Monday, June 01, 2009

Spring Semester Reflections

Anything I could say in response to criticism would sound defensive so what I will offer are reflections on my process and areas I am thinking of changing. I had a new textbook which no one had ever encountered the likes of on campus, I am speaking of both students and faculty. Their collective response to Stewart Pidd Hates English was confusion given its subtle simplicity. Students who thought they could skate through the book found by the Parallel Structure essay they were in serious trouble, and instructors who thought the tasks too easy found out their mistake soon. For students though, this error cost many of them a passing grade. They didn’t believe me when I stated Pidd was a cumulative experience. There was a lot of disbelief this semester.

My persona or affect belies the seriousness with which I take my responsibility. I expect everyone in my classes to behave like adults. My deadlines have been fluid, and I do own this weakness which some see as an error in judgment. Community College is often a students first experience in higher education and I tend to offer a guiding hand to those who ask or seem to need it. This semester and in most semesters this leniency is abused, but the noose is also there to catch students who misstep—the graveyards filled with them and this story is no Antebellum lore, rather self-immolation, student’s refusal to take responsibility for their lives and education.

When it comes down to it, sometimes we all have to make the best of what we’re given, even when it doesn’t seem fair or equitable. The time we have with each other is a moment in a string of moments connected to eternity. Why linger in a bad taste when the bouquet might be on the next horizon if one keeps moving?

Attendance was erratic for many students this semester and though I could have dropped students who were failing, I continue to leave this up to them, because students are adults and while I don’t compromise my standards, I am willing to inconvenience myself for students who are willing to do the work—those who missed the drop date and still want to pass the course. This means, I am letting students get the work in post-finals week, the first week of Spring Intersession, my first week of vacation.

Another thing I do is let students revise as much as they like, past a passing grade. I am going to stop this process. It involves too much reading and I get behind reading and rereading the same essays over and over again. I am going to rethink this process—one revision for the semester or only revisions for the NC essays. Which means students might try a little harder if they know they cannot turn in crap the first time around.

I am also going to stop feeling sorry for students who do not want to buy the books or can’t buy their books, students who are not prepared and students who refuse to avail themselves of academic resources and students who want to turn in assignments late. They will just fail. I am going to start the semester the first week, so we don’t get behind.

My classes will probably shrink, but what is left hopefully will be students who are serious about their learning. I don’t know what I am going to do about the students who don’t want to read. It’s crazy. I am still uncertain about what books I want to use this semester but several are looking appealing.

I was thinking about Dr. Halifu Osumare’s The Africanist Aesthetic in Global Hip Hop: Power Moves, Jeff Chang’s Total Chaos, maybe The Angry Black, White Boy. People seemed to like The Coldest Winter Ever. I liked the Poetry Book with the CD I used last year, and Felicia Pride’s The Message. I also liked Ernest Hardy’s Blood Beat’s Vol. 1. His Vol. 2 is out. Writing the Future of Black America, Literature of the Hip-Hop Generation by Daniel Grassian looks interesting. I am thinking about Dyson’s Searching for Tupac for the English 201and English 1A, along with Jasmine Guy and Rose Grew from Concrete. Students said Guy was easier, so we’ll start with Guy and then shift to Dyson. I like starting with Dyson, but I’ll try the books in reverse order. By the time we get to Dyson, they will be more than half-way through with Pidd, which I am going to use again. What I will do is host workshops for the students who have not walked the Stewart Pidd gauntlet and for those who have, they will be dinged for all the errors we reviewed in SPHE they make in their essays.

I am trying to have my cake and eat it too, but assigning Diana Hacker has not worked. Students do not read the book, no matter how much time I give them. It is also too much to grasp. SPHE is a great way to segue into the handbook. I will assign the handbook to students who have gone through Pidd. I will have to have separate assignments for them. We’ll just have two classes going simultaneously for the first month. I can let the SPHE grads tutor those who are new to the book. I can also have them proctor the quizzes and give the answers. They will be TAs. We’ll all be reading from Guy’s book or The Angry Black White Boy or Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop or Tricia Rose’s Black Noise. It’s all complex and scholarly. I wonder if the material will be enough to snatch the ear of students, light a candle under their imaginations?

We shall see. I am not as despondent as I was last week, Friday, May 29, at graduation. As I sat and watched students like Brendon and Kevin, Eric and Rose, Renora and others walk, and students I didn’t know were finished like Mesha, walk that walk…I felt happy for them and happy they allowed me to participate in a portion of their journey. I was still ready to quit or find another profession that paid as well and had these benefits at the end of a long day.

What I decided was to pursue my Ph.D. and perhaps look at other ways I could serve my community, keep my sanity and grow in the profession. I am not like other professors. I don’t think I ever will be like other professors, but students who have taken my classes are prepared for college. They are not shocked when they transfer nor are they underprepared.


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