Thursday, September 13, 2007

Model Student

Last year I wrote a few things about my experience of being a professor taking an undergraduate language course. This year I am taking the next level course of this language, with the same instructor and most of the same students, all women. The class meets 5 times per week, and a few times each semester we get together for social events, so by this time we all know each other fairly well. It is a harmonious group and we all feel comfortable speaking out in class, making mistakes, correcting each other, and asking a lot of stupid questions. [editorial opinion of a professor-student: yes, there are such things as stupid questions]

It is lucky for me that the other students are so nice, as the instructor persists in holding me up as an example of a 'model student'. If this were a less nice group of people, I would be loathed. Last year the instructor told the class that she was basing the class grading curve on my quiz scores because they were the highest in the class -- that is, she assigned each of my quizzes a grade of 100% and calculated the other grades based on that. It was therefore in the interests of the other students that I get more answers wrong. I felt that if I did really well on a quiz, I was harming my fellow students, and that's a terrible feeling.

I do not think it is very good professorial practice on the part of the instructor, but it must be strange for her to have a senior professor in her class of undergraduates.

Yesterday the instructor held up my homework assignments as the example of the way she wants them done. I know what it's like to grade a pile of disorganized or messy homework, and I do have that in mind as I do my homework. Even so, I would have preferred it if the instructor just described how she wanted the assignments done rather than using me as an example.

Aside from being embarrassing, the incident yesterday made me think about how being a teacher might help me to be a better student and how being a student now might help me to be a better teacher. That said, I really wish I didn't have a quiz tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

you should intentionally get all the answers wrong on the next quiz. then her curve method will have to give everyone else infinity for a score.

and then time will stop, and a black hole will open up, and swallow Professor Troll and the horrid policeman, and merge them and all the other boneheads into a singularity of stupidity flying towards another universe. maybe.

David Moles said...

Citing a student's work as an example is great; identifying that student isn't as great... but that's a lot easier in, say, a large lecture course.

Anonymous said...

This is a lovely illustration of why people shouldn't grade on a curve!

I wouldn't hold up a student's work like that, either. If I wanted to, then (only if the class was sufficiently big to ensure anonymity) I'd first ask the permission of the student, and then not mention who was the author, just saying that it was one of the students.

EcoGeoFemme said...

ha! I like that anonymous comment. :)

This seems to happen every semester. Can you talk to the instructor so she knows how uncomfortable you feel by being singled out? Maybe she thinks it's no big deal since your circumstances are already so different from everybody else's.

Ms.PhD said...

This kind of teacher caused me no end of social and psychological damage when I was a kid. And I'm pretty sure I never recovered.

Don't they teach people not to single anyone out???

I agree with ecogeofemme, try talking to her. She's probably so intimidated by you that she'll do whatever you ask. Of course if it were me I'd probably ask the professor to stop anyway, even if I were just a regular student. Nobody needs to be punished for being the tall poppy.

Anonymous said...

I think in this particular class FSP isn't punished for being the tall poppy, 'cause the prof & students see her as a mysterious alien who has dropped in on their class. She pretty much is, so it's hard to require that she just be treated the same as anyone else, and it must be a problem that celebrities face all the time.

But, I do think it would be funny if you missed all the questions :-).


Mr. B. said...

Many years ago, I had a fellow faculty member (PhD, physics, MIT) in my organic chemistry class.

He made it pretty clear, in a nice way, that he did not want any special attention or to be singled out in any way.

I was a rookie then and a little intimidated, but I appreciated his letting me know how he wanted it handled. It worked out very well. Just a thought.


Anonymous said...

Isn't the instructor violating FRPA by giving out so much information about your performance? At our University, we are inundated with FRPA info and most of us now know not to divulge private student information. The instructor should be informed that they are breaking the law by doing this.

Dr. Bad Ass said...

I'm also taking one course a semester (working towards a bachelor's degree in geology -- someday) at the same institution where I'm a faculty member.

I've had VERY good luck with being sort of invisible in the class, in that the professors in all of my classes have not mentioned to anyone that I'm also a professor.

I make it a practice (as I'm sure you do) to introduce myself to the professor on the first day of class. I've also started making a comment about not receiving any special treatment.

I think -- as both as student AND a colleague -- you could bring up to your language instructor how uncomfortable it makes you to be singled out in the way she has. I would hope that she would appreciate the feedback!

Anonymous said...

I have two examples for you in that case, one good and one bad. The bad is very similar to yours--my mother is a nurse, and in her nursing school, as a pretty obsessive perfectionist, she was always the high score on everything, and the nuns there told the other students that the curves on exams were going to be set by her score--she said it was probably the main reason she didn't come out of the school with any friends.

My own example is from an undergraduate course I had, where there were some complex analytical assignments required in class that involved a lot of time consuming work with primary sources on a weekly basis. It seemed that most students either didn't get the idea of the assignment or weren't willing to put in the time, but to address the gap quickly, the professor asked me if it he could use my work as an example on our class website of what others should aim for. I asked that my name not be used and he agreed.

I find it strange that in modern classes that educators, even those that aren't trained as educators can be so oblivious as to these simple and obvious methods.

Crolace said...

Have you seen the book _My Freshman Year_? It's about an anthropology professor who enrolls as a freshman at her own university in order to write an ethnography of undergraduate culture. It wasn't as interesting as I expected it to be, but she brings up some interesting points about the cultural gap between students and professors.

Anonymous said...

Interesting - you have inspired me to take a language class myself (next year after I get tenure), but I'll make a point to be low key about it.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I do use "model" student essays in my class, to show other students what an "A" essay looks like. Often, they have no idea, and I think it's easier when they have a model.

Of course, I do strip the names before I post them. And I try to make sure that I use different students' essays each time.

It's interesting, isn't it, how students generally want recognition from their professors, but don't want it known by other students that they're anything but one of the guys (or gals).

Anonymous said...

Your post reminded me of the Adler Scholar programme at MIT. It hasn't been very active lately, but it used to have EECS faculty members taking undergraduate EECS subjects for letter grades. I have wondered how the dynamics of that would work out. (under Adler Scholars)