Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Done. Worth it?

Done with grading. Done with school. And as I sometimes do, I sit back and wonder if I did any good.

Is it something that comes with the job? Do others have these anxious moments as a semester ends?


  1. Eventually it becomes existential. Does anything do any good? What is good? Why are we here? What does it matter?

    I'm serious. It's at this point that I will realise that I always get like this when I stay up until 4 a.m., and I go to bed.

  2. It did some good for some students, not for some others. That's just the central limit theorem. Next year the results will be almost the same.

  3. I would assume that you must have. Merely by asking the question, you suggest to me that if you care at all you must have done something worthwhile. After all, you start your "break" by reflecting on your effectiveness. The teachers that I fear are the ones who don't care--at the start, in the middle, at the end of the semester. Good for you!

  4. Sultans has it right. I posted something of that sort a while back.

    But the Tuba is right, too. If we don't care, why are we doing this anyhow? And if we do care, we keep trying to be better teachers.

  5. Sultans and Tuba have it right.

    This time of year/semester, I am reminded of the lines from TS Eliot's "Ash Wednesday" which go something like this:

    "Teach us to care and not to care
    Teach us to sit still."

    It's good advice for academics, I think, though he meant it in a different context.

  6. Nah. I'm pretty chill on the question of whether I did any good. Like M.A. said, on a higher level, it boils down to a philosophical quandary. On a lower level, since I teach applied hamster fur weaving, the real question is whether the techniques I'm teaching are usable and/or practical. As far as that issue goes, I do my best, and that's the best I can say. Whatevs.

  7. Being the end of the (calendar if not academic) year, I usually find myself wondering why my to-do list isn't any shorter than it was twelve months ago. Why that manuscript still isn't submitted, that analysis still not done and that great experimental design still just a design. That can get depressing.

    I'm lucky enough to have some half-way decent students in my classes from time to time. There's a distribution to be sure, and the snowflakes take more time than the stars. But enough are sufficiently competent that I think I did some good for many of them. I hope they feel it was worth it.

  8. I stared into the abyss, but it didn't stare back as it was too busy texting...

  9. At one CC that I teach at, I had two sections of remedial math and the only way a student can earn a passing grade is by taking a computerized exit exam.

    As it turns out, I had one student taking the exam in a computer lab where 2 students from another section were also taking the exam, with their instructor was present.

    I was flabbergasted when that instructor began coaching his students during the exam, giving them hints on solving a particular problem.

    After the exam, when the student left the room, I asked him how many of his students took the exit exam (a student has to have a minimum test average during the semester to be eligible to take the exam). His comment was that he wasn't very strict about that requirement and most of his students took the exam. I told him that only 25% of my students were eligible-I stuck to the requirements because I did not want those students to move up to the next course not knowing what they needed to know. It does the student no good to move them up-they get creamed and the instructor gets blamed.

    He can get away with what he does because he's tenured faculty. I'm an adjunct who has principles. He's making life easier for himself and more difficult for me when I get his students in one of my sections.

  10. It's too bad you don't teach here in Fresno. Whenever I feel myself getting overly cynical, a good cure for it is to attend a graduation ceremony. Every time, they have at least one student who deservedly won all manner of academic honors, and who says he owes it to his mother, who only ever was able to get a 3rd-grade education, but sacrificed and helped him by working as a hotel maid. And she cries.

    Yes, it is all worthwhile. But I sure wish the signal-to-noise ratio was higher! Spoken like a true experimental scientist.

    Some time ago, someone on RYS wrote that if this were surgery, and only 1 out of 10 patients survived, that wouldn't be good enough. Well, this isn't surgery.

    Also, I never did become Albert Einstein, the way I set out to do in high school. It still was worthwhile: I did get to be a real-life Indiana Jones, although instead of using the whip, I got by mainly by being nice to people. I also still have a strong sense that the best may be yet to come.

  11. P.S. I certainly know that the quality of instruction I am giving is a -whole- lot better than what I got from some nasty bits of tenured deadwood, when I was an undergraduate in the '70s.

  12. Well, entering half-a-dozen Fs for students who had what sounded like promising plans for the big final paper but, when push came to shove, never got around to writing the darn thing was pretty discouraging. But several of them actually sounded upbeat about having realized how much work the class takes, and starting fresh , building on what they did learn in my class. So I suppose I need to apply Beaker Ben's maxim, and move on.

    And I've got a bunch of writing-in-the-sciences students who have (mostly) mastered a pretty complex writing task, with results (mostly) ranging from decent to excellent. As I plow desperately through a jumbled heap of odds and ends of way-overdue grading, I keep reminding myself that the illusion that I'm paying attention to the day-to-day details of what they're doing (which helps keep their noses to the grindstone) may be as useful as my actually paying attention to every step of the process. At least I hope so. If not, there's always next semester, when I'll be tweaking the new assignments and exercises I created this semester, and -- I hope -- will have more time for grading as I go along.


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