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Thursday, February 6, 2014

One balloon of lead, one somewhat floaty, with a dash of Peyton Place

I'm becoming increasingly worried about Nature in Literature. The students are simply unable to deal with the readings--and as much as I think they should be able to read at the level I've assigned, if they can't, they can't. I need to figure out how to give them a challenge they feel they can master, and right now, all they feel is screaming frustration. Today I tried going over some of the critical material in class--and they'd have been more comfortable on a rack with thumb screws.

So, first idea: I'm going to ditch the critical material requirement entirely. Fuck it. They can learn how to use secondary sources somewhere else, from someone else.

Second idea: once I see how they're doing with Darwin (which we started in class and which was a slog and a half), I may ditch a good bit of what's in their readers--although it hurts me to see some of the stuff go (Thoreau's essay "Walking," for instance, which I can tell already would be far too painful). I will instead troll through my bookshelves to find more approachable stuff--all contemporary. This probably will mean re-doing the paper topics entirely--but I'm willing to go there, too. Whatever it takes, short of saying "Let's just read Dr. Seuss." I've told them that I don't want to lose them, and so far most of them are hanging in there, but I really do not like torturing students, and clearly they feel they're being tortured.

I took it as a good sign that a few of them wanted to talk to me after class--mostly about their works cited pages for their mini-papers, which they submitted today--but also my student from last semester's 102 needed to talk to me about the fact that she's pretty lost. I told her that if her mini-paper is a disaster, I'd let her re-do it--and then I thought (yet another adjustment), although I hadn't planned to allow revisions of the mini-papers, I always have in the past, so, why not? I'm just desperate to find the alchemy that will turn that lead balloon into something more buoyant.

More like the 102, in fact--though it took a little jostling to get that one airborne. They were, as usual, doing terrific work in their groups, and when I called a halt to that part of the process, I teased them about being lively in groups and then slumping lifeless as soon as I turned discussion over to the class as a whole. Then I said, "So, who wants to start us out with something?" Silence, and I said, "SEE???" They laughed, and immediately one of the better students jumped in--and then things started rolling. At the end, I put some of their ideas on the board (still their ideas, although I acknowledged that I'd been steering the conversation). I pointed out, "I'm essentially giving you your thesis here"--but I had to ask, "Am I seeing a lot of thinking going on, or all you all Bambi in headlights?" Some laughing, but mostly that look that says I just turned into Charlie Brown's teacher: "Wah-wah-wah...." But it's on them: I gave them the chance to ask questions, to go over things with me. I probably will get floods of e-mails over the weekend, but generally, I love that. Bring it on.

No matter what, I know perfectly well that the papers will be the usual mess, despite what I said and their nods indicating comprehension. Still, this is a learning process, after all, and even though I've been through it a gazillion times, they haven't, so I need to be patient.

On a completely different front, before my first class there was a small Peyton Place moment. Ms Enthusiastic, who was in Mystery last semester and is in Nature this one, showed up at my office door, paper in hand, and said she was too upset to come to class. I know she has a young son, and I know he had health problems last semester, so I immediately asked what was wrong, fearing he might be ill. No. Turns out, her boyfriend has been hitting on Judy Blue Eyes, and Ms Enthusiastic feels that Judy has been encouraging the flirtation while denying having done anything wrong, and Ms Enthusiastic says Judy is her best friend (even though they only met last semester, in my class), so she doesn't know which of the two deserves more of her anger or outrage.... Oh, the drama. In any event, I told her I understood and she fled. Shortly after, as I was approaching our classroom, I saw Judy in the hall with Calyx and a few other students, and Judy snappishly said she wouldn't be in class today. Fine by me, as she's not on my roster anyway. When I got back to the office, there was a terse little e-mail from her that she won't be coming to the class at all any more. Again fine by me; I'm just as happy, as when she was there, she and Ms Enthusiastic were pretty disruptive--and as I said, she's not on my roster, so--well, go wherever you like and go in health: no skin off my nose.

But I will admit that this situation raises even more red flags that I may have been manipulated into false sympathy for her--or at very least I think I am seeing that she is not as sweet and fragile as she projects. Between the two young women, I'm afraid I'm more likely to believe Ms Enthusiastic's version of the story (not that I've heard Judy's)--just because she has never been a problem, other than being a little too Tiggerish on occasion. Judy, on the other hand? Neediness incarnate.

As I said, oh, the drama. It reminds me again--as if I needed reminding--how young they are, and how limited their coping skills are at this stage in their lives. (Most of them, anyway.) I'm not going to get involved in this--not my business at all--but I hope whatever happens doesn't derail Ms Enthusiastic. She's an asset to the class--largely because she is so like Tigger, even though that very trait also can become problematic.

Well, whatever. What more can I say.

Looking forward, it seems that there may not be a snowstorm on Sunday/Monday: the forecast is getting progressively less dire. If I can meet with the class on Monday, I have a plan for forcing things back on track, even though it would mean a relatively frantic Presidents' Week break for me (and the whole plan was that they'd have to work over the break and I would not--which I admit may seem unfair, but I am the empress of this domain after all). If class is canceled again on Monday, back to head scratching and mental juggling.

Now, once again, I'm going to flee the office without sorting things out of my wheelie-pack and into stacks on my desk. I had to spend time after class going through another mentee's promo folder--which is, I'm glad to report, in much better shape than the last one I helped with, though there is still work to be done--and that used up what few fumes I had to keep going. I'm now officially out of fuel and am heading home to restore the supply.

Onward and awkward.

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