Now, when I look back at my teaching career, I can certainly spot those pesky areas that I didn’t see earlier! Teaching at a Christian school, excellence was expected of me. My department would not fail to be an example in dress code; there were regular meetings to remind us how to discipline; and I expected exemplary behavior from the students! Well, that would have been nirvana. Alas, students were in the process of having their characters formed, and I was assigned as one of their models and coaches. Sadly, some had been placed in a Christian school simply because their parents couldn’t handle them.
But, now to get on with one of my major blind spots I discovered in test giving. Yes! I wrote my own tests and designed them to give students a chance to show what they had learned in my class. Yes! I wanted them to apply the ideas, facts, and creativity I had included in class lectures and assignments. Some did! However, some did not, and what was worse was that they displayed a response to test questions with flagrant corruptions of the topics, deliberately attempting to be humorous. Perhaps they were integrating the creative part, thinking I might give them grace for their efforts and overlook the fact that they obviously had not paid attention in class.
I had recently returned from earning my degree from the College of Education at the University of New Orleans, and what had happened to me in one of my UNO classes would dramatically change my approach to teaching. Previously, when tests were graded and handed out, I provided a visual on the blackboard: 22 % had made an A; 28 % a B; 36% a C or D; and the rest were presented to the class as falling beneath a line drawn under the last set. This last percentage had not passed! I thought this method would shake up the below average group enough to spur them on to study the lessons to produce better results on their next test. I was wrong. Making a student feel substandard would not be a motivation to do better. Instead, it seemed to cause students to feel despondent and give up.
Well, back to UNO and my personal experience. It may have been a Physics class, but I don’t remember for sure. As I sat in the classroom with 60 or more other students, I watched intently as the professor worked on one problem, filling two boards with endless changing formulas to finally come to the answer. Right then, I knew I would have to sign up for tutoring, which I did. However, when test time came, I was one of the students the instructor scored a D-double minus! Guess that was his way of trying not to discourage those of us who simply were not grasping the material. He didn’t call out our names, but we knew who we were. It did nothing but make us feel dumb. We were there to learn how to teach, and I had just learned an important lesson! Here was one blind spot I could correct with a new vision, a new approach.
Never again did I draw a line on the board to indicate with percentages how many students had failed to grasp the material presented in class or perhaps had not bothered to study. In fact, all through education classes, teachers are instructed not to use comparison/contrast among their students. Despite our efforts, comparisons happened no matter how hard we would attempt to avoid them. Students like to see where they stand among classmates but only if they are in the top levels. I, for one, could understand what pinpointing deficiencies can do. By the end of the semester, with consistent tutoring classes two hours twice a week, I finally pulled up to a C in Physics; but, better than that, I had pulled myself up out of a rut that would have brought nothing but lack of success in students who didn’t quite know how to gain acceptable grades in school. I had learned experientially and would not allow wrong techniques in my classroom again.