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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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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Mooping in depression...

Actually, I'm not depressed, though the situation in that 101 is depressing; I just ran across a student blooper from a set of reading notes about Atwood's Oryx and Crake: "His mother would constantly moop in depression." I'm sure we've all mooped at some point in our lives.

But I have to stop mooping about the 101. Today, as class was wrapping up (early, as there wasn't much discussion going on), I realized that it really isn't very helpful to anyone if I continue to focus on how frustratingly dismal the experience is for me. I need to adopt a more laissez faire attitude. They won't do well. I can't do anything to get them to do better at this point. 'Nuff said. There are only four more Mondays and four more Wednesdays until the end of the semester; one day I will be holding optional conferences (my guess is that about three students will come), one day will be end-of-semester wrap-up, when students bring in their final self-evaluations, and one day will be grade conferences (code for "Go away, kid, ya bother me"). So that's five days of something like teaching. If I can't do that with calm and sang-froid, there's something very wrong.

And I realize that since class ended yesterday, my whole attitude has just been "turning the crank," as my Dad would say, until I head out of town tomorrow: just grinding through whatever needs to be ground and not thinking much about it. I have a relatively impressive looking parcel of work to take north with me, though how much I'll actually work on it is another whole issue. And it looks more impressively large than it is, as some of the bulk is the various steps of the essay process for the 101.

That does remind me of a fairly annoying moment at the end of class today. One of the struggling students (who also is chronically late) came to me and said, "You didn't give me back my essay." I just stared at her. "Or maybe you didn't grade it yet?" I said, "I just got them. Give me a break." She short of shrugged with a little "Oh, my bad" smile--which is her standard reaction to almost anything--and then said, "Another thing; I don't have my reflection essay today." "Why not?" "I thought it was due next week." "Why did you think that?" "I remembered you said something about..." I jumped in: "You remembered something? But you didn't look at the schedule, which I gave you, which we went over in class?" Same little smile. "Can I give it to you Tuesday?" "You can, but there will be a huge late penalty." She was trying to negotiate with me about that but I just wasn't having it. I won't be on campus tomorrow, I'm never on campus Fridays, submit it whenever, it will still be late and be penalized. "Oh, OK," and she shuffles slowly out the door.

I told the students who fell asleep in class that they're not present if they're sleeping. I told one of the falling-apart students--who had a personal tragedy but was completely disorganized and off-track even before that happened--that I'm tired of rescuing him.

And I was ready to fire rockets at another student who has the ability to do well but has been falling apart all over the place--but he wasn't there.

But whatever happens, this too shall pass. And it doesn't much matter to me whether they do well now or not. I care about the success of two of the students who are remaining (one of whom has had trouble staying awake all semester but is pretty smart; another is the one to whom I offered an incomplete); the rest, not so much. I don't actively wish them any harm, I just can't be bothered to continue the rescue attempts. I sent the boats. Fuck it. No helicopter.

Shifting gears pretty significantly, I felt buoyed up today by the fact that my two fall electives--Native American Lit and Nature in Lit already have a few students in them, and registration just started on Monday. Not that this is a guarantee of anything; you may all remember that I went through the roller-coaster ride of gain some, lose some, repeatedly up until just before the semester started--but still, it feels good to look and see more than zero students registered.

I really am now done (as in stick-a-fork-in-me) for today--it's a cinch I won't be doing any marking of student work at this point, my brain having checked out long ago--but today is one of my "evening supervisor" evenings, so I'll be hanging out for about another hour. Not such a bad thing. Noodling will ensue. And I look forward to being a teacher in training for the next few days, not a teacher teaching.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

I really just love 'em

That SF class. Those students. There are a few who are riding the coattails of the others, but the majority of them are getting Left Hand on levels that I've never experienced before. I was all set to ditch the book for next semester--but now I'm wondering if I should keep it after all. I do have to remind myself that this is an anomalous experience; as lovely as it is, in the fall (assuming the course runs), I'm statistically more likely to get a bunch of students who can't hack it than I am to have a repeat of this pleasure.

