May 5, 2022

From Gerald R. Lucas
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Grades Submitted; Lessons Learned covid-19: day 768 | US: GA | info | act

What a semester. I had more students this semester than I have ever had in one semester—including the concomitant stress.[1] Seriously, I only have a good four hours per day that I can get real work done. These hours are usually in the morning: my mind is sharper; I have energy; I have drive. By noon, I’m generally tapped out for real work. This semester, my real work time has been 95% devoted to teaching. That’s just not sustainable for me. And, I have two summer classes beginning in a mere two weeks. You’d think after doing this for twenty years, I could have a bit of a break from teaching, but I’m being compelled to do even more. The thrust of higher education has become one of numbers: get as many in as possible; keep ’em in; graduate ’em all in record time. Truly, the numbers seem to be all that matters these days.

Part of our annual TSP Report has to do with teaching. This year, we had to document evidence of “effective teaching.” Yet, the powers-that-be seem to judge efficacy on the numbers who pass (quantitative) rather than the more-difficult-to-measure lessons learned (qualitative). Based solely on the numbers, my teaching may look ineffective, since I think I regularly have a low pass rate compared to my colleagues—second-to-lowest in 2021, reports the chair.[2] To the administration, this does not look good on their bottom line when the numbers are all that matters—and now that tenure is gone, my “low student success rate” could be deleterious for my continued employment. Yet, the best lessons in life are those learned through failure.

I went into community college right after high school. This is what was expected, of course. Academically, I was never very motivated. I thought I had what it took to be a professional musician, so combining the academic expectations of the community and my own personal ambitions, I enrolled in the easiest of programs and declared my major as music at Manatee Community College. I had had relative success with music in high school, so why not continue to coast along, trumpet in hand, and try to coast along like a flugelhorn melody? Well, I soon learned: music is hard—especially when that’s the focus of your world. Theory, piano, practice, and the end-of-semester recital. Holy crap, this was serious. I managed to get through a year, doing OK in my music classes, but pretty much failing all others. So, I dropped out. No one missed me.

And here’s the point: dropping out was the best thing that could have happened to me at that point in my life. It took two years of waiting tables and treading water, but I was able to re-focus and make the deliberate decision that college was important to me and who I wanted to be. I still wasn’t sure what that was, but I knew it wasn’t waiting tables. I re-enrolled at MCC and was fortunate enough to take a contemporary literature class with Carole Cole which reminded me of another passion of mine: reading. The rest, as they say, is history.

While I initially dropped out of college, I did not fail. I was unprepared for the realities of higher education, but that had nothing whatever to do with the faculty but everything to do with me, my naïveté, and my lack of personal commitment. I was just not mature enough yet for college. This was a profound lesson, and it makes absolutely no sense that the faculty that had to deal with my immature ass would be penalized for my not showing up to their classes.[3] Treating students like adults is an integral part of higher education. Continuing to infantalize them stifles their education and entrée into adulthood.[4]

Could I have done more? Frankly, no. With classes over-packed, I’m in survival mode all semester. With more manageable caps, I might be able to accommodate student contingencies, but what does that teach them? It’s like Autumn giving in to Henry when he throws a fit: the lesson he learns is to throw a fit to get what he wants. If I cave to every request for an extension, for extra credit, for just those two extra points, what do I become?

OK, I’m going to take a few days for myself.

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  1. I also had a dozen high-school students who were dual-enrolled. I have never had high-school students before, nor do I necessarily think it’s a good idea. This practice must be good for the all-important EduCorp numbers. This is a topic for another post.
  2. Funny, this used to be a badge of honor—a sign of rigor that was encouraged, if not necessarily at MSC, certainly at USF. I remember students felt a real sense of accomplishment doing well in my class. I know students have changed, too.
  3. I did pretty well in my music classes, but others like algebra, economics, history, etc., not so much.
  4. Goodness, don’t even get me started on this topic. Almost every email from middle management these days has something to do with student hand-holding: help them register; call them to see why they haven’t registered; give students class time to log in to fill out course evaluations; measure their “cultural engagement” by requiring that they attend an event on campus; have your syllabus look exactly like everyone else’s so as not to confuse students and make them have to read the damn thing; use open or low-cost textbooks to not burden them with additional “unnecessary” expenses; etc. We do them no favors by treating them like children.