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Monday, September 29, 2014

Stress dreams

Over the weekend, I dreamed that I had lost my temper with my students and most of them had immediately gotten up and left the room, abandoning the class in assorted fits of pique. It's one of my classic stress dreams (that and not being able to find a class that I'm supposed to be teaching, or not being able to get the students' attention, or realizing that it's three weeks into the semester and I've forgotten all about teaching X...), but the sad truth is, this is about when it will in some small measure start to come true.

Case in point: I got a petulant e-mail from a student asking for an extension on the deadline for his paper. His reason is that it isn't fair for him to have to do the paper, because I'm still holding on to one of his homework submissions: two pieces of one of his assignments had gotten separated, part of it attached to another student's homework, and so I'd asked him to resubmit the thing all together so I could correct his mark. I had to breathe carefully through my visceral reaction to the rather snotty "it isn't fair" bit, and I wrote him what I thought was a very compassionate e-mail in which I said no, I'm sorry, I can't extend the deadline, not because I'm being mean but because I have to get the paper back to you so you can do phase two. However, I told him, I can leave the assignment for you to pick up today, and blah, blah, every way I could think of to tell him A) that he could take a little responsibility (although I have his notes--which, I must say, are pretty valueless anyway--he can still access the article, as he found it doing an online database search) but B) he shouldn't worry because there are plenty of ways he can do the assignment without the missing notes.

The notes are still sitting on my office door. I haven't heard anything further from him. Somehow I think he'll show up with a withdrawal form, sooner or later.

I know this is part of their learning curve, and that it is important for them to have to encounter limits, be told "no"--but it drives me nuts that they simply get huffy and leave. I overheard a student in Advisement today who was in a huff about one of her teachers: what the student was reporting did sound unduly harsh on the professor's part (though I don't know the professor's side of the story), but even so, getting in a snit about it does not fix the situation--and no, we're not going to make exceptions for you because you don't think you've been treated fairly. News flash: life isn't fair, kiddies. We all take our undeserved knocks. We also get undeserved rewards. But in order to get anything at all, you have to stay in the game.

And speaking of staying in the game, the student who was poised to be one of my favorites this term but who had been AWOL contacted me today, finally answering the e-mail I sent in which I said I was worried about him. He asked to meet this afternoon, and I told him I could meet after 5, but that if he couldn't get here until after 6, he should e-mail me to let me know. He hasn't shown up, and I haven't heard from him. He reports that he's been in a terrible upheaval in his life--and I see no reason to disbelieve him--but the only thing that matters is that he has to get back on track. Continuing the motif of this post, much as I like him, I can't simply make exceptions in his case: there is a certain amount of work that the student has to do, no matter what else happens. If that minimum of work isn't done, the outcome will not be good.

Today's class was a bit of a disaster, too. I'm seriously considering simply ditching the rest of the readings, finding something else we can use for that portion of their grades. They simply can't seem to talk about the stories we read. Well, the Pseudo-Brit can, in his pompous, "I'm more brilliant than anyone" way, and one of my students from last year--a young man who is eternally, chronically late--can talk about the stories, but for the rest? Pulling teeth. I think we'll do more workshop-esque stuff with the exercises I'm having them do at home: let's talk about what we've got, how we might work on it to make it into something more, do some more writing on it in class.... The readings just don't work. I'll be mulling that over between now and Wednesday.

I also feel like things are in an unholy mess in both the office and my mind, but I can't seem to pull myself together enough to get truly organized. I have some copying I have to do, which is nicely brainless, but really, one of the things I feel is most lacking organization is any sense of what I'm going to do with the students in class tomorrow--when I put the schedule together, I thought we'd start reading the next essay in class, but I don't think that's going to work--and yet I can't seem to corral my mental processes well enough to figure out what will be most beneficial to them.

Side note: I did look at the next two paper assignments for the 101 classes and found a whopping error in each one. Nice to catch it now, before making the copies to distribute to the students.

But truly, I don't feel like I can think much more, and I am starting to feel anxious about the fact that I can't seem to think much more--which probably means it's about time to pack it in for the day. I'll noodle around for a while longer, hoping maybe Mr. AWOL shows up, but I'll simply have to home that tomorrow (being another day and all) will arrive with a little more mental acumen than I have at the moment.

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