Back at the beginning of the month, some obscure corners of the web were buzzing over the picture of a purported student exam that ranked an “A..Nice job!” despite the student’s smug punt at the end. Here it is…the section in the square is the section of the student’s answer that provoked widespread indignation at the grade. I first saw it in a post titled: “Some teachers don’t even care any more”:
To be fair, there are many and diverse possible interpretations of this evidence, and not enough context to choose among them. It could be a hoax, for example. The teacher may indeed have skimmed the answer, and not read the paragraph in question. The student’s answer may have already covered the topic sufficiently to justify an “A” (in the teacher’s judgment), and the teacher may have decided to ignore the non sequitur, stream of consciousness ending.
Or perhaps the teacher was like my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Cosloy. (If you are out there reading this, Mr. C—thanks for the memories!) Mr. Cosloy was a terrific teacher who had a healthy dose of cynicism about the way school operated, as well as a well-developed sense of humor. He poked fun at the process all the time, and allowed his students to do the same as long as they also did the work he assigned and showed some progress toward mastering the subject. I felt comfortable writing asides and irreverent commentary on his tests, and on at least one occasion he wrote on one of them that my answers were only worth a B, but he had given me a B+ because I made him laugh twice. We don’t know what the relationship was between the student who allegedly wrote the test answer above and the teacher grading it. Heck, that teacher might have been Mr. Cosloy…
Thus, I was not going to write yet another “here’s more proof that our schools are going to hell” post, though our schools are indeed going to hell. What intrigued me about the episode were some of the comments about it, especially this one, from a Bridgemont Community and Technical College professor named Machelle Kindle:
“It seems most people are assuming the [teacher] is lazy and uncaring. In reality, it is much more likely that the teacher *doesn’t have time* to read every word. Let’s say that the average class size is 20 and the teacher teaches 5 sections of Literature a day. That’s 100 students, of which, each has turned in a midterm.
It took me about 3 minutes to read this, deciphering the hand writing (which is often a challenge). The answer is actually not too bad as far as grammar and punctuation, so little to correct there. It, at first, addresses the topic in an appropriate way. Thus, it seems a reasonable assumption that 3 minutes is the minimum time required to read and grade a decent answer. Keep in mind that it takes longer for a poorly written question.
“At 3 minutes each for 100 students, that’s 300 minutes minimum *for one question of a multi-page midterm*. That’s 5 hours for this question alone. I see at least two other pages, looking at the top right of the picture. If the other two pages are essay questions, you’re now looking at 15 hours, minimum, of grading for this mid-term. So, yeah, if he or she missed this paragraph (if it were real), it seems excusable to me the the teacher missed the bottom portion of an answer that began well.
“Perhaps a parent reading the test might have caught it? I doubt a parent read it. If they did, who would be the culprit, the overworked teacher who missed it or the student who faked the answer? When it was my parents, who sometimes *did* spot check my work, reading my essay, *I* would be the one in trouble, not the teacher, for trying to pull a fast one.
“Unless you’re a teacher, or the family of a teacher, you don’t have a clue what a teacher actually does or goes through in order to do their job. Stop assuming they’re lazy when most are really just overwhelmed and start making the student take some responsibility for their education.”
Prof. Kindle’s response received positive (and negative) endorsements from other readers as well as a “Here! Here!” from a parenting blog. My assessment:
1. Well, I now know not to send my kid to Bridgemont Community and Technical College (in West Virginia).
2. Being underpaid and overworked is never a justification for doing a lousy job, nor is running out of time. They are both excuses and rationalizations. “They don’t pay me enough to do what I am supposed to do” is the worst of the two, I think. “I ran out of time” is pretty bad too. It means that the teacher didn’t plan his or her work properly, and that does not and cannot justify breaching the duty to the students. A tip to teachers: don’t write or give tests that you won’t have time to grade properly, and if you are forced to give such tests, either grade them competently and diligently to the best of your ability, losing sleep and recreation in the bargain, or find a job you are capable of doing.
3. Faking it is never an ethical solution.
4. Kindle’s comment translates into: “Don’t blame the teacher for doing a lousy job of teaching, blame someone else.” Teachers, like all of us, are responsible for the jobs we elect to undertake, and for doing them at least adequately, and ideally, well. Kindle apparently believes that a shrug and a yawn is also an acceptable option.
5. Obviously this parent DID check the teacher’s work: that’s presumably how it got on the web, unless the student posted it. Yes, if I saw a test like this, my son would get a lecture from me (though, to be fair, it does look like the kind of thing my father or I might have done: wise-asses run in my family), but the teacher and the principal would also get a visit. The theory that the teacher isn’t at fault at all for, in the assessment of Prof. Kindle, not doing her job is astounding and indefensible.
6. Kindle is arguing that teachers do blow off their duties, but that it should be tolerated because “unless you’re a teacher, or the family of a teacher, you don’t have a clue what a teacher actually does.” How did I leave THAT one off of the rationalizations list—the old “You have to walk a mile in my shoes” dodge? We all have jobs, professor; we all have responsibilities and get squeezed. The Borrowed Shoes Restriction” is just that, a way to avoid justifiable criticism by telling critics that they have no standing. Sure they do. One doesn’t have to be a teacher to know that when a teacher commits to doing a job, he or she commits to doing it.
The teacher who graded the test may be a good teacher, a bad teacher, a lazy teacher, a quirky teacher or an imaginary teacher. Professor Kindle, however, is a real live apologist for incompetence.