The Pitfalls of Pedagogy
The old adage is, “Those who can, do, those who can’t, teach.” That saying couldn’t be more wrong. Teaching is not easy, so don’t let anyone tell you different. Sometimes it can be overwhelming. Other days it just feels like you are Sisyphus doomed to roll the heavy boulder of responsibility up the hill, only to have it come rolling back down at you. Lecturing is the easy part; it is all the planning, preparation and then the politics that is difficult to master. Pedagogy is full of pitfalls. Some of the pits included are racism, sexism and let’s not forget plagiarism. Defiant students and discipline problems can also cause problems. Communication can be obscured and purpose lost.
In my six years, I have managed to fall into many pits, but I have learned a lot along the way. I just wish I’d known then what I know now. I never felt prepared for anything and that was by far one of my largest hurdles. High School didn’t prepare me for college, college didn’t prepare me for graduate school and graduate school didn’t prepare me for teaching. Not being prepared became a huge hurdle for me. In essence, I was starting in the negative from day one.
My first teaching experience came the fall after I graduated with my Master’s Degree in English. I was lucky to land a position so quickly, even if was only an adjunct position at a local community college. I was hired to teach Developmental English. I was given a syllabus and textbook a couple of months before class started. I even got a chance to sit in on a summer class and be an assistant to ease me into the position of instructor a bit. All of this helped, but none of it equipped me for the challenges I later faced.
I taught a class at 8:30 am and one at 9:30am. The early class was well behaved over all and provided no real drama to discuss. My second class, however, was another story. The back row of my class loved to talk. I had a difficult time corralling their conversations. I stopped in the middle of my lectures numerous times in order to ask them to stop talking, but it didn’t seem to hinder them from talking over me at other times. I threatened to change the seating arrangement, but didn’t follow through. The lack of follow through on discipline ended up disrupting the learning process for everyone, which was unfortunate. At that stage in the game, I still wanted to be liked as well as respected. I was quick to learn that respect was much more important.
Kay never liked me or respected me either one. Kay was constantly mouthing off and being rude. One day her cell phone rang and I asked her to leave the cell phone off or in vibrate mode. She didn’t listen to me and left it on. It rang again just five minutes later. Frustrated, I kicked her out of class. She simply refused to leave. I didn’t have a clue how to handle her defiance. By letting her stay, I knew it undermined my authority. At the time, it didn’t occur to me to call security to muscle her out, but that is what I should have done. All of this conflict came to head with one of her essays. In her essay, she bragged about being in honors English classes. Angry at her attitude, I commented on her paper that didn’t make any sense for her to have been in honors if she was required to be in my developmental class. She took offence to my comment. When she received her paper back, she called me on it.
“Are you calling me stupid?” she asked.
“No,” I said firmly, “I am sorry if you took it that way. That is not what I meant.”
She kept ranting about her paper and I tried to quiet her by saying, “I would be happy to discuss your paper in more detail after class.”
Eventually she dropped the subject and I thought all was well. Boy was I wrong! She took her complaint to my boss, who subsequently called me into the office the next day to discuss the confrontation. I was reprimanded for my comment. I apologized for not being as politically correct as I should have been, but in my defense, I was having a great deal of trouble with Kay. My boss had no idea that Kay had caused so much commotion and was at once more sympathetic to my plight. She asked me to watch what I wrote and suggested I called security next time things got out of hand. I thanked her for her advice and slipped out of the office.
Indeed, Kay did test me once again. The first time I kicked out her friend that she was engaged in conversation with instead of her. The second time I kicked her out. She refused to leave again and I threatened to call security. I was amazed at how quickly and efficiently my warning worked. She gathered her things and left without another word. In fact, she skipped the next few classes after that as well. Her marginal work and excessive absences led her to fail the class.
On a more humorous note, I also had to deal with a young man who had a memory problem. I announced to the class one day that I was extending the deadline of their paper just one more day.
Shawn was perplexed, “We have a paper due?”
I replied, “Yeah, Shawn, you turned yours in yesterday!
“Oh,” he said unphased by his lapse in memory.
Then I muttered aloud, “I could say something, but I won’t.”
“No, Mrs. Vaughn, say whatever you want.”
