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Student Readers: A Warning

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...?

My readership has suddenly blossomed, which is a lovely development--but I don't know who is reading the blog, how you found it, and why you find it interesting. I'd love to hear from you! Please feel free to use the "comment" box at the end of any particular post to let me know what brought you to this page--and what keeps you coming back for more (if you do).

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






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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Files still unfiled

Well, not an unproductive afternoon, but a brief one--and my huge stack of unfiled stuff is still the chaotic mess it was when I walked in the door.

Instead of dealing with that here's what transpired:

1. I read and marked assignments from the student in the SF class who was fulfilling his incomplete. I could pick nits with his final essay, but it was in many ways very good indeed, and generally a pleasure to read. He didn't knock the top off, but he earned the equivalent of an A- in points, which brought his final grade for the class to a B. If he hadn't experienced the crisis he went through mid-semester, I'm betting he could have gotten better, possibly even an A. He's slowly dragging himself out of an academic hole; he was on academic probation for a while there, but his grades are improving, and he doesn't have much left to finish his degree. I hope he considers taking one of my lit electives in the fall, not only because I need more people enrolled but also because he is intelligent and interested. Of course, I also wouldn't blame him in the least if he decided he'd rather do something less challenging to fulfill his general electives (which is the only place another lit class could go in his degree requirements). We'll see.

2. I exchanged emails from a student from the 101 class who wrote last week to ask why I "gave" him an F. (I leave you to imagine what that did to my blood pressure.) This is a student who made it absolutely clear throughout the entire semester that he could not give a teeny tiny shit about the class and was doing the absolute minimum he could get away with. He completely missed submitting the first version of his second essay, and I accepted his final essay despite the fact that he uploaded it to Turnitin late (which my policy says is verboten). I pointed out the bit about having accepted his final essay even though the policy states it shouldn't be accepted--and he wrote back saying, "Fair enough, but I should point out that only the Turnitin part was late." I responded with a quotation from the assignment sheet: "To be considered on time, the Final Version must be submitted in hard copy in class and uploaded to TurnItIn by 11:59 p.m. on the due date."

Well, he graciously accepted that as the final word, saying that the F would delay his progress but thanking me for the learning experience. I'm pretty sure I heard the effort at respect there, but I responded, praising his graciousness and good attitude about what happened. I also told him he has the skills to do well, and I hope he can actually apply those skills in the future.

He's an absolute textbook case of something Paul and I have discussed repeatedly but have yet to figure out a good way to address: this student thought he was trying hard--but he has absolutely no clue what it really means to try hard. Students really, genuinely believe that if they feel any kind of struggle with their first attempt at something, they have tried their best--and don't recognize that continued, repeated attempts and struggle are required to really do one's best. I wish I could demonstrate that to them in some wonderful, concrete way that they'd understand, but ... well, that's something to think about.

3. I met with the other student who is fulfilling an incomplete, this one a young woman from the 101. She'd done the first version of her essay, which I marked on Sunday. Today was the conference that would have been mandatory if she'd been doing the process with the rest of the class. (She's finishing up the second essay, actually, not the final one.) Again, she's intelligent and interested--and interesting--so the meeting was a pleasure, though I can't say I'm actually thrilled at the thought that I am still not finished grading, as she has yet to submit the final version with all the attendant pieces (revision plan, editing review, articles with annotations and expanded notes, final version). She'll drop that off for me late next week; I'll look at it when I come in on Monday the 25th--when I have to be here anyway to make sure everything is set for the Summer 2 session, as Cathy will be away and out of communication at that point (and good for her!).

4. When I was digging through the box of student assignments (where I toss things in case I need to revisit final essays or grades after the semester is finished), I happened to notice a bit of P&B business that had gotten literally lost in the shuffle: a colleague had submitted qualifications to teach specific upper-level courses, and those qualifications needed to be approved. So, I did that--it took all of about two minutes--and I also fulfilled the "member of P&B" function of signing Cathy's faculty Year-End Evaluation (which we all have to do every other year).

So, various missions accomplished. It's still very early in the day, relatively speaking, so could I stay and get more work done? Sure. Will I? Nope. I know I'll be frantic later in the summer, trying to get ready for fall and trying to clear up from spring, but ... well, procrastination is a wonderful thing, isn't it. I'll think of that later.... (And she flounces off homeward in her large hoop-skirt.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Back to blogging...

Well, I'm back on campus, and back to blogging. (Did you miss me?) It's been an interesting day, on the whole, and there's a lot to say. We'll see how much I have the energy to convey.

