I’ve been working (and reworking) this essay, and it has required that I think a lot about why I classify certain genres (of music, movies, television, culture) as inherently dumb. Or, as leaning more toward thoughtlessness and less toward thoughtfulness. Those classifications are all based on some rational assessments (clichés, sentimentalization, dude-centric/Petrarchan tropes) and some irrational assumptions (class, related mostly, because I am more likely to think that something is dumb if white working poor people like it than I am if nearly anyone else likes it).
I have also been thinking a lot about the assumptions I have as a teacher. I assumed, for example and because my graduate seminars told me it was so, that grades were a necessary good (or evil) of the teaching of writing and composition skills. Necessary. If I didn’t assess my students based on strict rubrics that were applied equally to them all, then there was a risk that I’d give preferential treatment to some, and since we are all classist, racist, and sexist at some level (which is why doing work to expose and examine one’s own prejudices, and think deliberately about how one’s positionality informs everything one experiences, is important as an on-going practice), I had to be strict and diligent and consistently so, or else I was liable to be too hard on some and too lenient on others. I did not want to be an unfair teacher, and so I absorbed the validity of that assumption.
For example, I never accept late work, without a prior conversation, except in cases of “actual emergencies.” This means that I gave zeros to a few kids who didn’t communicate and I gave partial credit to kids who told me tales of horrors befalling their lives.
Then one day, a teacher I know posted something like: who cares if it is a day or two late? People are late with things all the time in the real world. Yes, there should be some deadlines that matter, but that open book quiz you assigned over a 3-day weekend? The bibliography due before their rough draft and absolutely not after? Come on. I don’t make it part of my official policy, but I want them to spend their energy working on their writing, not trying to make sure that whatever trauma befell them sounds like trauma to me.
Then, I read this: To my colleagues, on the deaths of their students’ grandmother(s).
And I thought, my Draconian late policy was passed to me from other bitter professors who have too many students and too little time and it is exemplary of the factory-farming of graduates that too many colleges have become. My late policy means that despite my specific intention to not be unfair, students who might not be willing or able to perform their traumas for me (over email, but still) may suffer as a result, and why should learning require suffering? Why am I participating in this useless, punitive system?
But, I also thought, my class, unlike a composition class, is all about “professional writing” and I have a boss right now who is consistently late responding to his team and the company–and it is frustrating and sometimes embarrassing to be his direct report, as a result. I want you all to better than that guy, I think. NO LATE WORK ALLOWED. Does this mean my late policy is less pedagogically sound, but is still useful to this particular class? I feel like, for example, a grant writing class should permit no late work, period, no exceptions (because I cannot call the NEA and be like, “well, my printer stopped working, so I went to the library because I know you said no late work, but then the library had some kind of an issue where they had to close early? and I THOUGHT I sent myself the draft that I’d worked on there to myself so I could turn it in, but now it’s totally gone and I called the helpdesk but they said there’s nothing they can do. And I am really sorry and I am freaking out because this application means so much to me, even though I waited until the last 30 minutes to complete it”). So I don’t know. I kept the zero tolerance policy this semester, but I’m trying to not take late work personally.
Maybe I am a terrible teacher because I don’t always know why I do what I do in class, or whether or not it is correct. What I hope is that the fact that I am still listening to other instructors, that I am still reading about ways to be effective, and that I am still thinking about ways to be better, means that maybe I’m not the worst.