Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Am I the only person in the world who has a 'mail to be opened one day' pile? Mine is starting to teeter, and also to inhabit my nightmares. It includes things like bank statements, credit card statements (those ones are a bit worrying), frequent flier statements or whatever you call them, and various envelopes from places of employment.

It hasn't been THAT long since I opened my mail, but it seems to be piling up rather fast this semester. Most of what I get from the universities is ignorable and when I open it I will just throw it out anyway. Usually it is something that doesn't really matter, like student evaluation summaries, or forms for me to make requests for the library for materials for my students (which they almost never use), or thinly veiled demands for me to have a chest X-ray to prove I do not have TB, or forms I'm supposed to fill in saying what I did to improve my teaching this year and how I plan to make myself a better teacher next year. (That last form comes from only one department at only one university, and so far I have failed to fill it in for five years running.) Oh, and notes telling me a student absolutely had to miss ten out of fourteen classes this semester because he or she had CLUB ACTIVITY. Everybody knows that CLUB ACTIVITY is far more important than classroom activity, and they are terribly puzzled when I fail them anyway.

One memorable time I got a note from a doctor via the university administration office saying that the student had a mental problem and couldn't stand being around people. Apparently I was expected to pass that particular student without actually ever meeting him or getting any work from him, because he was enrolled and had a doctor's note. I didn't, of course, but I was impressed by the idea. I thought of giving it a whirl myself sometime. "BadAunt has developed a mental problem and can't stand being around students, so she will not be attending classes this semester. Consider all students enrolled in her classes passed. Enclosed please find a note from her doctor."

(Can you tell it's the end of semester? I'm feeling so JADED.)

The official student evaluation summaries I usually glance at, eventually, but I never, ever take them seriously, aside from making sure the overall score is higher than average. ('Average' of what I'm never quite sure, and and nobody I have asked has ever been able to explain the numerous charts and graphs to me either, or at least not in a way I've been able to understand.) I used to worry about these, but these days I know that while the university will take note of what my students think of me, there is no point in me taking note and adjusting my teaching accordingly. I have known this since the time I had a class I completely forgot to give homework to. I had given all my other classes a lot of homework, but for some reason this one class got none, as I discovered to my horror when grading time rolled round. (I think I was having a bad semester and gave their homework to a different class.) In their evaluations of my class, however, three of the students complained that I gave too much homework. I would have dropped a few points from their final grades if I'd known who they were.

I do, however, take the evaluations the students write for me seriously. I have them write those in English, and I tell them their final grades before they start writing. They also seem to take those seriously, perhaps because I tell them that I will read them and really want to know how to improve the classes for the next lot of students. I make them write their names on those, which I think makes a difference. They have to be responsible for their words. Also, this enables me to weed out the ones I can safely ignore. If a student tells me he couldn't understand anything in my classes, and I can see that he was the one who didn't come to the first three classes then arrived forty minutes late every week thereafter, I know not to feel like a bad teacher. On the other hand, if a student who came every week on time and paid attention didn't understand, then I think about what I can do to change my teaching style.

I don't really know what this post is about. I have been testing students all day, which means listening to painfully stilted and mangled 'conversation' after 'conversation' in which they reverted, through sheer fright, to all the mistakes they were making in the first week. My brains are scrambled. By the end of the day, if I had heard, "What do you like music?" "What do you like food?" or "What do you like sports?" just ONE MORE TIME I would have strangled someone.

Actually, on my way home I had an idea for combatting this. This semester I gave them LOTS of practice in using that question form correctly, using interesting and varied activities, but apparently it didn't stick, or perhaps it just confused them. Next semester I am thinking of instituting the good old-fashioned practice of writing lines. Not as punishment, exactly, but as a sort of drill. I will make them write, "What music do you like? What sports do you like? What food do you like?" one hundred times each, while repeating the sentences aloud. There will be a prize for the person who finishes first, and anybody who stops repeating the words aloud will have to start again. I will walk around the classroom with a big stick, to encourage them.

