Boyd* sat across the table from me, having come to my office hours, held on the second floor of the library. It was his first visit, and I knew why he was there. His score on the second research paper assignment was a 9 out of 30, abysmal.
Tired of student topics like abortion, video games as a positive benefit, legalization of marijuana and way way too many papers on global warming, I changed up the schema for this class, tying into current events. "If you could have a portion of that stimulus money to engineer/fix/build/change something, what would you go after? It has to be domestic, as no American taxpayer wants their money to head overseas."
Boyd wanted to "end pollution." How? By tackling littering, global warming, car emissions, and recycling. Hmmm. Could I say this seemed to lack focus? Can I just say this is representative of his performance in this freshman comp class? Can I just he's a really sweet guy, and is WAY over his head? I relayed to him, as he sat there across the table from me, that his thesis seemed to lack focus.
"Then I'll just talk about just global warming."
"It has to be a domestic issue," I reminded him.
"Really?" He looked puzzled, really sincerely puzzled. "I didn't know that."
I did not reach across the table and strangle him. I did not even stand up with a regal flourish and order him to the elevators, down to the parking lot, into his car and to never come back to my class. I didn't even roll my eyes, which took considerable discipline.
However, I did crumble inside a little, as I've been flapping my jaws about this research paper for six weeks. I sent him downstairs to the computers, to look up on our class blog a list of subjects that he could choose from. "Think big, Boyd. Remember how much money they have in Washington to throw around."
I helped another student while he was gone, there in my luxurious "adjunct faculty office." But the chairs are nice and since it's the floor of the library where all the books are kept, hardly anyone is around to bug us.
Boyd came back up a few minutes later, a huge grin on his face. "I've got it, Professor. I know what I want to write about."
"Great! What did you choose?" I was praying for something clean and neat, as the 8 page rough draft with five sources is due in one week.
"Community Colleges. I want to write about community colleges."
"Terrific! How can all that stimulus money benefit community colleges?"
Quickly in my mind I reviewed some options that came to my mind: give me a real table that doesn't have the metal apron hanging off on one end. Buy a TV remote to go with all the TVs in our rooms. Better yet, let's have some real audio/visual/digital equipment, thinking of all my K-12 friends with their delicious technology set-up. Hurry up with the new library. Give us an adjunct office that's private. Hey, give us adjuncts a raise, since our faculty make two and half times what we do per teaching hour. I stopped myself there, for Boyd was about to tell me his ideas.
He leaned in. "Parking lots," he confided. "We need better parking lots."