Friday, April 03, 2009

Studentfail, Queryfail, Agentfail, Zamboni.

It's been Monday all week, I swear.

My apologies for the lack of blogging, but yeef. My students are succumbing to serious end-of-term flakiness. I have scheduled ten make-up labs in the past week, and I had two more students absent today who I haven't heard from yet.

It's my own fault. I am a ginormous softie, and they all know it.

My desk is a-flutter with dubious doctor's notes. Bambi-eyed woe-begones creep into my office to protest their innocent ignorance about the department's (well-advertised) policy of "You ditch a lab, you fail the course". Emails sluice into my inbox, detailing the horrors of abrupt, profound, far-too-icky-to-come-to-school-OMG ailments.

I roar and gnash my teeth and try to put the fear of God the meanie-head Lab Instructor into them, and then I let them do the make-up labs anyway. I am such a sucker.

But I also love my job and my students, even when they're making me nuts. I remember what university was like, and all the complex ways in which anxiety and common sense can tango when there's a project due and a midterm coming up. The kiddies do make me smile. Just not when they're actually in my office, claiming they "overslept" a lab that starts at 2 PM.

Besides, did I mention the meanie-head Lab Instructor can get a lot of writing done while she's over-seeing a make-up lab? I am glad I bought this laptop.

Which brings me, via a typically circuitous route, to #queryfail and Agentfail.

I'd like to comment on these two incidents--or more specifically, some of the comments made in them--from the perspective of someone who makes a living as an instructor.

Dear Writers:
Here's a secret: Teaching is fun. Marking sucks. They don't pay me to teach; they pay me to do the stinkin' marking.

Imagine me hunched at my desk, hemmed in by a box canyon built out of lab books, my fingers cramping around a red pen. I have to get through all those books, and I'm starting to go buggy. The only way I'm going to make it is by taking occasional brain-breaks. I pull back from the canyon, cast a wistful eye at the sunshine outside, and check my email or read a few blogs. Then I get back to work.

Now imagine yourself writing a problematic scene. You grind your teeth and sweat over the words, but it's just not flowing. Finally you stop and play a few games of Minesweeper or computer solitaire. Just a few--and then you get back to the grind.

We all do that, right? Sometimes you just need to clear your head.

So please don't begrudge agents their Twitter and Blogging habits; it's perfectly human to need to take brain-breaks. When you're mired in a task that is tedious as well as depressing or frustrating, sometimes the only thing that gives you the stamina to plough onward for another two hours are those brief, time-wasting breaks. This is true of marking, and writing a tough scene, and it's also true of wading through the slush pile.

PS - And please ease up on the response-time fury. Go re-read my second paragraph; when I get busy at work, I blow off non-crucial things that don't make me money. Agents are allowed to also. Reading the slush pile does not make them money.

Dear Agents:
Here's something you've probably had to explain to a few clients: A writer creates a work, and the public reacts to it. The writer controls the former thing; they do not control the latter. They can write the best damned story they are capable of, but they can't force anyone to like it.

Teaching is similar, in that the outcome is beyond your control. Some students--despite your most strenuous efforts--will never learn enough to pass the course. You have no control over that. You can only teach to the best of your abilities, just as the student can only learn to the best of their abilities.

And yes, it's frustrating when you try your damnedest and it still doesn't work. All teachers groan about and laugh over their students in the staff room. We need to decompress.

However, that's where such discussions have to stay. Ridiculing a student to their face never benefits them. You might de-moralize the student, or make them decide you're jerk not worth listening to, but you won't teach them anything. And your raison d'etre is to teach.

So here's the tough question: How much of #queryfail was an honest attempt to teach, and how much of it was a really fun staff room discussion?

Because if it was the latter, it shouldn't have taken place in front of your "students", the writers. You are absolutely entitled to have as many #queryfail parties as you want and to enjoy the hell out of them. Just make them private--keep it in the staff room.

Pageloads since 01/01/2009: