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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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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Virtually endless...

My social engagement for today got canceled, so I have been able to get some work done--but I realize that no matter how much time I allow myself for work, I will manage to find a way to create more work than I have time to complete. I worked pretty consistently today (in fact, I really need to get up and move), but I still didn't make much headway. Still, each little bit helps at least some.

I decided I wanted to use at least some different readings for the first essay and probably the second for the 101s, so finding what I wanted took some research (which is always, as I say to my students, time consuming, repetitive, circular, and frustrating). I think I found things that will work, but that means also reconstructing the assignment schedule--assigning more per class, in order to have time to get everything covered. (I'm suddenly rethinking that a little: the days when they have to bring in something they found using their own research can be days when they also have to read something I provided; that way everyone has one thing in common to discuss as well as something new and different.) I also now need to reconstruct the essay assignment a bit--I think it will be better, actually, as I have a clearer focus for them, which will help--but I haven't gotten there yet. I just started working through the assignment schedule and realized that either I have to ditch the idea of conferencing with the 101s (which would be a shame in terms of what they learn, though certainly easier on me--if I allow myself enough time to mark essays to return to them), or I have to seriously tear the schedule apart and reconstruct. I also realized that I want to get essays from them on Wednesdays, not Mondays, as that buys me a few extra days for grading, which will help--but again, it requires a reassembly of the order of assignments.

Which means I have to do some serious, careful thinking about how the timing will work out and what is an appropriate amount of time to spend on each bit.

I could probably keep going--I don't feel I've hit a mental or physical wall yet--but the house cleaner is about to arrive, and I need to clear out before she gets here so she can clean without my being under foot (and so I can do whatever I need or want to do without the distraction of her being around and wanting to chat).

Much as I would love to pretend that there's a chance I could get more work done once she's finished cleaning, I know damned well that once I'm back in the house, my mental acumen will be on super-power-saver mode: very few functions running.

I realize, too, that I won't be working at all the next three days. Tomorrow, I leave the house at about 11:30 and won't be back until after 7; Saturday I leave the house about 10:45 and won't be back until after 7; Sunday I'll meet with the cat sitter, then meet with my friend to go play for the rest of the day. So I won't be posting again until Monday--unless something very unlikely occurs. And after Monday, I'll be getting ready to leave town, or will be on my travels. I know the vast majority of my readers are "newness" junkies: if I'm not providing something new on a regular basis, they'll disappear--so my readership will drop off sharply over the next month. But for those of you who enjoy the blog enough to keep up with it whenever it's active, I'll probably be back to pretty regular posting after July 20. So, please tune in on Monday, and then please mark your calendars to tune back in around that date in July; I may post occasionally from my travels (on days when I spend some time working, which I will do, no doubt), but once I'm back home, the pace will be picking up significantly. Let's hope enrollment does the same. Six in one 101, four in the other, and still holding at nine for SF. Cathy "hid" 36 sections; it will be interesting to note how many (if any) of those hidden sections we end up revealing--and filling. Things are tough all over.

But it's a glorious day out there, and it's early enough that I can take a lovely walk, which is precisely what I intend to do next.



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sidetracks and SNAFUs

I did a slap-dash job looking at that final piece of student work--and did a little massaging of the points in order to give the student the A she truly deserved for the course (had she been in a better situation and more able to tend to her studies). The proper forms have been submitted and she has been notified.

I do notice, however, that both students whose D+ grades I raised to C's have yet to thank me in any way. Qu'elle surprise.

Mostly I was working on scheduling--and we uncovered several unexpected problems with the courses that were officially on the books, problems that needed to be solved before we could proceed with the scheduling. Then there were the usual problems of really good faculty only being available when we have no courses available, and really crappy faculty being available for everything under the sun (and we have to give them something unless we have established a pretty long--and reasonable--chain of evidence for why we shouldn't).

Long story short: I didn't get any of my own work done today--and Cathy and I didn't get as far with scheduling as we'd hoped. Unless Cathy changes her mind over the weekend, I'll be back in on Monday to help her out.

And there is a possibility that my planned day of socializing tomorrow may get canceled; my friend may be called in to work. I will be disappointed; she and I haven't had a good long day together in a long time, and it would have been fun--but on the other hand, it would mean a day I wasn't expecting to have in which to churn through some work.

Assuming I don't succumb to the siren call of the sofa again.