“If you didn’t smoke so much pot, you might remember these things,” I said with a smile.
Shawn was not offended. He just stared at me wide-eyed in disbelief for a moment and then finally managed to ask, “How did you know?”
He wanted to know if it was his clothes or the way he talked or what had given him away. I shrugged it off, telling him I knew people who did it and I knew it caused memory lapses such as his.
For all of the challenges I faced, I found myself wanting to return to teaching. I found it ironic that my weakness in grammar and that that was the first thing I was assigned to teach. I thought it would be embarrassingly difficult, but I ended up learning a great deal from the experience. My grammar skills improved dramatically from going back over the rules. My confidence was boosted and that aided in my development as a student and writer in the end.
My second semester of teaching went off without the same drama as the first. There wasn’t such a high demand for developmental English for spring, so I was reassigned to teach a class in technical writing. I got a chance to brush up on resume writing, among other things. My students were a bit older and more mature over all. My biggest problem was lack of familiarity with the topic and being indecisive about requirements. I taught the classroom version of an online class. I also taught at night and on Saturday morning. This meant I didn’t have access to my boss or other professors. I couldn’t go to them with questions as easily as I could if I had taught during the day throughout the week. My boss, Mel, had mentioned being my mentor, but she didn’t seem to mean what she said. I emailed her and she didn’t reply. I ended up emailed her a second time and leaving voice mail before she ever got back to me. This left my students hanging for too long and they complained about not having this bit of information sooner. They suggested in their reviews that I either gain more confidence or have better communication with my superiors.
One worst things about being an adjunct instructor, I began to discover, is that feeling of homelessness. No college has ever provided me with my own office. Office space is scarce and I was lucky to be given a community space to work in at all. I had access to the copier machine and perhaps a computer at any given time. Office supplies were often under lock and key. You either had to provide your own chalk or dry erase markers or beg the administration assistant to part with what she felt didn’t belong to you. Sometimes I had an email account through the school and other times I did not. I once had a voice mailbox, but I never learned how to work that properly. It was pointless for me to have since I rarely used it. I gave out my home phone instead, much the chagrin of other professors. I think that they were reluctant to let their personal lives become entangled in their professional ones. There is always the possibility of that one pesky student who calls constantly to bother you with their obsessive worries. Admirers and stalkers may also be a danger, but I didn’t feel it likely to be a problem for me.
My second semester drew to a close and I inquired about renewing my contract for next fall. My boss, Mel, simply said I should look elsewhere. She did not disclose a reason. I took it on faith that it was due to a lack of need, not due to me being due in the middle of fall semester. I had gotten pregnant that spring and didn’t see any harm in announcing it to everyone. Later that summer I saw a want ad in the paper, which left me frustrated and wounded. The community college I had previously worked for was advertising for an open position in the English Department. It was the same position that I was turned down for earlier. It was a position I was qualified for, but unable to fill because I was pregnant. I emailed her a tactful email asking politely why she had not hired me when there was an open position. Reluctantly she admitted it was because I was pregnant.
Mel explained that she had hired a pregnant professor before. That instructor had gone on maternity leave never to return. When the new Mom abandoned her class, this left Mel to either fill her position mid-semester or teach the class herself. It left her in a very difficult position and she did not wish to repeat that experience again.
I replied and tried to explain that if I didn’t teach, I didn’t eat. My husband had lost his job and my income was our only income. I didn’t have a choice. Baring any unforeseen medical complications, I promised I would be back at work as soon as possible.
Mel stuck to her position and I was left to look for another job. Friends and family were shocked that I was discriminated against. Many suggested that I take legal action. I shook my head and said that it wasn’t worth it. Legal action meant a great deal of time and effort that I didn’t want to waste. I just wanted to have my baby and teach without all of the drama. I continued looking in the want ads and a couple of weeks later, I found another opening for an instructor at another local community college. This one was forty-minutes away from home as opposed to twenty minutes.
I called the number in the ad and spoke to Vanessa. She was ready to hire over the phone. I stopped her and asked if it was okay that I was pregnant and going to need to take maternity leave in the middle of the semester. She said she thought it would be okay, but she needed to run it by her boss first. I told her that I had two fellow graduate students in mind for substitutes for me while I was gone. One of them should be able to fill in I assured her. She called me back the next day and said that as long as I had a sub lined up, her boss didn’t think it would be a problem.
