Monday, January 11, 2010

"Blech"

Sometimes I start a blog post, and then it sits as an unpublished draft for months, even years (case in point:  the draft post about how I'm not looking forward to the presidential-nominee battle between Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama).  This lag is probably a good thing, as it reminds me of the importance of letting things gel, of acknowledging that writing can serve different purposes in different moments, and that some composing really is a process with stages, starting with getting ideas and moving into shaping them into something more polished and final.  However, in some cases, the draft remains a draft because the simple act of hammering out those ideas satisfied the impulse.

The fairly-unedited freewriting below is just such a draft, a thought vomit that alleviated stress and has sat, untouched, since its inception; after considering if I want to mess around with it any more, I've decided I need to toss it out as it is, just to shed the negative ju-ju in it before the new semester begins.

The backstory here is that I was grading Cause/Effect essays last term, and I came upon a run of particularly illogical, poorly-thought-out papers.  Eventually, I snapped, and I took a break from grading to pound out the start of a post--more of a rant--below.

The even backer-story is that I was grading during a week when my sleep was outrageously out of whack.  Paco, who is both charged and plagued by imagination, was unable to sleep for about three nights in a row.  He'd make it for a few hours but be up by 1, 2, 3, in the morning, crying, out of sorts, scared.  Since I can handle consciousness in the dark hours better than Groom, we have a longstanding arrangement that I'll handle things 'til the sun comes up, and then he takes over.  The upshot was that Paco and I went through all sorts of machinations to get him back to sleep: 

1)  Mama will sleep with you (however, that is about the biggest treat he can imagine, and we really get a bang out of each others' company, so lots of times we have to talk and laugh and hug--which ain't sleepin');

2)  Let's try reading (when you're actually very tired, though, books are blurry, and even Scaredy Squirrel and Tacky the Penguin flop);

3)  Merde. Let's watch a show and see if we can fall asleep on the couch in front of the monitor (this is the most successful approach, although neither of us ever falls asleep on the couch; rather, we just watch three episodes of Pokemon, until even the six-year-old capitulates, "We have to turn this off now.  I can't stand it anymore"). 

So, basically, I'd spent a few endless nights wandering around the house with a softie lad, and, as a result, was feeling both surreal and unhinged during the daylight hours.

Enter the stack of Cause/Effect essays.  The math here would read "shoddy papers + wrung out teacher = crabby attempt at a blog post."

Here's the thing, though:  after I tapped away at the keyboard that day, venting therapeutically, I went back to grading and encountered some stronger papers.  The next day, I went back to the classroom and laughed and enjoyed the students.  Plus, I slept straight through one night and found my moorings again.

So I never returned to this post to finish it up.  But it has stayed with me.  Go ahead and read the in-the-moment brain dump, and then I'll tell you what I think two months later.
--------------------------------------------------

I've been joking with increasing frequency that my husband needs to get a career or we need to open a coffee shop or I need to get a paper route.


Right now, this week, I'm in the midst of feeling more serious about it. Because I'm clearly in Bad Teacher mode.


Evidence? I'm put out with my students.



For being so damn dumb. So frickin' dumb. They're dumb, and I can't get over it.



I'm pretty sure that's not part of the criteria for Teacher of the Year.



I'm also pretty sure I wouldn't get points for wanting to take at least half my students firmly by the shoulders and shake them 'til their hollow heads waggle about.



Now I know I'm supposed to jolly off their poor work and regroup and come up with strategies to motivate and transform them and help to bridge their gaps.



But mostly, I want to throw them all off a bridge and wave as they fall down the gap. I might yell into the crevasse, as they fall, "You know, I'm not sure the United States has it completely right in telling its citizens that everyone has a right to a college education--because that attitude overlooks the fact that not everyone should go to college. Because some of y'all are just too dumb for it."



See what I mean?



I might maybe need to re-career myself,


preferably into a job where I don't have to interact with people.



'Specially them dumb ones.



Actually, more than being put out with the lack of innate intelligence, I'm having a wolly here about the lack of care and effort. Why am I spending more time grading a paper than the student did writing it?



That's the insult I can't get past today.



For I have to think--I HAVE to think--that if the students had put a little effort into their papers, they wouldn't have written such dumb stuff. Right?



If Student E had slowed the frack down when writing her "three reasons why digital photography is popular" essay, she might have realized how idiotic it is to assert that one of the reasons digital photography is popular is that "digital photography is very popular." She might have realized that the cause can't be the effect.