Today, for instance, we were talking about one of the more important passages in the early chapters--the ones I wanted to make sure I covered with them (and did, today). The narrator of chapter 7, in her field report as an investigator, notes, "The First [envoy], if one is sent [to Gethen/Winter, a planet of genderless humans], must be warned that unless he is very self-assured, or senile, his pride will suffer. A man wants his virility regarded, a woman wants her femininity appreciated, however indirect and subtle the indications of regard and appreciation. On Winter they will not exist. One is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience." First, a student pointed out that Genly--the man from Terra who was sent to Gethen--is certainly not senile, and the student thought Genly was sent in contradiction to what had been said. I pointed out that the recommendation wasn't to not send someone but simply to warn that person, and Genly had been warned. But I pointed to the more challenging and important bit: that being "respected and judged only as a human being" is "appalling." First, I asked, what does it mean to be respected and judged that way? They got it: it means to be seen for "who you are," your real, inner self. And why would that be appalling? Well ... yikes. Do we really want people looking that deeply into the content of our character and judging us only on that?

I think we have to revisit chapter 7, as we didn't get a chance to talk about all the psycho-social implications of living in a genderless society, as reported by the investigator--nor how Genly is struggling with those implications, as we might, no matter how much we think our society has "advanced" since 1969 in terms of gender politics. But ... well, they're getting it.

And it just now occurs to me (just call me Pollyanna) that--wonderful as these students are--they may be getting it because I encouraged them to use the crutches and props of the "cheater" websites and audio books and whatever else would give them the handles they need. If they are using those resources, it's working: they're able to see and understand details in the novel that students haven't been able to notice in the past. So if that's what makes the difference, yeah: I can keep assigning it--as long as I condone the use of those props and crutches.

Shifting gears: I am accumulating enough homework and essay submissions that I really do need to pay attention to them. I should start today--and I did do some work responding to the posts by the students in Nature in Lit--but apart from that, well, it's tired and I'm late. Or something like that.

And, of course, tomorrow is ... well, it sure isn't today.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Sorta like the joke about "The Lord will provide..."

Here's the joke:

A guy is in New Orleans when Katrina strikes. Being a devout Christian, he believes that the Lord will help him in his time of trial.

As the waters rise, a couple of people come along in a row boat and offer to row him to safety. "No thanks," he replies. "The Lord will provide."

The waters continue to rise, and pretty soon the guy has to retreat to the second floor of his house, then to the attic. He looks out the attic window, and a couple of people in a motor boat come by. "Hop in!" they say. "We can get you out and to safety." "No thanks," he replies. "The Lord will provide."

The waters still rise, and pretty soon the guy is on top of his house, on the ridge of his roof, the waters still rising around him. The National Guard come by in a helicopter, and dangle a ladder down to him, urging him to grab on so they can whisk him to safety. "No thanks," he replies, yelling over the sound of the rotors. "The Lord will provide."

The waters rise yet further, sweep him off the roof, and he drowns. He goes to heaven, and there he sees the Lord. He goes over to God and says, "I don't understand: I'm a good Christian, and I had perfect faith. I knew you would provide. Why did you let me drown?"

"Listen, asshole," God replies, "I sent you two boats and a helicopter."


Not being God, I draw the line at even a metaphoric helicopter, but I'm not even sending any more boats. I've sent enough. Now, it's up to the students. Sink or swim, folks; I am not here to rescue you.

So the students who are AWOL from the 101? I figure they're gone. They'll either figure out they need to withdraw or they won't. One student arrived back in class today; he'd been misled about last week's classes by another student, who told him that the whole week would be conferences (and the student who'd been ready to return thought the conferences must be the whole English department--and he's having a glitch with his email so he can't access it to contact me or to see whatever I sent). I'm making some pretty large allowances to help him finish the semester with something passing, just because ... well, honestly, I want one more body in there to make it through to the end. But there are still three who apparently have given up, and I'm not going to reach out to save them.

I did send an email to two students who are AWOL from Nature in Lit, letting them know they still can withdraw. (A lot of students are confused by the "automatic withdrawal" period and think they absolutely cannot withdraw after that deadline, when the reality is that it simply becomes the professor's prerogative about whether to grant the W or not.) The guy who plagiarized several times did not get that email, for obvious reasons.

