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Bird's Blog

Poetry, musings, observations, commentary, rants, confessions...and who knows what else!

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Location: San Francisco Bay Area

Teacher, writer, poet, grandmother, lover, wine-drinker, chocolate eater, beach comber, hiker, traveler, Giants fan, San Franciscan. All work on this blog is copyrighted material.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Self-Indulgent Teacher Vent

Argh and Sigh.

After talking with me after class briefly, a student dumped his two returned essay folders in the trash on his way out the door today. He was upset and frustrated. He's been upset and frustrated all semester long.

This student has told me repeatedly in woeful cover letters accompanying his essays and in a few emails that he is experiencing "family troubles." At one point, someone claiming to be his mother sent me an email on his behalf, explaining that his grandfather was dying of cancer and the student had been spending all his time with her at the hospital instead of in my early morning class.

I am not unsympathetic, though I am doubtful. This particular student got off to a bad start early in the semester. After conferencing with me for 30 minutes on a rough draft essay, he made no changes at all on his revision - and thus I gave him a no-pass on his first essay. I tried to send a clear message, through my commentary and in-person, that although his rough draft was good, it was not a final draft. And conferencing with me and then making no changes was not acceptable.

The student didn't like this at all. "But," he told me, "I love writing and I've always gotten good grades." "That's great," I told him. "Loving writing is a good start - but in this class, you've got to work your revisions."

Absences have piled up for this student and he has failed to show up to two more conferences - conferences at which I was willing, due to his family situation, to bring him up to speed on what he'd miss.

He missed most of the class meetings in which we worked on the linguistic reclamation essay - a rather difficult essay with some very particular tasks associated with it. As a result, the essay he turned in did not address the essay prompt, nor include any of the particular requirements specific to this essay, this topic. And so I had to give another No Pass grade to this student. I commented that absences had severely impacted this student's ability to write a passing essay. He was upset. "But you know my situation," he said. " And I still keep getting no grades."

"I did assign a grade." I told him. "The grade is a No Pass. Absences interfered with your ability to do the work."

"But you know why I was absent. I have other priorities now."

"And that's fine - you do have other prioritries. But as a result, you missed classes and weren't able to successfully negotiate this essay."

"I don't understand why I got this grade."

" You didn't address the prompt. Nor include the required elements of the essay."

"I don't understand why. I was an Honors student in high school."

"Did you read my comments and my note?" I asked.

He shook his head.

"Read my comments." And that's when he shook his head again and left the room, dumping his essays in the trash on the way out.

I am not unsympathetic. But regardless of why the student was absent, those absences impact his grade. He appears to have some tough choices this semester and I can certainly understand how he might choose (as would I) family over course work. However, I cannot give him a passing grade if he is not doing the work to the minimum standard per the requriements. He doesn't understand that. He wants me to give passing grades because of his situation.

I can't do that.

And I find myself resentful and upset that this kid views me as the bad guy, the uptight, tight-assed English teacher that won't cut him a break.

Truth is, I can't stand this kid's attitude. And I don't feel obligated to cut him slack just because he has an ailing and dying family member. He has missed far too many classes - and he has been unwilling to work with me and communicate with me.

I find myself comparing him to a student I had a few semesters back. This kid never missed a class meeting, until about 6 weeks into the semester, when he missed a class, but showed up to my office hours afterwards. "I'm sorry I missed class today," he told me. "And you need to know, I'll be out all next week."

I began to give the kid my usual missing-classes-impacts-your-grade blah, blah, blah lecture when I stopped, suddenly realizing that the student looked pretty shaky and that he was a student who had never missed class before.

"Why won't you be in class next week?" I asked gently.

"My dad died. He had cancer and he finally passed. I need to fly home and be there for a bit."

I cut this student a lot of slack. He wanted work to take with him. I told him not to worry - his priority was to take care of himself and his family. We'd figure it out when he got back.

He returned after a week, conferenced with me, picked up a packet of make-up work, did it all in a week, and didn't miss another class. He passed. Granted, the week's absence hurt his grade, and his focus was off - I could see a decline in the quality of his work. But he kept at it and he made it through. He passed the course.

I know not everyone is the same, and we handle adversity in different ways. I don't think I could get through a semester with a family member dying from cancer - I'd have to drop. And that's ok.

But I cannot give a passing grade to a student just because tragedy has struck his life.

