Monday, March 8, 2010

Barney from Burnsville Bends.

So you can't punish them for not doing the reading? Wow. Just... wow.

But why tilt at windmills and all that? I'm an adjunct, admittedly of the always-renewed, full-time variety. I teach the same couple of classes year in and year out. Every semester this one colleague of mine and I take turns going nuts about the powers that be cracking down on us one minute and letting the flakes off easy the next, of cutting our funding and increasing our class sizes, of forming subcommittees of committees in working groups to reinvent our curriculum for us, then showing no interest whatsoever in seeing how it's going, or if we're even using it. We write up letters exposing all the bullshit and never send them to anyone except each other. We talk each other off the ledge.

We make rules we think will help our students--you fail if you don't do the reading, you fail if your paper isn't turned in on time, you can rewrite anything you fail, ad infinitum--thinking it will help. Then I come to RYS and see the bodies dropping all over the damned place.

That's why, this semester, I started to bend instead of break. Kid wants to turn it in late? Okay. Kid can't be in class. Who cares? I go in every day, try to start a discussion, give an impromptu lecture on days they won't bite, let them out early once I've told them what I guess they probably have to know. If I can make out what the paper is about, I give it at least a B-minus. I mark the hell out of them--I write comments in the margin till there ain't no margin left, and no ink to write in it with. But the grade is always a B-minus or higher, because if it isn't, they'll come to my office requesting a checklist of things they can do to write more effective essays, by which they mean essays that will get better grades. Since the only answer is to write essays they're interested in, and they wouldn't likely understand the checklist, I don't want to have that conversation. In other words, I don't want to have any conversation unless the person I'm having it with is having the same one.

So I inflate grades. So should you, unless you're teaching your students math or anything related to keeping buildings or airplanes or economic systems from falling apart. Save something of yourself for your husband or your wife and/or your children. Drive them to work or school and give them backrubs and listen to their problems and be sympathetic. Write your novel. Use the discounted tuition (if you're lucky enough to have it) to audit classes you always wanted to take, just for the hell of it. Turn your backyard into a pond hockey rink.

No one else cares about this enterprise, really--otherwise they'd fund it better and actually look in the windows from time to time. They'd check in with you for reasons other than limiting their liability. The ship is sinking; we're all going down. Don't be the last person playing cello when it happens.