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End of Semester

Grades and Reviews - The Last Hurdle

· professional life,stress,academia

Student Reviews are the worst

As much as I love the fact that the semester is over, the one thing I struggle with the most is feedback from my students. It feels like a kick in the groin, when the feedback is dismissive of all the work you've done, and a slap in the face when you get information that would have been helpful weeks ago when you did your last course review. For me, it's not the same as any other feedback. I have no problem dealing with critical feedback, and peer-reviews, which are some of the hardest to hear. And while I know that academia is moving away from using students reviews, I am still disheartened everytime I get course evaluations at the end of the semester.

I wish students spent the time to write these evaluations. I wish they took the time to read the questions being asked of them. I wish they would use them as an opportunity to reflect on themselves as learners, the course's purpose, and provide responses that have substance. What I get are students who contradict themselves in three lines, who've given up on the work, and who've decided that because on that day that they are writing this course evaluation they've already failed the course, so they are gonna take the professor down with them.

I strive to be a college professor, primarily because I anticipate that students at this level, understand self-responsibility. But I'm often reminded that they've failed to make that transition. Now, this is not a collective assessment of all students or even all my students. It's just an average assessment of the minority that stands out. And they are the ones that affect me so because their voices are heard the most. If I have a class of 20, and only eight provide feedback, this is a minority of my class. If of that eight, two make horrible statements, it still hurts. I wish I could say to myself, well that's just two students. But then again none of them spent the time to say anything substantial. And the two are like one-liner internet troll statements. (which is now an interesting research idea).

And then there are the students, who think a one is a five on the scale. And that just screws up your entire metric. And you can tell, because, in the Q&A section, they talk about how they love the class, and won't change anything. So you know they just auto-piloted that bubble sheet.

The funny thing is that this is one of the five classes I taught this semester. This is the only one that has caused this much stress for me. 95% of the students are even majors but are forced to take the course. So I know they are taking it out on me.

There are lessons I learned from this past semester, and this course especially. I hope to incorporate them into my next round of teaching this course. And I will take some of the comments into consideration. One, in particular, I will implement.

But I face a double-edged sword by being harder. If I'm accommodating and flexible, students say I don't know what I'm talking about. If I am authoritative and definitive, students say I stifle them. Finding that balance, I know takes time. But I'm also a woman of color, and research shows I will never get the results my white-male colleagues receive. So do I do me, or do I keep trying to find the balance that will return the results on paper?

Grading is a B*.

I know that I'm a hard grader. And usually, students come back to me, with an appreciation for it. I provide loads of feedback, and I provide opportunities to redo work and makeup work. I had a student that thought they were going to fail, and I sat down with them to talk work out a plan. This plan involved working through the issues they had, helping them to really grasp the content because I thought this was fundamentally what they needed. When it came down to it, they just wanted to get a C, at best and be done with the course. I spent hours working and talking with the student, and I was willing to adjust my grading schedule to make sure they did well. When the student said this, I was heartbroken and in disbelief.

My husband says I care too much, and to my detriment. And I wish I cared less. As a person with dyslexia who had been told that I would be allowed to slide through the years, and pass my courses, with Cs at best. I never thought students who had opportunities to succeed would cast them away as carelessly as I've seen this past semester.

I gave one student my copy of the text, because he told me, in mid-term consultation, which I had to force on all my students, that he had no money to get the text. I offered all students the opportunity to get 50% more on their mid-term grades, by submitting an essay, which they had a month to write.

One student even told me that because it is a freshman course, I should grade easier. It's a freshman course with more than 50% upper-classmen. It's a fundamental course for a major. I couldn't give grades away, even when I tried, which was evident at the basic level of did the student answer the question asked.

I spend a whole day looking at my spreadsheet, thinking the grades will be fine. I do the math and redo the math, and use a lot of IF statements to figure out what is in line with my impression of the student's performance. I make sure that whatever adjustments I make is fair to all, so I only do this my calculations so it applies to all. And I always have to hear from a third party that these grade results are normal before I submit them.

Some may say, they get what they get, and it's on them to do better. Which at the core of higher education, should be a philosophical stance. College students are adults, and it is on them to work hard to do better and strive for such. But I think of it more as a progression of learning. In addition to, questions of whether or not you know what you need to move on, but a consideration of the difference between the beginning of the semester and the end, have you learned anything and are you better off having taken my course. I strongly believe that grades are not just a reflection of how well you did in the class, but who you are as a learner.

People hiring you, look at your report and ask, are you trainable? They also ask do you know the fundamental material. And depending on the industry and the job you are applying the weigh of those two questions vary. And those are the things I also consider when pronouncing the grades, not as individual cases but as a collective scheme for saying to students this is where I think you are.

But then I am also flustered by the need of students to want to get an A, versus wanting to learn more and do better. I am additionally frustrated by a system that would agree to pass students we know aren't prepared to move on, because of the cost factor. So what do I do, if by the basic scheme of things the student fails? Knowing that I've done I can do?

These are the things that stress me out. And it's unfair this happens just before Christmas. It puts a damper on my season. But I need to work on it.

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