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.