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Wednesday, October 29, 2014


I pampered myself this morning, to make up for the emotional upheaval of yesterday: I slept in (not terribly late, but it was very nice not to have to answer to an alarm), and I bailed on Advisement. It's remarkable to me how much just that little thing did to lighten my feeling of burden. Things aren't even difficult in Advisement these days; it's just having to be there that feels like it's weighing me down.

I got a few papers graded, but I confess I spent a lot of time putting together the grade sheets for the 101 classes: I want the students to see for themselves just what they're doing in terms of their grades. I'm deeply disappointed that, in the earlier section, the students with the most potential are either completely AWOL (the young man with the most obvious intellectual wattage) or might as well be (a young woman who is clearly intelligent enough to do well but must be used to being allowed to skate by on simply her potential, as she has turned in almost nothing all semester--and always has an excuse).

The other section is somewhat better, in terms of the remaining students buttoning it up and getting work turned in, but I feel I need to have something tantamount to group therapy with them--especially with the earlier section.

As I ate my lunch (very belatedly), I was reading portions of a book by Buck Brannaman and William Reynolds. Brannaman is famed as the inspiration for the novel The Horse Whisperer, and the book is something between a collection of personal narratives and inspirational writing. But one phrase stood out to me: apparently, Buck told a participant in one of his clinics to replace fear with learning.

Replace fear with learning.

I want to have that on every single handout I give my students. I want to give them T-shirts with that as the slogan. I want to give them embroidered samplers to hang above their computers at home. That is precisely, exactly, what I want them to do.

But it's too late for most of the students in this semester's classes, as I've already lost them. The ones who are left? I don't know what to do. I truly don't. If I give them the grades they're legitimately learning, most of them will fail the course. If I push out the ones who are failing, in essence force them to withdraw--for their own benefit, so they don't blow their GPAs before they even get a chance to start their academic careers--I'll end up with about three students in each class.

It just drives me wild that even the students who could do it, who have the chops to make it, are falling by the wayside. And no matter how many "brilliant" ideas I think I have for next fall, I simply cannot come up with anything that will help this semester. All I can think to do is sit down with them, put all the work aside, and talk. Tell them what I see, ask them why, ask them what they think would make sense at this point. Maybe they'll have useful insights. Maybe, even if they don't, I'll be able to get a sense of what's going on from what they do say, from the blind-spots or fears I deduce from how they respond to what I say.

The bottom line is, I cannot teach them if they don't do their part. And they're not.

So, I suppose that begs the question, how can today possibly be better than yesterday? It's better because nothing is coming at me from the outside--except, I must say, some truly lovely support. Last night I got a very kind e-mail from one of the members of the Creative Writing Committee, expressing admiration for my honesty. Today, one of the co-chairs of the committee pulled me aside to give me a hug and told me she doesn't want me to be upset. I have good colleagues, and I don't believe anyone truly thinks badly of me: even the colleague who was so angry made a point of saying she didn't want to make it an issue between us personally. And because I didn't go to Advisement, and because my own students today were part of a master class by the novelist who was on campus for our Literature Live! series, I didn't need to really be "on." I could be there, participate, do my job (do it well), and still be rather snail-like in my shell.

I'm actually pretty well over the upheaval, but I do want to be very quiet and still for a while. Oddly enough, I think I can take some of that quiet and stillness into the classes tomorrow. I don't have to be "on" in the way I usually do, if I do as I intend. I want to put the desks in a small circle, and just talk. Maybe the entire period. Just talk. I don't need to be the Hard Professor; I just want to be a person in the room with other people, all of us ostensibly with the same goal in mind, none of us sure how to get there.

It's very late--again--and I do need to get in here relatively early tomorrow so I can get the papers done. It's sad that there are so few papers, but as always, that does make my life easier. And we'll see what happens.

We're officially past the half-way point now: I see each class thirteen more times before the semester is over (actually, twelve: a sub will cover one of the days with the 101s and I will cancel the last day of class for the Fiction class, as I'll be getting on a plane later that day). The roller-coaster is gathering speed, so whatever does happen, it won't be happening for very long--and then this semester will just be a story that I tell about my past. I find that very comforting.

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