My End of Vacation Panic Attack

In my professional life, I’ve been chastised by colleagues and higher-ups for taking things too personally. For example, I get to the end of a set of essays and complain to a fellow teacher, “I’m insulted that they think I’m this stupid. Did they think I wouldn’t read their essays, or did they think I wouldn’t notice that every single one of them used the same 3 examples from the two novels they were comparing?” And only two of the three were examples that made any sense.

Oh, look, it’s THAT quote again! What are the odds that 97 students will pick that one passage to quote in their papers in order to support the thesis they each forgot to include? What really chaps my hide is that these students signed a piece of paper wherein they promised they would NOT collaborate on any assignment unless I specified it as a group project. Yet it is so obvious that they are collaborating, even a student in my class would notice it.

Why won’t they try? Why is it so unthinkable for a student to sit down alone with his computer, and write an essay to the best of his ability? Isn’t there a nobility in it? Whether she gets a D a C or a B, isn’t there a pride of accomplishment? I did it! I could have done better, but now with my teacher’s detailed comments on my essay, I know where I can improve. (Oh, God, call the Self Esteem Police! Where’s my son’s A just for trying?! Oh, wait, he didn’t try. He live- chatted with classmates who all shared the same quotes and said, “Use these in your essay. Same some stuff about how John Proctor never quit trying so he got his dream.”)

And what did they think would happen when I got to paper 40 or so, and I thought, “Why does this quote appear in every essay I have read? It isn’t even the most obvious one to choose, and it certainly doesn’t answer the prompt.” I can only imagine it’s one of these possibilities: 1) they didn’t wonder, 2) they didn’t care, 3) they think I’m an idiot.

I’m exhausted by this job. I feel like no one values thinking deeply. They want me to tell them which box to check and then they want the immediate gratification of seeing their grades posted online. And if the grade they get’s not the grade they want, they demand an explanation of why, and they want that grade changed to the one they DO want.

As I sit here on my Saturday, marking essays and feeling like I’m grading the same essay over and over, I am defeated. Didn’t I teach this? I have the lesson plans. I know I talked about concrete detail, commentary, topic sentences, say/mean/matter. I’m all excited to go back to work after the vacation (which doesn’t count as a vacation when it includes entertaining a 2, 4, and 42 year-old 14 hours a day in addition to weaning and spending hours on the phone begging MediCal to cover your mother’s nursing home care — they say no, but only eventually). My worry is that my enthusiasm will be dashed on day one as I realize that I can’t just by force of will make them want to learn. I’m doing the work on my end though. I’m trying a bunch of new stuff and keeping my fingers crossed.

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17 Responses to My End of Vacation Panic Attack

  1. T. D. Davis says:

    That has got to be incredibly frustrating, and from the parent point of view, I completely understand your feelings. I’ve had to argue with my youngest not to take the path of least resistance when writing essays and to take pride in writing something that’s fun or interesting to read. She’s in 7th grade, so time will tell if I’m getting through. But I’m not sure how many kids have parents who care about the quality of their work rather than whether they just passed. Good luck to you. I hope you don’t get burnt out by it all.

  2. Lindsay says:

    Will you say something to your students? I find this very lazy and disrespectful of the whole lot of them.

  3. Lisa says:

    Hm. That must be really frustrating, and I would imagine it must feel like a huge waste of time. I want you to know, though, that my eleventh grader actually does write his own essays without peer input, and both he and we accept the grades he gets (and they’re not all great).

    What do you think has changed over the years – have the students changed? Have the teachers changed? Has education as a whole changed? Is it social media that has changed things (allowing kids to collaborate online when they’re supposed to be working independently)? I mean, I don’t remember these same issues when I was in high school.

    • Mrs Odie 2 says:

      It’s been so tedious to read all of these essays. I guess I’m going to have to address it, because it’s just so obvious and such a clear violation of the “No Cheating” contract they signed. I’m just not sure when to address it because I was hoping to start semester 2 on a positive note. I think that the reason is a combination of pushing kids into AP classes who don’t belong there and the internet providing immediate gratification. Also, as a culture, we aren’t thinkers. We feel uncomfortable with our thoughts and do all sorts of things to avoid them.

  4. KeAnne says:

    That would frustrate the hell out of me. I’m sorry – it is galling to see not only that they didn’t even try but also that they obviously think you wouldn’t catch on. I hope the message sinks in when you address it. I hope the second semester improves.

  5. Val says:

    I only WISH I had something tremendously witty & supportive to say! I can’t imagine how frustrating this must be – I get sick n’ tired of educating clients who come in, heads full o’ mush thanks to Dr Google, who can’t understand the need for diagnostics – they only want me to prescribe Medication “X” or otherwise wave my magic wand to make it all better…

  6. Summer says:

    I graduated from high school over 20 years ago and cheating is nothing new Lisa. This is something I may have done then out of fear, laziness, or shit for brains (no excuse). Call them out on it. In some ways it is starting on a positive note. At least you care. They will remember that. My academic life didn’t start until college. There is hope.

