Wednesday, October 24, 2007

In Which Crazy Is Less Bitchy

Ok, so I was a bit, well, bitchy, in my last post, and I thought I'd give an update on how things have been going with the student meetings, which is less filled with the bitchiness and which gives a clearer picture of what's really happening.

So the meetings: they've been really, really good. I tend to meet less with lit students than with my writing students. Not because I'm not willing to meet with them, but rather because I haven't historically built in the requirement for them to do so - or even the strong suggestion for them to do so. (This isn't to say that I've not historically made the offer: it is to say that I have historically made the offer and then left it up to them: I haven't tended to assign many revisions in lit classes, and I haven't tended to say "you should really meet with me to discuss the revision" even when I have. This semester, what with the stress and the bitchiness, I found it impossible to take that more hands-off approach, and I gave the smack-down with the assigned revisions and with the comments that accompanied them.)

I often feel like I'm walking a very fine line between my belief that students should have ownership over their own educations - i.e., that if they fuck it up it's their own deal just as if they achieve great success that it's their success and not mine - and the very real fact that students often do better if you force them and push them, and that sometimes students will achieve if you take a somewhat more... active... role in their performance than you might ideally be inclined to do. Or than I might ideally be inclined to do. See, it's not ultimately about me. I know that. And so I want them to take the initiative. I think they *benefit* from taking the initiative. I don't want to be the prof who forces them to their potential - I want to be the prof who enables them to - under their own steam - achieve their potential. But. Apparently sometimes the strong-arm tactics, they are good.

Because in meeting with the many students with whom I've met over the past week, well, I think both the students and I have left those meetings feeling better about things. Why?
  • I tend to be a pretty abrupt commenter. I know this. I don't mean to be rude to them (part of this is a regional thing - there's a kind of politeness in this region that is native neither to my home region nor to my grad school regions), but sometimes my style is perceived as "rude" (or bitchy) rather than as "rigorous." This is also a response that has a lot to do with expectations based on gender. Whatever. The thing is, I know that in talking to them, the comments, even though they remain the same, are softened. We can talk about how fucked up it is that as a female prof I need to spend all of this one-on-one time to soften my comments, but whatever. The point is the result, and the result is that students are encouraged by meeting with me, where sometimes they are... less than encouraged... when they just read the comments.
  • I have a better sense of where the students went wrong with the assignment, and I'm getting a better sense of their experience (or lack thereof) with this kind of assignment. I had a sense that they weren't being asked to do this kind of writing, but I have a much clearer picture now of the reality of what they *have* been expected to do and how radically little experience most of them have with this kind of formal analysis. And it's good for me to talk to them about that, and it's good for me to have the opportunity to explain to them that this isn't about intelligence or even about ability. (In most cases it's not.) Rather, it's about experience and what I'm trying to do is to give them that experience. Not all of them have been as receptive as I'd like them to be, but I do think that the meetings have been beneficial for them as well as for me, whatever their level of receptiveness seems to be.
  • I realize, now, that their inability to follow directions really isn't about an inability to follow directions or even, really, about laziness, in most cases. I had suspected that this was the case, but the meetings have confirmed the suspicion. No, what's going on here is something deeper: it's about the fact that when they don't follow directions in other contexts, it ultimately makes little difference. Or has made little difference. See, here's the thing: I could have just curved these papers up. I could have said, "you know, I don't have time to deal with meeting with all these students, I don't have time to deal with grading revisions," and left it at that. And I'll admit it: I've done that before. But that doesn't fix the problems, does it? Sure, it saves time at the moment, but is it a long-term solution? No.
  • The problems that these students had, it wasn't a problem with the assignment. Some students earned A's. Not because they agreed with my interpretations, not because they're super-brilliant or something, but because they did the work and they knew how to do the work. Is it the fault of students who didn't get it that they didn't get it? No. But the question is, how does one send the message that it's essential to get it? Maybe it's useful to use grades as a signal - along with forcing them to come on in and to discuss the grades that they've earned. Sure, in some ways it's more work for me. And yes, that sucks mightily. But maybe it's worth it?
I should probably say that part of the reason I had the courage to do this with these papers was because they're only worth 10% of the grade. They, at the end of the day, will not make or break the students. And I do give extra credit after the midterm, so even if they do really shitty, it doesn't mean that they can't get an A in the course. That does help with the courage not to inflate. It also helps that in both classes where this is the case that they will have a second paper that they will do better on if they follow my advice on the first one.

But so I get the first batch of revisions tomorrow. I have high hopes for them, but ultimately, even with requiring the revisions, even with meeting with so many of them, those hopes may not be realized. But tonight I really am hopeful. I really do feel like what I'll see will be better than what I saw the first time around. And I hope that those who met with me will be more likely to take me up on offers to meet before the next paper.

So yes, that's the other side of the bitchy coin. The other side of the bitchy coin is that I really do care that my students do well and I really am hopeful about what they might do with the right kind of encouragement.

But I'm still feeling generally bitchy, in spite of that. I'm not like a totally different person or something.

1 comment:

Someday_phd said...

Dear Dr. Crazy,

This is completely off topic. I'd have sent it through email, but didn't know how.

Tonight I am creating a handout on close reading for my students. (I'm sure you can guess where this is going.) I googled "teaching close reading" and there you were at the top of the second page of my search results. It sent me to your post back in March.

I read this blog enough that I should have known to start here.
Thanks for being so helpful to those of us getting started in this crazy profession.