And the SF class seems to be holding on. A few students are pretty behind in terms of their required notes--but if they can stay on top of the work for the rest of the semester (especially when it comes to their essays, one of which is due tomorrow), they can still squeeze out something reasonable.

Mostly this isn't me holding firm to anything; it's me giving up. I don't have the energy to chase after students, offering help, if they can't help themselves. Get in the fucking boat or don't. Your choice. But don't say I didn't send you one.

Complete shift of gears here, but I got an offer from one of our adjuncts to join him and a colleague of his at Pace in starting up a new scholarly journal devoted to American mysteries. I would love to do it--though I'm not at all sure I have the skill set--but ... time? Energy? Qu'est que c'est? Anyway, I told him I'm interested enough to talk with him about it, but I confessed to monumental burn-out levels. I don't know whether I indicated enough interest for him to want to talk to me, but we'll see.

And now, I'm off to meet Paul so we can ride the train into the City together to meet William and Kristin for that much-postponed steak blowout. I'll almost certainly feel like dog food tomorrow, after the rich meal, but man, will it be worth it.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Comparison/contrast: didn't just make my day, made my semester...

So, the young woman who has been attending my "salon" now comes on Thursdays instead of Mondays (because of a change in her work schedule); I didn't know to expect her, but she showed up--and we talked through my seminar hour and all the way through my office hour as well. She started off the meeting by saying that she absolutely loves Left Hand. Loves it.

She wasn't kidding; she couldn't get enough talking about it: specific passages, turns of phrase... Not only that, but she's getting everything she needs to get and then some when it comes to the important understandings (she even picked up on the shadow motif, and we're only up to chapter 3). We had a blast talking--just generally nattering about whatever--but a lot of it was about Le Guin's writing and my work on her writing. I mentioned my dissertation and hauled it off the shelf to show her--and she actually started reading it (impressed by the fact that I used footnotes, among other things). She wanted to take it with her; I might let her, if she promises faithfully to return it. I doubt she'd read much, if any of it, but if she wants to give it a whirl, why not? As long as it doesn't disappear.

Class was wonderful, too. First, they started putting the desks in a circle--and I had to say, no, not today, as I needed to put things on the board. I showed them some of the online materials I created over the sabbatical (paying particular attention to the images of "Gethenian" faces--actually Inuit, Peruvian, Chilean, Tibetan), and then we just went through and talked about what's going on in the first three chapters. One of the shakier students actually had great questions about chapter 2; I was glad to have him ask--not just because the answers were informative but also because it indicates that he's reading and working to understand. Excellent. And the brighter students were, well, bright. Some confusions, some questions--already getting into some of the philosophical questions (when does a conflict become a war? What makes something a war? What happens when we can only see people through the lens of gender?). I am not only happy, I'm deeply relieved. Oh, thank God, they're not going to disappoint me--or not yet anyway. And they're getting such a good start on things that I don't think they will, though I know there will be some places where we have to do some real work to get to the meat of what we need.

I didn't get much else done today; I got in late, got a little work done (enough that I could return assignments to students), and then the Budding Bluestocking showed up ... and then I taught class. Now, I'm about to take off (physical therapy appointment), but ... what a lovely way to end the week. If I could have classes like this reliably, I could teach a long, long, long time without burning out.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The wheels have fallen off, the undercarriage is lying in the road...

The 101 class is a complete disaster. It's falling apart in so many directions, I pretty much have given up. I was going to read the riot act to the students in the 101, but ... nah. What would be the point?

Seven showed up (two very late). One has missed almost as many classes as she's attended. (Chances of passing? Next to nil.) One is a student I really wanted to have back and was afraid I'd lost; I'm offering her an incomplete, if she manages to pull everything together for the rest of the semester. One is a student whose personal life is in turmoil but who didn't have his head together even before the turmoil began; he left his binder, his books, his essay, his handouts ... everything, pretty much, in the classroom at the end of class. I thought about calling him to let him know it's all still sitting there. Nah. I'm not going to run around after him, cleaning up the trail of chaos he leaves behind. Little Mr. Formatting was there--and I could praise him for a good idea; he already knows what he wants to write his essay on (which worries me a bit; I think he may have written something in high school that he wants to retread, but ... we'll see). The young woman who was excited that I saw signs of progress was there--about 30 minutes late. I kept them for about 40 minutes because, really, I don't have it in me to haul ideas out of them. As it is, I replaced one of the most interesting readings with something more mundane but easy to understand--and rereading another of the required readings, I'm already dreading the bizarre ways they'll misunderstand it.

