Research Paper Blues

They are counting down.  T-minus 8 school days and counting until graduation.

My students’ drafts of their 8-10 page research papers were due yesterday.  This is a second-semester, freshman level college composition course.  While the students are physically taking the course in a high school, it’s a real college course, for which they are receiving a real college grade.

Unfortunately, they have yet to grasp the concept of college, where you are expected to do all the work all by yourself.  You get one syllabus on the first day of class and you are expected to read and follow it.

Instead I’ve been a veritable broken record this semester.

Clute Less: “What are we doing in class today?”

Me:  “Read your syllabus.”

Missy Flighty:  “Are we going to have homework tonight?”

Me:  “I don’t know.  Read your syllabus.”

Undeir Achiever:  “Are we supposed to do this assignment on the syllabus?”

T. Tally Lost:  “I can’t find my syllabus.  Did we get a syllabus?  I don’t have a syllabus.  You never gave me a syllabus.  What IS a syllabus?”

Me: Sigh. Note to self: Pick up wine on way home from school. Two bottles.

At this point in the semester, they have been working on this paper for two solid weeks.  It’s worth 30% of their entire grade.  I would think that would put some fire under their little behinds, but, alas.  I was wrong. Students were given a syllabus in JANUARY warning that today is the day research paper drafts are due. (But you already know what happens with the syllabus.)   Three weeks ago they got a detailed assignment sheet with mini-due dates, including today’s draft turn in.  It included instructions to bring 3 copies of the paper to class for peer critiquing.

Few of the students have completed drafts in class today.  In fact, several of them haven’t even gotten the research they need to make their own arguments.  Only one student has three copies, but the draft is only half-way done.

And here’s some irony:   I am more concerned about it than they are!

I’m sitting at my desk feeling my heart rate rise and sweat breaking out on my brow.  That sick feeling starts rising in the pit of my stomach as the girl about 20 feet away from me says, “I’m not really sure what I’m going to prove with this paper yet.”  And another student approaches my desk and says, “I think I’m going to change my topic.”

It’s with every ounce of self-control that keeps my face from turning red and smoke from coming out of my ears.  I want to scream at her, “Change your topic?   Now?   Are you mad?  This paper is due A WEEK FROM TOMORROW!”

Instead I fold my hands together in my lap and dig my fingernails into my palms and I say, quietly, “I don’t recommend that.”

“Well, I don’t know what to do.”  She says, hands on her hips, foot tapping with a fix-it look on her face.

I heard the music from the Old Western movies playing in the background as I stared her straight in the eye – a showdown.  Finally I said, “Well.  neither do I” before returning to the stack of sophomore essays on my desk.  I heard her clopping away.  I raised my index finger in the air, blew the smoke away, and put it back in my holster.  Problem solved – for now.  But I’m shaking just a little bit still.  What on earth IS this girl going to do?  But I swallow the urge to solve her problem for her because, in reality, that teaches her nothing.

I’m not quite sure what today’s class will bring.  Today we are supposed to start conferencing.  That means I get to sit with each student mano-e-mano while they have to verbalize just how far behind they are in this project.  I’ve dug the Doc’s stress ball from out of his desk.  I plan on holding it while students sit at my desk, one after the other, looking for me to give them the right answer that, in an assignment like this one, doesn’t exist.  This is one of those times, like many to come in their lives, that they are going to have to make the decisions about what to do and reap (or suffer) the consequences.

The most important lessons are the most difficult to teach.

At least I’ve got a couple of bottles of wine waiting for me at home.

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9 Responses to Research Paper Blues

  1. This is oh so true. I am feeling “my heart rate rise and sweat breaking out on my brow. That sick feeling starts rising in the pit of my stomach…” On a side note: I think you are an awesome teacher, and I am continually impressed at how dedicated you are to your students.

  2. crubin says:

    I don’t know how you stay sane. I was stressed out just reading this post. Where are the parents in this scenario? Not that they should be overseeing their 9th graders work, but where is the work ethic that should have been instilled years ago? And just because a kid is in 9th grade doesn’t mean a parent shouldn’t be asking about homework assignments and such. One doesn’t have to be a helicopter parent to do this.

    Oh vey, enjoy your vino!

    • valleygirl96 says:

      Here’s the shocker – these kids are seniors. And, actually, since it’s a college course their parents are supposed to stay out of the picture. The problem is, they always want to show up complaining when the grades come out. Oh well! Cheers!

      • crubin says:

        Oh, geez, I thought they were Freshman. For some reason that was stuck in my mind. Maybe jeandayfriday teaches Freshman. But seniors? Oh, my.

      • valleygirl96 says:

        Yes, Jeandayfriday is our freshman teacher. Next year, though we are splitting the freshman class and working on our plans collaboratively. Stay tuned for some fun posts, I’m sure!

  3. Jonesingafter40 says:

    Off with their heads!! 😉

  4. The Hook says:

    I LOVED those closing lines!

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