Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Tests, and the Role of a Teacher

I have given tests in each one of the courses I teach this week. Each class has a distinct personality. The levels of difficulty vary as well, though each course is a 4 semester-credit hour course.

My OT History course is a freshman core course. Every degree student takes OT History. I teach just one of six sections. The course material is laid out in such a way that a diligent student knows what is expected of him. The first test (which we just had) is fairly easy, and most students did very well.

My Analytical Grammar course used to be a freshman level course, but is now taught at the sophomore level. English Comp was a sophomore level course, but now is taught at the freshman level, in hopes that students become better writers. The grammar course is somewhat difficult, as some students seem to be wired differently. The grammar makes perfect sense to me (I must be wired correctly.) The grammar course had their first test yesterday, and the scores bordered on atrocious. I realized that perhaps I am not doing as well in teaching the course as I thought. Words spoken to me from a sage long ago reverberate in my mind, "A teacher has not taught until the students have learned." Yet some students have learned. Is it possible that they could have learned the same material without any intervention from me?

My Greek class (first-year Greek) had a test this morning. I gave them the what-for yesterday. I told them that I cannot learn Greek for them. I can help them along the way, but if they do not put in a serious effort, they will fail. I think that they caught my message. Though the test was not easy, everyone in the course did fairly well (average grade was a B.)

I gave my grammar class the same sermon this morning. I hope that they will pick up the pace and that their increased effort will show.

12 years ago, in my first semester of college teaching, I assigned an F as a final semester grade for a student. His failure was unnecessary, caused only by failing to turn in a research paper. Had he taken an F+ on the research paper instead of a zero, he would have passed the course. I cried as I marked the F on the semester grade report, because it was so unnecessary. A sage person (maybe the same sage referred to above) told me that I (the teacher) had not failed the student. Rather, the student had failed himself. I appreciated that word. Since then, I have assigned more Fs, and no longer cry. There does seem to be a certain disconnect, though, in the sage words. How can I reconcile them? I guess my job is to teach in such a way that the student, should he put in the requisite effort, finds success. That is what I try to do every day. Dios me ayude.

Have a nice day!


1 comment:

Terry Hull said...

This is similar in a way. In the late 1980s, I was the managing editor of an Oklahoma newspaper. The family owned paper was bought by a national chain, and the new owners implemented a staff reduction. I had to terminate 3 of the 30 staffers in our newsroom. It was a decision I didn't care to make.

I considered taking the easy way out -- making the decision based on seniority. But the company sent in a consultant to help me, and he advised that if I terminated the three who most deserved it, I would be doing them a favor. That's tough love, but it seemed the right way to go, so I chose the three entirely on merit, regardless of personal circumstances or seniority. One of them was a middle-age family man who I knew would have a hard time finding another job in our small town.

I bumped into him a few years later, and he told me that after a few months of struggling with unemployment, he landed a job teaching at a junior college. He enjoyed that job much more than the newsroom job. He had found his calling. He thanked me for firing him.

I think the point, as it applies to your situation is, when you give an F to a student who deserves it, you are doing him a favor. He may not realize it for a while, and maybe never, but one way or another, he can't help but benefit from an honest assessment.