Good Prof, Bad Prof

February 18, 2011 · 7 comments

in daily life, Kyrgyzstan, ramblings

Teaching class was a bit rough these past two days. There were the usual complaints on my end; the cold morning chill, a damp sneaker I mistakenly navigated into a puddle in the dark, out of breath from scaling four flights of stairs at once, a creeping head cold, and, of course, a general haze of exhaustion from waking up so. dang. early.

And my students feel it to. Some live farther away, some take greater care each morning to show up looking like supermodels, but (most of the time) they manage to drag themselves into class before sunrise to hear me babble about metering modes and white balance, watching me attempt to turn technical photography lessons into something a bit more exhilarating (even if it means I have to run around the room making a fool out of myself).

But this week, I had to be the bad guy.

The deadline is quickly approaching for submitting an “X” grade for my students if I feel they’re purposely skipping classes and assignments, so I thought it was necessary to remind them of my attendance and late assignment policy.

It was the late assignment policy that really stirred people up. I decided that I wouldn’t accept late assignments. At all. If a deadline is set at 5pm, it must be uploaded to our class site or in my inbox by 5pm (though, technically I accept assignments with a generous 5 minute grace period).

“I had classes until 5pm…” “My computer wouldn’t work for an hour…” “The website wouldn’t let me upload one minute before the deadline…” “I thought it was due Wednesday, not Tuesday…”

I gave a big speech to the class, proclaiming how I don’t want to fail them, how much I want them all to earn A’s and go on in life knowing more about photography and photojournalism than they did before. But the deadlines are there for a reason and I can’t accept late work.

“Maybe just take off a point?” “But, can’t you just accept it?” “I did the work!”

I empathized. I thought of how I was a senior in college just two years ago. I slacked off sometimes, and I busted my ass when it counted. I tried clever tricks with my professors; calmly turning in a paper exactly one day late with the ‘totally-didn’t-realize-I-wrote-the-due-date-down-wrong’ attitude, emails freaking out about computer failures, turning in a paper with a page missing from it (meaning I’d have time to finish the whole paper by the time the professor figured it out, right?).

I thought of the teachers who gave me a chance. And I thought of the ones who still wouldn’t budge. I griped and whined about the hit to my grade, but those teachers never got a late assignment from me again.

So, if we end the semester and my students still don’t quite understand when to increase their ISO (low light! low light!), I hope they at least absorb a bit of real world advice about deadlines. If one of them will find him/herself with a big, important photojournalism assignment, trying to explain a massive computer meltdown that happened right as they tried to submit their Pulitzer Prize-worthy masterpiece, they won’t face a bumbling 22-year-old who’s trying to retain some speck of coolness with them, but an editor who couldn’t care less about their malfunctions and already gave away the space to someone who turned their photos in on time.

It’s tough. I despise being the mean teacher. I want to be the hip, American teacher that they brag to all their friends about. I want them to like me! It was only a few minutes late, why can’t I just let it slide? Because I freakin’ love my students too much. I want to grab them all by the shoulders, tell them to learn from their mistakes, plan better in the future, and be prepared for people they encounter who won’t love them as much as I do.

And I want them to turn in their work on time.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Phil February 19, 2011 at 12:12 am

Teaching is so hard. I taught middle school in DC for three years before I started traveling. It is truly psychological warfare. Way to be holding your ground on the deadline issue. Weather the storm and your students will be better for it, as you say. I would love to hear more about your teaching experience over there!
B well,
Phil

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2 Valentine February 19, 2011 at 5:31 pm

I totally wish I had more teachers like this. As an inveterate procrastinator, this kind of inflexibility on deadlines is *so helpful*!! Especially when there are multiple assignments and you can improve your grade after messing up the first time.

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3 Yankee February 19, 2011 at 8:21 pm

As a former teacher (and former expat) who blogs about food, I find your blog entertaining on many levels. Thanks for sharing your adventures. I’m passing along the Stylish Blogger Award to you; if you’d like to read about it and pass it on, I’ve posted about it here: http://midwesternexposure.wordpress.com/2011/02/19/better-than-flowers/

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4 teri styers February 21, 2011 at 12:43 am

congratulations – you are on your way to being a good mom…

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5 kalys.osmonov February 21, 2011 at 3:44 pm

It’s obvious that there is huge difference between american education and ours.
Can you tell us your thoughts, observations about this?

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6 Tami February 21, 2011 at 11:46 pm

I’m sorry to say this…but you have turned into your mother!

love you!
~mom

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7 admin February 24, 2011 at 8:13 pm

@Phil – College kids are nothing compared to middle school! Props to you. I tutored at a DC elementary school for a fierce group of 5-year-olds, tough stuff!

@Valentine – thanks! There are plenty of assignments for them to make up the lost points and they’ve already done so much better on their next assignment.

@Yankee – Thanks for the blogging award! That’s so sweet!

@Teri and Tami – Geez you two! I get it, I get it, grandchildren are on their way (in a few years…)

@Kalys – Ahh, good question. I went to a conference at AUCA last fall that focused a lot on education, and it seems that there’s trouble between trying to reform it from the Soviet system, trying to make things more efficient, have better-trained teachers, students learning on a European-Western level, and finding the money to do all of that. I’ve never seen it at AUCA, but I’ve heard many stories about corruption and bribery at other universities, and that really is something that doesn’t occur in the US. I’m sure that the rare teacher or administrator in the US accepts a bribe, but it’s nowhere near on the same level as Kyrgyzstan (mostly because teachers in KG don’t earn enough, from what I can tell). I get the feeling that not all students put so much importance to their education, they show up halfway through the class, miss assignments, don’t participate, answer their phones in class, etc. But all of that could be said for kids in US schools as well. One thing I just talked about with my husband was the lack of books! At AUCA the students get print-outs and photocopied excerpts from books, but in the US a college student can expect to need a dozen books every semester, and I don’t think students here get the same exposure to information as US students. But, I also don’t think it’s fair to compare US and Kyrgyz education. The US education system has PLENTY of problems that absolutely infuriate me, but there’s so many more choices for education in the US and there haven’t been huge upheavals in the politics and economy in recent decades. At AUCA, which I think is the most expensive college in KG, most students already struggle to pay tuition and it would be impossible to make them buy as many books as US students have to. And AUCA can’t afford to provide all those books for the kids either. It’s a tough situation. But, from what I heard at that conference, there are lots of people trying to work toward finding a way to reform the education system to work for Kyrgyzstan, not a European or American system, but a quality Kyrgyz system. Bah, I’m rambling! And I’m not totally qualified on any of these subjects, just my personal opinions :)

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