Friday, July 25, 2014

Grace Notes in a Week of a Crucifixion of Forms

It's been a wearying work week.  I had anticipated taking 6-8 weeks to complete a project that requires assembling faculty files.  For a variety of reasons, this week I found myself needing to do all the work in one week.

It sounds like it should be simple--just put the files together, right?  But it required faculty to complete several forms, to put the same information into a variety of formats, and to assemble documentation.  It's required lots and lots of photocopying.  Along the way, I have heard a variety of complaints about the forms and how we could make them better.  At one point, I heard myself say, "We are not tasked with creating a better form.  We are tasked with filling in the forms we have."

More than once I have thought of one of my own poems, "Conducting a Performance Review on the Feast of the Ascension."  It begins this way:

I have wrestled
with these forms—a modern
crucifixion—for over forty
days.  I spend more time
trying to coerce
the software into cooperation
than I do in assessment
of employee performance.

But let me also take note of a week of grace.  Because of the new timeline, I had to do teaching observations of two-thirds of my faculty.  It was a grueling schedule, yes.  But it was also wonderful to be reminded that while I'm wrestling with forms and copy machines, important work is being done in the classroom.

It was also fascinating to see so many classes in action in one week.  I saw threads winding their way through the classes.  I saw how one class informs another class, and how some students do retain this information and apply it in multiple subjects.  For example, I heard one student bring up the concept of the sublime in a conversation about mythology and Freud and Lacan.

This happened in a first year literature class.

The students weren't grad students studying Philosophy or undergraduate Psych majors.  No, they were your typical first year students.

Yes, typical.  I've taught in a variety of places, and I'm certain that there are more similarities between most first year students than differences.  I haven't worked at Ivy League institutions, I will admit.  But I've worked with students who come from a background of privilege and those who fled for their lives from repressive regimes--there are more similarities than differences.  I've worked with students who come from good school districts and those who come from some of the worst in the country--there are more similarities than differences.

It was good to remember that fact.  It was very nourishing for me to see that such good work is going on all around me.  It gave me hope that although I sometimes cannot perceive it, perhaps my own work supports the more essential work of the department.

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