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Thursday, October 30, 2014

And better still

For a little while, I thought the subject of tonight's post was going to be "the humiliation that won't die." The colleague who was so upset about my teaching the class she should, by all rights, have gotten put a copy of her preference form in my mailbox yesterday, so when I got in today, there it was--and honestly, she did everything anyone could possibly expect to indicate just how much she wanted that particular section. I can't go back to her and say "Oh, but you didn't indicate..." or "Oh, but you said...." She might as well have indicated her preference in neon.

I wrote to her and said that I was all the more baffled that she hadn't gotten the course--which I am, although I'm sure there were reasons at the time. I'm afraid one reason may be simply that I picked my courses before we did her schedule--but even so, if I'd known how much she wanted that class, I wouldn't have taken it out from under her; I'd have settled for something else (or at least I like to think I would have been gracious and honorable enough to cede the course to her). I apologized again.

Then I got a long e-mail from her, in which she said that the fact that it happened twice in a row "strained credulity" and that she saw it not just as something that happened to her but as a pattern that seemed to be getting worse: unqualified or underqualified faculty being given creative writing courses when creative writing faculty are not. Because she perceives that as a pattern, she said that, despite my assurances, she didn't feel at ease about the issue. She further explained that she'd been originally slated to observe me teaching the Fiction Writing class but that she asked to switch assignments with someone else, as she didn't think she could be fair and impartial--which I think is honest and honorable. And she hastened to say that she absolutely supports my application for promotion and wouldn't want to jeopardize it in any way, and she hoped I know her well enough to believe in her integrity about that.

My turn for a long e-mail, which I hope you don't mind if I quote:

"I fully understand your concerns, and I agree with you entirely that the methods for course assignments need to be more carefully considered in terms of qualifications--across the board but particularly in regard to Creative Writing faculty. You are quite right to bring the matter to light and to ensure that the issue is clearly addressed, especially by the scheduling committee. I hope you know that I am a firm ally in this issue, and I will do everything I can to address it so that you do feel at ease--not just personally but in defense of the Creative Writing Program and its faculty.

"I am truly ashamed that I am teaching a course for which I am not qualified, especially when someone with your qualifications has specifically requested the course and not received it. I hope you believe my assertion that I honestly did not know that you had asked for that class--and that if I had known, I would not have taken it. Nevertheless, my individual culpability is my responsibility, no matter what the process was. I also hope you believe me when I say that I will never again transgress against my own standards regarding the need for the best qualified faculty to teach any course. I shouldn't have taken the assignment, and I will not teach the course again.

"You are a person of deep integrity and you are scrupulously fair in everything I have ever seen you do: you are a professional I respect and admire greatly. The fact that you asked to have the observation reassigned testifies to your sense of what is right and to your professionalism, and I thank you for your clarity in explaining the entire situation to me. I know that you are a supportive colleague and will review my promotion application with the clarity and collegiality that you bring to all your work. I hope you know me well enough to believe I am also a colleague you can trust."
When I saw another e-mail from her after I got back from classes, I thought, "Oh, god..." but no: it was very sweet. She said she also respects me and feels affection for me, and she suggested that the next time we meet each other, we hug and then let the whole thing go. Perfect. Yes: that sounds like exactly what should happen next.
So, well, whew.
Then, as planned, I went to my first 101 classes, sat them in a circle, and just talked with them for a while. It was very interesting. After some preamble about wanting them to succeed but seeing that they are not coming through on the work, I said, "Am I asking too much?" First, we discussed the "Daily 25." After some conversation, the agreement was that I'd still start each class with that, but students are encouraged to remember that they're optional, extra credit--and only do them when doing so does not interfere with their ability to do their other work. Then, the readings: am I asking too much? The problem is the difficult of their keeping on top of the reading on a new subject while they're still working on their papers on the old subject. That led to talking about the papers, and again: am I asking too much? One young woman said that she doesn't find any value in the revision process, that it's too much--but I pointed out she has not, in fact, gone through it with me yet, as she hadn't turned in the first version of either paper in time for the revision steps.
That almost turned into a bit of a battle (especially when she said she'd already learned all about how to do revision in high school: that got my dander up), but another student--the sole remaining member of the two buddies I may have mentioned--asked her about her process, and when she detailed it, I said, "So, why don't you submit your paper earlier in your process?" It took a while for her to get what I was suggesting, but when she did, she was happy to give that a whirl.
Across the board, they said they like getting the amount of feedback I give; they just wanted more time to work on it. So I've ditched the second submission of three: they won't get much (if any) sentence level feedback from me, though I will let them know what the problems are just in overall bullet points (comma splices, fragments, "static," whatever)--and it's incumbent on them to get the help they need for that stuff, either by coming to me individually or going to the Writing Center (where they will also get feedback for further revision, which is good).
Now that they have more time to work on their revisions, they feel like they can keep up with the reading better--and I'm happy to have them spend more time working through the revising, assuming they actually do so.
And then we had a lively conversation about the reading, which was great.
I set the second class up in a circle, and I essentially told them what I'd worked out with the previous class, checking in with them along the way to see if they agreed. One student (the Young Activist) said she relies on the second version and doesn't want to lose it. OK: it's optional. If you want it, we can do it. Otherwise, just go from first version to final.
Since we spent less time hashing out what they need and what they feel they can do, we had more time to talk about the reading--and their discussion was far more sophisticated than the first group. That difference between the two classes is pretty well true across the board: the second class is more sophisticated, has more students of higher intellectual wattage--and more who are doing well in terms of staying on top of the work. But I like the first group too: they're a lot of fun in their own way.
And the main thing is, I walked away from both classes feeling good about where I left the students, about the adjustments I've made, about what I've learned.
So despite all the emotional upheaval of the last days--or maybe in part because of that upheaval--this was a very good week. I gained some profoundly important insights; it kind of doesn't get better than that.
I am, however, feeling like I've run several marathons, so enough for now. I'll do a little more online work for the classes, given this restructuring, and then I'll head for the hills.

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