Getting dressed has been an easy routine for years. I pick my shoes first, based on the weather and how much walking is involved in my day. If I am working at home, it's bare feet or slippers. Then I pick my jeans or capris (again, it depends on the weather and if it's a campus day or a home day). A solid color T-shirt. Sometimes the shirt is sleeveless, and the neckline varies. If I am going away from home, I might add a scarf. I always wear earrings. I rarely wear a skirt or dress once the temperature falls below 60 degrees, and I never wear jeans once the mercury is above 80.
I will admit to not being much of a fashionista. I would rather spend my time and energy (and money, which I earn with my time and energy) on a few things I can wear 90% of the time than on many items I seldom wear. The 10% items in my wardrobe are special, and I enjoy the rare occasions when I pull them out.
When I travel, I pack light. For a week at my favorite retreat, Star Island, I take a pair of capris, a multicolored skirt, seven T-shirts, and a sweater for chilly mornings and evening. Here's my wardrobe, which doubles as a calendar as I move through the week. I got there on a Saturday. Can you tell what day I took this photo?
We have already established that I hate grade, and why I hate it. Here's my second devious approach to grading.
Devious solution #2. I give letter grades based on the quality of the work and use the pluses and minuses to indicate effort or engagement. In courses based on a single final project, such as our senior capstone, the letter grade is based solely on the quality of the final product. Drafts are only graded complete, complete/late, or incomplete. A student who writes an outstanding paper but does not meet the expectations for class participation, peer editing, or on-time drafts gets an A-. The student who writes a very good paper and exceeds the engagement expectations gets a B+. Only in extremely egregious instances have I lowered a letter grade — at most, one or two students per semester.
The semester is 117 days long, including graduation and weekends. I always do some work on weekends, and when I am sick, and when I am traveling. That's the life of a college professor, at least this one. Some colleagues dislike answering emails at random times; I prefer it. Beyond the mundane tasks, there's the reality that teaching a course on “Fashion and Consumer Culture”, or “Diversity in American Culture”, or “Religion in American Life” means that I am almost always “on”, paying attention to everyday life in a way that I might not if I taught something else.
Today is my first day of classes after spring break. It is Day #62 of the semester, which means the halfway point slipped by me unnoticed. That makes me sad; I had intended to pay close attention to this last semester before retirement, but instead I found myself falling into old habits. Despite my best efforts, I am far more likely to skate along on the surface of life than pause to reflect on it.
That's a dangerous metaphor, I know. Pause too long on the surface, and I might find myself plunging into icy depths. It's happened, and I disliked it. An interview for the department newsletter included the question “What will you miss the most about UM?” Thankfully, it was an email interview; I had to take a break until I stopped crying.
Finally, I typed this:
I'm going to miss being part of it. I'm not looking forward to coming to campus and having that feeling I had when I visited my old high school on my first Thanksgiving break from college.
For the next 55 days I may still skate along, but if you see me pause, lost in thought, now you'll know why. And I promise to try a bit harder to translate those moments into words.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times. I love teaching; I hate grading. Over the years, I have devised ways to pare down the task or eliminate it altogether. “Devise” is the perfect word choice, since many of these are actually quite devious. But at this point, three months from retirement, what can they do to me? I am ready to share my secrets.
My quibbles with grading are numerous, but boil down to two issues. The first is that in my courses, students do not take the kinds of tests where a numerical score or letter grade is meaningful. Decades ago, I taught design courses. as I shifted more into cultural studies, I assigned research papers, multimedia projects, portfolios, and reflective journals. When I give the rare exam, it’s essay, not short-answer, true/false, or multiple choice tests. I will happily write a detailed written evaluation of a student's work, but translating that into a number or a letter (which is then turned into a number when their GPA is calculated) is beyond irritating.
The second problem with grading is that, in my opinion, most students are too focused on grades as a proxy for learning. It seemed no matter what I did, after an exam or project, I was more likely to be asked "what can I do to raise this to an A", than any other question. This only got worse in 1999, when the University of Maryland adopted plus/minus grading, supposedly to curb grade inflation. (Ha ha ha!). At first all letter grades in the same range (B-, B, B+) had the same point value. Eventually, the policy was changed so that they were weighted differently. This resulted in a lot frenzied calculations when grades came out, like this one from the UM Reddit forum:
If anyone can answer this it"ll be really helpful, I came away with two A-, two b flats and an A. It comes down to a 3.48 overall if the deans list is 3.5 did i not make it?
This would be followed by an email to all of the instructors, in search of relief so that the student could make Dean's List/keep their athletic eligibility/get into med school. They all have reasons. At first I tried just incorporating them into my existing grading scheme. The result was that every student who got a B+ or C+ came knocking on my door for a few more points so they get a higher letter grade. So would a few others whose GPAs came up a fraction short of some cutoff. At the end of the fall semester, I even had students who emailed me ON CHRISTMAS EVE to lobby for a higher grade.
Devious solution #1. I stopped giving plus grades. If a student fell into the plus range, they would either be given the higher minus grade, or the lower flat grade, depending on how their work compared to others in those ranges. I only did this for a couple of semesters, until I came up with Devious solution #2. (coming soon...)
You may be forgiven if you are an American who has never heard of Shah Rukh Khan. We live in a bubble, and we discover every day how very small,and insulated it is. In late September, 2015, I watched an Indian film (Khabi Khushi Khabie Gham, which has just left Netflix) that opened a door into a world outside that bubble. Another democracy, also troubled with tribal divisions and economic challenges, and also blessed with rich cultural diversity and a history many times longer than our own.
There is one actor who represents Indian cinema today and that is Shah Rukh Khan. Mercurial and multifaceted, he has been the face of India for nearly twenty-five years. The paradox is that as a Muslim, he is also not a "typical" Indian, in the same way that Denzel Washington is not a "typical" American. (And, yes, as a professor of American Studies I know how complicated and contradictory that statement is) In the last year and a half I have learned about India through his films. I have seen all of them.
So here is my ode of thanks to Shah Rukh Khan, whose work has made my life bearable through unbearable times
Thank you for Om Shanti Om and Rab Ne Bana di Jodi, which gave me glimpses into the history of Hindi film.
Thank you for Ra.One, that showed that western mythology isn't the only basis for storytelling.
Thank you for Chak De! India and Swades, that showed us that national pride can be constructive.
Thank you for Devdas and Fan; world-class acting that transcends national boundaries.
Thank you for Yes, Boss and Om Shanti Om, when all the soul needs is a smile and a happy ending.
Thank you for Raees and Ram Jaane, because sometimes sad endings are inevitable.
Thank you for never, ever "phoning it in", no matter how stupid the plot or how inane the dialogue. Your energy is an inspiration.
Thank you, most of all for "My name is Khan", for so many reasons. A film for our time. Our sad, terrible times.