When one returns a student’s work with the message, “You failed this assignment because your essay is much too short,” and the student replies, “Miss I don’t understand, I failed my essay because it is too short?”, why does one feel a surge of fury? Why does one not just feel a gentle throb of sadness or wry resignation? After all, it is the student, and not oneself, who must suffer the consequences of this intractable cluelessness. Surely one should be able to laugh, with a note of knowing melancholy, and move on without giving it another thought? And yet one finds oneself unable to refrain from shouting “Are you *@#%ING KIDDING ME?” at the computer screen. Why should that be?
I was standing in front of my classroom yesterday and I had a professional existential crisis.
My students had walked into their first exam of the semester in various states of tension, resignation and hope, and a couple of them seemed uncomfortable to the point of rudeness – sticking their legs out into the aisle and not moving them as I approached, until I asked them to; not meeting my eye and limply taking the papers from my hand; saying “More paper” without saying “…please.”
It was irritating, and ego-bruising. I often tell myself, “I don’t care how they FEEL about me; I care about how they BEHAVE.” And it’s true that, for their own sake, they need to learn how to treat everyone, even people they don’t care for – their teachers, their bosses, their colleagues, their classmates – with politeness and respect. I have developed a classroom demeanour that insists upon basic manners, and most students, sometimes after testing a bit, comply. But then there are always a few who, for whatever reason – they hate their mothers; they hate school; something I’ve said has triggered them – continue to test the boundaries, and force me to engage in a delicate dance: When to respond? When to ignore? What crosses the line from carelessness to rudeness? What will help, and what will make things worse?
And, fundamentally, as much as I try to detach from taking things personally: when do their feelings about me have a direct detrimental effect on their learning?
This semester, I am teaching two small remedial Intro to College English classes, with a total of 32 students. As I stood behind my desk, slowly grading papers as 17 of them wrote their exam, I lifted my head and gazed out at them. I paused for a moment, reflecting. Then I opened up my class lists for both classes, and did a quick calculation, based on their names and what I could remember of the personal information they gave me early in the term:
Of my 32 students, 7 would probably be classified as being of white European descent. The others can be more or less equally divided between, in general terms, Middle Eastern/North African, East or Southeast Asian, South Asian, and African Canadian; a couple are of South American heritage.
This is to say: approximately 80% of my students are visibly culturally different from me.
Here’s the greater problem: almost 100% of the approximately 70 English teachers at our college would be culturally identified as Caucasian. Some other departments in the college are a little more diverse, but when I say “a little,” I mean, like, seriously, “a little.” This diversity mostly consists of East and South Asian and Middle Eastern teachers. We have very few black teachers at our college, despite the fact that we have many, many black students. These kids spend all day, every day, looking at people whose reality is different from theirs in fundamental ways, people whom they may (justifiably) believe couldn’t possibly understand them. A whole lot of white people.
Does this mean I have nothing to teach these kids? No. Does it mean that a black kid has license to be rude? No, and most of my black students never, ever are. However: when I look at any young person of colour who is sitting in my classroom with an expression of hostility on his face, my first response may be one of fatigue and irritation, but I need to quickly move to a new response. I don’t know why he’s feeling hostile. It may very well be because of something I’ve actually done. On the other hand, I have no idea what other kinds of garbage he’s had to experience today, or all his life, and maybe I’ve triggered his hostility in ways that neither of us really understand, or maybe his hostility has nothing to do with me; after all, he’s usually pretty engaged, he always does his homework, he attends every class. Maybe he just had a totally crap day today and he’s damned if he’s going to pretend to be compliant and cheerful for yet another middle-aged white lady.
So what’s a middle-aged white lady to do?
Well, my existential crisis consisted of this realization: these kids do not need more white teachers.
I can’t do anything about the fact that I’m white, obviously. But as I was gazing out at them, I was reminded of an interview I heard a little while ago with the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, in which he discussed the abysmal state of diversity in entertainment. The interview is here – I recommend it; I no longer watch the Daily Show but I found Noah charming and his views enlightening.
