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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.


Hi! And you are...?

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Not you, Barry. You already told me--and thanks!






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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Change of plan

I decided not to go in to campus today, opting to work on the online Nature in Lit instead of on photocopies for my classes. Part of the decision was sheer laziness, but part of it was the sense that I will feel better, psychologically, if I at least dip my toes back into the online course, get a sense for what I have and haven't done, and what I want to do. I will say, there is a truly daunting amount of work to be done, and not just scut work either, but real thinking. If it were just cut-and-paste organizing, that would be challenging enough (making sure all the right links are in the right places and so on), but I actually have to write out some ideas I want students to consider as they read, provide the kind of guidance that would normally arise out of my responses to whatever they bring in to class. I did a little of that kind of written guidance for the SF class this fall (and god, do I ever hope it works), but this is a bit more complex--because the students in the Nature in Lit class will be reading something new/different almost every week (instead of an entire book taking up several weeks of class time). So--leaving out the first and final weeks, when no reading will take place--that means 13 written "lectures." I have to decide what I'm going to have them read first; then I have to figure out what I want them to notice in particular as they read, or what background I think will help them, or (usually) some combination of the two.

I also feel compelled to provide images for each week's reading, something to lighten up what is otherwise very text heavy (and daunting for students who aren't used to doing a lot of reading). And--in terms of the overwhelming aspect of text itself--I am compelled to keep my "lectures" as brief as possible while providing at least the big landmarks (as it were). Searching for images is actually pretty fun; the challenge is getting any kind of reasonable information about the images to provide as photo credit. I can always say where I found the image, but sometimes the place where I found it doesn't bother to mention where the poster found it. For instance, I found a very nice print of the streets of Philadelphia in the 18th century--and no clue about the artist, when it was made, what collection owns it: nada. I'm trying to set a good example for my students by always giving credit for the stuff I find elsewhere (something I do not do, I have to admit, when I'm on Facebook--or even in this blog). It's all too easy even for me to fall into the "it's on the web so it's public property" thing.

No wonder students struggle with understanding plagiarism these days: they're used to treating everything on the web as belonging to any and everyone. Makes me realize I need to spend more time talking with them about why we can't get away with that sort of common use in academic settings. The main point is to get them to understand that it's important for them to actually do something with their own brains: to originate material, not rely on someone else's brain to do all the work. I think that may be a more challenging concept than it seems to someone on my side of trenches.

Be that as it may. I realize that I have run out of gas for more work on anything today. I did change the syllabi for this fall's classes--again (adding the technological requirements for what word processing software will work for them--and letting them know they can't do all their work on their phones but actually have to use a computer every now and then)--but my mental channels have all silted up for the moment, so I'm going to call a halt to the proceedings for today. I don't know if I'll get any work done tomorrow, or when I'll next be productive in terms of my actual job. (I will certainly be productive in other areas of my life, including enjoyment.) But whenever I'm back at it, you'll be sure to know.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Progress is made...

Well, Cathy and I got as far as we could with the adjunct schedules. There are two classes we don't have staffed; we're waiting to hear back from an adjunct on one of them, and the other is newly created, so at the moment it doesn't have enough students in it to run, though chances are very good that it will. We think we have an if/then contingency place if it does run. We also did as much as we could to protect full-time schedules, but there are a couple that leave us praying for a sudden surge in enrollment: whatever if/then scenarios we have planned will be complicated to implement, and that's putting it very mildly. But we can't really do more until we see what happens to enrollment over the weekend. It really is frustrating that we have to pull the trigger so soon, when we know--absolutely know--that students will be scrambling for classes right up through the first week in September, and if we close sections that are running light now, those students won't have any place to go.

The other problem is room: actual, physical space in which to hold the classes. As soon as we cancel something, the room disappears--unless we have something else to immediately slot into the space. Well, "disappears" as in another department in equally desperate circumstances grabs it. It is the Oklahoma land rush out there.

