• Broadkill Review

"My Huge Basketball IQ" by Jason Koo

Updated: May 2, 2020

Finally finished “The Origin of the Work of Art,”

which is not an essay but a confrontation:

you have to be engaged with it at all times to see

what is being said, to see even a part of it,

only sixty pages long but taking me two weeks

to read. Yesterday on the first day of class,

after thinking so long over break about some

nasty student evals I received, how to get better

as a teacher, how to get more out of my students,

specifically how to make them feel more

comfortable while still pushing them,

as the #1 complaint is always that I am not

“sensitive to students’ needs,” I was confronted

by students already looking away when I

made eye contact or just staring into space

as I spoke, still staring into space when I returned

my gaze to them half a minute later, and

I could feel my frustration creeping in again,

all the hopeful theorizing I’d been doing

about how best to help these students being

met, on the first day, with anxiety, insecurity,

boredom, indifference, though my energy level

and enthusiasm were higher than usual,

and “enthusiasm for the material” is always

my highest mark on evals, begrudgingly

marked 4 out of 5 by even the most hateful

students, and I joked how already I was

seeing people stare off into space, saying,

It’s only the first day of class, people!

using a little sarcasm, then I caught myself,

because I vowed to try to be less sarcastic

this semester, more direct and sincere,

and I made a point of saying something about

what class participation means to me: you

don’t have to talk all the time but you do

have to be engaged, which starts with looking

at someone when they’re speaking, beginning

with the teacher: it’s just rude, isn’t it,

not to look at someone when they’re talking

to you? We all know this outside of class

but for some reason in class we think it’s okay.

After that all the students started to look

at me when I spoke, one girl in particular

who was flustering me by staring into space

began speaking a lot, this worked so well

I think I’m going to make a point of putting

it down as an official policy on my syllabus.

On the current student evals my university

employs, the students are asked at the top

of the form to evaluate themselves first,

whether they tried their best to learn

the material, whether they took from the course

skills they can use, and they always rate

themselves highly, on average usually 4.5

or higher out of 5, never once have I seen

any students rate themselves lower

than a 3 (neutral) out of 5, even though

some failed to turn in multiple assignments.

And, I don’t know, this seems to me to be

um, what, disappointing? This total lack

of accountability on the part of people

entrusted to hold me accountable?

They are prompted by the system to confirm

their accountability first, then given free rein

to attack me personally with no accountability

whatsoever. At least my name is by their grades.

And my job, ultimately, as a non-tenure-track

prof, is always on the line when I give out

bad grades that have been earned for poor work.

And I have long experience and expertise

in evaluating this particular work of writing

that they do, which is why I was hired.

But what experience or expertise do they have

in evaluating teaching, my body of work,

especially bad students? They naturally just

record what they thought of me as a person,

or compare me, perhaps, to some other teacher

or class in which they had a more favorable

experience. And of course by favorable

what we’re talking about here is a good grade,

without fail every class I’ve taught

in which I’ve given higher grades netted

marks on evals that on average were higher.

I don’t think I’m a better teacher in those classes

in which I’m rated higher, if anything I think

I’m worse, as the students seem to be performing

well without much need of help from me.

There is always an unraveling that happens

out of pure beginnings, as I have just read

about again in Mary Ruefle’s “On Beginnings,”

which I’ll be teaching to my Intro to Creative Writing

students, even this very sentence is an illustration,

as I had the pure beginning of the phrase

“There is always an unraveling that happens”

as I sat on the toilet just a few minutes ago

and then it took another hundred clauses

just to include the sidebar of the info about

rereading “On Beginnings” and teaching that.

We have an idea how to change things,

a new hope, as Star Wars might say, and then

we start to move through time and interact

with other people and pretty soon the Death Star

detonates that hope from a million miles

away. On the second day of Intro to Creative Writing

I come in prepared to talk about my engagement

policy then lead a fun abecedarian exercise

but before I can even talk about engagement

a new student who missed the first day of class,

looking like he’s just emerged from the sleep

that caused his absence, starts doodling as I speak,

even after I’ve just made a point of introducing

him and—when everyone sat there awkwardly

without greeting him—prompted the class to say hello.

Already the unraveling is happening and the class

hasn’t even begun, this dude comes in having missed

the first day, gives zero fucks about what he missed

and proceeds to ignore me by doodling.

Imagine showing up one day late for a new job

or an appointment or a date or your own wedding

and immediately starting to doodle when the person

you’re there to see speaks. The behavior is absurd,

but we’ve come to accept it, and I’ve had it.

I suddenly have the memory of balancing

my checkbook at the beginning of a teaching

practicum—oh the irony—I took my first year

in the PhD program at the University of Missouri,

I had contempt for the class as I’d already had

a practicum in my MFA program and had been

teaching for four years and the teacher leading

the class wasn’t giving us any practical tips

for teaching but just going over pedagogical theory,

which is so useless for your particular classes,

i.e. reality, so I’d decided to tune out in class

and mock it and the teacher any chance I got,

and on this day I really needed to balance

my checkbook for some reason, and the teacher,

probably raised to a boil of fury as she noticed me

doing this for several minutes, finally snapped

at me and told me to put my checkbook away

and I did, shamed. She was right to do that.

I was e