Similarly, Student Z argues that texting has resulted in a new way of communicating. Caught in her body paragraphs by this circular reasoning, she simply spun and spun, never realizing that texting IS a new form of communication and, therefore, the result of it must be something different than itself.



If Student AA had taken more than ten minutes to crank out her paper, she wouldn't have written, "Back in my grandparents [sic] day, they never had anything except public schools. Today we have home schooling [sic] and online school." RIGHT? And if she could have bothered herself to take more than ten minutes to write her paper, I then wouldn't have felt compelled to spend 13 minutes writing out an explanation to her of how "online schools" are often also "public schools" and how back in her grandparents' day (which, based on what I know of the family, was in the 1980s), there also were things called "private schools" AND HOW HOMESCHOOLING ISN'T AN INVENTION OF THE NEW MILLENIUM.



You're getting some small sense of the huff I'm currently having, ja?



And I haven't even copied for you yet this sentence: "The first Death Person in 1995 sends a text message by David Jackson." Read it.



Read it again.



Now, once more.



Did you get it yet?



I never did.



Finally, my husband read it and figured it out: "Death Person" means "deaf person." Apparently the deaf only function in the present tense, however, no matter what year they sent the text.



Can you see how this all might have a cumulative effect on the instructor? When the occasional student writes nonsense, it's goofy. I can laugh. But when every single paper in a stack of 50 has this kind of confuddlement in it,



I get defeated. New to me is the anger, though. Surprisingly, I'm just pissed off. The sun is shining, and I'm inside reading this stuff? Really?



I'm sighing loudly now, as I take the next paper off the stack. It's about the positive effects of exercise. Improves health? Check. Improves self-esteem? Check.



Gives a person something to do?



Mo-fu**er.



I know, on some level, that last point doesn't seem so egregious. However, think about it--and the more you think about it, the more you'll see it's the dumbest of all. An effect of exercise is that it occupies one's time?



How about you put anything into that equation; the end analysis is the same: if a person does something, then he/she has something to do. Exercise is one of a million choices.



For example, if that student took a ballpoint and inserted it, with great force, into his eardrum, that would occupy his time (and if he managed to spear his brain in the process, it would constitute the best use of grey matter he's yet discovered).



Sounds like a perfect exercise to me.



I'm handing out ballpoints in class next time. I'm telling each of them to stick the pen up to an ear.



And shove it.
-------------------------------------

End freewrite.  Huzzah to sleep and, resultingly, a more balanced human being.

What didn't end with the venting and sleeping was an underlying sense of being put out.  It's taken me some mulling time, but I've figured out that, in the moment, I was angry at the students who didn't put enough thought or time into their work.  After time has passed, though, I still have to concede that, even in the clear light of day, I have ongoing frustrations.

For sure, I'm frustrated when students don't put in the time the assignment merits.

On a larger scale, I'm frustrated whenever anyone signs up for something and then doesn't commit to squeezing out the best possible performance or outcome.

And I'm frustrated at dealing with students who don't avail themselves of resources.  If a student admits he has never done well at English or that he has never understood punctuation, and then I advise him to go use a tutor at the free on-campus Learning Center or, easier yet, to email his paper to the free online tutor (which will return his paper, marked up with feeback within 24 hours)...but then he doesn't...I. feel. my. last. nerve. warp. into. a. kink.

To wring out the another truth:  I am frustrated at the pressure to keep students happy, at an academic culture based on a business model, one in which students are "customers" (and, thereby, "always right").  While I know teaching at the community college means I'm working with a student population that skews towards learning disabilities, mental illness, and hardknock backgrounds, I do also think I have a right to expect them to--again--avail themselves of their resources, such as free counselors, free advisors, free disabilities services.  Certainly, I know it takes an amount of self-awareness and wherewithal to get oneself to the resource.  I remember well enough my own youth of blithely tripping along my own zigzagging pathway, oblivious to outstretched hands attempting to steer me straighter.

But, you know, the inability and unwillingness of a populace to do its best work has an interesting effect (which, perhaps, I could write about it in my next Cause/Effect essay):  it means the standard-bearers have to fight, constantly, to keep the standards from eroding, from wearing downwards to meet the lack of effort.  Put more bluntly:  I'm tired of having to clap for a pile of crap.


Does this inspire in you a standing ovation?

So that's where I'm at, here, the day the new semester starts.  I wrote out how I felt.  In doing so, I extricated those feelings enough to take away some of their power--to allow me enough optimism to start the rigamarole all over again.  The gut-level anger has stormed out of the house; but a swirl of frustrations still has a seat on the bay-window cushion, where it glares hostilely out at the driveway.

