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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Squeaking it out

By my calculations I have a little less than six hours of time in which to grade essays between tomorrow--around class and conferences--and Thursday before the rush of conferences begins at 12:40. I have eleven--possibly twelve--more essays to mark. One student, one of the best students, has not yet submitted her essay; normally that would mean no comments and a huge grade penalty, but I know she's dealing with some serious difficulties at home, so I'm trying to work with her so she can get the success she deserves out of the class.

So, of the essays I actually have in hand, one will almost certainly be excellent (unless something truly bizarre occurred, like the student was temporarily taken over by a pod person), and at least one will be disastrously bad. So there's a chance--slight, but a chance--that I'll be able to get everything done.

I did, however, cancel my PT appointment for tomorrow evening; I know I'll need the time after my last appointment to crank out a few essays--as many as I can stand.

As for today, one real stand-out moment. There's a student in the earlier section of 102 that I've always thought of as a very pleasant young woman, personably likable, but she seemed pretty disengaged from the class, and her work has been, shall we say, less than stellar. In our conference on her first essay, I got the feeling she was doing the "I get it, no problem [I'm not taking in a word you're saying just let me out of here]" thing, so I was anticipating more of the same today. However, she started with a very good--if somewhat startling--question, which was how she can avoid the "statement of intentions" approach to her opening paragraph: I will show, I will figure out, I will this that and the other. I was at a bit of a loss how to explain to her what she was doing, especially in contrast to what she needs to do--so I finally showed her examples of good opening paragraphs by students in the other section of 102. I asked her what she noticed, and she said, "It's a lot better than mine." OK, what makes it better? It took her a little while to grasp what the difference was, what she needs to do--and then, suddenly, I realized her eyes were filling up with tears.

She sat next to me and cried for about ten minutes. Here I thought she was a tough cookie who didn't really give a shit, and it turns out she's breaking inside because she always thought she was "good at English," and now she feels lost and "stupid" and overwhelmed. Apparently, she's getting some pretty fierce feedback from her art teacher, too, and it hurts her heart, deeply. She wants to be good at this; she wants to learn.

I just wanted to hug her, soothe her, offer comfort. But the best I could offer is to tell her that the problem isn't that she's "bad at English": she's facing a huge, difficult learning curve, being asked to do something utterly alien and new. As for the students who seem "so much smarter": they just got where she's trying to get earlier than she did, but that doesn't mean she can't get there. She apologized for crying, and I assured her that it was an excellent sign, as it shows she cares. She's afraid she's going to flunk the class--but now, of course, I will do everything in my power to keep that from happening.

She's going to see me next week on Monday, and I'll do what I can to see her again during the week, before the final version of the essay is due. I'm trying to be very pragmatic and teacherly, but it makes me deeply sad to see her struggle and suffer--and to know that the struggle and suffering are, I'm sorry to say, necessary and important. She does have a hell of a lot to learn; she has a huge chasm to get over before she'll be able to do what I require. And if she were with a different kind of professor, she wouldn't be suffering this sense of personal failure, she wouldn't be feeling so humiliated. But she's with me, and I can't take away the things she feels. All I can do is try my damndest to help her get across that chasm so by the end of the semester she is smiling and feels good about herself and her accomplishment.

But I do feel like a monster--and I am reminding myself, again, that I need to be even more certain to point to what's good, what the student in question can do more of, can build on, not just what's wrong.

Meanwhile, among my conferences tomorrow is a meeting with the young woman who dropped 102 last semester because she was dealing with crippling anxiety--and who is going to have to drop it again this semester, because she's gotten herself into the exact same place of no return. Have the tissue box handy: she'll be miserable about it, but it's a reality.

Also up tomorrow, Little Miss "I don't think there should be so much emphasis on analysis because it's stressing me out." Still to be determined: will I rip her head off--or will she reduce me to a soft-hearted puddle as the Tough Cookie did today? (Tune in for the next exciting installment...)

For now, I feel like I've been beaten with knouts while facing a sandstorm with my eyes open. I'm getting out of here almost an hour earlier than I did yesterday--but it feels like 2 a.m. Six more days of classes, six more alarm-clock mornings, and then spring break, after which we enter the "hang onto the safety-bar and scream" part of the semester.

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