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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Another lovely student mentoring moment

After the 101 class today, I met with a student who is in Mystery and Detective Fiction and who was in my 101 last fall. She's very shy, very insecure--and extremely intelligent. This is the second time she's been in to see me about her thoughts regarding where she might go after Nassau; she's thinking about going to a small, private women's college, which I think is a great idea for her. I only spent one year at Chatham College, in Pittsburgh, but it was the best year of my undergraduate education, infinitely better than the rest of the years put together: I didn't have another educational experience anywhere close until grad school, and now, in hindsight, I wish I'd stayed there for the full four years. (If they hadn't decided to go co-ed and become a university, I'd suggest she go there, in fact. The place had--and surely still has--its problems, but it was still wonderful.) Paul was deeply involved in the craziness of his role on the Academic Senate Executive Committee--that's a topic for another day, I think--but he couldn't help but overhear part of our conversation, and he popped up from what he was writing to suggest a book for her: something about liberal arts schools people don't know about that can transform your life. I'm delighted he did: she's the kind of person, and student, who doesn't need to be focused on a career track just yet. She needs to be in an environment where her mind and soul will be valued and nurtured, and that means some nontraditional, off-kilter, groovy liberal arts school where people talk about deep philosophical ideas and dress like hippies and don't give a crap what anyone else thinks.

What I love about talking with her is that when we first start talking, she tends to be very hesitant and shy, has a hard time making eye contact: her voice and hands are on the verge of shaking. Then, as we talk, she relaxes, she starts to make more eye contact; she starts to laugh a little; her hands are calmer. I don't know much about her history, but I think it's been pretty brutal--and from what she said today, I think it's included serious misdiagnoses of her psychological states. She said she's been told she has Asperger's syndrome, and it seems quite clear to me that she is nowhere on the autism spectrum. She may have severe social anxieties--but I have a hunch they were induced by something in her background, not something in her brain chemistry. We talked about creating our own narrative of who we are--and I said yes, that's what we do. All of us: we make up a story of who we are. Sometimes there's an external narrative that is imposed on us; sometimes we incorporate that narrative--but we can also choose to change it, to create another narrative and work to adjust our internal sense of who we are to match the new external narrative that we want to make real. It isn't easy (and there's only so much we can truly change)--but it's all still a story. And in terms of the narrative she tells the schools she wants to transfer to, it's up to her how she wants to frame that narrative, how much of her past she wants to relate, and the way she chooses to relate it.

Conversations like that one, however, do make me think about that career change I keep mulling over, the one that means I'd have to go back to earn another degree so I could hang out my shingle as a therapist. I'm not qualified to do the kind of work with that young woman that I'd really like to do, but I want her to do that kind of work with someone--someone really good. Not that I necessarily would be, but that's sure what she deserves.

Radical shift of gears here: I whipped through the last four promotion folders I needed to look at before Thursday's P&B meeting. My evaluation is much more sketchy than I'd like, but I'm not letting myself feel guilty. This is a first submission of the damned things: we'll see them several more times before the final versions head over to college wide P&T (promotion and tenure). And the only ones I really need to pay close attention to, I did: the three I'm responsible for mentoring. The rest, I did a good enough job on. Next week. I have to look at the sabbatical folders again: there is some rush on those, as they have to go over to the college-wide committee at the end of the month, but there also aren't many of them, so, well, whew on that.

The 101 class went OK. The most hard-working young woman wasn't there--she's now missed two classes in a row, and I know she's freaking out about it, but she's been having serious health problems, so she and I need to talk about what to do. Another young woman was there, but she hasn't been turning in 90% of the work, despite multiple warnings. I thought about warning her again--or even telling her, flat out, that she's going to fail--but for now I've decided to let it ride. She's been warned. Maybe she needs the harsh lesson of getting the F at the end. The young man who has been unable to grasp some of the basics all along--who didn't understand that he plagiarized, why what he did was plagiarism, that he couldn't do it again without it being considered plagiarism again, that plagiarism would earn him a zero (I could go on with all the various ways I tried to convey the problem to him)--stayed after class to see if he's going to pass or not. I probably should have simply said, "No, you're not." The honest truth is that he's managed to pull out low-pass grades just enough that he might be able to squeeze out a D. Can he get a C? Highly unlikely. I don't know why I wasn't more fierce with him: I've known pretty much since the first week that his chances of doing well were slim at best, and he doesn't add anything at all to the class discussion or dynamics, so it won't hurt the class any to have him gone--but I'm not just cutting him loose. I'll let him finish this paper--but after that, I really should tell him he can't get a C, even if mathematically it's possible, and I should get him out. If I were to keep only the students I think are honestly capable of doing the work and getting something real out of the class, I'd end up with five. Five.

I've also decided that I am not going to allow more time for the revisions for the SF class. As I said yesterday, the axe really does need to fall, and truly, the sooner the better, for them as well as for me. I'm going to take the huge stack of homework home with me (homework in more than one sense, I guess), and I'm going to do the same calculation I did for the M&D students so when I see them in class on Thursday, I can have them figure their grades and see where they stand. That way, the ones who do the revision will know as soon as they see their revision grades whether the new mark is enough to pull them into passing territory or not. Unlike what I did with M&D, I may also give them two bench marks: this is enough to pass; this is enough to transfer. (A D passes; a C transfers.)

Maybe that will chase some of them out.

I also was thinking about sending actual "snail mail" letters to the students who have simply stopped coming to class to remind them that if they don't actually officially withdraw, they'll get an Unofficial Withdrawal, which calculates in their GPA as an F--but no. Again, they may need the harsh lesson. Grow up, kiddies. Take a little responsibility for your own lives here. I'm not chasing you around to be sure you're taking care of your own education.

There are other little niggly bits of flotsam that I've been trying to sweep off my desk: getting some information pulled together to support the decision to offer advising/mentoring to honors students (who may be great students but whose lives outside of school are often train wrecks), starting--already--to think about getting ready to teach Modern American Poetry in the spring, including getting a little booklet of the poems copied in advance instead of (as I've done in the past) copying the poems as I go along; getting copies made of the rest of the readings for the 101 class this semester, plus the final reading for the SF class--though I want to wait a bit for that, as I'm not sure how many will be left by then; getting a copy of my Nature in Lit reader and syllabus to Virginia so it can be considered as a potential Honors course (another way to potentially get it to run); contacting the Distance Ed VP about getting a stipend to develop either Native American Lit or Nature in Lit as online courses ... oh, there's always more to do.

But for now, I'm just going to decant all the student assignments into a shoulder bag to schlep home and get out of here. I was sort of hoping the BOT meeting, where Paul is being held hostage, would miraculously end early and he'd be back here so we could go out for a drink together, but I have a sinking feeling he'll be there until some ungodly hour after midnight. That's a whole circle of hell Dante didn't know about: BOT meetings. I love my friend, and I'm sorry he has to suffer through that, especially as he's done nothing to deserve the damnation: he's a good man, and he does excellent work at a horrifically difficult job. I wish I could do more than remind him from time to time how great he is, and how much he needs to let roll off his back. But much as I love him, I'm not waiting around for him. I'm going home.

1 comment:

  1. Truly absorbing and at times even moving, Tonia. As Ellen Ginsberg says in Kaddish, I wept realizing how we suffer. Your vision of the small liberal arts school was close to my own experience from sophomore to senior year at Bard though Beinhtin was nearer the womb-crucible in which young women could thrive. And your empathy for our friend Paul is shared. Thank you. B

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