I do want to say a word or two about those young men I mentioned yesterday, but first, let me give the news about today.
Before class, I opted to do my year-end evaluation, both as a feet-clearing action and as a way to ensure that I have sufficient professional development events to meet my minimum. This was important to determine, as I have registered for an event tomorrow, but despite the fact that Paul will be there--which is a compelling reason to go--I am unwilling to set an alarm for tomorrow, and I have 10 zillion essays to mark, preferably before Tuesday, which presents an even more compelling reason not to go. And, as it happens, I don't need the event to make my quota, so, I ain't going.
It also feels very good to have the YEE out of my hair, or out from under my feet. Wherever it was, it was an irritant I'm glad to get rid of.
I then started organizing the enormous and growing mounds of stuff I have for the 102s, so I can churn through it at least somewhat effectively. I didn't get far on that before I had to go to class--but class went very well. I didn't put them in groups; I wrote things on the board, both my own explanations of things they needed a little help with and their comments--but mostly their comments, of which there were many. That class has pulled together a bit: there isn't great class chemistry, but there is more than none, which is nice, and a few of them are both savvy enough readers in general and comfortable enough with SF to do a fine job on the novella. We got into some fine territory. Very gratifying.
Upon my return to the office, I graded two late essays for the Nature in Lit class. One is from a student who cannot read to save her life and is even more incapable of making a coherent point in an essay. I present exhibit A:
"There's another description in the literature that stood out; Dillard describes a weasel being 10 inches long, thin as a curve, a muscled ribbon, brown as fruitwood and soft-furred. (Dillard, 31). In this description the author is making the readers see the action of how male humans can be 10 inches long of height, be thin and skinny, have muscled and have soft skin or no hair. These are all perfect physical characteristics descriptions of male humans which is 100% correct."
Setting aside the hilarity caused by the (I hope unintentional) pornographic images brought to mind, this was an instance where the most pure and visceral response from Prof. P. was "WTF???" I posted it on Facebook. I sent it to P&B, saying perhaps we need to engage in norming sessions for 101 and 102--because the student in question received a B in 101 and a B+ in 102. (Again, WTF?) I had Paul read it (hilarity ensued). But really: how on earth did this student get a B or a B+ in any English class at all? She is not going to pass my class--and shouldn't have passed any of the previous levels of English (or Reading--and yes, she started in Basic Education, so she needed remediation, and a lot of it, in reading, writing, and math).
But I got her essay finished to return to her, and I provided comments on the essay of the young man who came to my office yesterday morning for help. He's working very hard, is very earnest, does not take naturally to this kind of subject material. (I just looked at his transcript: he got a D+ in 102, which seems about right--but weirdly, he passed 101 with a B+, then took 100--which is the same thing, only with an additional lab component--and failed it. I have no idea what happened there.) But he has some ideas that work; he simply needs a lot of guidance digging deeper into the reading and developing his ideas more fully.
I don't know what else I got done (surely something?) between classes, but I dashed off to the 5:30 class, confident it would go well using the same technique I used with the earlier class. Cue sound effects: crashing noises, explosions, things falling heavily to the ground. One student--by far the best and brightest in that class--gets the novella for the most part and had excellent questions. Another student was more confused but asked good questions. Almost everyone else? Silence. They said they'd read it (though many didn't have their notes), but I sure didn't see evidence of that at all.
Well, their loss.
Now, back to yesterday.
I don't remember which young man I saw first, but I think it was one who sat down and told me that he was "behind" in getting his degree and needed to load as much on as possible so he could get caught up. He's been here two years, and he's just getting into credit bearing courses--but he's going to be a success story, I think. It seems clear that his problem has more been that he hasn't been good at focus and discipline--but he's getting to an age at which he is ready to buckle down and do the work. I talked to him about slowing down in order to do well; I showed him the hours in the day that would be involved in summer classes; we talked about reasonable expectations for someone who has a job and goes to school, so has to juggle many demands on his time. He was happy to realize that everything he is going to take in the fall bears credit and moves him toward graduation. It took a while for me to persuade him that being successful might not be the same as going fast, but he finally got there. And he knows himself very well: he knew that he needed help with focus, structure, time management. So I recommended a course--though I just found out (reading the fine print) that he can't actually take it (not unless a counselor allows him in despite his not meeting the specific criteria)--and I showed him some of the places where he can get help. He actively wants the help, and was excited and relieved to see how much is available. (I also suggested mentoring; he said he'd definitely look into that.) As I was showing him all the help that is available and assuring him that we want him to succeed, I saw the beginnings of tears in his eyes: his relief was palpable, as was his appreciation of my vote of confidence in his ability to do well. It was lovely to see his initial impatience--which he admitted arose from panic--dissolve into a more relaxed and buoyant mood.
And I did that for him. I gave him that. That feels wonderful.
The other young man came to my cubicle with a similar impatience but with the addition of a brusque, almost angry tone. He announced, "I need to withdraw from all my classes." OK, I said. May I ask why? "I need to get into rehab." I praised him for that, told him that was an admirable admission to make. I told him about excused withdrawals, e-mailed him the information, gave him what paperwork I could, let him know that the college would do everything possible to help. I told him, too, that one of my nephews had to go into rehab (true) and made a success of his life (true, though not quite as simple and direct a route as I made it sound). I said, "Go off, get yourself clean, and school will be here, ready for you, when you're ready to come back." Again, his eyes teared up a bit--I think because he was expecting judgement and disapproval and instead got compassion and encouragement.
From me. I could do that for him. And I think it mattered. I think it mattered to both of them that they could talk to someone who would listen, work with them, not sugar-coat but be encouraging.
I can do that--be compassionate, encouraging, supportive--much more readily in my one-on-one interactions with students than I can with a class as a whole. For instance, toward the end of the 5:30 class, I told them that when we meet on Tuesday, I'm not going to talk so much. If they don't have things to say, we'll sit there in silence. "I don't mind silence," I told them. "And I won't let you go early, either. If you don't bring your own ideas, if you don't have things to say, we're just going to sit here in silence until the end of the period." One young woman was smiling and almost laughing; she knew I'm serious, but she loved that I'd challenge them that way. (I am reminded again of the possibly apocryphal story of N. Scott Momaday walking into the first day of his Native American Literature classes, slamming his books on the desk, and bellowing, "Listen!" Then maintaining perfect silence for the remainder of the class period. Love that.)
So, now I am gradually starting to put on the brakes, not just from the head of steam for the day but from the barreling forward of the entire week. I almost can't believe it's Thursday; the week seemed so interminable up until about 7 tonight, it's weird that it's over. (Sort of the way I feel about the clear signs of spring: it seemed like leafless and wintery was going to last forever, and suddenly, it's green.) The panic will surely hit tomorrow; I know I'm going to resist getting down to the essay grading, but if I don't, I will make life truly difficult and stressful for myself. I can be disciplined, when it is absolutely required--and we're at that point.
That said, it is definitely time to tie a bow around the campus part of this work week. I'll surely be posting over the weekend as I work from home. (And, my fickle readers, that means I get to keep you hooked a bit with daily posts. The minute you miss your daily dose of new, off you trot to some other blog and you stop checking mine. You never know when you'll find an excellent new post here, so go ahead and assume nothing new will be there. Hah. I'll keep you guessing.)