Archive for December, 2012

Lying on the couch

I finished the papers, taught my last three classes, graciously received some student gifts (mostly candy that I’ll regift to people at whose homes we’re attending holiday events), made a short appearance at an alumni reception to greet former students, and boom, it’s winter break.  The Snork Maiden and I have ten days at home, four days with Stubb (two of which are travel days, though).  I’ve already read one novel (Looking for Alaska, a YA novel by John Green that has been recommended by many of my students) and one nonfiction book (The Gift of Therapy by Irvin Yalom, who has written so many interesting books on psychotherapy).  I’ve run few errands, worked out once, and had two festive lunches: one at Le Pain Quotidien with Dr. Tea and a mutual former student, one with an NLNRU colleague at a little French restaurant where I had a perfect omelette.

So I’m having a pretty good time so far.  I have some projects to work on–things for spring semester, submissions, and one application due by the end of the month–but also coming up in the next couple of days are a sleepover with the Snork Maiden’s cousins, haircuts for the Snork Maiden and me, and a couple of low-key parties with friends.  As I said, having a pretty good time.  (I even had yesterday afternoon all to myself when the SM was at a friend’s.  Need to try to get a bit more of solo time during the break if I can.)


Throwing in the towel

I think I’ll still finish ’em tomorrow (ten early in the morning before school, ten during my free block, a couple at lunch should do it), but I just can’t do any more tonight.  I got another good one–and these aren’t necessarily from the best writers in the class, but from the people who had the most interest in what they were trying to say (BIG SURPRISE).  But overall this is a very dispiriting exercise.  I wrote up notes for what I’ll say as I give them back that will be appropriately stern and supportive at the same time, and have also made some related decisions on what we’ll do in the week between returning and doing the final.

One of the things I will say, as kindly as I can, is that very few of these papers made me want to read past the opening paragraph.  Very few of them made me feel that the writer wanted to write past the opening paragraph.  And I doubt that many of them did…

Continuing to grade

Okay, I hit a good one, and the next one looks pretty decent, too.  I’m wondering if part of the problem is that some of them thought they could just throw their ideas at the paper and make them stick.  The last one was actually kind of interesting, and had a good sense of audience, too.  Fourteen to go.

Live blogging the grading marathon

So I didn’t finish the junior class papers, but I did give the seniors (whom I won’t see tomorrow) their papers back.  Now I have 32 papers remaining for the juniors, at least 18 of which I need to finish before I go to bed–between a free block and lunch tomorrow, I should be able to get 14 of them done during the day.

The sad part is that they really aren’t good.  This wasn’t a successful assignment–or at least it wasn’t an immediately successful assignment; what it does do fairly successfully is showcase for me how underdeveloped their argumentation skills really are.  They can make a claim and “support” it with “reasons,” but their sense of what constitutes evidence in a persuasive essay not based on a literary work is really pretty hollow.  Their sense of audience also sucks–they sound like lonely figures on big empty stages, showily declaiming to no one.

I think part of the problem is that I wrote a prompt that wasn’t fundamentally awful, but for which they just weren’t ready.


The elephant vanishes

Prepped and taught three classes, met with colleagues, long talk with a student, but I haven’t graded any papers yet today.  Yet my total to grade by Wednesday has gone down by three, to 55, because three of my students will be missing from their final classes.  All of them are leaving early for vacation, and at least one of them professed herself very annoyed that her parents hadn’t bothered to tell her she was leaving early.  As a parent, I’d say that there’s at least a possibility that her parents did tell her but she didn’t listen or remember, but I can kinda believe that they really didn’t.

My seniors meet for the last time tomorrow, and one of my junior classes also meets, but will meet again on Wednesday along with my other two junior classes.  So what I’m thinking is that I should grade five of my senior papers and five of my junior papers tonight, on the theory that I can grade the remaining eight junior papers in the morning before class, and the remaining eleven senior papers between 9:45 and 1:45.  The only flaw in this plan is that I will still have twenty-five papers to grade between 3 pm tomorrow and 9:45 on Wednesday, but I can do that, right?

All that remains

The break begins at the end of school on Wednesday.  Well, actually, I’m going to take the Snork Maiden home and then come back for the alumni reception–looking forward to seeing some of the Class of 2012.

Before then, I have 58 papers to grade and 8 classes to prep and teach (some requiring very little prep, some requiring quite a bit more).  A couple of meetings, too.

