A dirty little secret…
Well, maybe not “dirty,” but least suspect…No worries, I’m not about to talk about sex (sorry to disappoint). I’ll bring that up later in the year when I begin to talk about the eroticism of higher education. But for now, I call it “dirty” because it’s so abhorrent to my profession…
It’s exactly what we, as instructors, are NOTsupposed to do, so of course I take the bait. It’s anathema, really, something to practice NOT doing perhaps.
On occasion, I actually pencil in final grades after the first week or so. Yep…I do. I do this as a game, of sort– but if it skewers my final grades, I suspect it skewers them up rather than down. I’ll address final grades a long time from now; there’s a few books in me about final grades, but for now, here’s what, why and how I do this:
I’ve been pummeling my students with questions—some about themselves, some about what we are reading about, blah blah blah.. I’m holding discussions on zoom, and believe me, it’s exhausting to me to hold a lively, energetic discussion on the screen. I call on students randomly, try to link their ideas to their fellows, sometimes link their ideas to mine, creating as much connectivity in the room as I can. I am a classroom master…the more zoom feels like a room, the better.
I learn so much about them, so fast.
(this is just 3 decades of practice, that’s all, no magic here people, just being in the trenches for so long.)
A apt analogy is this: I am also a theater director, right? When I hold auditions, I get what I need to know within a minute. I’m certain I’m not alone in this, but I’ve not had this conversation with my fellow theater directors. If any are reading, please…let’s talk. They speak a few words—I can see their aptitude with language within 5 words and if they have any kind of energetic animation.
We’re talking about being animated. Animate: to bring to life.
I’m not talking about content here people. Sure, I’m mildly interested in where they went to high school or what job they have (BTW, it’s amazing how many of my “kids” are working for Home Depot right now). I’m interested in the form. How do they speak, what position are they holding themselves in, most literally. Are they sitting up or trying to sit up? So many remain slouched in a loungy thingy. Are they leaning in? Are they speaking with some modicum of confidence, a little bit of pizazz, some resonance in their voice? Do any of them employ a little bit of charm, knowing that they’re better off doing so, in most situations? Is it possible that charming people get better grades just because of their charm? DUH…
(Death of a Salesman, duh…Willy and Biff Loman…Ouch, that play is so poignant, I have to pause in my writing and hold my chest for a moment and breathe)
I’m looking for signs of life—in the eyes, the mouth, the nostrils even. Intelligence, curiosity, the ability to breathe, listen and respond. That’s all they will need in my class. All of these are so apparent…do we know how transparent we all are, by just talking for a moment? And when they read aloud, which they do, a lot, in my class…wow, talking about revealing.
Okay, okay, call me too judgmental. You’re right. I told you it was a “dirty” little secret. So yes, I play this game with my own perception, my first impressions.
I grade them. I pencil in what I think they’re going to end up getting in my class, based on the first 2 weeks. As I write this, I hope you will trust me to keep myself in check, to be extra careful as the end of the term is looming, that I continue to check myself for bias…but fuck it, I AM bias… we’re all BIAS, but we have to check ourselves constantly. It’s the best we’re going to be able to do…I’ll write about the layered complexity of Bias on and off again. Teachers grade things. Oh my God, they are bias. Of course, we’re being asked to be as neutral and robot -like as possible so that grading becomes more “fair, “ on and on and on and on….I have rants about this which will seep in, but today I’m sharing my little
Confession: I grade them all.
It’s a game. It has to do with animation. Breathing, listening, responding. I am sometimes wrong about these early grades. People do better or worse than I expect. Good. Keep me humble.
I have no ego invested in this; if I’m wrong all together, so be it. It’s just a little game, remember? I’m testing my own perception skills. Most of the time, the students who are awake, have the potential to animate themselves, with a little cajoling on my end, will do well. That’s all there is to it. And that’s a lot, I know. Students who start out the semester sleepy, late, removed, bored…these things are evident within the first hour, or faster than that. If they change their affect, I’m all for it. I work on poking and prodding them; I would love to see all of my students earn high marks, I take no pleasure if giving Ds and Fs, none at all.
I’ll keep you posted, and keep myself humble too…that’s part of the blog. I have to practice.
Beautiful youth. I start to fall in love with all of them. Some more than others. I do. I fall in love with my students. More on that secret later.