Schadenfreude Revisited

So, I began giving my final exams this week. Each student had the option of choosing to do a speech (by themselves), a debate (in two teams), or a short sketch (in groups). I then assess them based on their:

1) Creativity
2) Understanding of the topic
3) Expressed feelings and recitation
4) Vocabulary
5) Grammar and syntax

Those are my nebulous and extremely subjective parameters to determine a one hundred point grade. Only a mere two and a half weeks ago, I was relishing the academic demise of several students, but now that it’s here I’m filled more with much more empathy than I thought I would be. Some of these students are just so pathetic.

There was one guy, for instance—he stumbled through his speech (on, ironically, how to better one’s English), until he final hit a wall, stuttering the same sentence fragment at least eight times before he finally just slumped back to his seat. I thought it would be easy to deal the decisive grade, like a swift, clean knife to the throat, but … god, I can’t help pitying them.

Not that they’re getting off the hook. Not by any means. One girl today asked me in all seriousness after everyone in her class (by far my worst one) had finished their speeches, “Can everyone pass?” I looked at her, thinking for a few seconds, trying to find a diplomatic way of telling her that it was much more likely that about half the students would be passing. I settled, instead, on a simple, “No.”

I’m telling myself that it wasn’t me that failed them (as a teacher). I’m not sure how much I believe it. Every time I do, there’s that idealist guerrilla warrior, spreading propaganda leaflets saying that, if I’d only tried harder to find a way to reach them, they all would be fluent by now. That is not true. I know how hard I worked; I know dismissive, how utterly disinterested they were in anything I tried to get them to talk about. I know this. But, goddamn, those leaflets are compelling.

The whole structure of the class certainly doesn’t help. No, it doesn’t help that the only tangible objective of the class was to get them talking. It doesn’t help that they didn’t actually have to learn any of the topics we talked about. It doesn’t help that class participation—the aforementioned in-class talking—only counts for a piddly twenty percent of their final grade; whereas the final exam counts for the remaining eighty. And it really doesn’t help that passing oral English is not required to earn a degree.

But I’m focusing on the negatives. There are many positives. The vast majority of my students will pass easily. In fact, every student in the class directly prior to my worst one will pass with a C or higher. These are the students on the “old campus.” The “bad” ones. The ones who didn’t score as well on the university entrance exam, and so were damned to poorly maintained and very, very old facilities. These are the same students that can talk circles around most of my “new campus” students. But they only got one chance to determine their next four to five years of education.

Sigh … all this and I may have to teach many of the same students next semester….

Schadenfreude, you fickle, fickle whore.


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