Sunday, December 11, 2011

Finals Week Traditions

The end of the quarter is a festive time of year for instructors. I like to celebrate the season by following some personal traditions. One of my favorites is to delude myself into believing that grading and firing will be completed early in the week. I usually give my students an explanation and warning of impending deadlines. For the two weeks preceding finals week, I remind them to finish, fire and glaze work. All this is to help prevent me from firing after their scheduled final critique. This quarter beginning students did an excellent job of finishing their work on time.

Independent clay students, on the other hand...
this work wasn't loaded until after the last critique.

On the first days of finals week I always think I can get the grading done quickly. Wednesday at noon all the stuff comes in (my Art Appreciation class usually has a Wednesday noon deadline for their final report) and suddenly I'm surprised by all the stuff I still need to grade.

I usually observe the tradition of forgetting to prepare the paperwork for the student show. I remember 10 minutes before the first final critique. This allows me to perform my tri-annual finals-week sprint back to my office and the accompanying fidget-in-front-of-the-copier while I make copies right before class.

I round out the festivities with a grading melt-down on Thursday afternoon when my brain stops functioning and I find it impossible to coherently grade another paper. This is followed by the Thursday night panic that I won't finish grading the next day before grades are due. Friday I finish grading before the deadline and wander away from my office with a sense of let-down. I finished grading but I have to come back next week to prepare for next quarter anyway. (In the summer I just race from the building, knowing that I get to spend the next 3 months in the studio before even considering another assignment.)

the birthday stack
This week wasn't too bad and despite shopping for birthday gifts for the kid and doing some half-hearted preparation for a sale at Larson Gallery, I finished my grading with time to spare. I've also spent the week feeling like a cold is coming on. I firmly believe the cold symptoms are a finals-week tradition, as well, but I'm too busy at the end of each quarter to have ever documented symptoms.

This quarter I think I did a better job keeping calm as I graded work and finished projects and as I fired late kilns and talked to students who had missed deadlines. I tend to get worked up about the students who flake out during finals week. As I enter and calculate grades, I find myself yelling at the Excel document when I discover that a student hasn't turned in a final project or assignment. As I read the artist reports students have been writing all quarter, I get mad if they haven't made changes since we last discussed the paper. Of course most students do turn in their final projects and most earn a grade pretty similar to the grade they were earning all quarter. So I waste a disproportionate amount of energy and frustration worrying about the students who didn't try very hard at the end.

One of the things that kept me calm this time around was something a colleague said to me earlier this quarter and has been referring to for the past month or two: "if the teacher is working harder than the student, something is wrong." Basically: don't put in more effort grading than the student put into doing the assignment.

Reading final reports with this in mind, I was better able to recognize those that haven't been edited or fixed since last time. These I simply graded and moved on, I didn't try to give lengthy explanations of my concerns and I didn't get frustrated. I thought to myself, this student didn't revise or re-read this part or put much effort into improving this assignment. And, thinking this to myself, I was able to grade the work, set it aside and move on. I think this left me in a better mood and I was able to grade more efficiently.

I'm still upset that some students didn't take advantage of the designated time to meet and discuss their papers, and I'm still disappointed if some students didn't finish what should have been a reasonably easy requirement (for a different class), but I was able to remind myself that they need to take some responsibility, too. They need to read the schedule or the assignment guidelines.

If a student comes in at 9am for a 12pm final and doesn't bother to communicate with me or check the schedule, we probably can't blame it all on the fact that he ran out of minutes on his phone. I think it is possible that writing the final time and date in a larger font on the syllabus would have helped, but 12pt is pretty standard and I did announce it 3 or 4 times in class as well.

And then there are the high-achieving students:
 This drawer hadn't been cleaned for at least 6 years before one of my functional pottery students took it on. 

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