Monday, November 7, 2011

Botched Teaching

At the Friday writing workshop I run at the university, one of my students sat for a minute after we’d finished going over his paper. “Do you have any more questions?” I asked, thinking he’d forgotten some point he wanted to check.

“No, it’s just, in my last paper, well, you graded it.” (Shoot, I thought to myself, there is no way this is going to end with thanks for insightful comments, not with his hesitation). “And, well, when Ingrid handed them back, she said that everything she wrote, she wrote to be positive, and to help us, and we should take the criticism in a good light, and, well, there wasn’t really anything positive in your comments.”

Grade my exams for me? Anyone?
I shot a look at his notebook, and faintly recognized his name. It was one of the papers that I’d put at the bottom of the pile to check with Ingrid whether it passed. By the time I reached his, I’d developed an unhealthy anger, a kind of rage that anybody could write this poorly and be in a university literature class. I’m sure he must be one of those to whom I wrote catty notes in the margins about the necessity of mentioning the text in a literature paper. Uggg. And here he is, a nice guy looking up at me, after he’s come in for help on his next paper, giving me the sharp slap on the wrist that I utterly deserve for being such a horrid teacher and grader. I’ve felt pangs of regret all through the weekend, each time I remember another snarky comment about the necessity of learning the English language before attempting to communicate about a poem written in it. I never actually wrote that anywhere, but at this point my brain is diligently manufacturing the things it thinks I could have written and sliding them in with the real ones. I apologized to him, and excused myself a bit with the exhaustion of grading, but I felt terrible. 

Impatience in a teacher is a venal fault. No amount of breast-beating and hair-pulling can atone for the punctures in confidence that my barbed pen must have inflicted on students who trusted me to guide them into improvement without taking their failings personally. Oh, I can tell myself any number of things: at least I have been scrupulously careful to stay positive with my high schoolers (it’s easier! They write in proper English, forgossakes! And are meant to be learning to write, whereas these guys ought to already have the rudiments of basic grammar down), or perhaps this is just a cultural clash: Norwegian gentleness against American tough love (no pain, no gain), or I had to grade a tremendous amount of papers so no wonder I got sloppy with sugarcoating the criticism. But at the end of the day, I’ve outraged my own sense of responsibility.

I’m going to have to work on this.

I think I am going to be able to float being in Oslo during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. There’s a shabbaton in Oslo that weekend, and I have cajoled my boys’ parents, in various languages, to send their children so that they can actually meet and be aware that there exist other Jewish children in this country. Which means I get a free flight to Oslo as chaperone. And can meet up with the Fulbrighters in the center of town late Friday night to watch the three winners come out and greet the crowd. Yeeees!

I'm so glad it was three women the year I'm in Norway
The past few nights the moon has been enormous, luminous, and riding high above in the horizon. The thought that passed through my head was actually, “wow, that’s worth writing home about.” So I am. 

No comments:

Post a Comment