In essence, his story is that, when the Daily Show was trying to hire black correspondents, they came up empty – the callout brought in no applications from suitable candidates. Then he ran into some friends – comedians – who said, “If you want some black people you’ll let us know, right?” And he said, “But didn’t you send a tape? Didn’t your agents contact you?” And they replied, “Trevor, we don’t have agents. Do you know what it takes for a black comedian to get an agent?” And so he realized that going through the regular channels was just not going to work; that if you want diversity, you have to actively go out and recruit diversity, not wait for it to come to you through the channels that have stifled diversity until now.
The argument in college department hiring committees is the same: we hired from the people who came. The problem is not going to be solved on that level.
What do we need? We need kids of colour to become educators. How do we do that? I don’t know, but I feel like this has got to become part of the agenda. This is not just about helping a kid of colour who wants to be a teacher – it’s about helping the kids whom that kid will teach.
So what can we, as the teachers of right now, do to help that happen? Or maybe: how do we get out of the way?
Image by Dez Pain
If I were to ask, What should be at the center of our teaching and our student’s learning, what would you respond? Of the many tasks that we as educators take up, what, in your view, is the most important task of all? What is our greatest hope for the young people we teach?
In his letters to the young poet Franz Kappus, Rainer Maria Rilke answered unequivocally: “To take love seriously and to bear and to learn it like a task, this is what [young] people need….For one human being to love another, that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but a preparation. For this reason young people, who are beginners in everything, cannot yet know love; they have to learn it. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered close about their lonely, timid, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love.”
Need I say it? The curricula offered by our institutions of higher education have largely neglected this central, if profoundly difficult task of learning to love, which is also the task of learning to live in true peace and harmony with others and with nature.
Arthur Zajonc, The Heart of Higher Education
Image by Rainer Schmidt
If I could change one thing about the education system, particularly the pre-university and professional college system in which I work, it would be this:
Students would learn a lot more about learning.
I have a fantasy in which I go back to school to do a doctorate in educational psychology, and then I overhaul the college curriculum to introduce mandatory courses in Applied Learning Sciences. These would be kind of like intense, intellectually challenging Study Skills courses, in which students would learn…well, how to be students. They would study the learning brain. They would be exposed to different theories about knowing and metacognition. They would also read and discuss educational philosophy – what is school for? What does “learning” really mean? And they would apply this knowledge to everything from keeping an agenda that would actually help them to reading effectively to managing exam anxiety.
If you were designing such a course, what would you include? What do you think students need to learn in order to be good at learning, not just when they are in school but for the rest of their lives?
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I’m still asking myself this question – “Is the academic paper the best way for students to demonstrate their learning?” – three years after publishing the original version of this post. In the interim, I’ve listened to the audiobook of Now You See It (discussed below), and I’m still not sure whether I’m onside with Davidson’s perspective. It seems to me that the academic paper has got to go, but something just as rigorous needs to take its place. Do you have thoughts on this?
When this post first appeared, it was chosen as a WordPress “Freshly Pressed” feature and received 178 very interesting comments.
Is the academic paper the best way for students to demonstrate their learning? Will learning to write papers help students develop the skills they will need later in their lives?
In Now You See It, Cathy N. Davidson asks “whether the form of learning and knowledge-making we are instilling in our children is useful to their future.” Davidson examines the roots of our contemporary education culture and suggests that we need to look back to pre-Industrial-Revolution models and forward to the murky future. As Virginia Heffernan explains, in her review of Davidson’s book (“Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade“) in the New York Times:
The contemporary American classroom, with its grades and deference to the clock, is an inheritance from the late 19th century. During that period of titanic change, machines suddenly needed to run on time. Individual workers needed to willingly perform discrete operations as opposed to whole jobs. The industrial-era classroom, as a training ground for future factory workers, was retooled to teach tasks, obedience, hierarchy and schedules. That curriculum represented a dramatic departure from earlier approaches to education. In “Now You See It,” Ms. Davidson cites the elite Socratic system of questions and answers, the agrarian method of problem-solving and the apprenticeship program of imitating a master. It’s possible that any of these educational approaches would be more appropriate to the digital era than the one we have now.
