Strict versus mean

It was my first day of grade six; my final year in elementary school. I was assigned to Miss Betty, who had a reputation for being the meanest teacher. I remember her having us do an assignment right after she took attendance. On the blackboard she wrote, “What is the difference between mean versus strict?” Clearly Miss Betty was aware of her reputation and she wanted to clear the air from the get-go.

I think of myself as a relatively chill-laxed TA. I like to chat with my students, share terrible puns and sometimes I’ll help those who’re struggling to complete their experiment. There are a few things I will not joke about though and two of the most important ones are safety and grading.

Following safety guidelines in the lab is very important, because sometimes we use reagents or techniques that can be a hazard if careless. However, usually a few weeks into the course, when students get comfortable with the lab setting and the TAs, they’ll become a little adventurous. When incidents happen in the lab, such as leaving lit Bunsen burners unattended or glass pipettes flying across benches, let’s just say I’m not so jolly. I’ll call them out, because I don’t let that sort of behaviour fly (pun intended). My intention is not to be mean, but to be strict when it comes to safety.

Have you ever come across the PhD comic where Cecilia goes from being a lenient grader, to burning her students’ papers? Fortunately, I haven’t had that sort of melt down in all of my years of grading. However, I have come across very interesting things that made me wonder what in the world was going through their minds when they wrote that. Marks off there. And of course, I’ve had my fair share of students grilling me on every 0.05/10 that I removed, even when I clearly state why on the report. They’re well aware that I follow the same grading rubric that the other TAs have. Yet every year my TA evaluation will read: “Great, fun TA. Tough marker.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist.

Being called mean used to bother me at the beginning, because I didn’t peg myself as such. But not anymore. I know that I’m strict and that can be misconceived as appearing mean. That’s why Miss Betty wanted us to understand the difference between mean and strict. She had rules in place to make sure her class ran smoothly, not to be spiteful, because kids in the sixth grade are a handful. Likewise, lab safety and grading rubrics are in place, because undergrads can be a handful too. 😉


This is the fifth entry in the blog series, The TA. Check out the previous entry,  Mistakes are OK. Stay tuned for more!

Banner Photo by GradLife McGill Instagrammer @kelloggs909 // @gradlifemcgill

One thought on “Strict versus mean

  1. […] In my pre-smartphone days, I had a pretty casual relationship with my mobile device. Five years ago, I would keep my cell phone in my out-of-the-lab locker when I was at work, and would only check my messages during my breaks – if I even did check them, and there are more days than I can remember where I would only take a look when I was done for the day. In contrast, my (smart)phone is with me almost everywhere nowadays, and I carry it in my back pocket when I work in the lab – although I do make sure to take off my lab gloves if I’m going to touch my phone (as Yogita pointed out, lab safety is important!) […]


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