Saturday, March 05, 2005

My students had their midterm yesterday. I think it was too long and perhaps a little hard. Students should be challenged, shouldn't they?

This whole issue of grades is one of the few things I just can't deal with in teaching. What exactly are we grading? Effort? Ability? Ability to do what? Reason? Recall information? Apply the concepts? Write clearly? The truth is that in grading I am supposed to evaluate all these abilities (and more) and condense it all down into a letter (grade). Most of it is so arbitrary. Yet what can I do when a student challenges me about a grade? Do I reconsider it? If I do, do I lose my authority? And if I reconsider, do I have to reconsider everyone else's grade as well? It is a hopeless situation.

Academia seems appealing because it allows you to wonder off into far away worlds (real and imagined). When teaching duties call, however, we are pulled back into the reality of being part of the machine - just another cog in the wheel - reaffirming the structure of the social system we live in. I have a problem with that, yet I am in no position to challenge it. At least not yet. Just wait until I have tenure... heh heh...

Ultimately I do rest easy. Most students do get the grades they deserve. I try to keep an eye out for those that don't. If someone gets a better grade than they deserve, well I let it be. However, if someone does worse than what I would expect, I try to find out why. Usually I try to remedy the situation in some manner. Things happen - an unfortunate event before the exam, language obstacles, some people just don't test well...whatever, I don't believe they should be penalized for these issues. I know I can't catch all of them, and most students won't bring it to my attention if I don't. But I try. This is one of many reasons there is grade inflation. You raise the grade of those who deserve it, but you really can't lower the grade of those who don't.

I do need to grade all those exams. This is when I kick myself for not having written a much shorter exam. Will I ever learn?

I indulged my material wants today. I spent the money from the award earmarked for "project equipment". I bought a digital camera and a digital voice recorder. I will get the camera and the student I am working with will get the voice recorder. I am excited because I have had my eye on this camera for a while and I have wanted a digital camera for even longer. So soon I will be posting lovely pictures of myself...ok, maybe not.

Sara and I also had a paper we co-wrote accepted into a volume that will get published sometime in the future (I am learning that these things tend to move very slowly). It is being published in the Netherlands, so we need to go through it and change all the spelling and formatting to the British form. This can be a pain. The paper was a fun one to write: it is on Food and Identity in Italy.

Rejection letters keep streaming in, which is always discouraging even if they are from places I really did not want to go to. I did get a bit of good news, though. I found out today that I might be able to get some part-time teaching positions in Boston next year. The chair of a fairly well-respected university in the area sent me an email where he seemed willing to be helpful. Part-time is not ideal, but it is better than nothing.

It is early Friday night and I am ready for bed. I sure got old fast. Of course, if I had any energy I probably would not do anything anyway. My sweetie is far away and there isn't much to do around here. Perhaps I would do some work and be productive. Nah, I probably would find some better and more creative way to procrastinate than writing nonesense here and then going to bed.

I hope everyone has a good weekend.

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