This is old news – education needs to be skills-based, collaborative, constructivist, blabla. However, Heffernan focuses particularly on Davidson’s discussion of the academic paper. After reading insightful, well-written student blogs and then being appalled by the quality of the same students’ research papers, Davidson began to wonder whether it was the form, not the students, that was at fault. After some research, Davidson concludes that, in Heffernan’s words,
Even academically reticent students publish work prolifically, subject it to critique and improve it on the Internet. This goes for everything from political commentary to still photography to satirical videos — all the stuff that parents and teachers habitually read as “distraction.”
I’m not, at first glance, convinced by this argument – we’ve all read the “work” published every day on the Internet, and in many cases its “prolificness” is one of its many problems. That said, I have students keep blogs in some of my courses, and I love them – you can SEE the learning happening as students wrestle with course topics and literature and relate them to their own experiences. I don’t do blogs in every course because a) I’m required to have them write a certain number of papers, and it can all get to be a bit too much for me, and b) the majority of my students have not received the time-consuming training in digital communication that Davidson says they need. However, if more space were made in the curriculum for online forms of writing, and we could limit the number of formal papers and make them an outgrowth of the online work, we might be on our way to something resembling “authentic learning tasks.”
I’ve been saying for a while that the research paper is going the way of the dinosaurs, and that we need to develop viable academic approaches to the blog and other online forms so that students can learn to write things that people actually read. (The fact that no one reads academic papers isn’t a new phenomenon, of course, but now we have an alternative that gives researchers a real potential audience.)
What is the place of the formal academic paper in the future of education? Should it continue to look the way it does now, or is it time to ask students to do something new?
Tomorrow: my all-time #1 most shared post, on succeeding through failing.
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I’ve had some heated discussions about whether “cold calling” is good practice. When I posted about it a couple of years ago, the post got a lot of comments and got passed around a lot. What are your thoughts? Is it a good idea to spring questions on students out of the blue? Does it help them demonstrate mastery, or just provoke unnecessary anxiety?
A reader, Damommachef, has asked me to discuss the problem of the Constant Commenter. She says, “Some kids want to constantly comment, but the smartest are often the quietest. How can we get them more involved? How do we subdue the chronic commenters?”
One solution is the cold call. We call on students randomly (or perhaps not so randomly, but it may appear random to them.) If students raise hands or call out, we say, “I’m cold calling for this one, so no volunteers.”
A few years ago, a Masters teacher of mine said that she never cold-calls students because when she was a student, the idea of being “picked on” without warning made her sick with fear. She never put her students through it because she hated it so much. At first I was puzzled by this – Really? You never ask students for answers unless they volunteer? – but I then realized that I rarely cold-call in its strict sense. I often call on students, but usually they’ve had a chance to prepare responses beforehand, often with a partner or group so they don’t bear sole responsibility for their answers.
I’ve been reading Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov (thanks to my friend Sarah for the recommendation!) and he believes in real, honest-to-God cold-calling, asking students to demonstrate in no uncertain terms that they are mastering the skills and content they’re being taught, at a nanosecond’s notice. This technique, he explains, has several benefits.
…it allows you to check for understanding effectively and systematically…increases speed both in terms of your pacing…and the rate at which you cover material…[and] allows you to distribute work more broadly around the room and signal to students not only that they are likely to be called on to participate…but that you want to know what they have to say.
Lemov also encourages teachers to use techniques like “No Opt Out,” in which a student who answers with “I don’t know” must eventually give a correct answer, and “Format Matters,” meaning that students need to respond in complete, grammatical sentences whenever possible. In Lemov’s world, there is no escape: you need to be present, engaged and ready to respond at any time.
I am more inclined to Lemov’s view than my former teacher’s. At the beginning of the semester, I use the excuse that I need to learn their names, and call on them randomly from the attendance list to answer questions. As time goes on, though, I find myself getting soft, and allowing a few eager students to dominate discussion. And, as I said, I rarely ask students to think on their feet – if they’re nervous, they can just read answers they’ve prepared with their group, although they may have to stretch themselves if I ask for further explanation.
I feel like I should do it more. I believe that if students know they can be called on at any time, they will be more engaged and feel more responsibility for the material. I’d like to create an atmosphere in which students feel that it’s safe to make errors, but that they at least have to take a stab at things, and that they need to be ready to do so at all times. But I don’t want students to sit stewing in fear, petrified that they may be asked to speak.
