Friday, November 21, 2008

Some Notes on Teaching

I have again been persuaded that it is good policy to give very few A's. My standards are not harsh, but I stick to them (an A on a paper requires original analysis argued by a clear thesis). Students in my class have begun finding out who gets A's (I did not give one A on the second paper, and only 4/40 on the midterm). It is considered something of a feat. Following the midterm one of my students (a Cool Dude) began yelping in the halls, another immediately called her parents. The grade actually begins to mean something, my frugality has actually created value. It is a wonderful thing to see my students think about Rousseau, not the only for the grade, but for the affirmation of their work (it would be lovely to have them passionate about R too, but how much can one ask for?). That is to say they begin to take pride in their work.

The funny thing, which I have only begun to realize is that it is much harder to withhold A's than it is to give them. Everyone loves to give good grades to their students--you win, they win, the school wins. Except grade become inflated; they begin to be worthless as it corrupts the economy of education. I am of two minds on this also. It is terrible that students with a 3.7 can't get into law school (thank G-d PhD programs are not as demanding). I think what I have learned, though, is that this stinginess also has an educational upside.

I think part of that is due to the time I take on grading. It is a huge sink hole of time, and I loath it, but I have had only one contest of a grade I gave out of 120 graded assignments (and the protest was only informal). Giving thorough feedback seems to lend credibility to one's discretion and reinforces the grade's worth. And one more thing, always give stickers for A's, always.

I did break the cardinal rule of substitute teaching this week, though, I did a good job. I didn't expect to, really I didn't. I have been sick with a cold all week and I really didn't want to be teaching, but I gave it the old college try. A student yesterday begged me to give a repeat performance, another came to my office hours today, even though I am not his TA. I can't even get my own students to come to office hours. As the backhanded compliment we used to give at the UofC goes, I guess I would make a really good high school teacher.

Better get back to writing my paper, "A Suitable Philosophical Investigation" to avoid that fate.

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