  7. Sue says:

    Could they really ALL be “collaborating?” Wouldn’t they be more likely to cheat in small groups? Perhaps a student found a good place on the internet to buy or plagiarize essays and shared the good news?

  8. Jess says:

    Former teacher commiseration here. It used to chap my ass when stuff like this would happen, because it really felt like they thought I was a complete idiot.

    Now that I’m a parent, I’m mean and make my kids work their asses off whether they want to or not. I’m hoping by the time they get to high school they’ll have learned the value of hard work in all things, the pride in something being done well, just for its own sake. If my 4th grader gets a bad grade, then its her fault. Not the teacher’s. My kid is responsible for her own learning.

    Teachers like you are why I learned in high school.

  9. Chelsea says:

    I would google where they are getting their help by typing in the quote they all used. The quote must have been included in Cliff’s or Spark Notes, or on some website they are all using. My guess is that they googled your prompt and found some badly written answers.

  10. Yesterday I attended a workshop for teachers of English I (freshman) and English II (sophomore). The district’s writing scores had just come back and they were awful. The workshop was your typical “cover your ass” piece of garbage, somewhere in the middle of this one of the moderators basically said that the reason students don’t write well is because, 1) teachers don’t teach writing correctly and 2) teachers don’t give students the proper feedback. Period. No other reasons. Just like airplanes only ever crash due to pilot error. It’s never the weather or a bird getting sucked into something. And and it is NEVER a mechanical issue with the actual plane. At the end of the seminar they issued vague threats about everyone’s certification hanging in the balance if we didn’t attend more of these seminars. (Good luck with that, bitches. My certification came with my degree and it’s for a LIFETIME). Has any one of these people ever dealt with the child who was placed in my classroom by her parents, even though she does not have English I skills (she’s 8th grade)? Her work continues to prove that she should not be here, but who gets the flack because she never does her work and hates to read? You guessed it. Your words are a familiar refrain, Mrs. Odie. I hear you.

  11. alounge says:

    Wrote the above in a hurry. There’s a wording error in there because I changed my mind mid-sentence. Mea culpa.

  12. GreenCanary says:

    I feel as though our society has a whole has lost the ability (skill?) to think critically. We do not form our own opinions, instead regurgitating what is told to us by others. I sometimes fall prey to this, myself. It’s laziness and fear. Being told what to think is easier than thinking for oneself, and after a while of not exercising the “think for yourself” muscle, it gets flabby and useless. This is no excuse; someone needs to go all Jillian Michaels and Biggest Loser their flabby “think for yourself” muscles until they throw up some genuine thoughts and opinions. I think that person should be you :-)

    It might be a fun exercise for you to return all of the papers unmarked and announce to the class, “I have read your papers. The majority of them are very similar to each other. They use the same quotes. The same justification (or whatever). Let me remind you of the agreement you made about collaboration, and of the directions for this assignment. Instead of failing you immediately, I’m giving you the chance to redeem yourself. Re-write the paper if you think yours is one I’m referring to. Or you can turn in the same paper and I will grade it accordingly. The choice is yours.”

    Doing that would instill the fear of God in the people who “collaborated.” You’ll get a class full of petrified faces which may just make up for their total pain in the ass-ness.

    • Mrs Odie 2 says:

      I love this idea. I am putting it in my toolbox for the future. The saddest part is, I would have parents blowing up my email over it.

      • GreenCanary says:

        My mother is vice-principal of a private school and I am forever shocked at the stories she tells me about parents. It’s nice in a weird kind of way that parents think their children are perfect, but c’mon… they’re not. Seriously. They are SO not. None of us are.

        If you do something like this and you get irate emails from parents, you can either tell them that perhaps their child wasn’t one who “collaborated” and that said child is more than welcome to submit their original paper. Let their kid sweat it out in front of their parents. Or you “collaborate” yourself and send an automatic response to everyone’s emails, something akin to the Gettysburg Address. Be sure to put an asterisk at the bottom with the notation, “You’ll notice my response has nothing to do with the subject of your email, and that it bears a striking resemblance to Abraham Lincoln’s famous speech. Annoying, isn’t it? Yeah, I thought so, too WHEN I ENCOUNTERED THE SAME SITUATION GRADING YOUR STUDENTS’ PAPERS. POINT MADE, BITCHES.”

  13. Adelae says:

    I was the kid that adored my English teacher. Even though my classmates thought she was just a senile old lady, (partly true, but it only added to her charm) I loved her dearly and count her as one of the major positive influences upon my life. You’ve got kids like that too, even if you don’t know it. Even if they don’t know it (yet.)

  14. Michael says:

    “Why won’t they try? Why is it so unthinkable for a student to sit down alone with his computer, and write an essay to the best of his ability? Isn’t there a nobility in it? Whether she gets a D a C or a B, isn’t there a pride of accomplishment? I did it!”

    Because there is no reward for individuality anymore in school; kids have been robbed of the benefits of failing on their own merit. There can be no nobility without taking that chance. They’re neither encouraged nor inspired to do that. I guess that’s where you come in.

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