December 1

It’s already December. It doesn’t seem possible. On one hand, I’m not at all ready for what December brings: the holidays, the traveling, the end of the year. On the other hand, I’m ready for the end of this semester both at work and in my own classes. I’m tired. Just tired. It’s been an interesting semester getting back into classes myself. It took me a little longer than I expected to find a routine of reading and studying that works for me. I imagine each semester will require tweaking since I won’t know what I’m getting into with my online classes and teachers I’ve never met before. I know that I’ll probably need to work a little harder than I have been as my classes progress. There have been times like the last week or so where I’ve let things slide a little longer than I should have. I now have some making up to do with the end of the semester…a few assignments are due about the same time and I’ve not invested the time I should have on them. But I know that and I’ll bust my hump to get things done and if I don’t, I know it will be my own fault. Unlike some of the students I see daily where I work. What is with the trend of students feeling that they can negotiate class work and grades with instructors? I’m constantly amazed at students who cry to their teachers that tests are unfair or that they’re getting too much homework and can they please get extensions or extra credit or make ups. Or the students who come for tutoring two weeks before the end of the semester and have no idea what the name of the class or instructor is and wonder why they aren’t passing. Regularly I hear students whine about the amount of work or the difficulty of the material but when help is offered, they don’t have time for it because it will interfere with a personal activity. It would never have occurred to me as an undergraduate student to email my professor and tell him that the test he just gave was too hard and that I deserved extra credit work. Or admit that I had forgotten about it and request a retake. And I surely wouldn’t do it now as a grad student, regardless of working a full-time job and being a single parent with a house and other responsibilities. But I don’t think I was unusual even as an undergraduate in believing that my education was mine, personally. Something I was responsible for, not my teachers. If I didn’t study, or forgot an assignment, or even just plain found something difficult, it was my problem. And I took the poor grade and figured out how to do even better next time so my final grade didn’t suffer. Or looked for help if things didn’t make sense. And then felt a bit guilty when I walked into class knowing that I hadn’t been taking things seriously. When did the change occur? When did learning become a passive activity? It’s both frustrating and frightening to see that students today (generally–there are still some dedicated students out there) feel no sense of ownership in their education. Feel that small effort should pay big rewards. How did that happen? And where else does that actually work? Last time I checked, most work environments don’t offer re-dos and most bosses don’t give extra credit because you keep screwing up. Education is supposed to help prepare students for being productive members of the real world. The real world is mostly give and take. If you can’t give something, you’re not going to get something. It seems like an easy concept and one of the basics of being a student. Do your best to get the best grade. Do hardly anything, your grade will reflect that. No negotiating. Whine and complain to the mirror because chances are, that person is responsible. I’m tired myself. I have a lot left to do in my own semester, but I’m grateful to own my education as my responsibility. It means when I do well, I have myself to thank.

May 29

I got an email today from a student in my Spring class who had, at the end of the semester, a lot of conflicts with class attendance. He had signed on to coach a baseball team and kept needing to miss class because of it, including the final exam night. However, because he was diligent about communicating with me and making arrangements to get assignments in ahead of time, I worked with him, even though I found it a bit annoying. And ultimately, he did end up with a decent grade, regardless of his absenteeism, mostly because he had to work a little harder to keep on top of everything. In college especially, learning how to manage time wisely and putting in hard work is how a student ends up successful. At least my student was figuring that out. And his email to me today thanked me again for working with him so he could honor his other commitments, even though, as he said, he knew I didn’t have to. He then commented that he felt my class taught him strategies that he will use as he continues in college.

He certainly didn’t have to email me, since the semester is finished and he passed the class. So I was touched. Not only that he felt compelled to thank me again, but also that he affirmed that he learned something he will find useful as he continues in college. As a teacher, it’s not always easy to tell if you’re getting through. Students look bored, act disinterested, or otherwise don’t always seem to care. I love hearing that some of them do. It makes it worthwhile. I’m thankful today to know that I was successful making a difference in at least one student’s life last semester.

April 28

I am thankful today that my students have a sense of humor. While I was out sick most of the work day, I did feel a bit better by late this afternoon, so I taught my class tonight. Immediately when I walked in, they asked what was wrong with me. Even though I tried to hide it, my allergy eyes gave me away. The nurse at the immediate care clinic yesterday described it accurately. She looked at me in shock and said, oh honey! That must hurt. You look like you’ve been burned. Yes. I look like someone tried to burn a raccoon mask around my eyes. And now my students have seen me at my worst and had great fun teasing me about how miserable I looked. But that’s ok; I’m the one giving out grades in a couple of weeks…

Feb 4

It was a difficult class tonight. It felt frustrating and unproductive. Maybe the winter is beginning to weigh on everyone because there seems to be little energy left in my students. And in me, if I’m honest. It reminded me of something I had written a few years ago that still seems to apply. I’m always thankful for being able to lose myself in writing.

it seems like
every year they get worse
come late
leave early
skip at least once a week
even when they show up
they’re not really there
it’s just luke-warm bodies
sitting glassy-eyed toward the back
of the room

most days I’d like to skip
myself give in to the defeat
protect the mythical reverence
I still hold for the beauty
of writing
even on the best of days
they don’t really get it
there’s no passion developing
no sense of urgency of needing
to know
apparently the future doesn’t
exist in any rational form

in their futures someone else
does the thinking

on those days I feel like a mime
explaining to the silence
that words really great words
can taste amazing
on the tongue

yet they refuse to taste
and every year I try harder
every year they remain
the same

Day 13: Words

Today was the start of the Spring semester at the college where I work. The beginning of every new semester is a bit hectic. There are always students trying to enroll at the last minute or switch classes. No one is quite into their routine yet, so the foot traffic through the halls seem a little more haphazard now than it will in a few weeks. While my day job is to manage our tutoring and writing center, I sometimes teach a night class in developmental reading. I enjoy teaching for several reasons, but mostly because I love the interaction with students and playing a role their personal development. I love seeing students expand themselves in some way, whether is learning the content or learning to interact with others in ways they may not normally.

A college reading class is a misnomer. I don’t teach students to read; none of my students are illiterate. The class is designed to teach students how to understand what they read: how to assimilate information and how to predict and interpret the content. It’s not as easy as students think it will be. As adults, I think it’s more difficult to learn new vocabulary and new ways to do something we all take for granted. Reading isn’t an art form, it’s just something most of us do. And a lot do it poorly. I don’t judge my students for needing the class. But it makes me thankful that I started a love affair with words at an early age, when learning was a lot easier and more natural.

I remember when I was in grade school, my parents decided to challenge my sisters and me to learn new words. They gave us a month and whichever one of us learned the most, got a prize. I don’t remember the amount, but it was enough to spur us on. I have four sisters, but at the time, my younger sister wasn’t old enough to participate, so it was just I and my three older sisters. I wanted to win in the worst way, so I set out to read the dictionary. I didn’t get too far into it before I decided that wasn’t going to work. It was not an exciting read. I quickly switched gears to using the dictionary as a means to discover new names I could call my siblings. That proved much more inspiring, and at the end of the month, it was no contest. I won hands down. I still remember the excitement I felt going shopping with my mom to spend my prize money. I found a snazzy blue satin jacket with a white stripe on the cuffs and waistband. I was so proud of that jacket.

I realize now, though, what a gift my parents gave me in spring boarding my appreciation of reading and learning. As I teach each semester, I try to keep that in mind. Sometimes it seems that my students don’t really learn all I expect or hope of them in my class; however, it may just be that I help them pick up the challenge to persist. I hope this semester I can help my students find their inspiration.