Sunday, July 3, 2011

Argh. Papers. Students. Comp teachers other than me.

I have a bunch of people to hunt down and beat with the papers of their students. One of them is at least one, if not two, of my colleagues in the college where I work.

I have a class that started at 25, and has shrunk to 15 or so. Out of that class, I have 15 different levels of competence in writing. Most of the class is white females, but I have one male, about 19 years old, still turning in work at midterm. I have one Vietnamese girl, one from India, and one black girl from the inner cities.

My writer who was born in India speaks three languages: the local language from where she was born, Hindi (the state language), and English (learned in '03, when she and her family immigrated to the US). She's got some odd sentence structure and word-level idiosyncrasies, but she's still a far better writer than most of the class, almost all of whom are native speakers and writers in English.

One of the worst writers, but with the most potential, is the black girl. She went from doing next to nothing right on her first paper's first draft (it was double-spaced, at least) to earning an A on that paper's revisions. And it was her work--the turn of phrase was the same, and so was the thought processes her writing showed. It was just totally reorganized and expanded from one paragraph in a rambling mess into a movie review. All it took was basically outlining what she'd said in her paragraph for her. She did the work to rewrite the paper from disorganized, unfocused, underdeveloped mess to not just readable, but good.

Her second paper was eminently readable and well developed and organized, with just a bit needed to be done to fix some small problems with focus on her topic. It was single-spaced, but still quite good--a complete contrast to her first draft of her first paper. Again, still her work.

She told me that no one had ever explained to her, point by point, what went into a successful paper before. I'm guessing she never had a teacher who was a competent writer--it seems to be rarer all the time--and may not have had a teacher who was competent in anything.

She's obviously smart. There's no other way she could go from six pages of nothing to four pages of well developed, focused, and organized essay.

What I don't understand is that she passed Comp I with this kind of deficit. I understand that her public school not just dis-served but mis-served her in ways that aren't forgivable. It's the public schools in the inner city--I expect nothing different (though I wish to heaven it was). I want to know who taught her Freshman Composition I. I want to beat the thunder out of them with the two drafts of her paper and scream at them for not teaching this child how to write a paper. All I should be doing at this point is teaching her how to write a persuasive piece, and polishing the gem that she is.

This child isn't a nigger. The people who either didn't teach her, or who taught her wrong, are--no matter what their pigmentation. I suspect they're also racists, and held her to a lower standard than what they held their other students to.


  1. There are not enough educators who really care about what they are doing.....after they obtain tenure, it gets worse.

    I have no idea WHY in grammar school I just started writing "stuff!"

    About that time my aunt (a news reporter) gave me her Royal typewriter (I still have it)--been writing stuff ever since.

    In retrospect, computers/word processors have made it so much easier AND FASTER to write (creative or otherwise), I wish I would have one way back when!

    I don't want to sound 'corny', BUT GOOD JOB, HOLLIE!

  2. It takes a lot of reading to be a half-decent writer, and you have to wonder what percentage of people read much of anything except text messages?

    Looking back, I can say that with the exception of maybe a double handful of teachers over the course of my meager 12.33 years in the educational system, most everything I know was learned despite school, not because of it...

  3. I guess I am a rare one!

    I don't read 'books'!

  4. Dude, you don't have to read books to read a lot. And I *know* you read a lot. It just all happens to be news articles and blog posts.

    It isn't just reading a lot that makes a good writer--you also have to write. A lot. And most people do as little of both as they can get away with.

    Sadly, that includes those who are supposed to teach reading and writing to impressionable young minds...which is just one more reason I plan to homeschool my kids.

    (My son already can point to about a third of the alphabet's letters and loves books and reading--and he's only 2 2/3 years old.)


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