The new college was smaller than the old one and consisted of students who came from rural areas. I found that my classes were better behaved overall. There wasn’t much drama that fall semester other than my maternity leave. I taught Freshman Composition and American Literature. I found that my Freshman Composition students had a tendency to over-quote and over-cite in their papers. When I told them to cut down on the quoting and citing, they complained that their high school teacher taught them their style and had pounded anti-plagiarism into their heads. I explained that I didn’t wish for them to plagiarize as much as I wanted them to create a strong argument in their own words. Giving credit where credit was due was still important, but I didn’t want them to rely too heavily on outside sources. My American Literature class consisted of five women and was more of round table discussion, which made for a very laid back and relaxed atmosphere. This was one of the few semesters that went smoothly for me. I wish I could have stayed with the college, but my husband and I made the decision after the baby was born to move back to our home state in order to be closer to our family.
I didn’t work that winter quarter due to the move, but I was found a job teaching Research Writing for spring. This experience was neither good nor bad. It was simply different. The thing that sticks out the most is the fact that one of my students actually challenged the grade I gave him. He failed to show up for the final or turn in his final paper. Had he had a straight A average at this point, he might have still passed. Instead, he had a C average. The two zeroes he received dropped his average down to an F. Since I lived forty-five minutes away, I turned in my final grades early and thought I was finished with that quarter all together. Then I received a call from the administrative assistant asking if I would accept a late paper from student who had failed to show up for his final. I said no. The student got a hold of my phone number and called me in person. I asked why he didn’t show up for the final. He informed me that he had had to work. I explained that if he had communicated with me and told me that before the final that I would have been happy to arrange another time and day for him to make up the test. Since I did not know why he was absent, I assumed he didn’t care about his grade. I apologized for assuming incorrectly, but remained firm on my decision. It was simply too late. He appealed the grade with the department, but they backed me up on my decision. He had to repeat the class.
I felt strongly that he needed to learn about being responsible. School should be treated like any other job. If you fail to show up on time or fail to show up at all, there are consequences. Communication is also a vital skill that he needed to learn. It can really make school, work, and life in general run much smoother.
I spent the summer hunting for another job. I put in resumes at all the colleges within a reasonable driving distance. When I didn’t hear back from them, I began to look out of my field for anything that would provide an income. The problem was that every job I was applying for was beneath me. I was highly overqualified. Despite working at two different college libraries, I was turned down for a job at my local library. When McDonalds and Wal-Mart turned me down, it was suggested that I leave my college education off my resume and applications. I was proud of my education and felt that I shouldn’t have to lie about it in order to get a job. What I found was that the consensus among employers was that once something better came along I was likely to leave the lower income job I was seeking to fill. A number of friends, family members and prospective employers suggested I teach at a public school. I had to inform them that required entirely different degree that I didn’t have. If I even wanted to teach K-12, I would have to go back to school to get a degree in Education, not English. I grew increasingly frustrated. It appeared as if I was going to have to pursue another career or get a PhD in English in order to gain a more secure position at one of the near by colleges. A PhD is absolutely necessary to gain a tenure-tract position at a university.
I was about to give up hope when a two year college close by called. They still needed someone to teach Freshman Composition and wondered if I was still available. Classes began in a week. I said sure. As I procured the proper paperwork, syllabus and textbook, I received another phone call. This call was from a college over an hour away, but it was an opening to teach a Creative Writing class. Since I am interested primarily in Creative Writing, it was an opportunity I had to take despite the distance. They gave me even less time to prepare than the local college. The community college, which was an hour away, called the day that classes began and wondered if I could come that day to teach. I apologized and told them it was too short of notice to get a babysitter, but that it wouldn’t be a problem to come down the following week, the second day of class. They agreed to cancel the first class and let me start with the second day of class. I would be driving twenty minutes to work on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday, I would drive an hour and ten minutes. Thus began the very hectic and stressful quarter.
