TF – Publish Or Perish

It’s that time of year when I meet individually with each student in my introductory news writing class and my in-depth writing course that’s called feature writing. Today, I start the morning with half of my introductory class and then meet in the afternoon with half of the student writers in the advanced class. The rest are scheduled for this coming Thursday.

I started scheduling these one-on-one, instructor-student meetings when I was teaching at the Rutgers University campus in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where I initiated the publish or perish initiative several years ago and discovered  a remarkable demarcation between students who tried to do or did the homework and the students who blew off the assignments. That revelation flew in the face of the prevailing wisdom about the serious writing problems of college students. I was flunking from 30 to 40 percent of the students in my introductory writing classes, not because they were stupid, as my colleagues imagined, but because they were undisciplined and wouldn’t do the work according to the guidelines of the classes.

I subsequently learned after I left Rutgers and was hired at Hunter that the old bugaboos of class and ethnicity influence how colleagues determine who can write and who can’t. And in my department, the bugaboos are flagrant. One More Time: About a 30 to 40 percent flunked my introductory writing classes when I started requiring them to submit articles to the Daily Targum at Rutgers for publication. And the failures were the result of the students refusing to do the assignments in accordance with the guidelines of the course – many dared me to flunk them. I did. Quote Marks for Affect: “All I want is a C,” many would convey to me, and I would respond, “To get a C you have to do C work.” Many who continued with their F-efforts believed I was bluffing.

I started scheduling one-on-one meetings to try to get a better understanding why they were failing and in the process learned that the one-on-one sessions helped facilitate better communication and actually enhanced my teaching. But only for the committed students. I learned to give temporary grades on the first one or two drafts/rewrites. I often gave temporary Fs because the first drafts usually were poorly written or drafted or executed and I wanted to get students attention, to let them know that my writing courses were serious, unlike other introductory writing classes where many students believed they had the right to A’s and B’s simply for showing up. 

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