[First Exam Weekend has come and gone in these parts. The last few days, I have been dealing with the inevitable ones who didn't listen to instructions, and who are in Deep Trouble over Things Which Have Incurred The Wrath of Professor Mojo. As is tradition, here is this post marking the occasion:]
"Ahh, I see Professor Mojo has given his first exam of the term: his students look like they've been gut-shot."
I try to keep class upbeat, lively, and not boring --oxymoronic aims for a history lecture, one might say (and yes, there are days when even I get bored by the things I have to cover). But I never intentionally mislead my students. From Day One, I warn them that if they don't study for the exams --and especially if they blow off the essay questions -- they will fail. But there are a significant number who simply do not listen.
And so every term, I get Exam One grades (out of 100) like 55. 38. 18. Welcome to the world of Community College Education.
For what it's worth, I also tell the students that this happens to everyone, and that I will take significant improvement into account when final grades are calculated. My mission is to improve these students, I don't get paid extra for failing them --that's how I justify it. Even so, I also know from past experience that only half of those students who bomb Exam One (bomb: = = anything less than a D/60) will even bother to finish the course, they'll head for the door at break and keep on going to the registrar to withdraw. It makes me sad.
But I can only do so much. I'm not legally allowed to use a war elephant (with howdah) to chase down those counselors who push students into classes for which they are absolutely unprepared; nor can I use Invoked Devastation on the schools which produce these students. I can only encourage and work with those who stick it out, and at least get them on the Path of Right Learning ("Study! Read! Think!").
The really sad part is that many of them will "shop around" for an "easier" prof next semester, and then end up failing again when they don't bother to study. This is college: I'm not doing any favors by reinforcing the bad habits they picked up in high school. And yes, I can throw stones at high schools, I used to teach high school, and I do know what it's like.
[SPRING 2010 UPDATE: Over 75% of the students passed the exam with a C or better --and close to 90% got at least a D. All this despite removing the auto-answer feature from the practice exams. Huzzah! Of course, the ones who failed almost all failed to do the main essay. And this isn't even counting the 5% of students who never bothered taking the exam at all --they all got dropped after a week for failure to perform.]