The Lecturer [Short Fiction]

I wrote this piece back in the vacation and brought to my writing group last week where it generated some varied and interesting feedback. It’s a piece drawing from personal experiences in Commerce at UCT. In particular, I’ve tried to capture a particular archetype of lecturer. A general lack of sympathy and empathy towards students is remarkably common in Commerce, especially in the later years. But that’s a whole other story. Hope you enjoy the piece.


The Lecturer by Imran Lorgat

‘The student has missed the point of this question completely’, the lecturer thought to himself, pen in hand. He leaned back in his chair, stroking his chin, and read through the exam script one more time. There was some rough working out and the student had manipulated a few of the equations to show a relation between two of the variables, but he just wasn’t anywhere close to the solution. The lecturer sighed and painted the script with a large red X. 0/6.
     The lecturer marked the score for the question on the front of the booklet and tossed it into the completed pile. He then took another exam script and paged over to the same question. That night, he was marking question 4.2 of his 4th year Quantitative Finance class’s final exam. Thus far it been a disappointing experience. The students had simply not displayed any mastery of the material he had taught them. Of the forty or so papers he’d marked, none of them had managed to attain full marks for the question. Come to think of it, many of the questions that he’d marked had played out the same way. Why the performance of the class had been so poor remained a mystery to the lecturer. Given the content of the course, they should have been better prepared. So very disappointing.
     The lecturer began reading the next paper carefully when a knock on his door interrupted his thoughts.
     “Come in,” he called, quickly closing the paper in case a student walked in.
     It wasn’t a student, it was his colleague, Bill.
     “Hey, how’s it going,” Bill waved. Bill worked in the same department as the lecturer. This year, he had lectured the 1st years and the 2nd years. Judging from what the lecturer had heard, their exam results had been rather positive. In previous years, the drop-out rate had been much higher.
     “Hey Bill,” the lecturer waved back, “It’s going good. Just marking the final year exam scripts.”
     “Ah I see,” Bill replied, “Hey Jason. The guys and I are going out for drinks. You wanna come?”
     “No,” the lecturer replied with indifference, “I’m busy.”
     “Sure,” said Bill. The invitation was nothing but a weekly formality. The lecturer had never really attended one of these gatherings, he always had other pressing matters to attend to. Perhaps the reason Bill asked every Friday was due to some kind of social politeness.
     “I’m marking the scripts,” the lecturer replied, lifting up the paper, “It’s been dismal actually. Nobody has managed to answer question 4.2 correctly.”
     “Lemme see that,” said Bill. Bill walked to the desk, picked up the booklet containing the question paper and the memo and began paging through it. His face took on the shape of a frown, “Jeez, Jason,” he sighed, “I told you this paper was too much.”
     “Not really,” the lecturer replied, “The students just severely underestimated it. It’s quite shocking really. I went through a question quite similar to 4.2 in class. It was on slides 47 to 51 of the 2nd lecture of Chapter 13. The methodology was right there and yet no one managed to get it.”
     Bill continued to leaf through the paper with a frown.
     “Look at this student for instance,” the lecturer handed Bill the script on his table, “She wrote down two formulas but everything from there is just incoherent. She has no idea what she’s doing.”
     “Well she is kind of on the right track,” Bill reasoned, “Everything she’s put down is correct. She just got stuck because she couldn’t show that the supremum is always less than V10. It was a nasty trick.”
     Supremums had not been covered directly in the course.
     The lecturer shrugged, “There were far more difficult questions that I could have asked. The students should have been able to prove this given their 2nd year knowledge.”
     “I don’t think the students are going to be happy when they get their results,” said Bill.
     “If I had asked a different question they probably would have complained about that too. Most students are just lazy. Even if you hand it to them on a plate, they still wouldn’t get it.”
     “So, what is this student getting for the question,” Bill asked, ignoring the lecturer’s argument. He’d heard it many a time before and had not always appeared to agree, “1 mark for the formulae and 2 for the working out?”
     “3 marks?” the lecturer smirked, “For that? Please, she’s not even close to the answer.”
     “She was two steps away,” said Bill, “It was just the supremum trick, she didn’t get.”
     “That ‘trick’, as you call it, was the essence of the question,” the lecturer replied, “It was the optimal method of solving that question.”
     “2 marks then?” Bill asked.
     “Hmmm,” the lecturer stroked his chin, “Half a mark each for the formulae and half a mark for the working out. 1.5/6.”
     Bill gave the lecturer a pained look. The lecturer did not appear to notice.
     “Jason, what if those 1.5 marks you didn’t give are the difference between a pass and a fail?” Bill asked.
     The lecturer shrugged for a second time, “If she deserves to pass, she’ll pass. If she is unsuccessful in solving too many questions, maybe she doesn’t deserve to pass. Perhaps she should have understood the theory better.”
     Bill’s facial expression was practically a grimace by this point. A more socially astute person than the lecturer might have suggested that it was a look of distaste. The lecturer, however, had not even taken note of any of Bill’s expressions in the slightest. Bill handed the script back to his colleague.
     “Anyway I’ve got to go,” said Bill, “The guys must be waiting for me.”
     “Let me know if you pick up any hot babes,” the lecturer winked.
     “I have a wife,” Bill replied.
A moment of silent and uncomfortable awkwardness passed between the two of them. In the lecturer’s mind, this had been nothing more than an amusing joke. Perhaps Bill had failed to understand this. A lengthy ten seconds passed.
     “Anyway,” Bill motioned to the door with his thumb.
     “Yeah,” the lecturer replied, “Keep it real.”
     Bill left and closed the door behind him. The lecturer snickered quietly to himself. ‘Keep it real’. Such a humorous way to phrase a greeting. But it appeared necessary to be knowledgeable of the latest dialect to ‘keep with the times’. In his mind, he and Bill had a strongly positive working relationship. The lecturer glanced down at his wristwatch. Enough time had been wasted on idle chit-chat. It was time to return to work.
     He took another script from the top of the unmarked pile. After he read through it, he shook his head.

‘Yet another student completely fails to understand the question,’ he thought. 0/6.

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