Every semester I get one or two English majors who are eager, energetic, widely-read. . . but don't know what the hell they're doing. These are often students who are a few years older than their peers, or who have taken time off, or bounced around to a bunch of different schools--but whatever their background, they come across as semi-autodidacts: they've got a whole lot of knowledge in their heads without much framework or context (historical, theoretical, disciplinary). And they can't write to save their lives.
Managed right, they're usually a pleasure in the classroom: they sometimes pipe up from left field or don't take redirection well (they really want to show off their knowledge of Greek mythology, say), but in my experience they're just so excited to be in college or in graduate classes that they're as respectful as they are eager.
The challenge comes with their written work. The kind of student I'm talking about writes shockingly badly, especially relative to the breadth of their reading and the enthusiasm they have for learning. Sometimes they are literally the worst writers in their classes--worse than some sullen, lackadaisacal, checked-out kid who never speaks, never seems to do the reading, and doesn't show up half the time.
And so they require a lot of work: not just the time spent reading their revisions or drafts or meeting with them one-on-one, but also the intellectual and emotional labor that goes into giving advice that's simultaneously hard-hitting (impressing on the student how much work he still has to do) and encouraging (showing him how much I believe in his potential and want to help him succeed).
When they rise to the occasion, it's kind of amazing: I have students whom I beat up on, hard, one assignment after another, and they do every goddamn revision, come to every meeting, and keep showing up undaunted for class. I almost can't believe how indomitable some of them are. It's clear that they've got what it takes to succeed--if not in my class, then in some other class a semester or two down the line. I love those kids.
But some of my semi-autodidacts Do Not Take Correction Well. They refuse to revise, even when given plenty of time and support, and even when they know that the paper grade will cripple their course grade. Instead, they want to tell me (over and over) how successful they were at their previous college, or how they've "always been" A students. They just shut down, resisting the idea that they still have things to learn.
And you know, that's their choice. But I have to admit those kids get to me. For one thing, it sucks whenever a student goes from being smiley and participatory to being glum and resentful--and it especially sucks when I know it's because, on some level, I've made them feel bad about themselves. But at the same time, they make me angry: their thin skin, their stupidly fragile self-esteem, and their unwillingness to accept the help I feel I'm bending over backwards to give.
They're only a tiny minority of my students. But they seem to have such potential. I hate that they're not making more of it--and I hate feeling that I've snuffed out the spark of their fire for learning, or whateverthefuck.