This huge stack of essays and examinations has me remembering some of the lessons about teaching that I learned from my own teachers about what NOT to do, practices that guide my grading. Here are three examples.
The first I'd like to share is from a grad assistant. He mentioned that for the essay section of our midterm exam he might either choose one of the two topics we went over in class or include both. Convinced that he was a "good guy," I studied and prepared only one—the one he did NOT include on the exam. I wrote the one I prepared—along with a note explaining that I worked so hard on it that I had to write it. He awarded that section a score of zero. He included no response, no explanation, only the score of zero. Of course the grade was appropriate, for I deserved the grade. When I have to, I assign the same grade. But I can't help thinking that for a goof like me the hint of a choice was misleading. One should usually assume that the typical undergraduate only anticipates hur best option.
Lesson learned: be definite.
The second is from a young assistant professor in graduate school. He emphatically and dramatically announced on the first day of seminar that he would not under any circumstances accept our essays late (the only graded assignment) and would not under any circumstances assign incompletes. I had to pull an all-nighter but I arrived with my twenty-five-page essay on the final day of class. No other classmate had a paper ready—after my professor allowed late papers and agreed to assign two INCs (to the two stars in the programs). In the three days before he received a second paper to grade, he graded mine—in his words-- reading "as an editor of a scholarly journal might" all to help me improve my writing because I had "the (mis)fortune of turning the essay in on time." I earned a B for the class, and I feel that my writing improved, yet after six additional months AND feedback from our professor the two stars turned those INCs into As. My essay deserved its grade, but still. . . .
Lesson learned: be strict but also fair by being consistently so.
The final is from a senior professor in graduate school, a well-known scholar. He had our seminar write five-page essays every week. We all agreed that writing every week and on every work was worthwhile and instructive. On the first Monday, seven of my classmates and I arrived with our five-page essays. And "Mr. Man" had a seven-page essay. "Mr. Man" announced on Friday that his essay got a A because the teacher liked the development and detail. Predictably the eight of us wrote seven pages, and Mr M then had ten; then seven turned into ten, and ten into twelve….
Lesson Learned: follow your own directions, especially target lengths.
Q: What are the lessons you learned from your teachers that you feel make you a better teacher by NOT doing as they did?