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I welcome students readers to this blog. However, be aware that, although I do not use anyone's actual name, the descriptions of behaviors and conversations are not disguised. This is a space in which I may rant, vent, and otherwise express responses that I would do my best to mask or at least tone down in professional interactions with students. This is my personal, gloves off, no holds barred, direct from the gut expression of what it feels like to do my job. If you think you might be hurt or offended or upset by that, read no further. The person I'm ranting about could be you.

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

So, not very productive...

I got two essays actually read, commented on, graded, and returned to students. I returned the one that was plagiarized to the student--along with the notification that, because she also plagiarized one of her homework assignments, as far as I'm concerned, she's failed the class. I decided to hold off on grading the one from the student who plagiarized his latest homework and who may well have plagiarized an earlier quiz, as I've told him if I don't hear from him by Friday, he'll have failed the class.

On a slightly more positive note, the very good student who seemed to have fallen by the wayside is back; he wrote me in a panic last night, and sure enough, he's getting the work done today. I'm inclined to give him more of a break than I would normally, because his work has been so good, but I'm a bit worried about his essay; I hope it gets better, but the first two sentences didn't exactly fill me with enthusiasm.

I realize that's why I'm having a hard time getting through the essays; I'm seeing the same problems over and over. Personal response, no analysis, informal tone ... If I were meaner (and taught at a place where professors can get away with being brutal to students), I'd say, "You're just talking out your ass." But that's not very constructive criticism, I admit.

I just took a quick look at the intro paragraphs in the rest of the essays. A couple have the right idea. Sadly, the other super-brilliant student doesn't have the academic approach I think he should, but ... well, I'm hopeful that the rest of his essay is good.

Speaking of that student, I kinda fucked up in responding to his discussion board posts, responded too fast, wasn't thinking clearly about the essay he was writing about, blah blah. I shot off an email and immediately had to write a retraction; he wrote a rebuttal to my critique on the discussion board--and I did him the honor of acknowledging not only that he was right in what he'd said but also that I needed to be a little more careful and diligent in responding to his posts. He's working at a higher level than the other students--even the other super-bright one--and I need to do him the courtesy of thinking carefully before I whip off my comments. I'm thinking of my own experience as an online student, how frustrating it was that the professor didn't seem to value the level of my contributions. This young man is still working for his associate's degree (though he transferred credits from another college and had advanced placement courses to fulfill some requirements), but he's clearly very smart and well read on his own.

So, I may have gone too far in offering him an apology, but I'd rather be a bit humble and admit when I screw up. My points were not entirely without validity, but it felt right to give him the credit for good thinking--and for challenging me.

On a completely different front, I find that Daylight Savings Time is messing up my rhythms. Because it's light later than I'm used to (which would be the case anyway, as we approach the equinox, but the effect is increased by the "spring ahead"), I tend to work later than I "should"--in terms of making the segue from work into self-care. Now, for instance, it feels like I should still be revving the engines, but I need to disengage from work and wind down. So, I'm commencing that part of the day in 5, 4, 3...

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Slightly better

I managed to get last week's discussion board posts graded for the online class--and I realized I'm not as horrifically far behind as I thought. I do have essays to grade, but not many, which, as always, causes mixed feelings in this professor. I feel very discouraged when a number of students don't submit a major assignment--such as an essay worth 400 (out of 2000) points--because I feel I'm not reaching them as well as I'd like. On the other hand, fewer to grade, right?

I've also uncovered yet more plagiarism. One student plagiarized his discussion board posts--and earlier in the semester I contacted him because it seemed his answers to one of the quizzes were plagiarized. He explained that away, and I accepted his explanation--but now I see I probably shouldn't have. It's bad enough when they plagiarize, but when they act all offended about it--how could anyone accuse them of such a thing??--or try to deny having done it, I get seriously ticked off. This young man is going to have to do one hell of a job persuading me not to fail him for the semester.

And a different student plagiarized her essay.

Ah, fuck. Ah well.

Also, somehow, the fact that they're submitting online seems to mean to them that they don't have to follow any kind of formatting for their essays. Well, they'll get the point deductions. They can erase those point penalties only if they actually revise: they can't just submit the same essay formatted correctly. If they're going to get a better grade, they have to work their butts off for it.

Meanwhile, one of the best students has suddenly gone AWOL. He contacted me to say he'd been ill and then missed the deadline for the essay; I encouraged him to submit anyway, and to submit his discussion board posts even if they were late--but nothing. I really hope I haven't lost him; he was great.

