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Monday, February 17, 2014

Hitting the wall--while on "break"

On Thursday and Friday, I graded all the papers for which I had hard copies in hand, scanned them and their accompanying rubric sheets, and sent them off to students. Then I found that my "life maintenance" days kept me from devoting time and energy to grading the papers that I only have electronically--until today. I have graded six of thirteen, not even past the halfway point, and I just hit the wall. I read four crap papers in a row, and I just can't stand it. I'm hoping wildly that there will be a few good papers in the remaining batch, but when I started on number seven, that's when I hit the wall--because it was crap, crap, crap. And I know there will be at least one more serious train wreck in the bunch, a very sweet young woman but my brain and hers do not mesh: she is very earnest and trying her heart out, but I simply confuse the hell out of her, so I can only imagine that she's lost on this paper. She may surprise me--they do, I know--but somehow I'm not counting on it.

I was ranting about it last night. I specifically state that the very first sentence should give the titles of the stories, the authors, and an overview of the topic--yet in more than half the papers, the first sentences are big, bloviating generalizations. They have been trained--carefully drilled--in using the literature as a sort of springboard into their own musings about whateverthefuck, so they barely glance in the direction of the story itself. One of my colleagues calls it playing with their own poop, which would be fine except I have to smell it, too, and tell them to clean it up.

But I'm bitching about the papers I actually have: the bigger source of frustration is the utter and complete lack of responsibility in getting the papers to me in the first place. Several students had trouble uploading their papers to Turnitin.com--and I finally figured out it's because they didn't set up their own account first, so they were trying to use the class ID and password as their own username and password. (I condensed pages of screen shots into one simple page of directions--but I also provided the screen shots--and they still couldn't figure it out). Several simply said, "I can't upload it, so I'm e-mailing it to you"--and they haven't bothered to check their e-mail for my response which says, "DO NOT E-MAIL THE PAPER TO ME. You must figure out how to upload it to Turnitin. If you don't, there's a penalty." Several were panicking about not being able to upload their papers, finally managed to log in to Turnitin--because I registered them in the class, at which point, Turnitin sent them an e-mail telling them how to log in--but they didn't upload their papers. As soon as they could log in, I guess they figured they were done.

Then there's the gentleman who sent an e-mail yesterday saying that he guessed he was pretty well screwed, because he'd waited until the last minute, couldn't upload to Turnitin, asked for me to grant him extended time--and hasn't bothered to use the time I extended. I registered him in the class-which worked for all those other students who couldn't get on to Turnitin, and I told him I'd take a 30-point penalty but I'd let him proceed if he uploaded the paper by end of day. Nothing.

And then there are those who turned in nothing at all, hard copy, electronically, e-mail: nothing. They're pretty much just gone, I'm afraid. In one assignment, the students in each class will be cut down by at least a third--and this isn't even the challenging stuff yet.

What worries me most here, however, is that this is the first paper from them. If I'm this frustrated and grouchy now, it does not bode well for the continuation of the semester. And I'm in the position of trying to figure out what's best for me in terms of the hard-ass factor. Will I feel better if I nail the irresponsible ones to the wall, tell them that they need to learn the importance of follow through--and know I'll lose them (now or later), or if they stay, they won't pass? Or will I feel better to give them the big scary warnings and grant a little mercy? (Oh, that slippery slope, that giving of an inch....)

And again, I find myself thinking that the only way to keep them in the class is to make things so easy that I can't feel comfortable with it. What am I supposed to do? I simply can't in good conscience allow them to leave my classroom still writing stuff that I wouldn't find acceptable in high school. But if they honestly have no clue what's wrong with it, or how to even approximate what I think they should be capable of doing, how are they to learn?

Well, all I can do is feel my way forward, working always to find any solution that alleviates stress in my life, so that working where I do works for me, not against me. The students will get what they get, good, bad, or indifferent. I can't cure everything that's wrong with the American educational system in sixteen weeks.

Tomorrow will be another day in which life maintenance--and life joy (tango class!)--will make it a little uncomfortable to find a good chunk of work time, but I'll keep chugging along. I just sent an e-mail to the students whose papers I've not graded yet, telling them that there's a delay and they'll get their papers either tomorrow or Wednesday. I told them to contact me if they wanted their papers ASAP but otherwise I'd assume they don't mind the delay. I have noticed that most of the students who got their scanned papers back haven't checked in to tell me that the e-mail has arrived, which suggests to me that they're waiting until, oh, Sunday night to start thinking about revising. Ah well. I'm not going to beat myself up to return papers that are just going to sit there, ignored, for days on end. I do want the damned things out of my hair, but I also don't want to spend days feeling like I'm being poked with a cattle prod.

The wall having been hit, now is my time to think what will best gratify me for this evening--and to practice the Scarlett O'Hara mantra over and over again.



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