I resent being asked to do so.

I resent being considered a "bitch" because I won't.

And I am annoyed with myself for taking this so personally.

Grump. Grump. Grump.
Argh and Sigh.


Blogger Little Lamb said...

I feel you did the right thing. I also feel he was using you. I believe you want to work with this person and he won't show up for you to work with him. If he showed an effort it would be different. But he hasn't. He wants to pass without doing the work. Maybe all his teachers in high school gave him a break. Well guess what? College is not that way. You've got to work for what you earn. He's just giving youi a guilt trip so you'll pass him. You're the teacher, do what you know is best.

December 01, 2006 4:41 PM  
Blogger Jack K. said...

bird, you are too good a person and teacher to let this get you down for too long. Little Lamb is right on in my book. This young man has had it too easy for too long, most probably. I wouldn't be surprised if he had helicopter parents. You know, those who come to the kids rescue rather than let the child learn the consequences of his/her choices.

Well, bucko, today you are going to learn a lesson you need to learn. There are choices and consequences. You made the choice now deal with it. Calling the teacher a bitch is only trying to escape your own responsibility or lack thereof.

bird, you are the teacher. It would probably be bad form to laugh at this poor, young man, but I would be tempted. Nah, it is easier to say it here than to do it there. I, too, would try to work with him. I would have to ask myself what more can I do to get his attention. I am sure you are asking yourself the same questions. Remember this....

you do serve others, care about those you serve and share the love in your heart.

It is too bad that this young fellow can't see it now. Methinks, he might come to that realization later on in his life. At least I hope so.

December 01, 2006 4:58 PM  
Blogger /t. said...

for sure, bird,
little lamb and jack
both make good seense to me

the young man is ok to ask for a favour where needed -- you are ok to grant a favour where/if/how you can, or not -- he is crossing the line to both ask and then tell you how -- it's too much

fwash/sloop... oh darn


December 01, 2006 5:07 PM  
Blogger K9 said...

/bark bark bark

in retrospect you WILL be the good guy, er, tern.
not to worry boyed.


December 02, 2006 1:14 PM  
Blogger Bird said...

thanks for the comments all. i am taking this too personally (i seem to be doing a lot of that this semester).

but to clarify - the student never actually called me a bitch - though in rereading my post - i can see how i gave that impression. i interpret the students' actions as implying that he thinks i am a bitch.

or, we can psyho-analyze my state of mind and ponder why i think the student must think i'm a bitch and why i would even worry about that- hahahahahahahaha!

i should embrace my inner teacher-bitch! yeah, bitch come to eduate you, tell you what to read.... bitch be so upon on you, you don't know what to do. (big nods here- i stole those lines from own own infinitestimal of the rotating chaos blog).

back to paper-grading for me.

December 02, 2006 3:24 PM  
Blogger Peaches said...

Glad K9 didn't pick up your spelling mistake ( tragedy)...
You are a wonderful teacher...you are honourable and you make your students feel proud of the work they do because you are fair. You are a wonderful example...you are not a bitch..you are keeping the grading system worthy.

Well done, you terrific person you.

December 02, 2006 7:56 PM  
Blogger Bird said...

ohmigod peaches! that's a horrible spelling mistake. i just fixed it.

i have found, of late, that when i am tired, my spelling (notoriously poor to begin with) goes right out the window.

December 02, 2006 8:18 PM  
Blogger K9 said...

/bark bark bark

oh, so you saw that peaches? grrherherha im over it now grrrrrrl. it werent the spelling that got my fur up /howl

boyed. OT. i like pit bulls. i had one in my 20's. he was a great dog and never hurt anybody. and wasnt ginger a delight to hang with? im excited you are getting a dog. the double d's and a beautiful dog on the beach? lookout!


December 03, 2006 9:30 AM  
Blogger boneman said...

Anyone who throws their work in the trash container doesn't take seriously what they've created.

I did poorly at college the two times I went, but, to this day, I STILL have my assignments that were created by me.
The first time I went to college, it was to study music, and dang! Was I ever in over my head.
But, I would do the assignments and peer down at the way low grades and think, "well, I could have done better if I had quickened the beat or used better dissonance choices,"
(And, trust me when I say, I am JUST the kind of dude to save things till the weight of them breaks my back)
I still have the music.

