Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Warning, Whining Ahead

I am going to kill my cats if they keep insisting that I wake up at 5:30 am with them, even though they have plenty of food and water and a clean litterbox at that moment. It may have to wait until after I off my students and some really obnoxious bus riders though.

In other news, I experimented with a new recipe --- fall themed --- and have learned that a small head of cabbage really produces a lot of cabbage. So now I have a lifetime supply of braised cabbage with apples and vinegar, and I was only meh about the recipe when it was hot and fresh. Grr.

Still haven't gotten going on a piece of academic writing with an impending deadline. Argh, why am I so stupid about not working on this? I wish I could say all that energy I'm turning towards my applications is paying off with lots of stuff being finished and sent out, but that is not the case.

And, after a confrontation with my students today, I am left wondering if I am actually a Fascist. Not in a "oh no, I am so horrible to my students" way, but more in the way of a deep and satisfied recognition and sense of rightness about things. Consider it my version of Coming Out Day, I suppose. I am just not a fucking nurturer. And I've never seen the usefulness of all that shit on a college campus. As I like to point out to them, I'm not yer mom, I'm yer boss --- and after about four years or so of hard work for me you will move up to the next level where you actually get paid. And you know what? Nobody fucking gives out an A for motherfucking effort in the work world, awright? You give it your best effort and turn out a shitty product or presentation, you get fired. You need to have both effort and competence.

So why should I give you a break or make an assignment easier just because you want it? When you want something, oh students, I automatically assume that it is bad for you and that we need to do the opposite. Because I am not here to give you what you want ---- using a nutritional metaphor, you want nothing but ice cream and beer and it is my job to get you to try other things that may have nutrients you need ---- and similarly, there's no point in you doing exercises you can already accomplish or lessons you already know. You're here to learn the things you don't know and to be challenged and stretched in different directions.

Hmm. I'm simultaneously using the parental metaphor and the I'm not yer mom claim. Somehow it all seems logical to me when discussing things in class.

And this whole ungraded option? Ungra--- WTF!?!?! Um, no. Why do I instantly think you are trying to put a scam over on me? Seriously, here is where I am embracing my inner Fascist ---- I don't want to be in some situation where I talk and you write a big project and then you hand it in and everything is fluffy bunnies and rainbows. You take the grades out of the equation and other parts suddenly make no sense ---- what does my job consist of then if I'm not grading? How will I evaluate whether you are learning our class objectives if there is no grade involved? Where will the revision and improvement happen if I'm not critiquing and commenting on your work? What is your incentive to work and improve if we are not ranking things and evaluating them on quality rather than on mere presence? You're not producing academic writing then; you're creating fanfic. (and suddenly I realize why I never follow that stuff, aha.)

It was somewhere around this point that I realized I am very deeply invested in grades, and I take great pleasure in beating the shit out of my students through my grading, a tough love style premised on "that which does not kill you makes you stronger" philosophy. A philosophy deeply bound up with notions of punishment, and ordering, and ranking, and quality. You don't like it? Suck it. The first rule is never to talk about Fight Club. Now get up off the floor, quit crying, and do it again. Again, until it's perfect.

Not that I feel the need to do this to all my students ---- my first generation students and students of color, my very young students who have that lost, dazed look on their faces as it's clear they've been pushed in over their heads here ---- I'm quite patient with them and can really enjoy taking the time to baby them along, step by step, slowing down and really going over minute details of the research process that most people intuit or bluff their way through. (I've found that I really love teaching research, but the basic basics of research that other grad students kinda look at me with a raised eyebrow and a look of "oh come on, everyone automatically knows how to do that" but in fact my students don't have a clue about. Like problem solving what to do when the book they need is not on the library shelves.) But those students aren't these students, and I think the most important thing about teaching is not to start with the content or your interests but with the question, what do these students need to know? And these students over here at Alternative Academy need a good old-fashioned ass kicking and rigor. If only their parents believed it. Ah, the joys of working in the consumer model of education!


Maude said...

i just had a conversation like this over lunch two days ago. i believe i nearly got as animated as you as the post suggests, only since i was at work, i had to tone it down a notch. the good news is, some parents do not want their children to be like the ones you describe. i'm sure they're outnumbered, but it's a glimmer of hope, eh?

it also amazes me how women instructors/profs are expected to be nurturing simply b/c they are female. it constantly pissed me off to see how i was treated compared to my male grad student counterparts. of course it didn't help that most of the "feminists" in the program were nurturing mother types who embraced this and those of us who didn't think that our jobs were to have a classroom full of "our children" suffered. i know this is an on-going convo, but ah, you've gotten me fired up. i will stop before i ignite.

Dr. Crazy said...

Ok, here's why I like the notion of the "ungraded" assignment in, for example, a first-semester comp class. If I have assignments (small ones, not major ones) that are graded just on completion, it means I can be as tough as I want to be on them, and they work harder on the (big) graded assignments. These for me are never worth more than 10% of the total grade (altogether - like 8 assignments that are worth 10% altogether), and they always allow them to practice skills that they need to have mastered in the big assignments. These assignments give them a sense of my commenting style, they give them a sense of the level of expectation, and they give them a sense of exactly how much work goes into writing well. And if they don't *adequately* complete the assignment, I reserve the right to require revision before it counts. Good students use this opportunity to get to the level that they need to get to in order to do well on big assignments. Bad students? They blow it off, and then I feel no remorse when I give them crap grades on the big stuff. And it gives me license not to grade on a portfolio system (which I think sucks), it means I don't collect drafts and offer comments on them, And the most they can revise a big assignment is once. So in that way, it's a time-saver. You take those "ungraded" assignments and you take the comments to heart, or you do shitty. And I don't feel badly at all if you do. Nor do I accommodate your shittiness by reading multiple versions of it. So I'm a hard-ass who believes in ungraded assignments because they give me a license to be a hard-ass.

In lit classes everything I assign I grade, but in general ed ones the first versions of the assignment are always worth less (about half) of the last versions. In upper-level ones, the smaller assignments (that come first) are only worth about 5% a piece. Again, this gives me license to be a hard-ass because either they'll learn from their mistakes that they make on the less grade-killing assignments and end up doing well, or they won't. Note: I'm known as an "unfair" grader. I "teach 200-level classes like they're 400-level classes." I'm arrogant, I am "trying to sound smart," I'm "mean," I'm "a feminazi," I'm Cruella DeVille. They want me to be their mommy. I'm not their mommy. They hate me for this. You know what? Yes, it's about what they need and not what they want. And it's about the fact that I'm not their employee. Their tuition does not, in fact, pay my salary, and even if it did... so what? You're paying for me to educate you. If that hurts, that's not my problem. That's, in fact, what you're paying for.

So this is just to say that grading everything doesn't necessarily mean that you're a bitch, or not grading certain things - or weighting grades in ways that seem kind - doesn't necessarily make one a nurturer. It's all about the approach. I'm a bitch and I'm actually a really kind grader, at the end of the day. Go figure.

Breena Ronan said...

1. My cats insist I go to bed by 10 and get up at 5:30. If I don't, they paw my eyes and sit on my head. I am sympathetic to your plight.

2. The good news is cabbage is very cheap.