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I snapped at that poor kid
Nov 4th, 2013 by alexfaye

It wasn’t terrible, but for me it was out of character.  My excuses are perfectly legitimate — I hate the question, I’m sleep deprived, and I’m defensive about this because the question (no, the answer) seems to imply I’m disinterested or incompetent.

The students turned in essays on Friday, and today is Monday;  the question this unsuspecting student asked was, “Are you finished reading the essays?”

And because I spent so much of my free time this past weekend working on grades — and it was a sunny, crisp fall weekend, perfect for golf, hiking, biking, maybe one of the last nice weekends in a while — and I am cranky from reading student work all of the time, like a martyr or a lunatic, I snapped.

“Are you kidding me!?  Do the math!  That would be impossible.  There are not enough hours in a weekend for me to take home a tall stack on Friday, and be done on Monday, AND get report cards in.”

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He was taken aback by the ferocity of my answer.  (Kids have no idea.)  I turned on him like a cat whose tail has been stepped on.  He was apologetic, which made me see what a jerk I was.  Because what was this kid actually asking?

“Have you read my essay? Is it any good?”

And that, homies, is MY JOB.  My work is to give meaningful feedback so they can grow, and these papers I’ve collected are their personal statements, so they have bared their souls and are feeling nervous about it.  They want and need a gentle and helpful reader.  Someone who takes them seriously as a writer.  And although their peers have been all over those papers, what they really want, and what they really need…is me.

But I think that kid may be a bit wary of me from now on.  I apologized to him twice, but I feel like I damaged something.

This is what I spoke about at the October 10 School Board meeting.  I said to the board, “I have 175 students.  If I assigned one paragraph to all of my students, and if I took 4 minutes for each writing sample — to read it, analyze what’s working and what is not, then to write a terse and directive note, and a note of encouragement — it would take me over 11 hours to work through that stack.  So I can’t give that paragraph 4 minutes.  The best I can do is 40 seconds — and the only thing I can say to a kid in 40 seconds is Check! Plus! Minus!”

Not helpful to the writer.  Not a good use of my time.  Scoring in this way becomes nothing more than a bookkeeping task, when what kids actually need is feedback.  More than a grade, they need to know what to do next to improve.

And when would I put those 11 hours together to read those paragraphs?  During my paid work day?  Not possible.  I take my free time to do that work — time that other people spend doing things like, well, everything else that composes a good life.  Me? I need exercise and rest and time with my loved ones.  I don’t get enough of that vital stuff during the school year.  I also don’t take the 4 minutes that the kids need on that paragraph.  I cannot.  Because the next day, it’s something else.  There’s always something new to do.

And here, we’re talking about essays — not just paragraphs.  On an essay like this, I cannot give any kind of feedback in under 6 minutes.  Six minutes is fast reading, fast writing.  And, of course, I’m a veteran, so I would never assign (rarely assign) every student on my roster a paper that is due on the same day — even the same week!  Even so.  To get through these essays is going to take some time.

It is unreasonable to expect English teachers to see over 150 kids in a day.  It just is.  It’s not this kid’s fault.  And it’s not mine.

to the lady around the corner
Nov 1st, 2013 by alexfaye

I first noticed you maybe two years ago?  Maybe more?  You were so tall, so substantial — so wide!, and when you walked you swayed and swung your arms, sort of stiffly, like a metronome.  There, in the early morning light, as I passed you in the car on my way to work — I saw you that were wearing earbuds, striding down the street to your own private and steady rhythm, in the dark, in the rain, in the early morning — every day.

I saw you every day.

Soon, you were scenery.  I’d note your presence, but you did not occupy my thoughts.  I’d think, “Oh gosh, there’s that lady with the big butt.  Good for her.”

When I see you now, you are still tall, of course, but so slender,  still swaying when you walk but lately mostly running — a testament to patience, persistence and discipline.  Now when I pass you, I reflect on the lessons in your gait.

I often have thought of writing you a letter to tell you this  — I saw you one time, talking on your cell phone and getting out of a car on a driveway, so I’m pretty sure you live right around the corner from me — no more than 10 houses away.  But then I think, “she walks through the neighborhood with such a light step, with no self-consciousness about her.  What if she starts wondering who is watching her, who is writing her letters?  What if she starts peering into passing cars?” and I stop.  I’m sure I’d get the creeps if I thought my daily activities were being observed by a stranger and noted, no matter how benign the intentions.

So I’ll write to you here, on my blog.  You’ll never see it, most likely.  It’s for the best.

But you are one of my heroes, and every day that I pass you, I send out a little puff of love and respect.  Maybe you’ll run through the cloud I send, or maybe its particles will dissipate and float around, and a stray few will eventually settle on the top of your head and shoulders.  I hope so.  I hope when I drive by, you don’t know why, but suddenly your pace feels easy, and a renewed energy floods through you.

Namaste.

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