Friday, May 23, 2008

21st century teaching

My grades are in! I remember the old days, when we had to pencil them carefully onto a form and submit them in an envelope to the campus police department. Now submitting grades is all online, of course.

I much preferred when I taught at U.C. Santa Cruz where there were no grades. Those were in the hippie-hangover days when UCSC had no grades, only "narrative evaluations." Now UCSC requires both (a grade plus a paragraph or two describing the students' achievements), so it's a lot of work for the professors. At SJSU--where I teach now--it's always been the same: traditional grades.

Of course, now students can "grade" their professors at Rate My Professors.com and on the teacher ratings spot on myspace. Every once in a while I venture over there to see what students are saying about me. Generally, the comments are positive. Sometimes it's clear I've rubbed someone the wrong way and that student grabs her/his power and posts an anonymous rant about me. (That's inevitable, I suppose, given how many hundreds of students I teach each year. Annie says I shouldn't bother going to the site, but it's kind of like not trying to not look at the remnants of a car wreck as you drive by . . .)

Once someone posted a bunch of homophobic things about me on Rate My Professors (like, "Don't take her, she's a disgusting lesbian!") but those comments must have potentially been libelous because they were deleted. I doubt Rate My Professors wants a bunch of lawsuits thrown their direction. Not that I'd ever consider bothering to spend my time that way when I have novels to write. (Besides, pointing out I'm a lesbian might send all the queer students and their allies my way, which I love.)

I used to be a heterosexual teacher, back in the old days, when I was teaching high school and married to a man. I was young, in my early 20s, and sometimes boys would ask me to their prom. I don't think they got it, that I was the "authority figure." In those days I used to mention things about my life (something like having gone to a concert that weekend with my husband) to "connect" to the students. Of course I hadn't thought about the fact that I was presenting myself as a heterosexual. I was just being "natural." Being "natural" now can have its backlash. Some students don't like lesbianism presented as natural. However, I continue to do so, my student evaluations be damned. (And, here's the kicker: they aren't damned. I do get some virulently homophobic students, but they are few and far between. Most students are either neutral or very happy to have a queer teacher.) Of course, if I ever share any of my writing with them, I'm outed right away. I mean, really, look at the cover of my poetry collection.

In the old days (the days of big hair, big earrings, and fatly-belted dresses), I wasn't only a straight teacher, I was the young teacher. I once got asked for my hall pass. At age 45, I'm very aware of how those days are long gone. Funny how when I told my students the other day that they needed to give me a self-addressed stamped envelope if they wanted their final papers back those under 25 said, "How do I do that? Where do I get stamps?"

I think they imagine that when I was an undergrad I chiseled my papers onto stone. Close, actually: I TYPED them. Onto onion-skin paper. Unless, of course, the professor didn't allow onion-skin paper. A ban on onion-skin paper sucked; while it was so thin it could easily get crumped in the typewriter roller, that was minor inconvenience since it was erasable. If I had to use regular paper, I had to grapple with sticky, wet, messy Wite-Out. It was hard when you'd waited until the last minute to do the paper because you'd have to blow and blow on the Wite-out, impatiently getting dizzy-headed as you waited for it to dry. No matter how long you waited, though, the letters typed onto Wite-Out would be blurry at best, and blots of illegible ink at worst.

Then I never would have been able to imagine today, the 21st century, the era of papers written on computers, grades submitted online, and queer teachers who don't necessarily have to be closeted.
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