Friday, March 5, 2010

March 5

I am writing this on the Friday afternoon of the sixth week of classes. I didn’t write anything here last week because I didn’t have much to say. This past week, though, has been unbelievably busy with grading the midterm for Briggs’s class.

First, though, I will say something briefly about the fifth week. I was really surprised that so few undergrads attended Briggs’s lecture that week even though it was the last one before the midterm in which he discussed what would be on it. Attendance was a little higher than usual—about 60—but still nowhere near the entire class. About 20 students came to my discussion section that day—mostly, it seemed to me, ones that had not attended Briggs’s lecture earlier in the day. I repeated what Briggs had said about the exam, including what general areas it would cover. What the students wanted from me, though, was to tell them what questions would actually appear on the exam. I told them that not only would I not tell them that, but that I couldn’t even if I wanted to since I hadn’t seen the exam (Briggs hadn’t even written it). Upon hearing this, most of them got up indignantly and left! I was amazed!

A few, including Shivvy, did stay and ask me questions on the material—about which these particular students appeared remarkably confused. I ended up getting annoyed at Shivvy when she took it upon herself to point out where my explanations differed from Briggs’s. For the first time since the first week of class, the discussion section lasted the entire hour. I really felt like a professor.

Shivvy walked back with me to my office, but she didn’t come in since there was a line of students waiting to see me. There were six altogether—none of whom had attended either Briggs’s lecture or my discussion section. What they all wanted, of course, was information about the midterm. I had them all come in at the same time so I would only have to repeat once more what Briggs had said about it that morning. After ascertaining that I could not tell them what was actually on the exam, five of them left.

One girl, though, stayed behind and told me tearfully about how she was so confused by this course and didn’t know how to study for it. I tried to make some helpful suggestions about what to study as well as to reassure her that she could do well if she tried. She finally left after half an hour or so, at which point Shivvy came in.

According to Shivvy, who had apparently been listening outside the entire time, the girl’s tears were all an act, and that she was actually trying to let me know that she was willing to trade sexual favors for an “A” from me. “And it seemed to me,” she added, “that you were pretty favorably disposed toward her. I wonder what you would have done if you hadn’t known that I was outside listening the entire time.”

I told her that her theory was outrageous on three counts. First of all, I hadn’t known she was outside listening; I never thought she would have been silly enough to do something like that. Second, the girl was genuinely upset. And third, I wasn’t attracted to the girl.

“Oh no?” she asked. “Well, there’s one way to find out: let me feel your crotch to see if your dick is hard or not.”

I really got mad then. I told her that she was completely out of line, and that I wanted her to leave my office now before she made an even bigger fool of herself.

She stood up slowly. “If I find out you’ve been fooling around with this girl,” she said, “you can bet that you and I won’t be getting back together at the end of the semester or any other time.” Then she finally left. I checked outside to see if there was anyone there who might have overheard her. Luckily there wasn’t. God, what a bitch she can be!

Well, I guess I had more to say about that previous week than I had anticipated. Anyway, let me move on to this past week. Briggs wrote up the exam on Monday. We met that day to go over what he thought would constitute an “A,” “B,” etc. He also gave me the exam to photocopy for the students, and told me where in the department office to find blue books to distribute (unlike public universities like Cal State Barstow where students must buy their own blue books, private universities like Charles buy them for the students).

Briggs told me that he wouldn’t be coming to class for the midterm and that I was to administer it. I arrived in class a few minutes early on the day of the exam. There was a larger group of students than I had ever seen there before, all busily studying the text books or their notes. Promptly at nine o’clock, I told everyone that the exam was about to begin and that they should put away everything except their pens and whatever beverages they had brought in with them (nearly all of them had). Some students, of course, had forgotten to bring pens (amazing, considering that they knew they were going to be taking an exam), but I had anticipated this and by bringing six or so with me from the department office.

