Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Failed #2. An Early Thirsty.

I could be failed, failed #2, have I failed, should I fail, feeling lost. I certainly feel like a failure. I've used the same tests and assignments for over three years. Evidently, my test security is great, because if my students are cheating, it is for naught. Looking at grades over the last 3 years I see a downward spiral into nothingness.  This semester only 7 of my 150 students earned an A. SEVEN  There were so many Fs that it was staggering.

I loved (love?) my job. I love teaching and talking about my field. Students used to say that I'm so funny. Not now. I feel I've lost myself in this job, that I've been hammered by students who don't care, don't get it, don't care to get it.

Students used to say that one of my assignments increased their average grade. They got it. They understood it. Now they look at me with confusion on their faces and worse yet, disdain. How dare I make them complete this assignment. It has no value to them and they just don't get it. Their grades show it.

What do I do? What do I do? I am begging you for an answer. Do I dumb it down? Do I bump up grades at the end of the semester, so that a 68.0 becomes a 70 (or a 67 or a 65)?

I remember an old RYS post that always inspired me. It was entitled A Call to Action. This was my favorite post and I read it often. So often now, I feel like a failure and this post doesn't inspire me anymore. My students sap the energy out of me. 

We never had great students, but there was more than a handful of excellent students and they were my coffee. I have a mere few years before I am able to retire and I am considering it.

Q: What do I do? How do I satisfy administration without lowering my standards? It's not possible. Is it? More importantly how can I get myself back? How can I love what I do again? I want to go out with a bang, a celebration of a choice well-made later in life. I want to see fireworks and feel proud. What do I do?


  1. A reminder: I'm happy to make edits and respond to questions, but do it through our regular email address, which is the SECOND one in the sidebar. The envelope icon called "Send Yer Misery" is just for your post, sent in the manner you want it to appear, and accompanied (when possible) with a user name.

  2. I was going to post something about our expectations of students but I'll just say it here.

    Look, if your school has lowered admissions requirements then you're going to have dumber students in you class. That's out of your control. I see our job, mine at least, as teaching the best we can to the students we have, not the students we had 10 years ago or the students we want to have. For most of us, failing half the class is not an option. It should be an indication that your expectations are too high. You can call this dumbing it down if you wish, but not every class is full of geniuses. You have to deal with that. Sometimes, that means adjusting your aim a bit.

  3. I'll say it again: look for the little ways you can help someone who needs help, some kid who needs to figure things out, each day. Beyond that, I think we should all try to think of ways we can actually work against the tide. I think the way to work against that tide is to get involved with high school Bridge programs. The high schools are feeling desperate, and they want to know how more of their students can place into college level classes. At least around here in the Northeast. It sounds like, as your swan song, before you retire, maybe you really would be in a unique position to talk to high school teachers, talk to high school administrators, reach out, brainstorm some new ideas. There are grants to fund initiatives like this. Think outside the box in which you have become trapped. Report back here!

  4. Alice the AdjunctMay 18, 2016 at 1:03 PM

    In some way I think that older faculty struggle a lot with what was and what is. In my short time in the profession I feel things have changed. I can't imagine what it will be like in 10 or 20 years. These people who feel as though they have failed may well be reacting to the fact the profession is failing.

  5. Alice, you are right. I am older. However, I have not been in the biz a long time. I changed professions late in life, so I have not been at it for a very long time. I see these changes in students in the last 5 years or so.

    Ben, my college has no admission requirements. It is open enrollment.

    I have to up my dose of fish oil, which by the way, is great for depression. :)

  6. Hoo boy, do I feel this misery. My semester just finished, and here are the stats:

    Started with 89 students
    Finished with 54 on the rosters (a couple vanished, however)
    Total passed: 28 (2 A's, a few B's, a bunch of C's, about 19 D's and 6 or 7 F's)

    Worst. Semester. Ever.

    If you can fog a mirror and stagger into class, you get in at my CC. I, however, will not lower standards. The buggers must learn to read and write, and I want my classes to mean something. I am, however, feeling the burn. Next year is my last. I'll put up the good fight for one more year, flunk them like soldiers dying at the Somme, and exit with a smile and so long, suckers! The good students get it. I'll live for them. If you can, jump ship. The rats remaining will only turn on each other.

  7. If you have tenure and you're close to retirement and there's nothing they can really do to you, maintain your standards. You'll hate yourself if you don't. First, if their performance is objectively poor, it's objectively poor. Second, I don't think you're describing dull but earnest students. I think you're struggling with the sort of nakedly defiant specimens who've been coming out of the woodwork in the last few years. They are virulent and deserve no coddling. Give them a fair chance to succeed. Fail them when they foolishly blow the educational opportunities that they should cherish.

  8. If there is failure here, it is not your failure. You are not the one who has failed.

    Remember that.

