For Zenon

Handed out an in-class essay yesterday and told students to write their name and date at the top.

Student: Do you care about the date?

Me: What?

Student: Do you care if we put a date?

Me: I JUST told you to write your name and the date.

Student: But does it matter WHICH date?

Me: (sarcastically) No, write whatever date you want so that I get confused when grading your paper.

Student: Okay. The year is 3055; the year of champions; the year of ZENON.

Me: ……what is happening.

Student: Sometimes I like to imagine a new date to make things more exciting.

(Now going through the essays, I see that a few of my students made up dates in a similar fashion. Yay for encouraging creativity? Sigh.)

Small Revenge

Today my students took an impromptu essay.  That means I gave them a prompt at the beginning of class, and they spent 45 minutes trying to write a satisfying answer to the prompt, in class.  All I had to do was sit at my desk and watch the clock.  Every few minutes I would walk to the chalkboard and write down a number; something like, “30 minutes remaining” or “10 minutes remaining.”  It was my job to proctor.

Whenever my students would hear the chalk hit the board, they would look up from their scribbling pens, startled, like a pack of meerkats who hear hyenas approaching in the distance, and wait to see which number I put down.  If it’s a big number, like 30, they are relieved and go back to their words.  If it’s a smaller number, like 15, they look to me with wide eyes, praying that I’ve counted wrong.  Yeah, I’m bad at math, but nope, you have 15 minutes left to impress me with your writing.

They hate it, though, if I don’t put a well-rounded number.  I once wrote, “26 minutes remaining”.  They glared at me.  I heard mutters.  I later put “12 minutes remaining” and some of them threw up their hands and leaned to their peers to ask if they could believe my nerve.  I admit that I have one job to do while they’re taking an in-class essay–to alert them about time–and sometimes I miss the exact “30 minute” mark; but come on!  Don’t waste time glaring at me!  Keep writing!  Impress me! Because once those 45 minutes are up, I am taking that paper.

So I sit at my desk, watching them take a test.  Sometimes I look at the clock.  Sometimes I rifle through loose papers to sound busy.  I think about how later I will have to read all of these essays, locked away in my dank office like Grendel from Beowulf — their 45 minutes will mean 4 hours for me.  But mostly I watch them, stone-faced, remembering how the sweat used to drip down my spine during tests, and how I ached for summer vacation, and how cool and collected my own teacher looked as he wrote “10 minutes remaining” on the chalkboard.

A teacher’s small revenge.

8 to 10


I used to assign 8 to 10 page essays.

I started gradually.  First essay was 5 pages, second was 5 to 7, until eventually we worked up to an 8 to 10 page paper.  I wanted to challenge students, to show them that yes, they could absolutely fill 8 to 10 pages with thoughts and analysis.  Those numbers somehow started to represent their ability to grow, mature, and be thought-provoking.

Never really took into account who would be reading those 8 to 10 page papers.

Me.  Moi.  I.  I would have to read them ALL.  And I have on average 35 students per semester.  So though I’m a writing teacher, let’s bring in a little math here.  If students average around 9 pages per essay (because dammit I was right and they COULD fill up those pages if they tried) and I have 35 students, 35 x 9 = ………(hold on, I’m an English person)…………315 pages.  

That’s longer than the Hunger Games.  Longer than most average novels nowadays.  Without the benefit of reading about Katniss arrowing people.  And I have to critique every single page, alone.  I should attach a receipt to the essays so that students will reimburse me for red pens.  

I soon gave up my fantasy that students could fill 8 to 10 pages.  Because even though they could, I realized I could not adequately read and critique 315 pages of undergraduate writing in 2 weeks.  

5 to 7 page essays, all around!  

She’s Got Jokes

A student pulls a pretty awesome prank on her professor. Makes me happy to see students feeling comfortable enough with a teacher to know that they can get away with a good laugh.

Also, I like the idea of forcing students to answer calls on speaker phone in class. Embarrasses them enough to remind them to put their phones away before class AND amusing enough to make me chuckle.