When in art school many years later, the same thing happened to me, but, being an artist at heart wouldn't let me ever quit.

Oh, I FAILED plenty of classes, and in groups of classes where one had to learn specific things before m0ving on, well, it meant take other classes until the following semester.
Took FOUR YEARS t'get that AS in liberal arts
but I DID get my diploma!
And, I still have most of the art from that era of my life.
Poorly concieved .... contrived .... too much color, not enough color, not the assignment, what's this?, you won't pass the final with this attitude, oh heck!
A plethora of bad
I still have most all, although there was a short period of my life when moving, the window broke in the old bedroom and snow destroyed way much of my photographs and other papers I was keeping.

No, the statement is probably a pretty good indicator of a student's real intent in the long run.

Kind of like Kojiro's attitude when fighting Musashi in the book "MUSASHI"
During the fight between the great samurais, Kojiro pulled his sword from its sheath and then threw the sheath away.
Musashi calmly commented that he had already lost the match because down deep, Kojiro knew he would never use the sheath again, or, for that matter, the sword.

Now, as for the holidays,
A goldfish bowl with tiny goldfish
a lamb
a female horse
a few egrets
a moose
and an ear fallen from a head and bouncing along the ground.

December 05, 2006 3:03 PM  
Blogger boneman said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

December 05, 2006 3:03 PM  
Blogger Bird said...

you are searingly honest. i like the comparison to Kojiro and Musashi - i may have to get the book.

the christmas list - now that's poetry. made me smile.


December 06, 2006 6:03 AM  
Blogger infinitesimal said...

you have written about him before.
I don't know how to express what I feel.
It's so strange, I see your side and his side, but do you see his side? does he see yours?
I am not sure if you do see his side, but it is obvious that he does not see yours.

and in the end, he will need to be able to see that side in life if he is to succeed.

I had a favorite english teacher, took all of her classes, was her favorite student, and got a D in world lit cause i did not always make it to class, did not revise my work, and refused to do an outline.

she refused to give me a pass.

in the end, i saw her side.

My side was that i was working 3 days after school starting at noon and all weekend, had my own apartment and had to have it that way to avoid sexual assault.

I just did not care very much about World lit. Every other class she offered, i took and got an A but not motha effing world lit.

I have a friend Boyed,
He is black ok,
and he is very smart, loves to read, loves opera of all things.

he has had one of the hardest times in life

for example.

He said:

I remember my Mom hugged me once.
She had just got out of jail for crack and her cellmate had cooked her own baby and served it to her abusive husband for dinner.

She came home and cooked us breakfast and hugged me for the first and only time i can remember, and said: "see, I AM a good mother, I didn't cook you and serve you up to your daddy" He said she bought groceries home that day and fixed him pancakes.

that is the best memory he has of his childhood.

soon after that day, Mom left him in charge of his 2 younger siblings all night long she was gone. he was 8 years old, and she was gone all night.

I knew I shouldn't have let my brother play with those matches he said. But the mattress did catch on fire, and the entire project burned down.

so they ended up in foster care.
and he never graduated from school, but he reads all the time, his writing skills are awful, and he loves opera.

I am telling you this story because sometimes the reasons for not doing what needs to be done are just impossible to put to words.

I don't mean to favor this kid you speak of, I just can't help but wonder if you are assigning experiences like structure and having a home and food as something that he experienced as a child.

Maybe he is a loser, but maybe also he just doesn't know how to talk about what is in his mind.

I bet if the assignment were: My life story so far, that he would be eager to write. You could tell him to write it so that it would play out like a movie and ask him if he has ever seen "Fresh"
Have you ever seen that movie? It's pretty good.

Tell him to write his lifestory like it was a movie like the kid in Fresh had a lifestory that was told, and I bet he would be eager.

And I am SOOOOOO sorry to be all snotty and telling you how to do your job, it's just that kids like that are my job and i am medicated for a migraine which makes my thoughts leak out uncensored.

I just know how you hate to see one of your students not try.

Check out that movie sometime "FRESH" it's pretty damn good.

Also, Hoop Dreams which is a documentary and is excellent as well, because it has two of the same type of people as you describe in your post. One who "gets" it and one who doesn't

Anyway Boyed
i am going to bed now,

i just had to empty my brain.

i commend you for teaching, i really do

love, infinitesimal and small girl

December 12, 2006 11:40 PM  

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