  9. There is much merit in what all have said. We are not failing. We must keep fighting the good fight as best we can. But the flipside is as Ben cautions: these are not the students of 10 years ago. (Perhaps they are succeeding in ways we don't understand and that our outdated methods don't measure.)

    At my joint, admissions keeps admitting students who are ostensibly better than the previous year's class, according to numerics such as GPA and standardized test scores. (Of course incoming GPAs could be climbing simply from grade inflation at lower levels.) But these numerics don't necessarily reflect the decline in resiliency or ability to self-schedule and self-correct. Any one of them is a walking time bomb with a hair trigger that could go off at the slightest setback.

    Also, it seems more and more I'm having to notify students that they are mathematically excluded from passing one or more courses in a semester, so they should seriously consider cutting bait and/or putting their eggs into the other baskets, as it were. Every time, I internally wrestle with whether they'll learn the lesson better by being gently told before it's too late, or by just letting reality slap them.

    It gets dizzying sometimes. Onto what can I grab to steady myself? While I'm a bit jaded to the pomp and bullshit of commencement ceremonies, occasionally some sentiment leaks through that informs my outlook elsewhere. I expressed it thus in a comment to this post:

    As individual students cross the stage, I sometimes think of their backstories. Such as: "If you were as forward-thinking about drafting your thesis as your family was in planning their travel and celebration of your faux-finish, you'd have your diploma by now." And: "If your committee hadn't made you run those four practice talks with them, you would have been the first to fail a defense in over a decade." And: "If your committee hadn't agreed to change your half-done project to 'reasons why projects like mine can't be done', your project wouldn't be done." But also: "You were a hot mess when you started, and as you took on more of the responsibility for your project, you took both it and yourself to heights I could have not have predicted. It's a shame your family couldn't make it, but I'll be happy to snap some pictures of you in your hood and gown, holding your diploma. Some colleagues and I are going to a pub after these proceedings, and we'd love for you to join us."

    The cermony implies that the "graduates" are in the same place in their lives, about to begin a new journey. But they've been traveling since well before they got here, from many different points of origin -- that their lives overlapped with mine here and now is one of likely very few things they actually have in common. I am grateful for the ones whose real progress I witnessed, for they help me to remember that they all grew in their own way.

  10. Ogre & Ben: How, though, can the "new character" of this generation of students affect assessment? That is, the fact that "these are not the students of 10 years ago" should not soften our grading. What we can do is make outreach efforts that we would not have made ten years ago. But when it comes to grading, we must hold the line, as otherwise we are dumbing down the curriculum and contributing to the demise of our own culture. This is exactly the concern of the poster. (Exceptional circumstances: You do your best as an untenured adjunct to maintain quality without getting canned etc.)

    1. Old School, I can't disagree, only elaborate. There may not be a one-size-fits-all answer. I can see how it depends on tenure status, the department head, one's colleagues, etc.

      At my joint, the old farts with tenure have the easier time resisting dumbing down. And this trickles down to the untenured as well, in that outcomes data have established (in the programs I operate in, at least) that passing incompetent students up the chain simply leads to them bombing out later on. Our students also have to pass standardized exit exams, which further limits the usefulness of grade inflation: an A or B student who can't pass the qualifier is worthless. So better to fail them out sooner than later if need be, and better that the summative feedback from each course grade be formative towards follow-on courses and the qualifier.

      I think all who can hold the line without fear for their jobs should do so, as it helps others who are more vulnerable justify doing the same, for reasons I've illustrated above. But I have to concede that many situations are quite unlike mine, in that there may not be a critical mass of tenured faculty to help stabilize things, and leadership may be blind to the problems or even exacerbate them. You have to keep your job to feed yourself, but you also have to live with yourself and keep your food down without vomiting it up. There are costs to being the sane one amongst a bunch of Kool-Aid srinkers.

    2. Ogre, I used to be an adjunct wretch, but now have a permanent position. When I lacked security, I did my best to maintain standards without alienating too many students. A fine line, as they say. So I know both sides of the street, believe me. And I like this side of the street much better. I call it the way I see it without qualification or glosses. David, I don't know your area, but I've had the same fear about some of the majors I've taught (engineering, nursing etc.).

  11. No tenure at my cc.... Administration wants grades improved.

    I am struggling with Ben's post about our expectations. If I graph my students' grades over the last 3 years, there is a very large decline and I have used the exact same assessments for all of these years. I have not changed a thing, not a question, not the question order, nothing, nada, zippo. What has changed?

    Is it really ethical to make the tests easier for the current batch of students, who want to transfer to 4-year institutions? You would laugh, die, or be terribly fearful if you knew the profession most of my students want to enter.

    I encounter students who laugh out loud at some concepts I cover in lecture because they don't "believe" what I am teaching or they don't "agree" with what I am saying. I tell them I am citing decades of research findings and they tell me that they have a right to their opinion. Defiant, close-minded, entitled, and illogical.

    Thanks to the powers-that-be for the 2 or 3 or 4 good to exceptional students I have in each class.