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Monday, April 3, 2017

In desperate need of a re-frame

I am so utterly discouraged by the Nature in Lit class, I am about to explode--or, more likely, completely shut down, barely even going through the motions. Not one student in that class can read or think. Period. I know I've said that before, but it's true. There are two students who come a lot closer than the others--one of whom I have to force to withdraw, as he's missed at least eight classes if not more. (Last time I saw him he said he'd be there because he needed to pass the class--and then he was absent again today. Christ on a bicycle.)

I should have known what would happen today. One student read the stories. One. OK, I said, it's kindergarten reading circle time--and I read the stories aloud. Responses? Thoughts? Nothing. After a lot of urging and posing of questions, I finally got a few of them to respond--but one, the  would-be poet, responds without having any real idea how to respond in the least. (At some point, I may have to sit down with him and get pretty harsh with him about where his skills are in comparison with where he thinks they are.) But I should be loving this class, and instead, I dread it. I can barely face going in every day. I know I only have to see them ten more times, but that's eleven more than I feel like I have in me.

I honesty don't know what to do. I could rant and rave at them, but I don't think it will help, any more than it helps to explain the finer points of etiquette to a spider monkey. I don't think they're being willfully dense; I think they actually do care--in whatever etiolated way they can. In their minds, I'm sure they're trying very hard. But even if I were to hand them all copies of Ranger Rick to read, I don't believe for a second that they'd get what they're reading. They can't.

I'm trying to tech amoebas to tap dance. They can't help it that they can't do it, but I would give just about anything to be teaching something at least with feet on which to put the shoes.

One of the things I'm working on internally, as I write this post, is to fully, completely feel as well as know that this is not about me. I am not wrong; my expectations are not unreasonable--and they do not specifically intend to drive me crazy or to make me angry. I can try to summon up some compassion for them: they have been desperately undereducated and ill-prepared up to this point; they may even hunger for something that they're starting to feel is out there in the universe but which they can't yet get close to reaching. It is not their fault that they are so woefully ill-equipped for a class like mine.

Perhaps the saddest--and most maddening--part of this is that they truly think they are trying; they truly think they are doing what needs to be done, and part of the sorrow and frustration on their end of the equation is that they keep doing what they believe to be what I'm want them to do and keep hearing that it isn't enough or isn't right, and yet it's all they've got.

I don't know what to do with them in class any more. Part of me wants to just collect their homework and send them home. It's quite clear that I will not, in fact, get them to understand how to truly read and think in any depth about the literature. It's quite clear that any improvement I see in their work will be so miniscule that I'll have to struggle to celebrate it for an improvement. It's quite clear we are never going to have the kind of real, high-flying, fascinating conversation I'm used to having in that class. So, I need to find a way to make my peace with that and get through those next ten classes with something approaching calm and good spirits, instead of miserable frustration.

Shifting gears, I still have quite a few essays to mark for the 5:30 102, but even with the time I have to spend in Advisement tomorrow, I'm holding out hope I can get them done. I was hoping little bits of chocolate would help me keep awake and alert enough to make forward progress, but alas, such was not the case. (I think I might feel my waist expanding, however.) I don't imagine I'll get a lot more sleep tomorrow than I did last night, but one can always hope--and even if not, I think I can maintain sufficient mental acumen to grind through the rest before 5:30. I may arrive at class with very little brain actively engaged, but the onus of the work is largely on the students tomorrow, so I don't have to be too sharp.

I'm wrapping things up early tonight for PT; Wednesday, I'll be wrapping up early to go out to dinner with William, Kristin and Paul--which will be lovely. Meanwhile, I'm trying very hard to focus just on the task that it immediately in front of me, the thing that needs to be tended to first, and not to worry too much about all the other things backing up in the pipelines. It will get done. This too shall pass. Tomorrow is another day.


1 comment:

  1. Prof. Payne, as a constant reader, I more and more find cause to applaud your sharing of this long road to pedagogical insight. You may express frustration and angst but your empathy and understanding neither slumber nor sleep. Thank you.

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