I don’t know who decided that college students should hand-write their exams, but I’m not a fan of that person. As the TA for an undergrad class, I spent 90% of my grading time trying to read illegible handwriting.
Thankfully, my Mom and siblings are better at deciphering messy handwriting than I am. And also thankfully, I’m home this weekend, so I get the benefit of their hand-writing interpretations. And opinions. They are very opinionated about which students deserve what grade.
It brings lots of welcome laughter.
“I think he means ‘talk’ but that word looks like ‘fulk’ which is uncomfortably close to another four letter f word.”
“Is there any reason this essay should be about…spiders? Am I reading that right?”
“That is not the definition of a republic. Geesh, I’m not even in this class and I know that.”
“Give that kid a B+.” “No, dock points for how illegible that handwriting was! B-!” “It was FINE. We were able to piece it together. But actually, this other essay is way better so give him a B- anyway.”
“She was doing SO WELL and then she just abruptly ended. What happened?!”
If only these students knew.
On the half a block walk to class this morning, the professor I TA for asked how discussion groups went on Monday. I answered him honestly: I had the hardest time keeping the students focused. At least one told me that as an atheist, he didn’t believe in what Luther wrote, so why bother reading it? Others tried to distract me by sparking debates about the authenticity of Scripture or the meaning of separation of church and state. I hoped he would say something about the relevance of Luther in class.
And oh, did he ever.
Professor: “My TA* informs me that some of you godless atheists think you don’t need to read Luther and can get away with ignoring what he has to say. Well, you can’t. Get out of your bubble and read something you disagree with. It will do you good.”
And at that moment the student who made the atheist comment turned and locked eyes with me. The message was clear.
*Actually, he didn’t just call me his TA. He referred to me by my last name–which I don’t share on this blog. But basically, “Miss Amy says…” Which sounds even more like I went and tattled on them.
134 days in a row. And then my blogging streak was no more. Arg.
Last semester, the class I TAed for covered “the Bible in a day.” Yesterday we simply had “Reformation in a day.” But many of my students didn’t take Part I last semester, so few actually knew what was going on.
Thus it became: the Bible plus the Reformation in a day. (Or more precisely, 50 minutes.) It did not go super well. I was exhausted by the time I left, exhausted going to Bible study afterwards, exhausted because I forgot to do homework due Sunday so I rushed to do that before going to bed, and simply exhausted from how thrown off my schedule was driving back to Madison in the morning.
And so I forgot to blog. Arg.
We’re still on Machiavelli for the class I TA in and I think it is finally starting to sink in for my students. I had the most triumphant moment today. I broke them out in small groups and said, “You now know Machiavelli’s methods. Pick a Democratic candidate and only using Machiavelli, plot his or her way to the nominee.”
One group in particular struggled with the challenge since their chosen candidate did not appeal to a particular voting demographic.
“What if we just killed everyone in that demographic?” suggested one. “Violence could work.”
Another student looked thoughtful. “No, we just need to disenfranchise them. Then they will no longer pose a problem.”
And in that moment I swear I could see the light bulbs turning on. It was utterly beautiful.
And kind of diabolical. I am officially a successful teacher of evil.
Me: “So we just established Machiavelli is about looking good while doing evil. But what about this passage I just read? How does picking allies and enemies and publicly sticking to them fit in with his philosophy?”
* crickets *
Me: “…do any of you know what I’m talking about?”
* crickets *
Me: “Did any of you get this far in the readings?”
* all 15 students shake their heads no *
Day 1 of discussion group, y’all. This is going to be a very, very long semester.
I dislike grading papers because most aren’t very good but I feel bad every time I give someone less than an A. Mostly because I cannot imagine anyone would be satisfied with less than an A. It is like I am dealing the ultimate humiliation….a B. Or, gasp, a C.
But some of the papers need serious work. Like, the-5-page-paper-consists-of-4-paragraphs kind of work.
And some of these sentences…just…well…see for yourself.
- “Being true to his evasive nature, Socrates’ loose construction of metaphors lays the groundwork for this definition of justice without any hard evidence.”
- “The squirrel eats when it’s hungry, drinks when it’s thirsty, and procreates, well, whenever. It very much does not write essays or study geometry, as far as we know at least.”
- “As the group became dissatisfied with these definitions, Socrates conjured his own. He meandered around the question, elaborately constructing the ideal City.”
- “Say a man was preparing to steal a pig from his neighbor. A rational man will see that this will take a food source away from his pig, as well as make him a criminal.”
- “To conclude: the term “soul’s eye” has two parts, the soul and the eye.”
- [And my personal favorite] “Despite what it might seem like, Plato’s Republic is not an early version of The Hunger Games.”
Forget Plato, though. The next discussion group we’re going to have a long talk about the proper use of semi colons. (Hint: when in doubt, don’t.)
“WHY do my students all choose the harder prompt?!” I wail to my old college friend. “They’ve got two options. One is easy. The other is difficult and they’re doing much worse than if they just chose the easy one!”
Friend: “It’s a competitive school. They all think they’re the only one choosing the hard one.
Me: “Yes, but they don’t need to! They could pick the easy one, do well, and ace the paper!”
Friend: “What would college Amy do?”
Me: “…pick the harder prompt…”
If TAing has taught me anything it is that I was the more annoying type of student in college. That time my professor wanted a 4 page paper and I turned in a 12 page one because he didn’t put a word limit on the assignment? Yeah, sorry about that, Mr. Palmer.