Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Progress, Not Perfection

Well, my grades are all submitted, and thus ends another semester. I always get a little sad after posting final grades. Inevitably there are students who don't pass, and I always wonder how I could have done a better job. Of course, having a certain number of unmotivated students is par for the course in a developmental English class. Some of these kids, fresh out of high school, don't aim for anything higher than just getting by, and they're used to sliding on through with a minimal amount of effort. Then they get into college thinking they can do the same thing. I don't know why some students think they can pass without turning in a couple of papers and by skipping their lab assignment. I tell them they can't, and to turn in something, if only to get partial credit. A five-point "F" is still better than a zero. But I reckon some of them think I'm merely rattling a saber and I don't really mean it.

So, I've posted final grades and some will realize--too late, after the fact--that I did indeed mean it.

And all of this got me thinking about where I just slide on by, put in a minimal amount of effort, in my own life. Chelle and I were talking on the drive home from Hat Creek (six hours in the car, what else can you do?) and remarking on how much we've turned into an old married couple in a rut. She comes home, I'm parked in front of the tv with my laptop on my lap, she grabs her iPad, and we sit there engaged in everything but each other. There's comfort in routine and being able to sit quietly with a loved one, but there's also the fear of taking each other for granted. We've both gotten pudgy over the years, too, and so we wound up making a New Year's resolution: instead of the same old routine, I'll make us a healthy dinner every night, and we'll sit down together to eat it and talk before we retreat into our books or our computer games or whatever's on the Idiot Box.

I've been good about not drinking, but my cholesterol's a little elevated, and I've been lazy about exercising. My treadmill right now is covered with boxes. What I've got to do is get back into the habit of running sprints every other morning before work. That seems to be the only time I'll do them. Fortunately, my first class isn't until 9am next semester, and I have Tuesdays and Thursdays off, so I won't be as easily able to conjure excuses.

And I reckon that's what's bugging me about seeing students who are perfectly capable putting forth so little effort. How to motivate them? How to inspire them to do better? Other students have snarked that I ought to dock more points than I do. But, see, that doesn't work. I don't want students to FEAR an "F"... I want them to desire an "A."

So it's a never-ending quest to make things that seem mundane relevant and interesting, important--even crucial. Students say they enjoy my classes because it's clear I care.

But today I'm wondering if caring is enough.

Oh, well, as they say in AA: progress, not perfection. Every semester is different, and I get better and better as I learn from each failure.

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