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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Just a teensy bit of panic in the air

Today was a solidly productive day, thank all the gods at once: I got all the papers marked for both classes (just barely, but done is beautiful) and still got a few other bits of flotsam taken care of. I completed the letter for that promotion folder and wrote up one of the remaining observations (only one more! woot woot!). I'm still feeling small bursts of panic--not so much about work at the moment, but I have a rather packed weekend ahead of me, including a stint as a judge for a speech and debate event, where some of our students will be competing. I've never done it before, and now I'm regretting like hell that I agreed to do it: I was thinking "this will look good for promotion"--and it will, but I'm not so sure that the line in the promo application is worth the agita of having to schlep way out east on Saturday afternoon for a few hours. Blech.

But ah well.

I've also had to send out e-mails to several students today informing them that, sadly, they are have to make the painful decision to withdraw or they will fail the class. I said the same in person to two students, too: one in each of today's classes. I hate it when this happens, that students who have been trying heroically all semester run into an insurmountable problem at the end and can't make the last lap. It's almost never the student's fault: in most cases, something has blown up in the student's life over which he or she has zero control--but nevertheless, the outcome in terms of class is what it would be if the student had deliberately sabotaged the semester. Too many absences, too many missing assignments--or a missing first version of the final paper, in the 102 class (my rules on that are very clearly stated, and it's the one time when I absolutely cannot not be flexible): it doesn't matter why, all that matters is that it's happened. Sucks, but that's adult life.

I confess to a few little zips of anxiety over having to deliver that bad news. A teensy bit of panic knowing that next week will be very much like this week in terms of having to crank through assignments. The only reason the final week will be any less anxiety producing is because I don't have to comment on the papers (or not on most of them): I just read, determine the grade, and crunch the numbers. Two weeks from right this minute, I'll be finishing up, please god.

On a more positive note, I think the 102 class went pretty well. We went over the final two readings very quickly; then I returned their papers and went around the room answering questions as students read my comments and began working on their revisions. I did snap at them a little: they all were groaning over the grades (of course), and I said, "Read the damned comments, don't just look at the grade." One student--the one who gets herself in trouble by trying too hard--said, "But this is bad!" pointing to all the comments I'd written. I snapped that it isn't bad: "Do I write those comments to make you feel like shit about your papers?" "No," one student replied, "You do it so we can improve." My patented response when a student gets it: "Thank you." I reminded them that the comments are intended to guide their revisions so they understand what they need to do. As I circulated the room, student after student said a variation on "but what you're asking is really hard." Um, yes. It is. Writing is hard. Writing well is harder. Learning to write and write well is harder still. I did tell them that part of why they feel frustrated is that the bar keeps getting raised. One student asked if it couldn't stay the same for a while and I said "No. Not if you want to learn anything."

OK, I admit. I'm cranky. But I don't feel angry or upset with them: I'm just getting past being sweet and nurturing Mommy. It's time for tough-love, my dear lambs. Deal.

In fact, I'm aware that, for my Monday office hour, I'm going to have to summon up some patience from somewhere: a student in the Mystery class has been whimpering all semester about how she's never had trouble with her papers in English classes before, and it's so frustrating that she can't get good grades from me, and she doesn't know what she's doing wrong--and yet she has not been to see me at all this semester, nor has she visited the Writing Center. She intends to come to my office hour on Monday--and I'm going to have to try very hard not to say, "This is absolute garbage. You have no ideas and your sentences make no sense. It's such crap I don't know how you graduated high school, never mind ended up in a sophomore level literature class." It's true: she's producing word salad and telling me that she's gotten good grades for it before. She may be trying to run a guilt trip: I've had students do that before: they've told me how they've always gotten wonderful grades in all their classes before mine--and I check their records to find that, no, in fact, they've gotten just about the same low grades I'm giving. Or she may have had what Paul and I call "joke" classes, taught by our colleagues who simply pat students on the head and give them good grades like they're passing out lollipops, keep the kiddies happy happy--and she genuinely may not know that what she's producing is largely incomprehensible and utterly inane. She wanted me to explain it via e-mail, or in the few minutes we had after class--but no: I said she needed to meet with me in person so I can show her in detail what the problems are. Of course, I've been saying this since her first graded assignment, but maybe this time she'll actually show up.

There's also a student in that class who is working his fanny off but is borderline learning disabled--and I'm being so generous about his grades, anyone who ends up with him after he leaves my class will think I've gone insane even passing him, never mind giving him the decent grade he's likely to earn. But with enough hand-holding and specific direction (and a lot of help with the sentence-level stuff), he can squeeze out a low C paper--and he's willing to put in the work to get there. I sincerely hope he never had to rely on his skills reading or writing to make a living, however.

Wow, I thought I was heading into positive territory and I ended up back in the more unhappy stuff. I guess the thing to celebrate is that these students are still hanging on. In fact, I let class go way early again today--and they wouldn't leave. I laughed and told them they are the only students I've ever had who didn't bolt for the door if I let them go early, and one of my gang of girls (Ms Enthusiasm, Judy Blue Eyes, and the Worker Bee) said I should be flattered. I am, of course, and deeply gratified. Note to self: keep this up for Nature in Lit next semester--and indeed for all my classes.

All those little jolts of adrenaline are keeping me on the manic side, but I need to try to let go--at least get out of here and get some dinner. Stories are already home to be read over the weekend (anxiety going zap zap zap at the thought); the rest stays here. Breathing, breathing: that's the main thing.

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