I spent today churning through all the homework I've been collecting from the students in Nature in Lit--and it did take a truly large chunk of the day. And it was discouraging as hell. I don't even really want to write about it much; I feel stymied and frustrated and ineffectual and tired--all of which also makes me feel angry. I don't quite know what to do with them in class tomorrow. I have some hope that the reading for tomorrow might actually encourage some thought and discussion, but I'm prepared for the discussion to be all about why hunting is just plain bad, indefensible, mean, cruel--all the usual city-slicker arguments against feeding oneself directly from what one "gathers" in the wild. That, and all the usual, knee-jerk sentimental woo-woo bullshit about how pure Native peoples are.
The piece in question is Richard K. Nelson's essay "The Gifts," about him hunting deer to feed his family. The gifts in question are the buck he kills to eat and the doe who walks up to him and allows him to put his hand on her head. The two are described as being essentially the same thing, the same reflection of the spirit of the nonhuman world and our connection to it, and the essay is beautifully, gracefully written, gorgeous in turn of phrase and specificity of detail. And I anticipate the students' only response being the above mentioned--plus, maybe, how much he "appreciates" nature.
Fuck me sideways.
The other problem, of course, is that the time I put into that is time I didn't put into marking essays for the 102s, and I'm still in the same place I was on Sunday: four more to go for the 1:00 class, and I think 18 or so to go for the 5:30 class. And it may be busy in Advisement, or busier than it's been, as summer registration is open.
So, the current dilemma is, do I call in "sick" and stay home to work? Or do I trust that somehow, in whatever time I have around and between other things (class, students in Advisement, meeting on Thursday, commuting, meals, sleep) I'll have time to get everything done? I'm leaning toward the latter at the moment, but I may think better of that in the morning. I really don't have any choice about the meeting on Thursday; normally that would be the first thing to get ditched in favor of marking essays, but that's the meeting at which the online version of Nature in Lit gets reviewed by the college-wide committee, so I have to be there.
Of course, if I were truly being diligent and driving myself, I'd keep working tonight, but I'm opting to call a halt--mostly because my patience is even more shot than my mental energy. I don't want to take out my frustration with the students in Nature in Lit on the students in the 102s. I have plenty of frustration about the 102 students all in themselves.
But I will say, one little niggling factor weighing in the "maybe I'll just cancel class" equation is that I don't really want to work through anything with the Nature in Lit students. I'm considering whether we might work all next week on one reading, moving through it as a class, one paragraph, one sentence at a time, and I'd just collect notes on the other assigned readings without actually discussing them, I don't much like that idea, as I don't like how it feels to me when I read notes that clearly miss what matters--an error I can at least attempt to correct in class discussion--but it might be precisely what they need. This is especially true as the assignment for Monday is somewhat complex but vitally important.
God, I despair, I despair. Do I even want to teach the wretched thing online? I hope that online (if it runs) the students will be slightly more elevated in terms of skills and sophistication of thinking, but the more I teach this particular class, the more I realize that to teach it the way I want to, I need students who are several cuts above the average I encounter. The students we have who are top notch would be excellent in the class--but I don't get enough of them in any one section to make it fly. (And I don't chase out all the small fry as I used to, so I don't end up with the kind of "senior seminar" classes of four or five students that I often had in the past.)
So, to try to give myself something positive to hold on to (other than the count down to end of semester, which is not exactly the kind of positivity that helps me face the day with energy and enthusiasm) is to think of the handful of students across the three classes who are a pleasure to teach. I would dearly love to have them all in one room together, or to work with them individually, but I'm grateful to have them in my classes at all.
And just in case you were wondering, there are three more Tuesdays before spring break, seven more before end of semester. But who's counting. (Don't everyone raise your hand at once.)