And I did start printing and organizing files for my classes. The only handout I can think of that I haven't yet worked on at all is the final essay for the SF class, but I'm going to let that dangle for a little while. I'm pretty sure I have everything else worked out. (Whether I'll still like it when it comes time to use it is a different question.) Also, after printing the same thing about 40 times and then being unsure which was the most up-to-date version, I decided that I would start adding a footer to that kind of document, so I can see at a glance which version is the most recent. I probably should add such footers to everything. Not only will it help me be certain that I am using the latest version, it will let me see when something has been languishing without reconsideration or fine-tuning for a long while and probably could use to be revisited.

I'm going through my usual thing of feeling somewhat baffled by the fact that I'm not running around like my hair is on fire. It seems like I should have to be getting ready to dash off to go somewhere, do something, but nope. There certainly is plenty of work I could be doing (getting some licks in on that online Nature in Lit, for instance), but I'm going to call a halt to work-type proceedings today. I'm still getting my body used to the early to rise (if not early to bed) routine, and since I had a spell of serious insomnia last week, I'm still a bit behind on the whole "rested and ready" part. I will, therefore, pick stuff up off the floor, then make sure I have all my toys and head home.

Strictly speaking, I don't have to come in tomorrow--but I probably will, to start making photocopies of handouts if nothing else. Of course, I still don't know how many handouts to make for the SF class or for the late-day 101, but the other 101 is full to capacity (ka-boom, like that, from yesterday to today), so I know I need at least 27 copies of all the handouts just for that one section. I can always make more copies as my classes grow, I suppose--or just wait until next week to make the copies for the other 101 and the SF class. The more I think about things, the more fluttery and anxious I get, so I'm going to try to retain a Zen-like calm and head for home--tomorrow being another day, as we all know all too well.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Back in the office...

Cathy and I didn't make a hell of a lot of headway today; there are a lot of FT schedules that are still pretty shaky, even though we shored up a few. The frustration is that we're under heavy pressure to cancel classes--but we absolutely know that students will be registering during the week after contracts are signed and before most classes begin, so we really have to keep sections open for that eventuality. The other frustration Cathy is dealing with (not my headache, thank god) is that we don't have rooms for our classes. The administration in their infinite wisdom shuttered one of the buildings in which a lot of our classes used to be held--and moved classes and a whole department out of another building (which is now being leased to another entity)--but they didn't bother to make sure they actually, truly would have space for every class. "Oh, there's plenty of room," they said. Hah. Not only do we have classes scheduled in different buildings on different meeting days (Mondays here, Wednesdays on the other side of campus), a lot of our classes have no room at all in which to meet. We're down to bathrooms and broom closets--unless they recognize that the High Muckdy-Mucks will have to give up some of their precious space to accommodate students and classes and give us rooms in the administrative buildings.

So, yes: once again, we are a living example of a cluster-fuck.

I also realized that one of the reasons we're struggling with enrollment isn't actually that enrollment is down: it's that caps on courses have been raised, slowly, stealthily, over the past years, so comp courses that used to be capped at 24 are now capped at 27; classes that were 26 are 28; classes that were 28 are 31. That is unless the class is scheduled in a room that the Fire Marshal has said can only hold a smaller number--or, in the case of at least one of the specialty programs, because the program coordinator has decided that his classes will be capped at 16. (I don't know how he's getting away with that, but so far, he is.) I'm glad that the Creative Writing program is able to keep their courses a manageable size; and our remedial and accelerated courses have reasonable caps, which so far Cathy has been able to battle to keep where they are. But I added it up: if all the 101s that are now full were reduced to 24 students in each section, there would be 158 students needing classes. I'm pretty sure that's more than enough students to make sure every section we have open would fill, and it might even be enough that we'd need to open a few more sections.

But, under the current circumstances, Cathy and I simply tossed all the work we did in May on adjunct schedules. There are virtually zero courses to distribute, and a zillion people looking for work. It's going to be dreadful--especially if we do have to give some of the courses that are currently unassigned to FT faculty. I put together a little spread sheet of classes that are below the threshold (the magic number is 12, I understand--though that seems to change from semester to semester); we need to make sure we have something to give any FT faculty who lose a course--and we need to make sure we don't assign courses that won't run to senior adjuncts. The fun just doesn't quit.