I came in largely because the two students who are fulfilling incompletes were supposed to submit their work today. One of them asked if he could submit tomorrow instead, and I said OK; it just means I won't be able to give him his grade as soon as I would have otherwise. The other diligently arrived with her work exactly as specified. (Good girl.) Of course, now I have to read it an respond; she's fulfilling the second essay for 101, which requires two versions, so ... more work for me. I do like that she wants to come in to talk with me about the revision; I'll meet with her next week about that.

While I was here, I was also going to sign a couple of travel requests (as the local and available member of P&B)--but it turns out there are problems with all three. I dutifully signed them, but I had to send emails to the requesters, detailing what they need to provide in order for the bean counters to approve the approval. (Bureaucracy: ain't it great?) I also was going to meet with a student from the SF class--and I did (more on that in a minute)--but before I could do that, a summer student had a complaint about her professor, and since Cathy was called away with an emergency, it fell to me to deal with it. Long, involved story--and I was talking with the student with her father present--but the upshot is that I will need to come in again this week or next to meet with the professor against whom the complaint has been made. This is one of two potential hairballs with student complaints in the last few days. Fun and frolic.

But the main thing is that I had a great time talking with the student from the SF class. I haven't given him a moniker, in part because he's hard to reduce to a quick few words--but I'll call him the Taoist, as he is fascinated by Taoism (and wrote his final essay on how Taoist ideas are apparent in The Left Hand of Darkness). He wanted to meet with me to discuss his revision of his second essay, to see what he could do to improve--nice--and we ended up talking about writing, literature, ideas, spirituality, breathing and meditation practices.... He's intelligent, artistic, relatively mature, and in need of a little more discipline in order to write as well as he could, which is part of what we talked about. He does want to finish his degree here, but then he wants to go to Purchase, which is an excellent choice for him: in the SUNY system, Purchase has a reputation as the most "artsy" of the campuses, and, after considering majoring in film, he's decided he'd rather major in English and minor in film. He says he wants to practice the kind of thinking and expression that is required of an English major. I applaud his decision (of course; always happy to have students move into "our" territory).

And in addition to loaning him Paolo Baccigalupi's The Windup Girl, which I may teach instead of Left Hand whenever I next teach SF (assuming I get some feedback from students saying it would be a good switch to make), I've also told him I'm going to get him Le Guin's version of The Tao Te Ching, as well as the Winnie the Pooh books (all of them; he only knows the Disney versions, poor deprived child). My gift to a gifted young man.

He's also one of the students who said he would be interested in taking Native American Lit. Turns out, it would actually fulfill a requirement for him so ... well, we'll see if he actually signs up. If so, great.

So all that transpired today. What didn't happen--and won't, now--is my cleaning out any of my files or organizing any of the stacks of crap all over this office. Well, I'll be in again sooner than I might like, so, later for that.

Meanwhile, I've done some reading of possible replacements for the books for the Native American Lit class. I read a novel, The Hiawatha, by David Treuer, that was jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and is set as much in the city as on the res (more so, in fact), which would be a good thing to include, but ultimately I've decided to stick with Ceremony. The downsides to it are that it's older--and I'd like students to know that Native writing didn't stop in the 1970s--and that it invites plagiarism (so much available about it online). But there are also a ton of critical works students can draw from (and introducing critical material is part of my mandate in these classes, dammit); there are far fewer for
The Hiawatha, and they rely on knowledge of more books or more of the modern "tradition" than I can teach in the class. So, with reluctance, I let that one go. But ... holy God, what a wonderful read. Heartbreaking but magnificent.

And with that, I think I'll call it a day. I have no idea when I'll post again; it rather depends on when I next have a day in which I am focused on work stuff--which may be sooner than I'd ideally like, depending on what happens with the student complaint I fielded today (or anything else, for that matter). But I will be back at it periodically throughout the summer, more as it gets closer to start of the fall semester, of course. As always. For now, I will wend my way homeward, with work to be continued. As always.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Well, I was on campus...

Turned out there were some alarm bells ringing about summer schedules for adjuncts (three grievances filed, all of which turned out to be baseless, I think)--so Cathy asked me to get in earlier than planned. I was there a smidge before 10, and the problems were solved pretty quickly. Probably the most important thing I did was give Cathy someone to vent to (and provide a little diplomatic soothing in dealing with a possibly problematic person (how's that for alliterative)). She said she felt bad about dragging me in, but I assured her I had plenty of work to do upstairs in my office.

And I did go up to my office--but I looked at what I had to do and went, "Nah. I have to be back soon enough to get stuff from one of the students who is fulfilling an incomplete," so I just loaded the office plants into the car, made a quick grocery run, and came home.

