Posted by: L. E. Barnes | September 30, 2009

Serenity Prayer Time

Today I gave my students their graded papers, which as I mentioned last time was their first writing project for the semester. As a whole, my three freshman composition classes didn’t do well on the assignment. I can pretty well spot which ones aren’t likely to pass the course, if they don’t drop out before the semester ends. That’s to be expected, especially–alas–at the community college level. While teaching at East Carolina University, I didn’t have as many students struggle so badly with their work, but here it’s a different story. My students in the spring semester had already taken the basic composition course that I’m teaching this term, and the ones who failed were frequently ones who simply didn’t do the work. My current crop of students, however, has me wondering whether a fairly high failure rate is par for the course around here.

I teach 3 back-to-back classes on Monday, Wendesday, and Friday mornings. Today, as one of my 9 AM students was entering the classroom, she was chuckling and remarked to me that some of my 8 AM students were congregated around the building’s entrance talking about me–and they didn’t sound happy. Ok, that was certainly comforting news. (And was that tar and feathers I smelled?) At the beginning of each class this morning, I reminded my students how the grading system for the course worked and talked about how I arrived at the scores for their first assignment. Some wanted to get their papers back immediately, but I told them they had to wait until the end of class. I remarked how the head of the English Department told me that she never gave her students their graded papers back at the beginning of class becuase she didn’t want them glaring at her for the remainder of the class period! I also joked that I was going to just throw the batch of papers at them and then race out the door in case they decided to form a lynch mob. My students got a laugh out of that. But they certainly weren’t laughing when they saw their scores.

I’m probably going to contact the department head to discuss my concerns with her. Is there anything I can do differently to improve the situation (the course is for the students’ benefit, after all)? Or are these issues just to be expected? Either way, I earnestly pray, “God grant me the serenity….”



  1. I sympathize, although I’m not a writing teacher. I wonder and worry frequently about the poor writing, the grammatical errors, the sometimes incomprehensible logic (or lack thereof) in blogs, ads and so on. I don’t know what to do about it, though. I just picked up language patterns by reading–a lot–so we do a lot of reading to our kids. I guess thta’s the best I can do.

  2. First, thanks for visiting the site!

    It’s quite apparent that on the whole our students’ writing skills have gone down. In all honesty, I’ve wondered at times how some students I’ve taught even managed to get into college in the first place. With all the texting, twittering, and other electronic media, it seems this trend of declining writing skills will just continue.

    You’re right to point out that students need to read a lot to hone both their thinking skills and writing skills. And like you, I also readily pick up on bad grammar and poorly developed writing. As a teacher, all I can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, trying to impart what I’ve learned myself.

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