Musings on expectations

Why do teachers give an assignment before telling their students how it should be done? Is there any reason not to share expectations until after the submission deadline has passed? It may be true that, when left to their own devices, most students are terrible writers. But when that natural [dis]ability is paired with an unclear understanding of the requirements of an assignment, failure can be the only expected outcome.

One of my high school teachers was apparently convinced that failure is the best way to teach a student how to write. She took sadistic pleasure in returning papers dripping with red ink. Essays were due every Friday, so the class was given plenty of opportunities to fail. I believe that the class — an honors English class — earned a C- average on the first couple of assignments.

Wouldn’t it be more logical to lay out expectations well in advance? Perhaps it comes from a sense of self-aggrandizement. “Look at the sad state my students were in when they entered my class. See their amazing progress. I am a wonderful teacher.” Maybe the instructor wishes to imbue their students with “character.” Perhaps the teacher is merely passing along the abuse received from their own instructors. Whatever the motivation, I believe that it is unnecessary.

I submit that a solid understanding of assignment requirements and a clearly explained grading schema would give students more ability to succeed than “pushing them in,” so to speak, “to see whether they sink or swim.”