Since I started teaching last semester, I’ve learned many an important and frustrating lesson.
For example, students don’t text in class. It’s quite normal to stare at your genitals and smile. It helps them focus.
However, the most important lesson I’ve learned since I started teaching is that anything you say in class will turn into a creature from the black lagoon and destroy you where you stand.
In the spring when I was teaching in the Philosophy department, this fact wasn’t so evident to me. Perhaps it was because I was teaching upperclassmen or that I only saw my students one day a week, but when I interacted with them, I didn’t get the sense that they dealt in extremes.
It is true that some of them were EXTREMELY lazy, but for the most part they were a mild mannered, even tempered group with a sense of balance.
This is not the case with my class this semester.
Not only do they deal in extremes, they freakin’ major in them.
I’m going to blame this flaw on the fact that they’re freshmen and don’t know any better.
Using their freshmen status as a scapegoat also allows me to hope that they’ll grow out of it.
At the beginning of the semester, I noticed that my students were a tad wary of using the reading to support their arguments. They’re a smart bunch, but while they’re able to string two thoughts together in a somewhat coherent manner, their arguments fall a bit flat because they lack textual evidence. I reasoned that if they used the text, they would ultimately become stronger writers. My lovely and thoroughly developed mind worked out this equation and thought the logic behind it was sound:
Students + Thesis Statements+ Textual Evidence= Strong Papers
Unfortunately, my logic was severely flawed.
Also my equation failed to take into account the fact that my students major in EXTREMES.
Me: Try to use the text to support your argument.
Student: How do you feel about excessive quotes?
Me: You shouldn’t quote excessively, but you still need to use the text.
That piece of advice seems rather benign, does it not?
To your average human being it is.
But I deal with college freshmen.
Therefore when I said, “You shouldn’t quote excessively, but you still need to use the text” they heard, “You shouldn’t quote…the text.”
Imagine my surprise when I received 20 papers with nary a quotation in sight.
Me: I am so stupid.
So I thought I would amend what I had said in order to get my students to do what I actually wanted them to do.
Me: Make sure that you’re using the text. While the text is not the main focus of your paper, you still need to demonstrate that you understand it and are able to critically engage it.
They heard: Make sure…the text is…the main focus of your paper.
You can probably guess what happened next.
I received 20 papers with quotes, quotes, and more quotes.
Me: I am so stupid.
In two papers my students have gone from NOT quoting the text to ONLY quoting the text.
I’m not quite sure how to restore balance in the universe without inevitably screwing myself (and my students) over again.