Do you cold-call in your classroom? If so, how do you make students fell okay with that? If not, why not? Does cold-calling improve the classroom dynamic, or is it a detriment? I want my students to rise to the demands cold-calling creates, but I don’t want to poison their learning with terror.
Tomorrow: Top Ten Student Excuses for Missing Class.
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I struggle with conflicting philosophies about my job. I teach English literature (as well as language and composition) as core curriculum in CEGEP, a transitional/professional college that all Quebec students must attend before moving on to university or to many professions. My classes are therefore comprised of students of wildly varying levels of ability and interest when it comes to reading literature.
One element of my job is teaching students how to analyze literary texts. One challenge of my job is that a large number of my students have little experience reading literary texts; a surprising number have never read a novel, for example, that wasn’t assigned to them in school. This creates two important problems:
- A student with little practice in reading literature has much more difficulty developing analytical reading and writing skills.
- A literature class that focuses solely on analysis is unlikely to inspire a student to read more widely, thus perpetuating the problem.
Is it more important for me to teach students literary analysis, even if they’re not ready for it, or to help them discover pleasure in reading that will then lead them to develop basic intuitive skills that will help them analyze? The latter seems like the obvious answer to me, but I still have a duty to prepare them explicitly for their English Exit Exam, which requires them to analyze a text. In wrestling with this problem, I developed the course that I outline below. My original post on this course is the fifth-most-widely-shared post in the history of this blog.
Module 1: Literary Analysis Review
In the first part of the course, we all read The Glass Castle and discuss the genre of the personal narrative. We review elements of narrative (theme, plot, setting, character, imagery/symbolism) and they apply them to the memoir. We then do a short analytical essay in class based on a choice of unseen texts (I like using the “Lives” section of the New York Times magazine as a source for excellent very short personal narrative texts.)
Module 2: Book Talks
Texts: students have a course pack containing copies of the front cover, the back cover or inside flap, and the first chapter of eight book-length memoirs. I ask them to browse this pack and then tell me the three books they’d most like to read. For example, one term, I included the following texts:
- Boy: Tales of a Childhood by Roald Dahl
- A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
- Stick Figure by Lori Gottlieb
- Just Checking by Emily Colas
- Dharma Punx by Noah Levine
- Lucky by Alice Sebold
- Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
- Epileptic by David B.
I assign one book to each student, taking their preferences into account whenever possible. Each book is therefore read by a group of 4-5 students. Their major assignment for this module is a “book talk,” in which they must, as a group, present the book to the class and argue that their classmates SHOULD or SHOULD NOT choose this book as their final reading for the course. Each person is responsible for a 5-7 minute presentation on one of the following topics:
- Theme: Identify an important theme in the memoir. Make sure you state your theme clearly and precisely. Then give evidence from the memoir to support your theme, WITHOUT GIVING THE WHOLE STORY AWAY. Why does the theme make/not make the book a worthwhile read?
- Historical, geographical or social/cultural information: Describe the historical, geographical and social/cultural setting of the book (where, when, and in what social context it happens). Make sure you make direct connections between the facts you provide and the events of the book. Why does the setting of the memoir make/not make the book a worthwhile read?
- Another element of the narrative: You may wish to discuss the author’s use of another literary element such as conflict, characterization or imagery, and how it helps us understand and appreciate the story. Why does the author’s use of this element make/not make the book a worthwhile read?
- Personal connection: Choose a scene, character, event or idea in the memoir that you found particularly interesting and discuss why you related to it. Tell us about how this aspect of the book reflected events in your life, and why other people in the class might relate to it too. Make sure you are comfortable discussing this personal connection, and consider whether your audience will be comfortable hearing about it. Why do the personal connections we might make with this story make/not make the book a worthwhile read?
- Other important information you learned: Tell the class about an important topic you learned about from reading this book. Why does learning about this topic make/not make the book a worthwhile read?
- Difficulty: Tell the class about a challenge you had, and that they might have, in reading this book. Is it worthwhile for readers to take on this challenge and read all the way to the end?