I do have to do some work though, sooner than later. I've already eliminated one of the potential anthologies for the Native American Lit class (assuming, as always, that it runs). The anthology in question was skewed too heavily toward nonfiction, selected for heavily didactic purposes, which may be important but I generally dislike teaching with a sledge-hammer. It also comes loaded with apparatus--points for discussion, writing tasks, already set up, so the teacher doesn't have to do much thinking--but my opinion of the apparatus is that it's far too simplistic, clunky, and too much in the "I can relate because it reminds me of the time when I..." vein. Which we all know I despise.

So, one down, two to go.

But not now. Maybe not even this week, though maybe I will chip away at it a bit. At very least, I want to choose some different "traditional" material, get some examples from eastern nations, not skew so heavily toward west of the Mississippi (though I have in the past at least selected some Puebloan as well as Plains stuff, and a few Inuit traditional chants/songs). Thanks to my sister, I have a book that may be helpful in that area.

But, again: not now. Now, I am going to work on that sea-cucumber impersonation that I practice every summer.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Stick a fork in me

I cannot believe I am actually finished, but I am. All grades calculated and completed and submitted and everything. I'm waiting for the screaming to commence--it surely will--but I may get a few "thank you for saving me" messages, too, from a few people who got mercy D's.

The 101 was a complete disaster. Apart from the student who is getting an incomplete, and who might be able to pull off a B, the high grade for the semester was a D+.

The Nature in Lit was the opposite extreme--and has me already considering how to reconstruct the point values: a few students got artificially inflated grades just because they managed to turn in all their discussion boards. One of them didn't even get "passing" marks on his--but they still bumped him up to a C for the class, which is way way way higher than he deserved. Another student squeezed out a B+, also not deserved, based on her essay writing. I had to add points to the reading notes scored for the SF class (my math didn't add up, and I didn't realize it until the end), but for the fall, I definitely have to revisit the math for Nature in Lit. And I realize I haven't taught Native American Lit since I switched over to the point system, so I need to very carefully construct the math for that one as well. I do want to build in a little extra credit, but not so much that a student can bump a grade too high.

Well, all that's a conundrum for another time.

The weather is keeping me from feeling the "now summer can commence" thing--or even the "now I get to do my sea-cucumber impressions" thing (as the idea of being in the tides feels a might bit chilly right now)--but I am going to enter the metaphoric decompression chamber (or hide under the sofa) starting very soon. I've been posting on Facebook about the flotsam that will continue to wash up on the shore for me to clean up (assignments from the students who are getting the incompletes, commencement, summer scheduling stuff), but mostly I get to wander around like a lost person for a while, then dive head first into fall semester prep. I'm going to make a trip to campus tomorrow just to collect the office plants, so they can live on the porch for the summer, but this semester is done gone. Yippee-Skippee, and looking forward to dinner with Herr Doctor Von Rosa tonight.

And I'll be back blogging soon, I'm sure.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

About half-way there...

Numbers are crunched for the SF class (no A's, one B+ and a couple of B's--and two mercy D's). I've started on the stuff for the 101 class--but I've run out of patience, so I'm giving it a rest until tomorrow. More work may still come in for the Nature in Lit; they have until midnight to get their revisions of essay 2 submitted. We'll see where those chips fall.

The past few days I've been very nicely uncranky, but that's wearing off: the cranky factor is increasing exponentially. I was just telling Paul that I want to teach a class that is just sentence skills: not even grammar (though that's what students think our grammar course is going to be), but stuff like where apostrophes go, what makes a sentence a sentence, where to place commas.... I find it just drives me nuts that so many of them cannot manage even the most rudimentary pieces of that--and I want to just drill them and drill them and drill them until they can get that little piddley shit right. I don't have time in any of my classes--though I think I may hold seminar hours specifically for that purpose in the fall: designate one of my times as "sentence skills drills" time for my students--in all my classes. Work with them in small groups. Something. I'm at my wit's end.

And perhaps the most appalling part is that it starts to rub off on me. I find myself making mistakes I never would have made in the past--and not even immediately catching them--because I see things done wrong so often. It drives me mad, I tell you: mad.

In the "well, that's nice" department, however, contract signing for summer is now going to be on Monday, so I will definitely be on campus that day--but then I'll be done (except for those incompletes that will still be trailing in). Having to deal with those will be moderately annoying--but I'll take advantage of a reason to come to campus to sort out my files and start prepping for fall. Because ... I hate to admit it, but yes, I already feel anxious about fall, as if I am not going to have enough time to prepare. Usually that doesn't hit until July 4. I'm running early this year.

