Teaching is a difficult balance on the best of days. Of course, not every day is the best of days, and on those days balance is even a tougher grab. Take, for example, my writing class. It ends at 9:58 AM.
Most days I know that, but for some reason today I did not. At 9:46 AM I decided I only had two minutes left. I therefore placed a homework assignment on the board. I wrote that the students had to rewrite the paragraph we were working on today and hand it in tomorrow.
This seemed like a good idea at the time. Some students asked if they could photograph the board, so as not to go through the evidently excruciating task of copying my instructions. After all, there must’ve been two, maybe three sentences there. Once you’ve written that much, you’ve halfway done the homework, and who wants to do 50% extra work, especially if it’s writing stuff?
Once everyone had copied, taken a photograph, or done whatever needed doing, it was 9:48. The bell was quite uncooperative. I quickly realized the period didn’t end until 9:58, and stifled a comment that would’ve surely earned me my first letter in file. While I was please with having controlled that instinct, I was still unhappy with the situation. I mean, there I was with only one digit off, and my students were all packing up their stuff, ready to go. Hey, the kids thought, if this teacher wants to end the class ten minutes early, who am I to disagree?
I immediately started behaving as though I’d intentionally written the homework at that time. Hey, why is everyone packing up? We have another ten minutes. You should be revising your paragraphs! No one paid me any attention. Homework is the thing this teacher talks about last if he bothers to give it at all, and everyone knows that.
I tried another tactic. I walked around again and individually asked to see work, most of which now had to be unpacked from bags. I asked them where their work was and whether they’d finished their first draft. Oh, yes, everyone said. Some had really done a pretty good job. Is this your best work? Do you want me to grade it now? Most decided to at least pretend to start working again, but one bold soul said fine, go ahead.
It was an unfortunate choice for the guy. I looked at his paper, and it was largely incoherent. He’d been using a translating dictionary that had not been good to him. I finally managed to persuade him not to hand it in, but I would bet you he hands me the same paper tomorrow. He probably thinks I won’t remember having read it, and why shouldn’t he? After all, I’ve been teaching this class for months, and I don’t even know what time it ends.
I’m not sure exactly what causes me to make mistakes like that. It could be getting up preposterously early in the morning. I teach four in a row in the extreme AM, which I agreed to do in exchange for weaseling out of the dean job I’d managed to get. People in my building will kill one another to get that dean gig, but I absolutely hated it. Maybe four in a row is doing my brain in, although I have to say this is the first day this year I’ve made that mistake.
I hope it’s the last, but no promises.