Well, the stick is optional, I suppose (although I feel strangely reluctant to omit that part of the plan), but anyway, it is obvious that I need to try some kind of new approach to this problem with my 'basic English' classes, and something dramatically boring and repetitive and faintly scary might focus their minds.

The more I think about this the more I think it could work (although it is late and perhaps I am just getting delirious at the thought of all the testing I still have to do on Thursday and Friday). After all, I have never, ever forgotten how to spell sincerely. I had to write it a hundred times after getting it wrong in a spelling test when I was eight. Actually, I got it wrong in TWO spelling tests. I kept putting the es in the wrong places. The first time I got it wrong I had to write it ten times. The second time, it was a hundred. That was the method my teacher used, and it worked, particularly because I knew the third time it would be two hundred.

Sincerely, sincerely, sincerely.


Lia said...

For me, "sincerely" is "adjacent". But that was a spelling bee, not a punishment assignment.

Ms Mac said...

I do have a pile of mail to be opened. It drives Mr Mac insane, especially when he comes home off a business trip to find it.

ps. Your feed into Bloglines hasn't been working (not for me anyway). just as I was wondering where you'd gone, up popped 25 (!) posts!

Keera Ann Fox said...

What do you like teaching?
*ducking and running*

BTW, you're funny when you're jaded. I got a good chuckle out of this post. I also have my own pile of mail but, sadly, I can't ignore it for as long as you seem to ignore yours.

kenju said...

The Bloglines feed doesn't work for me either.

My daughter and her husband make their seven children write sentences when they misbehave. It is a powerful deterrent!

carrieb said...

I would have a pile of mail to open, except Mike is super responsible and takes care of the mail and the bills.

The doctor's note reminded me of a student I had in my freshman honors class. His parents took him to Brazil for a semester and all his teachers were supposed to supply him with homework and give him an A in the class. I would e-mail him work and such, but never got any response. I'm so glad that was my last year of teaching. I was gone before they got his grades so someone else got to figure out what to do with his F.

Lippy said...

You could have something there, with the writing lines thing. And if not a big stick, perhaps a snappy little riding crop? Makes a marvelous SMACK sound on a desktop... Just a thought ;-)

StyleyGeek said...

I have a pile of male to be opened. It's in my letter box. Ever since all my friends stopped sending real mail and started writing electronically, I have no incentive any more to check the letter box. Usually I force myself to do it once every three weeks or so.

When I learned languages in high school I used to write out vocabulary words 20 times every time I got them wrong in assignments. No one made me do it; I was just a dork. But it worked.

torrygirl said...

KJ has a pile of 'mail to be opened', which drives me totally crazy. Especially since he likes to shred them without opening them.
He once shredded his new ATM card by accident and couldn't buy anything for two weeks which I thought would teach him a lesson, but he still does it anyway.

Badaunt said...

Lia: With adjacent it's the hard-c/soft-c thing, isn't it? It sounds like it should have an s in there somewhere.

Ms Mac: It's never anything important though, is it? Tell him not to be a worrywart!

Keera: Run FAST.

Kenju: Yes, the writing lines thing even seems like a good idea in the morning, unlike most of my late night ideas. I may even end up using it.

Is Bloglines working for you now, or are you using the only feed I could not get to work? (There are four.)

Carrie: I am sometimes tempted to fail an entire class and then quit. So far I have resisted the urge. There is a rumour floating around, which revives every year around this time, that a few years back someone actually did that, but I don't know if it's true or not.

Lippy: I wonder where I can find a riding crop ... would a bendy ruler do, do you think?

Styleygeek: It DOES work, doesn't it? Actually, some of the students would probably enjoy doing it.

Not emptying the mailbox is a step up from my present level of mail-apathy I don't think I could manage. There IS the occasional interesting-looking envelope.

TorryGirl: I think I'd notice a card in one of the envelopes. But a shredder . . . hmm. I WANT one.