn't mean anything to me.  When I hand out evals, I give the school's scantron forms, but I also hand out my own, short answer forms (based on those used by my former program), which actually give me useful information.  Further, there is very little classroom observation that goes on--both times that I've been observed here, I've had to ask to be evaluated.  I don't think that very much is known about what goes on inside the classroom here.

Because of this (I conclude), my colleagues and I are getting students who have been here for two and three and four years who claim to have never done academic research in a classroom.  There are graduate students in my graduate classes who claim to have never written a paper longer than ten pages, and don't know how to write something 20 pages long. 

I feel like I keep encountering issues which seem like they're connected, and seem like they are systemic in some way.  I would like to be able to do something about it, but I also want to maintain my sanity and use my finite amounts of energy and time in ways which reflect my priorities.  My purpose in writing this is to vent, with the intention of blowing off steam to maintain my sanity.  Next year, I will have some leadership opportunities in my department to at least offer support for graduate students who feel as though they're floundering when writing, and I intend to once again re-formulate a first year composition class.  Now that grades are submitted, I think the next thing for me to do is rest and recuperate.  I tend to have less patience when I'm fatigued, which is definitely contributing to today's frustration and annoyance.

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