I did get all the essays marked for today, with enough time to spare that I could actually eat my lunch. A lot of student emails came in on various subjects, everything from a student who will probably take an incomplete (extremely bright but going through hell in her personal life: she has enormous grey rings around her eyes from lack of sleep) to a student whose uploaded essay only had one page to several students canceling their conference appointments--so I spent a fair amount of time on those. I also wrote a rather lengthy (and possibly slightly incoherent) addition to a discussion among the members of P&B about the big meeting we went to today on the Institutional Planning Committee and the forthcoming Strategic Plan: more of the usual smoke and mirrors, which far too many faculty seem willing to be seduced by, and not enough substance. I am systemically furious about everything having to do with how this institution is being run; as I said to Cathy in a text, I seem to be wearing shit-colored glasses these days. One of my P&B colleagues pointed out that things are worse at other institutions, which may be true, but that doesn't mean I have to accept what's going on here, even though it probably is true that we're not going to see anything better from this particular administration or board. And it could be much worse when the current--temporary--president and AVP leave.
Cleansing breath. Cleansing breath.
So, about interactions with students in conferences. Miss Stressed had a good enough explanation for what happened that I am willing to let her try for her final version, though I did talk to her about the line between getting help from one's aunt who also happens to be a professor and getting too much help from one's aunt who also happens to be a professor. (One might think that an aunt who happens to be a professor would know better than to help her little niece cheat, but, well, that's a whole different ball of wax.)
No, I had to get out the big guns for the student who plagiarized 40% of his essay--and came in to his conference to tell me he didn't plagiarize. He also said someone helped him--and didn't understand when I said that that was double plagiarism. We did several laps around the "No, those are my ideas" "So you knew about the big chunks that were taken word for word from the internet" "No, someone helped me" "So you cheated and let someone else do the work, passing it off as your own" thing (with a couple of brief detours into "I don't understand: I tried to use my own words" and other bullshit) when I finally just said enough: we're not going to argue about this. He said if he'd realized he really had plagiarized, he wouldn't have come in. I said that I thought it was good that he did; it wasn't very manly of him not to acknowledge that he'd done wrong, but it was manly to take the heat for it. I kept saying, "As a man, you need to be responsible" and things of that sort. After the student left, William made a little "Whew! That was rough!" face. I asked him if I'd been too harsh, and he said no: in fact, he said, "I love it when you do the man to man thing." (Yeah, me and my big brass balls--which are not so big or brass these days.) But the student fails the class, and the report goes to the dean of students. Next.
One of the next students was a beautiful contrast to the plagiarist. He has struggled all semester, and he has a lot of turmoil in his personal life, but today in our conference, he said, "I just can't get my ideas out; I can feel what I want to get to and I just can't get there." It was a beautiful cry from the heart: the fact that he can sense that there is something just beyond his grasp but that he wants it, wants it deeply, I'd even say desperately, is absolutely golden. I told him so. I told him that his desire to get to that whateveritis makes him a much better student than the one to whom the whateveritis comes easily. I pointed out to him that he did a great job of finding where his peer review partner was generalizing, where his partner's points were good, and I told him he could apply that ability to evaluate to his own writing. At one point he said, "There's got to be something wrong with me, 'cause I just can't get there" and I assured him that no: there is nothing at all wrong with him. This isn't an area where his brain likes to go, I said, but his brain can get better at it. I encouraged him to marinate himself in language; I told him it doesn't matter what he reads, but he should read all the time, read, read, read. He told me he'd started rereading the novel--just because he had time to kill and was bored--but that he saw stuff he'd missed the first time around. I practically got up and danced. Yes! Reread the whole book! He actually wants to, because he can see now that he'll get more out of it the second time through.
It was just beautiful. I could sincerely encourage him; I could help him reframe his experience so he can see his strengths, not beat himself up over his weaknesses. And he was a much more confident man leaving my office than he was when he walked in.
Please, God, all the gods at once, let me keep on doing just this; don't change my campus to the point that I cannot have this kind of experience with students. If I can keep getting hits of this, the moment when a student yearns for something--and starts to believe he or she can get it, I can keep going. If I get just enough moments like this, I'll be fine.
There was another lovely moment with a student today, though on a very different level. This is a young man who won't talk in class because he stutters: I think I've mentioned him before. He's wicked smart and incredibly well read, but he's a mess in terms of discipline. I did mention him last night: he had 3/4 of a page for peer review on Tuesday and never uploaded his essay. So I had to tell him in conference that he wouldn't be able to pass the class. His eyes welled up with tears. I assured him that the problem wasn't in the quality of his work; it was just in his ability to follow through and stay on top of things. As I was filling out the withdrawal form for him, he thanked me for saying that the quality of his work was good. A tear was rolling down his face, but he was smiling--and he wiped the tear away as if it were nothing. He was genuinely comforted, happy even, that I told him his work is good. (I also suggested he might want to be in the Creative Writing degree--or at very least to take our Fiction Writing class, as he really wants to write.) It was very sweet and moving.
In fact, apart from the Plagiarism Denier, all the interactions with students today were lovely. (I am very aware, too, of the vast number of students dashing around campus with withdrawal slips in their hands.)
And I have nineteen essays to mark. A few won't get comments, just the rubric, because they were submitted late, but that's my weekend, right there. I will be here again tomorrow, as I mentioned before: Cathy and I will work on summer adjunct schedules (even though her younger daughter gave birth to a boy today, which kept Cathy from attending the meeting--mercifully for her). Then with whatever energy I have left, I will grade essays.
But doing either of those things with any mental acumen is contingent on my getting some sleep tonight. I am going to take myself out for a nice little dinner and a nice big drink, then go home and collapse until tomorrow. I do wish I could collapse until August, but not quite yet: one big push this weekend, then a flurry of final essay evaluating and number crunching, last round of summer scheduling, commencement--and then I start doing my sea-cucumber impersonations.