Just my imagination

29th August 2014 at 01:00

I am reviewing the remedial portfolio of one of my colleague's students. I have only her name (Rose) and her work (incomplete, disordered, unresponsive).

I've seen worse remedial portfolios in English: floundering ones, where the confusion or incomprehension is loud and clear. I feel bad for the students whose learning disabilities have shut down their sense of writing to length. Or the foreign-language learners who babble in ungrammatical bewilderment.

But Rose is a Rose is a Rose. The reason she is not rising is that, with all her abilities, with all her native fluency, she just doesn't give a hoot.

Before I can resign myself to her fate, I catch myself becoming attached to her. As I am calculating her abominable reading exam score, I say aloud, to my surprise, "I hate you!" I don't know her, but in my frustration I imagine her.and burst out again: "I hate you!"

What I see in my mind's eye is a young woman complaining but not listening, glancing at the directions but not following them. I see her insisting to anyone who'll listen, "I don't belong there, I ain't dumb", thereby insulting both me and her classmates.

I imagine her imagining me. She thinks that the classroom teacher and I have it in for her, that we've conspired to fail her. I imagine Rose's teacher reminding her that she hasn't written enough, that she hasn't paid attention to the revision comments from her classmates and hasn't followed the directions from the start. In her second draft she has left out a no and two nots, thereby reversing her (crummy) argument. She can't have reread her own work and apparently still hasn't read or reread the article or the short story that she was supposed to discuss.

And Rose replies: "I don't care about your damned reading assignment. I don't care that you say you can't understand me or that I leave out words and won't capitalise or even copy correctly. The article is stupid. I don't care. You can't make me pretend to care. I dare you to fail me. I don't need your stupid class."

But maybe I'm just imagining that.

It must be that Rose reminds me of other students I haven't been able to cajole. I can certainly imagine my colleagues reviewing these portfolios; I can see the exasperation when they encounter Flora's lack of effort and lack of preparedness for the next step up the remedial English ladder.

"What has Bob been doing all semester? Why does he let Flora get away with writing so wretchedly?" In my mind, my colleague scolds my students and gives his own a bunch of undeserved praise.

Giving a thumbs-down to Rose's portfolio means that she could end up in my class next semester. But I won't hate her then, because she'll actually be there in person. I won't remember her name and I doubt that she'll recognise my cramped but emphatic handwriting.

We'll be fresh new opponents, facing off with our imaginations. Somehow I'll trick her into proving to me that she's as smart and capable as she imagines herself to be.

Bob Blaisdell teaches English at Kingsborough Community College in New York City

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