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"...another reason I'm intrigued with the hanged of Salem, especially the women, is that a number of them aroused suspicion in the first place because they were financially independent, or sharp-tongued, or kept to themselves. In other words, they were killed off for the same sort of life I live right now but with longer skirts and fewer cable channels." Sarah Vowell, The partly cloudy patriot.


Now I know what my problem is!

...besides the fact that my laptop won't charge anymore (it's either
the socket or the cord - and as I noted over at Phantom's whining
place, with my karma, I know it will be the former because that is the
really expensive one), and I am relegated to using my beloved, but
super duper old and impaired blueberry ibook.

Today I met with my TAs and I filled them in on some of the stuff
going on behind the scenes with my difficult students and the obscene
number of flunking students. One TA objected to my having offered my
failing students a get out of jail semi-free card (aka letting them
turn in all late papers this week - albeit not without some penalty)
and potentially being a bit generous with final grades. She noted
that she had worked really hard as an undergrad for her As, and it
would be unfair if I gave passing or good grades to students who don't
deserve it. For the record, I don't plan on this drastically
improving anyone's grades - I'd just like to flunk as few people as

I explained to her that as an adjunct, I want to ensure that I
engender as few student complaints as possible as that could interfere
with my ability to be hired again - and I'd like semi-positive evals
so as to not screw myself over if I need to teach again. I also noted
that I was concerned that one student had already complained, and also
talked about the high number of students who had turned in so few
papers they were flunking.

I noted that if you have that many students doing poorly, you have to
look at yourself and your teaching - you have to examine whether or
not you are doing something wrong. My TA looked astounded and said
(and given that this is the TA who hates americans and america, I
don't think she was fibbing), "But your class is great! I love your
class! If they can't get into it, it's their fault, not yours!"

I was thinking afterwards that my problem is that I focus way too much
on the unhappy, difficult students and not enough on the students who
come every single day, who turn in everything on time, who
participate, who look interested, who write interesting papers, etc.

I get so freaking worried about the unhappy students, and get so
overwhelmed by their negative feedback, I get lost in it. I begin to
see myself the way they see me, or how I think they see me - I can't
step out.

This isn't completely news to me. I once had a supervisor tell me
that I am like a sponge for the negative stuff (feedback, difficult
events, etc) - I just soak it up and let it change me completely.
But then I am impervious to positive input - I don't hear it or see it
- I don't let it affect me or take it in at all. I'm too filled up
with the bad stuff.

A large part of this is the pretty persistent depression I've had
almost all my life. When you are depressed, you see the world through
very dark glasses. And those cognitive patterns become so habitual,
the pathways are ingrained and my little brain can't think any other

This is a large part of why I really didn't want to teach right now -
I knew I felt too badly about myself to be buffered. I could not be
the teflon girl* I needed to be in order to teach. You need (or I
need) to be teflon to teach - you have to believe in your expertise
and your skills (which doesn't equal inflexibility). You have to
believe in your methods and your teaching philosophies, and the fact
that you have something to teach those little numskulls.

* I developed this as a metaphor for my clients a while ago. When
they are having a difficult time, I tell them to pretend they are the
new amazing superhero "teflon girl!" Their job was to let everything
just slip right off of them and not to let anything stick. One client
quibbled that calphalon is much better - but it just doesn't sound as


At 12:01 AM, Blogger k8 said...

I'm a sponge, too, which can be a problem when you are in an English department. More than half of literature PhDs won't get tenure-track jobs. I'm comp/rhet, not literature, but the negativity and stress among so many of the other grad students puts me on edge and I get a bad case of the negatives. Teflon would work well, but it isn't very pretty. I think I'll go for enamel. It is a bit more fragile, but it can be more decorative:-)

At 1:10 AM, Blogger StyleyGeek said...

I love the metaphor of "teflon girl"!

At 12:24 PM, Blogger Ianqui said...

It's very easy to get carried away by the crappy students, but you're right, you should take stock of the big picture whenever you can.

On a more trivial note, "calphalon" really wouldn't be appropriate, as it's the name of a line of cooking supplies, not the non-stick substance that can be used by any brand. I'm just sayin'.

At 12:27 PM, Blogger Limon de Campo said...

I have the same problem: I focus all of my attention on the bad students and the ones who don't like me or my class. (And there's always someone who thinks I am the devil.)

It always makes me feel better to know that even the best teachers have students who dislike them or the class. It's just that some teachers don't let that bother them. Man, I wish I could be one of those people!

At 1:44 PM, Blogger Arbitrista said...

I taught mandatory introductory classes, so I was always mentally prepared for no one to give a damn. It was exhausting, since I was teaching about democracy.

At 3:39 PM, Blogger Clio Bluestocking said...

Does Teflon Girl get a cape?

At 3:52 PM, Blogger Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I haven't had depression issues and I tend to try to teach to the ones I think don't like me. This is really a bad idea for me because they generally dislike me for reasons I can't control. Even when I know this intellectually, the emotional response of wanting others to like us is something we've been taught and it is a hard habit to break.

Hang in there -- I'm not worried about being asked back and I probably would have made the same decision about late work. You are correct that you need to take a serious look at how you are teaching if the class isn't doing well. Of course, at some point you also need to let them fail if the don't take advantage of their opportunities to fix their grade. This is probably the hardest thing for me, as it feels like giving up, but sometimes students only learn by failing a course.


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