Thursday, May 01, 2014

one problem part

I think part of the problem is I am wondering if I'm losing some of my ability as a teacher. I had a lot of people who really struggled in my classes this semester. The papers that I graded were dire.

I don't know. I wish there were some way I could reconfigure the semester-long research project to have the writing due mid-semester, and then force people to rewrite until it's good. But I don't see how I can make that work logistically, and I've been trying to figure it out for a couple of days.

Part of it is that many of these people could do so much MORE. I made all these suggestions on their papers but they are mostly for naught as this project is over and done with, and lots of people don't keep their papers for reference for future projects. A few people even just toss them in the trash without reading the comments or the suggestions - they just look at the grade.

I over heard a few people grumbling about their grades DURING ANOTHER STUDENT PRESENTATION. That's one big strike. Talking while someone else is presenting. The grumbling, whatever. It doesn't matter even if it does bug me that they think their papers were wonderful and I was too hard on them and too picky. I'm trying really hard not to care but mostly not succeeding.

I don't know. I hope this is a fluke and not a trend but from all I read, there are fewer and fewer papers written in the lower grades and high school - so you get students coming to college with no experience doing this, and I'm not skillful enough to take someone from 0 to ready-for-the-workforce in one semester when I have so much else to cover.

Maybe I need to revamp the class to have more writing. Yeah, I need more grading like I need a hole in the head. And yeah, I need something to make people hate the class more like I need a hole in my head. And it's not gonna happen this fall when I'm teaching an overload, but I think maybe I do need to somehow make them do more.

Maybe eliminate one exam and have a short paper instead? I don't know. I hate grading writing and I especially hate grading lazy or unskillful writing (and I can't always tell one from the other; some people who are good writers if forced may just slap some junk down on the page to get it done, and never revise.)

Or maybe I need to REQUIRE revisions of the first paper - but my fear with that is that people will do just that, slap junk down on the page and expect me to tell them how to fix it, which I'm not sure how much that teaches them.

I don't know. Maybe this shouldn't even be my battle; maybe I'm not good enough to do this.

(I am once again wrestling with my belief that if someone is better than I am, or gets recognized more, that doesn't just mean I'm good and they're slightly better, but it means they're GREAT and I'm CRAP. Intellectually I know that's not true, but emotionally it's hard. And I'm so drained right now that emotion is kind of taking over intellect.)

I don't know. I feel stuck in a rut. I don't know how to fix it. I know going and changing a million things when you feel sad and crummy isn't a smart idea. Part of me really does want to quit, somehow, and go do something else for a while. (But I can't. I need to hang onto this job like grim death because I would never get another tenure-track position if I left this one). Or take time off and redo all my classes. (I don't have time this summer. Teaching summer is a full time job and then some). Or something. I don't know. I realized today that 15 year pin means I'm only halfway to having a full pension. I don't know if I can do this for that much longer. I don't know, if the student population continues to be so smartphone-obsessed (I had someone nearly run into me in the hall yet again; I caught someone checking Facebook when they were supposed to be listening to their colleagues' presentations) and so struggle with things like writing skills and even math skills. I'm not good enough to bring people up from an underprepared state. I can take people who are at a solid but basic level and bring them up to a good level, but I can't take someone who is so challenged by writing (or who cares so little for doing a good job on it) and bring them up to a good level.

One of the things we used to fight against here is what everyone calls "Lake Woebegone Syndrome" - at one point we were taking students with incoming math scores in the 30th percentile and getting them up to the 45th percentile (which is a huge, huge improvement) and we were being told, "No, we want you to graduate students who are above average." And it's just....I'm not good enough to do that. Maybe some of my colleagues are, I don't know. But I'm not.

The job's starting to feel unrewarding and that scares me.

AND my co-teacher for Sunday school (the minister) e-mailed me and asked me to teach this week (it's supposed to be his week). I don't feel like I can graciously decline - he has several retreats and things he has to do. But I really, really, really don't want to do it. I will have to do it Saturday morning at this point, so that means probably any plans I might have made for Saturday (e.g., McKinney) will get scrapped.

I'm so tired.  A couple times today, when I was alone and it was quiet I just kind of sat there and cried for a few minutes - not sobbing, not the upset kind of cry like when you get the "It's not you, it's me" or the "I think we should see other people" phone call, just sitting there kind of quietly sad and just letting the tears go. This is unusual for me, so I know something is going on.


Charlotte said...

Are your students also taking an English class this semester? It might be worthwhile to discuss the writing topic with a colleague in the English department; see how many papers they require; enlist their help in getting writing skills to an acceptable level. The responsibility for improving the writing skills lies more correctly with the English department than it does with you.

purlewe said...

My wife is also having problems this school year with students. And she is really down and upset as well. I think that perhaps if you ahve this break.. you are going to your folks(?), and come back fresh...

Another idea is to ask a coworker or your dept head for some ideas regarding the papers. Tell them it seems like the level of papers have gone down and see if they have other ideas. Sometimes bouncing ideas off coworkers/boss is a decent idea. IT can be intimidating I know, but they might have an idea you haven't come up with!