Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October 13: Blessed Magdalen Panattieri

I'm currently buried under a stack of essays I need to grade.  I'm having a hard time with them, not because they're particularly bad, but because I just can't muster up the energy to complete the task.  I've managed to correct around ten out of 50.  I try to grade in small amounts, one or two papers at a time.  Then I don't get quite so overwhelmed.  However, this time 'round, even grading one essay seems to take forever.  It's not good.  I've got four more batches of papers to get through this semester.  That's approximately 200, five-page essays.  One thousand pages of grading.  It's enough to make me want to call in sick for the next three months.

The problem, obviously, is one of motivation.  I don't feel particularly inspired as a teacher this autumn, and this attitude is spilling over into my work ethic on grading.  I don't mind going into the classroom and talking about books and writing journal entries and making insightful comments.  Yes, I can be insightful at times--just not about my own, personal issues.  I prefer denial.

I'm in this place where I don't feel a whole lot of what I'm doing makes much of a difference.  I look at a stack of ungraded essays and think, "No matter how many times I explain what a comma splice is, these people are never going to be able to write an elegant sentence."  I'm not sure if that qualifies as losing faith in humanity, but, after I correct five or six essays, I'm ready pull a Unabomber--move to an isolated, mountain cabin and write long, rambling letters on the hopelessness of the future (minus mailing bombs to people).  If a class of 25 students can't write a simple, declarative statement and punctuate it correctly, I get a little discouraged.  And cranky.  I'm the Una-cranker.

I know it's my job to try to help my students become better writers.  But, if I'm going to be completely honest, the students who hand in an "A" paper for their first assignment end up with "A's" for the class.  The same is true for students who turn in "B" papers.  And "C" papers.  You get the idea.  Seldom do I see students who actually learn to become better writers.  I'm not sure if this fact is a reflection of me as a teacher or my students as unmotivated, lazy writers.  As a person who indulges in a great deal of guilt, I usually choose the former.  As a realist/pessimist, I sometimes opt for the latter.  Depends on the day.

I just don't feel like I make much of an impact with my teaching sometimes.  I should probably take a page out of the life of today's saint, Magdalen Panattieri.  Born in 1443 in Trino, Italy, she lived her entire life in her childhood home.  For 60 years, she prayed, ministered to children and the poor, and gave "spiritual talks to women and children and later to priests and religious as well."  She didn't do anything earth-shattering in her life--no miracles, no levitations, no multiplying of spaghetti and loaves of garlic bread.  She just did her thing, day after day.  And she obviously made some kind of impact on the world.  I mean, she's one step away from being a saint.

I wonder if anyone ever became a saint for grading freshmen composition essays.  It's not meditation or prayer.  I'm not healing a one-footed, blind leper with a stutter.  I don't have stigmata.  However, I did have a student once tell me it looked like I bled all over his paper because of the red ink.  Maybe that counts.  I'll have to contact the Vatican.

So, I guess the message today is to just keep plugging along, one fragment and run-on sentence at a time. I might be making a difference without even knowing it.

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