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April 14, 2012: Over the Hump

The school semester is slowly winding down –there are now three classes left. I have two guest speakers scheduled and a final exam. Yesterday, the students knew that we’re now in the home stretch. They were all upbeat and talkative. If there’s an underlife in this class, I’m unaware of it.

We’re a tight group. They no longer look mystified when I have them get in groups and give ten-minute presentations. Rather, they happily get to work. And the subsequent discussions now center around the subject matter of

animal behavior. Yesterday we finished talking about the developmental behavior of horses, pigs, cows, and lambs, and began talking about the ingestive behavior of the same. All discussions have a focal point. In this one, it was this: something’s majorly wrong if your piglet isn’t eating and has an outstretched tail.

I will miss this particular group of individuals. They’ve verified what I previously believed, that writing has its place in science-based classes. Some have grumbled a bit, which is to be expected. They sense that writing to communicate is slowly becoming passé. I’ve worked hard to convince them this isn’t so, and as well, that writing to learn is a legitimate cognitive activity.

I returned student papers at the conclusion of class. I thought that I had them all, and in fact had double checked my stack because I’d previously separated two out from the rest. Yep, I had them. A line formed and I doled out my dwindling pile, commending each student on a point well made. When I was done, one student, in fact, one of just three guys in class, stood in front of me. I hoped that Riley was going to ask me for advice about veterinary school. Instead he uttered the dreaded words that instill fear in the heart of each and every writing teacher.

“Do you have my paper?” he asked.

I looked at the two sheets in my hand. Both belonged to students who were absent.

“No,” I said.

“That’s okay. You can give it to me next week.”

There was a moment of awkwardness, the kind that is altogether too familiar to most writing teachers. This moment is intensified if the questioner (as is Riley) is an A student. Most counter this by digging like a dog for the missing missive. I’ve done it, and always, the paper’s resurfaced. This time, I did not. I don’t know why I didn’t. It may have been that I knew that this wasn’t the end of the world. If need be, Riley could print me up another copy.

I instead assured Riley that he’d done well on this particular assignment. There was a grain of truth to this, for I vaguely remembered reading what he’d written, and that it was a better-than-average response to an unintentionally ambiguous question. It occurred to me on the drive home that Riley will presume that he’d done an okay job on this assignment, and move on to the next. So I hope that if and when the paper materializes, that my comments are positive.

Writing teachers get summers off so that they don’t continue to obsess about such things. This is good because it’s been scientifically proven that acute obsession leads to mental deterioration. And together writing teachers are hard to find.

To the Student whose Paper I Supposedly Misplaced
It was not that I lost your paper,
but rather that I ate it.
I was so hungry
that I did not share it with the dog
who was also hungry, or with my husband
who insists on getting three squares
seven-days-a-week. I instead tore your response
into bite-sized pieces, placed them in a bowl
and poured milk and sugar on top.
It was tough, deciding which bits to eat first.
In fact, I sat for some time, spoon in clenched in hand,
hoping that your work would be easy to swallow.
It was not. I chewed increasingly more slowly,
each sideways movement of my jaw a testimony
to the importance of carefully thought out phrases.
Rest be assured, this won’t happen again
for I’m low on milk and sugar.
Your work was not lip-smacking good,
but rather, just passable. A tough statement
to make to an overachiever but an honest one at that.

128. 4/15/12: Birds of a Feather