I then passed out copies of the exam and the blue books—a process which took longer than I had expected. I reminded the students to write their names clearly on the front cover of the blue book. I also told them, at Briggs’s insistence, to write their names on the exam itself and turn it in with their blue books when they had finished. Briggs said this was important because a few students probably wouldn’t show up for the midterm when it was scheduled, and that he didn’t want them to be able to get it from anyone who had taken it. I would have thought that anyone who didn’t show up should automatically flunk it, but he said most of them would undoubtedly have some excuse and that I should arrange to administer it to them during my office hours without even consulting him. And, it turned out, there were four students in this category. Two of them showed up to take the exam during my office hours later that day. They didn’t bother to offer any sort of apology, but just said they had stayed up so late studying the previous night that they had slept through the exam.

What surprised me during the exam itself is that so many students arrived late for it—some by as much as thirty or forty minutes. Maybe I’m old fashioned or something, but I never would have dreamed of showing up late for an exam, much less missing it altogether and just assuming that I could take it at a more convenient time. I guess the top dollar tuition that their parents are paying here buys their sons and daughters quite a bit of slack.

As each student finished the exam, he or she gathered up his belongings and came over to where I was sitting to hand in both a blue book and the exam itself. This occasion was the first time I had a close look at those students who didn’t come to my discussion section—which was, of course, the vast majority. One of these, it turned out, was the African-American male who had had that contretemps with Danielle last semester. I hadn’t realized that he was in this class (could this have been the first time he attended?) I will continue here my policy of not mentioning his name for fear of causing any problems for him when this diary starts to be quoted from or is published. I can’t resist saying, though, that he is the son of a highly prominent African-American personage. If he were white, he would be what Michael would call an “upper classhole.”

Remembering the charges of unfair grading he had made against Danielle last semester, I decided to adopt the totally fair grading procedure that Brendan Cohen employed back at Barstow: before reading any of them, I folded back the front cover of each blue book so I couldn’t see the name of the person written on it. As I read each exam, then, I had no idea who had written it, and so did not let any personal acquaintance—or lack of it—affect my grading.

Students only had to pick one question out of five to write an essay on for the exam. Most of the essays I read, though, were not particularly impressive; some were downright stupid. Under my totally fair grading system, only a dozen students earned an “A” or “A-.” Shivvy only earned a “B+.” I didn’t give any “F’s,” but there were several “D’s”—including one for the African-American male student whose name I’m not mentioning. After I realized that I had given him a “D,” though, I raised his grade to a “C” in compensation for the past injustices experienced by African-Americans. I’m sure he’ll appreciate that.

I had to finish the grading today so that I could get the exams to Briggs because he wanted to have a chance to look at them over the weekend before passing them back to the students this coming Tuesday. (As a student I always appreciated professors who gave back exams quickly, but as a TA I’ve come to sympathize with those who don’t.) When I went over to his office this afternoon with the exams and a record of the grades, I was surprised to find Angie there instead of Briggs. It was the first time I had seen her since helping her move out back in December.

“Hey, Jonathan!” she said cheerily. “I was expecting you. Just set those exams down here. I’ll take them to Barry.” Barry, she explained, was attending a seminar at Harvard but had asked her to drop by his office both to get the exams I had graded and, more importantly, the package with the copy-edited manuscript of his new book, which she had opened to see if she needed to bring anything else from his office back home with her.

“I kind of doubt Barry’s going to spend much time reviewing those exams,” she told me. “He and I have got a lot of work to do on this manuscript.” She explained that he had to review all the changes made by the copy-editor on the manuscript, answer all last-minute questions, verify all quotations, and verify and complete all citations. “Barry hadn’t quite completed them all before,” she said with a mischievous smile.

“He’s got to get everything back to the publisher in two weeks if the book is to be out for the International Relations Association conference this September in Washington. And he’s letting me help him! Isn’t it exciting?”

First Doug, then Angie. It seemed like everybody has been working on Briggs’s new book except for me. “If you need any help with it, just let me know,” I told her.

If in fact Briggs doesn’t review the exams this weekend, then I will have busted my ass for nothing to finish grading them today. Oh, well—at least it’s done. And now I have the weekend to catch up on my own course work—of which there is now one hell of a lot to do.

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