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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The need for significant restructuring

First, I should report that the student I was so angry with last night sent a very contrite and sad e-mail: he wasn't being manipulative, it just made me sad. He asked if he could come to class anyway, even if he had to fail at the end, because he wants to do well when he retakes the class--and he said if I wouldn't let him attend, he'd just withdraw.

Of course, that hit me right in the teacher spot: if he wants to learn, I want to teach him. But I didn't melt entirely. I did tell him that, if he wants to remain in the class, he needs to do all the work to the best of his ability and on time; he cannot be absent, and he cannot be late. He agreed.

In my experience, that never works: without the knowledge that a grade is possible, most students end up falling by the wayside before the semester ends--but at least he has a chance.

Today, however, I felt so battered by the work--and the knowledge that even though I finished everything I brought home for today, there is even more waiting for me in my office--that I almost fell completely apart. I even had a bad dream last night about being confronted by large, angry male students. The job is getting to me in ways that I find alarming, and I have to figure out how to change the whole structure of what I'm doing so I don't feel so flattened.

I also feel on the edge of becoming bitter and systemically angry with the students, and I've always sworn that if I ever got to that point, I'd quit and do something else.

I don't think I'm quite there yet, but I realize I do have to rethink the process of the essays for the 102s in particular, as what I'm doing is far too labor intensive, and the stress of it is not good for me. The challenge, always, is how to reduce the labor while keeping my pedagogic goals intact. I don't quite know what to do about that just yet, but I hope I can figure something out before spring, so I don't experience quite this level of intellectual exhaustion and emotional fatigue.

It's good to remind myself that I am in charge of this process: no one makes me teach the way I do, or respond the way I do to students. I am not a victim here: I'm in charge. Figuring out the alternative may be a challenge, but it's a good challenge to be faced with, and it's good to remember that I am a better teacher when I'm not hag-ridden with work I've manufactured for myself.

That said, I do want to take care of some of the things that matter to me personally, apart from work--so I'm going to practice the violin, which I haven't done in over a week. That will be a wonderful change of gears, from being the instructor to being the student.


  1. Tonia: for a complex of reasons, your post has really gotten to me tonight. I think it must be the dramatic tension between your intensity on behalf of your integrity as a teacher (yesterday's blog) and it's other face, the intensity of your conscience . The agenbite of inwit. Yet I am all too familiar with the business of students coming back for Try#2. It's False Shen, the condition acupuncturists recognize as a sign of imminent death-- a flourishing, a bloom of intentionality, etc. it's like Mimi's final flourish in La Boheme, or perhaps the last naked string restatement of theme in the Bach Chaconne from the Partita #2. So much more we imagine; so little but air beneath it all. I salute you and all your many facets. Don't leave the profession just yet. Barry