Today's 101 was another disaster. The reading I gave them was, I admit, rather dense with ideas, but it should be within the grasp of any undergraduate, even if it requires some careful, slow reading to pull it all apart--but most of the students said they couldn't get anything out of it at all. I'd asked them to start with terms or concepts they didn't understand, and they were asking me to define words they could easily look up. I made them look up the words. Once there was a situation in which the definition didn't clarify matters ("microcosm"), so I helped out. But after we did that, when I asked what popped, I got nothing. Nothing.
I told them that they need to learn how to read material like that, not just for my class but for many of their college classes. I asked for sample sentences that they couldn't understand. Silence, slow flipping through the three pages of the article. OK, I said, Let's start at the beginning. I read the first sentence: "If you're looking for relief from the increasingly depressing news about the health of our planet, you're not alone." Any problems with that one? A few smiles: no, that one makes sense. So we parsed through the next sentence, admittedly more difficult: "Reports continue to pile up that tell a story of a global species capable of altering nature in awesome ways yet incapable of living within its confines." Definition of "confine"? OK, good. What does "it" refer to? The world: yes, good. And finally they made sense of it. We did that through the whole first paragraph--and I told them I could continue to do that, but they'd die of boredom. Instead, I asked what they would need to do in order to read the article for themselves so that it makes sense. And they had very good ideas, actually. Yes, I said: so go do that. I didn't collect the homework because, well, why bother at this stage? But I said I will collect it on Wednesday, along with the new reading due on Wednesday. I showed a short video about "Transition Towns" and asked what stood out for them. Silence. I put a couple of search terms on the board and sent them home--before I could strangle them.
I had asked one student to stay after class so we could talk about the fact that he's turned in maybe two assignments to date. I've talked to him before--twice--so this time I just showed him the back of his card (the cards on which I track attendance and grades) and said, "You're living in a fool's paradise. And it's time you stop deluding yourself." He saw the reality, very clearly, but he still didn't want to accept it. I told him that learning when to give up is an important lesson of college. He won't have given up permanently, just on this class this semester. We talked about when it would make most sense for him to retake the course (summer or fall), and I explained the withdrawal procedure. But truly, this is the attitude: "If I deeply want to do well in the class, I will do well, even if I don't follow through on anything."
Wanting isn't enough.
The poetry class was equally excruciating. I read the first poem aloud--and listened to the sounds of silence for a good long while. Finally I said, "OK, are we done with that one? Ready to move on to the next?" Finally someone spoke up, but it was torturous. At the end of class, I asked the educator to stay for a minute, and I asked her, teacher to teacher, if she could think of anything I might try that I haven't tried. She said no, honestly: it's just their loss, she said.
Ach, du lieber Gott. Well, OK. But next class, I will give them the "silence doesn't work for me" thing, and if the silences continue, I'm just going to read the next poem, and the next, and the next. I am not going to do their analysis for them.
So, that's the "I hate them part."
The "I could be seriously screwed" part is that I haven't finished marking the preliminary essays for tomorrow's 101--and I've promised the poetry students that they'll have everything back on Wednesday: papers, responses, everything. That's a shitload of stuff to get through tomorrow and Wednesday in Advisement (and please god Advisement will be as empty as it was today). But I'm counting on a few things, one being that my seminar hours student for tomorrow will get my e-mail asking for a reschedule and will be happy to comply and the other is that nothing else will be lurking on my calendar, forgotten, or otherwise ready to appear to get in my way between 10 and 2:30--or even 4--tomorrow. (I'll bail on P&B if I can. I keep forgetting about it.)
I also want to sit down with my calendar and the assignment schedule and see if I can logistically manage to have a 20 minute appointment with each student from the 101s between their second submissions of this new essay and the final submission. I was going to try to do it before the mechanics review, but I don't think I need to: I just need to get it in before the final version is due. This has to do with a new paradigm for seminar hours that I'm giving an informal test-drive; we'll see what we can actually roll out in the fall, and I can't say much more about it just yet: we're still figuring out what we can do, how, and when--but if we are, in fact, allowed to work with our own students, I want to get a sense of how many hours I'll actually spend conferencing and whether working just with my comp students will be enough or whether I'll need to institute a process of draft-conference-finished paper (as Paul does) in the literature electives as well. Probably the latter, but I need some data so I'm prepared, assuming there's good news.
Now, however, I want to get out of here. I haven't been feeling very well all day--came within a hair's breadth of canceling the whole day (and perhaps should have, all things considered). I know tomorrow will be better in at least one way: I'll be with the students I actually, actively enjoy.