Zombie Teacher Bots
“Yep. I’m reading these papers and they’re killing me– killing me, I said– but it serves me right because I’m a lousy teacher.” I slammed a few drawers to see if it would make me feel better.
“The papers I’ve been reading tonight? Worksheets.” I exaggerated a shudder of horror. “They plan to teach grammar with worksheets. Yep. That’s me, lousy….”
“What’s wrong with worksheets?” my educated-for-a-number-of-years-in-a-British-system-husband interrupted.
I gave him the withering look of a woman who just wants to rant. “We don’t do them in my classes,” I said darkly. “We study language in the context of writing.”
“Oh.” He picked up the dental floss.
“Except my students all say they believe in studying grammar in the context of writing, and then what do they have the kids do?” I slammed a drawer. “Worksheets. Yep. That’s me. Lousy worksheet teacher.”
I’ve been giving this exact assignment for years. This is the first time I’ve gotten a batch of papers where everything from tone to syntax is…off. Many of these papers don’t even sound like the people I’ve been reading all semester. And on top of that, there’s the stuff they’re planning to do with– to?– their students, all in the name of teaching writing.
It’s as if the lively, cheery, bright crop of teachers and teachers-to-be, who I’d thought were thriving in our writer’s workshop, had been suddenly possessed by zombie robots with an obsession for correct sentence structure and proper punctuation.
Which is why, when one of my students emailed another copy of her paper with a note saying she was distraught about how it had turned out, I suggested she come in so we could talk about it. Today, she came to see me.
I pulled up the paper on the computer screen so we could both scan it. It wasn’t that it was so awful, she said. It’s just that it’s what she could have come up with on her own, before our class, and she hadn’t come to grad school to do that. So began one of those wonderfully simple conversations that changes everything.
Why had she focused so quickly on the errors in the student papers, I wondered. The people who seemed to have had an easier time with the project started by looking at what the student writers were doing well, and then figuring out approaches that built on strengths.
“What?” she said, flushing slightly. “I mean, yes, that’s what I’d do ordinarily, but….”
“I saw those…thingies, um… standards written on the bottom of the page and I thought you’d be sending our papers into whatever that official organization was, so I just wrote what I thought they would want to read.”
After all the weeks where I’d practically brow-beaten them into real writing?
“I had a really progressive English teacher in high school. Every time we had to do something official, she’d make a face and say, ‘We have to do this for the test. It’s going to be awful, so just suck it up.’ I guess that’s what I automatically did here.”
to be continued