My battle for sadism

I’ve found that being a teaching assistant forces me to take a firm stand on sadism.  My professor mandated pop quizzes in tutorials, perhaps to enforce attendance.  The pop quizzes were not supposed to be difficult, but just reward the students for attending.  I have a whole course worth of pop quizzes prepared, and they’re all really easy.  I always quiz them on material that we just covered, and they’re allowed to use their notes.

Last year, I announced the quizzes at the beginning of the tutorials, but I found that sometimes I would underestimate the time that it took for me to get through the teaching material, and everything would be rushed.  In fact, students would be even more anxious about the quiz, they’d ask a million questions and I wouldn’t get through the material.  Also, students would text their friends at the beginning of the tutorial, and students would straggle in just in time to take the quiz (about 15 minutes left in the tutorial time slot), which I think is just unfair.

To allow myself some extra flexibility, I decided to come to each tutorial with a quiz ready, and only give one if I had time left at the end of it.

Another problem I had last year was that too many students were sending me emails about why they would miss a tutorial, and please would I excuse them from the quiz.  I didn’t want to have to make subjective decisions on which excuses warranted a quiz exemption and which didn’t, so this year I decided that all students would have their lowest marks dropped, and if you missed more than one quiz for a legitimate reason, we would deal with that on a case-by-case basis.

All of these decisions I made based on my learning experience last year, and fuelled by desire to reduce the unnecessary difficulty the tutorials inflicted.

Although in general, I’m pretty hard on people, I don’t believe in making things unnecessarily difficult for people.  For example, the UW Engineering rule that you must pass terms at a time, not courses at a time is unnecessarily painful.  By dropping everyone’s lowest marks, I reduced my pain of having to choose whether an excuse was legit or not.  By not announcing the pop quiz in advance, I increased the fairness of the “attendance mark” and reduced the pain of not getting through the material on time.

Well, this opened up a whole new world of pain.  It seems that regardless of the guidelines I set for my class, somehow, students find a way to force me to take a stand.  Now, the students don’t pay attention during the tutorial, and then they can’t write the quiz properly.  Now that the lowest mark is dropped, the students are trying to skip quizzes strategically.

I figure that no matter what adjustment I introduce to make the students happier, their devious little fucked up minds will find a way to make themselves into victims.  I have to take a stand for the level of pain that my guidelines inflict.  They’re fair, no matter how much you complain, please live with the pain.


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  • January 2010
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