Monday, October 26, 2009

The Ballad of Dandybar & Dumbledore.

I should have known Dandybar & Dumbledore would be problems from Day One. This was my 1st time teaching a sophomore-level writing class that satisfied a writing requirement for the university's core curriculum. It was focused solely on writing instruction, with no other "content" other than the students learning to craft their own research paper from scratch. I knew I'd get every Tom, Dick, and Harriet from hither and yon across the U, so I knew there'd a be a few lost lambs I'd need use my big adjunct shepherd's crook on. Dandybar & Dumbledore pinged my Bullshit Sense that first day, but I blew it off because I wanted to be full of rainbows, buttercups, and unrestrained hope that all would go well that term. Yeah, right.

So, on Day One, Dandybar approached me to tell me his problems. He used a walker, so I obviously knew some disability was involved. But, Dandybar just wanted to tell me how excited he was to take the course! He told me about all his other classes, and how busy he'd be. In passing, he mentioned he was disabled, and I mentioned the University-mandated clause in the syllabus that, should he need accommodation, he needed to not only formally notify me but also use the Disability Center as a liaison. He assured me he'd need no accommodation, and then reminded me how busy he'd be with all the courses he was taking. My Bullshit Sense tingled and I casually mentioned this was a writing-intensive course, that he'd have to write something nearly every week, and that he'd need to keep up with the work for my class. "It won't be a problem," he said as I pushed him out the classroom door after 30 minutes of chit-chat about nothing but him seemingly hinting he'd need *wink-wink* accommodations without official sanction.

At some point prior to the 1st assignment's due date, Event Two occurred. Dandybar and Dumbledore decided to bug me after class one day (ignoring the line of other students behind them) and chat me up about....who knows? During the conversation, Dumbledore started bitching about one of their other profs saying something he disliked. He asked my opinion and seemed to hang on my every word. I also discovered Dumbledore fancied himself a journalist, claiming to have been paid for articles in the past. At the time, I thought nothing of these tidbits, but my Bullshit Sense did tingle.

Neither Dandybar nor Dumbledore handed in assignment #1. Neither Dandybar nor Dumbledore handed in assignment #2. Nor #3. Nor #4. You get the idea.

By midterm, Dandybar had missed more than the allowed absences for the course. Meanwhile, Dumbledore showed up for nearly every class period, acted bored, took no notes, and seemed completely disaffected. Needless to say, both received midterm reports that they were failing the course.

Right before the drop period ended, Dandybar sent an e-mail informing me he was dropping the class. In his e-mail he passive-aggressively criticized me for not accommodating his never-named-or-identified disability. I reminded him of the University policy, reminded him that he knew the policy, and reminded him that he hadn't handed in a single writing assignment for me to evaluate or help him; I also wished him luck in his future studies. Every time he chatted me up after class every week he kept claiming how much he was reading and how much he was changing and adapting his project, but he seemed incapable of realizing that this was a WRITING class. The whole point of the class was for me to TEACH HIM HOW TO WRITE. And the only way for me to do that well is for me to ACTUALLY SEE HIS WRITING. But at least his e-mail was respectful.

As for his buddy, Dumbledore also had been telling me about his research project all along, but then sent a nasty e-mail shortly after Dandybar dropped criticizing my boring classroom exercises and lamenting what a terrible teacher I was. Since he told me he was dropping the course too, I replied by telling him that was the best choice for him since he hadn't done a spot of work for weeks, which was the whole point of the class he seemed to have missed. His project was actually potentially interesting, but I don't think he ever did any real research for it. I laughed when he wrote that his "project was unteneable" because he obviously fancied himself an intellectual; I mean, he used the word correctly and everything, but it just struck me funny that some guy who thought he was a journalist would claim that the project wasn't doable. He hadn't written a fucking word for me in over 2 months! I don't believe he had actually done any research, or if he did it was the most cursory and superficial reading possible. I never saw a working bibliography. I never saw a summary of a single book or article. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I had a least 3 suggested research directions I could have offered...had he but done his work for me so I could provide feedback!

Oh, no. It's far better to craft me as a horribly boring teacher whose horrendously torturous classroom MAKES them do shitty work...or no work at all. Thing is, if most of the bozos in that class had even half the talent of the 1/3 of the class who did the work every week, the classroom exercises wouldn't have been the crap I had to spoonfeed them because they didn't know what a paragraph was, didn't now how to use APA or MLA style (despite supposedly being taught it in the pre-req), or hadn't read a chapter the night before class. We could have spent all those boring classroom periods on peer review! But peer review requires actual peers to work -- it's a waste of time when half the class forgets to print their paper...or even write it.