So a number of my friends in the academy have been posting this on Facebook and I finally had the chance to click and read.  I think this guy is right on target, addressing some of the many misconceptions that students (and, these days, their parents) have about what goes through the minds of their (or their kids’) professors. An economics professor writing in Forbes, this is an article well worth checking out.  Here are some excerpts.

First, I do not “take off” points. You earn them. The difference is not merely rhetorical, nor is it trivial. In other words, you start with zero points and earn your way to a grade…

Second, this means that the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that you have mastered the material. It is not on me to demonstrate that you have not. My assumption at the beginning of each class is that you know somewhere between nothing and very little about basic economics unless you were lucky enough to have an exceptional high school economics course. Otherwise, why are you here? You might say that the course is a prerequisite for other things you want to do, but if that it is the case and you know the material, you’re more than welcome to simply show up for the exams, ace them, and be on your way…

Finally, I’m here to be a mentor and instructor. This means that our relationship differs from the relationships that you have with your friends and family. Please don’t infer from this that I don’t care about you, because I do. A lot. I want to see you make good choices. I want to see you understand basic economics because I hope it will rock your world as it continues to rock mine and because the human consequences of lousy economic policy are enormous. That said, you should never take grades personally. I don’t think you’re stupid because you tank an exam, an assignment, or even an entire course.Economics is hard. A D or an F on an economics exam does not diminish your value in God’s eyes (or in mine) or indicate that economics just isn’t for you. It probably means you need to work smarter, and I’m here to help you with that.

Dear student, I once thought as you do. I once carried about the same misconceptions, the same litany of cognitive biases, and the same adolescent desire to blame others for my errors. I was (and remain) very poorly served by my immaturity. As shocking as it may seem, I still cling to a lot of it, even after four years of college, five years of graduate school, and now five-and-a-half years as a professor. Economics is hard, but becoming a responsible member of a free society is very, very, very hard. I’m still learning to put aside childish things. I hope you will do the same. Start now. The effort is daunting, but the rewards are substantial.

I like so many of the remarks in here, especially those that highlight the fact that we, professors (I include myself for the purposes of this post having taught four undergraduate courses last year, knowing all too well what this guy is addressing) are not out to “get” anyone, that grades are simply an indicator of how well one demonstrates their knowledge over the course of the semester. I’ve often said to a student who is upset about a grade and confesses that he or she “knows the material,” that I have no doubt that they very well might, but because I can’t read minds I need the students to coherently express, usually in written form, what it is they know.

The final point about caring about students is absolutely true. What got to me the most, emotionally that is, while I was teaching was when it became apparent to me that I cared more about students failing or cheating or simply being apathetic than they did. Your profs really do care about you (usually) and definitely about the material.  College professors do not spend their whole lives studying economics, math, theology, philosophy, history or whatever because it was just something to do — it is their passion and they hope to get their students to be excited about the material too.

To read the full article go here.

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