I spend a lot of my time teaching, and I love it. Sometimes I teach classes that are associated with formal schooling, and so I need to formally grade my students. Other times I teach informal classes through churches, private schools, or parenting groups and I do not grade my students.
Ultimately, I prefer the non-grading format. I want students to take what they need to know from my classes for their personal lives. If they are constantly concerned about their GPA, they will instead be focusing on what they think I think they should be learning – rather than what they think they should be learning. The teacher should not be the focus of a class on sexuality, rather it should be the student. Ultimately, I do not like using the stick of poor grades in order to force compliance and attention.
I work to make every lesson inherently interesting and engaging, and while I know that I cannot possibly succeed for every student in every situation, I think I come relatively close. When the material is made personal, tied-in to prior knowledge, and presented in ways that engage multiple perspectives and approaches, students have more fun with it. When something is fun, students are far more likely to pay attention and learn. This is the carrot for a good teacher.
So when I have an informal class of students who I am not grading, I can tell when my lessons and classes are falling flat. The students drift away, paying attention to more interesting, and ultimately more fun, topics. I am fully willing to compete, because if I am not, I am short-shifting my students. If students do not want to learn what I have to teach, why should I take it upon myself to try and force that process?
But when I have a class of students who I am formally grading, it is much harder to tell when a particular activity is not as good as it should be.
I have learned, over time, that there are generally one or two students who remain a good barometer of whether a lesson is high enough quality. They drift – until I bring out a truly quality lesson or lecture – and then they refocus and return to the group. The rest of the class often follows behind, but in much subtler ways that can be hard to pickup on until it’s too late to re-direct and re-engage.
Right now I have 22 students sitting in front of me, answering questions about the content we’ve covered over the last two weeks. I would rather be using this precious time together to be learning and talking rather than restating and proving. But, alas, this is a graded class, and test we must.
One of the things that I am always particularly interested in with a new formal class of students is what brought them into my classroom. This summer is a particularly interesting group. I have a couple of students who already have bachelor’s degrees, a high school student, a wide age range, a good gender and gender queer mix, a pair of sisters, someone who is just discovering polyamory, and a substantial range of conservative to liberal. One of my students shared that his sister signed him up for this course without telling him what it was – and oh was he surprised on the first day of class! But seems to be holding his own, as does everyone else.
The diversity of the topics and the nuances that each individual class brings is what keeps me completely engaged in this process of educating about sex and sexuality. I am so blessed to have such a wonderful job!