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Monday, February 7, 2011

Cosmic joke--or blessing?

This morning the alarm went off at 5:30, as usual on a Monday morning. I was in the midst of my morning ablutions when I noticed that the bathroom clock was an hour slow. Funny, I thought, I was just wondering how long that little battery would last. Then I went to make the bed and thought, "shouldn't it be getting light by now?" I looked at another clock--which agreed with the one in the bathroom. Turns out, something had happened to the alarm clock, and it was set an hour ahead of the actual time. I'd gotten up at 4:30.

Oh, hah hah, very funny.

But it turned out to be a god-send that I had gotten up that hour early, as I ended up needing the time to get everything marked for the second class today. But I did: I got everything back to them--in both classes. Both classes went very well, actually. I started each class with a little mini-lecture about approach, what I do and do not want, as precisely and clearly as I can state it. And I am more than a little abashed to admit that, in setting up the first version of a paper, I'd never before been precise about the value of isolating three points in one's thesis that will then be developed in the body. I've always ended up doing that in conferences, after the fact--as if somehow students would just understand the Magic Rule of Three by osmosis. But this time not only did I specify that part of the instructions, we also used part of the class discussion to isolate three things for each of the two potential topics.

Now, I don't for a moment believe that I will consequently see a quantum boost in their papers as a result of this "Oh, duh!" moment of mine--but if it helps even a hemi-demi-semi-skosh, I'll be pleased.

I still have more than I wish I did to mark for tomorrow's 102--and the poor students in 229 will very likely have to wait until Thursday to get anything back (mea culpa)--but because I was up at 4:30 (FOUR THIRTY, y'all), I need a nap before I try to finish up. I'm in the tail-end of my office hour right now and am waiting for a student who asked to see me but couldn't make the regularly scheduled time (happy to oblige). I thought I'd take this opportunity to blog a bit.

So, various close encounters of the student kind: a student showed up to class today, having missed the last two weeks of class (one of those a snow day, but still), and although he said he'd done all the work, I notice that he had no reading journals for me. Still, he said he could keep up, so I'll give him a little more rope with which to either save or hang himself. Similar thing with another student in the other 102, but he hadn't even picked up the reader yet. Um, sorry, but no. He seems a nice enough kid, and he's studying for his EMT exam, but if he can't even be bothered to pick up a free reader within the first three weeks of class...? No.

And Mr. Smart (so he thinks) had about a thirty-twoth of a journal with him in class today and was about as useful to anything going on as one of the linoleum floor tiles. I returned his "reflection" on the assignment with a minus (as in, "well, you turned in something more than a blank page"). He was shocked and offended. As he took 25 years to pack up at the end of class, and since all the other students were gone, I decided, "Oh, what the hell: let's make this a teaching moment." I asked him if he understood why it got such a low mark. "Because it wasn't long enough?" No, my dear: because all you did was complain about how the assignment was too hard and how you shouldn't be expected to write anything as long as 4-5 pages because you work and have to take care of your baby brother and in your 101 class the final paper was 4-5 pages so it was completely unreasonable of the professor to expect you to start with anything that absurdly, insanely long, and and and and. That's not what the assignment was. Oh, he said. Can I do it over? (Should I just put him out of my misery now or allow him to delude himself a little longer?) OK, I said. You needed to vent, and you vented, and now you can do the assignment I asked you to do. He tells me he now understands what he needs to do. But all he's done so far is complain and make excuses for why he shouldn't have to do what is required. (Clearly, that's a "smart" way to deal with a professor, or anyone in a position of authority.) In any event, he also now has more rope: he can do with it what he will.

The campus bells are playing "Wayfaring Stranger," which is not as good as the near-blizzard-Wednesday when they were playing "Let It Snow" but similar in irony, to my mind, to the time they played the theme from The Godfather. Who makes these choices?

In any event, I will do a little P&B paperwork (no real thinking required) and meet with my student. Then home to nap and mark more assignments, dinner, movie, bed. And with any luck at all, the alarm will go off at the correct hour tomorrow--7 a.m.--and not a nanosecond before.

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