The other side

One of the most frustrating things about being a third-year med student was the arbitrary grading. Not subjective, mind you. I studied literature in college. I’m used to subjective. No, what I minded was the randomness, the disconnect between my in-person and written evaluations, and the grade. It went both ways — great grades with average performance evals, and so-so grades despite working “at the level of the housestaff.” Eventually, I stopped caring about the grade entirely.

Now that I’m on the other side, teaching an evening summer narrative medicine class for the preclinicals, I’m consciously very careful in my comments. I don’t grade them in a traditional sense, but I have them turn in short responses which I then comment on and hand back the following week. I take maybe 10 to 15 minutes per response — not an insane amount of time, but it adds up. Plus, preparing discussion points, etc.

And as with any class, there are some people who are really into it, and some who are not. Which is fine — I’m trying not to be evangelical, and I’m just trying to get across the main points of the field, the things every doctor should know.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have favorite students and … less favorite students. It doesn’t correlate completely with ability — one of the best kids in the class writes textbook prose. But he’s very vocal and enthusiastic in class, clearly outside his comfort zone yet still engaging in the work.  Contrast with a couple of students who saying nothing, arms crossed, looking down. I’m on the quiet side myself, but really? From the teacher’s seat, the impression is less than ideal.

So this is the awkward thing: I’m trying really hard not to let my impression of students disinterest color my perception of their ability. And conversely, turning the vocal kids into some sort of teachers’ pet. It’s difficult, tougher than I realized, to ignore it, though. I spend more time with Vocal Kid’s papers, hunting for the little diamonds of specificity, trying to encourage him to use more careful language. For those who don’t seem to have invested much in the paper — I don’t want to invest as much time in my response. And then I realize what I’m doing and have to go back and re-respond to those papers.

I never had such a strong good/bad student dichotomy in my previous teaching positions, with teens, but there we evaluated the kids specifically on enthusiasm (among other things), so maybe they were just pretending for the grade.

I guess what I’m trying to say, very incoherently, is that yes, impressions do matter. A lot. Obvious enough to someone who has worked in the real world, but that’s not most med students (myself included). This still doesn’t explain the questionable grading of certain rotations, but I’m beginning to understand that given all the other stuff a course director has to deal with, how much easier it would be to base grading on your personal impression of the student, rather than wading through and judging the relative values of OTHER people’s personal impressions.


One thought on “The other side

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