Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The End of the Semester

I am grading my students' final papers and projects.

(Thank goodness nobody wrote anything "disturbing.")

This is the first upper-level, discipline-specific class I've been able to teach. The first class for which I designed my own syllabus, readings, and assignments. The first class for which I was, in essence, entirely responsible.

Previously, I had taught an Intro to Theatre course where the texts and the assignments were all set out for me and the students were, for the most part, only interested in getting a gen-ed credit out of the way. I taught it three times, and each time we enjoyed ourselves, had some good discussions, and (I hope) learned a thing or two about the work it takes to put on a play, but... the atmosphere of the course, both in its design and in its practice, was rather like learning "about French" rather than learning French.

In the class I'm teaching now, we're actually learning the language.

And so, reading the final papers and looking through the semester-long "director's notebooks" I've asked my students to create, I feel... as if I didn't do enough, as if I could have taught them more, as if I should have had them write these "final papers" two weeks ago because now I see what of my teaching they understood and what they missed or did not understand.

Looking at the final papers gives me a better sense of what we accomplished as a class than any blah-blah student evaluation ever could. ("On a scale of 1-5, please rate your instructor's level of interest, knowledge of subject matter, availability outside of the classroom.")

Some students, of course, got it. A few blew the whole thing off, and that's their problem to deal with. But it's the ones in the middle, who got "most-but-not-all," who wrote things in their final paper which make me think "oh, but if I had only asked this question or prepared this exercise, maybe they would have made this connection" that are breaking my heart as I read and grade this stack of papers.

To the more veteran educators out there: How do you all deal with this? Obviously one improves and makes changes in subsequent semesters. But do you also share this feeling of "if we could only meet one more time as a class, I could make everything clear???" and the guilt of thinking "now they'll never know..."

Of course, since I am meeting with all my students one-on-one this week to discuss their papers and notebooks, I will have a chance to talk with them and maybe make that last bit of connection. But it's also Finals Week, and the students are an inch away from putting school down entirely, and classes and a previous semester's work suddenly become unimportant.

And the students who got "most-but-not-all" will get the rest in next semester's class, or on their own; or they'll never get it, and then I couldn't have helped them anyway.

Still, it brings to mind "If He Walked Into My Life" from Mame (yes, I know, theatre dork), which I cannot find anywhere on YouTube or I would post the link.

But we all know the lyrics:

Did [they] need a stronger hand?
Did [they] need a lighter touch?
Was I soft or was I tough?
Did I give enough?
Did I give too much?

Though I'll ask myself my whole life long
What went wrong along the way
Would I make the same mistakes
If [they] walked into my life today?

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