Ida B. Wells
“The people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press.”
Tired, Tired, Tired…It’s the end of the semester and I am just wiped out. The tank was inching towards empty a long time ago but now, it’s just fumes. Part of my fatigue, I believe, comes from the amount of work and time it took to try and make my rhetoric class a richer multimedia experience. I was doing that at the same time that I was reading an extensive amount of my students’ writing. I assign writing for each reading, which means I assign writing for every class. I don’t give quizzes and exams because I am collecting the equivalent of 4-5 pages, at minimum, a week per student (a combination of blogs, vlogs, and print). I do not grade these weekly writings as finished, polished essays; it’s just for ideas and articulation (there are final writing projects where I do that more traditional thing). In weekly writing, I am not looking at format, organization, coherence, or even logic… just ideas. With 30 students, that’s at least 150 pages of student writing per week for one class. And, yes, I still read and comment to each page, and not with that bland, white liberalist discourse that constitutes most of what gets called response theory in the still-white-dominant composition studies.
“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”
I don’t believe students will actually do the writing unless I comment to it and I don’t think peer critique is enough. Peer dialogue is a vital part of my class but for the most part, the content here is all new for students so the person who DESIGNED that content has to be present in a student’s progression of ideas and feelings (I can always rest assured that students have not learned much about or read much of anything by black women at my college). If you don’t have time to read what your students write, I say stop assigning so much of it or, in the least, we have to stop being disappointed when students don’t give us what we are looking for because we haven’t built in enough of a feedback system to articulate our curriculum. I get that students need to write a lot and do it on their own, but, really, that jus ain’t gonna happen. I had graduate teachers who followed this liberalist philosophy and assigned us writing that they didn’t collect. Guess how much of that writing I did? NONE OF IT. Had NO time for that. That kind of thing only works for avid journalers; I am not one of them. The only substantive writing that I do now (I am not talking about texting, etc… I said SUBSTANTIVE) is for public: this blog or print publications.
“Learn the craft of knowing how to open your heart and to turn on your creativity. There’s a light inside of you.”
For those students who are like me when it comes to journaling, I KNOW that if I don’t collect their writing, they will not do it; and if I don’t respond to their writing, they will not do it earnestly and they certainly will not fully learn the content. Most importantly, it is really in the responding to students’ individual writing that an individual and consistent relationship with each of my students forms. Those kinds of individual relationships don’t happen deep enough in class lectures and office hours alone. This is all pretty simple. After all, I’m a compositionist and writing teacher and this is how most of us teach; however, even those that write and present about pedagogy seem clueless—most folk in the field who I see and hear are some of the worst and most boring teachers around.
“Freedom in the right to grow, it’s the right to blossom, Freedom is the right to be yourself.”
Here’s the caveat with all this responding to student writing: by the time the semester ends, you will be wiiiiiiped out. This particular rhetoric class that I have right now really just OD’ed on this writing stuff. In the last reflective assignment, what I called Neo-Soul Ruminations, I asked students to stop and pause and piece together the second half of the semester’s learning. Knowing THESE students, I gave them a five page MAXIMUM! Yes, no more than five pages! I just can’t read more than that right now. But don’t you know some of them hustled that? Figured, well, she didn’t say double-spaced or size 12 font so they went and gave me tiny-print, single-spaced writing that, yes, met the five page maximum. Again, that’s one day of class. Imagine that for 30 students, for one class. They killllllllin me! K.I.L.L.I.N. me! Sometimes I wonder about these college teachers who say things like: my students will just agree with what I say or say what they think I want to hear; my students won’t write much or won’t veer from traditional formats, 5-paragraph essays, or standardized Englishes. Could somebody send some of them squares my way, please? Cuz I don’t see nuthin like that in front of me this semester and I could really use a break!
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
The other issue that I am reluctantly admitting is that I live in a severely delusional state by nature of spending so much of my time around 18-22 years old. It makes me forget that I am old and can’t do the things they do. All that staying up late at night to write and read and work on problem sets? Puhlease! Ain’t no way I can do that anymore. The other week I was in our main student building where my classroom is housed and at 9am, I saw two, little, itty-bitty skinny ol’ things, all of 19 years old, eating an extra-large pizza all to themselves with supersized Mountain Dews, talkin about schoolwork. At 9am! I didn’t even know you could buy pizza at 9am in the morning. By the time I passed them on my way after class, that whole box of pizza was gone and they were talking about potato chips, M&Ms, and French Fries. I think I gained five pounds, increased my blood pressure, and raised my bad cholesterol levels just listening to their conversation. You can easily get caught up in a delusional reality in these settings because this is just NOT what you can do when you are my age. Just because your 20 year old students have energy at the end of a semester, do NOT assume you can hang with that! Last night I was part of a panel for the sociology honor society. The students were of course, amazing, and I suddenly realized I was the “deadbeat” that I had always called my aunts, uncles, and parents. Here we’d be at the family reunion dining hall (it’s a large family so we need a hall when we come together) and all they ever did was sit around and talk, just sittin there, and talkin. That’s it. Buncha deadbeats. Well, last night, after the event, the students were running around, cleaning up, making plans. Nope, not me. By the time 8:30pm came around (my commute to work starts at 8am), guess what I was doin? Sittin… and talkin… and THAT’S IT. Now it’s official: I am a deadbeat.
All photos here are by Eunique Jones and part of her project at: http://becauseofthemwecan.com.
On a more serious note, no one cares about my fatigue, nothing in my life is about to slow down, none of this stuff ever really lets up— not the bills, not the work that still has to be done, and not the dealings with the “unsafe”/self-proclaimed-radical white racists at the job. The best thing about being a teacher though is the energy of undergraduate students. On Wednesday, Christina sent me the link to Eunique Jones’s photography project that E.M. Monroe introduced to me during Black History Month. Christina’s email to me featured a collage of these children’s photos who represented all of the women we have talked about in my course (the photos on this post are some of the photos in the email Christina sent me). Christina’s email gave me a new realization about Eunique Jones’s project: only a black woman could capture the beauty and deep aesthetic diversity of black children, guide black children in positioning themselves—both literally (i.e., the photo shoot) and figuratively (i.e. the racial memory)— as inheritors/heir of black traditions, and give that back to black people with texts that reach the masses. Yup, I said it: ONLY A BLACK WOMAN. Now essentialize THAT! The next morning, Christina brought a spoken word poet, Parlay, to class who attends a neighboring university to introduce the day. Afterwards, by the time the late afternoon rolled around, Karina came to my office with the best damn, homemade empanadas I have ever had. To riff off of Eunique Johnson’s campaign: because of my students, I can… tired and all… with an avalanche of students’ writing to respond to.