Monday, November 24, 2014


Just tell me what you want.

We want you to have some ideas you didn't get from a book, or from us. We want to push you beyond what you already know how to do. We want you to try things that are just beyond your abilities. We want you to experiment. We want you to make mistakes. We want to see growth, creativity, interesting failure. We want your reach to exceed your grasp; we want you to strive to do, and agonize to do, and fail in doing, not to tone it all down to yonder sober pleasant Fiesole. We want the jagged, awkward edges of a first effort, the unpredictable eruptions of discovery.

But then we have to put a grade on it. God damn.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Late-mid-semester grumpiness

I was going to do a proper post of Thinky Thoughts about the UNC athletics scandal, but at the moment this semester is kicking my ass six ways to Sunday, and I am too exhausted even to think. (Seriously, SHOOT me if I ever sign on to teach the one-credit Intro to College Life class again. $1,000 extra is SO not enough for a thirteenth hour of class time every week, and you have to spend SO much time herding freshmen: nagging them to do the online journal posts, arranging community service opportunities and hoping some of them show up, explaining the concept of comments on a paper -- which I wouldn't think would be that foreign, but two of them looked at me in utter confusion and seemed to think I wanted them to rewrite the paper. Dear God, do their high school teachers not comment at all on their work when they grade it? No wonder nobody can write.)

This particular crop of freshmen seems particularly flaky; there are about three in the entire class who are consistently completing all the assignments, and two of them are international students. Of the others, there are one or two who are consistently bright, friendly, and participatory in class, but who are well on their way to failing because they aren't completing ANY of the quizzes and journal assignments; several more who are obviously sullen and resentful but are at least making a gesture towards doing the work, and a bunch in the middle I haven't really got a read on yet. Are freshmen always like this, and I just blot it out from year to year? Or has NCLB finally ruined us forever?

I have also been having a lot of Weird Shit going on in my not-actually-freshman comp class (it's second-semester comp in the fall, so it's a motley mix of sophomores through seniors, with one true freshman who had early college credit, and one who started in the spring last year.) The latest incident, which will probably be making me cringe for years to come, involved a student who had been trying hard and doing poorly in idiosyncratic ways that suggested, to my untrained eye, that there might be disability issues involved, whether diagnosed or not. I submitted a report through the online-early-warning-reporting system, which the administration has been pushing hard for us to use, describing the student's issues in the candid and unvarnished terms one uses when talking confidentially to a colleague, suggesting he certainly needed tutoring and might need disability services...

... And by mistake, they forwarded the report to the student by e-mail. Word for word. I suppose I should be grateful that he doesn't actually seem to be bearing a grudge, and that it WASN'T a report complaining about the student's behavior, but THAT level of incompetence really does not make me inclined to trust the early-reporting system ever again.

So yeah, that's what it's been like for the last few weeks. This is the point in the semester when I find myself getting irrationally angry about stupid stuff, like students using the word "mechanicals" to refer to Bottom and colleagues in a paper on MND. (I'm never sure whether, or how, to correct this, since some professional literary critics do it, and they probably picked it up from their earlier teachers -- but seriously, would anybody think it was appropriate to call Shylock "the infidel" or Othello "the thick-lips" just because other characters do it? Why do class-based pejoratives get a pass?)