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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Over-praise as a college student.

I have a professor for an education class who never critiques. This professor never tells me what I have done wrong. She never suggests useful directions for improvement. She may occasionally make a simple, non-significant comment insinuating that I might have done something slightly-not-perfect, but never does she say, "You need to improve here and here and here." Never have I received anything from her with an unsatisfactory grade. And the problem is, this class is important. It's a methods course, for a subject in which I am seriously lacking confidence. I need to know that I am receiving the best preparation possible to teach this subject. I need to know that I am learning, and I am equipped with the necessary knowledge to help students develop understanding in this area.

Sure, it is always good to compliment your students, acknowledge their hard work, let them know you appreciate their efforts.

But it is also important, especially in an upper-level seminar at a highly selective college to dole out a healthy dose of constructive criticism. That's what we (the students) are used to. We're at the point in our academic career where we understand that we are far, far from perfect. An incredibly high percentage of us are going to attend graduate school within three years after we graduate. We want to be told to improve. We don't know how to function without criticism. If the professors don't criticize us, we'll criticize ourselves. But, the professors have PhDs in their field. We don't. If we're not told what to strive for, we may never reach our potential.

This is a small class. We regularly get THREE TYPED PAGES of comments on our assignments. All of the comments are positive. They should not be. There have been times when I know for certain that I did horrible on an assignment, or a micr0teaching, or a real-live teaching in the classroom of some poor guinea-pig children. And yet, the professor won't critique.

This has been nothing but a rant, and is no more constructive that my professor's overly-simplistic, overly-positive comments. I felt compelled to write this because, as I was opening the file for a project I have due for this class tomorrow, to look over what I have written one more time, I realize there is absolutely no reason for me to edit the project. Regardless of what I hand in, my professor will tell me it's fabulous and will give me an "A." Why should I waste my time editing a useless assignment, when I could be spending my time working on final papers and project for other classes in which my grades actually reflect the time and effort I put into the classes?

For my other classes, I spend countless hours working toward a sometimes-elusive "B+", at times without even having real hope of receiving an "A". And I understand that I can't alway get an "A," sometimes I can't even get a "B+," and that is okay. I know that I'm not the best, I'm not some weird genius-prodigy college-aged person. I have to work hard, and struggle, and edit and revise and go to office hours and only then will I have tried as hard as I could have.

So the fact that I opened this document and decided "Nah, I don't need to read through this again," actually worries me because it is not who I am as a student. Perhaps I'm just a masochist, I want to be told that even my best efforts are not good enough. But maybe I'm a realist, I understand my strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, yes, I do a great job. Sometimes, I don't; whether it is because I didn't try hard enough or because I just didn't understand the content. Regardless, I want the grade I deserve. I want the times that I actually do teach a great lesson or create an exceptional project to be worth something. As it is now, I don't know when I have done well and when I have done just mediocre. I receive the same compliments regardless.

I want my true accomplishments to be worth their full value, and not be diminished by a constant sea of bland praise.


Anonymous mr. e said...

Don't worry, it will work out. Focus on being in the classroom now. At my college, most of the professors were in the classroom for at least a few years. You have to get your masters anyways. What's the average career path for an Edu professor?

If you decide to go to South America, then you won't have to worry about looking for a job in the Spring.

Just my thoughts.

10:10 AM  

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