Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Crunch Time
I just got two emails that said the same thing: "Not a lot of thought lately huh Mikey?" They were signed "Anonymous." I get these emails when people post comments to my blogs. So Mr/Ms. Anonymous, sorry to have let you down. Anyway, I've been crazy busy trying to get several writing projects and grant applications finished before I go to Indiana June 1 and then to the Middle East a week later. I did get my student evaluations back. Three of my four sections thought very highly of me, but my 8AM section of Prophets and Prophecy gave me the lowest evaluations I have ever received. They said I knew the material but had a problem communicating assignments to them and didn't communicate effectively. For these two categories, my scores were in the 2 range, with 3 being "good" and 2 being "fair." Anyway, that was a section from hell, and you can read about it in my previous blogs. I did learn quite a bit about teaching from that section, especially how to not let bad situations escalate. Now, Anonymous, sorry I can't write more, but I need to get back to my other projects.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

I added a comments section to my blogs.
Teaching With Pictures
Yesterday on NPR a psychologist was talking about why the pictures of abuse from Abu Ghraib prison evoked much more emotion than words. He said that in terms of evolution humans have only recently been able to read words, but pictures have always been able to speak to what we consider reality. Even though photographs are not reality, they appear closer to our world. Even more so moving images with sound, as this mirrors our daily experience. As horrible as the Abu Ghraib incidents are, I see a connection between images evoking verisimilitude and my teaching. I have always thought that instead of reading about Jerusalem, for example, students learn much better by seeing pictures. They are more engaged and the images speak to the student's perception of reality.

Friday, May 07, 2004

A Mensch
A student turned in a paper today, well after the final grades were due. She just called and asked if I got the paper. I said I did but would not be able to change the grade. She said, "Oh, I know that Dr. Homan. It's just that I didn't want you to think that I was the kind of student that didn't keep promises, as I promised you earlier I would turn in a paper." Things like this make me proud to be a teacher. She is a graduating senior. I'm sure she has a million things going on regarding graduation tomorrow, so I'm impressed she took the considerable time necessary to write the paper. Now I've got to run home and dress up like someone in Henry VIII's court. By the way, Mark Gstohl when dressed up with all the academic attire looks quite a bit like Henry VIII.
Grades, Graduation, and Losing Scholarships
It has been a long semester. I turned in grades three days ago. Tonight is Baccalaureate and tomorrow is graduation. I had one student, a graduating senior, get a D in my class. The D in and of itself was enough to graduate, as he/she is not a Theology major. However, his/her gpa is 1.84, and he/she needed a 2.0 to graduate. This student did OK on papers, perhaps at the C level, but on exams they scored abysmally. The problem was the student only came to class about five times. The student came to my office on Monday and we spoke at length in circles. The student's final score was below the D range, but because of the paper scores I was willing to give them a D. But I couldn't give them a C. The student wanted me to give them an extra assignment, such as another extra credit paper so that they could graduate. The student tried to make the argument personal, claiming that I didn't understand how hard his/her life was, and he/she decided that the grade was not about performance in my class but based on whether or not I liked students. After quite some time we went together to my department chair. The student restated their case, and the chair tried to explain that it was too late and that the grades reflected work. I later met with the chair of the student's department. I found out the student's mom is coming in for graduation. Also, the student needed to get Bs in all of his courses to achieve a 2.0, and they got Cs in at least one other course. Anyway, all of this weighed heavily on me. This semester I also met with several students who claimed that I more or less was responsible for them losing their scholarships. They needed B averages to keep them, and the C or D in my course meant they could no longer attend college. I think if they would have put as much effort into studying for exams and writing papers as they did figuring out ways to escape personal responsibility, they could have scored in the B range. One of these students was one of my favorites. This student just called from Atlanta and asked if I could write a letter to the scholarship board explaining what happened. They were doing well until the final exam and paper, which dropped their overall score to a 77. I agreed to write the letter, about how and why the student impressed me, and what happened with their grade. I sure hope they can keep their scholarship. But I wish they would have worked just a bit harder earlier. My colleagues tell me that instructors at Xavier routinely raise grades for such students. There seems to be some idea floating around that students can do mediocre work and then at the end beg for extra credit or grade raises. I wish this practice would stop, as I see it as a disservice to the students. It also cheapens the value of a Xavier degree and the value of the grades for students whose work earned the grade.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Grades Due Tomorrow
Mercifully, this semester is coming to an end. Grades are due tomorrow. In retrospect, I had way too much due at the end of the semester. I had students turn in their final papers at the time of the final exam. Grading the exams and papers for 110 students about killed me. In the future I need to have the papers be due much earlier. Also, I've had several students share with me their life stories of hardship and why they feel I ought to give them a higher grade. Many students tell you about how they'll lose their scholarships if you don't give them a B. I think there might be several professors here at Xavier that change grades based on things like this. I'm not one of them, and I wish the students would have done more earlier instead of putting me in that position. I will be happy to finally turn the grades in tomorrow. This Saturday is graduation, and I have my funny outfit that they make me wear. I really need some free time in May to finish several projects in the works. Especially the atlas. Then in early June I'm at Wabash and after 12 hours at home, I'm off to dig at Tel Zeitah and travel around Egypt. Then home for about two weeks and then school starts. Ugh. I love teaching and will enjoy digging and exploring this summer, but I need a break. I'm exploring grant opportunities to get some release time to write. I would love to get a Fulbright. I'll explore this in more detail.