Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Mantra for Midterms (redux)

I'm not sure whether flashing back to one's own posts is the done thing, but I'm feeling in need of the mantra for midterms* I proposed a few years ago today:

They feel even more overwhelmed and behind than we do
They feel even more overwhelmed and behind than we do
They feel even more overwhelmed and behind than we do
They feel even more overwhelmed and behind than we do

The first half of this semester has been hard, for no one big reason but a whole bunch of small ones: it came too close on the heels of a too-busy summer which followed a difficult spring; I'm teaching 4 sections of the same class on 3 different schedules; neither the LMS nor my home internet connection have been functioning quite as expected (but neither has been functioning consistently badly enough for the problem to be diagnosed and fixed). 

I've been chugging along, more or less keeping up with most things, but I'm feeling more scattered and generally not on top of things, and especially more behind on grading, than usual.  And I'm falling into an all-too-familiar counterproductive pattern of  not taking a day off (or even getting to bed on time) because I'm too far behind, even though I really need a day (or three) off (and a good night's sleep), and would probably be more productive if I just took a break.  

On the other side of the equation, my students are all STEM majors,with a significant proportion of recent transfers (mostly from community college), and it's clear from chatter overheard before, after, and, yes, during class that they're getting back grades on midterms, that those grades are much lower than they'd like, and that they're beginning to fear that they might be failing all their classes (which is probably catastrophizing in most cases, but we all do that at times, and this generation seems especially given to anxiety in general, and, has been conditioned by their K-12 experiences to be especially nervous about tests, and grades in particular). 

So they ask questions about their grades in my class, and I try to remind (convince?) myself that such questions at this time of year represent an opportunity. Not only do I still have time to catch up on grading; this is also a point in the semester where it's possible to return either high or low grades with a better than average chance of their having a positive effect on the student's performance going forward.

If the grades are high, or even satisfactory, the students receiving them will be relieved that at least they're doing okay in my class,and perhaps convinced that my repeated reassurance that just keeping up with the work tends to result in passing the class has some basis in fact (it does, though there may still be unhappiness later in the semester about passing with a B rather than an A). 

On the other hand, if I hand back a low grade with reassurance that there's still time to revise/improve (which at this point in the semester is true), they may be willing to seize on an opportunity to do well in at least one of their classes. 

Or so I'm telling myself as I scramble to catch up with the grading, and to keep up with the flood of emailed questions, some of them more coherent than others,  that results every time I post a bunch of grades (a response which has its own, also counterproductive, conditioning effect on me: what experienced rat is going to press the lever when the result is an electric shock, or run eagerly through the maze when the "reward" at the end is another even more complex one?)  

*My other excuse is that the 2012 post has some great comments from much-missed members of the CM community, plus a link to a wonderful Greta haiku.

--Cassandra

5 comments:

  1. Thank you.

    I too, am so very there.

    And kudos to you... A real teacher you are.

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    1. Thank you. I don't always feel like one, even after 20+ years in the classroom, but at least I'm (still) learning.

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  2. "This is also a point in the semester where it's possible to return either high or low grades with a better than average chance of their having a positive effect on the student's performance going forward."

    What a lovely, positive read on what Ms. Mentor in the Chronicle calls National Head Exploding Month. Thanks, Cassandra!

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  3. I needed this. Thank you, Cassandra.

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  4. I think it’s all about they wasted their time nothing else. They feel anxiousness for that no mantra can work here. The first half of this semester has been hard, for no one big reason but a whole bunch of small ones and it came too close on the heels of a too-busy summer which followed a difficult spring.

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