On the bad days, it'll see me hopping in my Camaro and peeling out in reverse, leaving skidmarks in the cul-de-sac, heading for the bar.

On the good days, it'll watch me detailing the dashboard and humming along to Dan Wilson.

Mostly, if things ever get really bad, I hope it'll confiscate my keys and send me to bed for a three-hour nap.

16 comments:

monica said...

hm, for a few seconds I misread the first of Paco's go-to-sleep ballpoints; Mama will sleep with you - the biggest threat ! was a bit puzzled for a short time... :o)) About your student agony: I have always totally admired those who actually have the patience to try guiding our young and promised ones... now with a 17 year old son being a freshman I admire you even more :o)

Jeni said...

Now I am convinced there is a blogger conspiracy at work tonight! Why else would another of my favorite bloggers -and you -both write of things that are in essence, part of one of my own ongoing problems, that being my son!
I spent about 3 hours with him late last night, after his call to ask me to come pick him up at a bar, of all places, and take him home cause he was, as he put it, "a little messed up." Stirred up by the substance he's supposed to be not using, aggravated by issues he's had for years about his Dad, confused over trying to figure out how to work out compromises with his girlfriend and her 8-year-old daughter (with whom he just took up residence about a month ago) and being too damned obstinate to realize that things need to change, yes, but the things he wants to change are out of his control as the only thing -or person -he is capable of changing would be -himself! A vicious cycle here! He asks me for help, puts questions to me and I give him my take, my advice and nine times out of ten, he ends up ignoring said advice then. Although last night, one of his issues was that he can't talk to his Dad with the ease his sisters can -or so he thinks -and I told him to call his Dad and then, "call him" on that issue. Learned this evening from older daughter that he had in fact called dear old Dad today, not once but twice, (daughter had called Dad today too) and Dad had told him his timing was impeccable because he and his wife (#5, she is) were fighting today! Now, if they actually talked about something other than cars, I'll know for sure that Son actually did hear a little of what I said last night! Kids! No matter the age, sometimes they all still need a little "hand-holding" or other things to help ease them out of something and into a clearer day and way to deal with life. (Same goes I suppose for students too, who don't follow the path you've tried to steer them to, that will give them an easier route now as well as later in life.)
And as a matter of fact, last night in the circular conversations I had with my son, there were several times when I really wanted to take a ballpoint pen and stick it in his ear for him -or else in mine -and see if it would/could hit pay dirt there -eventually!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I sure dew hope they pays you a lott at that there fansy school you teech at coz iffn you projekt what the werld will be lik when these idjits r running it, it will mak you look fer a high bridj to jump off.

If it makes you feel any better, Jocelyn, I have a friend who teaches Special Ed and she constantly complains that her students are "so dumb." When I suggest that perhaps that's the point, she simply repeats herself. Which has to make you wonder.

lime said...

the school is predicated on the business model where students are customers ergo always right? dear lord, i just felt a sympathetic spike in my blood pressure.

c'mere. i'll share my favorite blanket which i RARELY share even with those whom i birthed. and make you a drink to aid your drifting off into a 3 hour nap.

Shieldmaiden96 said...

My aunt taught Art History at Gwynedd-Mercy College at one time and I used to sit at the kitchen table reading papers with her. I begged her to let me red-pen them. Or at least color in the vast paragraphs of plagarized material with a bright pink highlighter with 'YOU wrote this? REALLY??' in the margin.
She never let me.
This is why I do not teach; I lack the requisite patience and compassion.

Jazz said...

It's enough to drive a woman to drink, it is.

Too bad you live so far... we could commiserate over our morons.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I think the latter part of your essay should be required reading for all your students.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I am SO glad I opted out of becoming an adjuct instructor. Let it out, let it flow, I've felt all those things and I believe with all my hear that student stupidity should be exposed and slapped into submission. There, I said it. And college isn't for everyone.
As for your son, I have one who wants to sleep with us. I solved that by putting a sleeping bag on the floor beside our bed. He hates sleeping there and then returns to his own bed. Point? Mama!

chelle said...

ahh how I understand vivid imaginations ... blessing and a curse.

I think all professors feel this utter frustration at students at any given time. My husband teaches only those for MAJOR in his subject 2nd, 3rd year students that cause him much dismay at times.

I totally think writing. blogging. great therapy. Getting it out.

