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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Again: This is why I love it...

Today's class ended with a beautiful encounter with a student. When Tuesday's class ended, she'd asked me where the Admissions office was. Since she was already attending class, I wasn't clear why she needed the Admissions office, but she said she was experiencing some difficulties. Today, as she was heading out the door, I asked her if the situation had been resolved. Her answer to that question led us into a lovely conversation, in which I found out that, after at least 20 years as a stay-at-home mom (she said that her son is 20), she's just entered the work force--pretty much for the first time in her life--and has started college. The quotation I use to start the semester, the W. G. Sumner thing about the purpose of education in developing critical thinking, hit her hard: she felt it was speaking directly and powerfully to her experience and what she wants, perhaps needs, to learn for herself. One student said that he felt Sumner is saying that, when you've been educated to think critically, you have authority: you can stand your ground with assurance. She told me that all her life she's been a shy person and feels she hasn't stood up for herself--and she started to tear up, realizing that she's now doing that: she's taking hold of her own life, having authority over her own life (and, she said, in dealing with her children, who used to "run all over" her).

Listening to her, and reflecting back to her my admiration for her courage--going through a difficult, protracted divorce; entering the work force; entering college--was deeply moving. She's already found something profoundly important to her personal experience, just in reading that brief quotation. I can tell that she is suddenly confident that she has a voice--and that it will be listened to, heard.

She also was very sweet during the class, helping out a student who didn't get off to the best start. I took attendance, and he promptly fell deeply asleep, leaning against the wall. I talked for a while, and then handouts started to go around the room, and one of his classmates had to practically shake him to wake him up. I said, "If you're asleep, you're not here. I understand that sometimes you come to class exhausted, but do what you need to do to stay awake." When I put the students in groups to discuss the quotation, he started out very sullen, saying he didn't get any of it. I heard that, and I said, "I just want to address what you're experiencing right now. That frustration you feel: that's good. That's when learning happens. You're learning to work your way through something difficult, and that's real learning." I then talked to him and his group mates about how to work through a complex and dense piece of writing, taking it one little bit at a time--exactly what the woman I spoke with later had been doing with him. As they worked on it together, he started to come alive--and when the class started to discuss ideas from the quotation, he was suddenly alert, listening, nodding his head. Periodically, she'd go over something with him to be sure he understood (those mothering instincts are pretty hard to shake, I reckon). I don't have a lot of confidence in his ability to make it through the class, but I hope he surprises me--and I know that her work to help him clarified things for her, too.

The class discussion was pretty great, once we got the ice broken and people started feeling brave enough to speak up. There are a couple of young men in particular who were surprisingly on top of it: understanding, bringing up good points, stating the meat of certain parts of the quotation in very clear ways. A couple of other students--mostly young women--had terrific questions that led to further understanding.

And after all that, we went back to the syllabus and carefully, slowly worked through the order of assignments: a lot of the students were lost--which is largely my fault, as I cannot seem to put anything in simple, clear, uncomplicated language. Ever. But I showed them how to look at each little piece, one thing at a time--and miracle! Suddenly it's clear what's due when.

The only thing I'm worried about now is that I may be setting up the problem I bitched about all last semester: that I won't be able to drive them out of the class and I'll have 700 zillion papers to read and evaluate. They're interested now, dammit. They're starting to get the idea that maybe they'll get something they can value out of the class. Be careful what you wish for, right? All my career, I've wanted students to come into my classes and get engaged and excited and eager to learn--and now that it's happening, I'm complaining because it means more work for me. True. But it also makes the experience in the classroom much more enjoyable--for them and for me.

I'll be curious to see what happens with the Monday group. They got a lot more thrown at them all at once, and had one less day with me to gently lead them into the deeper waters. But I need the classes in lock-step ASAP, or I fall apart, so the T/Th group had it easier this week, and the M/W group had it harder. I reckon it will all average out eventually.

Further to student exchanges: the student who was confused about her "online" class (which isn't) wrote today to thank me for clearing things up for her. She isn't in either of my 101 sections any more, so I'm not sure how she resolved her problem, but she did. I also have fielded several other e-mailed requests for clarification from 101 students--and I'm delighted. They're taking advantage of me, as I ask them to. Good. Smart.

My only concern for the day is the "where did I put my ass?" thing. I was working away at something--don't remember now what--and needed a bathroom break. On my way across the office to the bathroom, I thought of two things I needed to take care of. By the time I was washing my hands, I'd forgotten both of them. Utterly. Gone. One finally came back to me a little bit ago--at least I think it was one of the two things I wanted to remember. At any rate, it was something I wanted to remember, and I did. But the other thing? Nope. Still not there. So either I'll be doing something and it will whack me again--and I'll write it down instantly--or it will whack me even harder when I realize it was something I was supposed to do and didn't accomplish in time.

Jesus, did that even make sense?

Anyway ... The seminar hours meeting went well, I think--and I agreed to take the minutes in the absence of our usual secretary. (I think Paul and I may get matching tattoos that say "Why did I agree to take this on?") I cranked those out immediately after the meeting, and did some other follow-up stemming from the meeting, largely about the creation (maybe) of a cohort of Honors students for mentoring--but there's some disturbance within the Honors program, so the whole thing may turn into such a hairball that we abandon it entirely. (Meanwhile, yes, I'm thinking, "Why did I agree to take this on?") And I know I was a busy little bee, but talk about fleet-footed time and all that rot: I looked up and it was after 2 p.m.: our meeting adjourned at about 11:15, and I have no idea what filled that interstice. Something productive, I hope--but I still have a lot of course management stuff to nail down, and I want it done this weekend so I can stop futzing about it.

And I hope the forecast blizzard doesn't throw a wrench into the works--but at least I have a paragraph about what to do in case of a weather cancellation right at the top of the schedule of assignments in all my syllabi. So, well, whatever.

I could keep rattling on for ages: I'm in one of those hyper-manic adrenalized states that I get in when I'm tired and wired at the same time, so I need to forcibly remove my hands from the keyboard.


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