Wednesday, December 17, 2008
sometimes they leave in tears
I’ve never really been one to meet frustration with crying, however my study of trigonometry was a notable exception. My relationship with math had always been rather tenuous, but algebra made sense to me – enough sense to earn me an A at least – so I made the mistake of signing up for PreCalculus/ Trigonometry during my junior year of high school. Looking back, that was the most tear-soaked year of my life.

The calculus parts weren’t so bad, but the trigonometry section blew my mind. I tried, but it might as well have been taught in Japanese for all the sense I could make of it. I worked my butt off that year trying to wrap my head around the concepts, but every time I thought I had it, things either got much harder, or I’d get a test back revealing that no, I never really understood it in the first place. I guess I was lucky in that school had always come pretty easily to me; never before had I ever encountered something that I just couldn’t get, and so I eventually found myself breaking down into tears several times a week by the time the class had ended.

My teacher, Mr. Cotner, a genuinely wonderful man with a wicked sense of humor, nicknamed me ‘Weepy.’ It. Was. Horrible.

I say all this because I had a conference with a student today that ended in tears. (Hers, not mine.) I’ve started requiring that students come in for a one-on-one conference with me before they’re allowed to revise final drafts, and although her essay hadn’t been horrible, it was hardly a shining star. Things had started off well enough. We began with the major issues – strengthening her thesis, better use of quoting, etc - and she seemed unfazed by my criticisms and suggestions. It wasn’t until the subject turned grammatical that the waterworks began.

I’ve taken to putting checkmarks at the end of the line where an issue exists rather than circling or correcting errors, the rationale being that they would then have to figure out for themselves what they did wrong, thus, hopefully, learn more. Her essay was sprinkled with checkmarks. By no means was it COVERED with them, but there were certainly enough. The checkmark thing is a new habit I’m trying to form, so I needed to explain to her what it meant exactly. She must have thought they pointed to something positive, because when I told her they meant something was amiss, her entire demeanor changed. She turned away from me and her shoulders began to heave. I recognized her reaction. It was how I ended nearly every conference I had with Mr. Cotner.

I tried my best to make her feel better, to assure her that she really is a smart girl and a fine writer, but she was still a bit weepy after leaving my room and I’m now left feeling horrible. She had tried so hard to make sure that her writing was meticulous, and then me and my stupid purple checkmarks came in a busted it all up. I never blamed Mr. Cotner for my frustrations, so I don’t really think she blames me for hers, but I just wish I could have done something to make her feel better is all. I know exactly how she’s feeling, and man is it a lousy way to feel.

I’m not really sure what my purpose is here, other than to tell you that I feel particularly icky today and this little story points to why. Stupid purple pen.



Blogger Bibliolatrist said...

Don't feel too bad - chances are good that there were a variety of factors that led to the tears, and your purple checkmarks were simply the last straw. Besides, sometimes feeling crappy gives a student the extra motivation to kick some academic ass. No worries, m'dear, no worries.

It definitely sucks, but I'll bet that when she revises that paper and sees her new grade, she'll be so proud of herself for overcoming her obstacles that the tears won't matter any more.

Also, it's amusing to me that although red pens always get a bad rap, the color never really seems to matter once it's all over your essay. (I'm currently making papers bleed purple as well!)

Blogger Gretel said...

Having made many a student cry, I totally understand. I'd imagine that some lines had more than one mistake in them though. So just imagine if you had circled every error instead! It would've just killed her. Sometimes being a teacher means being a great big meanie. (My papers bleed green lately.)

Blogger paul said...

I think it had to have been the checkmarks. Personally, when I comment on student essays, they are always used to indicate the positive. You know... Thesis? Check. Counterargument? Check. Does this paragraph generally make sense? Check.

Don't blame yourself or your pen. All tears can be traced back to punctuation :)

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