The Creative Writing class was quite a bit larger than I had expected. As an undergraduate, I took only one Creative Writing class at the 500 level. There were roughly ten students, which dropped to eight half way through. We had no textbook for the class. We did a round-table discussion and workshop, which was pretty laid back. The class I was setting out to teach was only a 200 level and consisted of roughly twenty students. We had a textbook, but I didn’t have time to plan any sort of structured lessons from it. Several of my students were not serious about their craft, they had signed up because they thought it would be an easy A. When it turned out to be hard work, a few of them dropped and the others just complained bitterly. If they weren’t complaining about the work, they complained about the fact I was easy thrown off track. One of my students loved to distract me by asking my questions about my life and my writing.
Perhaps the worst problem was my lack of proper planning. I should have had a detailed syllabus or at least handed out a copy of the sample syllabus given to me. I tried to hand out the sample syllabus, in fact, but the copier jammed on the first day of class and I didn’t have time to deal with it. I meant to copy the syllabus later, but I misplaced a page of it and then it was half way through the quarter before I knew it. I did hand out a page of requirements in lieu of an actual syllabus, but it was not nearly thorough enough. I set out to tally up final grades and felt like I was taking a fair enough approach. I considered attendance, class participation and their actual work. I doled out a C to a student who clearly did marginal work and didn’t participate in class much at all. I didn’t count on him contesting his grade, but he did. The department asked me to bump his grade up from a C to a B. They reviewed his portfolio and agreed that his work was not A material, however, he did have a point about my requirements not being crystal clear. I didn’t see the point in arguing, so I changed the grade.
Now, my second stab at Freshman Composition started out smoothly enough, but it ended in a disagreement over policies. I was excited to be teaching on the same campus that I had gone to as student. A branch of the state university shared its campus with a technical college. My husband had gone to the technical college and failed out. I graduated from the state college several years later. It wasn’t exactly teaching at my alma mater, but it was still somewhat cool. On top of that, I was working for a former professor. He had transferred from the university to the technical college some years ago.
The problems began with a misunderstanding. Only two out of the five colleges I taught at did observations. My previous professor was the first one to observe and then review the observation with me. He mentioned a grading rubric during our meeting. I was supposed to being using the approved grading rubric for all papers, not just the final as I had thought. I was too laid back and graded way too easy. I also had been very nervous when speaking, which was unusual for me. I have had no trouble speaking in front of my classes, but I wanted to impress my boss, which threw me off my game. He felt I had not been prepared enough for the class, which was true. Usually I understood my material better, but he picked a bad day to observe me. Composition wasn’t difficult to discuss, but that day he observed I was explaining the final. He kept putting off his observation until nearly the end of the quarter and by that I had used up all my good material. I really didn’t have a clear picture of how the final essay and portfolio worked. It was only made clear during my meeting with my boss at the end of the quarter, and even then, I misunderstood a couple of important steps.
The final arrived and I quickly graded the last round of essays. I looked for content, style and grammar mistakes as they had instructed me to do. I hurried to turn in my essays so that they could be read by a second anonymous instructor. I took my essays from other classes and graded them. This was, as I understood, a checks and balances system. The college had been in the habit of failing nearly 60% of incoming freshman. That figure dropped to 40% once they started exchanging essays and averaging two or more grades in to the total. If one instructor failed the paper and a second passed the paper, then a third reader had to decide the final grade. Second readers failed a number of papers that I passed. This upset the department.
It upset them further that I didn’t stay on campus to finish the grading process. I thought I could drop off my second round of essays and leave. I was wrong. I had to leave anyway since I hadn’t procured a babysitter for the whole afternoon. I didn’t grade my fair share of third readings even thought I had created a need for more third readings than usual. My boss didn’t yell at me, but I could tell that he was more than a little irritated by my liberal attitude.
I was set to teach a second class during winter quarter, but that was given to someone else after I sent an email to my boss. I explained my frustration with their system. I didn’t feel it was fair to fail so many people. The students who had passed the Freshman Composition class had called it English Bootcamp. Many of my students had struggled with basics and needed more help than the college would give them. The high schools had failed to teach them what they needed to know for the class. Should be punish them for the failing of the school systems? If they worked hard and if they did their best, was it fair to hold them back? I saw an improvement in the students who were on the border of passing I chose to pass them. It was impossible to expect perfection from them.