With the holiday performing arts programs over, holiday festivities this week include a breakfast given by the student support staff for the faculty, the monthly faculty and staff appreciation breakfast given by the parents, a “garish holiday attire” day, and probably at least a few students giving gifts to their teachers.  My sense is that this is much more common among the freshmen and that now that I’m not teaching freshmen, there won’t be many.  Which is fine, of course.  I do hope that I will hear from the kids for whom I wrote college letters–at least four of them were applying early, I know.  (They don’t have to bring presents, but occasionally they do.)

When SA is done, I need to read and comment on my NLNRU students’ final projects, which are due today.

Then I’ll enjoy the break, hanging out with the Snork Maiden, getting some much-needed time alone, and seeing family and friends, while also giving some attention to various other projects–some end-of-year deadlines, the draft I finished in Dame Eleanor’s writing group, plans for my NLNRU spring class, and some work on SA finals, which happen in January.  A few days’ visit to Stubb will finish the break nicely.

But before that, 58 papers.


What happened in Connecticut on Friday was horrific.

So to reflect that it could have been worse is not to seek comfort, because what happened already feels like the worst we can imagine.  There’s nothing consoling, at this stage, about thinking that twice as many people could have been killed, given the weapons involved and the apparent determination of the boy who wielded them.

And yet.

I remember the year when the Snork Maiden was in kindergarten.  I was teaching at a SLAC in Pennsylvania.  There are only three elementary schools in the town, but the school district serves children in a very large rural area.  Where I live now, it’s so population-dense that if a child spends an hour on a school bus, it’s because traffic is terrible; there, it might be because the child lives 20 miles away from his or her elementary school.  What I’m saying is that it is a pretty lightly populated place, for three elementary schools to serve such a large area.

And the school the Snork Maiden attended is like elementary schools mostly were when we were young–you walk up to the building, you walk through the front door.  You’re supposed to stop in the office, but there are no security guards.  Most of the staff recognize most of the parents.

I remember the Snork Maiden coming home and describing the special safety drill they’d had that day: The teacher turned off all the lights and pulled down the shades. Their job was to disappear!  They hid in the room so that Mrs. — (the principal) couldn’t see anyone if she looked in the glass panel of the door.  The kindergarten class was very quiet and still, and they successfully fooled Mrs. —.

As she described it, I realized that what they were doing was preparing, not in case of fire, hurricane, or earthquake, but in case a dangerous person came to threaten the safety of the school.  As a parent, I found it sobering.  Of all the things I’ve found to worry about, and they are legion, I’m not sure I had lit upon that particular one before.  Not that I’d never heard of a school shooting, but that I hadn’t realized the possibility was as real as that of a fire or some other natural disaster.

Now, of course, I am familiar with the phrase lockdown drill.  We had one at SA on Tuesday, actually.  Unless you get the message that your area is in immediate danger, you’re supposed to open your classroom door and sweep any nearby students inside.  Lock the door–this is done with an electronic key card.  Lights off, blinds down, and students out of sight of the small window in the door.

Any kind of drill always reminds you that you can’t rehearse an emergency.  In a real emergency situation, nothing goes as smoothly as in a drill.  Someone has gone to the bathroom–did they get swept into a different classroom?  Are they hiding in the bathroom?  Should we go look for them?  (No.)  You can’t rehearse an emergency, but you can practice the things that, if possible, you should do.  You can think about what you would do if.  Right now I’m thinking what if someone got hold of a key card and was entering rooms?  Ten people on one side of the door should be able to hold it closed against one intruder–but that would put some students in view of the window in the door.  Could someone shoot through that window?  Through the door?

SA drills, even lockdown ones, end with all the classes assembling, by homeroom, in our emergency assembly area (the sports field).  There’s always an interlude during which you’re waiting, with your homeroom, while any missing people are identified and located.  I often look at my homeroom of sophomores, as they become progressively more squirmy and silly, and think: In an emergency, would I risk my own life to save one of them?  Or more than one of them?

What if I thought the Snork Maiden was in danger elsewhere on campus?  Could I stay with the students from my class, trusting that other people would watch over the Snork Maiden to the best of their ability?

My students are older, but they’re still children, and they still deserve the protection of adults.  It’s at times like these that we reflect that our jobs are not just the books we teach and the papers we grade day by day, but the relationship we have entered into with our students.

We may never know with certainty every detail of what happened on Friday, but it sure sounds like the teachers and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School, faced with the unthinkable, acted as each of us would hope to act if someone tried to hurt our students.  As I read the still-unfolding reports, and shake my head in sorrow, that’s what I’m holding on to.