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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Time dilation? Not teaching but on a space ship?

I do not know why everything seems to be taking 400 times longer than it should. I have been working for hours on the homework from the 5:30 102 class, and I've made almost no significant progress. I hope I have as much time tomorrow before the 1:00 class and between classes to get it all done, but yumpin' yimminy, this is maddening. It's as if I'm traveling near light speed, but all my work is still on the planet I'm traveling away from, so time is passing normally for me but whipping along everywhere else: a minute for me is an hour in "real" time.

Or I have actually become a sloth and just don't realize it yet.

Despite the huge stack of assignments I still must mark for tomorrow, I have decided that retreat is the better part of valor in this particular circumstance, and I'm going to head home as soon as I finish this blog post. (No groceries to pick up, no need to get to the pharmacy: just home, James, and don't spare the horses.) I decided not to get up earlier than usual this morning, got to work at my usual time--and I'm going to do the same tomorrow. Sleep is required for even minimal effectiveness.

Class today was ... meh. I really hadn't assigned enough for them to read, so we really didn't have much to talk about. However, during class, when I was checking in with the groups, a student said, "I'm not used to working in groups, and I don't like it." I was more than a bit taken aback, but I didn't address it in much depth at that moment: I simply suggested a strategy for him to try and kept moving. But he said it again at the end of class, and since I had let the class out so early, I knew there was time for me to talk with him, so I asked him to wait.

He told me he didn't expect me to change anything; that he was just "giving voice" to his discomfort. He also recognized that he probably shouldn't have blurted it out in the middle of working with his group. My hackles were not up in the least: I just wanted to understand what the problem was, in case there might be a way for me to address it, or further strategies for him I might suggest. We ended up having a very pleasant, wide-ranging conversation--in which I told him that I will, eventually, start micromanaging the groups, creating different mixtures for different pedagogic purposes--but also that I will try to make sure he doesn't keep ending up in the same group (which tends to happen as students tend to sit in the same desks every class). One of his group mates has been a young man who is very bright but clearly somewhere on the autism spectrum: a strange, flat affect to his speaking, lack of awareness of how loud he is, difficulty engaging with what others have to say, prone to rather bizarre interjections. (Case in point--according to the student I spoke with after class--the comment, "I ate a lizard once." Um, OK....?? Actually, the student I was talking to handled it beautifully, better than I would have: "Really! That's unusual. What kind of lizard was it?")

The upshot of the conversation was that the young man--I'll call him Garbo, because he just wants to be alone--acknowledged that learning to adapt to group work would be interesting for him, and if he could think of something that would improve his learning experience in dealing with groups, he'd "give voice" to that, too. And I hope he signs up as a mentee. I'd enjoy talking with him further.

I also had a meeting with the student who withdrew from 102 last semester, was on my roster for a while for this term but withdrew again (actually, she changed to an online section, which works better for her). I think I've been calling her the Young Activist--and indeed, a lot of our "mentoring" appointment was spent talking about politics, protest, activism... Paul was here for part of it, and clearly enjoyed listening to a bright young woman who is well informed about national and world events and who wants to act on her convictions. She's a world-beater, that one. I don't know what direction she'll ultimately go in--and I hope she's in no hurry to figure it out. She does want to spend some time being more professionally activist, while she's young enough to handle a potentially insecure income stream. I think she should definitely pursue that vocation: it calls to her heart, and she'd be great at it.

Harking back to my first paragraph, it is true that I spent an hour talking with her--and hour that could have gone toward marking assignments--but it was well worth it. I need those contacts with students: the bright ones especially, but really almost all one-on-one with students is good. The silent ones suddenly come out of their shells. The lunks catch fire. The doubtful gain confidence. The confident gain humility--but grow from it. I am not looking forward to the ferocious stress of essay grading prior to conferences (starting end of next week), but I am looking forward to the conferences themselves.

But that's looking further down the road than I want to right now. Right now, my main objective is to get home. Home and deranged...

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