Whatever. Technically, I see them ten more times before the semester is over, but really, that's only eight teaching days (plus a wrap-up day and a day of "conferences"--which is, I tell them, code for "I'll be in my office grading, and I don't expect to see any of you"). I can survive that.

I think.

I've made a little headway on some of the other stuff that's swirling around the chaos on my desk (and the chaos is reduced somewhat, as I can put things in the "to be filed" file, having completed the task). Poor Paul told me earlier that he's drowning in stuff to do. I didn't want to tell him that--miraculously--I'm not. Next week might be a bit of a cluster fuck, as I'll be getting essays from both my lit electives (at least that's the theory), but I don't have to grade them toot sweet, so I think I'll be OK.

My primary thought as the day winds to a close is that I do not need to set an alarm tomorrow. Of course that nearly guarantees that I'll have another bout of insomnia, but ... I don't strictly have to be on campus until 1 p.m. That, my friends, counts as bliss. I have a sense of the triage list for the day tomorrow--and a sense of how I want to approach things for the SF class (which will be a bit disastrous, I'm sure, given how sketchy my set-up of the novel was)--and that's about as good as it gets these days.

So, I will, for now, sign off. Early. And it's still light out.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Surely I'm forgetting something crucial...

I don't seem to have a lot hanging, threateningly, over my head this evening, which leads me to believe I'm forgetting something important. I actually had, until I wrote that sentence, forgotten I have to do a write-up of the observation I conducted last week, but I mean, I feel like I'm forgetting something more important than that. Well, either it won't matter that I forgot it or I'll have an "oh shit" moment.

Today, on the way in to P&B, I was chatting with a colleague who casually mentioned her love of Le Guin's writing--including Left Hand--so I asked her if she'd be willing to sub for me. She said she'd think about it, but I actually had already developed little ballot slips for the students, so they could vote on either changing the schedule (knowing it will make for a relatively intense weekend coming up) or keep the schedule as is, knowing they'd either have a sub next week--or we'd just be discussing a lot of the book when I'm back. I did warn them that they needed to carefully consider what they'll be facing over the weekend and not just to consider this carte blanche to slack off--but only one person voted to keep the schedule as is; everyone else wanted to change it. So, I won't need my colleague to sub for me--but we're starting with Left Hand for next class, and I had to do the world's fastest set-up of the book, which I know what completely inadequate. But we'll get things rolling better in class on Thursday, and I feel better knowing that I'll be able to talk with them about the whole book.

My meetings with students today were a study in contrast. I met with one of the students from the SF class--another very bright, astute young man (though, again, not doing the world's best job with the written components of the class and, I think, bullshitting a lot of his responses to what happens in the books, which I don't think he's reading--or at least not with the schedule I've assigned). He mostly wanted to talk about revising essay 1, and setting up his argument for essay 2--but we ended up talking some about the forthcoming reading, and he seems curious about it.

Then a student from the 101 showed up for his conference. Next to the urban slang dictionary entry for DGAF (doesn't give a fuck) is his picture, I'm sure of it. He talked a little about needing to reorganize his ideas, but mostly he was talking about the essay format. I kept trying to get him to acknowledge--and be concerned about--the fact that he plagiarized. I finally said, "What about the plagiarism? What happened there?" His response, "Oh, that was kind of a formatting thing."

Paul exploded, called the kid on the absolute bullshit of that as an answer. I was delighted: the kid can't see it just as me being the bitch, since Paul chimed in; what the student said truly was preposterous. I said, "You took stuff from the web and used it, word for word in your essay. That's not formatting; formatting is just how it looks on the page. Why did you do that?" "I needed the ideas." "What did I say about using sources from the web?" [shrug] "I TOLD YOU NOT TO USE THEM." Oh.

