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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A different kind of triage

I've been pushing so hard at marking essays that the latest form of triage isn't what needs to be done but what can I stand to do without losing the tiny, drifting remainders of my mind. I "should" return the essays to the 102s tomorrow, as their next essays are due next week, for fuck's sake. At least it's not due on my birthday, as was originally the case, but still, realizing how soon it's coming up was more than a bit of a shock (a whole stack of spinning plates hitting the floor at once). I had contemplated taking tomorrow off as well as Thursday, simply to mark assignments--but I realize I have to meet with the 102s tomorrow so I can distribute the essay assignment, go over the poems with them, generally work to get them set up for the essay. But there is no way in hell that between now and 2:00 tomorrow I can get all the first essays marked--even though I really am not commenting on them at all. I still have to check all the steps and compare the final version to the first, to see whether any revising has, in fact, been done--and that all takes time.

So, the students will just have to thole it (a lovely Scottish term I ran across in some Brit mystery or other). They'll get their essays back on Monday, and that will have to be good enough. I'll apologize, of course, but they're just going to have to deal.

But, once again, that's tomorrow--which is another day. Let me give a review of today.

First, I had an experience that I've had before, and that I should remember more readily: when I met with the Truculent Plagiarist, he did a little of the "but I said that" thing--but not much. His exact words were, "I thought I sorta did that," and I said, "'Sorta' being the operative word: you may have tried, but 'sorta' isn't good enough."

He also tried the "it's hard to stretch one novel to fit five pages of essay" thing, but I gave him no quarter on that one: no, analysis of a short story or even a poem can fill five pages; a novel gives you more than enough. And I did make him squirm a bit about an idea that is not his own--"So, tell me exactly what you mean when you say that one of the ways humanity is defined in the novel is through sublime nature? What does 'sublime nature' mean?"

But he let go of all the defensiveness pretty quickly and really wanted to understand what to do. I made him just talk to me: not looking at his essay, but looking at me to answer the questions I was asking. As he did, he identified an idea that he wanted to argue. When I pointed out to him that what he'd just said could be a thesis, he got out paper so he could take notes: he very diligently wrote down each point I made. I don't know how well he understood the points I made, but he sure was trying to get them. When he'd tried to say that he couldn't find enough to say about a novel to fill five pages, I'd said, "The problem is that you're worrying about filling the pages, not about what you want to prove--and that's tangling you up." At the end, after we talked out what he needed to do to write something approaching an argument, I suggested he e-mail me for more guidance but that he take advantage of the Writing Center, as they could help him with idea development. He looked like I'd just switched on all the lights: "I think that's my problem with the whole class: I don't know how to develop my ideas."

Ah, the dawning of light. I suggested we meet again in a mentoring appointment to talk about developing ideas. He was happy to do that; in fact, he looked close to tears at the opportunity. Which of course touched me.

I am still enough of a cynic to wonder whether I'll still have reason to feel kindly toward him in another week or two--but I certainly don't feel as annoyed or dismissive as I did, and those are good feelings to let go of and to replace with something much more positive. Never mind whether it does anything for him: it's better for me.

All the meetings with students today went well. One student I'd thought was resistant to the class was very open and warm and honest in our meeting; most of the students seemed to understand what they needed to do to produce better work. Two of them asked not only about their essays but about their notes, and they seemed to get a better grasp of what was required in talking with me. How much any of this pays off in the long run remains an open question. I don't really get my hopes up; I just appreciate the diminution of immediate existential malaise.

Class went pretty well, too--including a few smiles from a student who has seemed somewhat truculent all semester. The ones that are still there are looking good to hold on for at least a while longer, though there are a few that probably should go.

I feel a little guilty about the fact that I'm about to pack up and leave. I take a step outside that feeling of guilt and realize that it's an indication that I am expecting far too much of myself--and that the impulse to lighten up for a bit is actually a very healthy one. I will be taking a huge bolus of work home for Thursday--all the way through the weekend, in fact. But there is a tiny, outside chance that I'll get most of it done and have the decks close to clear heading into Monday. I won't expect too too much of myself, but I think I can take the rest of tonight off.

Tomorrow should be relatively easy: Advisement as usual (the stream of students increasing as we get closer to the start of registration), then my classes--then that train to Manhattan for dinner with my good friends. It's lovely to have that to look forward to.

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