The reply came that the college had standards and they needed to be met. They were tough on students in order to be considered a good college and a respectable college. They didn’t feel that anything was wrong with failing students who didn’t meet their expectations.
I could have argued that they were a two-year college and the percentage of students who went on to become English majors at other colleges was very small indeed. I could understand the ridged grading policy if it was an ivy league school or even a run of the mill four year college, but it didn’t make sense at a two-year school. The university that they shared their campus with didn’t even hold such rigid expectations. I didn’t argue though. I agreed to disagree. I accepted that I wouldn’t teach there again and moved on to an actual university.
I was scheduled to teach Freshman Composition I and II at a near by private university. I was excited by the opportunity. Once again, I didn’t get a chance to prepare as much as I should have. I was given a syllabus and textbook, but only a few weeks before class began to read them. It wouldn’t have been such a time crunch except those few weeks fell during a very busy holiday season. I asked if I could change a few of the reading assignments and begrudgingly they let me. The syllabus I’d been given was made up of authors I had never read before and didn’t know much about. I thought it would be better to stick with authors I knew. I should have left the syllabus alone because in changing it, I messed up the flow of ideas and themes the other instructor, my boss, had created.
Other than the students being a bit disengaged, I didn’t think things were going too bad. My boss, Harry, came to observe about midway through the semester. After he did his observation, we spoke. I was shocked by what he had to say. He felt that my class was sliding toward disaster. I was too laid back and too disorganized. I missed opportunities to lead the discussion to some interesting and important places. He thought that I should gather the class into groups to go over the discussion questions. After they had had a chance to talk amongst themselves, they would be more inclined to discuss it as a class. They might even debate each other instead of having me try to drag answers out of them. Seeing my wounded look, Harry told me that he didn’t mean to upset me. I assured him that I would rather know what I was doing wrong so that I could fix it. It was important to me to be a good teacher. I really felt like bursting into tears at the idea that I was failing at my job, but I refrained from getting overly emotional.
I just wished I could have caught a break and gained some sympathy. Did no one see that I hadn’t gotten a chance to get my bearings and work out the bugs? I had taught at six different colleges over a three-year period. Not once had I taught the same exact class. True, I had taught Freshman Composition three separate times, but each class was at a different college with a different textbook and different syllabus. I never took a class in school to teach me how to teach, nor had I received any real mentoring from my superiors.
On top of all that, I was battling a natural tendency toward being scatterbrained, which was made ten times worse from being sleep deprived. I was still the mother of an eighteen-month-old child who wasn’t sleeping through the night just yet. I was suffering from constant migraines due to the build up of stress in my life. It is near impossible to be organized with two hours of sleep the previous night. Perhaps I should have quite my part time job to be a full time mother, but we needed the money desperately. My husband’s income was not enough to support us. Besides, I enjoyed getting out of the house and having a career.
The observation for Composition II was done by Cheryl instead of Harry. Harry was in charge specifically of composition, but Cheryl was the acting chair of the department. Her review was kinder and gentler, but not without a few concerns. First, she decided that it was a mistake to have class in the computer lab. This only provided distraction for the already unfocused students. Cheryl promised to change my room, but in the mean time, she offered this advice. Come out from behind the desk and wonder the aisles a bit while I was lecturing in order to prevent so much internet surfacing and instant messing while lecturing. This did prove effective at catching them in the act, but not so much in stopping the habit all together. The students simply stopped while I wondered by and tried to sneak a peak while I was busy with other students.
A particularly good example of the extremity of the problem stands out. One day I had assigned group questions and I noticed two students typing the computer instead of talking to each other. I inquired as to what they were doing and why they weren’t focusing on the questions assigned. Dave smiled and told me that he was instant messing his partner and they were discussing the questions that way.
I exclaimed in dismay, “But your partner is right next to you! It is ridiculous to instant message someone who is sitting next to you!” I told them to shut off their computers and speak to one another, which they did.
At the end of the semester, I was told that my grading appeared fair for the Composition I class, as it fell along a proper bell curve. I gave out more Cs than anything, followed by Bs, As, Ds and Fs. I failed just a couple of students and the department didn’t seem to mind. Composition II was another story. I allowed for revisions all through the semester, which many of my students took advantage of in order to get the best grade possible. I appreciated their hard work and rewarded them for it. This ended up skewing my bell curve for that class. I gave out way too many As and Bs. This led to the department rethinking their decision to let me teach those two classes. They didn’t let go me go immediately though. Instead, they opted to cut me back one English 100 class. It was essentially supposed to be a developmental class, but in reality, it was differed only slightly from the English 101 class.
