Sunday, 30 August 2015

That's August done with.

Last month I mentioned that several members of a group that I taught had screwed up on their writing tests and were in danger of being kicked out of the university. I had entertained the hope that this might indeed be the outcome. When adult students who have been with us for four months are still pushing their written work under my nose and saying ‘is OK?’, I begin to lose patience. ‘Well, is it OK?’ I ask. ‘Does your introduction give some background to the topic? Does it tell us why the topic matters? Is there a thesis statement? You tell me if it’s OK!’

The failures were allowed to take a second test, and only one nose-dived again. I felt sorry for her, because she was hard-working and earnest, not like some of the blokes, who still blame me for their earlier failure. Their present teacher tells me that they are chastened, more hard-working and less complacent than before. Well, except for Hani. He says that if he does not get the required IELTS grade on this course, he will go back to Saudi Arabia and pay someone to do the test for him. It’ll rush him 2,000 quid to cheat the system.

‘You’ll pay 2,000 pounds?’ his teacher asked incredulously.

‘Is cheap!’ he replied, completely misconstruing the reason for her indignation.  

Even if these students are indeed chastened, it seems they still blame me and not themselves. They used to greet me enthusiastically in the corridor, and now they stare through me as if I were made of glass. Once upon a time, having a bunch of students blame me for their failure would have had me worried sick. These lazy, entitled bullshitters don’t faze me, though, as I can point to all the materials I made, a record of exactly what we did in class, and the fact that the majority of the students I teach did not fuck up on the same test. Still, teaching can be a cause of some paranoia. It can for me at any rate.

Ten years ago at Essex University a young man from Thailand told me that he liked my lessons. Flattered, I asked why. ‘Because you’re not serious,’ he said. I wondered then how flattered I was entitled to feel: did he mean I was a push-over? Not as rigorous as his other teachers? This was my first university job and I wasn’t as sure of myself as I would have liked to be. A week or two before this, passing me on the stairs, the course director had asked me how it was going.

‘Fine!’ (What else am I supposed to say?)

‘You’re the calmest first-timer we’ve ever had!’ she said. So of course then I fell to thinking I might be screwing up without realising it. More recently I withdrew from an MA module I was teaching because a period of depression had convinced me I was useless at everything and that the very plants of my sitting room were fed up of me. Someone else took over. I met one of the students as he was on his way to a lecture with the new broom, and asked how it was going.

‘OK…’ he said, rather grudgingly. ‘But I’d rather have you a thousand times.’

New bloke must be cracking the whip and working them harder, I thought. He’s a lot pointier headed and academicalish than the likes of I. Imagining that students were happier when not being pushed said a lot more about me than it did about them. (They like me because I'm not good enough?) Oh, for Christ’s sake, learn to take a complement, people tell you when you’re in your teens. Well, I try, but my usual reaction is 'must think I'm somebody else.'

In my present group a woman from Greece flabbergasted me the other day by telling me I was a strict teacher and everybody in the class was scared of me. This is so far removed from my perception of myself that I was temporarily speechless. We are using a new book and so every lesson, however carefully planned, is to me as a dress rehearsal, and I’m constantly noting how I’d do stuff differently in future, or that I’ve accidentally skipped a stage or deliberately omitted something that I only now realise was integral to the unit. How I could come across to anybody as intimidatingly knowledgeable and academically rigorous is beyond me, but it appears that at least to one student, I do. I’m not sure I buy the bit about everybody being scared of me. This is probably Argyro’s own projection.

So, when students are happy, I tend to assume it’s because I’m not sufficiently exacting, and when they tell me that I am indeed punctilious and demanding, I worry that I’m scaring the shit out of them. This sort of barmy logic is not what I'd  expected to be stuck in now, all grown up as I am at fifty-six and a half. I suppose you never really get it together, you just get better at spotting how bloody stupid your thought processes can get if you don't watch them.   


CJB said...

You are going ti ave to rust me on this - you're doing fine. I know it doesn't feel like it and I know every day, every lesson, every minute of every lesson of every day is questioned and reflected on. It's exhausting. BUT - just because you teach does not mean they learn. That's their job and if they don't do it, that's not your fault. I'm older than you, it doesn't get better or less intense or more manageable, but that's why I know you're doing fine.

Vilges Suola said...

Thanks! On my more lucid days I know this, but those are relatively few.

Torn Halves said...

And where is the thesis statement here?

The last sentence presumably.

The end as the beginning.

Vilges Suola said...

If I'd intended submitting it to a journal, there would have been one. As it is, it's just a whinge on blog for a small number of regular readers. I don't think anyone is planning to print it out and frame it.


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