Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Ballad of Smoky Joe.

Smoky Joe was a thorn in my side since the first day I met him.

It was the last day of the ADD period for the school where I was teaching. (I never noticed until now the irony of that word in that context until I capitalized it.) I was hired to teach two of the three sections for the class I liked to call Remedial Composition for Communication majors. See, the program I taught for knew their undergrads somehow graduated high school and got through freshman comp without being able to write effectively, so they paid me a pittance to teach 51 of their best and brightest (NOT!) about thesis statements, the basic tenets of argumentation, rules of punctuation, and general library research and citation styles. This course was necessary so the well-heeled professionals-cum-adjuncts teaching such things as Copywriting and Fundamentals of Journalism wouldn’t have to waste their precious time on the basics. The course was essentially a weeder designed to get rid of the talentless hacks who are drawn to Comm departments like moths to a flame. I had strict orders to “Fight Grade Inflation!” so designed the entire course so that minimal effort and talent earned a C. If a student got a D or F, they needed to take it again; few were happy when this eventuality happened.

Smoky Joe “need[-ed] this class this semester!” --or so he said when he knocked on the door mid-class on that last day to add the course to his roster. A student had just dropped, so I couldn’t lie and say there were no spots. But, I did direct him on up the chain, hoping someone in charge would send him packing. (Yeah, like that was ever going to happen.)

Guess who showed up next class? He was on time, asked for a syllabus, and I told him to get notes. First sign he was trouble: He borrowed a classmate’s notebook AND KEPT IT THE ENTIRE CLASS SO HE COULD COPY NOTES WHILE CLASS WAS GOING ON. I made a mental note and moved on.

A week later I did the whole “break out into small groups” thing (to appease the participatory pedagogy crowd) and guess who refused to interact with his group? Uh-huh. I didn’t see him speak a word to any of them or even look at the group project they were supposed to be working on. As I was wandering around the room, encouraging all the little cherubs to engage the project (which the vast majority of them did), I found Smoky on the lab computer checking his e-mail. I got fed up. I reminded him he had a group project to participate in, that the group work was important for him to be able to do the first big writing assignment due soon, and that I was starting to regret allowing him into the course late (cuz, really, aren’t the vast majority of late adds just a nuisance?). He rolled his eyes, logged out, and then proceeded to do nothing with his group again. At least he was offline.

His behavior got worse as the semester went on. He was constantly late for class. I often caught him napping. He was often using the lab computers for something other than classwork. He often arrived to class without his homework printed. For one class, he arrived 15 minutes late, somehow convinced a classmate to loan him her computer because he couldn’t log onto his, then spellchecked a paper that had been due at the start of class while she stood WAITING for him to finish…all while the rest of the class completed a short in-class piece of writing due by the end of class. I have no idea why she let him get away with it!

Just before Spring Break he informed me he’d be out an extra week because he was going on a diving cruise to the Bahamas! Except, well, we had a paper due the week after Spring Break. He assured me he’d be back in time. Guess who went AWOL not only the class before Spring Break, the entire week after Spring Break, and then 2 days the week after that? “I got sick,” he claimed. No e-mail. No doctor’s note. No paper until 7 days after it was due. And it was AWFUL. (But so were most of the others too. Never, EVER give a paper assignment due after Spring Break. The little flowers need at least 2 weeks to recover.)

But he was going to make it all up by doing an excellent final paper! You see, he had revealed to me that his father was a teacher (he may have even said “English teacher“), who apparently wasn’t happy with his grades that semester. So Smoky Joe was gonna pull his act together by the end! He drafted his paper early, and it was actually pretty good. I gave detailed feedback for improvement and he had plenty of time to make changes. He wanted a pre-grade. (Cuz, you know, if it was C-worthy, he probably wouldn’t have done a thing to it.) I refused to grade it until I had everyone else’s too. He was disappointed, but made some (but of course not all) of the suggested changes. (I put the thought right out of my mind at the time, but is anyone else thinking Daddy helped him…or wrote the whole damn thing for him?)

The real kicker for me though happened during course evaluation day. I teach at one of those “You can’t be in the room or else we’ll kill your kitten!” sorts of schools, who see these customer surveys as sacrosanct epiphanies from Heaven that accurately reflect my pedagogical worthiness. As I was out wandering the halls, using the little professor’s room, and taking a drink from the rusty water fountain, who should I spy outside the door taking his good old time smoking a cigarette? Smoky Joe! (Thus his nickname). Well, golly, that explained why he was always reeking of cigarettes when he finally wandered into class late. Instead of getting to class on time, he sat outside on a bench for 15 minutes having a nice, long, nic fit. He didn’t even hurry after he saw me spot him. Oh, but he was in a hot hurry to fill out a course eval! He wasted another 15 minutes of class time doing that (since I wasn’t allowed back in the room to despoil the little snowflakes’ chances of defaming me anonymously). Gotta love the fact that his evaluation of the course and my teaching counted the same as someone who had been there twice as much as he had been that semester