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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

How tough do I get?

Two of the students from tomorrow's 101 have plagiarized snippets of their final papers. I don't think they did so with the intention to cheat, but the fact that they're still not aware of the trouble they can get into with plagiarism--especially since one of them was already warned--worries me. If they do this kind of thing in future classes, they may get slammed very hard indeed. So, do I simply fill their hearts with fear and then grant clemency? Or do I let the hammer drop--hard?

I'm disinclined to be as brutal with them as I probably should be, largely because they're both well-intentioned and trying very hard. Neither shows terrific potential as a great mind, but they're capable of solid, average work. Also, honestly, they're members of that class I like so much, and I don't want the semester to end in tears and anger for them. But a little fear is, I think, absolutely necessary.

Am I getting soft? Probably. I did come down a little hard on a student in the Poetry class. I think I've mentioned her: she's the master of saying "Got it" when in fact she doesn't have it. She registered late, and all semester I've been cutting her a lot of slack about accepting assignments late. I mentioned, I believe, the thing about her dog dying and how traumatic that was, so she couldn't get the final paper done on time. I told her we needed to talk, and I told her  that, as I crunch the numbers, it looks like she'll get a C. But what about all those assignments I told her she could re-do for a better grade?? That ship sailed: I needed to have them already. But I never told her a deadline, which apparently means that she can get me the work any time at all. Some negotiations ensued. I told her I'll take two assignments for which she has no grade at all--as long as she e-mails them to me by Friday. (I don't usually take assignments by e-mail, but I will.) I also told her that if her paper wasn't up on Turnitin today, the axe would fall. I see it still isn't there--and I'm disinclined to remind her about it. Honestly, as badly as she writes, a C is generous, so I really don't much want to give her any more rope, as I suspect she's someone who has been able to "cute" her way out of a lot of potentially punitive situations, and I have little patience for that.

I sort of have little patience across the board right now. I have marked three of the four essays for today's 101 students, the ones who asked for comments (and in one case, I can't figure out why, as she changed her sources so she'd fulfill the "must come from a database" requirement but otherwise didn't alter so much as a misspelled word)--and the only student from the Poetry class who wants comments is the one I (perhaps stupidly) have given the chance to rewrite her papers. She signed the contract that I'd drawn up, and we talked about the parameters, which she said were fair. We'll see how this all actually shakes out--but I just took a look at her final paper: not only does it sound like a high school paper (and not even a good one), it's also four pages--including about two full pages of extended quotation. So, if she wants to pass the class, she'll need to revise all three essays. Essentially, I'm letting her take the class all over again. Stupid me.

But to be honest? I gave her the offer because I didn't want to have to be a hard-ass and fight with her about it. I just am sick to damned death of fighting with students. Sick of it.

So, let me instead look at the much brighter side of today--and there was some metaphoric as well as actual sunshine in the day. The poetry students were delightful: happy to share some thoughts--and in fact, they gave me an excellent idea in terms of how to help students understand what I'm looking for in their writing. I told them that I've given model papers in the past--papers that earned an A--but many students were intimidated by those, so I thought maybe I should instead find a model C+ or B- paper. Their brilliant suggestion was to provide the solid, average, middle-of-the-road model prior to the students writing their first paper--and then, when they got the first paper back, to provide the A example, for a sense of what to strive toward in revision. I really do think that's brilliant--and as I was going through old papers to toss, I found a great paper to use as an example. It's a solid B, but it's not overwhelmingly brilliant--and it does all the things I want a paper to do.

They were also pretty cute about looking at my undergrad poetry paper, which I shared with them--and then about my dissertation, which I also showed them. They were very curious about the whole Ph.D. process and what it takes to get one--and they were impressed that one of my short stories is being published. I should have shown them my CV: that would get their attention, too (even though it looks pretty lean to me, knowing what "real" scholars produce). It's fun to sort of dazzle them a little (and it's pretty easy to do).

Two other bits of sunshine came from today's 101, oddly enough. The actual class meeting was as torturous as usual--and ended with me letting Miss Confusing know that she was going to fail. She actually already knew that, and said that she doesn't really care, as she's going to trade school to become a phlebotomist. I said if she ever decides she wants to return to college, NCC does have a "Fresh Start" program for students who've been away for a few years, which can wipe an old, disastrous transcript clean after a probationary year back with good grades--and I said that if she does go for that, I'd be happy to talk with her about ways she could be more successful. She was delighted with the offer, and it was the most clearly personable and open I'd ever seen her be. So that was nice--but then I also read their self-evaluations (while waiting for a student who never did show up), and the other confusing young woman wrote a very sweet self-evaluation that said how much she valued the class and the fact that she could e-mail me and get a response--and get the response quickly. I was surprised by what she said about why she valued the course, and I don't think she was brown-nosing: I think it was sincere. I'll take it that way, in any event.

And then the last, best bit of sunshine: the Timid Intellectual came to my office--we actually met on the sidewalk as I was on my way to the office after 101--and we talked for over an hour. She may cat-sit for me this summer, if my regular sitter can't do it, but even if she doesn't, I like developing a real relationship with her. She's infinitely more confident than she was when I first met her, but she's still nowhere near as confident as she should be, given her mind and, I believe, her heart. I look forward to keeping in touch with her over the years: I want to continue to watch her bloom, and to provide whatever support I can as she does.

And that's probably enough to go home with for tonight. Tomorrow, I have a doctor's appointment, then some make-up time in Advisement, then a meeting with the Mystery Enthusiast, whatever grading I can get done before I meet with tomorrow's 101, and then the fond farewell with them--which I anticipate will be a lovely experience. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.

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