Today, I was thinking about where I fall on the 'hard-ass' scale. This was because I was an examiner at the Honours thesis defense (since when are there Honours defenses set up like grad school defenses??). It was for an excellent student I had in my fourth-year class this term. She's written a thesis that is quite learned, but that I didn't find to be as spectacular as the others did - I wasn't in favour of giving it the A+ that they were, and was more hung up on a couple of issues.
I thought back to a month or so ago, when the student asked me if I'd be a reader of the thesis, and she said - very good-naturedly - that this was scary because I am "hard." I was kind of taken aback by this, but felt good about it, because sometimes I worry that my easygoing way with students means that I am not challenging them enough. And this sense that I am "hard" was borne out at the defense today, during which I was being more demanding of the student's work than the other two (both of whom I respect a great deal).
Then I thought about how I teach. I "teach to" the strongest students in a given class. I am sure that this would get me in trouble with learning specialist types - I am not trying hard enough to be inclusive - but I feel it is my "duty," for lack of a better word, to aim high, to meet the strongest students at their level. And then I am hard on them, apparently.
I don't know what to think about this question of who I am teaching to, and what I am expecting of them. Am I doing anyone any good if this is my approach - the "hard" approach? Well, sure, I can see that being "hard" for the strongest students is challenging for them - I'm not so worried about them. But what about the weaker students. Surely I must then be even "harder" for them. Is this good or bad? Am I any help at all for them?
Who do you teach to? Should we place a premium on 'hardness'? These are the questions I'm thinking about.