Well, I did not get the essays back to all of my classes this week. Sigh. This makes me anxious, and I hate dealing with the aggro responses of students who are anxious and whiny about not getting their essays back yet --- especially the ones who think they are being cute but are really coming across somewhere between obnoxious and threatening. So this means I don't have a weekend to catch up on life before I get the final set of drafts. Ugh.
And while deciding not to do a grading marathon made life easier in certain ways, it didn't lighten my to-do load much. And I am teaching a set of readings and a type of essay that I don't really have prior experience with, and prepping some sort of brainstorming/peer review worksheet for it sucked up a lot of my time and energy. I just can't half-ass teaching prep when it means a potential shitty class is on the line. Sigh. I wish I could. And the past few days have involved me snapping at my students because the lesson plan wasn't going quite as well as it should and on top of that they were being totally disruptive assholes. I'm torn about whether to scrap this last essay sequence and try a different set of readings in the crappy anthology next semester or try to tweak them into something more workable. On the one hand, more work, but on the other hand, I might get a sequence together that I don't hate and that doesn't suck to teach. And I'm just worn out and grumpy by the end of the semester anyway.
You know, when I taught at a place that did portfolios I didn't like it, especially because all the TAs/lecturers had to meet and pass or fail each others' student portfolios in a multi-day grading anxiety nightmare, but looking at that now, I do like the way I kinda stopped teaching new stuff after Thanksgiving and just taught portfolio revision instead. It was easier to plan, and you could throw in some pretty easy days (today we pick which of your essays you will revise!), although I don't remember how I managed to squeeze in four essays and portfolio revision. So maybe it would be worth trying again somewhere else.
Here, however, we don't do portfolios, but an in-class final and evaluate those. Blearrrrrrgh! So one of the things I've been thinking about the past couple days is what sort of short little article I could grab to have them respond to it in a final exam's amount of time. I do not like this system. I know it's to test students in an unplagiarizable environment, and I guess that there's a problem here that students get so much "help" and do so much guided revision to get passing essays that they are still unable to write a coherent sentence or complete an in-class essay without help, but still. Ugh. I've spent the entire semester trying to break my students of writing glib, seemingly presentable, yet completely stream-of-consciousness unsourced essays, which they can already do. (I presume because of all the timed essay tests from the SAT and No Child Left Behind?) This assignment will just undo all the training I did.
And all you profs in other departments will regret it when you get my students producing an essay on, say, the causes of the civil war, that starts off by asserting a lot of common wisdom that they already knew, never once refers to any of the textbooks, veers off into a discussion of the student's favorite cat and closes by returning to some of the causes introduced in the beginning, but this time directly contradicting the earlier assertions! Ahhhhhh! See, a portfolio project, maybe one where they have to go find a good outside source or two as part of the revision process, would reinforce the principles I have been teaching all semester: how to organize, how to revise, how to construct a logical and consistent argument, how to back up one's claims with support from other texts instead of pulling random generalizations out of one's ass, how to introduce and analyze that support properly. And the students have learned a bunch --- although I haven't gotten them beyond a very basic argument to an actual sophisticated argument --- but I fear that a timed in-class essay will bring out all their old bad habits. Sigh.
So I have to plan that --- pick an article, write some instructions, consider how much I'm going to nag them to do some brainstorming and outlining before writing (do I put that explicitly in the instructions?) and how much practice/prep I want to do for it next week. Meh. I mean, I have tons and tons and tons of other stuff to do, too (go back to job apps? piles of grading? making the lit final for stripey class? laundry?) --- but if you have any suggestions for how to reconcile my pedagogical goals with the department's goals and requirements, please have at it.