Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Professor Grade-Anxiety

Here's a post by Science Professor (a.k.a., me) in Scientopia about the anxiety some professors feel about giving students bad grades, and in particular the visceral experience of handing back not-good exam or other graded work to students.


Anonymous said...

I think it is likely that grading is the part of the course most of us hate. Actual teaching is great, interacting with students (except those complaining about a grade) is also fun, but giving grades is NOT. However, we do need to both let students know whether they aster the material and report back how well different students succeeded in this task--that, in the end , is what they (or their parents) are paying for.

It's especially hard in a smaller class (e.g, my 35 student upper level classes), where I know every student by name and face after the first third. It is also hard for any student I KNOW from personal experience is trying, but for whom its not working. I must admit its less hard in my large (100-200 student) core class. Attendance there is usually 50-60%, and I try to assume that students who are doing well are among those who don't even bother to get up for a 9:30 am class. I know, from a few examples, that's not always true, but it provides a buffer.

Mark P

Anonymous said...

First year students in my grad program were required to attend a one credit class in which, once a week, two faculty members gave an introduction to their topic of research. It gave the students an overview of what was being done in the department that they likely wouldn't otherwise have gotten, and (some of) the faculty viewed it as a good venue to advertise their open PhD positions.

The course was held in the evenings and the department provided pizza. One professor ran the course, which required collecting and "grading" student-written abstracts of the speakers from the previous week. I found it very useful.

Anonymous said...

I was an undergrad who, for reasons relating to medical problems that were undiagnosed at the time, got a lot of low grades. There were a couple of times when I nearly vomited in the classroom or started to sob when I got a graded exam back. So my first, gut, reaction upon reading your post was to be bitterly dismissive that the person giving the grades would be stressed out. But that reaction is not fair, and I know it. It is unpleasant and stressful to have to make somebody feel bad.

I think the note on the exam and (in a class that's small enough for it to be logistically feasible) meeting with the student are good strategies, and that your doing this shows that you care about your students. After you've failed an exam, talking with a professor who is sympathetic and interested and genuinely wants to help you improve is a great salve, and useful (I clearly remember a couple of profs who did this with me, and I'm still grateful).

I think there's a problem where many profs and TAs have never been a struggling student in this way, and so however well-meaning they are, they have no personal experience to draw on. I'm applying to PhD programs next year (after fixing those medical problems, I've done well in my MS), and I'm hoping that that experience of having been the failing student will be something different and useful that I will bring to the table as a TA (and perhaps, if I'm lucky and successful, as a professor).