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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Couldn't quite squeeze 'em out...

If I'd finished marking four more essays today, I'd have at least completed everything for the 1:00 class--and I just couldn't do it. I'm so frustrated by so many of them, and so impatient, I feel my comments verging on vitriolic, which is not very constructive as a teaching tool. Student after student did nothing at all approaching revision. Student after student included a piece of paper saying something along the lines of "I didn't know I had to do X," or "I didn't know I had to submit X"--despite the fact that I went over every single X in class and included the necessity for it in at least one handout if not several. I just want to scream at them all: where the fuck are your brains? Why are you being so completely dense about this? How fucking helpless are you, really?

For the last, I think the answer is, "Very"--but it's not really the fault of the students. It's a combination of the fact that they've rarely if ever truly been held accountable for anything and the fact that they almost surely have been made to feel that their efforts are hopeless so frequently that they have now acquired "learned helplessness." Learned helplessness is a dreadful thing; at least one experiment proving the reality of the phenomenon strikes me as horrifically cruel (chaining a dog in a box and shocking its feet--then removing the chain and shocking the dog's feet, and it doesn't move to escape, as it's learned it can't). In the case of my students--not just mine, but many students in the U.S. educational system--the "painful stimulus" from which they can't escape is delivered by standardized testing. They are tested repeatedly, told they did badly--and are never given the opportunity to go back over the material and test again but are just shoved on ahead to the next test, and the next. But not only are they not allowed to learn from failure, they're not even really allowed to fail: they are given "structure" that amounts to an intellectual straight-jacket. Read this in order to answer the study questions you've been given--not to develop questions of your own. I, the teacher, will tell you what the theme is (as if there's only one). If you have to write anything beyond that, all you need to do is prove that your eyes have passed over the words on the page and that you can report on what you looked at. (Choice of words is deliberate there: they haven't read it, they've simply looked at it. Whatever "it" is.)

There are the few shining lights, it's true, but sometimes even the ones with the intellectual chops fall into a kind of mental fog that keeps them from paying attention to detail.

Maybe I need to include that in my "college will change you" speech: that doing well in college requires not only the ability to work through frustration but also the ability to be (or become) extremely detail-oriented. I'd not thought of that before, but it's true. (And--full disclosure--faculty are as likely to miss details as our students are when we're in a rush. However, when we bring our full attention to something, we can see incredibly fine detail.)

So, all in all, it's discouraging. And I need to do some more investigating of what retirement would look like if I were to take it at the end of next year, instead of waiting two years (or longer). A lot will depend on what happens with our contract--and with our accreditation. If we lose our accreditation, there goes retirement: I'll simply be unemployed. There is a rumor on the grapevine that the union and administration may decide to sign a letter of agreement extending the current contract until we're through the accreditation process and can breathe again, instead of trying to negotiate a contract while also struggling to please Middle States. If that happens, I might as well retire sooner, as I don't think I want to stick around, say, five years in hopes of a good early retirement incentive.

It isn't that I dislike the job, or that the administration has curdled everything for me (though that's also a distinct possibility). The issue is simply that I find it harder and harder to summon up the energy and enthusiasm I want to bring to the job. Not that I have to: that I want to. Even being discouraged these days feels like a low-level, Eeyore-esque resignation. and I dislike the feeling.

I've also realized there is a real and insurmountable block to my getting the sabbatical project published the way I want to: Penguin/Random House simply will not look at unsolicited manuscripts or proposals, and since there's no real way to get an agent for my kind of project, I'm stuck. So, I'm now trying to figure out whether I want to shop the thing around to other educational publishers, even knowing it's unlikely to fly as a stand-alone (without being packaged with the novel) or whether I want to self-publish and hope someone picks it up from there. What I have isn't designed for the web at all: if I self-publish, it would pretty much have to be an actual, physical book (though there could be links to some kind of web presence as well--if I can find someone tech savvy enough to set that up so only those who purchase the book can access the web stuff). And the idea of taking on either of those challenges--finding another publisher or publishing on my own--is exhausting. Just the idea of it, never mind the actual process.

But I realize I am not, in fact, stuck. I feel stuck sometimes, but I'm not. I have a lot more agency and options than I sometimes recognize, and a lot more freedom than I keep readily in mind. It's good to remember that I have many, many, many options, a number of which I have yet to even think of, never mind explore.

On which note, I now head out to do a little life maintenance--and I'll be posting again tomorrow, I'm sure.

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