Saturday, May 08, 2021

Does It Pay to Do Nothing?

I was in a meeting the other day in which we were discussing NX grades. That's what we have in lieu of failure these days. A lot of teachers are upset about this, for various reasons. 

I understand that it's better to err on the side of not hurting kids for things that aren't their fault, so I can't complain about it that much. I have one student, for example, who was excellent in my class. Once we went remote, he tuned out completely. Without human contact, forget it. In fact, the NX won't help him, but I'd be happy if it did. 

One teacher said the NX grades were advantageous to students who do nothing. When students hand in things late, we grade them. Maybe we take off something for lateness, but we look at them. In fact, they have an advantage over students who did work poorly and got bad grades. (I don't know about you, but I haven't got the time or inclination to look at work over and over until every students gets 100 on everything.)

So this teacher was arguing a kid would be smart to just do nothing all semester, wait until the end, and then do everything. I wasn't persuaded. For one thing, people who are inclined to do little or nothing are highly unlikely, at the last minute, to find the energy to do five months worth of homework in a day, a week, a month, or perhaps ever. Of course, there are exceptions. 

I myself once spent a year in a biology class, failed everything, learned nothing, but spent the last week with my nose in a red Barron's review book. Back then, if you passed the Regents exam, you passed the course. (In fairness, I now realize I had an awful teacher. All we did in that class was copy notes. The teacher had a big binder from which he pulled transparencies, had us copy, and stood there stroking his beard until everyone was finished. I knew nothing about science, but could've taught as well as he did back then.) But that's not the case anymore, at least not where I work.

I don't expect to have a single student who's done nothing all year do everything in June. I'll go after students who are close and push them over the edge if I can, but I'm not calling students who've done nothing all year and asking them to do everything in a week. If any student hands me five months worth of work in a day I'll check very carefully to see who it's copied from. Miracles happen, I guess, but not all that frequently. 

In January, I had one student who'd done nothing all semester hand in a flurry of assignments. I was pretty surprised to get email stating that he'd made up over a dozen assignments in a night. However, when I checked the first two, they were blank. I didn't waste time checking the rest. 

There are students who have real issues with mental health or depression. I understand the apocalypse could easily exacerbate such conditions and I have sympathy. It's actually better we show flexibility to all than deny it to them. Truth be told, I wouldn't deny it to them regardless. This year in particular, though, it's a lot less likely we'll even know who they are. Troubled kids, I'd suppose, are even more likely to hide behind avatars, never show their faces, and absolutely never reveal what's going on behind their faces. 

Maybe some kids will get away with more than they should. That's a small price to pay for helping even a small number of students who really need support. What's really said is I doubt many will even bother to take advantage. I know people who teach NX classes who tell me it's like pulling teeth to get these students to even show up, let alone do anything. 

I used to love teaching, but in front of a computer it feels like just a job. If my enthusiasm is this down, I have to imagine student enthusiasm is even lower. On the bright side, It appears vaccines will soon be available for students aged 12 to 15, and studies are being conducted for young children. Hopefully we can get a lot closer to normal education come September. Now that I've lived the alternative, I appreciate my regular job a lot more.

Maybe students will too.

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