The short-story class was a trifle painful today. Every time I tell students that they need to do the reading for a class but don't have to turn in their reading journals until a later date, they don't do the reading; they get locked into the idea that the journal and the reading are necessarily synchronous. But I was prepared for that: instead of group discussion, we did a "read around" of the story. It is short (Kate Chopin's "The Storm"), so we got the whole story read with plenty of time left over for discussion. But the discussion rather fizzled than zoomed. My theory is that the students didn't pay very close attention for a number of reasons (because they were more concerned with what part they would have to read, because their auditory processing is not terrific so they don't hear with the same attention they can exert if they read correctly, because they were not writing anything down). Even so, we got some interesting discussion out of it (and I want to do a little critical research on the story myself, see what I can find), but even though class ends officially at 12:15, by 11:50 they were obviously out of steam, out of ideas, nearly aphasic. Bye-bye, see you Wednesday, ready to talk about the next story.
I also think they were a little boggled by the fact that we were frankly discussing a woman discovering sexual fulfillment outside her marriage--and not feeling the least bit guilty about it. The story contains references to her white breasts, and her lover finding them with his lips; the suggestions of his orgasm (and hers) and their post-coital languor are not precisely subtle. They may also have had a little bit of a head-spin when they understood that the senior observers were unabashed about talking about sexual fulfillment ("little old ladies" aren't supposed to know about that stuff). The next story--Leslie Marmon Silko's "Yellow Woman"--is also about a woman being sexually impelled into an "inappropriate" relationship. I'll be curious to see where the students go with this theme.
On a bit of a side note, one of the students in that class seems to look for shady motives and imputations, for reasons to interpret behaviors as negative in some way (selfish, manipulative, greedy...). I wonder where that's coming from. I have a sense--based on nothing I can identify--that it comes from some kind of literary training she's had in the past: that someone has taught her to look for the dark underbelly in all literature, all characters. However, I realize it's equally possible the tendency to suspicion arises from something in her own personality or history. It does seem odd, though.
Today's 101 was a better experience than the short-story class for a change. I gave students some tasks to do on their revisions, working in pairs--and they were quite diligent in doing what I'd set out. Mr. Macho (the one who was so angry at first in his conference until he appeared to be fighting tears) asked me a million questions with a sense of desperation--and lingering frustration with a dash or two of hostility--but I cheerfully helped him as much as I could, not going out of my way for him but not brushing him off. (He apologized at one point, said he was incredibly tired--and I know all too well how stupid one can feel when exhausted, so I understood that some of his apparent recalcitrance was actually an inability to process in his present state.) Another student who has managed to misread (i.e., not read fully or carefully) every instruction I've provided was asking about the new reading journal form. I asked him (cheerfully) if he'd read the instructions, and although he didn't say he hadn't, he sheepishly said he'd read them again. I encouraged that, and encouraged him to make notes so he could ask me specific questions. Turns out, once he read the instructions carefully, he actually had some pretty good questions. As the Germans would say, also gut.
And I feel pretty good about how I set up the reading for them. We went over the first three paragraphs of Sarah Rabkin's "Coming Around the Bend" (a great little essay, available to be read at http://www.designobserver.com/media/pdf/Coming_around__211.pdf). I read the first paragraph aloud, and then we went over all the assumptions the author makes about her audience's knowledge: these students have never heard of John Muir, don't understand the references to California's Coastal Range, Central Valley, or the Sierra Nevadas. The third paragraph doesn't seem to connect to the first two: we didn't get into that much, but I at least pointed it out and asked them to start to look for the connections--and I hope on Wednesday we can dig into it further. I'm thinking how I can set up some focused tasks for the groups to do, beyond going over the questions and comments from their reading journals. I'm giving more time to this essay than I usually do--in part because it's one of the bases for future paper topics. Short as it is, it is complex, and addresses some relatively deep philosophical ideas that I want the students to have a real shot at.
I also spent a portion of today readying the next paper assignment for the 101s. I kept having anxiety attacks about it over the weekend, because I kept "forgetting" I had to do it, and realizing I had to do it soon. Not only do I want students to start thinking about it, working on it, in the immediate future, I also needed to send it to the librarian who will be teaching the research sessions for the classes in a few weeks. (At least I think she'll be the one doing the teaching: I hope so. She'd be great--but she has colleagues who are not.)
All of this, of course, is not getting the stack of short-story reading journals and mini-papers graded--and today I collected their first major papers (not to mention the fact that the revisions from the 101s are coming in now: those are less demanding than first versions but still need to be read, evaluated, and marked, albeit lightly). The sad thing is, I think I have to do a plagiarism check on a handful of the mini-papers, never mind the big ones. Shit.
But I find I'm still in recovery mode from last week: my energy is low (not to mention my enthusiasm), so it's hard to face any assignments at all, even the relatively undemanding journals and minis. I am hoping that an early evening tonight--my office hour is over at 4:45, and I can depart immediately for home--will provide the needed restorative for a much more productive day tomorrow.
And tomorrow night is a steak night with Paul and Llynne: blissful hedonism. Plus I've already told students I'm making no promises about when they'll get stuff back. I have meetings Tuesday and Thursday this week (I'm getting spoiled: that seems like a lot, whereas it used to be a rare week when I didn't have meetings both days). Still, I think I'll be getting enough done in the moments in between whatever that I won't face next week in a flat-out panic. Or maybe I hope, rather than think....
Hope. It's a good thing.