Saturday, December 12, 2009

mourning fury.

i'm currently slogging through about 70+ research papers.  the end of the semesters, gosh i love them. 

i have mentioned that i am teaching at two places: rural community college and big collegetown u.  i have mentioned that the adjustment to these VERY.DIFFERENT populations has been stark, humbling, and somewhat frustrating.  by about halfway through the semester, i felt like i had really gotten the message.

i changed my approach, lowered my expectations from my big collegetown u set, and taught much more step-by-step. i focused on answering questions, on workshopping papers piece by piece, and by trying to give students the tools that they needed while also challenging them to rise to higher standards than they were perhaps used to.

i felt like i was being successful.  i knew there were students who weren't turning in papers, but because my classes are (will never be again, but are currently) weighted average classes (i.e. the third paper in the class is worth 20% of your grade, while the first is only worth 10%), i never really know the ramifications of student apathy until these weeks when i am calculating.

i find myself now vacillating between two very different feelings: pure and complete mourning sadness and unadulterated fury.

i am giving more failing grades this semester at rural cc than i have EVER given, probably in combination, in the entirety of my teaching career.  some of these are for the people who have fallen off the planet and never withdrew from the class, despite the fact that emailed ad nauseum and let them know that they should.  for those, i do not mourn.  i think it a preposterous waste of resources, time, and intellect to register for a class and then never show up for it.  it is antithetical to my very nature, thus it is prohibitively difficult for me to understand how someone could not feel any responsibility for it.  one student let me know that he could not withdraw without losing his funding, and that he'd rather take the f.  i can understand that.  but joe student who told me in the third week of class that he was going to withdraw and just never did? lazy.  unnecessary. annoying.

but what about the students who have come to class? who have showed up most every morning at 830 but just didn't turn in work? 

those are the ones who fill me with this contradictory blend of sadness and fury. i just read a paper that i generously gave a 68.  i am trying to be kind at the end of the semester, but i also absolutely refuse to give you an 80 if you have no argumentative structure, have obviously lifted source material (although, for time's sake, i refuse to google the heck out of these papers and just nail them on the fact that they aren't citing what is obviously not common knowledge), and don't really make an argument. but even if i HAD given this student an 80 on this paper, that student would barely have made a D.

a D.  in a class that this student could easily have gotten a C in if this student HAD TURNED WORK IN consistently. 

it's just so horrifying to me.  i was talking to musicboy about this last night, as i began to feel the weight of all of this grading descend upon me. it happens every semester. i'm not sure why i should feel like this semester would be any different. 

but this semester is different because everything feels new and very, very amplified.  working at the rural cc is an awesome gig in so many ways.  i love that the population is diverse. i love that i feel like these are students who really want to learn. i love that i feel like i'm making a difference, much more than i feel with, right or wrong, what feels like a very overprivileged population at big collegetown u, a population that trafficks in an attitude of entitlement. 

nothing drives me nuttier than someone who walks into a class and thinks they are entitled to an a because they showed up and put in some effort.  i'm sorry. that's not how life works.

but rural cc is almost the opposite. while there have been shining moments of awesome (the fact that i just gave a high B grade to a student who has been mired in the Cs and that led that student to earn a B in my class is just one example), these students just seem so apathetic.

why don't you care that you are FAILING? why don't you understand that there are consequences to your actions?  do you really think that not turning in homework and classwork and then not turning in a paper worth 20% of your grade is the way to be successful? do you really believe that this is the way that life works?   why are you even in school if you don't want to do the work?  why are you giving up so easily? it makes me so sad.

and at the same time, i am angry. i am angry that someone would fritter away a chance that so many others fight tooth and nail to get.  i am angry that someone doesn't rise to the level of capability that i know that they have.  i have seen it. i watch it every day in class.  i know who you are, person who is trying to fly under the radar. i know that you could do better. why don't you WANT to do better?

i am beginning to understand grade inflation.  there are moments when i absolutely have to stop myself from changing grades just to stop the hemorraging of failing grades.  when i gave the 68 on that paper, and then calculated the final grade and saw that it was a failing grade, i had to do some more math.  i play this game with myself: "what if it was a 75? would it matter?"  it didn't and since that was my upper limit, even when i'm trying to save someone, that was that.

but it doesn't make my heart hurt any less, nor does it make me any less angry.  there is something so deeply, deeply demoralizing about the moment when you realize that all of your efforts have had very little effect on someone and that your course's grade may be the reason for bad things happening to them. 

i almost wrote that i would be the reason that bad things would happen, but i had to stop myself.  i am not the reason for anything happening to them.  i am merely the reflection of their performance.  but while that may be the eternal truth at the heart of this lesson i am learning about agency and choice, the reality is that i will likely be blamed.  there will likely be a slew of emails over my break from students panicked about their grades. and i will have to, in the measured tones that i am learning to employ, explain how when you don't turn in 25% of your work, and you don't perform well on other things, the math just adds up to the opposite of success. 

i think teaching requires a thicker skin than i currently have.  i don't ever want to have a callous heart, but maybe i'd like for it to someday be a bit easier. 


  1. I'm so sorry, but I can relate (unfortunately). You will probably be surprised to find that they WON'T email you to find out why they failed. It's the overprivileged Big U kids (in my case, Private U kids) who email to find out why they got a B+. Wo do you think you are, grad student, not to give me the A I paid for?

    And it blows my mind, too, that CC kids, who often have to pay their own way, and for whom the thousand or so dollars they pay a semester is a big sum, will pay the price of admission and then refuse to ride the rides. Drives me crazy/sad.

    Good luck slogging through the rest of your paper stacks. :)

  2. Ugh, this is probably the number one reason I decided not to teach. You already have a thicker skin than me...I couldn't handle it when I was just volunteering my time at Ghetto High School Just Outside of CollegetownU. I understand that frustration of thinking "you are SO CLOSE, but just won't go the distance because...what? You don't want someone to see you making an effort because it's 'uncool' to care?"

    There are, I promise you, individuals in whose lives you have made a difference. Count me as one of them. I can name you the names of several others who still ask about you, still think about you and still care about you (and about the difference you made in their lives).

    I miss you and love you and know that once grades are posted? It's out of your hands. xoxo