I paged through another portfolio in my studio and gave grades to each drawing. Classical music played in the background, and from time to time I looked up at unfinished paintings that I hadn’t touched in a week or two. So many classes to prepare and give. So many judgments to make and advice to give.
Some portfolios were well organized with no missing drawings, and the work showed effort and talent. Some showed talent but little effort. Some showed no talent whatsoever but a desperate need to get something out of the course. (I respect the students in the latter group and wish that I could give them higher grades.)
When I work my way through a stack of portfolios I get indirect feedback from my students. I’m making a grade for myself as I review the successes and failures of my students. I take mental notes about which exercises worked better, which bombed, and which seemed easy only to the highly talented. I think about other classes where a usually successful assignment caused despair in this class, and try to figure out what led to the different outcomes.
When I get to the end of grading a group of portfolios I usually feel great relief, but also regret that the relationships I’ve built with my students will come to an end soon. I’ve gotten to know their quirks, their weaknesses and strengths, and sometimes it seems a shame to let all that go. I know that a new semester will give me an opportunity to build new ties to a fresh batch of students, but sometimes wish that I could keep working with the ones I have. It’s like parenting in that success means an eventual bittersweet departure.
Of course I’ve gotten an occasional class that made me happy to see them hit the exit for the last time. I get dreams that repeat for years following this scenario: students ignore me, mill around the class, and find my mounting anger and frustration amusing. A Drawing II class from two springs ago was the living embodiment of this nightmare. And when these students spent a large portion of the final critique complaining about assignments, I cut the proceedings short and deleted my final speech. I hoped that most of them would never cross my path ever again and knew that many of them thought the same thing about me.
But all things pass, good or bad, and I like to recall the times I shared a joke, helped a student figure something out, got to know someone better. Teaching is about sharing knowledge while making a human connection. And even if the connections get broken as students go on, I like to believe that traces survive, that a moment of giving echoes through time.