When I was in high school, I basically made straight A’s. I graduated in 2003 as our school’s salutatorian, so I would say that was not too shabby. Because of these grades, combined with teacher comments on graded assignments, I was led to believe that I was pretty smart. But I wasn’t arrogant about it. I was fully aware of the possibility that I could venture off to college and completely have my butt kicked – academically speaking, of course.
But that didn’t happen. I went to college and did well there as well. Granted, I had to work hard, but work hard I did, and I had nice grades and the Dean’s List to show for it. When I transferred to the Ohio State University I made a C for the first time in my college career. It wasn’t because the class was hard. It was because I got married and started working full-time and quit caring about the freshman req. classes I had to make up because of the transfer. So sue me. I always made sure to do well in my English courses, because I actually liked and cared about them, so I did my best and earned A’s there as well.
This gave me the impression that I was at the least a very good hard worker and at the most perhaps even fairly intelligent.
Then, five years ago, I became a teacher. That’s when I started thinking maybe there were some flaws in my academic illusions. There were moments when I would be grading essays and just stop caring because I’d already read forty-two of this same paper. I started to wonder if my teachers had those moments as well. There were moments when nobody turned in anything halfway decent, so by default the best mediocre student in the class became the shining star. I started to wonder if I had been that mediocre student turned star. There were moments when the impending deadline of entering quarter-end grades loomed ever closer, so I quickly gave nice padded grades on bunny homework assignments. I started to wonder if my teachers and professors had felt those same deadline pressures and made similar decisions in my favor.
These are ideas and questions which I’ve been pondering on and off for five years now, slowing coming to accept that maybe I am not the hot little erudite thing I think I am. Maybe teachers just set me up to be great when in all actuality I am mediocre at best. Then I enrolled in graduate school. I assumed that this would be the defining moment. This would let me know where I really stood.
In short, I just finished up my first class with an A. I made a 95% on my Midterm Exam. I felt like I worked hard on that exam and did a good job, so a 95% seemed fair. The bulk of the course depended on a huge course project. I agonized over it. I emailed back and forth with the professor. He told me my thesis was weak. I cried big, hot graduate student tears for an entire weekend and continued working hard on the project. I turned it in on November 26 with a huge knot in my stomach. I prepared myself to be happy with a C. I earned a 96%, along with the comment “I enjoyed reading your paper very much.” I’m kind of still in shock. I received notification of that 96% while I was in the midst of completing my Final Exam. I was already feeling like I was giving a pathetic effort because I was just sick of the course material, but then learning that pretty much my Final Exam grade didn’t matter in terms of me passing the course totally depleted whatever motivation I had left. I did the minimal effort to make my essay halfway decent and turned it in with nary a care in the world.
100%. I found out today that the professor gave me a 100% on the Final Exam. This makes no coherent sense. I can tell you wholeheartedly that it was not my best effort, and most certainly was not nearly half as good as the Midterm Exam on which I earned a 95%.
But wait, I think it does make sense. You see, this week is our school’s Finals Week. Deadlines are impending. Exams and essays are pouring in. It’s totally overwhelming and hysterical and everyone just wants Christmas Break to be here already – screw it all! Give them all 100%s! That’s how it works, right?
I hate being on the other side of the desk. It makes me so cynical about my entire academic career. And, to make matters worse, I still don’t know if I’m basically a genius or if I’ve just had the excellent luck of always encountering disorganized and overwhelmed teachers and professors who are perpetually faced with agonizing deadlines. I’m kind of favoring the latter. I want to be excited and proud of myself for kicking some graduate school tail, but I’m not quite feeling it. I think that deadlines got the best of my professor, and I seriously was on the receiving end of that. I guess that’s something to celebrate, right?