Field of Science

Monday education blues

Mondays tend to be a depressing day, and to make it worse today is gray, rainy (a good thing), and an exam is scheduled this morning in one of my classes. Why should a professor be depressed about giving an exam? Think about what are the students feeling? Ah, yes. It is depressing because after so many years of the same pattern, you know exactly what to expect, you just don't know who will do well and who will demonstrate that they are just not yet ready for advanced classes. Actually most of the class will do well enough, and those a bit disappointed will adjust their approach and perform better from now on with the result that 70-80% of the class will probably get Bs and As, which is not unexpected from upper class majors. However in recent years my class has attracted a 5 to 10 transfer students who having just completed junior college have transferred to the university level. Half of these will do fine, but the other half will prove they are not ready having not progressed much beyond the high school level in terms of study skills, work ethic, and educational expectations. They are the ones who aren't taking notes during a discussion because they have been trained to disregard any material that does not easily conform to multiple choice examination questions. Sadly for them, such questions are not on my exams, and when confronted with blank paper, even when a soothing pastel colored blankness, upon which they are to relate their understanding of a discussion that they failed to take any notes about, they are at a loss. "It's not in the textbook." Ah, an insight, finally! Yes, correct, you have an instructor who does not need a textbook to teach and who does not teach the textbook. Although not an issue as yet in Lincolnland, the dismantling of public education continues apace especially under the guidance of GnOPe governors, like the ones in Florida and Texas, and like the educational amateurs they are, their reforms are recipes for pandering. The reason some students arrive at university from junior colleges unready is that too much attention is paid to student satisfaction in evaluating faculty performance, part of the "education should be run as a business" attitude. But learning isn't always easy, or fun, and doesn't always yield top grades. The Phactor learned more from one SOB than almost any other professor he encountered, but it took me 10 years and a lot more sophistication to realize that and any evaluations of his teaching effectiveness back then would have generated outrage and scorn. He didn't care actuallyabout whether you liked him or not, part of his charm, or whether you liked what he was doing, but only if you learned. And it wasn't easy, or fun, although having a real-life blond cheerleader in your study group had its moments, but we did learn, and this guy was so far ahead of the educational curve most science teachers have yet to catch up to him. And when finally the Phactor figured this out, it was awe-inspiring. So, having amateurs decide how you do your job is not good business practice, but there we go. And as the papers are being turned in, you know how disappointing some of them will be, so you have to remind yourself that no amount of your effort can help them all achieve, but at some future time, some of them may credit you for a job well done, even if you didn't teach the textbook.


Joseph said...

Thank goodness for teachers like you! Nothing I hated more as a student than multiple-choice "from the textbook" tests. What a waste of my time. A good, open-ended test is a chance to learn, and though some will complain, there are students who appreciate it.

Unknown said...

I find university to generally be below my ability as a student, mostly on account of grade inflation (lead by private universities actually), which I see as a major problem. 'A's are now the most frequently given grades at the university level and the vast majority of students expect a C simply for showing up to class.

The Phytophactor said...

Well, Justin, you sometimes don't get what you think you get with prestige universities where everyone is just so excellent. At our good old public university you are still free to fail. Over the past 10 years, in my upper division class (juniors, seniors) in question an A has been earned by 22.7% of the 220 or so students. And that's how you fight grade inflation, one faculty member at a time.