I got my students’ inaugural essays on Monday and have been trying to slog my way through them all week.  I’ve only got 17 kids in the class, and only 12 of them turned work in, so you wouldn’t think it’d be that big a deal, right?

Well, you’d be wrong.

For starters, most students – all, in fact, so far – don’t understand the difference between analysis and review.  This really isn’t that much of a surprise because I wasn’t expecting greatness here, but at least an ATTEMPT to scratch the surface would have been appreciated.  One or two students made halfhearted attempts at analysis – and my glee at these efforts is, I think, far more than they actually deserve but hey; a candle in the dark may as well be the sun, right? –  but most of them stuck with “this is what this guy said, and this is what that guy said, and they basically said the same thing.”

One student in particular stands out in the crowd, and not for any good reason, either.  Exactly what am I supposed to do with this?:

Mine open statement and studies on a matter of belief this may or may not be the best paper to cross the desk.  I did not vote for this election due to my own politics harming graphic design work last term, no time was taken for me to make a smart vote.  The battle of bullshit is were we all make a design “who does this?” where are facts on others demands,” these statements and view may never craved cement for our nations positive step forward….It’s not just about guys in stiff suits and their views in hand with hurtful, unclean lobbies.  We as society are so clouded with what goes on from global warming to relationship issues….Obama is clear concerned roomful speaker…deliver message must be consider to us even thaw war is somewhere.  WHY?…Were the action of therapy behavior of caring for you fellow man and woman….

It goes on and on in one single paragraph for two and a half pages.

(does anyone remember the Gone Quiet West Wing episode where the Majority Leader “got the question” and CJ’s secretary, Carol, when asked about it, said, “ was a train wreck.  I recognized all the words, but…”  THAT’S how I feel about this.)

The conflict alluded to in this post’s title is this: part of me – a HUGE part of me – wants to just toss this aside and say “you know what, kid?  If you can’t even manage to write in language that even approaches coherency, then you really don’t belong in my class.  How did you GET this far, anyway?!”  He didn’t follow the assignment (he failed to investigate another president’s inaugural address and instead – as best I can tell – looked at a speech delivered by Spiro Agnew sometime in the Nixon administration).  There’s no structure to his writing, or his thinking, for that matter.  This is Carol’s train wreck, and I can’t even begin to tease out what he was trying to say because I’m fairly certain even HE has no idea what that might be.

On the other hand, though, he put out the effort.  He was one of the 12 who turned at least something in.  I have little doubt that he actually watched Obama’s speech – he managed to slip a quote in about halfway down the first page – which is more than some of his peers did.

I don’t get the impression that this kid is a “problem child.”  He participates to the extent that he’s able (though I have noticed that I often don’t understand what point he’s trying to make when he’s speaking, either), and he’s not belligerent or attitudinal at all.  He may be someone I can reach.

I went to TCC this morning and spoke with the Dean about this kid, then I started the paperwork going to cover my little ass further down the road.  The Dean got a copy of a progress report expressing my concern for this student’s future in my class, as well as a couple of photocopies of the essay that sparked that concern.  I’m hoping that the boy will seek out tutoring and extra help because, if he keeps handing in work like this, there’s no way he’ll be able to meet the standards I’ve established for passing this course.



Filed under analysis, concerns, failure, frustrations, General Griping, politics, Teaching, Yikes!

12 responses to “Conflicted

  1. He’s not meeting the standards and anyone who has passed him up to this point has been remiss. You’re right, though, that he did at least think about it and do some work on it, though his skill level is well below the requirements for the course. Given all that he probably deserves a short, private conversation about your thoughts on how he can learn enough to keep up with his peers.

  2. I disagree, he may have turned something in but he certainly did NOT make an effort. That isn’t even minimal coherency! It would be different if his grammar and punctuation were atrocious but the concepts and thoughts were there. This excerpt lacked even the basics.

    On the other hand, I kind of feel sorry for him because if this is the best he can do he’s going to be so lost in your class and that must be frustrating for him.

    Does TCC have a writing center?

  3. I think I heard this kid on NPR today! They were discussing the movie, I forgot the title, about the rapper guy Biggie Smalls. The guest, maybe he was the director, could not form a coherent sentence. I listened for maybe a minuet before I had to shut it off. It was the first time I have ever been disgusted with an NPR story.

  4. There are, it seems to me, Joycean echoes in that student’s paragraph. Could we be witnessing the thought processes of a 21st-century Leopold Bloom?

    Just kidding, Chili, just kidding! 😉

  5. Is there a possibility that he may have a learning disability of some sort?

    Its great that he turned in a paper (sad that 5 could not do even that), but he didn’t follow your rubric at all nor is his paper in any way comprehensible.

    I, too, feel sorry for this kid. If this is the way he communicates in speech and the written word, he has to be having a very difficult time in all of his classes.

  6. Hmm, though I have absolutely no experience at all in this, my first thought as well was that he could have some sort of learning disability. I would agree that a meeting with him is in order– there’s obviously so much wrong here that it’s hard to know where to even begin on this paper. It might be revealing to ask his opinion of what he wrote, how he experiences the act of writing (not in those words, perhaps) and his past experiences of writing and what others have said to him about it. It’s true that the work obviously is not up to the standards of the class, but the fact that he turned something in when other classmates did not (and that he participates in class) means that he might be open to guidance (even if that guidance involves a lot of personal tutoring at the writing center or elsewhere.)

    I also wondered if he might have written the paper under the influence of, well, substances, but since you say that in class he is often hard to understand as well, that seems less likely.

    In any case, I still think he deserves to be explicitly told what an acceptable paper would look like and why his is not it– at least an overview, and then you could refer him to (or suggest that he find) someone who can work intensively with him on it, if he wants to pass the class.

  7. At least he didn’t vote.

  8. Jaqui

    I wonder if he is on the edge for a diagnosis for schizophrenia. Incoherent thoughts and tangential speaking are criteria for one of the subtypes of the disorder….he is about the right for apparent diagnosis.

  9. Does the school have a writing center this kid can frequent? When I have papers like this I urge the writers to have someone else–a roommate, mother, co-worker, whatever–read the paper. If they are able to be honest, they should get a paper like this and say, “I have absolutely no idea what you are trying to say.” I think simply reading this paper out loud might have helped this guy before it ever got to your desk.

    Incidentally, reading that bit made me think of the website. It fits right in, and that’s unfortunate. I empathize.

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