Posted by: CJ | March 23, 2010

Worrisome and Frustrating

Since I got to grad school, whenever I’ve TA’d or taught a class it’s been freshman level. So I wasn’t particularly troubled by the care-free attitude of the students, or their lack-luster preparation. In fact, compared to what my high school had led me to expect of college freshmen I was usually somewhat impressed. On average they were mediocre or better, but that’s much better than failing.

This past quarter I graded for a higher, 400-level course. The students were still care-free, unprepared, and made the same utterly infuriating mistakes week after week. Their preparation for the course wasn’t high enough, but many were apparently unwilling to accept that and drop the course to learn the prerequisite material.

As the quarter dragged on a general theme emerged. The students could do well on problems provided it didn’t require them to think. If all they had to do was the exact same as what they’d seen in class, or just had to spit out definitions, they could handle that. Mostly. Asking about generalization or slight variations on what they’d seen were courting disaster.

Overall, what bothered me most was the students making similar mistakes every week. They weren’t learning from their mistakes, just soldiering on in the expectation that whatever they didn’t know one week would magically become a non-issue the next week. This indicated, to me, a lack of curiosity and a complete disregard for how the material builds on itself.

It’s been very troubling and depressing. I would expect that from a 100-level class, which includes many people with lackluster backgrounds and unclear motivations for taking the course. But from juniors and seniors in a 400-level course? That was unexpected.

Maybe my expectations were too high or I’m being too harsh. If that’s the case, I hope I realize it soon. But, in the mean time, I’m full of bad feelings over this experience.

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