I was looking at overall grades, too, and I sort of hate the fact that one student has more points than anyone else--but her thinking is not that splendid. She's working hard and doing extra credit--but I'm probably being overly generous in the marks I'm giving her on her discussion board posts. She's doing well enough for a sophomore, but when I compare her work to the two men (clearly more grown up and further along in their educational process), she's not in their league--and yet she has way more points. I guess I can let her know that I've been pretty generous with grades on discussion board posts and that I'm going to get tougher--or I can just let it go, knowing she's doing well enough for this level. I used to be stingier with A's.

In any event, I'll start grading essays tomorrow. I'm not much looking forward to it--and part of me thinks maybe I should print them and grade by hand (as I don't get quite so carried away with comments when they're somewhat harder to write)--but we'll see how I feel about it tomorrow.

Which is, as you may not be aware, another day. Today, I am about to segue into my non-professorial mode. Not sure what I'll do with the evening, but no more work for the time being, that's for sure.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

I gotta get out of this place

For reasons that are completely mysterious to me, I have spent the last 25 minutes noodling around on Facebook while still in the office. Prof. P, can't that wait until you get home--especially as, oh yeah, you have no groceries and you're falling over tired?

But in fact the "falling over tired" part is probably why I got sucked into Facebook. There is something wrong with my use of social media, I admit, but it is a sort of comforting blankie when I'm tired, frazzled, or whatever.

So: today.

In the good news department, I got all the reading notes marked before class--for the SF class. I'm still woefully behind on the Nature in Lit, but that's what this weekend will be for. I confessed to my fiddle instructor that I have barely practiced (and noodling on FB tonight effectively killed my chances at practice tonight), so we're canceling this weekend's lesson--which means I can spend time on both Saturday and Sunday getting caught up. And tomorrow, actually, would be good too. Yes: I'm that far behind. Having clear decks heading into the break would be a wonderful feeling--so I've got a week to get everything tied up until the next round of essays arrive. Oy.

But by then, we'll be well into the "hold onto the safety bar and scream" part of the semester.

Meanwhile, the spring work for P&B has just taken an exponential leap into "nobody panic!" levels: we have several zillion year-end evaluations that we have to mentor and for which we need to write up P&B evaluative statements, plus we have to divide up proctoring a survey that we have to administer to students (a Middle States report requirement). At least one of my classes has been tapped (I don't know which yet; I'm waiting for the letter that explains)--so another P&B member has to come to my class to manage the survey, and I have to go to other colleagues' classes....

And I just conducted one observation tonight and have to do another next week. Fortunately, I only have the two (it seems like every time Paul turns around, Cathy thinks he's agreed to do another), but on top of everything else, well ... I'll get it done, but all the more reason to get on top of the student work ASAP. In my usual attempts to bail on various requirements, I'd consider bailing on next week's department meeting--but part of it will be a mandated open P&B meeting, so it's rather important that I be there.

But all of this being trampled by geese, pursued by gnats, is part of why I feel like my fingernails are peeling back as I hang on, trying to get through this semester plus as many more as I possibly can. Today, William told me that I've been given a hybrid comp section for the fall (assuming that stays on my schedule, once Cathy and Paul have had to juggle things around); William's assumption was that I'd want to boot that back and keep the fully traditional comp, and I may, as I'm not entirely sure I want to figure out how to teach a hybrid comp section. (A hybrid is one day in the classroom and the rest online.) However, the temptation to keep the hybrid arises because then I'd only have to be on campus three days a week--as (again, assuming it stays on my schedule) I have the online Nature in Lit again plus Native American Lit face-to-face. That could be a thing of beauty and a joy for a semester. In any event, it bears thinking about.

And today's SF class was, as usual, pretty great. We sat in a circle, though really only the usual suspects had anything to say--and often were talking across each other: several times I had to say, "Wait! We have too many different conversations going on"--but that's a wonderful problem to have. Less than half the class had kept up with the reading despite the snow day, but we talked about the end of the book anyway (spoilers, but sorry: you didn't do the reading). And I got them set up for the next book--and they're jazzed about it. One student had a jaw-drop moment when she realized we've read three whole books already this semester--and we'll read two more. (And of course, part of what makes the class so great is that there are a number of them who read books anyway. I asked, "How many of you have read three whole books before"--hands from the usual suspects--"and how many have read three whole books in this amount of time"--same hands in the air. But a few looked like I'd just hit them upside the head with a 2x4. No shit, man: you've read three whole books--and you're going to read another two before the end of the semester.)

But I've been thinking about it, and--despite my desire to teach Le Guin and all the good reasons I have for including it (despite the fact that it does not fit thematically with everything else) plus all the materials I have for it--I think, if I teach SF again before I retire (who knows?), I may change the reading list: instead of Androids, teach Island of Dr. Moreau, and instead of Left Hand of Darkness, teach Paolo Baccigalupi's The Windup Girl, which fits thematically and goes even further into "cli-fi" territory, which would be good.