My English 100 experience was a nightmare. I could only wonder if being assigned to teach it was punishment of some kind, an incentive to quit perhaps. The general attitude of my students was downright hostile. Two students in particular gave the most trouble.
Jen began by asking me for help, which I was happy to give. She made the suggested corrections to her paper, but didn’t bother to give it the overhaul it truly needed. When I still gave her essay a C, this really made her quite angry with me. The next time she asked me for help, she didn’t bother to make any of the corrections I had suggested. Instead, she insulted me. She claimed that she never had any problems in high school with composition and that her other teachers all taught dramatically different than I did. She then proceeded to call me stupid. I tried to ignore it, but perhaps I shouldn’t have. I was afraid that if I said anything that I would have gone off on her and lost my temper. I simply backed away and retreated to my desk to let her work alone. During a discussion of the disappointing midterm grades, Jen announced to the class that she hated English, hated the college we were at and hated me. She openly blamed me for all of her problems with English.
My problem with Fisher was a potential political nightmare. His first two papers were very poorly written. When the third paper to come across my desk was dramatically better, I grew suspicious. I wasn’t sure he’d plagiarized, but it appeared likely given the difference in essays. I held onto his paper and contacted Harry to ask him what to do. When I handed back everyone’s papers but his, Fisher grew paranoid. He realized that his paper had raised some red flags and quickly confronted me about it. Fisher quickly showed me the printouts from the website he’d used. He stated in front of the class that he did not cheat. I asked if we could discuss this issue later. He stormed out of the classroom. Several days later, I received a visit from the new chair of the department Jack. Apparently, Fisher went to the Minority Services on campus and reported that I had discriminated against him. He just so happened to be the only black student in my class and he believe that to be the reason I thought he would do so poorly. He felt he had to go above and beyond the other students in order to get even average grades. Jack asked for my side of the story and I explained how it had nothing to do with race. The department sided with me on the issue, pointing out the fact I had contacted Harry before I took any real action against the student.
Harry advised me to ask the Fisher for a rewrite with MLA documentation of his sources. If he were willing to rewrite then that would avoid a messy hearing. If I filed an official compliant, it would be likely that Fisher would be kicked out of college and possible that he would then sue the college for discrimination. Even if he failed to win his case, it still looked bad for everyone involved. I accepted a rewrite as advised, but even then, Fisher failed to document his sources properly. He listed a couple of website addresses, but didn’t do any in text documenting or quoting. I should have failed his essay, but I gave him a C in order to move past the conflict. Despite the C, he managed to fail the class. Between his poor skills as a writer and his excessive absences, there was no way I could pass him.
The fall semester ended and I found myself expressing my overall frustration to the administrative assistant. She told me that my frustrations were shared by other professors who teach the class and she encouraged me to tell Harry what I thought. I knew this could prove fatal to my career at the college, but I couldn’t continue to teach under those circumstances anyway. I emailed Harry a direct, but diplomatic letter of complaint. All semester I was torn. The department stressed that I was there to teach critical reading and writing. Grammar was secondary and only to be brushed up on or reviewed. The students were so lacking grammar skills that they were unable to master the higher level of critical reading and writing that was needed to move on in the curriculum. When I reviewed, they got the glazed look in their eyes as if they were totally zoning out. Then they turned around and protested bitterly that I wasn’t doing my job and teaching them grammar. It wasn’t my job to teach them grammar, but they didn’t see it that way. They were struggling and instead of trying to improve, they blamed me for their shortcomings. The class wasn’t addressing their needs. I wanted to redesign the class to look more the developmental class I taught the first time around. The community college appeared to have a handle on how to bring their students up to the level they needed to be to continue their education.
