And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

fredag 22. februar 2013

Disappointment Day

I try to see through the clouds
On one more rainy day
- One more rainy day, Deep Purple

In the course of my three years as a teaching assistant I have grown accustomed to the rhythm of the essay weeks, and today was what I've come to term Disappointment Day. This is the deadline of the final essay, which ideally should contain all the corrections they've been asked to include in the feedback sessions. Ideally, the final essay should be a coherent text which tackles the assignment without any trace of hesitation of lack of control, and which is structured so neatly the reader has no difficulty following the flow of the arguments which culminate in a well-wrought conclusion. But this, as stated, is the ideal world.

The truth, as I've come to learn the hard way, is drastically different, and this is the day when you discover how little the students have actually done about the corrections you lined up for them. I take this somewhat hard because I commit very strongly to providing a clear standard that they should follow and pinpoint precisely where they tread falsely and what they need to change or omit. It turns out, however, that I'm not the only one who make commitments. The students appear to commit very strongly to the idea that their first drafts are filled with great ideas and nice phrases which must be retained in the final paper. At least this is how it seems to me. Of course, I can understand that very well. I, too, become very attached to texts I write, and I didn't learn humility in this regard until somewhat late in my bachelor, so I've stood in their shoes myself. After all, my MA degree was an exercise in textual revision, the only major difference being that I had by then acquired much more experience than my students currently have.

Being sympathetic to their situation, does not sugarcoat the disappointment. Nor have the three years entirely deprived me of that sense of hopefulness I experience the days prior to Disappointment Day. I have pretty high expectations of my students, and since they have chosen to walk the university road I expect them to take the challenges they encounter. Naturally, I do not expect equally much of everyone, nor do I treat everyone the same way. A part of my job is to attempt evaluating each student's character to such a degree that I can see whether he or she belongs in academia or not, and those who appear to do are of course given greater challenges.

However, since this is a freshman's course and many of the students have embarked on their first year in higher education, the bar is set extra low on Disappointment Day. Since we are student assistants we do not have the mandate to fail any of the students unless they do spectacularly bad, and sometimes even they they are allowed to pass. Indeed, there have been times when I've genuinely felt bad for not failing a student. For instance, there was this one girl who handed in two pages, which was only halfway to the mandatory minimum page count. I gave her a few days to rework the paper and even offered to give her a new date for the feedback session, as she had failed to show up to her allotted time. A few days later - on the very day of the new deadline - I finally heard back from her and found she had managed to expand her opus into three pages. Since I had no more time to give her - this was close to the deadline for sending the lists of candidates to the exam office - I decided to let her pass, and immediately felt bad for doing so.

This time, since it is spring and not late in the autumn and close to the exams, I do have more time to give them, but not without infringing upon the time they need to write the next essay, which is due next friday. Since I'll be correcting these papers, too, I want them to write as well as they can, and they can't do this with more work hanging over them. However, so far I have failed four of ca. 10 or 15 papers, all of whom because they missed the point of the assignment, and three of whom I really expected to do better. The fourth I really don't expect that much from, but I hope at least he will be able to make it to four pages.

When I woke up today there was a warm rain of the kind that was really too early for February, and the world grey and white. It was one more rainy day in Norway, and one more Disappointment Day in my career as a student assistant.

Sisyphus, painting by Titian

Ingen kommentarer:

Legg inn en kommentar