--The big gen-ed literature class: I think you’re (mostly) doing the reading; I really do. At least many of you have worthwhile things to say in class that don’t seem to derive from SparkNotes et al. But I can’t seem to write a multiple-choice test that >50% of you can pass. Maybe my freelance test-writing experience for Evil Testing Syndicate is serving me too well (apparently I’m pretty good at writing truly distracting distracters)? Or maybe multiple-choice really isn’t the best way to measure learning in a lit. class? But that’s the main option the powers that be offered us for keeping the work load under control when they nearly doubled the size of the classes that represent our one chance to teach lit at all (plus, of course, the usual 3 composition classes to round off the 4/4 load). And I must admit that, though writing the tests takes some time and thought, I really like the ease of zipping those scantron sheets through the machines. I just don’t like the results, any more than you do (and I do think that you should be able to answer those questions after doing the reading, or even just participating in class discussion, but, somehow, a significant number of you, despite your much-discussed lifelong familiarity with standardized tests, can’t).
--Smelly Sam: I’m on the record as strongly preferring B.O. to Axe (and its more exotic kin), and I’m sticking by that stance. But the particular funk you brought into my office last week had an extra note that I found hard to ignore: long-marinated woodsmoke, maybe (you’re in a discipline that does a lot of field study)? Or chewing tobacco? Or especially raw-smelling smoking tobacco? (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t pot; not sweet enough). Whatever it was, it was a bit distracting, which is too bad, since your draft was promising, and you had some good questions. I hope I answered them coherently; I’m afraid I was sort of distracted.
And the (somewhat) bright note:
--Distressed Doreen, Dan, and David: things seem to be going quite badly for you right now; family health and/or financial issues are feeding personal health and/or financial issues, and vice versa, and, as you have either identified for yourself or conceded when I pointed it out, you really have no chance of finishing the work of the class before the end of the semester. But you’re handling it much better than most students, in my experience, do. For one thing, you got in touch with me rather than just disappearing (and then reappearing to complain when the F appeared on your transcript). And you’re apparently willing to take responsibility: for talking to the appropriate people, for making a decision, etc. I’m worried about both of you, of course, but I also suspect that you’ll do okay in the long run, whether or not you flunk my course this semester. Is there any hope that nearly a decade and a half of financial meltdown and war has helped to shape a more responsible, resilient generation of young people? If so, it’s a hell of a price to pay, but I welcome the results.