In some cases they would be better if the students had done the assigned work. In some cases they would be better if the students had followed the instructions for doing the assignment. In some cases they would be better if the students had realized that, when the teacher uses a definition of a concept in class, she has a reason, and it would make sense to use that definition of the concept rather than saying something like “in my opinion, ‘that concept’ means ‘the loose idea I have always had about it.’”
Still, everybody learned something.
It’s astonishing how great the distance is between “doing well” in a class and “doing minimally,” and even at the shallow end of that distance, someone can say “that really made me think.” That is the little drop of grace in the mug of bitter truth: how little difference all of this can make. Teaching, at least for me, is certainly never the kind of difference I imagine myself making at the beginning of the session. But it still isn’t nothing.
I was so discouraged a couple of days ago, after grading their tests, that I told my friends this class had finally done it, had crushed my spirit. But I was wrong. They gave me lots of ideas about what not to do again; which means they gave me a kind of hope: “next time …”