Sunday, February 22, 2009

Me and My Monkeys...

One of my students, during an IM session, suggested that I write a blog about my rather obsessive working habits.  I don't think I'm OCD--really, I hate to grade papers--but I don't think I should hold on to student work any longer than I have to.  I set due dates on my assignments, and, frankly, I can't see where being a professor gives me the right to sit on a stack of work until the end of the semester.  Besides, it would nag me to the point that I couldn't sleep.

When I receive student work, I might not be able to get to it right away.  For example, I received two sets of essays Sunday; then, on Monday, I received a set of reading journals.  But I taught on Monday, kept office hours, had a meeting, had a book group meeting Monday night, the Wifi at the bookstore wasn't working, and I was away from home until 9pm. Today, Tuesday, I'm goofing off a bit, trying to work myself into work, but I know that, soon, I'm going to wade into them and dispatch them with a vengeance.  I might not send them back for three or four days, but I'll send them back before the week is out. 

And that prompts me to admit that I'm the world's biggest procrastinator.  I HATE to grade assignments, but, since that's part of a job I love, I do it.  Some mornings, I'll sit at my desk for an hour playing Spider Solitaire, but, when the moment comes to "bite the bullet," I'm on those papers like a bee on a flower, and I don't stop until my eyes fall out--figuratively, of course!

I'm quick to point out to my students that some things are "not my monkeys."  Grading student work is "my monkey."  I think students respect teachers who return their work as quickly as possible.  And, frankly, I just want to "clear the decks."  I can't enjoy myself if I have a stack of work hanging over me.

Which brings me to my absolute abhorrence of late work.  When I sit at my desk for three days, I want to walk away knowing that I've returned everything I needed to.  Late work means more time at my desk, if I choose to grade it (I don't, mostly), and also means that I have to backtrack.  I don't want to backtrack--I want to move forward.

Am I a "Type A"?  Probably.  I'll admit that, when I don't have anything to grade, I'll find something I need or want to do, even if it's just reading a book.  I'm not one for lounging on the sofa, eating bon bons...though I won't pass up chocolate!

I blame my father for this obsessive desire for completion.  He only offered me a few direct bits of advice, and one of them was: "Your boss pays you to do your work in a timely manner.  Period.  If you don't do the work, you don't deserve the money."

Thanks, Dad!


And here's another thing. 

I know "people lie" (my favorite "House-ism"), and I think my BS meter works well.  When someone walks into my office, the BS meter clicks on.  I listen, I watch, and I assess.

I don't automatically assume that students lie to me.  In most cases, if a student takes the time to talk to me, I'm more inclined to think the student wants to come clean about whatever is preventing him/her from doing the coursework.  And I'll listen and try to respond appropriately.

And I do care.  I can't always help, but I try to offer appropriate responses to students who obviously have problems. While I can sympathize, though, sometimes I can't excuse. 

You've heard this before, too--"Everybody has problems."  Yes.  But, amazingly, not everybody can cope with his/her problems well.  After a while, a "problem" begins to sound like an excuse, especially if a student invokes it repeatedly to justify late or nonexistent work. I'll do what I can do, but, eventually, the student must assume responsibility; if he/she doesn't, the result is a failing grade.

I was shocked the other day when a student told me that most professors don't care why students aren't completing their assignments.  I only feel that way when students don't talk to me.  After a while, it's "not my monkey."  But I tell my students that they need to talk to me if they are having problems that interfere with their work.  Sadly, many of them just don't take the time.


Maureen O'Neal said...

LOVE it!

-Maureen O.
Eng. 226

dotsmom said...

Oh, I could write sooooo much more!

kim wells said...

I hate grades because I'd rather just work to improve. THe grade, sometimes, can really discourage, I think. I gave back a set of papers with probably the worst overall set of grades I've ever given, in 10 years of teaching, the other day. But they really didn't make the cut! I let students rewrite, for a new grade, though, so my overall "Grading curve" tends to stack high.

It would be nice to have it be just a system where we all learned. I hate the grading. I hate it when students are discouraged by my meaning-well comments & thus think they can never write. So-- the process of the grade is what I hate. I love the teaching aspects. If only we could make the best of the system, somehow. :)

MissMirandaV said...

First of all, let me say thank you for your quick response to the work you assign. Last semester, I had a professor (I won't name names) who assigned stuff every week. That was fine except I didn't get any back until well after mid terms. It drove me crazy, because I like to use past assignments to gauge what the teacher is looking for. By the time I saw what she liked or didn't like, the semester was practically over. So even if it takes a week or so, I don't mind. Keep up the good work.

Carlie said...

I love your post!

Also, I just wanted to let you know that I have never had a teacher return things as quickly as you do. I really appreciate it. It's really hard for me to put out the effort in the class not knowing how I am measuring up.

*PS... don't you love the B.S meter? I do. I feel like I can smell it from a mile a way. I can't wait for my kids to be old enough to try and pull one over on me! :)

Ironbear said...

I told you before that you're one of the best english teachers I've had. You tell us what needs to be said, and help when you can. I thank you for your ability to use IM, and these blogs were never something I would have done if you hadn't assigned it. I really like to do them every week. Thank you for your quick response on our assignments.

Cathy Johnson said...

I appreciate good English teachers and you are one of them. You do not expect anything unreasonable in this class in my opinion. If a student is overwhelmed or stressed there are solutions and you offered one of them. My monkey is reports. My job entails quite a few and they are large ones. When my director sends an email out and says I want this report to me by the end of the day, you bet your bottom I am on it! I appreciate you Ms. Smith.

dotsmom said...

Oh, thank you for the comments, but I wasn't fishing for compliments, really!

You say nice things now, but after the final grades are posted, what will you say? Huh?

Maureen O'Neal said...

I, for one, will say the same things.

Whatcha think?

dotsmom said...


You earn your it's not really me!

K. Smith