Monday, October 15, 2007

Adventures in Mind-Molding

During last Thursday's class I did 2 things that officially welcomed me into the fold of those who teach: I had to give my first "F" and I made a student cry. It probably doesn't bode well that both happened the week before the students fill out my mid-semester faculty review.

Ok, now for some clarification. The "F" was not given as a reflection on the quality of work but rather as a direct result of a student failing to turn in any work at all. Design grades are subjective at the best of times but even amongst the questionable gray scale of grading art there are a few black-and-white constants: Was it complete? Was it on time? Beyond that, yes, I will admit - both as a former design student and now as a design instructor - grading gets sticky.

All 8 students were given explicit instructions of all the project requirements (correct format, correct organization and correct submission) that would be evaluated as part of their technical grade. They would also be given a conceptual grade (which included not only the original idea but how that idea was then developed, executed and ultimately comes across in the finished piece). There were several students who stumbled over a few of the requirements - some were missing their write-ups, some forgot to name their Photoshop layers and some completely overlooked my required folder and file organization - but at the start of class, 7 students sat in front of me with a finished mock-up of their book and a labelled CD with all of their files. The 8th student sat in front of an empty spot of table.

Its hard to argue "I couldn't get it done" when you're the only one with nothing to submit, staring at a room full of your fellow students who managed to "get it done" on time. In the end, I didn't have to say much, I simply glanced across the room and let the rest of the class make my case for me. But even this wasn't the reason for the F. That came later, after she had the opportunity to submit the project the following class with a one-letter reduction. She didn't do that, either. Then, one week after the project was due, she simply didn't show. Taking out my little red marker, I wrote "F" next to her name in my notebook.

The real kicker is that she did all the work - I saw it. I saw her working in class, I saw her progress, I even saw what looked to be finished compositions. What happened? Her concept was clever, her technical skills were developing well and she seemed to really enjoy the work. This sort of thing always confused me when I was student, too. I loved doing the work and submitting the final piece. Granted sometimes it felt like giving up my baby to the sacrificial alter of criticism but even in those instances I was confident that I had done the work and done it well - no matter what the opinion of the professor.

Thankfully, because of those black-and-white grades (attendance, participation, homework) an "F" on a project won't kill you. Its more equivalent to losing a limb. I hear they're doing wonders with prosthetics these days. At this point I don't even know if she plans to come back to class which is an incredibly helpless feeling. I hope she does. If she doesn't then I'm not sure she would make it in the design world, anyway. It takes thick skin and dedication - both of which are things we aren't all born with. That's part of what design school is all about.

As for the student who I made cry, it was really more that I was the final straw in a very long, bad day. This student can really think but her technical skills just aren't there yet. Thankfully the tears came after class and we were able to talk it out. She'll be fine. The world builds up on all of us and you've got to let it out somewhere, on someone. It just happened to be me.

Maybe she'll remember what a great listener I was when she fills out my review.

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