God, just trying to duplicate the conversation makes me so ... tired. Not angry: tired. If this were a different kind of school and I were a different kind of professor, I'd have gone downstairs, gotten a withdrawal form, told the kid to process it--and told him he has absolutely no fucking business being in college until he actually gives some kind of a shit about learning while he's here. Clearly he doesn't; it's just something his parents are making him do, a chore he wants to cross off the list just by showing up and sort of waving vaguely in the direction of doing any work. Get out of my space; you're using oxygen that could better go to other purposes.

And he's one of the students who actually submitted something.

Give me strength.

The SF class wasn't as fun today as it usually is, either; I think most of them hadn't finished the book. But whatever. We're limping toward the finish line at this point, all of us staggering with fatigue. We'll get there somehow.

As for now, I believe I have everything packed up in my tote bag to lug to Advisement with me tomorrow, and at some point I'll winnow through the creeping chaos on my desk (I get it sort of sorted out and then ... well, creeping chaos). As is usual, I feel the lack of sleep from two nights ago more acutely now than I did yesterday, so, my evening office hour having officially ended seven minutes ago, I'm going to wend my way homeward, and wait for that other day that is sure to arrive.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Despair or resignation?

I don't mean resigning from the job, though I do think of that all the time (as my faithful readers know all too well). I mean giving up, being resigned to an awful outcome. The 101 class: ye gods, what an unmitigated disaster. One of the best students withdrew today; I very nearly didn't sign the withdrawal for him (it's now--finally--my discretion whether to do so; up until last week, I was required to sign (which, I grant, begs the question why my signature is required, but that's a whole different topic)), but ultimately I decided it wouldn't be in anyone's best interest to force him to stay or to get a crap grade. But ... fuck. The proverbial flies are positively air-borne by comparison to my students. The two who didn't have their essays ready last week both missed their conference times today. One student who submitted his essay late wants to reschedule his conference to a time when I am not available. I'll be curious to see whether he checks his email from a response or whether he simply assumes that the reschedule will be fine by me, that I am here at any time for my students. I have my nose a bit bent out of shape about that idea--the hot and cold running professor at the mere turn of a student's whim--because one of the more marginal students showed up at 2:00 today, even though her appointment was at 3, and she seemed not to understand why I told her I wouldn't see her until her appointment time, even though I wasn't in conference with anyone else. (It was officially my office hour, I realized after the fact, but I was up to my antlers in trying to provide feedback for the student who wants to reschedule tomorrow, and I didn't want to interrupt my train of thought to work with her.)

The wheels are similarly falling off the Nature in Lit bus. My rock stars are back, as I think I noted yesterday, but only eight students seem to remain, possibly a ninth, if the one I've caught plagiarizing multiple times decides to get back on board. Three have just gone AWOL. Three have withdrawn officially. The ones who are left are not posting with anything close to their original acumen; the burn-out factor is weighing in heavily.

And I am deeply concerned about the SF class as we head into reading Left Hand. I'm also concerned because the vast majority of them have blissfully forgotten that they need to use secondary material for their second essays--material I will provide. I think what I'll do is scan all the articles, upload them to Blackboard, and let them download what they need from there, which will be much easier than figuring out which individual student needs to be emailed what source.

Setting all those concerns aside for the moment, I have to say, today was remarkably pleasant. It didn't start out well: I had dreadful insomnia coupled with the dregs of a weekend migraine. But at 4:30 a.m., I emailed Advisement to let them know I would be taking sick leave--and I finally managed to drop off to sleep again at about 7, slept until 9:30. But then I could just do my morning routine, come in to work in no particular hurry, come in to the office, and grade those essays, respond to and grade work for the Nature in Lit, meet with the students who had conferences today, and have the usual "mentoring" appointment with the young man from SF. I haven't come up with a moniker for him yet, in part because I find him hard to characterize in any unique way. He's very smart and highly articulate, but his written work sucks (and he's not turning in enough work to do very well in terms of his final grade, at this point). He's got wide-ranging interests and a personal demeanor that is not, as the theater world would say, "typable." Hmm. Well, if I come up with something before the semester is over, I'll use it. Meanwhile, it was just fun talking with him, laughing at his humor. Nice.

And that's a nice way to end the day. I'm going to sign off and head for the hills--and hope that my experience with the SF class tomorrow makes up for the feeling of despair over the other classes. Please, God, let them not blow up! Please let them "get" the book!