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Monday, May 9, 2016

The shouting begins

The "it's all over but the shouting" thing is sort of in effect: not actual shouting, but now is when students who have been deluding themselves all semester get the bad news.

One student from the poetry class was stunned to get the news she wouldn't pass, couldn't believe that her "revision" only gained her 50 points (out of 400), that what she had submitted still wasn't a passing effort, didn't understand why her work wasn't getting good grades... We went around the prickly pear a few times--and I lost my temper a tiny bit for a moment: she wasn't hearing what I was saying and kept arguing about points that I'd explained, so I said, "We're not going to argue about this" very snappishly, and she said something about we're not arguing, we're having a discussion... I said (more calmly), "If you're not arguing with me, tell me what you believe you're doing. It sounds to me like you're questioning my grading; if that's not what you're doing, then what is the point you want to make?"

Eventually, I made an offer that is far more generous than she deserves, but it allows me to try to teach her something. I made the offer because she was right to say that the feedback I'd given her wasn't enough to help her understand what she'd done wrong. I did point out that she'd made two appointments with me, neither of which she'd kept--but moving on, I said that I would meet with her to discuss what she'd need to do to write a college-level paper. I pointed out all the things on the rubric that either said "almost" or "partly" meeting requirements--or (far more of them) simply "no"--and told her those were the things she needed to address.

Long story somewhat shorter, I've told her she can revise both her first essays--if she meets with me first to talk about what she needs to do. Once she started listening to me, she said she was worried about her last paper (rightly, from a quick glance at it), so I said that, depending on how she did on her revisions on the first two, I might also grant her the right to revise the final paper.

All this means more work for me, dragging on into the summer, the prospect of which does not delight me, but I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt and hope that she genuinely does want to learn. My fear, however, is that somehow this is going to bite me in the ass. Far too many times I've been in a situation when I've twined myself into pretzels to try to help a student, only to have the student blow up at me at the end. I wouldn't be surprised if this student tries to grieve her grade--because (for instance) I didn't tell her in advance that padding a paper with extensive quotations wouldn't mean that she'd reached the page count.

Whatever. I'm choosing to think of this as a teaching opportunity--and I just hope it pays off in some way.

In the 101 today, the young man (slightly hostile, but occasionally smiling) didn't have a paper to turn in. I talked to him a little about it, but I told him he should withdraw rather than take the F. He said he was very confused, didn't even know if he needed the class--so I brought him back to the office with me and we looked at his degree evaluation. He does need 101 (and 102, and a lit); he thought he'd taken English before, but if he did, it doesn't show up on his transcript anywhere. But I did a quick Advisement session with him, suggesting what he should take over the summer, what he should take in the fall. But there's another student who won't complete the semester with a grade.

And when I meet the class on Wednesday, I have to have a conversation with Miss Confusing--who was there today, with a paper (of sorts) to turn in, but none of the preliminary steps. On Wednesday, I'll show her the grade calculation sheet: without the self-evaluation mark and without the grade for her final essay (which will be abysmally low, judging from the glance at it that I've had), she has about 550 points--out of a possible 2000. She needs at least 1200 to pass (with the lowest possible D), and there aren't enough points in those two remaining assignments to get her anywhere near close. I don't know whether to let her withdraw or whether to make her take the F--for the second time in 101.

You'd think they'd learn, but some of them are able to delude themselves for a very very very long time before reality kicks them sufficiently that they have to wake up.

It's all painfully discouraging. I know I'll agonize some over the students in the 101 in particular, and some students in the Poetry class, who were capable of getting much higher grades than they will, but I also know I'll feel at least a tiny bit encouraged by the papers from tomorrow's 101.

Oh, I have to share with you the opening sentence of a discussion-board post from one of the students in today's 101: "Pickert really shows how people really aren't where they really are."

I think that may be a zen koan of some sort. But that's about as clear as they get sometimes.


Ah well. I'm going to pry my little bulldog teeth out of what happened today, and set my sights on tomorrow. I have a Seminar Hours meeting first thing, then make-up time in Advisement, then a little bit of time before P&B. I know one of the topics in P&B is going to be a sad one: Bruce's administrative assistant has lung cancer. Last year she had breast cancer, but was told she was clear--and now this. She's one of the mainstays of the department--and one of our other key administrative assistants is also struggling with her health (severe, advanced rheumatoid arthritis) and probably will leave us at the end of this year, if not before. Of course the administration has said they're not hiring anyone at all, so we're all going to have to be very patient--and try to figure out how to pick up some of the tasks that are usually handled by the office staff.

But after P&B, I meet with the students I love, so that will be fun. And I think Wednesday will be fun with the Poetry students. We won't be talking about poetry, after all, so they should relax and have a good time talking. I've promised them that I'd share one of my undergrad poetry papers--and they want to see the dissertation, so, fair enough.

Now, however, I'm going to fly the coop a bit earlier than usual. It would be great if I could get just a teeny bit more sleep than I have of late....

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