December 18, 2010

Ice and Exams

The morning after the snow fell was one of the most outrageously scary winter situations I've ever been in -- and North Dakota serves up some scary winters.

I woke up like usual at 6 a.m. and rushed to get ready so I could go out and find breakfast before getting on the bus. The streets and sidewalks were solid ice. I skated my way down the block, almost falling a time or two which delighted people along the street. A chorus of "ohhhh! whoaa!" was sung in my honor as I crossed the street and saved myself from kissing the pavement.

The bus arrived a few minutes past 7 and I got on for the usual commute. At least it was warm. Traffic was inching along and by the time we got to the raised superhighway, our brakes were groaning from being locked up. The highway is four or five stories in the air and within a few minutes I saw three charter buses -- just like the one I was on -- that had spun a 180 on the road and were slammed up the three foot tall concrete barrier. That was all that was stopping them from toppling over off the edge. I finally stopped counting how many accidents I saw and I quit looking out the window onto the road because it was nauseating. 

Two hours later we finally arrived to campus. I was 25 minutes late for class and was relieved when I saw 15 of 40 students still sitting in the class. I thanked them and told them to call or text their friends to see if they could come back to class, and to my relief within 15 minutes the entire class was present. Not a single absence. It was the first time I felt like my students actually respected me.

This week was a whirlwind of proctoring my first final exams and prepping the rest of my classes for their exams. There was paperwork and scheduling problems and more grading than I cared to deal with. I feel a lot of pressure to get the grades right, the university mandates that the final exam is worth 50% of their grade, so I'm really proud that my students are rocking their mock job interviews for their exam -- they've got a lot weighing on that 10 minute conversation with me.

I've enjoyed talking with my students one-on-one, because it's my only chance to see their personality. One student who has been awful (if he comes to class, he sleeps through it and he never ever answers any of my questions) but during his exam he was great. He wants to be a painter, but his parents want him to be a businessman. And in China, parents win. His final exam was outstanding and's a shame his participation the rest of the semester wasn't as good. 

A lot of my girls were really excited to get to talk to me, many of them wanted to take a picture with me and some of them even brought me snacks or tea. I'm so thankful for my students, they've kept me sane in my first few months here. I'm looking forward to getting to hang out with students in an organizational context as opposed to actually teaching classes. Whenever the bureaucratic nonsense starts getting to me, my students always seem to help me get back on track again. 

At any rate, I don't know which is worse -- final exams from a student perspective or from a teacher's stance... quite frankly, I find them both quite awful.

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