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Monday, January 30, 2012

Your Tests are Graded. Now, I Need a Drink.

For some reason, the belief that teachers want students to fail has been perpetuated in our society.  I'm sure part of the reason for this widely-held misconception is that we've all encountered a teacher who didn't mind at all if we failed, or at least they acted that way.  In college, I had a professor who made it seem like he was honoring us by teaching the course. When I turned in my very first homework assignment (8 pages of mathematical proofs), I didn't follow his exact directions.  Instead of skipping two lines between problems, I only skipped one.  This prompted him to write on my graded paper, "I did you a favor by grading this since you didn't follow directions.  Next time, I won't be so nice." Clearly, I did not feel that this professor was at all concerned about my learning.

Sometimes, teachers are so swamped with grading, lesson, planning, and listening to the concerns of every student that it may seem like we're not that concerned.  But, we are concerned, we're just trying to take care of all of our students at one time.  So, when a student emails me for the third time with yet another excuse as to why they missed class, I might just respond, "Thank you for letting me know."  It's not that I'm not concerned about their well-being; it's just that I have to respond to forty-five similar emails.

But, let me tell you a little secret:  Most teachers are very concerned about how students perform in their classes.  We take it personally when students don't do well.  When students don't do well, it frustrates us.  We immediately begin brainstorming ideas on how to help students do better the next time, how to review the material they didn't understand, and how to squeeze in some extra practice so they learn these important concepts they may have missed the first time around. 

For example, I spent well over four hours grading math tests from two of my Algebra courses on Friday.  The test was over the first chapter, which is material students are expected to know before they walk in the door.  It's merely a refresher.  We spent almost three weeks "refreshing," students completed homework, took two quizzes, and were given a test review (complete with a solution key) before the test.  I spent a minimum of 30 minutes each class answering questions and re-explaining how to do these mathematical operations (the ones they're supposed to know).

And, they bombed the test.  The most commonly missed questions were over:
1.  Adding two fractions
2.  Multiplying fractions
3.  Division with decimals
4.  Multiplication with decimals

These four topics are things that are usually taught in 5th grade.  Yep, 5th grade.  Somehow, these students made it through high school and college without ever actually learning how to do these processes.  Or, to be more accurate, someone simply gave them a calculator and showed them how to punch in the numbers in the right order.  So, now that they can't use a calculator, they're screwed.  Why not just let them use a calculator, you say?  Well, to make a long explanation short, if they can't multiply by 1/2, they won't be able to multiply by 1/x, and the calculator won't be able to help them with that one.

By the time I was done grading the tests, I wanted to cry in a dark corner.  Did they not take notes?  Did they use a calculator on their homework?  Did they study?  Did they review the practice test?  How do I fix this?  How do I make them learn something they should have learned almost 10 years ago?  How do I keep moving forward with all the material I have to cover and still find time to focus on this?  How do I make them see that it's really important that they learn this?  What if they feel like they'll never pass the class because they didn't do well on the first test?  I am beyond frustrated.  I've spent the weekend thinking about how I'm going to address this problem.

And, you know what?  This is what most teachers do when students don't do well.  And if they're not, they should be in another profession.

1 comment:

  1. My friend is a high school math teacher (and I damn good one, I think). She is always worried that her kids aren't learning, that she isn't doing enough. She has tried at least twenty different ways to get them to understand the concept of negative numbers. But it's like they REFUSE to learn it. Even her honors students cannot wrap their heads around adding and subtracting negative numbers. Sometimes, there's only so much you can do.

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