Monday, May 13, 2013

Making a difference

It's been a heavy day of work over here around CBU.  Since there's something of a rush to get the finals and grading done in order to graduate the seniors on schedule, the administration came up with this cockamamie schedule that only underscores how few fucks they actually give about teaching students to do good work in which the students had one reading day after the end of classes, followed by a day of exams, followed by one more day of reading period, followed by three more days of exams.  For yours truly, this meant that mere hours after my last class, I felt obligated to hold office hours for students preparing for the exam that I had to administer on a motherfucking Saturday morning.  This also meant that I felt obligated to hold office hours today, before I had even finished grading the aforementioned final exam, since my other two classes are writing final papers for me due later in the week.  It's not often that my Saturday turns into a twelve-hour workday, and it's even less often that I wish it were so.

Today, like I said, was also heavy.  Besides finishing the grading of that exam, I saw students working on their final papers.  As it happens, the only students who showed up today were all in the class for which I assigned a final paper with multiple drafts: they had to write the paper, get comments on it, and revise it accordingly for a final draft.  The sessions were a mix of good and bad, although I will honestly claim a bit of optimistic high ground and state that things ended reliably on good notes.  First, the bad:
  • One student failed the first draft of the final paper.  It was a total disaster, which zi admitted was due to a catastrophic lack of foresight and planning. 
  • Another student earned a D on that same draft, due to a similar set of fuck-ups.  
  • One of these students extended hir twenty-minute appointment with me to an hour – as you're about to read, I thought it necessary – whilst detailing not only hir confusion about how to proceed with various technical aspects of the paper, but also whilst explaining to me that this last month has been sort of a disaster for hir after experiencing what I can only describe as an especially violent sexual assault.  (And yes, if you're asking, I understand exactly what that description implies.)  That would certainly explain why one of my most talkative students in class suddenly went almost silent at that time.  Tragically, this fits in all too well with what I know of the campus culture.  Zi has been dealing with some awful shit that I simply never had to worry about when I was a college student.
And now (not a moment too soon!), the good.
  • Every student left my office with a clearer idea of how to approach the revised draft of the final, if only vaguely.  (After all, I'm not a damn miracle worker.)
  • Both students with the very low grades on the first draft left my office confident that they could write a much better second draft.
  • In fact, both of them explicitly stated to me that they were "excited" to write the revised draft.  Excited!!  I cannot help but feel cheered to know that my students are actually looking forward to writing their papers.  In both of those particular cases, I had coached them through a way of looking at the class material that resonated with their personal experiences, and that made them realize one thing or another about their own ontology and how they fit into their web of social relations.  I cannot fully describe the warm fuzzy of hearing and seeing a student visibly excited to go back to the dorm to revise a term paper to account for the breakthroughs they've had in their thinking.
Perhaps you'll understand now why, half in celebration and half in self-medication, I just finished an enormous Manhattan that I mixed after I finished grading the final exam and uploading the grades for Intro to Libel and Slander.  (Last time I have to teach that course for a while!)

I'm going to go enjoy the buzz from the combination of rye whiskey, beautiful vermouth, and a dash of bitters.  And also the feeling that I may have actually made some kind of positive difference in someone's intellectual life.

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