Saturday, May 3, 2008

Can You Hear Them Singing?

Behold this sweet, sweet sight:

We are three weekdays away from the semester being officially over. I know this because this multi-colored chain tells me so. It has been hanging in my office for a few weeks now. I broke down and made it after I spent an entire weekend doing some marathon grading. I had to read four separate assignments that weekend, and by the time it was over my brain was a flat gray pancake that had deflated inside my skull. I wanted to spend some time doing something mindless. Something goofy. Something that would require me to channel my elementary school self. And so I parked myself in front of the television and glued together construction paper as I watched Brothers and Sisters and wondered who I had the bigger crush on: Sally Field or Dave Annable. (Answer: Dave Annable. Still, that doesn't keep me from wishing Sally Field would come live in my spare bedroom so we could spend our weekends making pancakes and chocolate chip cookies.)

The end is in sight. And next week is going to be no problem because I'm spending my last three days meeting with my students for their portfolio conferences. We're going to talk about the improvements their writing has made over the semester, and they're going to talk to me about their revision process and what changes they made and why. I could do that in my sweatpants. I won't--although I'd really like to roll into the classroom wearing fuzzy pants and the Boy From Work's college sweatshirt--but I will do it in jeans, which is something you'll very rarely find me wearing to school. It's just a little treat for myself, a little something to say, You're almost there!

But as much as I want to think next week is going to be a complete cinch, I know that's a lie. I know what happens during the last few days of a semester. That time is officially scramble time for all the students who half-assed it, stopped coming, flunked every quiz I ever gave. Suddenly, there's a rush of dead grandmas, broken cars, sick kids, and work demands. Students will sing their sad little songs--false songs, pitiful songs, unoriginal songs--and I will have to sing my own. It will sound a little like this: Please refer to your syllabus for a list of course policies regarding absences and the timely submission of essays! Cha-cha-cha!

Of course, not every slacker follows that route. I had a student this semester who was a rare sub-species of slacker. He didn't waste time vomiting up acidic excuses for absences. He didn't need to. He was never absent. He also didn't waste time trying to work me over about the essays he didn't hand in. He didn't turn in a single one. After the second zero I recorded in my grade book, I came back to him and asked what was going on. Why wasn't he handing in his essays? Didn't he understand that his grade would be determined by those essays and not, say, his spot-on attendance? When I said to him, "Hey, Student, what's the deal with not handing in your essays?" he simply shrugged and said, "I don't know. I just didn't feel like doing them."

Now, listen. I've got to admire his honesty there. Instead of seeing this moment as his in, his way to maybe make up some heart-twisting story about his beloved childhood dog who'd just been diagnosed with cancer and given three weeks to live but was struck by a car before he was taken down by the tumor, this student just shrugged and turned back to his computer.

After his third zero, I had to tell the student there was very little chance of passing the class. Even after I'd let him know he was riding a train straight to F-town, he kept coming. He showed up for every class and sat dutifully in front of his computer, sometimes staring at it so hard I thought he was trying to conjure up words out of thin air.

The only class he missed was our last class this week, when he would have been responsible for turning in a portfolio of his revised work and his final paper, which was worth a considerable part of his grade. But he didn't show. Of course, what would he have done if he had? Would he have shrugged at me on his way out? Would he have thrown me a wink to say, You know the deal.

Oh, I know the deal alright. And sometimes I wish some of his fellow students would follow his lead. Not by neglecting to turn in their essays, but in shrugging their shoulders and saying out loud, "Hey, you know what? I just didn't do it. Didn't even try. Give me a zero, and let's move on."


Joshua said...

haha. You sent him on the wrong train , Jess. He should be headed to A-town with. And I'm not talking about some cheeky boy band

Jess said...

I think I'm going to request that you proofread your comments before posting them on my blog, Joshua Allen. Just kidding. XO.