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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Respite when least expected

Once again, I am given ample evidence for why it is important to avoid what my mother calls "double suffering": worrying about something in anticipation of an event that may never transpire. Her thinking--rightly--is that if the bad thing happens, it will be bad enough when it happens without having doubled the suffering by worrying about it in advance. And in this case, the corollary has been demonstrated: it is pointless to worry when the bad thing may not, in fact, happen.

The "bad thing" in this case was being absolutely, utterly slammed with essays to mark tomorrow. And I won't be. Only two students signed up for conference times before noon on Monday, so there are only two essays that I have to mark before 6:30 p.m. tomorrow. I suppose there's an outside chance that I may get a late essay, accompanied by an early appointment--but I think I can head that potential problem off at the proverbial pass. And there are enough blank spots in the conference schedule that it shouldn't be too oppressively difficult to find time to mark essays and have them ready according to the schedule I've set up.

Right now, seven students are effectively AWOL: no essay submission, no conference time. Two students submitted essays but didn't sign up for conference times yet. And I have infinitely more times available than I have students needing times.

In fact, it may even be possible for me to do my Wednesday stint in Advisement--albeit shifted an hour earlier than usual--and not have to make up the time on a Tuesday or Thursday down the road, which would be further manna from heaven.

Continuing in the "god smiled" vein: I had two "mentoring" appointments this afternoon, and both were lovely.

The first was with an older student from the SF class. He is effectively blind, a military veteran (he began to lose his vision while he was in the service), probably in his late 30s or early 40s (though I'm a terrible judge of age), and he knows exactly what he wants to do and how to get there. He doesn't really need mentoring at all, but he did have some specific issues he wanted to talk about--including a conflict between two things that matter to him a great deal, so we talked about saying "no," about letting go of worry about how other people may perceive us, about making the decisions we need to make for our own well-being... I know I'm older than he is (unless he's a hell of a older than he looks), but it was interesting to share "wisdom" with a student who feels more like just a person my own age who happens to be in one of my classes. But I did have some wisdom to impart, and I was glad to share it.

The second appointment was with another student from the SF class. I don't think I've talked about him before; he has Crohn's disease, and the flare-ups have led to more absences than I would like. But he is deeply motivated: dedicated and determined to do well. He started at SUNY-Oneonta, and flunked out of his first semester. His parents dragged him back here, and he's now trying to raise his GPA and get himself back up to Oneonta and back onto their lacrosse team. (Oh, yeah: that's been another detriment to his progress. He's had lots of practice and games for our lacrosse team.) We talked about the work he's been missing, and we talked about his essay, how to revise the first one so he can improve his mark.

It was fascinating to watch him, especially when we started getting down to the real ideas for his essay. He actually had a great thesis idea--but he said he didn't know how to put it into words. "You just did!" I said. "It doesn't need to be any more fancy or elaborate than what you just said." So I had him write it down, write down his main ideas, write down where he wants to go with his points--and as he was writing, it was as if his whole body needed to struggle to get the words onto the page. I kept telling him he could worry about the exact words later; the point was simply to get the ideas out of his head and written down.

But part of what I loved about the meeting was his feedback on two of the course tools I'd provided. He absolutely loved the grade calculation sheet: keeping track of his marks, adding them up, seeing where he stands, all incredibly helpful, he said. Of course I loved the validation--but he also pulled out the model essay I'd distributed. Following the advice of my poetry students last semester, I distributed a good, solid C+/B- essay prior to their writing their first essay--and I distributed an A+ essay when I returned their papers to them for them to consider whether to revise. This young man pulled out the A+ model to talk about essay format--but then he said that he'd really loved it, even though he didn't understand some of the argument. I asked him to tell me what he noticed that he liked--and he picked up on every factor that makes it an A+ essay: there is in-depth analysis of every quotation, even just a few words; every quotation is there because it's essential to proving a point; the ideas "flow"--logical connections from one point to the next; the wording of the sentences is elegant and clear.

I told him that the kind of writing he saw there was something to aim toward. He may never get there, but he now has a sense of what he wants to work to develop in his own writing. Writing may never come easily, but every time he writes something, he can try to make it closer to that model.

And he was practically walking on air when he left. He was radiantly happy and grateful. He'd been helped! What I offered helped!

I need to let that soak in deeply: that's the kind of thing that truly waters the roots, especially in a semester when I'm feeling as frequently frustrated and discouraged as I have been. I feel beyond blessed that I had something to offer that these particular students needed.

And I realize that--even though there has been some attrition in the 102s, and even though I see all that air in the conference schedule--there are more students still holding on, and still with a chance of doing well than would usually be the case at this point in the semester. And I know it's because of the conferences. I know it is.

Of course, there is still a very strong chance that a lot of them will find the novel an insurmountable hurdle--but a number of them, especially in the earlier section--asked if they could start reading the novel now. Of course! Please do! I'll be interested to hear what they have to say when they start...

Let me not forget to mention how well today's classes went, too: hearing one of my favorite sounds, the sound of students talking and learning. And the Truculent Plagiarist was in Advisement when I was there, was told he needed any elective at all and could take it over the winter term, and got my signature on his withdrawal slip, no longer thinking I'm the evil bog monster from hell. Nice. I'll take it.

At this point, I'll also take myself off stage, as it were. Once again, I'm here much later than I'd hoped, but I haven't been here marking essays in a flop sweat. I simply did the noodle-y administrative stuff of inputting all the appointments into the tracking software, sent a few e-mails, and wrote this blog post. That's so simple compared to what I thought I was facing, I don't know whether to throw a party or fall asleep. I think I'll opt for the latter, as soon as I can get myself home, fed, and wound down.

Hasta manana, y'all.

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