But Cathy and I called a halt to the work pretty early. I've been upstairs at my own desk since about 3:30 this afternoon (it's after 5 now), and I've been trying to make sure I have everything that is currently ready uploaded to the SF Blackboard page and printed out, ready to copy. I need to do the same with 101. (Speaking of enrollment, by the way, one of my sections of 101 has exploded, enrollment-wise. The other section is still holding at 10; there are 11 in the SF class.) I think my life will be made much easier if I can spend some time tomorrow working on the color-coded (and much reduced) syllabi I use for my own planning, so I know what handouts I need when. Then I can carefully go through folders and make sure I have the most up-to-date versions ready to roll.

And at some point, I'll start making the photocopies. There's no way in hell I can get the copies done by Printing and Publications at this late date--at least not anything I need for the first four weeks or so. But I feel very disorganized and bewildered by all the paper and folders and files and shit everywhere, so I hope to have a few days in which I can simply slowly, carefully, methodically check things over and check them off.

That, however, is a worry for another day. Today, I'm going to wrap things up here and head off to physical therapy. If I work at home tomorrow (and I hope I will, after my little dermatological procedure), I'll post. If not, I'll post on Wednesday. The routine is beginning to reassert itself, which is a curate's egg: it's bad, but I assure you, parts of it are excellent.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Maybe I'm finished... partly, sort of

I think--and I hesitate to say this--but I do think that I have everything done for the 101s. I made further changes to the schedule, of course. My dear colleagues on P&B let me know that what I had as the last day of class is actually a "make-up" day, in case campus is closed enough days that we need to make up a day. It's very confusing, as the next day is actually the last day of classes, so that last week we have classes Monday, classes Tuesday, no classes Wednesday, classes Thursday....

Weird, but it did make that change to the assignments very easy, as I had that slated as a "conferences in my office" day anyway. But I also remembered (after stumbling across the uploads on Blackboard) that I'd decided I wanted to provide a few extra credit readings (and associated discussion boards) for the second essay--which meant not only changing the schedule of assignments but also changing the grade calculation sheet (which I changed about seven times today even apart from that particular adjustment). Still, it wasn't terribly difficult to accomplish--and fortunately, because of the way the pagination fell, the additions only affected two pages out of the 22 (or however many it is; you can look it up in yesterday's post).

I actually spent a lot more of the day working on Blackboard, making sure all the materials are there, are current, will be available when I want them to be (and not before), that all the links line up and connect... and I finally was able to copy it all from the section I've been working on into the other section, which I carefully emptied of all content earlier in the summer so I wouldn't inadvertently load things 45 time (which I've done in the past, despite the warnings provided by the Distance Ed mentors about how easy it is for that to happen).

The only thing I haven't done regarding the 101s is to reexamine my grading rubrics, possibly reworking the rubric for the editing step in the process. But I've been nailed to the computer all day--I was not smart enough to set up the timer to get me out of my chair at least once an hour--and I'm just about frozen in place. So I'm not going to do any other work today, and I'm going to try to minimize the noodling around I'm bound to do as soon as I finish this post.

I don't know whether I'll have time to work tomorrow, but I'm guessing not. I have a dentist's appointment, then I head into the City for my rescheduled fiddle lesson (as my instructor is leaving town on Saturday and will be gone for about a week), possibly a tango class after fiddle. Friday may be the usual string of events--or may include another dental appointment. But because of the rescheduled fiddle lesson, there's a chance I'll have time to work on Saturday. I don't think I'll go to the City just for tango; I'll probably do yoga class and then toddle on home--or maybe yoga, life maintenance, home. There is still some significant work I need to do for the SF class, and although I could possibly leave it for later, I'd rather get it done before classes start, so I don't have to think about it any more. And then there's the ever dangling online Nature in Lit, which will continue to dangle for god knows how long.

