Well, that didn't work out for most of my students.
Or maybe it did, depending on the perspective.
One of the physic students earned an A and almost all of the rest failed. We had a nice long conversation and went over all of the problems. I congratulated them on having such an awesome learning opportunity.
I pointed to specific times in class when I was covering a topic and people were playing on their phones. We talked about priorities and choices.
I didn't yell and I didn't shame them. I am in no position to judge anyone who gets distracted by technology or shiny objects.
They took excellent notes and asked very good questions as we were going over the problems. I hope that this was a wake-up call to the student who think they can skate by without paying attention and I think it might be.
At the end, I reminded them that I care about their learning and, as long as they can demonstrate that they know the material, I'll happily change the grades. I gave an alternate assignment for them to do if they wished.
"When's it due?"
"Whenever you finish it."
They worked very hard for the remainder of the period. I hope I can keep this momentum up.
And then I kept replaying the near-tears of one of my students. I couldn't get them out of my head and I began to feel guilt and doubt.
This didn't come from her reaction, but my reaction to her reaction. I immediately began to ask myself if the test had been fair. Had I taught all of the material? Had I taught it correctly? Had I done enough to make sure they understood? She is a hard worker and I automatically think that if she didn't do well on the test, that the failing was mine.
At the same time, there were several students who did MUCH worse and invoked no such remorse from me. It was easy for me to look at their scores and say "they weren't paying attention. I covered this material and they talked over me."
I'm deeply bothered by how I am able to hold both of these thoughts in my head at the same time. I recognize that they aren't mutually exclusive, but it makes me wonder why I feel doubt and guilt for the low scores of one student, but not another.
Clearly, there are students who are the makers of their own demise. They make choices that aren't beneficial to their grades and I don't hold that against them.
When I first started teaching, I hated giving out bad grades because I didn't want the kids to hate me.
Now I worry that I haven't properly taught the material.
One of the students went to the guidance department to get his schedule changed. He sat in my room under a palpable cloud of despair before he left.
I caught up with him later and urged him not to drop the course. I told him that I believed in him and his ability to learn the material.
He said he didn't.
I told him that I would do whatever I needed to do to help him be successful. This class is a stretch for him. I worry, however, that if he drops it, he'll see his quitting as a character flaw. I truly believe that he will get more from struggling in my class than from coasting through an easier one.
So why didn't I object when two other students dropped my course earlier?
Why don't I offer the same advice to the rest of my students?
I don't offer it because I don't believe it.
But why not?