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Friday, June 16, 2017

Workus interruptus

Today was one of those days when I opted to stop working in order to do some life maintenance, hoping to get back to work once I got home. I didn't really expect it would happen, and in fact, it did not. I got home, practiced violin (more on that in a minute), and now? Too late to start anything. It's that whole "I'm like a semi" analogy: it takes me a long time to gear up to top speed, and it takes me even longer to gear back down again. Starting to gear up at 7:40 p.m.? No time to get really working before I'd have to start gearing down again, so...

I did a little work, though, which is better than no work--and I was working on the 101s. What I realized is that even the handouts that don't really need to be reworked, I'm changing in various small ways, in that perpetual quest for the perfect assignment, or the perfect way of conveying what is expected from any assignment.

I've made a few notes to myself about what I need to revisit yet again, once other decisions have been made, and I've made notes about what I want to address next--which won't happen until Sunday--and I'm rethinking some things I did or thought I wanted to do.

And I've realized I truly dislike sans serif fonts. I tried using Arial or something similar on the (repeatedly reworked) handout about reading notes for my lit electives. On the computer screen, I don't mind it terribly, but printed out? I just hate it. However, I'm running a small experiment: I'm going to try a font other than Times New Roman: something with serifs but with slightly more expanded, rounded letters (Bookman, perhaps, or something similar). It may make the handouts look slightly less dense. One hopes.

Shifting gears to my experience as a student, rather than a professor: today was the kind of practice I should try to remember to tell my students about. I missed two days of practice but wanted to be sure to get some time in today, prior to my lesson tomorrow. And today's practice was just about the crappiest of the week. I had two responses: one, making notes about what I want to review with my instructor. Two, recognizing that today's crap practice doesn't mean I won't do well in lesson tomorrow: that was just today.

But the take-away from that for my students is this: if what you write on one day feels crappy and awful, that's only a problem if you don't give yourself time to keep working on it. If you give yourself time to keep working--the way I'll keep on practicing "Boil Them Cabbage Down" for some time in various ways (faster tempo, with double stops or without)--then you'll hit the moment when suddenly things fall together: Ah! There it is!

That's the biggest hurdle I have to get over with students. They honestly, sincerely believe that the first thing they write is the best they can do, and I absolutely know that is not the case. So one of the little adjustments I've made to assignment sheets today is to give each one a header on the first page, quoting Epictetus (or at least one of the possible translations of what he said): "It is impossible to learn what one thinks one already knows." I don't know if they'll get it, but they'll see it, over and over, on assignment sheets. (I may or may not also include my own statement: Professors don't give grades; students earn them. That's struck some chords in the past--generally good ones.) But the point of the Epictetus quotation is to remind them that they have to let go of what they think they know in order to learn anything further.

I keep thinking about the student from many semesters ago who wrote in her self-evaluation that she learned a lot--but contradicted herself by pointing out that she really already knew all there was to know about writing. If you've been following the blog for a long while, you may remember my bitching about her--and my long debate over whether I should write a letter to her (since she never collected the final essay she said she wanted me to mark for her). I ultimately did write her the letter, stating that we both needed to acknowledge that she didn't learn anything--precisely because she didn't believe she had anything further to learn. The letter wasn't as snarky as I felt, but I didn't pull any punches. I've often wondered what became of her, how she did after that semester. (She failed my class, incidentally, largely because she didn't turn in about 80% of the work.)

I almost want to start the semester by asking my students, in all sincerity, whether they truly, in their deepest hearts, believe I have anything to teach them that a) they don't already know and b) they will find valuable. But even apart from whether I really want their honest answers, I don't think they know enough about themselves to begin to answer the question.

All this should lead me to feeling disheartened, as it reminds me--uncomfortably--of just how much resistance and ignorance (and frequently truculence) I will face in the fall. But oddly I find it is, at least at this particular moment, somewhat inspiring, because it helps me consider how I might reach them. That's a psychological approach that I find endlessly fascinating...

But now, just all of a sudden, I am without any further energy to think about this at all tonight. There will be no post tomorrow; it's a day of me being a student (if all goes as planned: yoga, tango, fiddle), so my teaching self will take a break. I may, however, return to the fray on Sunday. It would be good to get more done...

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