Saturday, May 09, 2009

All Over (without much shouting)

I finished up the lion's share of my grading by Monday, which fell at the very beginning of our finals week. I've been piddling through a few final grad projects and independent studies this week, while spending hours painting over the hideous paint left by the previous owners of our house. Three coats of primer gives you plenty of time to reflect on the semester, and also to shake it off like so much dust from the bootheels (apparently, it was a very Western spring).

I had spent the two weeks prior to Monday in a grading frenzy. In fact, from Friday to Monday, I read 16 research papers, 15 portfolios, a number of short revised assignments, and a class batch of informal essays. Suffice to say that I was no fun to be around; Mr. Fluff can attest to that. In one instance, I found myself enraged by a particular student's paper (which included 1/3 of the required sources, and the ones that were there were the foundational essay I recommended and provided, and 4 web sources of questionable authorship). If you had bugged my room, you'd hear a slashing Pilot rollerball and a lot of " can't believe I even have to read this shit waste of my time ."

Righteous indignation, much?

If reading across academic blogs is any indication, this is a pretty familiar feeling at the end of semesters. Faculty are both exhausted and outraged at student behaviors (last-minute pleas to pass despite having botched the entire semester; plagiarism; grade challenges, etc.). And I'm anything but immune (see above, and imagine many many hours of grumbling much like it). The advantage of finishing on Monday, however, is that it gave me the freedom to step back a bit and watch the righteous indignation play out across the blogosphere and my colleagues.

And at some point, it finally hit me: our anger and frustration at these 11th hour behaviors are grounded in the idea that they're unusual, or that they violate some universal principle of the teacher/student compact. But they happen EVERY semester. How unusual can they be? If anything, I think I'm beginning to see how they're perfectly natural. The student with the horrendous paper above? I know from my colleagues that she's writing research papers in their classes too. Like us, students reach the end of their semesters exhausted and in a panic about their workload, and it should be no surprise to us that they fall back on all sorts of coping mechanisms that they don't employ when they have more time or less to do.

The effect of this realization, I think, is not to confuse compassion with clemency. It's not about making unsupportable exceptions to my policies, or allowing a student to try to make up for the entire semester. What it can do, I think, is to prevent the wave of self-righteousness from swamping me, to grade the work without getting irate about the student. Because, really, he/she is doing exactly what we can expect h/er to do.

Remind me of this come December, okay?

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