Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Day 66 "In the trenches" (coasting and coping edition)

Coasting to a finish here. Still a hell of a lot to do before semester ends, but mostly, for me, everything that's going to need to happen has been scheduled, and getting it scheduled is two-thirds of the battle, actually (the actual execution of whatever tasks will all happen, provided the time to execute has been allotted):

graduate student presentations: one long weekend day but, since I take notes during the presentation and then forward to students, not requiring much after-the-fact grading: just edit, cushion (e.g., cut out the most brusque or impatient impulse comments from on-the-fly notes), complete, and hit "Send";

undergraduate student paper grading: another one long day, during which I and TA's all sit around one table and read all 100 papers three times--but then they're done, in time for us to hand back and provide those meeting the deadline the opportunity to revise and re-submit--though not many do, as most are so damned relieved to have the thing done a week before the semester finished. From my end, essentially yields "done for me" before the end of the semester;

couple of final concerts with Celtic Ensemble, but that repertoire is mostly done and ready to play--one advantage of having them learn everything by ear and play everything from memory, they develop some skills in fixing errors on the fly--and so there is less propensity for crashing-and-burning;

final grades to figure and upload, but those are mostly automated through having been entered over the course of the semester on WebCT--and the TA's can do the entry: all I have to do is any curving or other merciful acts;

also a ton of meetings with either studio students, and/or grad students and others either finishing-up on writing or trying to get started on the writing (at this stage of the year, the finisher-uppers are freaked-out and trying to be done, while the getting-started ones are the Type-A's trying to get a jump on next fall). Always glad to meet with kids, coach lessons and writing, but it's very very time-consuming. Fortunately, that's mostly outward-directed--at this stage, the pressure is on them, not me. Mostly.

And so I wind up empathizing with them. It's a stressful hard time, for both the Type A's and the tardy-as-frack types, and they're all pretty much suffering. If there's a biorhythm to teaching psychology, it's knowing when (and at what points in the semester) is the time to kick asses and when to be unexpectedly kind:

First half of the semester versus second, Fall semester versus Spring semester, the first time a grad student flagrantly under-prepares for an exam, those are the times to kick asses--because those are the times when an early ass-kicking actually provides leeway for improvement, effort, and high-caliber results;

Second half of the semester, or Spring, or the second time the grad student cans the exam, those are the times to be kind--because at that point, the student has done as much as s/he is going to do, and can't create more hours or days or weeks--and so the only question is whether the results the student is actually going to be able to produce are adequate. At that late stage, remediation is impossible--the most you can hope for is survival. Or, if they're not going to survive--if the work is just not adequate or sufficient for the kid to be able to function with a minimal professional competence as required by the job (HS band or choir director or elementary school music specialist have very different music history requirements than graduate school or a college interview)--then the most constructive thing you can do is let them down kindly and help them feel sufficiently OK about themselves that they don't simply give up permanently.

And so if survival, for these particular kids, is the best available option, then you make the best of that. And you try to help them cope.

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