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Monday, March 10, 2014

Broken record

I know that I keep saying "tomorrow is another day," but part of me feels trapped in a sort of emotional Groundhog Day, in that I find I could practically copy and paste certain posts. Today, for instance, I could simply duplicate the "I know I'm going to regret it but I'm not doing any more work tonight despite blah blah blah" post that I've written far too many times. It is, in fact, true, all of the above (especially, perhaps, the "blah blah blah" part), but I get tired of saying it.

Instead, I'll detail a few specific interactions with students.

1) A student from Nature in Lit came to see me this morning to talk about how to work on her papers. She thought the problem was that English is not her first language, but the real problem is that she's never been called upon to think deeply before. Talking about the mini-paper I was returning to her, I was trying to get her to explain what William Bartram wants his readers to take away from his Travels, and all she could say was that he wants us to "appreciate" nature. OK, but appreciate it for what? For what it is. Ok, what is it? Blank stare. When he talks about what nature is, what we should value in it, what does he want us to see? Blank stare. It was difficult--and I handed her more than ideally I'd like ("So what you really mean is that his ability to see the details in his surroundings, because he's a scientist, gives him an ability to express to us the variety and beauty of the natural world, right?" when she hadn't meant anything at all). But she is getting better, and I don't want to discourage her. And she did say that she keeps thinking about what I said about frustration and not giving up.... She may never get all the way there, but I think she may be surprised at how much she learns, if she continues to try.

2) Many of us in Advisement have expressed our bewilderment and dismay at the fact that so many students with dust bunnies for brains think they're going to become nurses. Today I had a student who was a particularly vivid example of that syndrome. She began by asking why she wasn't in the nursing program. I asked her if she'd applied: no, what, she has to apply? Yes, but first... and before I could even get the next words out of my mouth she was asking what program she was in, and why was she taking these classes if they weren't going to help her.... When I could stem her twittering long enough to complete a sentence, I explained that she needs to take specific courses before she can even apply for the program, and--fending off repeated eruptions of further twittering--that until she can get into the program, she is best off in the general AA degree. I absolutely know that she has no clue what to sign up for when it comes time to register for fall courses--she couldn't even understand that she needs to have at least a B in the courses that are prerequisites for application--but she said she guessed she'd figure it out. I'm guessing she won't, but I also wasn't about to force her to get information she patently didn't want. I said, "If you find you want more guidance when you start to register, come back to see us any time" and metaphorically patted her on the head and sent her on her way. My real advice for her is to find someone with a lot of money who wants to adopt her or something, as I don't think she is capable of handling any job that would pay a living wage.

Bless her heart.

3) The class discussion was great: I think this may be the only time I've ever embarked on a close read of the first paragraphs of the book and had pretty much every student in the room engaged, interested, following along. The ones who spoke up were making excellent sense of the details--and one was picking up on some beautifully sophisticated and subtle understandings. Nice stuff.

4) I met with a student after class: his contributions to class discussion are always wonderful, but he clearly has no idea what college-level writing forms look like. We started out talking about his first paper--he'd missed the first version so he was essentially utterly screwed for the final version--but then we switched to talking about the poetry paper. He had already submitted the first version (I have it on my desk in that stack of things I should be marking tonight), but based on our conversation, he already has ideas for how to revise. For one thing, he started with some pat phrases that I had to take away from him--they sounded neat and tidy but bore little relationship to the poems themselves--but more to the point, in the process of our conversation, he hit on at least one truly wonderful interpretation of some lines in Sharon Olds's "Sex without Love." I just about set off fireworks, I was so thrilled: it really is a cool interpretation, one I've never thought of before, brand new to me--and it can truly work in a paper. I told him that ideas like that are where A's come from.

Speaking of A's and the students' desire for them: after class, a student asked me what he needed to do to get an A on a paper and I said, "Be brilliant." He looked poleaxed, so I reiterated that A's are for excellence, which is not common--but I also said that I'd be happy to talk to him about how he might work to achieve brilliance. I don't know if he's got an A brain--or if he can get his brain to A quality thinking in the time we have left in the semester--but I need to show them what an A looks like, so they get the idea. Back to the model student papers file....

Today was an addled sort of day: I was almost out of the building on my way to Advisement when I suddenly remembered that I was going to have to leave there early to observe a colleague, which would mean I wouldn't be able to return to my office before class, so I carefully put all my class stuff in my bag--but forgot that I'd need to have the log form that we use for the novel and the glossary assignment, plus the first few pages of the book (as I can't count on them to either have checked the assignment schedule or to have received my e-mail reminding them that they need it).... I copied the first pages of the novel in Advisement and I told them to download the form and assignment sheet from the home page--and just now, as I'm typing this, I realized I didn't really need to have those things today anyway, as their first logs and glossaries aren't due until next week. (They get a little break from writing for me this week, just a tiny but much deserved breather.)

But speaking of breathers, not only did I not have a chance to eat my lunch (it's sitting, rather squashed and pathetic, on the floor next to my wheelie-pack), I hardly had a chance to pee. And now it's 8 p.m. and I'm still here, which is not at all what I intended. Well, OK, Paul showed up in there, and we talked for almost an hour--which was great, as always, but now I really need to just get out of here.

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