The phrase that comes out of my mouth most often during exam week is “no, really, I love teaching.”
I never have to justify my love of teaching at any other time of year – only during the week after regular classes have concluded, final exams are being proctored, and I’m grading a pile of final projects, last-minute extra-credit assignments, exams, and papers some hapless student attempted to turn in long after the “late work” option expired in the hopes that I wouldn’t notice that the personal narrative was actually due ten weeks before.
I love teaching. I hate exam week.
I hate it not because a handful of students panic, but for the same reason they panic: because, after fourteen weeks of slacking off, they suddenly realize that their opportunity has passed. That they cannot, no matter what they do, earn the C in this class they require to advance to actual work in their major. I hate it because, despite my weekly reminder emails since Week 10 to check their grade and come talk to me if it is not where they want it to be, despite my desperate hurling of extra-point opportunities in their general direction, the inevitable student or two in (nearly) every section hasn’t done the work. And now it is too late.
I hate it because I believe in my students. I believe every single student who enters my classroom has the ability to pass first-year writing with at least a C. Most of them have the ability to pass it with an A. No student has ever disappointed me on this front; that is, I have never had a student who was incapable of passing this class satisfactorily.
Every semester, I believe every one of my students can pass my class. But every semester, I have one or two who don’t believe they can pass my class. And so they don’t do the work it takes to pass. And they fail. They come a-begging at the last minute for more extra-credit opportunities or a grade change, often with the announcement “I need at least a C in this class!”, as if every one of their classmates didn’t as well.
I hate the begging. Not because I’m curmudgeonly or resentful, but because the only students who need to beg are those who gave up on themselves.
Fellow 1050 instructors who are more cynical than I say that part of our job teaching first-year writing is to “weed out” the ones who, for whatever reason(s), are not prepared to be in college right now. To identify the students who don’t believe in themselves sufficiently to pass our class.
Maybe there’s some truth to that. But it still sucks.
I believe in you, students. You’re the reason I love teaching. But you need to believe in you, too.