April 18, 2009

Can't I Work By Myself?

In the grad program I'm doing, each class has two assignments that are collaborative. I hate these assignments. It's terrible for a classroom teacher who uses collaborative learning to say such things, I know. I tell my students that learning how to work with others is an important skill. At this point in my life I've been on many committees, teams, and work groups--some by choice and others by force. I know plenty about working with others.

In this online grad program in which I am paying through the nose to work my ass off, I think I can learn a lot from working with others. I adore hearing different perspectives on topics and having my own ideas challenged. What I don't adore are these Frankpapers we have to "collaborate" on each quarter. Usually the directions say we are suppose to collaborate or discuss, but what usually ends up happening is that we divide the work up and somebody puts it all together in the end. It's funny because we teachers would not want our own students doing it. Sometimes things work out fine, but other times, it's that age-old story of one or two people pulling the weight for everyone. I'm paying for this privilege?

Last week we had some drama because more collaboration needed to happen along with the cutting and pasting. Plus, some members turned in their paltry, incoherent parts and never checked in again. It's a precarious thing to change someone's work or discard it entirely. It's better to offer feedback and get them to revise, isn't it? Last week a few us found ourselves scrambling and weighing the options: redo work that was wrong or get a lower grade for not following the criteria of the assignment. Sigh. I'm loving my good grades...

Here are some things that get under my skin and I'd like to say to these people I've never met face-to-face:
  • Work should be submitted ready to go into the final paper. Don't send a table in an Excel document and expect that someone else should convert it to Word and format it to APA standards.
  • I don't care what grade you teach, you should be able to form coherent sentences and paragraphs. You should also know which words should be capitalized and where to use commas. A few errors are fine. Everyone makes them. Your overuse of capitalization and under use of punctuation screams, "I don't know basic rules!" E.B. White wrote another good book with a guy name Strunk. Check it out.
  • That source isn't going to format itself on the bibliography page. You're as bad as my lazy middle schoolers who won't take 5 minutes to look up the proper formatting.
  • Sure, you can say you did your part, but what if you did it WRONG or you DIDN'T DO ALL OF IT? Whose problem is that?
  • If someone points out a confusing point in your work, don't just say, "That's what the website said." Go back and rewrite it so it's clearer. If we don't get it, neither will the instructor. And frankly, your explanation doesn't make any sense. You fix it!
  • (Oh, and I'm glad you have found websites that are so helpful. I can rarely find anything that I would deem credible. It looks like you haven't either.)
  • If someone needs help with her part, don't just say, "You'll figure it out!" I've had it happen to me, and I've seen it happen to others--just last week, in fact. These are not people who are trying to get our of their work. These are people who NEED SOME HELP! Nice way to work as a team, people!
  • I am busier than you are. Wanna try me? Bring it. I should not have to do half of your work, too.
These online collaborative experience have not made me joyous in sharing ideas with a fine group of intellectual teachers. No, instead it has made me incredulous that there are so many stupid teachers* out there.

It hurts my teacher pride to say such things. Really. Sick to my stomach.

I think I've been spoiled by working with such wonderful, insightful people in real life at my schools. You might read posts about how the students frustrate me, how daily life in the classroom challenges me, and how educational bureaucracy binds me, but you will rarely read slanderous posts about my colleagues. It's not to save my butt. It's because I work with wonderful, hard-working, thoughtful, introspective teachers. Sure, I have conflicts with a few, but ultimately, I still respect what they do. I wouldn't trade them in.

Of course, I've also been spoiled by blogs for several years now. There are so many brilliant teachers posting a wide variety of ideas. It's such a blessing to be able to grow (and laugh) from those teachers who open up their classrooms and minds for the rest of us. You have no idea how much I've learned from my teacher blog friends. Dear bloggers, even if we aren't friends, we're colleagues on the Net, and I appreciate your intellect. Thank you. I miss wandering around the edu-hood of the blogosphere. I can't wait until I have time to visit more often. I wouldn't trade you in, either.

These collaborative groups, though? Thank goodness I trade them in every 8 weeks.

*I should admit that many of them are awesome, and I enjoy them, but I've been exposed to an inordinate amount of fools.

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