Twenty minutes into our last training session this morning, our program director announces that we are expected to spend 45 minutes in class the first week of classes administering a diagnostic essay to our students. The essay, standard across all sections, is a response to a bullet-pointed example from the recent book Freakonomics, about the behavior of people expected to pay for bagels on the honor system. My course is not about bagels, economics, freaks, or honor.
This course starts on Wednesday, and I therefore have a syllabus. In fact, the program made sure I had a syllabus way back in July, when they checked up on us. My course meets three times a week for 50 minutes each; I had planned to spend half of the first session doing intros, syllabus review, etc., and half doing a diagnostic that would have told me something about their background and interests (or not) in writing. If the course administrators wanted me to devote an entire class period to an exercise whose content is entirely unrelated to my course material, they could have at least had the courtesy to let me know back when I was, like, puh-lanning the first weeks of class.
Throughout this entire process, we've gotten the same bullshit over and over -- reassurance that we have flexibility in course planning and teaching methods combined with a lack of trust in any method other than the institutionally-supported one. I can't even skip out on this diagnostic, because they expect them all to be turned in for large-scale tracking purposes.
My friend G. sitting next to me was also filled with righteous fury on hearing this news. Luckily, I restrained him from raising his hand and getting into it right then and there with the program director, which from prior experience we knew would be angering and futile. I spent the rest of the morning writing limericks based on a sample student essay we'd been given about Ben Franklin's experience observing seamen (Franklin's/the student's word) on his travels up and down the Eastern seaboard. Apparently, they never caught cold. Yes, we had juvenile fun with this essay. My limericks (not as precise as they could be, but I was writing under stressful conditions, understand):
Said Franklin to Polly one day,
"In Boston I'm wary to stay.
So to Philly I'll sail,
On the way, see a whale,
And with seamen so gaily I'll play."
With armful of big puffy rolls
Into Philly young Franklin now strolls.
He'll miss those fine sailors,
Such jolly pig-tailers,
Whose health isn't ridden with holes.