Before you make a nasty comment below, let me clarify: I don't mean writers teaching about writing. I mean writers in a profession as a teacher, and more specifically a secondary school teacher. I also refer primarily to the marking (aka grading) aspect of the job, as opposed to actual delivery of curriculum. After all, some writers may be very good at preparing and delivering a lecture about writing... but what about then taking in 60 samples of writing from their audience and giving them feedback?
You can't (necessarily) just slap a percent grade on something these days either. Let me briefly go more into that aspect of the job, for the benefit of my writing friends who aren't teachers. You see, things have changed since you were in high school.
|Pictured: Not a typical class.|
Math has traditionally been known as a subject where you got a point for the answer, and then more points for showing your work. At the end of a test, points are totaled, giving you a mark like 40/50, so 80%. But lately (within the last ten years) there has been a shift to more level based marking. The idea being that if someone gets a mark like 23/50, they've probably demonstrated more than 46% of the material - maybe just continually made the same error, or mastered one of the three expectations but done very badly on the other two, and for that matter how do we quantify "you should learn 4% more" anyway? This person should pass.
Points are gone. Outcome based grading is here.
Some say this is about increasing the pass rate. Others counter that levels and outcomes provide more effective feedback. Besides, it applies the other way - if someone gets a mark like 49/50, do they really understand? Can they apply the knowledge to similar situations, or are they just regurgitating things from memory? How are they "lacking 2%" of the content anyway?
Now, I agree with the shift. I'm marking on levels. It also surprises me how good I am at it, because I'm effectively being asked to mark mathematics as if it were an english essay. (Not really what I signed up for, but a few years with it has helped.) So what's the problem?
IT TAKES ME FOR FREAKING EVER. AND A DAY.
|Writing comments no one will|
see is also counterproductive
Because I have to justify to myself whether this is actually a pass or a fail. Whether this is provincial standard, or just below. Do the student's mathematical justifications make sense? To what degree are errors in notation detracting from the overall understanding and presentation? What's the continuity like from this one section to the next? Are there any major plot holes? Am I satisfied with the end result, or should it be redone?
The observant may notice me slipping into writing mode there. Now, I'm not saying that I literally look at a math test like a story with rising action, a climax and denouement. (Though now that I mention it... no, no, not going to do metaphors!) What I am saying here is that there's some part of my brain that just HAS to make sense of what I'm seeing before I can finally throw down the 2+ (~68%) as opposed to 3- (~72%).
Which even I can acknowledge is ridiculous.
A colleague of mine did a check, changing level 2's to 2+'s to see if overall averages changed. They didn't. Another colleague blew through a set of tasks in an hour. That's a task which I wager I would have taken me three times as long to get through. Even I grant that 90% of the time, my first instinct is exactly the same as what goes on the page three minutes later. And yet I simply CANNOT turn off the part of my brain saying "maybe you've missed something; maybe it's important".
Moreover, I'm not sure I SHOULD turn that off.
|Hey, I just met you. But with my numbers, yes, I'm crazy.|
I write my own web series (the personification of math), for which I do a lot of self-editing. I carefully integrate mathematics into my characters too (pun intended - I include wordplay). I also roleplay, and have had such an eye for continuity that I ended up being the scribe of the gaming group I was with for several years. I've done beta reading of stories for friends (when I find time), and have picked up on things that other readers have missed. Plus I've taken the position of secretary for at least four different committees over the years.
In short, what I'm saying is, I pay attention to detail. And I'm GOOD at it. Aren't most writers?
So... if I start to just look at a test and go "level 2"... it feels like I'm losing a part of myself. As if I've taken the first step towards general indifference, towards accepting that "a glance is good enough". A glance is NEVER good enough when you're writing, certainly not if you want to get published! Even on the internet, if you see a couple spelling mistakes within the first paragraph of a story, do you really keep reading? (I suppose it might depend on to what degree other factors mitigate the problems with notation, so the person could still pass if... wait, no, stop!)
So, you might respond, simply separate your day job from your writing. Yes, I wish it were that easy; they're both a part of me. Moreover, of late, both involve large chunks of mathematics.
Thing is, because of my inability to glance, I just worked eight straight 9 hour days, including through the weekend. (I blogged about exam timelines earlier.) THIS IS NOT SUSTAINABLE. BUT I CAN'T STOP MYSELF. Not without compromising a part of who I am. (Or can I? Please, if you see something obvious that I'm missing, comment!)
In conclusion, let me grant the possibility that writers may NOT make poor teachers. It could be that editors make poor teachers... or that I make for a poor teacher (at least when it comes to evaluation)... or that anyone would be a poor teacher in this sort of situation. I don't know enough to judge. Only enough to write about it.
More about my writing: Creativity Page
More about my teaching: Week as Math Educator
My mathematical web series: Taylor's Polynomials