Education 2011

June 12

A Day in the Life of an Educator

Wednesday, June 8 was the day of my last final of the semester. I dutifully made my way to school shortly before 8 a.m. to find many of my 8 a.m. class students waiting in the hallway for me to unlock the door to the classroom. Once that was accomplished, I noticed Michael, my student who apparently has Asparger's Syndrome, standing in the front corner of the room staring at the wall. "So it's going to be that kind of day" I thought to myself. I was hoping that Michael, one of the sweetest "kids" (late teens college student) I have ever taught, wasn't having an Asparger's version of a panic attack. It turns out that he was just waiting for someone else to finish using the pencil sharpener. I guess that staring at walls is what people with Asparger's Syndrome do when waiting for someone.

The test went pretty smoothly, I must say, except that there were a few of the usual notable absences, which is a big problem when the semester is ending, plus some notably but not unusually odd behavior by a few students. A student from my first class to have a final was there, having been in communication with me after being mixed up about the time of the final exam. It was a strange one, since it was a Monday-Wednesday class but the final was on Friday, at a different time of day. One of the absences was explained when a person showed up and gave me a doctor's note which stated that one of my students was in the hospital having emergency surgery. Around 8:30 or so, another student who missed the exam on June 3 showed up, but she told me she needed to take a math test "real quick" then come back. Before she came back, her male friend came as well and started the exam. The female student returned about half an hour later, but then said she needed to take a computer test. Another half hour or so later, she was back from that one too, and started my test. About 15 minutes later, she finished mine too. Huh? Most students take at least an hour to complete the exam. She asked me to score the test, and as I expected, the answers she gave were not much better than random. Meanwhile, her friend kept taking the exam. I was reminded of the student, earlier in the semester, who wrote a completely different name on her test from the one in my records. When I asked about it, she gave me a nonsensical answer, such as "I accidentally wrote my sister's name because she wasn't feeling well today..." Both the first and last names were different from this student's, and she only did the first page of the exam, then quit. Dissociative Identity Disorder, perhaps?

One of my better students, as she was leaving, pointed to the male friend of the student who was in such a hurry, and said, "I think he's looking at his notes." When I looked toward where he was sitting, I noticed that he did have his book bag on top of the desk, obscuring my view of him and his test. However, when I casually checked him out more closely, I fortunately saw no evidence of him cheating. In fact, he didn't do very much better than his friend on the exam, although it took him much longer to complete the exam. It is not uncommon for conscientious students to point out what they think is cheating by students to me. Usually, as far as I can tell it turns out to be a false alarm as I cannot find any evidence of cheating, at least no solid evidence. It's actually a good thing that there are so many conscientious students who don't want to let their classmates cheat, even if their suspicions usually turn out to be false. Sometimes, there apparently is cheating that happens. The worst indident I can remember was over a year ago when I was coughing during a final exam, so I went to the restroom to clear my throat. On the way back, I saw a student who had just finished his exam, one of the earlier students to finish, and wound up talking to him for about an additional 10 minutes. Thus, I was gone from the classroom for about 15 minutes in all. Apparently, that was a big mistake. When I returned to the room, I didn't notice anything amiss, but when I was scoring tests, I noticed that one student wrote "I could have cheated, but I didn't," which puzzled me at first. However, a second student sent me an email which stated that several of her friends were openly discussing the answers to the exam while I was gone, which was very upsetting to her. None of those students who were cheating did very well on the final exam or the course, but still, I hope for better behavior from my students.

Once students began finishing the final exam, I started scoring them, including particular exams for students who wanted immediate feedback. One of them was Michael. As usual, his test was full of copious notes on most of the questions. As usual, he had a good score on his test, and I was able to accurately calculate his course point total, since he had memorized all of his test scores, and found that he got an "A" for the course. I wish I had more students like Michael. Maybe it's the Asparger's Syndrome, or maybe his Italian surname (despite having blond hair). His Italian surnamed female classmate did so well in the course that she had more points in the course, with extra credit, than were officially possible in the course, the first time in several years that has happened. Perhaps Lady Gaga (Stephanie Germanotta) will show up in my class next. Actually, most of the best students were in the front row, as is usually the case. (By the way, I have noticed that Michael also seems obsessed with weather, such as the severe tornadoes which have been occuring. He attributes it to global warming, and fears much more ecological catastrophe in the coming years, and I think he is onto something there.)

I wound up scoring 18 exams before going home, which is pretty good considering that each one takes approximately 6 minutes to finish. (I have timed it.) It wasn't until after leaving the classroom that I realized that one of the empty chairs during the final exam belonged to Carrie Thomas, my student who had been murdered in March at an ATM.

Once I arrived home, it was time for lunch, then my attention turned to rescheduling students, receiving extra credit reports via email, and getting the final exam from Disabled Student Services for a blind student, all of which distracted me from grading. The blind student, Juanita's, exam had been clearly messed up in the brailling process, since she had only 82 answers to a 100 item final, plus the randomness of her answers clearly indicated that the ordering of the items was off. I had figured out that questions 39-82 on Juanita's answer sheet, corresponded to questions 40-83 on my exam, respectively, but I could never figure out what happened with the first 38 items on Juanita's answer sheet. After awhile, Eunice informed me that we needed to go grocery shopping, so around 3 p.m. we headed out for another shopping adventure. We wound up going to four supermarkets at Eunice's behest -- Cardenas, El Super, Superior, and Smart and Final -- just my darling wife's latest eccentric adventure. Apparently, each store had different items on sale that we "needed," although the cherries we were supposed to be buying at one store were already sold out. By the time we returned home, it was after 6 p.m. and already time for dinner. As I checked my email I found that three students from other sections who had missed their exams, had thought I was having a final exam at 2 p.m. that day, only to find that another class was having its final exam at that time, giving me even more people to try to reschudule. I spent the rest of the evening working on getting as many students as I could to take the final Thursday morning, which incidentally, was the day of commencement. I never got back to scoring the final exams that day. As it turned out, I had 3 students take the final Thursday morning, with two more I am attempting to schedule for tomorrow. I went ahead and turned in the grades Friday morning, however, with any changes in grades to be accomplished via a grade change process.

Thus, I still haven't quite finished my last semester before my first, unplanned, extended break from teaching in many years. For the first time, I have no summer courses to teach, due to the right wing attack on education and wealthy people's desires to keep their tax breaks. California has finally been caught up in this global class warfare, or should I say, classroom warfare!

It wasn't until these past couple of days that I have begun to feel the reality that I am about to head into my first work-free summer in many years, which gives me a very bittersweet feeling. Ironically, Eunice and I have more money than ever before thanks to our land deal, so it's not a matter of money, but I would rather be teaching and I believe that my community, and our world, would be better off with people such as myself and my many out of work colleagues in the classroom, fighting ignorance and being freedom fighters for truth and knowledge. On the other hand, I view this summer as an opportunity to do things which I otherwise would not have the opportunity, or as much opportunity, to do, including working on my Capital Ideas and blogging activities, and what I am sure will be a very interesting and useful trip to Taiwan.

While I was checking my email that evening, I found the following two mesages from students:


have a great summer professor!!

thanks for the awesome lectures!!"

from a young Latina student, and this from an older African American woman who is a foster parent to a virtual rainbow coalition of children -- I have seen them:

"Hi Dr. Warden, first I would like to take this opportuniity to say thank you for imparting your knowledge into us. You are an Excellent Teacher!
Also, I would like to know my final test score if you have it scored yet. Thanks again."

I went to bed feeling good about my teaching work.