The mantra again arises: we'll see. One semester at a time--and I still need to get through this one. And I have a shitload of work to do to get through this weekend. So enough blogging, and enough noodling in the office; I'm going to pack up and head out. And we all know what tomorrow is (besides Friday).

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Our poor students...

With sad regularity, I am reminded of how very difficult the lives of our students are, almost without exception. Most of them have at least one strike against them, and many have multiple factors in their lives that impede their progress.

Today one of the older adult students in the 101 class showed up late and was hovering in the doorway, clearly wanting to talk to me in the hall. I told him no: he could wait outside or join the class, but I wouldn't talk with him until class was over. The class discussion was actually kind of fun (though it ran off down a couple of pretty convoluted rabbit trails until Prof. P skillfully brought it back to the reading at hand), and after class, I handed back work--and had time to talk with that student. I started out by being a bit stern with him: his essay submission had been a disaster, completely misunderstanding what he needed to submit, and I asked him what was up. He tried to explain, but then he said that he was having a hard time--and his voice broke. His wife recently had a miscarriage, at five months. He kept tearing up but was trying to be clear and strong. He'd already met with a grief counselor, and he'd been advised to get an excused withdrawal for the semester (meaning he'd have to withdraw from all his classes but the record of the semester would be expunged, so it wouldn't affect his transcript, GPA, or academic standing in any way). I told him I thought that was the best possible plan. He wanted to talk with his other professors first, before making up his mind, so I didn't sign the form for him then and there (though I probably should have). However, I did tell him that if he decides to continue in the class, we'll have to have a serious conversation about the work he needs to do.

I won't lower the bar for him--he has to do the work if he wants to pass--but nevertheless, my heart goes out to him. Up until recently, he's been trying very hard (not doing well, but trying like crazy), and he's clearly dedicated to the self-improvement he would gain from being in college. But ... well, he's a grown up, working a full-time job, with a family, trying to go to school full-time as well, and now this great grief on top of everything.

I admire these students; I truly do. It takes great strength to do what they're doing--especially in the situations so many of them are in. I've had students tell me they were trying but were living out of their cars; I've had students tell me they were trying but their only surviving parent was hospitalized and dying; I've had students tell me that they'd just found out they were pregnant and had been kicked out of the house by their parents and had nowhere to go; deaths (even murders in two cases), homelessness, health crises, legal trouble (including possible imprisonment), substance abuse (their own or their parents), poverty, hunger...

Let's face it: a lot of them have more important things to deal with than writing a good college essay.

It feels crass to shift gears from there to the mundane, personal level, but tonight's planned steak blow-out with Kristen, Paul, and William has been postponed. Instead, Paul and I will go out for much lighter fare (and continued conversation). When will I do the big grocery shopping I need to do? Heaven knows. (I have to do an observation after class tomorrow, so that makes for a late night and means I'm unlikely to want to take the time to get to the store after.) When will I get caught up with grading stuff? Oh, end of May is a good guess. When will I stop having anxiety attacks about all this? We'll see. Theoretically the breathing practice should start to make a difference on that within the next few months, assuming I keep up with it.

Now, however, it's time for me to grab Paul and head out. Talking with a good friend is always helpful, no matter what the problem.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Yet another of those mouse plans

My plans for today certainly went agly: I didn't even quite finish the grading of stuff for the 101, which I really did want to get done, but ah well. I just spent a while hurling together essay topics for the final essay for Nature in Lit; I have no idea if they make any kind of sense, but that's a good thing done. Or done-ish. When I send it to the wonderful librarian who is helping me put together a research guide, I asked her to let me know if any of the ideas just wouldn't work; I'd be happy to let the research guide the topics.

I have no idea how to prioritize the work I need to do for the next two days: both the SF and the Nature in Lit students need to get work back from me ASAP, and I'm not sure who's been getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop longer at this point. (Probably the Nature in Lit students, but ... well, I tend to put more time and energy into them than I should. It's that whole keyboard and my fingers thing: usually once I get started, it's awfully hard for me to stop. Witness the length of the usual post on this blog.)

Well, tomorrow will tell, I reckon. For now, I'm going to practice fiddle for the first time in almost two weeks (that will be, um, interesting), then practice my Coherence breathing (it sounds funny to say I'm going to practice breathing, but, well, that's essentially what I'm going to do), which will initialize the glide into relaxation for the night.

