Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, December 21, 2007

If you want to see a sinful English teacher,
click on the image.


The Calvinist Writing Teacher


I'll tell you when it smarts to be a Calvinist--right now. Well, yesterday. Today, not quite so bad.

I'm ninety per cent finished with grading papers. My colleagues who had fewer writing classes are already watching Christmas specials with their families, but I'm still at it. Wish it weren't so.

One of the most horrible questions I face in December and May is how exactly to mark the end-of-the-year papers. The odds are better-than-good that students only look at the grade anyway--why write anything helpful? That's what I ask myself. There ain't a one of 'em who gives a lick what I say about faulty parallelism or how to get more of a bang at the end of an essay. The storm door of the fall semester is already plastered tight shut. So why make comments, why splash ideas over their pages, why red-line a dangling participle? Just spit out a grade and head for Super Wal-Mart for last-minute Christmas shopping. Makes sense.

But I can't.

For the life of me, I can't.

Thank goodness for electronic papers. Years ago, I'd leave a stack of old papers outside my office for students to pick up when they come back to school in January. In May, most of 'em would still be there. "All that work," I'd say to myself. "All that blasted work I did, and nobody even stops by to pick it up."

Now that's a pity party I deserved.

But today papers aren't paper; they're some kind of electronic blips which I can simply attach to an ordinary e-mail and send home or wherever in-boxes virtually reside. Out of sight, out of mind. I have no great allusions about students reading them, no more than I had when they lay there outside my office like dead bodies; but at least, come March, they won't stink--they won't taunt me, zombie-like.

On a day like this, I don't like being a Calvinist, as if I had a choice. On a day like this, I'm sure Weber was right about Calvinism and Capitalism. On a day like today, I'm the very embodiment of his argument. Today, I am Max Weber's thesis.

And you know how that assertion is proved?--this way: if I don't do my thing on these papers, if I stand at the top of the stairs and drop 'em, and grade accordingly (you know the old story), if I don't give a hang, I can't live with myself. That's the real horror.

"Isn't that sweet?" someone might say. "Isn't that wonderful?--he's bound by character and profession to do the right thing. The man ought to be a bumper sticker for Dordt College."

I'm not being righteous here. I'm just trying to live with myself, my Calvinist self.

Besides, you're not the one grading the papers. You're not looking at one more day of reading. You think it's nice I'm diligent? Hah. To you, I'm a theory, a moral lesson, some kind of nose-to-the-grindstone model of arduous commitment to all those grand young people I serve as a teacher called to servanthood and all of that rah-rah.

What I'm saying is, I don't have a choice. This isn't free will here, after all. I'm a Calvinist, remember? Something in me predestined this disposition to do the right thing. Geesh.

But I better get down to it. I've got a bunch more left. Maybe I'll be done by the end of the day. Good night, I've wasted enough time.

(Oh, my Lord, there it is again.)

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jim,
Know what you mean. But the kids who do read your comments are worth the work. They thank you for it years later. And some of them take you completely by surprise.
Cornie

Siouxlander said...

I know, I know, I know. Tell you what: these essays are all electronic. I could send a bunch to you. . .