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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Schadenfreude

I severely underestimated how much joy I would feel while failing many of my students. I thought maybe I would feel a little remorse, maybe a little guilty … nope. None o’ that. In fact, I feel a little giddy. Mwa ha ha….

It’s not that I want them to fail. It’s more that … well … these students have been such little shits all semester that it just warms my heart to know (because it’s up to me) that (at least in my class) these students will get the grade they most richly earned.

I mean, seriously: Daydreaming, sleeping during class, texting, (<—and these are the options I hope to see in class! because usually there’s more) talking in class, having little Chinese conversations (the bastards) while I’m trying to lecture or while their classmates are trying to improve their oral English, playing music on their damn phones, talking on their damn phones—I actually had students make calls right in the middle of class!—blank stares when I ask them to stop, when I ask their opinion, when I ask them if they have any idea what we are talking about in class.

I have yelled, I have asked, I have pleading that they pay attention, act respectfully, shut the hell up, and everything I say gets ignored. I tried to get them not to come to class, so that they can’t be disruptive. That, of course, is disregarded. Ooooooh, but now it’s my turn. Now the teacher gets his say.

I took attendance in all my classes last week. It was the first time the whole semester I did so and it wasn’t because I cared who showed up. Oh no. It was so that I could mark by each name their participation grade. I have one class (admittedly my worst) of fifty-two students … twenty-two are receiving zeros for participation. This minor victory is couched a little because of the terrible way we have to proportion our grades. Participation and such (all the actual work they do during the semester) is only 20% of the final grade, the final oral exam being the remaining 80%.

Oh but my day will come. Because I can guarantee you right now that the students who didn’t participate in my class are the students who will not do well on the final exam.

It’s these little things that keep my world turning ’round….