Intrinsic Satisfaction

I think I might just love this job.

Three incidents confirmed this today:

1. My class of first-year students are starting to feel comfortable enough to ask the questions they think are "stupid," which of course are not, both because everyone else wants to know them and because in my book all questions are great. I feel like they are reaching a level of comfort with each other and trust of me that makes it possible for them to admit that they're confused or that they don't know something. This is, of course, great. Because when they say they are confused, I ask them to tell me what they think is going on. And they're almost always right. So, I get to do the wonderful job of saying, "hey... you're right! You're on the right track, and are doing great work. Keep it up!" This is always fun.

2. In my other section, after my lecture on the transition in colonial America from indentured servitude to racial slavery, a student said to me: "Wow. I never knew that there was anything before Slavery. That is really amazing. Why did I never learn this before? I'm so glad to know this now." This is the kind of thing that teachers live for -- hearing that someone had learned something new -- and that the new information was both exciting and changed/challenged what she thought about the past. I was so pleased and proud and glad that she had told me. It totally made my day.

3. A student from my first-year class came to my office to talk about techniques for speaking in class because he is really uncomfortable speaking in public. I had told them at the beginning of the semester (on the first day, in fact) that if they were worried about this, they should come and see me to talk about it. I'm really glad he took me up on the offer. I suggested that he write things down and look for an opportunity to share them so that instead of having to come up with things on the fly, he felt confident and secure in what he was bringing to the table. I also told him that questions are a great way of participating -- and that he could write those down ahead of time as well. He asked me how to get over this fear of public speaking, because he knows he's going to have to talk in class for the rest of college. I suggested that practice was the easiest way -- that he should start slowly and see what he can become comfortable with. He seemed game, and said he'd check back in in a few weeks if things just weren't happening. I told him I'd do a little digging on how to help students get over their fear of public speaking and pass the info along. Any suggestions out there?

Anyway, these encounters almost make up for the tedium of grading, which stupidly, I created the maximum possible amount for myself. I assigned a short writing assignment every week -- which I absolutely believe in as the best way to measure what students are picking up on and therefore of measuring what I need to do more work on to help them figure out. I also believe absolutely that it is the best way to help them become better analytic thinkers and writers. But, man, in my first year this is a heavy load and a bit overwhelming. Yesterday I found myself ironing placemats rather than grade. I have been known to stand with a hairdryer blowing on my skirt for 20 minutes rather than busting out the iron. So that gives you an indication of how desperate I was. And it was only the first assignment.

But then, today I got reminded again and again why the grading and the exhaustion is completely worthwhile.


At 8:09 PM HistGrad said...

Um, yeah, I hate to say it, but what were you thinking?? :) Of course you only wanted the very best for your students, but remember to balance YOUR needs in there, too. A sane, rested, and happy teacher is a good teacher.

So glad you're loving your job!

At 9:37 PM fatherfigure said...

I know exactly how you feel. That's why I love my teaching job, too. Beats the hell out of iron working!

I have discovered, that giving everyone a one-page 5 minute oral report done in a casual atmosphere seems to help them get more comfortable with public speaking. Maybe you could have them read their writing assignments in class, a few at a time. They seem to be comfortable if they can read rather than lecture or ad-lib. It has worked for me.

You are doing great!

At 10:15 PM timna said...

sounds like the students are able to question and learn -- that's a great environment. I also do frequent short assignments and wonder why as I plow through the grading. But I tend to assign a lot in the first half of the semester and far fewer later.

At 4:34 AM Scrivener said...

Sounds like you don't only like the job but you're really good at it too!

On the grading load--you're a crazy person. I mean, assigning the writing is fine and good, but you can't grade each of those short writing pieces with any kind of detail. I think you need to find a way to skim through them and give minimal feedback on the short writing assignments. The practice writing even without your feedback should help them lots anyway, and you'll be able to keep your sanity. It sounds like you just have too many students to grade all those short assignments.

At 8:27 AM joanna said...

I'm with Timna and Scrivener on this--find a way to skim ideas and have a system for getting through them rather quickly. I applaud your asking them to write and don't want you to give it up, but as someone who has been spending the week responding to student emails and giving myself a three-sentence maximum, I can only say that pacing yourself is important. Sometimes picking one out to read to the class,or speakingto students about what you have read can commincate that you are reading and thinking about what they are writing.
At any rate,it's good to see that you've bounced back from the first day!

At 9:10 AM HistGrad said...

Another thought... although it might be too late for this, since it sounds like having an Actual Grade on each of these writing assignments is part of your syllabus. But in the future you could always require them as some vague part of "participation" and give them check+/check/check-, and/or use peer review and critique to take some of the work off your shoulders.

And I like the skimming idea... I give my students surprise reading quizzes throughout the semester (short answer, not multiple choice) so the students have to write something (anything!) about what they've (supposedly) read for that day. I've gotten really good at skimming for the Golden Words that demonstrate they read something for that day.

Hang in there!

At 8:03 PM jo(e) said...

All sixty of my students hand in two short writing pieces every week. I have a date stamp. I read the short pieces quickly, date stamp them, and hand them back to the students to put in their portfolios. Somehow the date stamp gives the students the feeling that the short pieces "counted." I only grade the longer, formal papers. But reading the short papers quickly gives me an idea of whether or not they are getting the material.

So glad to hear that you are loving your job! It's a great feeling, isn't it?

At 8:26 AM Stewgad said...

Thanks for all the comments. It is always great to hear how other folks handle things. And, yes, I am crazy. But, it was how I was taught Intro to Am. History and I think it is a really valuable method. Anyway, I managed to get through the papers this week -- just barely! Usually, I will do just a quick reading, but since this was the first assignment I wanted to give them some meaty feedback. I do not assign letter grades to these papers, just the check/check plus/minus system, so that also saves some time and relieves some pressure. Hopefully this upcoming week I can get the skimming thing down to a science!


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