Tag Archives: community college woes

Contemplating Quitting The Classroom

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I have been thinking that this will be my last semester in the classroom. It’s been a hard year for a variety of reasons, but I have been thinking I just am not connecting with my students the way I used to. Part of it may be that I am getting older. I have somehow become an “old-fashioned teacher” who doesn’t show movies, rely on Smart Boards or Power Point presentations. In other words, I have always been able to “be my own show,” create my own bells and whistles, and that was enough. I was enough.

This year is different. I don’t like how my students seem less prepared each year. I don’t like having to repeatedly tell adults to put away their technology/toys. It’s exhausting. I haven’t lowered my expectations with regard to their assignments or how I grade them, but I have a lot of students with D’s and F’s. That doesn’t feel good to me. Part of it is the 15-week gig: It doesn’t feel long enough to get my students where they need to be. I don’t understand why some of my students come to class without full drafts of their papers when I tell them they need to come to class with completed papers. I don’t understand why they leave their books in their cars. I don’t understand why they come to English class without pens or paper, even though it is clearly stated as a basic expectation on my Course Information Sheet. I don’t understand their lateness, why they don’t recognize walking in late as a terrible act of rudeness and incivility. I don’t understand why they struggle so much with citation. Except I do: it requires meticulous attention to detail  – and, based on this last essay I collected – about 7 students out of about every 22 possess the ability to attend to detail. Here’s a newsflash: some students don’t attempt to write papers at all. They take zeros, and they seem fine with this.

Me? I’m not fine with any of this, so I’ve been feeling run-down.

There is a bit of ego in teaching, maybe more than teachers might care to admit. I can’t speak for all teachers, but I think it is fair to say we are willing to take the ridiculously low pay, work the long hours, plan our lessons, grade the papers into the wee morning hours – as long as we see progress. Positive change. Forward movement. Progression. I need to feel as though I am helping my students move from point A to point B: even better if I can take them from point A to point Z! That said, it’s been a little light on that this semester. So I’ve been thinking about jumping ship and hopping onto a different boat.

And then I received a poem from Niquette Kearney.

Niquette in 2010

I taught Niquette in New Orleans back in the mid-1990s at Metairie Park Country Day School, nearly twenty years ago. When I first met Niquette, she was in 10th grade Honors English while struggling with some big life stuff. Big. Life. Stuff. And she was floundering. Because it is hard to focus on writing papers when you are dealing with Big Life Stuff. I suggested Niquette drop out of her high-pressure Honors section (with me as her teacher) and pop into another section of Regular English, (also with me as her teacher.) Poor Niquette. There was no escaping me that year as I taught the entire 10th grade! Boy, was she pissed off! I’m pretty sure she wanted to kill me; instead, she agreed. (Really, though, what was the alternative?) And the Regular section was easier for her. She got her work done, earned stellar grades, and she was able to focus on herself.

From the beginning, I adored Niquette. Teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites, but Nikit (the nickname I began to scribble on her papers) was beautiful and smart and funny and strong. How can you not love that? She was the whole package. She just didn’t seem to realize she was the whole package. But then, honestly, in high school, who feels they are “all that”? Nikit and I spent lots of time on a beat-up old couch in the English Department. Sometimes we talked about papers, but lots of times, we didn’t. Sometimes I just listened to her talk about her life, her experiences. Sometimes she cried, but mostly she didn’t. Her voice always quavered a little, as if she lived right on the verge of tears. That year, Nikit found herself at a crossroads. Without sharing her secrets, let’s just say, because she is beautiful and smart and funny and strong, she has managed to survive this very difficult year – maybe even thrive despite the adversity.

So here I am thinking of leaving the teaching biz, and I get this piece of correspondence.

Niquette’s message read simply: “Here’s a poem I wrote recently and thought I’d share with you, as you were in my thoughts.”

In a moment bigger than I knew,
At a time which could have been many,
I glanced at myself

In the mirror of my own eyes,
As if greeting a stranger for the first time,
I introduced myself with wonder
At the amazing sight of me

After so long without looking,
I finally saw
What I thought they’d lied about
Suddenly, it covered my reflection, overcoming me
So bright, I shuddered, reaching out my hand,
Welcoming the newcomer,
The one I thought I’d seen before

It was then, that I saw myself
And what I’d never even looked for,
And I blushed when I knew
That it was there the whole time

What a rare sight,
To view myself that way,
As a stranger meets another pleasantly, then parts
This moment passed but was mine
I saw what I did, and it was precious; beautiful

It was me.

Niquette Kearney, 2010

I am pretty sure I am one of the ones who tried to convince Nikit about her strength, her smarts, her internal and external beauty. I’m pretty sure I’m one of the one’s she assumed lied to her about all her fabulousness. I’m just so happy to know that she saw it, felt it, if only for a moment. And I’m even happier to know that she sat down and recorded it – as if it had been an assignment for English class – so she can have it to hold on to. I love that, after all these years, she is still writing poetry.

And then, thanks to Nikit, I remember this is the reality for teachers, especially college educators. We do our stuff. We try to shimmer and shine and get our junk into our students’ heads in 15 short weeks – and then, if we are lucky — maybe — 10, 15, 20 years later, someone reminds us that we helped them along the way. Someone might send us a poem, or a card, or run into us in the grocery store and give us a giant hug and tell us how much we helped. Teaching is like parenting; it involves a lot of delayed gratification. Folks shuffle in; they shuffle out, sometimes without so much as a smile. Sometimes it’s really hard to wait for gratitude.