When I'm on campus next week, I'll do a lot of printing and copying. I still don't know how many copies of anything to make: the enrollment in both the SF and the relatively empty section of 101 has improved slightly but not enough to make me completely sanguine that both classes will run. Well, Cathy and I will deal with the FT schedules that are in much more obvious peril first; then we'll deal with folks like me--at which point we'll be setting up if/then scenarios: if Prof. P's T section of 101 runs, give the "no instructor" G section to Adjunct X; if it doesn't run, give Prof. P the G section and find something else for Adjunct X, if possible. That sort of thing. We try not to let any of those scenarios have more than three dominoes in them, or it gets impossible to track (and that's why we ended up giving someone a three-class schedule in the spring. You'd think the faculty member in question would have noticed and said something, but she didn't until it was too late to fix, so she had to teach a summer class without pay to make up for it. But I digress.)

I have piles of paper all around my little computer desk, printouts and notes to myself--and I have no clue any more what's still current and what's old and useless (or potentially confusing). My inclination is to throw it all into the recycling bin and believe that at some point I will remember anything I really do need to do--or that if I don't remember something that was on one of the lists and was left undone, that it doesn't really need to be done in any event.

I'm starting to confuse myself. I'm packing it in for today. I'll be back posting, well, whenever, I reckon. Whenever I have something to report....

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Oops, a little distraction there...

I'd meant to be finished with everything (including fiddle practice) by now, but I got side-tracked. I was checking several things online, including work emails, and there was a lovely P.S. from a colleague, praising the whole group of us who run the major functions of the department (Cathy, Bob--soon to be replaced by Paul, Brian--who heads Placement--and the summer Placement coordinator Johanna), and in a sort of "aw, shucks" response, I was moved to quote the Pogo cartoon strip character Bun Rab, who is awfully proud of his job carrying the hose...


That pretty well sums up my job. Notice that Bun Rab doesn't actually put out the fire; he just wants everyone to notice that he does, in fact, carry the hose. Bun Rab, c'est moi.

Despite the distraction, however, and the fact that I didn't get started until much later than I'd hoped, I managed to make genuine forward progress. Part of why I was so easily distracted by the urge to find the particular book of Pogo cartoons in my lovely collection (thanks, Sam Sandoe) is I had started to bog down in the organizational streams of making sure I have all the bits and orts for each step of the process from first handouts to final, that they're all up to date, have a minimum of howling errors, and are saved as PDFs, for easier access by my students online. But I think I'm in pretty good shape with the 101s now. Having that assignment schedule finally nailed down makes everything else infinitely easier.

However, I did discover that there is a boo-boo in the official academic calendar. Tuesday/Thursday classes meet 30 times, as they should, but Monday/Wednesday classes meet 31 times. (I didn't look to find out if classes that "break the grid" meet the requisite number of times because I'm not teaching any of those, so I don't really care.) Of course, it's possible I misread the calendar, but I checked it four times, and I swear I'm not missing a "Wednesday is a Tuesday" or a "Classes will not meet" thing. I see some of that going on with evening classes, but not day. I've mentioned it to P&B, but if I have to tear those schedules apart again...

Well, that's a worry for another time.

I also feel a slight lessening of pressure and panic because the friend I was going to go to the beach with tomorrow ended up having to work--so I have the day with no other commitments in which I can grind away, making (please heaven) further progress. Maybe I can even really have the classes for fall completely nailed down (except, of course, for the changes I will make on the fly, which always happen) and can then turn my attention to the online Nature in Lit. I also realized that the entire week after contract signing, classes won't have started yet, so I'll have all that time to work as well. The schedule is weird because Sept. 1 is a Friday, so that's when the semester starts--but because classes start that week, adjunct contracts are officially due the week before. Of course, we'll still be changing contracts all the way through that week, but I don't think I'll have to be on quite the same high alert as I'll need to be next week and the following.

