As I’m in the midst of doing grades to end the semester, I have to laugh at all the people who think it’s a walk in the park to teach at a university. Tonight when I should be putting up my Christmas tree, I’m trying to calculate the grades for my two classes this semester. Normally I wouldn’t complain about something that’s simply part of the job, but, sorry, grading is something I really dislike.
I dislike it because it forces me to put my students into boxes–A, A minus, B plus, and so on—when the bottom line is did you get it or not? Did you step up and do what was expected and beyond in the course or not? Actually, those of us who teach at universities are not the only ones who have to grade people. The fact is that entrepreneurs have to grade the members of their team regularly to make sure they have the right people on board. So, here I am sitting in front of a spreadsheet making sure all the scores are correct for the assignments the students submitted, and I’m trying to put off the dreaded "participation" grade. That’s the grade that represents what you (the student) contributed to the class. Are you the kind of student who, when you speak, everyone perks up and listens? Or are you the student who elicits eyeballs rolling and groans every time you talk because what you have to say is so banal and not in the least memorable? One of the ways I solve this problem is to have the students grade themselves on participation on a scale of 1 to 5. You get a 5 if you’re always prepared, witty, memorable, and insightful. You get a 1 if no one would miss you if you weren’t there. This little exercise is quite revealing and I highly recommend it to entrepreneurs who need to rate the performance of their employees. It’s fascinating that the people who contribute the least often think of themselves as 1s, really important to the class, even as their team members rate them as losers who can’t be counted on to get anything done. I guess that proves that the way we see ourselves is not always the way others see us.
Unfortunately, I think we live in a world where many people do as little as possible to get by, get their degree, and get a job. It’s sad because these won’t be the people who change the world and make it a better place. Too many university students don’t realize what kind of impression they’re making every time they take a class and don’t give it their best effort. Professors know a lot of people and we’re seriously connected to the business world, and in my case the startup world. We always have our antennae out looking for the best and the brightest. When I sit down to calculate grades for a class, believe me, the best and brightest stand out like a sore thumb. The worst also stand out in their own way. It’s the masses in the middle who never stand out. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t end up in the middle where no one has a chance to find out how talented you are. Do everything you can to stand out from the crowd. It works at the university and it works in entrepreneurship. My professorial life would be so much easier if more students worked hard to stand out from the crowd. Did you deserve an A this semester?