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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Bitter? Really?

Earlier today, a colleague came in to the office and said he'd heard about the blog and was interested in reading it. He'd heard that it was very forthright--but that it was also sometimes "bitter." That surprised me. I'm still taken aback. I know I express a lot of emotional states in this blog, and many of them are not particularly pretty, but I don't think of myself as bitter. If my posts are coming across as bitter, I'm not expressing myself as clearly as I'd thought I was. I am often angry, frustrated, annoyed, despairing, irritated, snide, snotty, even raging--but somehow there is a connotation to "bitter" that simply doesn't feel like it fits. I suppose it's the connotations of feeling aggrieved or resentful that don't fit how I feel. I'm sure I've resented some things on occasion and complained about them here, but those moments are transitory.

In fact, despite all the ranting that I do here, I'm actually pretty nauseatingly content with my lot in life, and with what I do for a living. No: not content. Overwhelmed with gratitude. I do something that I feel matters profoundly; I do it very well, and I get paid for it. That's a fucking trifecta, folks.

I had a realization today that also rather took me aback. I was marking the revisions for the students in the two lit courses, and on one, I actually wrote a rather lengthy comment. This particular student has been driving me mildly bonkers all semester. I think I've mentioned him before: we've had several little tussles over things like the fact that he shouldn't read in class (Student: "I thought the point of class was to read." Me: "No. Reading you do at home. The point of class is to discuss what you've read."), about the fact that his papers aren't correctly formatted (which mostly consisted of my explaining to him 1. that I wasn't going to interrupt the entire class discussion to talk to him about his paper format and 2. that he needed to look it up and not rely on me to explain it). He finally submitted a paper that was formatted correctly, and his works cited page was almost correct--but the entire tone of the paper is very informal and off-the-cuff, and I told him that he would almost certainly hit a point when that would absolutely, categorically not be acceptable, and that in years past I wouldn't have accepted it.

And that stopped me. In years past I wouldn't have accepted it. That's absolutely true. The former student who wrote to me over the weekend about how I taught her how to write got an experience from me that my students don't get any more. No wonder they don't drop in droves any more: I'm not as hard as I used to be.

I keep poking around in my psyche to see if I feel terrible about that: if I feel any sense of shame or self-loathing that I've let my standards slide. Perhaps I do, a little, in the farthest corners, but mostly I realize that I've changed because I cannot, in good conscience, demand of my students a kind of writing that they have not been taught before. The only way I would feel right about hiking my standards up where they used to be would be if I spent the first weeks of the semester working just on writing skills--a crash course in composition--and then started to work on the literature part.

When Paul and I were talking earlier, I said that I'm really thinking about having the first assignment for the spring's Poetry class have a required conference component: Students would have to submit a paper, which I would mark. They'd then have to meet with me with a carefully considered revision plan. Then the actual revision would be optional--but having to at least meet with me and consider revision would give them the experience of talking to me about their papers, give them the idea that revision is desirable, that sort of thing. That's about as close as I can come to doing what I really want to do, which is to teach the lit courses almost like I teach 101: read a little, then write a lot.

This is also probably the first time I have ever said out loud that I wish the semester were a few weeks longer. I really wanted to get a lot of semester prep done before the break--and I at least got a little bit of a start on the poetry class today--but I'm not going to have things anywhere near as nailed down as I'd hoped. Thursday I have to start work on the spring adjunct schedules for Bruce, so I'll be in here on Friday, either grading papers or working on semester prep or a little of both. I don't quite know what happened to the assignment schedule that the second papers for the lit courses came right on top of the final papers like this, but that's what's screwed me up: I'd usually have two weeks in here when I'd have nothing to do but semester prep, and instead I've spent it frantically grading papers.

Well, pretty soon it will all be over but the shouting.

And holy God I just realized that it's almost 9 p.m. Where has the day gone? I have to get out of here. Gone gone gone....

1 comment:

  1. I have never heard your voice as "bitter" and I really measure the timbre of voices on writing ( as well as in speaking). Of course your entries seem angry and frustrated at times. In my current professional and cultural condition, those are emotional states to which my breast returns many an echo. But you always sound ready to shoulder the next load -- even if its odor betrays its contents. Keep moving ahead--siempre adelante! Barry

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