I’ve taught for a year now, which isn’t that long considering this is the type of job people start as vibrant young grapes and retires as embittered raisins. Despite my brief period teaching, I’ve amassed a nice list of things students do that really gets my goat.
I teach Freshman composition so I encounter a lot of writing that really challenges the form, and by ‘challenging the form’ I mean they’ve got their friends together and bludgeoned it in a dark alley. That isn’t to say I exclusively read bad writing; actually, most of my students are fantastic, but a lot of them, even my best and favorites, do some consistently wonky stuff with their papers. Like their weird verbs. Weird isn’t descriptive enough to capture just how rollercoaster-wonky some of the sentences I read are, so here’s an anonymous example: “The text saturates its audience with emotion then wows them with more emotion before utilizing ethos effectively to bring them back home.” That was the thesis statement of a recent essay, and I really wanted to write “what the shit are you trying to say here?” The only way a text could saturate an audience is if it were very, very wet and wrung out over their heads. The particular text this student was analyzing, a commercial for yogurt, hadn’t wowed anyone, so there was no reason to assign undue grandeur to it.
If any students are reading this, I’d like to give you an epiphany for free: write clearly, plainly, and directly because it is really easy to fuck a sentence up when you hurl words that don’t belong into it. I understand the reason; it’s an easy mistake to think that inserting interesting-sounding words will make a sentence more interesting, but it doesn’t. Make the idea interesting, and usually the words you use to describe it will have to be just as interesting too.
I feel very passionately about the word “utilize,” and so, apparently, do my students. We just so happen to be on opposite ends of a battle I’m absolutely going to win. My issue with “utilize” is that it is almost completely useless in the way my students use it. Google’s definition of “utilize” is “[to] make practical and effective use of,” which basically means to make utility of something; it’s like “use” only more directed at how something is being used rather than it simply being used. So, my question is why the fuck are so many of my students using utilize like it means the same motherfucking thing as use. If “utilize” and “use” meant the same thing, I could run through this paragraph and replace every “use” with “utilize” and it wouldn’t sound like someone begging their teacher to notice how clever they are.
I schedule appointments outside my office hours for students; I comment on drafts in extra detail if asked; last semester I bought them pizza. I guess through these little kind moments I’m sending a bit of a mixed signal on what I’m willing to do for my class because I’ve gotten some strange, rude requests through email. Last semester, one of my students printed an extra copy of her essay, so she was out the 80 cents it cost to print it at the library. That night I got an email asking for compensation. I have a rule that I don’t reply to emails after 5 except on the week before something is due, and this email came around 10 pm in the wrong week. However, this student was being brave, so I obliged. I emailed her a word document with “sense” written on it 80 times. Apparently her friend thought it was funny.
Absences Followed by Questions
This one irks me on a cosmic level. When a student is absent, I’m perfectly fine if they ask me questions before or after class or email me about what they missed. Sure, I’m annoyed that they missed my class which is the most important thing going on in their life, but I can make time if they do. It’s when they raise their hands, their eager little I-didn’t-come-to-class-for-eleven-days-and-now-I’m-confused little hands that I start begging an asteroid to smite my continent from the Earth. This is, however, one of the annoying things that is really gratifying to resolve because the second one of my chronic absentees asks a question about what they missed while we’re in the middle of a new lesson, I stop, smile, and say “you would know if you came to class.” I’m an ice-cold motherfucker when I get stood up by my students.