Now, however, I have to dash off to PT. I'm in the office and am having the Pavlovian response of being ready to work work work--but nope: I have PT, so off I go. Maybe more tomorrow. Maybe not. We'll see.

Monday, June 19, 2017

No work today

I realized as I was putting my breakfast together that I was getting such a late start, it didn't really make sense to go to campus today. Turns out, Cathy isn't quite ready to do that preliminary work on schedules anyway, so no harm, no foul there. But even as I sit here at the computer, with a pile of folders beside me waiting to be attended to, I realize I am not going to work today. I could; I should. But I'm not going to. I'm going to read until I have to go to PT, and then I'll head into the city for my dance workshop, and that will be the day. (I already did my fiddle practice, though I probably should have practiced for longer.) No work tomorrow, either: it's a day with a friend. So, if all goes as planned, I'll be back to working--and posting to the blog--on Wednesday.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Fiddling while time burns...

I am not quite yet in panic mode about how little I'm accomplishing each day--nor about how long I'm spending on what little I'm accomplishing--but I can feel the pressure beginning to mount a little, primarily in the form of anxiety jolts when I contemplate getting on a plane in ten days. I know that it is likely I'll get a little work done in the second half of my trip, as Ed and I are good at parallel working (and we enjoy it), but I'm not sure how things will go while I'm with my family in Montana.

Most of today was spent working on the instructions for reading notes, both for the SF class and for the 101s. For the latter, I needed to explain annotation in some detail, as they are required to annotate the articles they read as well as providing expanded notes. They hate that process, considering it a huge and useless time-suck--until it comes time to write their second essay, when they start to realize that it really does make essay writing easier if they've done that preliminary gathering of potential evidence and ideas about the evidence.

The primary change I made to the thing about reading notes for the SF class (apart from changing the font, which I mentioned yesterday) was to actually annotate the passage from Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea that I use as an example for how to write notes. In an earlier draft, I'd scanned a couple of pages from something else that I annotated--really annotated, for my own purposes--but since I was pretending to be a student in how I wrote up sample notes, I though it might help for me to pretend to be a student in annotating. It was just one page--and I guarantee that a lot of the students are going to freak out: "Do we have to do that much???" But I'll assure them that they will find the balance: some pages will be heavily annotated, others not so much. The main thing I want them to get, however, is the connection from annotation--which simply identifies the details one wants to focus on--to notes, which are a form of prewriting essay points, to essay writing.

Actually, what I want them to get is a) that attention to detail is crucial and b) that there is a process from reading to writing that requires some thought, some analysis and synthesis. If I ever find the "magic bullet" assignment for that, I'll write it into a book and retire a zillionaire.

It's still very early today, and I'm sorry I've already hit the wall, but I've completely lots the ability to focus even on organizing what I need to do, never mind actually doing any of it. Retreat is decidedly the better part of progress today, counter-intuitive though that is. If I try to force myself on ahead, I'll only make things worse. Giving up for today may (please God) give me a little more reserve to draw on tomorrow. I do have to go to campus tomorrow to work briefly with Cathy on adjunct scheduling stuff; at least I hope it's brief, so I can then go up to my office to work a while on my own stuff before heading off to physical therapy and then my dance workshop.

Speaking of the dance workshop, I'm very aware of the different kinds of frustration I feel as a student of three different things: west-coast swing, tango, fiddle. I'm finding the WCS workshop frustrating because it feels too slow and too simplistic: I keep thinking, "I've got this part already; I know this. I want something more, something else." The counter to that frustration is to remind myself that even the parts that I think I have already, I can still improve upon significantly, and since I decided to go ahead with an elementary level workshop, it's up to me to use it to my own best advantage. Tango is quite the opposite. I feel like the advanced beginner class is just the right level: I am challenged, but I am capable of keeping up--and I got a compliment from the teacher yesterday: in addition to a verbal compliment, she also wanted to use me as the demonstration model, as it were, because she knew I could show the other students what she wanted them to see. That's damned good for the ego, even though I know I still need to "marinate" in the basics for a long, long while. (That's an analogy used by one of the other instructors at that same tango school, and I love it.) Fiddle is very frustrating in some ways, as I'm struggling with baby, basic stuff I should have learned 18 months ago--but I'm just so thrilled to be learning it that I don't mind. My new instructor is not at all effusive with praise--which I appreciate greatly, since I figure praise from her actually means something, and I didn't feel that way with my other instructor, who would praise me when I knew what I was doing was shitty. I'm sure she intended to be encouraging, but it's possible to be encouraging and still insist on things being done right. (Eventually I hope to get to the point at which I stop comparing the new instructor to the previous one, but I have more resentments about that former instructor than I realized, and I need to work them out, apparently.)

