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.