I am happy for my sweet Nikit. She is going places, that one.

Me? I’m not so sure if I’m jumping ship. Time will tell.

For now, my course is set, and I will continue to power ahead through these choppy waters, full throttle.

Nabbed a Cheater!

My cyber-friend, fellow blogger and educator, Clay Morgan, recently wrote a very funny blog about how we teachers notice when our students cheat. And I laughed because it was true: There are “peekers” and “sneakers” and “giraffers” and folks who try to write everything they can on their pencils and their shoes and their arms.

And then yesterday, I busted one of my students for some crazy, overt plagiarism, and suddenly it isn’t so very funny anymore. Well, it’s a little funny because the person copied from Wikipedia and left in the hyperlinks. But still, when you get down to it, it’s not that funny.

I hate this part. I hate this part. I hate this part. I hate this part of being an educator.

Let’s assume for the sake of ease that the cheater is male. Then I can avoid all the he/she stuff.

My thought is to have The Despicable One take a look at his paper along with a copy of the Plagiarism Contract which he signed earlier in the semester and ask him to respond in writing to three questions: 1) Why did he choose to copy directly from the source rather than paraphrase or summarize it? 2) Why didn’t he use in-text citation and include a Works Cited page at the end of his paper? 3) What does he think the most appropriate course of action would be in this situation?

When he is done writing (read: documenting the offense in his own handwriting), I will listen to what he has to say, explain to him how serious an offense this is, (because it is serious), and then I will think about it for a while.

So today I’m feeling a little snarky. A little annoyed, even.

Why? I guess because I feel plagiarism is just so dang silly. It is the laziest of all academic infractions. I can predict The Plagiarizer will say something like: “I didn’t know how do to it the right way, so I just didn’t do it.” That is what lazy people say. I guess I’m noting something of a character flaw in plagiarizers (as if other flaws aren’t obvious enough). I keep thinking, if I didn’t know how to do something, I would do my damndest to figure it out.

In this specific instance, for example, if I didn’t know how to cite properly, I would have called a classmate for assistance. I would have stopped playing BeJewelled on Facebook and looked online for tips of how to cite a paper. (There are a zillion free websites offering advice.) I might have looked in the style book which I was assigned to purchase at the beginning of the semester. If all that failed, I would have tried to indicate that I knew I was taking information from an outside source. I could have written:

Dear Professor-In-Charge-Of-My-Grade:

I am getting this information from reallycoolandfakewebsite.com, but I’m not sure how to cite it properly. (*hangs head in shame*)

When you get a chance, can you show me? I hope you won’t deduct too many points. (*lame attempt at humor*)

So so so sincerely,

Ashamed One

If I knew in advance that I were going to be in trouble with citation, I would have made at least one appointment with the folks at the college’s Writing Center (where one can schedule a free 30-minute tutoring session to really get some help on a paper). I might have even asked my teacher to meet with me. Because teachers want to help their students. Some will even skip lunch or blow off grocery shopping to help their students.

So I can tell this student started really, really late on this paper.

Like eleven o’clock at night: too late for phone calls or in-person tutoring sessions.

And, frankly, because of his procrastination and poor decision-making, I now have to make difficult moral decisions. And now, depending on how far I want to go with this, I will have a boatload of extra paperwork to handle. And copies to be made in triplicate. Because my Department Chair will need a copy. And so will Student Services. And I’ll probably have to hold on to this paper for the rest of my life. (Hubby, I have another important document for the fire safe…)

I guess you can tell that I have strong beliefs about integrity and honor and honesty. Basic values which everyone agrees seem to be on the decline. Interestingly enough, judging from the reaction that I’m getting from some of my students, they don’t see plagiarism as a big deal. I’ve tried to explain that it is a big deal. A very big deal. Because when you turn in something with your name on it, you are claiming to have authored those words and, when you haven’t, it is a lie.

In my eyes, The Despicable One is a liar and a cheater. Does he understand that I think of him as a person who steals ideas? That I can’t trust him or anything that he says? Ever? That I would never vouch for him for anything? How could I? He signed a banana-yellow piece of paper promising not to plagiarize, but he did.

I’m worried about this generation. So maybe my tone is annoyance with a side order of panic.

There have to be consequences for this transgression. This is not kindergarten, folks. I teach at the college level. This is where people learn life lessons. And sometimes people have to learn the hard way; after all, you don’t always get a second chance when you screw up.

So I have options.

Put on your thinking caps for a moment and consider this.

If you were me, would you:

a) Allow the aforementioned student to write a new paper with proper citation by a certain date for a maximum grade of D. (If the paper doesn’t come in, or there is evidence of future plagiarism, the student would be failed.)

b) Not allow the student to rewrite the paper. Give him a zero, but allow him to stay in the class with the warning that if this happens again, he will be failed.

c) Tell the student that he has done irreparable damage to the student-teacher relationship and fail him from the course as well as report him to Student Services. (This could impact his entire financial aid package, but he might learn a lesson.)

d) Make him babysit my child every Saturday for free from now until the end of the semester.

e) Ask him what he thinks should happen.

I’m definitely leaning in a particular direction, but I’m open to suggestions.

What would you do if you were in my shoes? Can anyone think of other options?

10/17/2010: ***Note: Read the  interesting, varied and intelligent comments to learn the difficult decision that I had to make, and the thought processes that teachers have to have to consider every day above and beyond our course material!***