I sort of love Thursdays. I get in between 10 and 11 (closer to 10 if I can manage it), and then I have my seminar hour at 1, office hour at 2:30, but no class until 4. Today, I did have a student for my seminar hour: he's actually in Honors, so smart and articulate and interested and interesting. We started off with a conversation about creating a resume, then about making a transfer application, but then we just started talking about campuses and travel and reading... It was great. It felt like real mentoring: not psychological counseling, not training someone how to be a student, but just getting that ongoing, open, free-form relationship going. It was great.
Then a student from the poetry class showed up at the beginning of the office hour. She already has a degree; she's taking the class because she wants to get additional teacher certification. She's smart and lovely and educated--and again, it was a great conversation. Then, at the very end of my office hour, the student I've been mentoring for a while, unofficially--the one who started in my 101 and is now applying to prestigious women's colleges--showed up: she's revised her personal statement and wanted to know if I could look at it. Again, a lovely interaction with an intelligent, articulate, charming young person.
Absolute gold, all of it.
Class went well--and at the end, one young man came up to confess that he had come to class ready to withdraw, but his classmates talked him into staying. He confessed that he was scared: deeply intimidated by the requirements of the class and unsure whether he could do what's required. I assured him that he was making the right move by trying. I had been less encouraging with another student who wanted to turn in his preliminary essay incredibly late--more to the point, too late for it to do any good, as I wouldn't be able to respond and give him feedback for the next submission, and I flatly refused to take it. But the young man who confessed his fears has real potential, and I want to encourage him.
The last thing was harder but also lovely: I got a rather panic-stricken e-mail from a young woman in the M/W 101, very confused and concerned about how to move from the preliminary essay--which is essentially the kind of thing they are used to producing in high school--to the next step, which moves them closer to an academic argument. She is one of those students who is very "ego-involved" in being a "good" student and is therefore terrified of making any mistakes--and if she does make mistakes, she wants to know exactly how to correct them immediately. Writing the e-mail was very challenging, because I wanted to simultaneously explain the process and my expectations and reassure her that she is doing well. She is: she's a great student. But all semester she's been responding to the class work by saying, "I don't understand what you want us to do." I realize that what's really going on is that she's used to having much more clear, concrete, limited--and easy--tasks, but I'm giving assignments that are a great deal more flexible, open-ended, and for which there is no one correct answer or result. That lack of definition is scary to her, and I understand why. That's why the reassurance was important: I had to let her know that she's supposed to make mistakes. It's part of her job: it's how we all learn. I don't know if she can relax and allow herself to exist in that place of uncertainty, but that's what she'll need to do. I can only hope that my e-mail made sense--and that I was reassuring. Sometimes I say something I think is reassuring and students are either offended or more concerned.
Well, I won't know until I hear back from her--and I hope I do. She's an asset to the class--and come to think of it, a lot of the mood of the class has improved as she's started to relax. She began the semester with a demeanor that suggested doubt and resistance, but in the last few classes, she's been smiling and cheerfully participating the the discussions. I'm still gun-shy about that class, so I'm doubting myself all over the place when I review how I handled that e-mail. But it's done. I can only hope for the best.
I hadn't intended to be here this late, but our new faculty member, whom I am mentoring, wanted to drop by to ask some questions about the politics here and what she could safely engage in, given her very tentative position on the faculty (temporary line, not even on tenure track yet, never mind tenured). I did what I could to reassure her, but we ended up getting into a more wide-ranging conversation--and then Paul turned up: he'd been in the Senate office crafting a response to that document I quoted from the other day, though usually at this time he'd be home in Massachusetts. Then he got involved in the conversation, and it was very hard to drag myself away from that to focus on getting everything nailed down so I can leave.
But I think I'm there. I hope I have everything in my wheelie pack that I need for the Monday after the break: I'll check at some point, so if need be I can make a quick trip here over the break to get whatever I may have left behind. Right now, I wouldn't know whether I have the right bits and orts with me or not: I can't see straight.
I don't know if I'll post over the break: it's possible but not likely. But fear not, o faithful readers! I will be back in the trenches come Feb. 22, barring blizzard or other natural disasters. Stay tuned.