Other professors got in on the email conversation, each one of them taking a different approach to improving the curriculum. One instructor believed that giving grammar tests were a waste of time, while another believes that grammar should be the focus of the class instead of composition. Harry emailed all of us back that we did not work for community college. He wasn’t about to lower the standards of the university for these struggling students. The class stayed as it was. I am sure that Harry felt as if I had launched a personal attack on him. I didn’t mean for everyone to gang up on him, but the class wasn’t working for the students or the teachers. Clearly, something needed changed, but Harry wasn’t willing to change anything. He had a specific vision and agenda and his curriculum fulfilled that. I asked if the department was using the class as a way of sorting out the low GPA students. It made sense that they were being discouraging on purpose in order to weed out the students who really didn’t belong. Instead of denying admission and losing out on money, they accepted the students provisionally and they were so tough on them that they soon transferred or dropped out all together. This was the political end of the pedagogy and I didn’t like it one bit.
The university did not find a need for me the next semester. At various times over the years, I have seen ads placed in the paper for openings in the English Department. I let them know I was interested, but they didn’t even bother to respond. That is what I get, I guess, for having an opinion. I should have realized that I needed to keep my mouth shut until I got tenure some place. My husband to this day, blames my inability to keep my thoughts to myself for the loss of that job. I’ve tried to explain that I set up to fail, that they didn’t want me anyway and I didn’t want to work there if the circumstances stayed the same.
I sympathized for my struggling students and went to bat for them rather they appreciated it or not. I understood what it was like to be confused and frustrated with a subject. I have dyscalculia and have had trouble with sequencing, math, foreign languages, spelling and grammar since grade school. Essays didn’t come easy right away. I was half way through my undergraduate years before I wrote, what I consider, to be a descent essay. I never took algebra in high school, so when I went to college I was lagging far behind my peers. I took the developmental or remedial math three times before I moved on to the second class in the sequence. I didn’t understand how I could get an A in English and fail math. I felt stupid, but obviously, I wasn’t. I was told repeatedly I just needed to try harder, but no matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. Despite all I had going against me, I managed to scrape by and graduate from college. My average GPA never reflected my true intelligence or work ethic I felt. In graduate school, I didn’t live up to my potential due to grammatical issues in my otherwise good papers.
I left graduate school determined to make a difference. I wanted to be the voice of encouragement for my students. I wanted them to succeed. I wanted the students who were told they weren’t college material graduate from college anyway. I wanted to be an inspiration, but instead I became a source of frustration. One student, on her anonymous evaluation, even went so far as to say that I she felt I didn’t want to teach and that I shouldn’t be teaching. Another student bashed me in her blog. I would have never known, except that I randomly googled my own name one day for something to do. I was traumatized to read what she wrote about me. She was in my class, typing on the computer as I lectured instead of listening to me. She complained that I didn’t know what I was doing and that she wanted to kick my teeth in. She had gotten drunk the weekend before and begged a male friend of hers to sleep with me so she could get a better grade in my class. In short, she blamed me for her C average. I had no clue she hated me so much. She was always quiet in class. I immediately emailed the chair of the English Department, Jack. He apologized and said he would handle the matter.
I left teaching at the college level feeling wounded and defeated.
When I read Generation Me by Jean Twenge, I was both disheartened and comforted. It was disheartening to read that the current generation has been taught empty self-esteem. The lack of criticism throughout grade school and high school created a huge problem for incoming college students. Their egos were quickly deflated and depression often set in as the entered the real world. Sheltered from the reality of competition, they were unable to handle anything remotely challenging. This rampant narcissism often results in the students blaming the teacher, the school and anyone but themselves for their shortcomings. The comfort came in the knowledge that it was unlikely that the hate emanating from my students had anything to do with me personally. I took it personally, but I shouldn’t have. They were merely projecting their disenchantment and discontent with themselves onto the closest scapegoat around. This problem was a social and cultural one not specific to my teaching experiences or me.
You would think after all I have been through that I might have given up the idea of teaching entirely, but that isn’t so. I took some time off and the returned to teaching via adult education. I am planning to return to college to obtain my PhD and hopefully some training in the area of teaching. Having overcome many obstacles already, it is my hope that the rest of my career will go much more smoothly. What hasn’t destroyed me has only made me a better teacher. I will continue to champion the underdog and search for the college to call home one day. Just maybe I can begin creating the much-needed changes to the broken school system. Just maybe I can start a revolution. Just maybe I can make a difference.