Forgive me dear readers, for this extraordinarily long post. But I do hope you will read it and share your thoughts. The academic year is coming to a close, and I have a story and personal revelation to share. Ok, you're already snoozing, eh? Zzzzzzzzzz. ;)
This academic year, I taught two sections of a year-long, integrated reading and writing course. I very quickly, within weeks of the fall semester starting, dubbed one section my “class from hell.”
And I worked like hell to win them, to convince them to buy into the learning process, to step up to the plate, to abandon high school behaviors, and to become members of the academic community. This is no different, in many ways, than the work I do with any other “remedial” class - that is the task of the teacher in the first few weeks. And in past semesters, I have succeeded quite nicely in that first, crucial step. But not this time around.
I won my class from hell over only to lose them within days. It became a constant battle. I would win and lose them repeatedly over the course of the first semester. That semester, I had a 6-week observer, who was impressed with how I worked with this difficult class. Quite frankly, so was I. But they exhausted me.
By the end of last semester, I felt I had actually convinced them to step up consistently – I thought I had won them over, finally. I was wrong.
When we returned, after the winter break, the class regressed. And not just back to where they had been at beginning of the fall semester – but even further back. And I began the heavy lifting of getting them back again.
What a frustrating experience! I was investing all this time and effort, and only a few students were responding. The others kept throwing monkey wrenches into the process. I began to take it personally (never a good sign). And I began to really resent that I was investing more time and energy, on both an intellectual and emotional level, than my students. Yet still I persisted.
These last few weeks, as we move rapidly to the academic year’s conclusion, I have been eagerly awaiting the end, anticipating my freedom. And I’ve grown increasingly short-tempered and impatient with not only my class from hell, but my other class as well. I am burnt out and resentful of one class, and those feelings are slopping over into the other class.
Today, I had an epiphany. I should have had it long ago. This moment of truth was of course triggered by a student in my class from hell.
My class from hell runs 2 hours and 20 minutes, but today we started an hour late – something which the students were apprised of on Tuesday. And today was a peer review day - - in pairs, students read and critique their essays, providing each other with feedback. My policy is that if you miss peer review day, arrive quite late, or come unprepared, your essay grade is lowered by one grade. Students make a commitment to their partner to be there – if you’re not there, your partner is left out in the cold – without anyone to review her essay.
Even though class starts an hour late and there is, theoretically, no other place the students need to be, four students show up 5 – 15 minutes late. I start peer review on time though – reassigning pairs based on who is present.
One student, let’s call her Cindy, arrives a half hour late. I’ve already rolled her partner into another group (creating a group of three instead of two).
Cindy is stuck reviewing her essay on her own – I won’t impose on another group by adding a new and late member.
At the end of class, I ask Cindy to stay to talk. She was already at risk for failing the class any way, but she has really shot herself in the foot today. Because of her extremely late arrival on peer review day, her essay grade is automatically lowered by one whole grade. Cindy, of late, has not been writing passing essays to begin with, despite tutoring (which she is not really attending) and despite conferencing with me (she doesn’t follow up my feedback in conference, i.e., she doesn’t revise).
I explain to Cindy the damage she has done to herself today. She has a better chance of failing the class than passing it. She has been trying for a week to get out of coming to the class final next week. She realizes that even if she writes a C paper, the grade will be lowered and with this No Pass, she will fail the course, thus making her attendance at the final completely irrelevant.
The final paper is due next Tuesday. The final is that Friday. She asks me if I will grade her paper immediately and email her on Wednesday – letting her know if she has a passing grade, because if she doesn’t, she might as well skip the final.
Are you kidding me? I think this, but don't say it, of course.
I have spent the semester prodding, cajoling, and chasing not only Cindy, but half the class. I have met with her numerous times, responded to her emails, and helped her above and beyond the call of duty. I have twisted myself upside down and inside out trying to reach this class of extraordinarily reluctant and immature students. And this is the break point, finally. This is the epiphany.
She is fucking out of her mind.
But it is my own fault. I have set this up by caring more about her work than she has.
No, I tell her. I won’t begin grading the last essays until after the final. The final is mandatory, and skipping the final could cause her to fail the class. However, she is an adult and can make her own choices.
She sighs. Flips her hair, says, “Oh alright then” in a rude and saucy tone, and leaves the classroom.
The lesson for me is clear. As God as my witness, never, ever again, will I invest more time, effort, and emotion into a student’s learning than the student does herself.
And now, on to a pleasant bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, a chicken breast roasted with rosemary, garlic, and olive oil, and a lovely salad of red leaf lettuce, radish, blue cheese, and pine nuts. I think I will even smoke a bowlful, play the Grateful Dead (perhaps one of the August 1984 shows from the Greek Theater in Berkeley), and watch the cars drive up and down my street from the balcony.
Labels: asshole students, epiphany, lessons learned, teaching, time and energy, vent