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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Deeply annoyed by one, deeply touched by another

Miss Attitude came to class today and was as sweet as she could possibly be. I'd be suspicious of brown-nosing, except I've seen this behavior from her before: she can be very earnest and demonstrate some desire to learn, so I realize that her attitude simply reflects her background, not an attitude toward me in particular, and that she simply has a hell of a lot to learn about being a student--and being a person outside the "street" environment that has formed her to this point. That realization changed my own attitude toward her. Today, she showed me that she had some assignments that I'd recorded as zeroes: she hadn't really done the work, but she'd done enough that I should have given her at least a few points. I diligently changed the marks--but, given my new compassion for her, I decided not to simply spring the F on her: I told her that even adding those points in, she was at best on a borderline. She was stunned: "Like, I might not pass?" Right--and I pointed to the missing essay assignments, explaining that those were the real concern. I then offered her the W, if I crunched the numbers and found definitively that she wouldn't pass.

The final calculation, including the missed assignments? 25. Out of 100. An F is 59.

So I sent her an e-mail (I'd told her to look for one), and I told her the very narrow time frame in which she will have to complete the withdrawal process: if she hasn't done it by the time I start entering grades, the ship will have sailed.

I also showed the Young Philosopher the page from the final essay assignment that said it could not be accepted late. I gave it to him at the start of the period, and he had to sit there, through the whole period, feeling sick to his stomach, wondering if he could possibly pass the course. Once I finished talking to Miss Attitude, and he and I were alone in the room, we talked about it. He admitted to having made a bone-headed error in not reading the entire assignment, and he asked me if I wasn't going to accept the paper. I said, "In all fairness, I shouldn't, as I didn't give other students the chance to turn it in late--including the one who just walked out the door. However, you were a better student than she was, and it would kill me for you to fail the course because of this one mistake." I told him his paper would get a hefty penalty for having been late, so although he'd pass the class, he won't pass with the kind of grade he could potentially have earned. He was relieved and grateful.

And by the way, the Young Intellectual was there--but wisely had decided to withdraw. Good.

However, I got back to my office to find the self-evaluation from Little Miss Arrogance--who had not bothered to come to class today. I feel compelled to quote the most pertinent passage, exactly as written: "I know i didn't like the essay revision process that you tried to push but i was just very confident and comfortable in my own writing and revision process because it works for me. I think thats something that is important when it comes to writing papers, you have to find a process that works for you and that you're comfortable with because thats how you do your best writing. I was fortunate enough to have been taught most of these things in high school and i came out with a process that worked for me. I'm aware that there are always knew ways to do something but i like to follow the saying 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' which is how i feel about my essay writing process."

And yet she says she learned "a lot." Bullshit. Complete, utter, unmitigated bullshit. My immediate impulse is to write a comment on her self-evaluation (since she did ask for comments on her final paper and will be picking it up next week). I'd like to point to the passage I just quoted and say, "In fact, I don't think you have learned anything--because you felt, and feel, you have nothing to learn. The fact that you are clinging to what is comfortable tells me that you are not ready to challenge yourself and improve. In my experience, the resistance to change that I see in your self-evaluation indicates someone who is not ready for college and will not benefit from the experience. Of course, it is possible that you will be able to find some measure of success without ever having to take a risk or try anything new. That would be a shame, as you would be cutting yourself off from rich and rewarding possibilities, but if that is how you want to proceed, I hope it gets you what you want out of life."

Short translation, as Kristin would say, "Good luck with that."

However, I'm not going to act on that impulse, at least not yet. I will be back on campus tomorrow to finish grading and crunching numbers and all that fun stuff, and I'll let the whole thing simmer overnight. Maybe, by morning, I'll be less completely annoyed (OK, I'll admit it: utterly pissed off), and tomorrow I will be able to put the little snot's attitude in perspective. I would like to think my comments would sting enough that she'd have to reconsider her attitude (which, right now, I find infinitely more infuriating than Miss Attitude's), but in all honesty, I suspect her arrogance provides sufficient shielding that nothing I say could penetrate. She'll either learn the lesson I want to impart the hard way--or it truly is possible that she'll live her entire life without ever having to face a challenge or take a risk, and maybe that would be just fine with her. I would find that a crying shame, really: how flat and dull and featureless that life would be--but it's her life, not mine, and it is not my job to try to "save" her.

But I confess, reading that passage--especially that I "tried to push" a process that she didn't need because she already learned it all in high school--makes me want to slap her into next month.

I know that part of why I am so infuriated by her attitude is because I was so much the same way at her age, I don't much like who I was then, so I hate it like poison when I see it in someone else. It's really the 18-year-old me that I'm so enraged with--but I like to believe that I'd at least have been cut deeply if a professor had responded to me as I want to respond to her, that I actually did care, and wanted to learn, underneath my arrogance. But I do wonder how many of my professors wanted to slap me silly.

Ick. Blech.

Shifting gears, I did read the other students' self-evaluations, and they were all sweet and heart-felt and truly proud of themselves. But the most amazing moment of the day was at the end of the second class. The Introverted Intellectual--who is now in the honors program and will be taking 109 from Kristin--not only wrote a beautiful, almost painful, self-evaluation, but, shy and introverted as she is, she still said that the class with me had truly changed things for her on a profound level. She said, "I truly mean it: I think you changed the direction of my life."

One of the other students teared up, hearing that. I remain too stunned to know how to respond, except to say to her, as I did, that I'm deeply honored. If I had any part in the transformation she feels she's undergone this semester, I am profoundly gratified. I'm stunned because I think she really did mean it, and that's an awe-inspiring responsibility to bear. I honestly don't know what else to say. I'm simply knocked flat--but if she goes on to the kind of academic career that I think she's capable of achieving, I will take enormous pride in knowing I had something to do with it.

To counteract the nasty taste of the self-evaluation from Little Miss Arrogant, let me close this with a quotation from the Introverted Intellectual's self-evaluation. What she says--and how she says it--will demonstrate exactly what I mean:

"It was a relief to realize that the process of writing our papers was guided, but I didn't anticipate how valuable the slow process would be. Being forced to annotate articles about a subject meant that I had to concentrate on one source at a time. And if my wallowing in feelings of inferiority was my self-destructive form of self-reflection, the process of revision and editing represented constructive ways in which to channel my natural tendency to nitpick. Redeeming is far too dramatic a word to describe the process, but the opportunity to refine and tweak and improve something that you're unhappy with is powerful. Little in life is set in stone and knowing that gives me a sense of the agency I had denied myself.
       .......
        "As much as I found that writing could be an anxiety-provoking affair, I also realized how powerful it could be. Through writing, I can express myself in ways I feel too awkward to in everyday life. The person I feel I have 'inside' of me, for lack of a better word, with more sophisticated thoughts and strong opinions, can show up on page. I can better conceptualize who I really am and I hope I can use that outside of writing. This class has been a formative experience, and I am glad I started my college career. If this essay is unfocused it is because there is just so much I got from this experience and if it is self-centered and navel-gazing, it is because it impacted me in ways that go far beyond the mechanics of my writing."

No teacher of writing, anywhere, any time, under any circumstance, could possibly ask for more.



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