This week has been a whopper. Carol got a cold on her trip back to Manhattan; she has been coughing and snorting and sneezing incessantly. Quite a cacophony. Me, I feel exhausted anyway and I get pissed at the idea she is going to give me that cold, free of charge. I guess this is pretty selfish, but damn it, I don’t want a cold and as I sit here I feel as if I am getting it. The back of my throat is raw and I have plenty of PDN (post nasal drip).
I mean she at least got a trip back to Manhattan out of the cold. But me, I didn’t get any trip, and on top of that while I should be looking forward to a little weekend release I won’t be getting much of that because I have a batch, as I call them, of student papers coming in. Unfortunately, as a teacher of writing, it’s my duty to read the papers; I mean actually read them and not just rush through to see if students have made the right points, done the readings, and listened to me in lectures. That’s what most writing is at the U-level: covert forms of test taking.
Students know what’s up, maybe unconsciously, and so they grind out these papers that cover all the points they are supposed to cover and don’t give a damn if point one is connected to point two and don’t give a damn about how it is written because the TA’s who read their papers don’t give a damn either, being overworked as they are.
So to get them to really write something, I have to unteach as well as teach. In fact, in ten weeks about all I can do is unteach, and of course that confuses the students. I have them read readings (which of course they don’t read) and I don’t lecture, and while there is a huge topic area for them to write about, I don’t give them specific questions, or prompts, as they have come to be called, but say, the most important aspect of writing is topic formation. You will form a topic. This requires that you to write and rewrite to form your topic, BECAUSE I don’t want you to repeat what you have read. But of course they don’t rewrite because they don’t know that is and they just end up repeating using the five or six paragraph method.
All this is pretty damn frustrating, and since I have been teaching this way since about 1980, I have been pretty damn frustrated for about 27 years.
So that’s what I am looking forward to this weekend, one paper after another filled with great baggy sentences and no clear topic and no organization either. One paragraph is stuck next to the next as if writing a paper were the same thing as creating a collage. Each paragraph makes a point and backs it up with mindless repetition from the readings or from something somebody said.
God and on top of this, I am getting a cold.
If I had saved all the student papers I have received over the years in paper form, I would not be able to get into my office. I would open the door and mounds of dusty old paper would come tumbling out. I don’t exaggerate.