Monday, April 20, 2015

first set of exams

This week is midterms week, and I administered my first batch of exams earlier today. One student was so panicked that she kept pressing on her chest, during the interview, as if she were experiencing a heart attack. I'm guessing it was something along the lines of a mild panic attack (she remained rational and kept her sense of humor when I told her not to die—hence mild) or performance anxiety. I told her about a relative of mine who also suffers from performance anxiety; I don't know whether that helped, but she smiled politely at my anecdote. I also gave her the advice that I'd received from the late, great Father Cenkner of Catholic University: "In ten years, none of this will matter." She seemed to latch on to that perle de sagesse and breathe easier.

Just about every student reported being nervous. Some of this is natural; some of this has to do with the insane pressure that Koreans put on themselves and each other come testing time. It's a sad fact of existence here on the peninsula, but society is structured around hoop-jumping. It's not just a matter of rites of passage, as can be found in other cultures; Koreans have those rites, too—on top of the pressure of exams, interviews, and other hoops.

So I'm resigned to seeing three more groups of nervous, anxious college kids later this week. As for the first group: I've already graded their exams, and I think the lowest grade was a "C." Since, up to now, the kids have earned easy "A"s, even the ones who got "C"s on the midterm still have an "A" average. This will change, of course, with the arrival of the big project (Week 12; we're currently in Week 8) and with the final exam, both of which will be graded strictly. It's not that I necessarily want to be cruel in how I grade the kids, but in a class of 19, only 5 students can get "A"s (30% upper limit). That's the curve, stupid though it be. Also: only up to 70% of the class can receive "A"s plus "B"s. That's thirteen kids total; six are doomed to the hinterlands of "C"s, "D"s, and "F"s.

My nightmare—and this is every prof's nightmare—is that I'm going to end up with too many "A"s and/or "B"s by the end of the semester. If that happens, then I have to bump some students down a grade to fit the curve. Once I do that, the howling begins: students will call, text, and email me, demanding to know why, why, why they didn't get the grade they thought they'd be getting. It wasn't too bad last semester, except for one whiny bastard who couldn't even be bothered to write his own email. But it was a nightmare at Daegu Catholic, and it could be a nightmare here again, during my final semester at Dongguk.

But those are concerns for later. For now, I just want to survive midterms week with my sanity more or less intact.


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