Sunday, December 14, 2014

SWCBloggers: Challange #3

If you raised your children to believe in Sana Clause, you'll understand the parallels. As with Santa, a giant conspiracy protects them from the truth. We come up with elaborate explanations to explain the unexplainable and change the subject when they get too close to the truth. We might titter to each other about their innocence or, if you prefer, gullibility, but we all agree to keep these encounters between each other. We can’t stand the idea that they will stop believing. 

Of course, I'm taking about how much English instructors dislike reading their students' papers. We construct an elaborate ruse to convince our students that we hungrily wait for their offerings and delight in reading and commenting on their work. In actuality, student papers often seem to me to be the damning proof of my failures. As I read through the stack, I am reminded, often again and again, of what I inadequately taught.  None-the-less, or perhaps because I dislike it so much, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about how to respond to student work. I spend minutes tinkering over a question that I hope will lead them to a clearer line of thinking. I agonize over whether a problem is dire and needs to be underscored or would be better left alone.

For all these reasons, this week’s horror story comes from a student commenting on my commenting.  Rough drafts had been copiously scrutinized and returned. Privately, I had congratulated myself numerous times on a new rubric I had devised and delivered with the drafts.  Then, as if my own child was confronting me about Santa’s existence, one of my best students met with me. He explained that my comments on his paper only confused him, but after visiting the writing center, he finally felt he had clear instructions on how to proceed with certain parts of his papers. He said that my comments “were you know kinda vague” but he understood I had many papers to grade and probably did not always take enough time. 

As when my oldest confronted me about Santa, I felt humbled, human, and very exposed. We both now knew that my pen lacked the magical qualities necessary to transform his writing from one thing to another.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Regrets? I have had a few...

I have been considering the moments in my life when things did not go my way; at times, opportunities just did not pan out. I mourned their loss and moved on. Was there an opportunity I missed that actually helped me in life? I have been searching this muddled mind of mine for a case where the fish that swam away might have actually swallowed me if I caught it in my net. Are there missed opportunities that actually were blessings? In considering this, it seems that they all were. I am extremely happy with the place I find myself today.

Though I wish I could claim it comes from some inner resilience or special grace, I know that this is just not the case. I lost at love, friendship, job opportunities, and in some cases more. However, tonight I find myself typing away, sitting on my comfortable couch, dinner bubbling on the stove. My family pops in and out of the living room with small questions and silly stories. It seems the opportunities that never were did no real harm.

But, I need only look at the headlines to realize if circumstance had placed me under different conditions, I would never have been able to weather so many little storms in relative comfort. For so many around the world, and here in our small corner, lost opportunities might mean deportation, incarceration, or worse. Those, that walk the razors edge, know that one missed step can cause a lot more than regret. The reason I lament so little is that I have been offered more than my fair share of chances. I wish all people were able say the same. True equality will mean that everyone has room to miss an opportunity, without fear of never having another one. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Ah Shucks!

Reader Advisory Warning:

The following blog contains a heartwarming anecdote. Potential side effects include nausea, headache, and in extreme cases, temporarily high blood sugar levels. If you experience symptoms, discontinue reading and contact your physician immediately.

It started as most conference sessions do. Individually, students entered the classroom like visitors to a house of worship. Some faces expressed the hope of true believers seeking revelation. Others had the smirks of agnostics, conveying an attitude akin to “There's no down side to showing up.”

When my final conference of the night strolled in, my only conscious thoughts concerned the sweatpants and glass of wine patiently waiting for me at home. As he sat down, my student told me that he had really enjoyed rhetorically analyzing the two chosen texts. My eyes shot up suspiciously. Instead of obvious signs of sarcasm, I found an open and friendly grin. Then he opened his notes to show me the two-dozen similarities and differences he had found between the assigned texts. I was stunned and overjoyed (it's true that it doesn't take much these days). “I have learned to consider things in new ways and not take ideas for granted. I guess that’s critical thinking, right?”I couldn't help myself. A grin spread over my face and I had to restrain myself from saying, "Tell me more."

My heart soared. I realized I had truly made a difference in, at least, his life. I felt like Sally Fields when she won an Oscar for Places in the Heart. “You like me! You really like me!”