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Fortunately there are some good things that come with age. I understand that it does not make any sense to try to make everyone happy. I also am becoming better at ignoring static noise. But these things nonetheless still feel like fingernails scratching on chalkboards.

In several conversations with current and past students and seeking feedback on performance from various sources, I have come to find out that a (the?) major dissatisfaction with me as a teacher is that, “I am not fare.” And yes that misspelling is intentional. I won’t mention here all of the things I do as a teacher, but needless to say, if you are a serious student and wish to do well in my classes, there are myriad and abundant ways to do it.

That said, when pressed for what students mean when they say I am not fair, it comes down to this: “he is not fair because is not willing to bend his rules.” Indeed. I have extremely strict rules in my classes – it is not only necessary to do that in large classes, it is a major lesson for students in understanding the importance of the rule of law.

I don’t mind that students find this as a concern – in fact, it helps me know that I am doing exactly what I intend to do. What I do mind is that even if it is a small minority of folks that have this belief, that it is still out there. I’ll repeat it:

He is not fair because he does not bend the rules.

Let that sink in. Maybe I am being a philosophical and sociological malthusian, and perhaps I should temper my worries, but does it not seem the case that this view is increasingly popular? I don’t want to pass blame around – there’s lots to give. It is parents’ faults. It is the K12 schools’ faults and it is certainly the politicians’ faults. And think about what happens in a world where there is no respect for the rule of law? Think about what happens when fairness becomes a relative concept?

You get toxic waste like this. I view myself as a good “e”nvironmentalist. Therefore I will incur the costs myself of not dumping additional toxic waste out there.

2 Responses to “More Joys of Teaching …”

  1. Harry says:

    This all goes back to Dewey, Hegel, and Nietzsche.

    I was lucky when I first taught, because both my mentor department head and the school believed in standards.

    At this juncture, let me know I’m fearing a spelling or punctuation error.

    My rule for spelling errors was: One spelling error tells me you want a B+ or less. Two spelling errors tells me you expect a C+, and have not bothered to proof your paper. Three spelling errors tell me you are too stupid or too lazy to figure out the system.

    This system saved me much red ink in the short run, and one day I would be greeted by a former student outside Oglivy and Mather, on the corner of 49th & Fifth, telling me how much his English class meant to him.

    Several years later, I taught as an adjunct at Lehigh, being an expert in business communications. No fooling. I was not the ultimate expert, but had done it for enough years when my living depended on it — enough to impress the person who got me hired to teach undergraduate seniors and juniors. This brings us to my sympathy for your frustration.

    In my opening remarks to my first class, I referred them to the Elements of Style, to the dictionary, and offered any office time they wanted for a quick-and-dirty lesson in punctuation. I told them this was not a grammar class, and that I assumed since they had all survived the first two years of college where they all averaged 1200 (an exaggeration) on their SAT’s, spelling errors would not be tolerated. I modified my old rule: anyone above you, especially the top boss, will find any spelling error a sign of untrustworthiness and sloth; two spelling errors means you don’t care about a raise; three means you are looking for a different career.

    I said I was a communications expert, right?

    In that group, you might be amazed that I got what was a good response: maybe six or seven (out of fifteen) paid close attention, even a couple of engineer types, who may have never been interested in the artsy parts of English but liked following the punctuation system. They were the ones who did their papers on their 64K computers, with the spel checkrs.

    The rest were lazy, knowing I’d give them a C for turning in a lousy paper, not wanting the University to require me to write volumes to prove I had not violated Dewey’s law to teach the child, not the subject.

    The difference between my first teaching experience and my last was that the institution did not stand by anything other than an ever-shifting, relativist, ethic.

    Regarding punctuation and spelling, I know these are conventions, not moral axioms. What has bothered me, though, is teachers comparing them to axioms, as if they are subject to their whim, and proof that whatever they feel should rule us all.

  2. Susan says:

    I can top you! A small part (25%) of my class grade is from inclass quizzes, the dates of which are known at the start of the term. I state that no quiz make-ups are possible (large format classes would make it hard to arrange for such, even if I did want to sort through which excuses are deserving enough to merit a makeup and validate them), but that as I consider only the top 4 of the 5 quizzes, it is possible to miss one without penalty. (And at 25% of the grade, missing another really has minimal impact, anyhow.) To hammer the point in about “no special exceptions” I hold up my keys and tell the class if they can ever prove I have given a makeup quiz to anyone for any reason, they can have my car.

    But, lo, I still get people asking for make ups. I guess I must look like I can afford to buy a new car several times over.

    Furthermore, according to one student, I’m also a racist for not bending the rules for him. Could someone explain how holding someone to the same standards as everyone else makes me racist? Oh, and for what it’s worth, both I and this fine student are white.

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