Last two weeks of September, I was sick with. . . .something. Fevers and chills and aches and pains on Monday and nausea and fever on the next week’s Tuesday. (Yes. Sick again the next week, a week later.) On Monday evening, I fell sick, but managed, on Tuesday morning, through a feverish haze, to go to my 8 am class and leave them a note on the chalkboard:
[Prof. Gine] is sick today (24 Oct 2006). Please read chapter four in your SMG and bring your “Remembering a Place” drafts in on Thursday (26 Oct).
Having done my duty, I ran away home and stayed in bed till I had to get up and pick up my chirren. On Thursday, I went to class, discovered my students with their bright white essays on their desks, and I asked (unnecessarily), “Is everybody ready?”
“Yes!” everybody said.
“Okay, then,” I said. “Here are your peer-review sheets. Y’all get into groups and read each other’s papers!” Silence. Then a babble of confused conversation. Folk were lookin at each other in bafflement. I became a little annoyed. I could see the papers I’d asked for (or so I thought) right there on various and sundry desks. What was the problem?
“What’s the problem? I left y’all instructions for today!”
“They were unclear,” the bravest of my students said. I got more annoyed.
“Unclear? That wasn’t unclear!”
“We didn’t understand what you meant!”
“It was very plain. I’m an English professor. I don’t write unclearly. Never mind,” I said. “Just give me what you have and go away. Read the chapter for next class.” My students came up one by one and turned in their papers. Silently.
In a steam, I put the essays in alpha-order (my only obsessive-compulsive thang, as far as I can tell) and began to read them. And then I realized what had happened.
My writing classes run by a pattern:
essay assignment given;
essay drafts brought in;
peer review workshop (in which students read each other’s drafts);
drafts teacher-marked up;
revisions brought in.
I was reading revisions, which meant that I had forgotten about the “draft” and “peer review” part when I wrote instructions on the board on Tuesday. My students had already gone through that part of the process, and every one of them had turned in what was due when I came back to class. In my mind’s eye, I could see the face of one student, the young woman who sat front and center –and always had her assignment ready on time. Her face was full of hurt and confusion. I wanted to die.
I had yelled at my babies for nothing. I was an evil woman, unfit for human congress. Curse and revile me an you please.
Next class, I apologized profusely.
“Although my note was perfectly clear, Mr. D.,” I said, “it was perfectly wrong. Y’all came to class with the right assignments on Tuesday. Please forgive me. I must’ve been sicker than I thought.” I looked right at my front-and-center student, and she was smiling brightly again.