Love the phrase thought vomit! hehe

Midlife Jobhunter said...

I think many of us dream of teaching college students. I do. But often we forget that the freshman English classes are infiltrated with students who HAVE to be there. Who just want to pass the class. A friend who conducted her own classes online found much joy in working with those who wanted to learn how to write. Your pain in this venture is appreciated.

Joan Azarva said...

I can identify with everything you expressed. I am a community college adjunct, and for many years, I was an adjunct AND the only Learning Specialist (for students with disabilities).

The situation is complex at community college b/c it is considered low cost/low risk. Well, it's not low risk if you don't attend class or go for help when you need it.

I think parents feel CC is a good option for their kids to stay on their insurance plan when the kid is not not sure what he wants to do. I wish parents would realize that students have to WANT to go to college to succeed. Learning doesn't occur by osmosis.

I agree with you-- college is a business. A business, however, would have a structured program for which LD students would have to apply and pay,to increase retention. Only one CC that I know of does this. WHY? Because I believe the "business" side of them doesn't want to be too closely associated with LD, despite the fact that those are the students they're attracting en masse anyway.

CONQUER COLLEGE WITH LD/ADD
For parents of HS students with learning differences
http://www.conquercollegewithld.com

secret agent woman said...

I get it, even though I'm in a different field. I had to bite my tongue hard today not to say "What the hell do you think I've been telling you for the last several months??" when someone's married boyfriend strangely wouldn't commit. And not in a moral judgment way, just in a a purely logical how-could-this-go-well-for-you way.

ds said...

Where to start? With the blessing/curse (mostly blessing) of a six-year-old's hyperactive imagination?
With your classrooms full of "Tiffanys"? Sorry but I do love that Death Person sentence--it is perfect in its irreality.
Or with this: "the inability and unwillingness of a populace to do its best work..." Raise your standard, hold it high, and keep it there. Because if teachers like you--the ones who care--lower the bar to suit "the suits," none of your students will ever know that it is possible to soar.
I stand, applauding, an ovation of one.

Holler when your arms get tired...

jess said...

My favorite little brother just finished his first term at community college and he was nervous (we did not grow up in an atmosphere that encouraged education) but I kept telling him he was going to be great because he's so, well, non-idiotic compared to the majority of his classmates.

He works hard and does what the instructors ask him to and even gets creative and has fun with assignments, for criminy's sakes. I wish I could put him in a box and send him to you for a semester.

geewits said...

I hope it helped to "get it out there." Blogging always does that for me. Vent it and it's gone. Your post really got me to thinking about my junior college years. I had a few teachers that disliked me on sight and adored me by the end of the semester. I used to wonder about that and wonder what changed and when it changed. I think you gave me the answer: Effort. I was always gung ho about projects and assignments and always went all out. I was always an enthusiastic student and relished learning new things. Maybe that's all it took to cause those teachers to discard whatever first impressions they had. Thanks for the insight.

Becky Cazares said...

What a hilarious post! Had me laughing almost 'til I cried. But so sad, too. Yes, community college is likely where you find the widest variance between serious students and slackers but, if it's any consolation, we have our share of dumb ones at state college, too. Often I suspect I have received a good grade on a paper ONLY because I'm one of the few students capable of writing in complete sentences!

You have given me a glimpse into the grading lives of my poor instructors and I am astonished at their/your patience with this entitlement generation. Kids who think because their incoherent ramblings filled up the requisite five pages, they "should" get an A on the paper. I *SO* admire the profs who take the time to point out my errors - because even at age 53, I do make some! That means they're being consistent with their grading. Yay!

Who forgot to tell these kids that an education is EARNED, not bestowed? That passing a class isn't the same as grasping the material. That real life is made up of a whole lot MORE than what's on the test?

I have to admit, that it occasionally slips into my thinking pattern - that I don't really have to put all THAT much effort into an assignment because I really only have to do better than the dumb ones to get a decent grade! Most of the time I truly try to make enough of an effort so that I learn whatever the assignment was designed to teach.

Too many of my classmates have what I call the "make me" mentality. Every syllabus notes the course requirements and stipulates that points will be lost if they don't attend class regularly. This is because if it only said "regular attendance is recommended," most students would answer, okay, make me! Make me care, make me put forth the effort, make me actually learn something from this class/assignment. Thus rubrics were born. And "participation points" were invented. And class grades are "curved." And the truly smart students get dumped in with the mediocre ones who simply have learned to make an effort. So sad.