I had a good week teaching, and now I'm looking over the Incoming Assessment essays my composition students wrote on Thursday. The essays are mostly what you'd expect: some students already know what they're doing, and I'll need to find ways to challenge them beyond the basics; some kids can put a sentence together but can't organize a body of thought yet; and others can't find their asses with both hands.
In her introduction, one of my students wrote this sentence:
“This statement is very true for the most part.”
That sentence provided an unfortunate first impression of what was actually a competent essay. It's an indication that this student is in the right place--if her writing had no flaws she wouldn't need my class, and if she and I both do what we're supposed to she'll stop writing like that soon.
But I couldn't help laughing. And retyping the sentence in a file marked "Dumb Things I Have Read."
The first year I was a teaching assistant we were all forced into Portfolio Assessment. Every essay our students wrote during the semester was revised and placed in a plastic folder, their names were removed from their work and replaced by numbers, and the piles of folders--huge, slippery stacks of yellow plastic--were given to other TAs at random.
We had two days from the time we could pick up the portfolios to the time we had to submit them. Most classes had around twenty students, and each of those students wrote about five essays. That left each of us with about 100 essays to read and only 48 hours to read them in.
We crammed into our office, a converted classroom with eight desks for sixteen TAs. And a nasty couch. Everyone made an appearance, and some of us were there for the whole day. I spent sixteen straight hours reading essays, and at some point something broke in my mind. I'd read an essay and the errors caused me hysterics. I laughed until I cried. The unintentional comedy of freshman writing imposed on my overstimulated mind was too much.
Weeks later I wished I had recorded some of the sentences that made me laugh so hard. The next semester I started my file. It contains some real gems:
“When this happened the world was hit with many sexually transmitted diseases and soon the condom was being enforced to use more during intercourse.”
And any subject could produce a winner:
“I have one word of advice for young ladies that might be in the same shoes as I once was, never give up on your dreams because of your economic status.”
“But a inhumane act on a developmentally disabled person is an act of utter repulsion and insolence.”
I continued recording these nuggets through my Intermediate Writing class and while I taught Intro to Creative Writing. Short stories seemed like a rich source of nonsense:
“While standing at the proofing machine, Jamie was sitting at her desk slumped over just waiting for some work and had a look on her face as if she could have been doing something better than sitting there.”
“My supervisor came rushing over like a busy bee trying to shuffle for work to conjure up for the people in the napkin area.”
“Now my tears came pouring down like an erupting water fall.”
“Jane, trying to remember who Claire was, started to shed tears, realizing that she couldn’t even remember what she had done the following day.”
“The call was made to Susan’s parent who lived in a small farming community outside of Chattanooga Tennessee at eleven thirty six p.m.”
And this is why I teach. To help students learn how not to do this. And to amuse myself. Some ill-considered sentences, while uncomfortable, are great for a laugh:
“I remember opening the door and seeing nothing but plain white walls, ceramic tiled floors, a very tiny window, and my new roommate sitting at his desk with his computer in his boxers.”