Sunday, May 15, 2011

It's a Good Thing I'm Not Teaching Next Year

College Misery's "Weekend Thirsty at Semester End"asks "what did you fuck up this semester?" I could probably think of many things. I probably fucked up agreeing to work with Interrupting PITA colleague, who really seems entirely unaware that other professors exist and use the same classrooms as said PITA. I probably fucked up in getting involved with that whole Famous Author and Diva incident. Hell, there are about a million things that I fuck up in any given week. The thing that I really fucked up? I have no idea how this happened, but the results are that at least two of my classes had absolutely no As in them.

How does that happen? Not one student earned anything near an A.

Lots of them earned some big honking Fs. One student actually came in and took the final despite having an average grade of a 4 going in. Yes, you read that right. A 4. Single digit. It was only that high because said student had excellent attendance. There are also those who drop out without going through the formality of dropping. I take consolation in the fact that I can't do anything about any of those students because I can't grade what they don't do. They opted out of their own education.

Of the others, they at least put in some effort, so I look back and try to figure out where I went wrong. What could I have done? What I'm finding, in reviewing their papers, and in reviewing my grading, is that the problem is a lower level of not being able to grade what they don't do. That is, they turn in their assignments, but they don't complete all of the requirements of the assignment or they misunderstand the assignment entirely -- twice. Some don't understand that five pages of quotes -- even properly cited -- linked together by single original sentences does not constitute an essay. Some don't understand that four times in a row. How do I find the words to explain what they aren't understanding? How do I figure out what it is that they aren't understanding? How do I find that line that marks the end of the territory where I can do anything -- where the other side of the line marks the territory of their effort?

I despair. Usually the ones who make me despair are, in reality and despite my bitching, a small minority. This semester, they are the majority, and there are maybe one or two bright stars or glimmers of hope among them. No more. Even those who, based on class participation, are very smart and clearly doing the work, fail when the time comes for writing pretty much anything. Worse yet, they fail again, and again, and again, regardless of any hand holding or scaffolding or feedback.

Here is an example of how I despair. When Interrupting PITA and I gave our final, she included a template for an outline. "Dear god!" I thought. "By this time, shouldn't they be able to organize their information themselves? Isn't that what the whole composition portion of our classes is supposed to include? Aren't they supposed to be tested on their ability to do this in order to survive in other classes -- like MY portion of our classes?" Yet, even with the outline, they still cannot organize their information and they sure as heck can't get beyond gut-feeling emotion to support that gut-feeling with actual information. PITA said that the reason that she gives them the template is that no one would pass the class without it -- despite the fact that she goes over this sort of skill extensively in her portion of the class. By "pass" she meant get at least a C. She told me that, in the composition courses and in the pre-college-level courses, no As are common.

This is such a discouraging aspect of this job. I hate grading because part of me feels as if I am being graded myself. I feel as if their failures to comprehend are my failures in communicating the material or my expectations; and I have no idea how to make myself any more comprehensible. So, grading feels like a futile task, more so as the semester progresses and the grades do not improve or only marginally improve. I don't want to do what PITA did because I see that as lowering standards. I understand that, at our college, you are supposed to avoid lowering standards by giving the students more opportunities to rise to them. Maybe I'm delinquent in that regard. At the same time, I look at her, giving them a million opportunities and, on the whole, they don't rise.

Is it me? Is it them? Is this the world -- that most people really can't do college work, or are so horribly unskilled for college work that they need another twelve years of preparation before they can think of it? Yet, at the same time, the world seems to demand that they have that damn diploma?

It's easy for me to scoff at the demand for the diploma. I have four. I'm beyond fucking privileged in that regard. Yet, their reality is that there is a demand for diplomas, and dinner depends upon attaining the degree. Fucking market.

Next year I will be in a green, lucky place, an Emerald City. I will also be a kept woman, since I'm going to that green, lucky place on the good fortune of someone else (and I think you know who) and his accomplishments, and I can't get a work visa because the citizens of the Emerald City need the work themselves. I can do my own work, the kind that got me into this business in the first place. Maybe the Emerald City can cure me of this despair before I go back to teaching (fortunately with a lighter load in the new place). This is, again, beyond privileged; but it is also good for everyone. I'm useless as a teacher right now.

Meanwhile, I have to get through the next week. Hell, I have to get through this weekend.

Oddly, this burnout feels like a loss, like grief, like that exhausting, hopeless inability to prevent the inevitable and yet still raging at it. I'm pissed at them, at me, at the system; but, ultimately, I'm not even pissed anymore. I'm just sad.


Feminist Avatar said...

Ooh, if Green, lucky place is near to, but no longer part of the UK, I worked in the archives there for a couple of years. Tis a very nice city.

Feminist Avatar said...

By which I mean 'did research' in the archives.

feMOMhist said...

so are you also sabbatical? Or just taking leave. Either way SCORE on the year off. About half way through this year, one of my close friend colleagues said "no offense, but you REALLY need that sabbatical. You are crabbier than usual!"

Clio Bluestocking said...

Feminist Avatar, yes, indeed, you have identified the green, lucky place. Everyone who has ever been there has said the same thing. I'm quite excited to go!

feMOMhist, not so much a sabbatical as "between jobs," except I actually will be "between jobs." I will have left this one and not yet begun the next, but there is, in fact and on paper, a next job. To respect the other party's request that I not out him with too much information, I can only say that the Gentleman Caller's work is taking him there for a year and I am going along as a "kept woman." (I fear that someone will take away my feminist card for that.)

nicoleandmaggie said...

I kept my husband for a year while he did just research for a startup. He went back rejuvenated and hopeful about the future. He also has students like you describe, only in a different field and it really grinds him down as well.

Have a great year! Get happy again!

Feminist Avatar said...

My current institution is on the same island as Emerald City but in a different city, but I probably won't be there next academic year. I have been offered a job far, far away and if I go, will take my hubby as a 'kept husband'.

Janice said...

My husband's been a kept man since I started this job, by standards of income. By standards of a working partnership, we're equals. So I'm sure that you and GC will enjoy a wonderfully productive time in Emerald City next year, personally and professionally!

Don't be too hard on yourself regarding the teaching. How MANY students did you have in these classes this year? When students lack the basic skills, no teacher can remediate all those problems in a large class. (And by large, I mean more than a dozen, although I sob at my course caps of 80.)

Ink said...


Emerald City sounds like just what you need, and I'm glad you get to take a break.

I hope it's marvellous.

Clio Bluestocking said...

Here is a funny update: the Gentleman Caller does not like me referring to myself as a "kept woman." Although it is my little kidding-on-the-square with myself, he says that it makes him feel sexist. Hmmm...hadn't thought of that. So, I am no longer "kept." I am on the Gentleman Caller Research Abroad Fellowship.

Susan said...

Congratulations on the GCRA fellowship! (Hey, you have to give it an acronym, and then it's a real fellowship>) And on the new job! The stars have indeed aligned for you. For all my time in the UK, I've never been to the Emerald Isle...lucky you.
Hmmm. Maybe that's my trip for the summer?

Ink said...

"Gentleman Caller Research Abroad Fellowship" = LMAO

Digger said...

The GCRAF sounds wonderful. I hope it gives you the break and the recharge you need starting the new gig!

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I think the GCRAF re-naming is a great re-framing device, and I congratulate you on winning it! I hope you have a terrific year.

Digger said...

Because you are not part of the problem?

GayProf said...

I once had a student take my class three times and failed it all three times. It was maddening and frustrating because I actually liked the student. By the third time, though, I wondered if ze was just hoping to wear me down. In the end, when somebody earns a "4" your responsibility is minimal.


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