One of the most common tasks I do every week of the semester is to evaluate student work. I evaluate student speeches and presentations, I evaluate quizzes, I evaluate student exercises and outlines and papers. I evaluate student excuses. :-) During a regular semester, it's a regular task. During a five-week condensed summer session, it is continuous.
Evaluation is something that is often hard to hear and accept. In some ways, I think, this has been one of the moving forces behind 'grade inflation.' Over the years I have been teaching, the perception of grades has changed. When I began, an 'A' was certainly something to strive for but was by no means the only acceptable grade. A 'B' or even a 'C' was acceptable and, in some courses, even desirable. "Thank God I got a C!" Over time this perspective has shifted so that the majority of my students today see a 'C' (average) as a failing grade. Everyone must have an 'A', even though an 'A' is supposed to represent exceptional work and certainly if all of us are exceptional then none of us are. And for some students, if the 'A' is not forthcoming, there is no hesitancy in demanding a re-evaluation of their work!
I understand that our natural human tendency is to see ourselves in the best possible light. We want to be considered competent, capable, intelligent. It's one of the things we discuss in our Interpersonal classes, when we talk about the process of perception and why we all see the world and the events in it differently. We have many tendencies that distort how we view ourselves and others - we cling to our first impressions, we often favor negative impressions of people over positive ones. We are quick to see faults in others, while we excuse the same behaviors in ourselves. And even if we acknowledge an error or a weakness, we always have an excuse at the ready.
Evaluation forces us to look at ourselves or our work through an objective lens. And, as none of us has yet to achieve perfection, sometimes the result of evaluation is not so easy to look at and accept. We often must admit that we are not exceptional and that, perhaps in this particular arena, we are average or even below. While many allow that to take a poke at their self-esteem, it needn't. Finding out that we are average or that we need improvement in an area can give us the motivation to change and improve, with a rise in self-esteem as the result.
Honest evaluation provides us with useful information. It gives us a perspective on ourselves that we often cannot get without input from someone else, someone who isn't as invested in our self-esteem as we are. If we are wise, we take that evaluation and put it to use in helping us improve our work or ourselves, no matter how hard it is to hear.
So, to my students who are tiring of the constant evaluation, I understand your pain. Truly, I do. And, take heart. The semester is almost over and soon it will be time for you to evaluate me in the end-of-the-semester course evaluations. Make sure your pencil is sharp!
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