Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

I hate teachers!!

Well, not all of them of course, but today…..
Recently I was asked to give an expert opinion/review on two final thesis by a university. Both documents were sorely lacking evidence of skill, content and the necessary scientific identity that you might expect from students on this level. And I know what I am talking about after 2,5 years as a project manager in educational innovation, 7 years experience in higher education and 5 years as project developer and strategic manager. Our 25 person organisation takes up 20 students each year for practical training and I personally counsel three or four students when they do projects/research at our organisation. So, when I report back to the university that the documents are no better than a 4 on a 10 point scale, I do believe that such judgment deserves merit.
Well, it did have merit in one case, because that student was not allowed to graduate. I had a good discussion with both the teacher and the student and offered the student help for the make up exam.
Yesterday I was called by my boss, because he was invited to sit in on a final defense discussion with the other student. Students are required to argue their final thesis before the teacher and the expert, but only after the thesis has been approved by both. My boss can’t make it today, so he asked me to take care of it. Surprised? Shocked? Furious? Sure, all of it. Especially when I heard that the teacher gave the student an 8 score and that my boss went along and gave a 7.5 score.
What was the teacher’s rationale? He was sorry for the student. She worked so hard on the documents, became pregnant during her studies and because of her minority background she already had so much problems…. Is he crazy? I have been working with minority students all of my career and I can assure you that he is not helping them by lowering quality standards. The market place where the student is going to compete is sometimes brutal. It expects results, not effort, not pity.
Now we have a new professional on the labor market that leaves university with the impression that she performed well, but that we won’t hire because we know she does not have the minimum standards of performance. The girl will suffer, where it is the teacher that should be fired.

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One thought on “I hate teachers!!

  1. Remark: I got this respons through email by Bill Friedel

    Jan,

    I find your blog extremely refreshing for its optimism and consistent good-will. You write with what I would call a kind and generous assessment of others, almost a Biblical “love-one-another” delicacy. Your piece on Agnes is very touching. I admire the way that you can say such nice things about her striving to become an accomplished person – and the love that such writing shows that you have for her. It is very well done, indeed!
    It goes without saying that I share your outrage about the teacher and your boss in your piece on teachers. Obviously, the problem of bottom-feeding, dishonest educators seems to be world-wide in scope. I had thought that Americans alone had that problem. It looks like duplicity has affected almost everyone, everywhere. And so, I share the following thoughts with you.
    It may be useful to distinguish between the vocation of teaching and the performance of a person masquerading as a teacher. The two are not the same by any means. There are many “teachers” here in the USA who have no business whatsoever pretending to be teachers. They are place markers and position-holders, who draw a salary from a public treasury [always from a public treasury, mind you], and who would be employed more profitably elsewhere because they have no aptitude or ability whatsoever to be teachers.
    Let me give you an egregious and shocking example. A university professor of history gave his students a weekly quiz on his course in Ancient History. The man was the chairman of the history department and he was about 72 years old. He was a man marking time and pulling down a salary, for the simple reason that he was in a position to be able to do just that. At the time there were no laws or compelling interests that would force such an individual to retire. His “cushy” position as chairman meant that he could choose the courses he wished to teach and to assign less-desirable courses to be taught by other, less senior, professors. Life could not have been more pleasant for him.
    The professor handed each student a “Blue Book” for the quiz. The booklets had blue covers [hence the name “Blue Book”] and had four sheets of wide-ruled paper in them, folded in half and stapled, to form a 16-page booklet. The booklets were about 15 cm by 20 cm in size, with approximately 10mm rulings. The professor always asked four questions on his tests and a perfect grade on the test was 10 points.
    On my first test, I did my best to answer the questions and I was disappointed, when the quiz booklet was graded and returned, to find that he had given me a rather poor grade on some of the questions. I thought I had answered his questions adequately. But he didn’t think so. I even asked others how they answered the same questions and found that my answers were just about the same as their answers. Yet our grades differed quite a bit. And that puzzled me.
    I think it was on the second or third quiz that I discovered his grading method. On that particular quiz he had asked a question that I could not even begin answer. I drew a complete and total blank, and I didn’t have any idea how to answer his question. Since I figured that I would get the question wrong no matter how I attempted to answer it, I wrote a line or two that appeared to address the question in some ancillary manner, and then I reverted to an old high school way of dealing with my ignorance during tests.
    In high school, I had been caught up in a biology class discipline problem. Mind you, I wasn’t misbehaving; others had done that all by themselves. But the biology teacher decided to punish the entire class by making us copy from our textbooks. We sat for an hour scribbling – word for word – from the textbook. I sat and wrote and fumed. In my mind I felt a real sense of injustice: I had done nothing wrong and had gotten caught up in the swirl of the one-size-fits-all discipline dust devil. As I wrote – and as the anger got the best of me – I began to write what I was feeling rather than the actual words of the text. I called that biology teacher some pretty bad names. And I mean some bad names!
    The next day the teacher stood in front of the class and waved a stack of student papers at the class. “Some of you apparently cannot copy accurately from a simple textbook,” he said. My face suddenly took on a robust, bright, rosy look. I was caught. Damn! Even though I hadn’t taken part in the antics of others the day before, my foolishness in putting my anger down on paper would now result in my certain…expulsion from school. Yeah, just try explaining that to good old Mom and Dad. But somehow I wasn’t one of the usual suspects; two or three wise-guys got nabbed instead. Obviously, the teacher didn’t read all the papers. I know for sure he didn’t read mine. So he missed my message of deep love and concern for him. I sighed a breath of relief.
    But I squirreled away the lessons of that experience for future use. Thus, when I read the history professor’s third question on one of those Friday quizzes and couldn’t figure out how to answer it, I wrote as much of the Gettysburg Address as I could remember, over and over, until I had filled three pages of the Blue Book. Note: the Gettysburg Address is something every American school child is taught. It is President Abraham Lincoln’s dedication speech in 1863 of a military cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during the American Civil War (1861-1865). On Monday, when the professor handed our test booklets back to us, I discovered that he had given me a “B” for that Gettysburg-Address-answer. I received my usual “C’s”on all the rest of the questions. It was then that I figured out how he graded his tests: pure volume. If you filled up one page of the Blue Book for each question, you received a “D” for a grade. Two pages got you a “C”. Three pages got you a “B”. And if you filled all four pages, why, you got yourself a nice shiny “A”. So the rest of the year I scribbled that Gettysburg Address over and over until I completely filled each page of the “Blue Book.” There wasn’t any unused space left in the booklet when I got done. Of course, I didn’t make any attempt to answer any of his questions seriously. In fact, I didn’t even take the time to read his questions. And, wouldn’t you know it, my grade suddenly spiraled up into that lofty “A” area of the grading spectrum. I was one of his better students, you see.
    Well, as you might imagine, the professor was a complete and total fraud, and he should have been booted out the door immediately. Only tenure and inertia kept him there in the classroom. But his case is not unusual at all in American education. Here, we have a whole country full of frauds pretending to be educators. Always, they demand that more and more public funds be spent on education, in order to raise the sagging performance of American students vis-a-vis the rest of the civilized world. In spite of spending more than any country (per capita) on education, American students consistently rank about 20th in the world in academic performance. We pay a lot of money (about €400 millions) in the USA to be really bad.
    I would like to continue with this line of thought at some future time, Jan, if you don’t mind. It might be prudent to stop here to Gage your reaction to this posting first, however. You might be thinking that I’m just a babbelkous, or a Kaatjie Kekkelbek, or a botterik, or something even worse.

    Cordially,

    Uncle Bill (Bill Friedel)

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