Sorrows of the Liver (and other depressing information)

It has been proven that drinking too much alcohol can give you Sorrows of the Liver. I learned this from a research paper written by one of my students. I consider myself fortunate; while there have been a few mornings when my liver was a bit gloomy, most of the time it handles my bad habits without getting depressed.

This week most of my sorrows have been caused by bad grammar, incorrect word usage, and failure to properly cite sources. It’s been a long week.

Sunday: I read a letter to the editor in our local paper that makes me bang my head on the counter a few times. “Why are teachers paid so much? Our schools are terrible. If students don’t learn, their teachers should be fired.”

Don’t worry; this is not about to be a rant. I do point out, however, that no one is blaming doctors for the obesity epidemic.

Monday: When I arrive at school, the towering pile of research papers is waiting on my desk. What makes my liver sad is this: I have sixty students in my two English classes; thirty-one research papers were handed in. Thirty-one!

That number correlates closely with my failure rate for those classes: 58%. So far I haven’t been called into the principal’s office, but I expect that conversation to take place soon. One of my fellow English teachers has already been scolded for failing too many of his students, and his percentage is lower than mine. How do you pass a student who hands in no work? Perhaps we should stop making them read and write.

I begin to read the first paper. “School uniforms have not solve the problem. Over half of schools are starting school uniforms to reduce things like: violence, gangs, bullying, and kids can’t decide what to wear. The government is about to make all schools start school uniforms so that there won’t be problems. That is what I think.”

The author goes on to give some interesting evidence: “Problems in schools had a decrease on uniforms and parents pay only $200 instead of designer clothing like: (long list of favorite brands) and kids don’t have to miss school due to deciding what to wear.”

I make a mental note: teach them how to write a sentence.

Tuesday: I give them a reading day in class so I can grade more papers. About a third of the class takes twenty minutes to get quiet; most students read, though a couple sleep, and several, unable to keep their eyes focused on the page, spend the rest of the period texting.

In theory, they are reading The Pact. Many of them read it in eighth grade and learned the valuable lesson that if you really want something and form a pact with two friends you will achieve your goals. I think most of them just watched the movie, because they missed the part about writing and handing in papers.

Wednesday: I ask them to write a synopsis and reaction to the seventh and eighth chapters of The Pact. One boy refuses because I didn’t warn him that I was going to do this. The rest write about what it says on the back cover of the book.

I read more research papers and learn about Sorrows of the Liver.

Thursday: I give them back their chapter synopses without grades and tell them to do it again, this time after reading the chapters in question.

On this day, the one month anniversary of our Research Project’s due date, I receive two more submissions, bringing the total to thirty-three papers. Both of these papers turn out to be plagiarized. I spend ten minutes printing out copies of their uncredited sources.

I should probably be pleased that they cared enough to turn something in, but I wish they had taken the time to read what they pasted into their documents. The first paper’s topic is student athletes using steroids, but has a long tangent between those two paragraphs giving useful information about the Federal Aviation Administration. I didn’t realize that pilots have to pass so many tests. The second paper is about gun laws; it begins with several paragraphs detailing the history of gun laws, using words that I am quite sure the author has never heard before.

Friday: It’s doughnut day, and by the time I get down to the teacher’s lounge, all that’s left are the ones filled with cream.

At last I have reached the bottom of the pile.

We have spent a total of four weeks on this project, learning how to do research on the internet, document sources, use evidence to support their arguments, write a bibliography, and use in-text citations to show where they found their information. We practiced paraphrasing and summarizing; we discussed plagiarism.

I will return their papers on Monday and watch them line up at my desk to complain. Every paper has a rubric attached; all have been marked up with plenty of red pen so that they will understand why they didn’t get an A.

This entire grading process – reading, marking, evaluating – has taken about ten hours, sandwiched in between planning, teaching, making photocopies, and paying attention to my other three classes. I did all of this knowing that some of them might read my comments and do a better job next time. A year from now, they might remember what a bibliography is. The rest will tell their teachers, “No, we never learned how to do that last year. We didn’t do nothing in that class.”

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