- What you loved: Tell the class about something else you loved about this book. Be detailed, but again, don’t give everything away. Why does this aspect of the book make/not make the book a worthwhile read?
At the end of each week, students must write a Book Talk Report about one of the two books presented that week. They explain what they learned about the book from the excerpt in their course pack and from the Book Talk. They must identify at least one important similarity between the book they saw presented and the book they are reading with their group. Will they consider choosing the book they saw presented as their third course reading?
Module 3: Comparison
Text: each student chooses another book from the list above.
Students must write an essay comparing the memoir they presented in their Book Talk to the memoir they have chosen for their third reading. In this module, we also look at examples of personal narrative in film (for example, Persepolis or Stories We Tell) and in radio/TV (This American Life).
At the beginning of the new school year, some of us feel refreshed and eager; others, not so much. If you’re filled with dread at the thought of vacation’s end (not the ordinary oh-I-wish-I-could-read-novels-on-the-deck-forever dread, but the more acute why-am-I-doing-this-with-my-life dread), then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate: is teaching really what you want to do?
For a while, I wasn’t sure. I started this blog as a tool to help me wrestle with this question. Seven years later, I’m still teaching, but my perspective on the profession has changed.
In 2009, Sarah Ebner, then of the Times UK’s School Gate blog, asked me to write a series of guest posts; I chose to write about my journey through burnout and out the other side. A few years later, she gave my permission to re-print those posts here on Classroom as Microcosm, and those posts are among the most shared in CaM’s seven-year history. I collected them on this page; you will also find the links below.
Are you burnt out? Demoralized? So was I. I did some stuff. It helped. Now I love my job again. Maybe you can too!
- Introduction: The End of the Rope
- Step 1: Take Stock. Is It Worth It?
- Step 2: Take Time Off
- Step 3: Find Your Community
- Step 4: Face Your Fears
- Step 5: Get More Training
- Step 6: Meditate
- Step 7: Write a Blog
Tomorrow: a useful analogy to help students understand essay structure.
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I asked my students to read the essay I discuss in this post, and to explain which of Menand’s three “theories” they subscribed to. Their responses were mixed. Then they asked me which theory I believed in, and I was unable to give them a definitive answer. Almost three years later, I’m still not sure. What about you?
This, my eighth-most-shared post of the last seven years, first appeared in 2011.
Every so often, students ask me, “Why do we have to learn this?”
It’s no use telling them that learning is a good thing, period. They’re taking seven or eight classes. Some are doing “part-time” jobs that have them working thirty hours a week. Making out with their boyfriends is a good thing. Playing Mortal Kombat is a good thing. Reading a book or understanding “setting” is … required for some reason.
In an essay called “Live and Learn: Why We Have College,” Louis Menand reports that, soon after he started teaching at a public university, a student asked him, “Why did we have to read this book?” (a question Menand says he never got at his former, Ivy League, teaching job. This surprises me a little.) According to Menand, your answer to this question will depend on your view of university education.
Those who hold one view will say,
You are reading these books because you’re in college, and these are the kinds of books that people in college read.
For such people, a university degree is a signal that one has learned certain things, a useful tag for indicating that you know things that other people don’t, that you’ve read books that non-university people have not.
Those holding another view will say,
You’re reading these books because they teach you things about the world and yourself that, if you do not learn them in college, you are unlikely to learn anywhere else.
This view holds that
people will, given a choice, learn only what they need to know for success. They will have no incentive to acquire the knowledge and skills important for life as an informed citizen, or as a reflective and culturally literate human being. College exposes future citizens to material that enlightens and empowers them, whatever careers they end up choosing.
That is to say: because you’re in college, you have a chance to do things that are valuable, but that won’t necessarily earn you a big salary or help you land a client. So read this book that I say will improve you.
If you believe that college is a threshing machine, separating wheat from chaff (Theory 1), then grades, at least passing ones, are what matters, so that when you graduate, you will be seen as wheat, not chaff, in the larger world. If you believe that college is a place to accumulate knowledge that will serve you in all aspects of your life and self, (Theory 2), then learning is what matters, regardless of the grades attached to it.