I was going to say I feel better about my progress as a student than I do about my progress as a teacher--at least in terms of my current task of trying to improve assignments--but I do think the assignments are better, more clear. They're still about ten times longer than they ought to be, but I'm considering how I can make sure that students actually read them and think about what they say. Including a response to the information about reading notes as part of the beginning of semester self-evaluation is a good place to start, probably--but I need to think about timing of assignments, what I can expect by when.

Oh, and did I mention that the academic calendar for fall is finally available? It isn't available in all the places where it should be, but at least I know what days are being adjusted for the Jewish holidays, and it's really not bad at all: one day off, and one Tuesday is a Thursday, which doesn't affect my class in the least, so, whew. I can start constructing syllabi whenever I want. Which will be ... um, eventually. Enrollment numbers are still very low, but it's also early days yet. Still, it seems word has gone out that taking SF from me isn't as much fun as it "should" be ... but I still think the class will fill well enough to run. I'm actually more worried about the 101s, and there isn't a damned thing to be done about them.

And right now, there isn't really a damned thing to be done about anything else, since I am effectively intellectually incapable of more review and revision of handouts. So, my faithful readers, until tomorrow, I remain sincerely yours...

Friday, June 16, 2017

Workus interruptus

Today was one of those days when I opted to stop working in order to do some life maintenance, hoping to get back to work once I got home. I didn't really expect it would happen, and in fact, it did not. I got home, practiced violin (more on that in a minute), and now? Too late to start anything. It's that whole "I'm like a semi" analogy: it takes me a long time to gear up to top speed, and it takes me even longer to gear back down again. Starting to gear up at 7:40 p.m.? No time to get really working before I'd have to start gearing down again, so...

I did a little work, though, which is better than no work--and I was working on the 101s. What I realized is that even the handouts that don't really need to be reworked, I'm changing in various small ways, in that perpetual quest for the perfect assignment, or the perfect way of conveying what is expected from any assignment.

I've made a few notes to myself about what I need to revisit yet again, once other decisions have been made, and I've made notes about what I want to address next--which won't happen until Sunday--and I'm rethinking some things I did or thought I wanted to do.

And I've realized I truly dislike sans serif fonts. I tried using Arial or something similar on the (repeatedly reworked) handout about reading notes for my lit electives. On the computer screen, I don't mind it terribly, but printed out? I just hate it. However, I'm running a small experiment: I'm going to try a font other than Times New Roman: something with serifs but with slightly more expanded, rounded letters (Bookman, perhaps, or something similar). It may make the handouts look slightly less dense. One hopes.

Shifting gears to my experience as a student, rather than a professor: today was the kind of practice I should try to remember to tell my students about. I missed two days of practice but wanted to be sure to get some time in today, prior to my lesson tomorrow. And today's practice was just about the crappiest of the week. I had two responses: one, making notes about what I want to review with my instructor. Two, recognizing that today's crap practice doesn't mean I won't do well in lesson tomorrow: that was just today.

But the take-away from that for my students is this: if what you write on one day feels crappy and awful, that's only a problem if you don't give yourself time to keep working on it. If you give yourself time to keep working--the way I'll keep on practicing "Boil Them Cabbage Down" for some time in various ways (faster tempo, with double stops or without)--then you'll hit the moment when suddenly things fall together: Ah! There it is!

That's the biggest hurdle I have to get over with students. They honestly, sincerely believe that the first thing they write is the best they can do, and I absolutely know that is not the case. So one of the little adjustments I've made to assignment sheets today is to give each one a header on the first page, quoting Epictetus (or at least one of the possible translations of what he said): "It is impossible to learn what one thinks one already knows." I don't know if they'll get it, but they'll see it, over and over, on assignment sheets. (I may or may not also include my own statement: Professors don't give grades; students earn them. That's struck some chords in the past--generally good ones.) But the point of the Epictetus quotation is to remind them that they have to let go of what they think they know in order to learn anything further.