Paul and I also had a talk about enrollment and the usual tenterhooks about whether classes are going to run--and right now, all of my classes, even my 101s, look dicey as hell. Of course, it's very early days yet, and the bigger concern will be handling the summer classes that don't run because of low enrollment, but it does seem as if filling courses for full-time faculty is going to continue to be a challenge for the foreseeable future--unless enrollment picks up campus wide or we continue to lose faculty to retirement (and not have lines to get them replaced). I'm not so sure I like the look of what may be the wave of the future. I was saying to Paul, if I have to teach at 8:30 a.m. in order to have sections that run, will that be the thing that finally triggers retirement?

Who knows. Right now, I have no idea how I feel about anything having anything to do with my career. It's end of the semester and I'm completely fried. So, I'm taking my cranky self home. Fiddle practice, food, and noodling: that's the order of the day.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Why do I bother? (Oh. That's why.)

Not much time to post tonight, so, in brief:

The 101: no great surprise, rather a disaster. One student was there on time. A little later, the kid showed up who had "forgotten" to upload his essay to Turnitin. He was supposed to come to my office hour and didn't. He said, "I thought you meant before class." Yes, I did--and you got to class late, so in what sense is this "before" class?? Upshot: I'll give him partial credit for his final essay, and let the chips fall where they may. I lectured him a lot, and scared him at least a little. He may study to become a welder--but his father has persuaded him that he needs an associate's degree before going to trade school. Whatever. He'll either grow up or he won't. While I was talking with him, the young woman to whom I am granting an incomplete showed up. She's going to be OK--she's being proactive about her own success, despite some serious problems--so that part was fine. But ... that was it. No one else showed up.

Whatever.

I came back to the office feeling pretty grumpy--but then two students from the SF class showed up; one is the young man who has been attending the salon, the other one of the best and brightest from the class. They've become friends (not having known each other before). I don't have monikers for either one, but if they end up keeping in touch, I'll develop something.

So I've gotten a few revisions to look at (not many). And by end of day tomorrow, I'll get revisions from a few of the students in Nature in Lit. And from now, it's all about the grading.

The experience in the 101 made me wonder why the hell I even try to teach anything. Seeing the young men from the SF class made me realize why: because when it works, it's fucking golden. Those students--and their confreres in that class--make it all worth while. I've saved a couple of the self-evaluations, in a new file folder entitled "Feel Good File." Periodically, I'll pull those out and reread them, to remind myself that sometimes, what I have to offer lands on fertile ground and grows into something lovely.

In the "unexpected blessings" department, turns out our union says we only have to make up classes on Wednesday, nothing else, so I don't have to go to Advisement. And I've already seen the last of the students for the 101 class--or at least I hope none of them show up on Wednesday expecting to talk to me. So now, it's all just about the grading. I've got the various grade forms figured out (and discovered not only how to create grade reports for the Nature in Lit but how to turn those reports into calculated columns, which will save me some time totting up figures), and I've embarked on the crunching. I'll roll in tomorrow as early as I can make myself get here and just hammer away at it. Ditto Wednesday--at the end of which, I have the enjoyment of a dinner with Paul in the offing. By Thursday, it should all be over but the shouting. (Please let there be no shouting....)

And with that, I'm outta here for tonight.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Well, I sure resisted that long enough...

I very nearly didn't do that little bit of grading to leave on the office door tomorrow. I told myself the students probably won't pick it up anyway (which is true), so I could risk having time to do it in Advisement tomorrow--but finally I made myself do it anyway. It didn't take too long, and it wasn't painful. In fact, part of it was very sweet: reading the end-of-semester self-evaluations from the students in the SF class touched me. It is manna to the soul to feel appreciated and understood as a professor. I'm trying to soak their words in as deeply as I can; if I can garner enough of this positive feeling, I can keep teaching longer, not feel so driven to retire. I know classes like that one are precious few, however, so I'm storing up a little fuel to get me through a lot of challenging times ahead, I know. But still: it's lovely. I may even copy some of the self-evaluations to keep, so I can pull them out when I feel despair about my effectiveness or why I do what I do.

Interesting to note that, although the semester has not ended yet--I still have the bulk of the grading to do, plus more scheduling stuff with Cathy, plus commencement--I'm already feeling the tug of the end-of-semester post-partum blues. I get them even when it's been a crap semester--classes of recalcitrant students and lessons that never seem to gel--so even more so when I've had at least one class that I truly loved and that worked on just about every level. Case in point: I could go out for a walk (despite the grey, grungy, chilly weather) but ... nah. I'm going to noodle around on the computer for a while, then have an early dinner and watch something mindless on DVD. (Yes, I still do movies on DVD. I am not a dinosaur, but woolly mammoth, perhaps.)

And that's enough for today. Over and out.