The End of August
August 22, 2006

It's the end of August, and I should be preparing frantically for my classes.

I should be worrying over the syllabus. Is it understandable? Do all the links in the web version work like they should? Will the students be able to follow the navigation?

I should be prepping for the first days of class. How can I make an impression that this is NOT the same ole, same ole English class? How can I let them know that they can trust me? That I'm not a grammar nazi? That I'll listen to any reasonable ideas for essays? How can I convince them that when I say any paper topic related to our class topic is fair game, I really mean it? How can I convince them when I know for a fact that many of them have been burned before....

I should be ... but I'm not. Instead, I'm working as part of a marketing department for a couple of dot coms. A lot of writing, a little graphics, a little Flash.

I should be in my office, music cranked, trying to learn the names of my new students before classes even begin.

The fact of the matter is, I can't be without health insurance. And there just aren't that many college level teaching positions for writing teachers which are considered "full-time" positions with benefits.

It kills me to know how many "professors" out there hate teaching writing. Or hate teaching first-year students. And it shows. Their students know it. And in turn, they hate the class, which makes the professor hate teaching it more, and on and on and on.

I love teaching. And I think most of the time I showed that to my students. I think they got that. I hope they did. I hope I made my classes as much fun as a required writing class can be ... or at least made it as painless as possible. I know I didn't reach every single student - that's pretty much impossible no matter how hard you try. But I never did stop trying to reach them all.

There was the student who I encouraged to tackle big issues in education, something he felt passionately about. But then he refused to narrow the topic into an argument he could conceivably argue in 10-12 pages. He decided I gave him a bad grade because I disagreed with him. I didn't disagree with him at all, but he could never believe that. It was easier to reject my offer to go with him to the library and help him with the research and show him how to bring all of his elements together - if he'd just narrow the argument a bit more.

There was the musician who thought that writing didn't matter at all. I tried to get her to write about how to educate a trumpet player (her instrument). I found her some articles, even. But she decided that I hated her and gave her bad grades just because she was a musician. I tried to tell her that a requirement of the class was re-writing her paper, not just changing three sentences and then hitting the print button. At least not when her essay was missing an argument completely.

There were plenty of other failures. Plenty of students who thought I played favourites. That I was mean.

That's pretty much a job hazard when you teach. I accept that. I just never let it stop me from trying to reach them. Never let it stop me from listening to them and trying to adapt my knowledge of academic writing to fit their worldview and experiences.

But, I also believe that there should be some standards that must be reached to pass a class. There should be some lessons that must be learned before moving on to the next level.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of schools which think that writing matters, but that grading writing is an impossibility. These are people who will shred a colleague's writing ... but hesitate to give a student a C or even a B for something so basic as not having a thesis statement in an argumentative essay. I just feel that if I work with a student all semester on having a thesis statement in an argumentative paper ... that I have told them in comments through three drafts, I've taken them aside to talk about it, I've conferenced with them and helped them write a thesis statement ... if we go through all of that together and the student STILL doesn't have a thesis statement in that same paper at the end of the semester, we've both failed. I failed to reach the student and teach them something. The student has failed to grasp an essential concept, an important and crucial requirement to writing a good argument.

In such a case, I cannot "give" the student a passing grade. The student hasn't earned it.

Does it hurt someone's self-esteem to fail a class? Oh hell YES it does! I know that. I don't ... I mean, I didn't ... give out Fs lightly. There was always a wrestling with the conscience. A weighing of the goals and requirements of the class; a reflection on what I should have done, could have done. Sometimes it was obvious that the student just didn't care to put the effort in. Didn't think it mattered or that they could actually fail a class. I worried that I hadn't made their imminent danger clear enough. I worried that failing a class could be the last straw for that student in some way that I couldn't know about.

But ... what does it do to one's self-esteem to pass a class and then start your first job ... and have your boss tell you that your writing skills are sub-standard? to lose your job because you can't write what the boss needs?

Okay, writing an academic essay and writing copy for your boss's brochure isn't the same kind of writing. But if you can't adapt to writing for a specific audience, are you going to be able to write the copy one way for the client and another way for the marketing department? Are you going to be that flexible?

What do we teach students when we pass them and they know they don't deserve it? What do we teach students when we pass them and they think they deserve it, only to find out "in the real world" that their passing grade was a sham?

When I walk into Target ... or Kohl's ... or even the local grocery store, I'm bombarded with BACK TO SCHOOL. It's like a sucker punch every time.

I should be preparing for classes today.

I should be flipping through the magazine of student essays and seeing how many of my students had essays accepted.

I should be excited over BACK TO SCHOOL everywhere.

But I'm not ... and it hurts ...

... and I can't help but wonder if the person teaching "my" students is doing right by them.

Posted by Red Monkey at August 22, 2006 8:30 AM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

 

Red said:

((((ender)))))

August 22, 2006 10:46 AM

 

serenity said:

You will teach those students again...

...and in the meantime you have never for a second stopped teaching...you teach through your writing and your sharing, you teach through your friendship and support, you teach in the work you are doing now, you teach strangers you have never met through your life experience and your words...we are learning, and are the better for having been taught and touched by you....

((((ender))))

August 22, 2006 10:50 AM

 

marie b. said:

I'm not sure where you are, exactly, but it would be awesome if you were a professor at my college. They're constantly looking for talented professors, especially for English.

I fell in love with my English professor this spring. She was kind and fair, but with an edge that let you know that she'd drop your ass if you slacked off. I pumped out some of my best papers in her class and got an A, my first ever.

I believe you're like her: inspirational and can bring out the absolute best in everybody, as long as they keep at it.

August 22, 2006 4:36 PM

 

6000 said:

Gotta love it when you're bloggin' da munky.

August 23, 2006 8:54 AM

 

blueyes said:

It would be nice if all the professors made sure all the links were correct in their section on the web because so far every class I've taken online has had broken links to information we need.

August 24, 2006 6:16 AM

 

Kellie said:

Thanks for stopping by my place :)

My husband is a teacher, so I feel your pain...
Good luck!

August 24, 2006 9:24 AM

 

EuroYank said:

This design is better. I think its more about content than fluff anyway. I mean you can always get a prettier design, but if you have no quality posts, and little or no life experience you can pretty it up all you want. Like it would make a difference!

August 26, 2006 1:14 PM

 

Jillian said:

WOW! thank you for stepping out of the box... i'm a student that is often frustrated with the box... please remember that there are a lot of us here that do appriciate it... I'm a human services major and its hard for me to grasp that i wont be able to reach ALL my clients... but when i do... i'm changing a small part of the world one problem at a time... please remember that

Red Monkey says: Thanks! It's great for me to hear back from people who are currently students. With any luck in a year or so, I'll be back in the classroom again and back to doing what I love.
And, when you do finally run across that person that you can't reach ... you have to try to remember to tell yourself that you can do only what you can do. It might be that personality-wise or in terms of shared experiences, someone else can reach that client more efficiently and more deeply than you. That doesn't mean that you're a failure ... just that you failed to reach that person due to reasons beyond anyone's control.
Obviously I don't always remember that either. :)
Good luck to you!
August 28, 2006 4:03 PM
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