But it's now well after 8 p.m., and if I'm going to get a decent night's sleep tonight, I can't keep noodling around on the computer--or practice fiddle. I feel a trifle guilty about that, but maybe I'll manage to practice twice tomorrow, or put in one much longer practice.

For now, I'm wrapping up the work day and putting a big bow on it. And I'll continue to carry the hose.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Progress again ... I think

I think--I hope--I have the syllabus for the 101s finally worked out and finalized. Yesterday I reconfigured when the assignments fall, which was made easier by the realization that I really didn't want to use one of the readings I'd assigned for the first essay. Ditching that made it more feasible to tighten up the first few weeks--and after that, getting the essays to fall on Wednesdays and having room for conference weeks turned out to be remarkably easy. I printed the revised thing out last night, and first thing today, I went through it, fixing mistakes, adding a few readings (too good to pass up), clarifying things (well, clearer to me; I have no idea how students will feel about it).

The result is 22 pages long. Holy fucking god. But it includes everything possible to defend me against grade grievance--which, viewed from a more positive light, means it includes everything students could possibly want or need to know about what is expected of them. (By way of contrast, the SF syllabus is 16 pages long--but I don't have to deal with discussion boards or other assignment wrinkles with that class.)

Twenty-two pages. I wonder how many students will flee the class just getting that syllabus.

I'm now going through the assignment schedule, one day at a time, to make sure I have the handouts needed and that I'm happy with them the way I have them. It did take me a while today to do the math on the points for various assignments. Since I ditched the "preliminary" essay assignment I did last time I taught the class (opting for conferences instead), I had to spread out 300 points across everything else--and I didn't want the essays to count for quite so much of the total. But I think the points values are appropriate for each assignment, which is the main thing: low stakes versus high stakes--and recognizing, for instance, that the students won't put as much time/energy into the editing step as they probably should, so that won't be worth as many points as last time.

As I gradually get all this under control, I hope my sleep improves. I had another bout of insomnia last night, though it was not as fierce as the night before. I'm calling a halt to the work relatively early this evening largely because my mental abilities are rapidly shutting down (hitting those walls), but also because 1. I want to wind down earlier than I have been, in hopes of a better night of sleep, and 2. I want to put in some time on the fiddle. My lesson is being moved up to Thursday, so I need to get in as much practice as possible before then.

Which is what I'm about to do, actually: practice some music. I hope I can get a good amount of work done both before and after my doctor's appointment tomorrow. I should have scheduled it for later in the day (or earlier), instead of at 1, but ah well. Tomorrow will take care of itself. The only thing I need to do now is get off the computer, move all my stacks of paper so I can get into my closet and into my bed (when it's time), and embark upon my evening--tomorrow being another day, and all that.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

I'll regret this in the morning

I had an awful night of sleep last night, for reasons that are completely mysterious. When I finally did fall truly asleep, I ended up sleeping very late--and since then, I've been unable to get my ass in gear to do any work of any kind whatsoever. I did check enrollment numbers, which have improved ever so slightly (and interestingly, the student whom I've called "Rose in Bloom" had signed up for SF initially--one of the first people to register--but now is not in the class any more). That's a good sign, though I'm still prepared for the possibility that I may end up tearing my schedule up in order to teach a section of 101 that's sure to run. I'll know more next week, when Cathy and I start on adjunct scheduling.

So, I've been doing everything except work today--and suddenly, now that the feasible window for work is getting very small indeed, I realize how little time I have before classes start, and how much time I still need to get everything ready for the 101s in particular. Cue wave of panic.

Given the situation, I'm posting in advance of working, as a way to rev my engines, as it were. I know that even doing a tiny bit of work--specifically, resolving the problem of how/when to schedule the essay assignments for the 101s, even if I do nothing else (and even if I change my mind another five times about what makes sense as a resolution) will help calm the panic.

I'll post tomorrow, I expect, and I expect that tomorrow I'll post as usual after the work is done, instead of before. But it interests me that sometimes it takes a modicum of panic to push me through a blue mood and into productivity. Today would be one of those days.

Off I go to reconceptualize...