Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012

On a family trip to Italy on the Millenial year, after we saw the Sistine Chapel, the Hall of Maps, the courtyard with the enormous machine-like sphere, our family wandered through the rest of the Vatican museum, only half-paying attention.  In one of the glass cases was this very small sculpture; in my memory not more than a few inches tall.  It depicts Joseph pulling on the donkey while Mary, swaddled and very round, leans into the wind, shown by the cant of the bodies, the donkey's tail and Joseph's robes.

This small sculpture reminds me to think about Joseph and his devotion not only to his espoused wife Mary, but also to the cause of bringing Christ the King to his earthly kingdom.  He had to not only obey the law of the land in paying taxes, the laws of nature as he worked against the wind, the stubborn donkey, his Mary nearly delivered of child, and the laws of the marketplace as he tried to find a place for his family.

There are always those who are behind the scenes, pulling the donkeys forward, caring for others who remain the focus.  If not for Joseph's determination to do the right, the world might have shifted slightly on its eternal axis, tilting us off our Christ-centered mark.  May we all revere the Christ child in the manner of Joseph: shoulder against the wind, focused on the babe from heaven. 

Merry Christmas

Monday, December 10, 2012

Reflections on a Long Semester

This is what the semester felt like: me, surrounded by piles of papers, grading rubrics and my computer, dutifully marking comma splices, run-on sentences and loudly moaning to my husband as we compared the writing in our students' homework.  Other days I was typing away on the computer, dutifully creating assignments and worksheets and handouts day-by-day, week-by-week.

Some days I escaped, to the quilting and the cloth, and to trips with Dave or others.  But this semester, a new class I'd never taught, felt more like a ball and chain in many ways.  I felt so responsible. I was always trying to be at least a day ahead of my students.  I learned I hated my textbook.  Actually, I hated both of them, but doled out readings like some sort of medicine.  I was sorry I'd made the students buy them and tried to supplement with other books that I should have had them purchase, and interesting and challenging assignments.

This semester I also had Jonathan.  On the last assignment, I had them bring their paper and copies of all their sources in a manila envelope (his is above).  Jonathan was also known as Mr. Oh No.  Another friend had him the year before and when she'd hand back an assignment, he'd start keening "Oh! No! Oh! No!" at his less-than-stellar grade.  When I handed him back his paper today, he began keening again, whooshing in and out of the classroom if he was too upset (a coping mechanism for his particular disability), then finally storming up to me at the end of class and loudly saying "Okay.  Now we need to talk about my D+." I asked him to sit down until I had gotten through all the other students, and when finally I could talk to him privately, he immediately apologized to me for getting a such a bad score, for letting me down. Jonathan's words of apology caught me by surprise, reminding me again that he is at heart a nine-year-old boy in a man's body in a college classroom, trying his best to get his proverbial gold stars.

Today was our final exam day and this student came in bubbly and happy--the most animated I'd seen her the entire semester.  I used to think of her as zombie girl: lurching through the semester expressionless.  I wrote her this note at the bottom of her paper (which I think I took more time to grade that she took to write) to reassure that this time, her second time through this class, she would pass with a C.  She was still happy when she left today.

But now it's all done.  I've graded everything.  I tallied up grades.  I posted them on our electronic class site, and on Thursday, I'll upload them to Campus Central and move on to the next class.  I thought I'd feel something -- something more -- after finishing up.  It was a good class with some phenom students, as well as the others, including one of my C students who brought pizza for everyone in the class today.  

I'm wandering here, and badly.  If I were a teacher, I'd get out my purple pen and say "Focus.  Trim.  Edit."  But tonight I'm like my students, writing and writing trying to get at that elusive something I'm trying to say, yet knowing that I'll never be able to say it, but hope that the readers -- like some mysterious professor -- will sift my words, sort out the dross, find the gold.