Lowered Standards

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Entry from the original HBCU Stem Hub website, published October 12, 2022

I was on a call tonight with other colleagues at my institution in which I made a confession about my teaching. I prefaced my confession with the good news that I had the highest pre-midterm average ever in my Physiological Psychology course. I also covered the fewest number of chapters than I have ever covered by this time in the semester.

I have lowered my standards

There, I said it.

OK, let me say it another way. I have lowered my expectations! That doesn’t feel any better but it is actually more accurate. I have been thinking about the need to do something drastic for several years but COVID brought everything to a head. I either had to fail more people or change my approach. I decided on the later and focused my attention on getting students to acquire important skills- read the text book and take notes.

I have written about this before but I failed to mention the agony associated with admitting that I couldn’t look to the past for what my students should be doing. The tools that I used in the past were not working….at all! I wanted to be the best teacher to the students that I have now

So, to even be more self-disclosing, I actually went to the literature to help justify my decision. I wanted to make myself feel better with a re-frame. So, here it is- It’s not about lowering standards or expectations. It’s about being realistic about the COVID related learning loss.

I know you are tired of hearing COVID as an excuse for everything but please hear me out.

The think-tank, McKinsey & Company, doesn’t use the term “Covid-related learning loss” in their article about this. Learning loss is like- “you lost something you already had”. Instead, they call it “unfinished learning” as in- “you started something and didn’t finish it.”

Imagine students in every grade, in every school, in the country ending their school year in March and then starting up again in November. Now imagine that some of those students came back disoriented, depressed and disengaged. For students who left 2nd grade with unfinished learning there will be a different kind of impact than those who missed those months in the 10th grade. No matter. There will be negative impact, what ever the missed grade.

Are you feeling, me?

So, there. My name is Cheryl and I have lowered my expectations/standards for students who had unfinished learning and the loss of a normal childhood or tweenhood or teen hood because they are feeling isolated, lonely, depressed, anxious and zoom-fatigued. In addition, those who made it to college may have a version of imposter syndrome, where they know that they didn’t get everything they needed in their pre-college education but don’t exactly know what is missing. Add to that the grief of lost-loved ones, the fear of not every making “real” money and the general anxiety of being Black in the midst of anti-Black public discourse and you will have to conclude, that this generation of college students will need for us to do things differently.

So even though you may not become a heretic like me, I invite you to seriously think about what aspect of your teaching philosophy may have to change. I invite you to write about the relevance of your teaching philosophy (you may have to dig it out of your old job application). As for the idea of changing it, that may require some real soul-searching, like it did for me.

Think about it by writing about it.

You do have 15 minutes.

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