Awful

One semester, quite a number of years ago, someone anonymously photocopied this and put it in our faculty mailboxes:

Usually I get pretty sick of grading papers in my Freshman Comp class. I usually don’t even do it; I just throw them away and tell the students I’m still looking at them, really pondering over them and will probably have to return them in the mail next semester or something. I’ve got about a dozen bushels of them wadded up in the attic, I bring them down and use them to start fires in the fireplace with each winter, good God they are awful, I sometimes read a page or two as I unrumple them and feed them to the fire; they make my stomach cramp and my breath come fast and shallow. Piss-Ant says I am irresponsible and maybe I am, but let me tell you those papers are awful.

At first I thought a “colleague” had written it. I found out later it’s from a short story, “Cats And Students, Bubbles And Abysses,” by Rick Bass. Yet somehow this bit has nary a word of fiction to it. The cold, hard truth is Bass tidily sums up the prevailing attitude of more and more faculty.

Don’t get me wrong. There are excellent, dedicated, hard-working teachers out there. I’m not one of them, and I tend to shy away from those who are. Their starry-eyed earnestness unnerves me. Most of the teachers I actually talk to are, like me, realists. This is a paycheck. It’s easy money, not a whole lot, but easy. I do the least amount of work possible to get it.

I generally don’t know my students’ names. I don’t really read their writing that closely. I scan it, at best, looking for a thesis and some support. I basically estimate what grade they should probably get based on their attitudes and how little aggravation they cause me. Right now I have essays waiting to be graded that I collected back in the first week of February. It’s now the middle of April.

When this passage showed up in our mailboxes, there was an uproar. It was a faculty meeting agenda item. One instructor got all breathless and pearl-clutchy and said, “Well!” (I expected to hear “I never!”). “I hope this doesn’t reflect how any of us feel!” Give me a break. Loads of us feel this way. If you can’t see that, you’re an idiot. To be fair, she was.

I read an article by Kathryn Dill in The Wall Street Journal: “New Jobs For Burned-out Teachers Mean Learning The Rules Of The Corporate World.” One thing that jumped out at me was this:

In a National Education Association poll conducted in January, 55% of teachers said they would leave education sooner than planned, up from 37% who said so in August.

So basically 18% more teachers from this poll started the school year, made it to christmas break, and said “Fuck this.” Why do you suppose that is?

The substandard pay? The bellicose authoritarianism of college presidents? The rampant incompetence and raging megalomania of those who think they have even a little bit of power? The constant low-level hum of administrative harassment in the form of paperwork, punitive faculty evaluations, and dumb shit we’re required to add to an already ten-page syllabus?

I’ve said this before, and I’ll go on saying it. None of my education friends started teaching because it was some kind of calling, none, because it wasn’t. It never has been. That’s a sacred myth what some teachers like to perpetuate about themselves because it sounds all noble and self-sacrificing. For me and all the teachers I associate with, teaching was something to do until something better came along. Sadly, for many of us, nothing did.

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