Sprinting towards what . . . ?


Good evening from the corner of my study, 

It has been a busy few days, which certainly seems to be the norm rather than an exception. I remember saying that last semester was busier than any I had ever participated in. At that point, I could not fathom that this semester could, in any way shape or form, be more extremely or insanely busy, but I will admit, I was wrong. In fact, I was wrong to about the fourth power . . .  or at least that is what it seems. After my last posting, I got the most wonderful email from a former colleague, co-member of a cooperative committee, and probably one of the more amazing individuals I have ever met in my life. She reminded me of some important points. She prompted me to see how what I was, and am, is okay, and that those two aspects of my life, those subjectivities, if you will, both have a reason and meaning. Both the 5 year old and the 58 year old have value. It was a nice thing to hear. That email along with getting some other things figured out at the end of last week caused me to be a bit more stable. 

This next couple of weeks will be stressful, for everyone involved in academia. Students who have worked hard want to keep working hard to maintain the level they have in their classes. Those who have not worked so hard are hoping to somehow pull their asses off the firing line. Those who are getting ready to graduate might have already checked out in someways, but they are both excited and petrified by what is just around the corner. The bottom line is students of all persuasions are hearing the bell of accountability. I remember during my undergraduate days that I always pushed harder at the end. I did believe that finishing strong would pay off, and I do believe that probably 98% of the time it did. This is why I tell my students to keep going, much like the effective conclusion to a paper. It is essential to finish in a strong manner or everything you have done throughout the semester becomes suspect and fragile. It is the one time that procrastination has almost immediate consequences. 

Today in all of my classes (and Mondays this semester, I actually have all four classes on the same day), I spoke with my students about being reflective practitioners. I do not believe there is nearly enough of this in much of our undergraduate requirements. Too many students are still able to cram or memorize for the test and they cram it into their short-term memories and get awesome grades. However, two weeks hence, and certainly in the longer-term, the memory of those answers that caused you to receive an “A” is gone. You will not remember much of it, but you got the grade you wanted. I was speaking with a departmental colleague earlier today and he noted that my grade distribution reveals a larger number of low grades for students than some of my fellow professors. I guess that is different from what a lot of non-tenured faculty do because of their worry about student evaluations. I guess that does not surprise me when I think about it, but it is merely another form of grade inflation. We wonder, particularly in our Foundations classes, why students write so poorly or they seem to lack the skills that we would deem necessary, and yet, they have made it to college. It makes me wonder about a number of things. First, if I see such skills lacking and somehow they got into a college level class, just how terrible is the writing that qualified or relegates someone to a remedial class? I have been working with a student who tries terrifically hard, and someone who is actually much brighter than he thinks, but for a variety of reasons, he struggles. The questions he asks, and they are honest questions, they are sincere questions, prompts me to ask how he got through his high school writing courses. Is the public school system that broken? It scares me for a number or reasons, the least not being, what will happen to the world when people cannot communicate in the most basic of ways? I think I am glad I am old and will not be around to see it. However, I digress . . .  not all that uncommon for me, I suppose. Anyway, back to grades . . . working on this tenure stuff, I have had to analyze the grades I have given in the past 5 years . . .  while I was told I am tougher than many, I feel I am still guilty of my own version of grade inflation. Of all of the grades given (or earned, of which grade inflation versus earned would be an oxymoron), the grade I have given most often, far and above the others, is a “B’. Actually 26% of the total number of students in my classes have received this grade. I have to rethink that. I think perhaps I have been a bit too easy on students, particularly when I say in my grading rubric that “[t}he grade of a “B” represents work significantly beyond that which is expected”. I am not sure that so many are in that category. Too often, at least at the beginning of the semester, students merely hand things in. I do believe they learn that I do expect more. 

I am not done with my tenure things. I need to revise the statement and resubmit it to my committee tomorrow. I have the majority of that done. I was going to finish it last night (BTW, it is Tuesday morning and I did not finish this post last night either.), but I hit a wall and I actually went to bed. I slept almost 7 hours. I am up and I want to finish this posting before I get into the day. I will finish the revision today and grade. Those are the two main things on the agenda. I have to pay some bills and get some other small things organized, but all-in-all, it seems like a manageable day. Along with the statement, I have to make some lists and get some more documents organized. I have to put together my supporting materials and all of that has to be ready for next week as it is due on the first. Again, I still have trepidations, but I am not quite the basket case I was last week. Thank goodness, and thank goodness for the people who have put up with me. To those who have saw me at my worst, apologies. I really need to get all of this squared away, however, and I have a legislative assembly this weekend. I am considering bowing out of that. I think people would understand. 

As the semester is completing I have, as usual, observed both what appears to be some of the best work as well as some of the worst practices by students, some of whom I think I know pretty well. There is one student who puts her head down and, in spite of the stress, keeps soldiering on . . .  the work she has done this semester is impressive and while there is one class that has confounded her, and with some good reason, she does not quit. There is the student, who came in at a deficit and really continues to work and ask questions. He is perhaps one of the kindest young men I have ever known. He too has asked if I would mentor him. It is an honor to do so. Then there is one of the most capable students I think I have ever known. He is an entirely different story . . .  failing classes at midterm, things have turned around, but there is so much more that could and should be done. There is always the issue of choices. Bad choices are part of life . . .  Lord knows, I have made more than my share of them, and there are also the times I was unwilling to accept the consequences or take accountability for those choices. I think that is one of the most important lessons I have ever learned. I am sure there will be other ones in my life yet. I think the most maddening, disappointing, and maybe, disillusioning part of this student is that he lies about it. And they are foolish lies, they are so absurd that it is easy to see right through them. Sunday, speaking with yet another colleague, he was noting things with his daughter. It was not the fact that she made the poor choice, it is the fact that she lied about it. 

I have often said there are two things that will fire me up: disrespect and dishonesty. I am once again reminded of some of my comprehensive exam reading. Because I was working on Bonhoeffer, I read Sisela Bok’s books Lying and Secrets. I remember what I was going through with some fraternity brothers at the time and that I told the truth or was not willing to be complicit in a lie. It caused a lot of problems and side-taking. I realized at that moment I was not a consequentialist, that I was not a situationist. I was more of a deontologist than I might have realized. I think that was an important learning moment for me and I was in my 40s. I was also reminded by my most favorite muse that people learn in their own time. Indeed, as usual, truisms come from that mouth on a regular basis. Well . . . more things to ponder. As we sprint towards the end of the semester, some will finish strong, some will limp, others, yet, will stumble. I cannot worry about them beyond a certain point, but I can make sure I conclude appropriately. 

A usted puede entender este: le deseo mucho éxito cuando usted termina su semestre. Sé que usted ha trabajado diligentemente, a pesar de tener mucho en su plato. Sé que usted ha hecho el trabajo bueno y ha trabajado con fuerza para mejorar. Creo realmente que el trabajo difícil dará resultado. Me recuerdan de una de las frases o líneas de cualquiera de los servicios en la liturgia Luterana: “criado Bien hecho, bueno y fiel”. Puede el trabajo y la energía que usted ha gastado este semestre crean resultados de los cuales usted puede estar orgulloso. Usted debería ser.

It has finally gotten reasonable outside and feels like spring might have actually sprung. I am surely hoping that is the case. From wherever it is you might be reading, thanks!

Dr. Martin

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