Students: one-on-one

The semester is winding down, and that generally means student conference time for me. My English teaching philosophy, often much to my student’s chagrin, is revision focused. Students get to revise (read: must revise) all of their papers in the course once except for the final paper. And, I don’t like that the final paper is so heavily weighted and doesn’t give students a chance to revise, so I like to hold one-on-one conferences with the students about those papers. This also helps me out with final grading because I find I’m either grading stronger papers or poor papers that remain relatively unchanged from the conference time. In the latter case, my grading time is reduced because I can just say something like, “In your conference we mentioned reorganizing this section, but I don’t see significant change.” (I photocopy the marked up conference drafts for comparison sake). I don’t feel guilty because I’ve already met with the students one-on-one and extended an offer of a follow-up meeting at that point.

Student responses to conferences are interesting. I like that I get a few moments with the students one on one, so I can say things like, “You know, you came into class really quiet and shy, and over the course of the semester, I’ve seen you get bolder with your class observations. I hope you continue to speak up like that because you’ll do well in college if you do” And, I say things like, “IF you’d just listen to directions, you’d be a stronger student.” And, sometimes I’ll even say things like, “You know, if you appeared to have no talent or discipline I’d have probably given up by now. But, you do have talent; you need to pair that with the discipline to get your work done. Stop selling yourself short.”

This week, two conference moments stood out to me. First, I caught unintentional plagiarism in a paper, and I was trying to explain what was going on to the student. In the midst of my coaxings of “I know you probably didn’t meant to do this” and “this could wind up earning a failing grade on a paper” and “you need to clearly signal where a multi-phrase paragraph starts…”, the student pulled the paper away from me, took a pen, and wrote above the offending section, “Fix this or get a 0.” I guess that works too…

Then, this afternoon made at least the top five list of most hilarious conferences ever. Quite possibly it tops the list. The student is one of my students who I have thoroughly enjoyed working with this semester. She’s one of those students who thinks she’s a bad writer, but I get the joy of telling her that she’s really much, much better than what she gives herself credit for. She’ll rip an entire paper apart and start again if she needs to, and she’s gone above and beyond to meet with her old high school English teacher to get advice on revising assignments she’s working on. She’s an education major, and since she feels like writing is not her best subject, she told me she’s doing what she can to plug those gaps in knowledge since she’ll have to teach English someday. I hope she stays in the area because I’d love to put my future kids in her class.

Today, she came in with her paper, and we were bantering back and forth about some things. She then shared with me that she felt strongly about her paper that analyzed the way that advertisers manipulate women on matters of appearance because it hit home for her and because she was disgusted by the advertising tactics being used on her now that she knew how to analyze them. She talked about how her laptop keyboard was taking a beating because she was so intense while she was writing the paper. (And, nothing, absolutely nothing in the world, does a teacher’s heart better than seeing a student learn for the sake of learning and personal growth.)

As we moved past the opening banter and discussion of the paper, I asked my typical, “Is there anything you want me to be looking for as I read?” She got a little sheepish and started to explain, “Well, I did find some song lyrics from Glee that fit my introduction really well, but they have a curse word in them. But, they really make the point that I wanted to make, and I wasn’t sure if I could leave the word….”

As she was bending over backwards to make sure she wasn’t doing something offensive in her paper, I broke in to say, “I’m not worried that you’re going to be running around cussing habitually seeing that you can’t spell curse words” while I was at the same time swooping into her paper to quickly place an n behind the “dam” in the song lyrics. The two tutors in the Writing Center who had been thoroughly enjoying the pre-conference banter started to chuckle, and within three seconds, the two tutors, the student, and I were all laughing so hard that the director of the general tutoring services ducked his head into the room to see what was going on.We all had to take a few moments to catch our breath before we could move on.

Then, the tutors and I settled in to hear the student read through her paper for me, and the passion that she said she had for the assignment oozed out of the paper and permeated the entire animated reading. Even though I was brain dead from 28 one-on-one conferences with students this week, most of them within the last two days, those 30 minutes late on a Friday afternoon were perhaps some of my most favorite in the entire semester.