Near the end of every semester, I deal with feelings of apprehension. I collect papers from students that do not demonstrate they are ready to move on to the next level. Whether I am teaching developmental writing, composition, or upper level writing, I have a responsibility as a professor not just to grade fairly, but to ensure my passing students are truly prepared for what they are going to encounter in the next course. It does no good to continue pushing students through and rounding up their grades because when they get to their last composition course, or even once they finish composition, they will find themselves struggling and will no longer have a professor teaching them how to write a good paper. They will simply be expected to know.
So I always wonder whether I have done something wrong, or failed to explain something clearly. I hate to give students who have been attending class regularly and turning in work a grade that means they will need to retake the course. Especially at community colleges, the attrition rate is high. Students get discouraged, or lose eligibility for financial aid, or become overwhelmed trying to balance school with work, family, and personal life. They drop out. They give up. And they are capable of so much more. I don't want to be part of what discourages them, but I have to keep reminding myself that it does them no real favor to take pity on them either. When their essay grades continue to be D's and C's beyond the halfway point of the semester, they need to realize that they aren't getting it. They need to take initiative. They need to seek extra help.
What keeps me going through this struggle are not the star students. Sure, every semester I have a few who consistently write A essays, think critically, and expand my view of the world. I am grateful for this breath of fresh air, but they are not nearly as rewarding as the students who improve. This semester, I worked with two students in particular who remind me why I love teaching. They began the semester writing D level essays that lacked clarity and depth. After spring break, something clicked, and the essay grades slowly began climbing. Even though both students finished the course with a C overall, the last essay the students submitted earned a B+ and an A- and when I handed the papers back during the final conference, the students were thrilled.
This is what we should be encouraging. What we should be rewarding. The final GPA should matter a whole lot less, and this kind of dramatic improvement as a result of hard work and focus should be abundantly praised. I am so glad these students were not disappointed with their final course grade, because I could not be prouder of what they accomplished.
BA in English