Thursday, December 06, 2007

Why couldn't I have been a MATH teacher (or something)?

If I were a math teacher (or a teacher of some subject involving Scantrons or multiple-choice tests), the end of the semester would be a much easier thing.

But I am an English teacher, and so at the end of every semester, I amass a pile of portfolios of student-writing the likes of which you've never seen.

Seriously. The picture doesn't do it justice. Maybe I should have piled the folders for maximum effect.

Just so you know, each of those folders (and that box-top is full of 'em) contains five essays, three of which are "new" to me (revised essays). In order to be eligible to have a revision considered for an extra grade, my students have to write "letters of reflection" to explain what they changed and why. So I read those, too. I also read their final "author's letter," which addresses their semester-long journey.

My point is, I have a heap o' reading and grading to do, and it's hard! (I'm not even going to try to omit the whiny tone. I wanna whine, dammit!)

But it's not the quantity that makes it difficult.

Wait, yes it is.

I mean that it's not only the quantity that makes the end-of-semester grading throw-down so difficult. It's also that I have to give it a grade, and doing that to my students' work--well sometimes it just about breaks my heart.

I spend a lot of one-on-one time with my students. I meet with each and every one of them for at least three conferences each semester. During that time, I try to establish "professional boundaries," but inevitably, tears fall, confessions are made, and I wind up playing the role of therapist/parent/friend to my students in addition to my role of teacher.

I'm working on a paper about some of this, actually. Since the storm, the confessions have become darker and more depressing (as you might imagine), and my own mood has plummeted, too. Professionals in the field have published plenty of advice for what to do in situations like these. I think they refer to the teacher-behavior that comes from our empathy for our students as "affect." They say that we should maintain a professional distance--that we should nod and go, "That must be hard for you," but then, wha-domp, slap that D on there, anyhow. After all, a D is a D is a D. Can't nothing be done about that!

But a D is not "just a D". I know it and my students know it. A "D" can determine whether or not they hang on to their scholarship-money, which can determine whether or not they stay in school, which can determine, well, a damn lot.

So when I get to the end of the semester and I see (as I so often do) that my D students--the ones I've grown to care about so much--haven't managed to pull it together, I feel awful! How could I have better served them? What could I have done differently?

Given my workload--and the nature of living here (or anywhere, I guess)--I'm not sure there's much I can do differently. I'm doing all I can do. I'm giving them as much of me as I can afford to give (and then some.) So I need to forgive myself for their failure. (Clearly, this is easier said than done.)

Because I want to give my failing-students a heads-up (so they re-work their schedules), I try to tackle the high-risk portfolios first. When I first start into the pile, I have energy and hope. My blue pen has ink, I have coffee, it's all good.

But today, several folders in, I found that I was taking on waaaay too much guilt. I was writing really long evaluation letters explaining why students had gotten the grades they did. This shouldn't happen, though. Right? I mean, my students should be prepared for the grades they'll get, and I shouldn't feel so guilt-stricken.


Yes, it's at times like these that I wish that I were a math teacher... or something, anything, else.

Do students make these confessions to math teachers? I doubt it. (Unless they're trying to explain their absences.) Do math teachers struggle over awarding grades? Probably not. Stick that thing in a Scantron machine and let it determine the fate, right?

Oh, sigh...

Maybe going to the neighborhood association meeting will make me feel better. I hope so!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wish I could have been there to share the good times with you, but dookeeleedoo....