Monday, November 4, 2013

"I Am Bored With Your Writing Assignments"

Sometimes teaching is hard.  Super hard.  Hard as in "I want to beat my head against a wall" hard.  My morning ENG 101 was fun today and reacted positively to an activity I designed on being more precise and descriptive with their language; my afternoon class, however, was hostile and/ or quiet with the exact same activity.  One student even stayed after class to tell me that my writing assignment was boring (and I am pretty sure trying to indicate that the entire class was boring to her).

If you are a teacher, then you might know recognize what I am saying here -- I  think so many of us are truly trying to find that match to ignite some sort of fire in our students' heads/ minds/ souls.  And it is hard when you are working your ass to the bone to evaluate their writing/ essays (something that takes time if it is done well), reread that work when they revise, and then come up with interesting ways of teaching whatever needs to be taught (in the case of this week -- a focus on eliminating unnecessary language and practicing the art of being more precise).  Now for a lot of us, you have to multiply the above by how many classes and students you have in a semester (7 classes for me, approximately 105 students).  If anyone should be a witness to how hard someone like me is working, then it should be our students, right?  (But, of course, they don't "see" how much of my personal life I sacrifice so I can get them back their writing and questions ASAP).

Don't get me wrong.  I have tons of great students who are working their butts off (often while juggling the huge responsibilities of jobs -- many working full time -- along with other classes and families).  I admire those students and will do everything in my power to help them succeed and reach their goals (even if it means writing recommendation letters while I am trying to grab lunch in the few moments between classes).  But I guess it is the students who we know we aren't reaching that makes it hard for me to sleep sometimes.  Like that student who thinks I am boring.  She is super bright and feels, I suspect, that she is too good for the class (and me).  I know that I can't help every person I encounter but I guess I just haven't learned effective ways of dealing with the folks who are openly hostile to me or have to make it clear that they are smarter than me (and no one is saying that they aren't sometimes!).

But I guess I have always taken the approach as a student that I can learn things from teachers, even the ones who I might think are bad.  Heck, one of my worst experiences with a teacher when I was an undergraduate has taught me how to make sure that I provide a better student experience for those coming into my classes.  This professor simply put red marks all over our writing without indicating what those comments actually meant in the first place.  This person would equate grammatical mistakes and typing errors as equally bad as thinking mistakes.  There is no doubt that looking at those old essays I wrote in his class (and, yes, I still have them!) that I still had a lot to learn about writing a decent essay but there were never any encouraging remarks on those essays, just a lot of crossed out words and phrasing that I didn't understand as a student (what in the heck does "awkward phrasing" mean anyway?)  Instead, I want students in my writing classes to focus on the idea stuff first and then we start nit-picking with the language.  And instead of writing"awkward phrasing," I try to be clearer about what the problem might be in any situation.  Looking back (Yikes!  20 years!), I learned a lot from that class even if that professor doesn't get remembered as one of my favorite teachers.

I am sure that everyone -- no matter the situation -- has to deal with difficult people.  I think it's just when you already feel overworked from the pressures coming from students and then the pressures of the other responsibilities in your life, it's hard not to take this kind of stuff personally.  I know that there are tons of students who find me annoying -- and that there are tons of other folks who find me equally annoying.  If anything, I guess it is days like this that remind me that I need to do my best to help my students, no matter how unpopular that might make me.  Teaching is indeed an art -- and sometimes I am just not sure which brush to pick up and brandish.

1 comment:

  1. irt, "This professor simply put red marks all over our writing..." are you talking about father what's his name (i can't remember) who seemed to glory in giving A-students Ds on their papers "to push you to do better"? I barely passed his class as i did not respond well to that, at all.