By Erik Hanson
It’s the Monday morning after Finals and all my grades are tallied, waiting to be posted by college officials. I’m caught between rummaging through my files for something to do (there has got to be something to do because there’s always something to do, isn’t there?) and turning off the alarm for the rest of break to see if I can remember how to sleep in until noon, like the old days. Maybe a compromise between the two? Choosing one will likely leave me either burned out before the next semester arrives, or else I’ll be woefully under-prepared when the Spring semester begins—having gathered only the basic materials, and not having tweaked my lesson plans. (Several lessons didn’t go quite as planned.) The decision can wait until tomorrow though, because today I plan to drink coffee, watch the snow come down, and reflect on the past few months.
The first reflection actually has little to do with any of my classes, but everything to do with the perceived college mindset.
Outside of my classes, I spent a few hours a week tutoring in the Academic Support Center on campus, and the English students apparently had all their major papers completed, because Finals Week was quiet. I spent most of my time nibbling away at the stack of my own students’ final papers, and although there were no students coming to me for help, there was still the usual number of students using the Center for group study. It’s difficult not to eavesdrop—inadvertently or not—and I heard a Finals Week gem.
At the table next to me, one student said to another, “Cs get degrees, son.”
Later that day, I posted this on Facebook, “Overheard this sage advice from one student to another during Finals Week: “‘Cs get degrees, son.’ Glad it wasn’t my student.” My post inspired some interesting comments. The initial response was that my post had inspired a “little wave of depression.” Someone else was incredulous over the assumption that I’d never heard the phrase before. I’m not sure exactly what response I was hoping for, but the more I thought about the actual meaning of those words, the more I thought back on how many of my own students may have shared the same attitude, whether they said it out loud, or not.
The phrase might mean the effort put forth was not satisfactory, but at least it was enough to pass the course. On the other hand, the phrase may also be interpreted to mean that mediocrity can still bring success. I had students whom I suspect fit into the former category, and, sadly, I’m fairly certain I had students who also fit the latter; these are the students who can really test the resolve of a New Adjunct. Why? Because all students must be treated fairly, no matter how indifferent some of them may act. The trick is to not take the indifference personally. However, this can be difficult.
I feel fortunate that most of my students more than made up for the few who invested only minimal effort. I can look back on a semester full of lively discussions, thoughtful responses in daily written work, and consistent improvement in each of the major papers. The icing on the cake was the last day, when everyone left knowing that it could very well be the last time we see each other, and many of my students smiled and shook my hand before walking out the door.
I could really get used to that. For the next couple of weeks, however, I’ll try to get used to sleeping until noon.
About the Adjunct: Erik Hanson completed his MA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing from the University of Northern Iowa, where he also earned his BA in German, during which time he spent one year studying abroad in Austria. Thus far, his teaching portfolio consists of developmental writing and composition courses. In those rare moments when he is not in class or tutoring English students, he can usually be found hunched over his keyboard with a cup of coffee, working on short fiction or developing his novel.