Hang on to your hats, I am about to go ballistic.
To begin at the beginning: this semester I am teaching Children’s Literature, which is a course not without its problems, said problems often involving having to hammer info into the heads of those destined to be kindergarten teachers. This semester, instead of a bunch of delicate little kindergarten teacher types, my class is made up of monumental slackers.
How do I know? Well, they don’t come to class, and they are having trouble handing work in on time. Pshaw, I hear you say. That seems par for the course. Let me elaborate. These people are such slackers that the girl who turned up stoned to the exam last semester, who is in this class, is one of the more exemplary students.
Want more evidence? A couple weeks ago, their first assignment was due. The following class, I returned the assignment to those who had handed it in (about a third of the class). A couple others handed in their work that class, which meant it was 2 days late. At the next class, a week later, a couple more straggled in. I pointed out that the majority of students were still out to lunch on Assignment 1, and now, Assignment 2 was also due.
At this point, a guy in the class, hereby christened the King of Flakes, put his hand up and asked, “When is the last possible day to hand in the assignment?” WHAT THE FUCK KIND OF QUESTION IS THAT, ANYWAY? I mean, quite apart from the fact that they have a course outline that says “work handed in more than 7 days late will not be marked,” which is actually the answer to his question, what the FUCK kind of question IS that?
So that was the first couple of weeks of class. Sensing the mood of these dumbasses, and knowing that this week, I was kicking it up a notch by requiring them to give a 5 minute oral presentation, I began laying the groundwork for the presentation.
I told them it was coming up. I went through the requirements – to whit, you have to get up and tell a story to the class, as if we were, say 4-6 year olds, and it should take about 5 minutes. You can retell a story you know, or tell one about your life, or make up an original, or even just memorize a book and recite it, but there will be no notes. this is about Storytelling. You can even bring props or require audience participation, just as long as you are telling a story.
Is this rocket science? No. I’ve given this assignment to classes before, and they’ve all managed to do it, some of them even do it well. There has been enjoyment and success in the past. I know it’s possible.
I asked if there were questions. I brought in a kid to tell a story to the class. (It was a great story, by the way, and I don’t say this just out of fondness for the kid.) The kid, admittedly, told her story from notes. One of the flakes noticed this, and asked if they could also use notes. I replied: “this child is 9; I think you can probably manage this task without notes.” Following the demonstration, I asked if they were clear on the task. There were nods. I asked if there were questions. No questions.
So, Monday rolls around, and off I go to class, and the first thing that is notable is that of the 16 students scheduled to tell stories, only about 8 have bothered to show. Fabulous.
The first student gets up says “When I was 5 my mom took me to the petting zoo and a goat pulled my pants down.” THE END. That’s it? Apparently so.
The second presenter had the nugget of a fantastic story about how he got left behind on a family trip. This story could have had everything, suspense, exciting action, the emotional high of the eventual reunion, even an element of humour. Instead, he got up and flatly told the bare bones of the story in about 30 seconds, with a horrible scowl on his face.
And so it went. Of course, this is the peril of setting oral presentations. Sometimes they fall flat, or are cringe-makingly awful. I continue to persevere because other times they are interesting and informative and allow students to showcase their ability to convey information in ways other than written work. However, in this case, they were mostly dire, but at least they were short. Because of the pathetic efforts and the missing students, class was over in 30 minutes instead of 90. “That’s it?” asked the King of Flakes. Like somehow this was my fault for planning badly.
Today, I spent the morning debating whether or not to say I thought the previous classed sucked. On the one hand, telling snowflakes they suck means you are labelled “mean”, but on the other, HOLY FUCKING CRAP THEY SUCK.
In addition, I’m getting a vibe that their suckitude is going to be defended by whining. I’ve had a couple of emails, and there’s this whiny tone developing. So I decide to put my cards on the table. They can suck all they want, and half-ass the class all they want, but they can’t also expect to do well. Don’t want to hand your assignments in? Fine, but don’t blame me if you get a bad mark. Don’t want to put any effort into the assignment? Fine, but don’t expect to pass.
I comment on the general suckitude of Monday’s presentations (making sure to note the 2 honourable examples). And I know some of them agree with me because a couple are nodding, and one student had been to my office to ask a question and had made a comment indicating that she thought they sucked. So, yes, it is a dressing-down, and I am hoping that it will have the effect of making the ones who wanted to do well lift their game a little.
In the midst of my rant, King of Flakes puts his hand up. “To be honest,” he says (and OH GOOD, I think), he didn’t really understand what was required until he saw other people faceplant in the previous class. How can this be? Did he not hear the explanations? Read the assignment? Listen to the demonstration? Did he make any effort to ask a question to clarify his confusion? What more did he want?
“Well,” he said, “I thought it would be easier.” Fabulous. I don’t punch him, but instead ask if he can elaborate. “It just seemed that there were easier options.” Okay, whatever. I make the point that sometimes the easy way out isn’t the way to get the best mark, and we move on.
And, mirabile dictu, the presentations today are good. There’s humour, there’s audience participation; one guy accompanies himself on the guitar, one girl brings a friend to be a prop; it’s what I was hoping for the first time.
Then we get to King of Flakes’ turn. He gets up and starts to read Green Eggs and Ham. Just read the book. Not retell the story. He’s just trying to read the fucking book to the class.
Green Eggs and Ham, I will point out, is a set book from our reading list – he didn’t even go to the library or the bookstore or, I dunno a box of books in his house; just picked up the first handy book. He doesn’t recite it, like another guy did with a different Dr Seuss book, he’s just going to READ the GODDAMN set book from the FUCKING reading list.
I say to him “you can’t just read the book; the assignment says ‘tell a story without notes’. This is not doing the assignment”. He looks at me like I am insane. See, he wants to do something easier. Rather than, you know, the set task, which I will reiterate, isn’t difficult. I tell him to cut it out. He’s determined to read the book, and the class is bewildered, and I suggest that he sit down and figure out what the fuck he thinks he’s doing, and we’ll have the next presentation while he does that.
As a result of all of this folderol, we ran out of time, and there are a couple more people left, so I have to effectively give them an extension and let them present next class. So at the end of class, I have a talk to King of Flakes. Would he like to TRY the Herculean task of memorizing Green Eggs and Ham for next class? He just looks at me like I am insane again. “I won’t be able do that.” WHAT? This is his response? “I thought you would just take marks off if I didn’t memorize it,” he explains. Well. Yes. Yes I will. All of them.
Can I just repeat something here, in case you missed it in all of the foaming of the mouth? The book it will be too onerous to memorize is Green Eggs and Ham. Yes, that Green Eggs and Ham. The one that goes:
I am Sam
Sam I am
I do not like that Sam-I-am!
Do you like
green eggs and ham?
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.
I do not like
green eggs and ham.
Snowflakes, I present to you your king.