These theories are not compatible. Learning requires risks, frustrations, even failures. “Good grades,” more often than not, require a lot of memorization, or at least an understanding of what the teacher wants and a willingness to try to produce it. A desire for good grades can be detrimental to actual learning.
As Menand points out, though, our colleges and universities (and, I would add, our schools, from first grade forward) seem to operate as though BOTH theories were true. We tell our students that learning is what matters, that we are teaching them to think critically, that they will be better, fuller people because they went to college. And then we teach them that a bad grade is, well, bad. Sometimes we even get angry with them because they fail a test or misunderstand an assignment.
To complicate matters, Menand claims that these two theories really only address education of the liberal arts variety. Most college students, on the other hand, are not majoring in humanities of any kind: the most popular major in the US is business, followed by education and the health professions. For these students, Menand writes, university is about neither grades as a sorting tool nor learning for its own sake.
The theory that fits their situation—Theory 3—is that advanced economies demand specialized knowledge and skills, and, since high school is aimed at the general learner, college is where people can be taught what they need in order to enter a vocation…
Nevertheless, he points out, students in these programs are almost always required to take courses in English and other humanities. This is where many – perhaps most – of the students in my English classes find themselves. Everyone must take four English courses, regardless of their program. There is no literature major at my college; the closest we have are programs in communications (subtitle: art, media, theatre) and in modern languages, along with a very small liberal arts cohort. Most of my students are in science, social science, or professional programs. Science students are usually strong students, and sometimes they care about learning things, but their bent is often toward getting into medical school or engineering programs in university (Theory 1). Social science students, especially those without specialized majors, frequently have no idea what they want to do and had poor high school grades, making them ineligible for more rigorous programs (Theory? What theory?) And students in industrial electronics or office systems technology or nursing are likely to tell me that they can see the point of learning grammar or maybe even how to structure an essay, but reading Death of a Salesman is of no use to them whatever (Theory 3).
And really, are they wrong? The fact is, unless I or another English teacher sparks something in them that gives Death of a Salesman meaning, it might forever remain a dead pile of alphabet on the page for them (or maybe it will forever remain the image of John Malkovich, as Biff, dripping from all his facial orifices as he weeps, a scene students find both disgusting and hilarious.)
Our vision of “college” is hopelessly outdated. Throughout his essay, Menand outlines the same historical trajectory that Alan Jacob does: the broadening of the university student population since the days when a college education was reserved for the upper classes. By the 1980s, universities were full of people of all different cultural, educational, gender and economic backgrounds, many of whom could never have gone to college in the pre-war era.
These students did not regard college as a finishing school or a ticket punch. There was much more at stake for them …. For these groups, college was central to the experience of making it—not only financially but socially and personally. They were finally getting a bite at the apple. College was supposed to be hard. Its difficulty was a token of its transformational powers. This is why “Why did we have to buy this book?” [is] such a great question. The student who asked it was not complaining. He was trying to understand how the magic worked.
Menand is describing a Theory 1 response that he feels has all but disappeared: going to college makes me important and special. I know that some of my students still feel this; they may have recently arrived in Canada from a place where a university education was impossible for them, or they may come from a family where they are the first to have graduated from high school.
Most, however are NOT trying to understand some magic external to themselves. When my students ask, “Why do I have to learn this?”, they are trying to make sense of a system that seems arbitrary, full of hoops to jump through and dead-end labyrinths. They truly do not understand why they have to do all these things we’re asking them to do. What does this have to do with my career, or my life? they ask.
Maybe it’s never been explained to them, but more likely, it’s been explained to them over and over, and they just. Don’t. Buy it. And why not? Because it’s MY theory, MY reasoning, MY agenda, and I have not even taken a second to ask what their agendas are.
Is it possible for us to take the question “Why do I have to learn this?” seriously? Because it is a serious question. We often moan about how students no longer want to learn for the sake of learning, but we need to think about what we’re saying. “Learning for its own sake” is an incredibly privileged activity, one that requires time, money, and the luxury of wandering along a wide, brachiated path into the future. Most students do not have these privileges; they need to see their school and homework hours as useful. If I can’t convince them that the definition of “useful” is bigger than the definition we’ve taught them until now, then a passing grade will be their only incentive.
