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Bitter Disappointment, Sweet Hope (Part 1)

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Despite the fact that working hard and doing well at school or work can give someone great results, sometimes, an insensitive or ignorant person will just put all the hard work aside and give the person harsh remarks to make his or her so-called “point”. Not only it is harmful to hear, it can also make the person outspoken and outraged.

That’s what happened to me last Tuesday after my Land Use Planning final at San Francisco State University when I handed over the exam to my professor and in return, the professor handed me back my essay. Once I got out, I looked at the grade: a D minus (60%). A friend of mine asked me to show her my paper and told me that whatever my professor wrote as my grade on my essay is also the final grade for the class. Imagine, after all the hard work I’ve done to make the essay happen (I’ll tell you more about it in a bit), along with being participative in class and not missing any session, and all I got was a D minus… Not only it lowered my morale overall, but I started complaining and immediately put myself on fire because of the outrageous result I got from the professor. (For the sake of privacy and confidentiality, I will not mention the professor’s name anywhere in this entry).

The professor’s main comment on the paper was that the paper “was extremely difficult to read because it was poorly written.” When I read those words, I began to wonder how could he say such a thing, and I wonder what have I done to make him say such harsh words. In fact, let me state to you what he has done this past semester that led to such result: he has given us a semester-long essay work, in which we chose a topic that we wanted to discuss in class. Sounds fair, right? Wait until I tell you what consisted of the essay that really made me concerned: the project was three-fold, meaning one needs to be submitted before the presentation and a follow-up and revised essay before the final, plus we will need to present the topic to the class. The essay consisted of two parts:

  • Part 1 is a “synopsis”, summarizing what the project, case study, or topic is all about and what makes the student interested in pursuing the project. Included in part 1 is an annotated bibliography wherein we needed to cite nine different sources, with his “requirement” to minimize newspaper sources and maximize scholarly research. Five pages’ worth of synopsis, five pages’ worth of bibliography: something’s wrong in this picture (you tell me).
  • Part 2 is the main essay itself, discussing the aforementioned topic mentioned above. He demanded a lot on the essay, including combining all the lessons we’ve learned, plus our honest opinion on the matter and what the future would be like when all is said and done, and he wanted us to check our structure and grammar, as if the paper was to be presented at a City Planning Commission meeting. Ten to fifteen pages’ worth of essay, not including bibliography, relevant maps, and tables.

The third part, a presentation, is required for all groups, in which the groups can take the whole class period to discuss the topic they want to present, and my professor was very strict on using related imagery and tables to present the topic details, as well as showing the current situation versus future scenarios.

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All sounds fair so far, right? Here’s my take on the project: I chose a case study about the North Bay, in which the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART train) will be built soon after Measure Q passed by both Marin and Sonoma Counties in 2008. I understood that with the rail development, significant changes in land use will take place as the fourteen stations along the 70-mile corridor will be developed to include open spaces, residential and commercial mixed-use, and light industrial structures. The goals of the train include: 

  • Reducing the carbon footprint by both counties by giving a new transportation choice for commuters living in both counties instead of driving
  • Increasing transit ridership by taking the train to and from home, work, school, and play
  • Improve the overall “mode-split” (commute trip type choices) for commuters that will allow county planners to reduce sprawl in both Marin and Sonoma Counties
  • Open up more business and residential opportunities that will bring in more people to work and live in both counties

Along with those, I discussed how land use can affect the current layout of the areas that will have train stations, particularly at Downtown San Rafael, Hamilton (South Novato), and Atherton (North Novato), in which when the train stations are fully built, development for new residential, commercial, industrial, and mixed-use will eventually spread out from the stations, bringing in more development to the cities of San Rafael and Novato. More importantly, it will then expand the effects of sprawl as more open land will eventually be consumed to accommodate a new wave of transit-oriented development which will eventually bring in more commuters to take the train instead of crowding Highway 101, the main artery connecting both Sonoma and Marin Counties. Interestingly, the construction of the SMART train is two-fold: it will be a “rail and trail” service, wherein people can use the trail next to the rail track (also of similar length to the rail corridor) to walk, bike, or hike between cities and communities in both counties, which will encourage people to get out, exercise, and enjoy the views.


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However, the synopsis, according to my professor, was “not good” that he wanted me to change the whole synopsis for a new topic. The problem: I had to do it two days before I submit my final version of the essay. Tough timing, but, that’s what my professor told me to do so that I can “improve” the essay, and thus, it could improve my grade. But, the stress of making a proper synopsis, including all his so-called “standards”, has taken a toll on me that I had little to no time to rest to think what I need to say and read the related topics needed to complete the project. Worse, with changing the essay at the very last minute, I was placed in “hyper drive” wherein I had to work nonstop (even taking away time from one other class) only to meet his rigorous demands of making a better essay. With those extreme pressure, it has put me to my very limit, and I told myself “I can just do that much, I cannot take any more pressure or any interruption that will hinder my chances to finish my essay properly and ‘correctly’.” The result: I rushed through my essay all day one Thursday, no lunch break, just working on the paper; I even had to stop working on another project just to prioritize the essay due two days after my professor told me to change the entire essay! It’s really tough work, it’s really demoralizing, it has taken a serious toll that I didn’t want to head out Friday for a stroll because I was extremely exhausted. I know this is university work, but, what he has done really pushed me way beyond my limit, making me very unhappy and disappointed.

Tomorrow, I will discuss more on how the essay impacted me, as well as describing what I’ve done to combat the very poor result I got, and I will describe how I view my teacher (plus other comments about him).


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