I probably won't post tomorrow, as I'm going out for a steak blowout with Paul, William, and Kristin--or if I do post, it will be very brief. Tonight's post is, I know, uncharacteristically short, but I've been nailed to this chair long enough, and I've rebounded off the wall a couple of times already. That's the signal that it's a good moment to allow the work and posting to trickle to a halt.

Monday, March 12, 2018


I have about three minutes before I have to head off to my Monday physical therapy appointment, but I haven't posted in a while, so I thought I'd take advantage of the few minutes I have.

It was extremely difficult to transition from the weekend workshop to being back in professorial mode--and dealing with this place, as I now have started to call it (or, frequently, this fucking place). Poor Paul got a major dose of Grumpy, Gloomy Prof. Payne operatically saying how miserable she is when I first arrived. I don't know quite why I was in such a profoundly negative state, but I talked to him some about the weekend, and that helped resurrect some of the more relaxed, receptive, positive feelings I'd gathered up over the three days of the workshop.

I think part of my grumpy gloominess was because I realize that I really do want to shift from teaching what I teach here to teaching the Breath-Body-Mind techniques I'm learning, not only because the practice is so good for me but also because it's so very different--and in some ways so easy to teach. (Not in every way: Drs. Brown and Gerbarg are very careful to state that we have to really know what we're doing in order to teach this stuff, as it can have unexpected negative effects on certain people in certain circumstances.) And also, I don't have to grade anyone; I just evaluate to try to help improve what the person is experiencing. If I could do that more with my students in my classes, I'd be happier.

The 101 was a little more interesting than usual. There were only eight students (and one left early), so we sat in a circle instead of doing groups--and I did a lot more directive work, pointing out things in the article we'd read, as well as facilitating discussion. One student always, always, comes up with an argument against whatever is going on: I think I'm going to start calling her the Advocate--not a devil's advocate, as she isn't simply bringing up an opposing view to test the strength of an argument she agrees with; she genuinely is challenging. But, I mean, she challenges everything--including when I was praising her for issuing the challenges.

I have more to say--and perhaps I'll say some of it tomorrow. To my infinite relief, we have yet another snow day (and it is hitting a different day of the week, so it won't affect the comp class but rather the SF class), but this time I truly am going to get work done, as much as I possibly can. In fact, I'd really like to have the decks completely, utterly clear by dark tomorrow night. Don't know if I can do it, but I am certainly going to try. None of this lounging about napping stuff: I am invested in some stress relief, and getting stuff graded and out of my hair would alleviate a lot of stress.

And now I'm going to alleviate some more by going to PT.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Oh, I'm going to regret this come Monday...

I didn't get much done at all on our snow day--which comes as no huge surprise, actually. And I didn't get anything done yesterday, as getting ready to travel and getting myself upstate took most of the day and a lot of my energy.

And I'm realizing now that it's highly unlikely I'll get anything done this whole weekend. I "should" be working now, but instead, I'm trying to figure out where I can get a decent meal--and feeling the delicious but profound effects of the Breath-Body-Mind work I've been doing since 9 a.m. Tomorrow we'll finish for the day at 5 (maybe 4)--and at least I'll have a better sense of food options at that point, but if I'm realistic? Nah, I'm not going to get anything done. Certainly nowhere near what I "should" do to alleviate stress in the week ahead.

But I'm more concerned with alleviating my stress now, this weekend. So, although I brought the work with me (and did check to see that the submissions from the students in the 101 class were complete), it's looking like I'll schlep it all back home with me on Sunday, essentially untouched.

Well, one way or another it will all get done. It always does.

But I have to say, I'm getting increasingly excited about the prospect of switching  my teaching from my academic discipline to the integrative breath/movement/meditation practice I'm learning about here. I'll spend two weekend in April on this (probably, again, thinking I'll get work done and then realizing, nope, not gonna happen), and that's just the start of the journey. I love teaching anyway (the actual teaching part that it), and this is something that also is extraordinarily good for me, too. The opposite of stress-producing. There's a potentially exciting connection out West, too, as a post-retirement option. So ...

I know I've been assigned two electives again for fall (assuming Cathy doesn't change the schedules for some reason), so I'm sure I'll get that far. That puts me at 62. Moving to Montana in the middle of winter probably isn't the best plan, so I'm pretty sure I can make it to spring 2019, as I've been saying. But the more viable the post-retirement work seems, the more tantalizing the prospect of full retirement becomes.

That's not now, however (much as I might wish it were). Now, I need to find healthy food to put in my body and then get some much needed sleep (so I don't fall asleep during the meditation bits tomorrow). Life's just pretty interesting--and generally, pretty wonderful (or so it feels at the moment; I'm going to want to remember this when things get nasty on campus again).