“Why do I have to read/think about/know this?” is a place at which education can begin, if we answer the question authentically, or, even better, if we ask them to answer it for us. If we show interest in their theories, they might become curious about ours, and together, we might be able to make some learning happen.
Monday: how I saved my teaching career.
Image by Bjorn Snelders
I hesitate to put this post out there again! Not only does it feel outdated (I haven’t asked for a paper copy of an at-home assignment in three years), but at the time it was published, it attracted some passionate critics (and defenders); if you go to the original and read the comments, you will see what I mean. I came of age as a blogger when this post went moderately viral and I got my first taste of what it means to blog for the “public” and not just for a small and like-minded group of readers.
Nonetheless, it is the 9th-most-shared post I’ve ever written, and it still gets a fair number of views at the end of each semester/year when teachers everywhere are apoplectic and need someone to vent for them. What’s more, it tickles me to look back at the quaint concerns we had in 2009, like printer ink and Hotmail.
Ten Reasons I Hate Grading Your Assignment
10. You don’t double-space. You KNOW that I take formatting points off when you don’t double-space. Double-space does NOT mean space-and-a-half. We’ve discussed this.
9. Your printer ink is not black. You KNOW that I take formatting points off when you print in blue, purple or green. You also know that if your print is pale, smudgy grey, I will stomp on your paper in a rage. I told you this in class, twice. You need to change your printer cartridge if you want to get an A.
8. You send me your paper by email only. Let me explain this policy again. If you do not place your paper directly in my hands – if, for example, you slide it under my office door – you should email me a copy to confirm the time you submitted it. The email, however, does not replace your hard copy. I can’t print everyone’s paper – do you know what printer ink costs? Of course you don’t. You don’t print your assignments.
7. You don’t send me your paper by email. Ok, let’s review. If you did NOT email me your late paper in addition to submitting the hard copy, I don’t know when you submitted it. The term is over; I’m not sitting in my office waiting for your paper to shoot through the gap under the door.
6. You didn’t follow the structure guidelines. You wrote numbered paragraphs instead of an essay, or an essay instead of numbered paragraphs. You answered in point form instead of full sentences. You handed in a collection of random thoughts that you printed directly from your Hotmail inbox. Yes you did – the Hotmail logo is on the top of the page!
5. You haven’t answered the question. Let me be clear: this paper is great. It’s insightful and well-organized and even funny in parts. What’s more, you being who you are, I’m pretty sure you wrote it yourself. The problem is, you didn’t do the assignment. You wrote a very good paper about the texts we studied that has nothing to do with the question(s) you were asked to address. This paper is going to get a failing grade, and this is going to keep me up tonight.
4. You didn’t proofread after printing. You’ve repeated your introductory paragraph halfway into your essay for no discernible reason. There also seems to be a page missing.
3. You didn’t proofread at all, at any point. I’ve been reading your work all semester, so I know you’re capable of writing comprehensible English sentences, but in this paper you have frequently left out important nouns, switched from present to past tense and back again (ALWAYS WRITE ABOUT LITERATURE IN THE PRESENT TENSE. How many times do I have to say it?), misspelled “their” and “friend” (sometimes your spell check really does know the answer; all you have to do is look at the screen) and forgotten to capitalize. Were you high when you wrote this?
2. You copied parts of your paper from the Internet. I’m not even going to discuss this with you. Zero.
1. You didn’t write this paper. I don’t know who did. You didn’t copy it from SparksNotes or a classmate. You simply handed the guidelines over to someone – either your girlfriend or an essay mill or someone who owes you protection money – and he or she wrote it for you. Now I have to call you into my office and sit you down and either try to trick you into a confession or quiz you on the paper content or announce that, regardless of the fact that I have no concrete proof, I know you didn’t write this and you’re not getting credit for it. The depth and breadth of my rage about this is inexpressible. No matter what delightful experiences I’ve had with my classes this semester, this is what I’m going to remember. What’s more, I fully expect you to drag me through mediation and/or grades review, so this situation is going to escalate over the coming months. I’m tempted to pretend I don’t notice that you didn’t write this. But I’m not going to pretend I don’t notice, and I’m going to be sorry.
Image by Richard Dudley