I keep thinking about the student from many semesters ago who wrote in her self-evaluation that she learned a lot--but contradicted herself by pointing out that she really already knew all there was to know about writing. If you've been following the blog for a long while, you may remember my bitching about her--and my long debate over whether I should write a letter to her (since she never collected the final essay she said she wanted me to mark for her). I ultimately did write her the letter, stating that we both needed to acknowledge that she didn't learn anything--precisely because she didn't believe she had anything further to learn. The letter wasn't as snarky as I felt, but I didn't pull any punches. I've often wondered what became of her, how she did after that semester. (She failed my class, incidentally, largely because she didn't turn in about 80% of the work.)

I almost want to start the semester by asking my students, in all sincerity, whether they truly, in their deepest hearts, believe I have anything to teach them that a) they don't already know and b) they will find valuable. But even apart from whether I really want their honest answers, I don't think they know enough about themselves to begin to answer the question.

All this should lead me to feeling disheartened, as it reminds me--uncomfortably--of just how much resistance and ignorance (and frequently truculence) I will face in the fall. But oddly I find it is, at least at this particular moment, somewhat inspiring, because it helps me consider how I might reach them. That's a psychological approach that I find endlessly fascinating...

But now, just all of a sudden, I am without any further energy to think about this at all tonight. There will be no post tomorrow; it's a day of me being a student (if all goes as planned: yoga, tango, fiddle), so my teaching self will take a break. I may, however, return to the fray on Sunday. It would be good to get more done...

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Two things, maximum three

That seems to be how I feel these summer days, as I may have mentioned before. (I tend to forget what I've said when and where, as I am turning into my father and tell the same stories, relate the same realizations, over and over.) I can do two things in a day. Sometimes, if I'm super ambitious, I can do three. So, today's two things were go to physical therapy (for my shoulder this time, since my back is better) and install a new router at home. I will do a third--practice violin--but I already feel like a petulant pre-teen, whining about having to do anything at all. (Stand up; sit down; anything.)

So, despite my desire to get some semester prep done today, it's not going to happen. Probably not tomorrow, either.

But I did install the new router. Complaining about having to do it was exhausting (actually installing it was super easy).

That's all I've got for today.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Less than spectacular productivity...

I got to the office much later than I planned--in fact, I barely got here in time to talk to Cathy before she had to leave, and that conversation turned out to be more complex than I anticipated. She was more hesitant to waive the comp requirements for the student I spoke to yesterday, but she'll meet with the student on Monday to read a sample of her writing--and she said that even if we waive the comp requirements, she'd want the student to take a literature elective as one of her humanities requirements. I actually don't think the student needs any humanities courses: I think they're covered by the courses she can transfer back from Oberlin. But the student was fine with that as a compromise--so now I'm just hoping that when Cathy sees this young woman's writing, she agrees that waiving the comp requirements makes good sense.

We also had a talk about fall scheduling. Unlike Bruce, Cathy doesn't want to do much work on it now, as she wants to "hide" a bunch of sections to try to get other sections to fill, and we don't want to assign "hidden" sections until there are enough students to fill those, too. Interesting difference in leadership styles: Bruce was more reactive (do the assigning, then "level" sections or cancel and reboot); Cathy is more proactive (fill sections first, then gradually open more as we see what we actually need). This does mean that the two weeks starting August 14 are likely to be pretty frantic--all the more reason for me to get as much semester prep done as possible before I leave town in two weeks--but I think Cathy's methods may ultimately work better, as we'll have fewer domino chains of consequences from canceling sections.

And this is a perfect moment for the mantra "we'll see." It will all be, um, let's say interesting.

I read both of the essays from the students fulfilling incompletes. The one I was worried about still had a little in it that I'm pretty sure came from somewhere other than the student's brain, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt (and Turnitin didn't raise any flags about it); she just squeaked out a B. I'm waiting for one last bit from the other student; she was supposed to drop it by today (which is part of why I came in), but turns out she couldn't make it. I told her to drop it off before Monday. I already calculated her grade, actually, so I don't really need the assignment: with or without it, her grade calculates as a B+. I'm debating whether to boost her marks somewhere to give her an A, just because I know she's capable of earning one. I'll figure that out on Monday and submit the change of grade for her at that point.

That will be four grade changes in one semester: that's a record for me, and more than I hope to do again, but c'est la guerre.

I also fiddled around a little with handouts for fall, but I spent a lot of time on a thing about SF--defining science, science fiction, blathering on about what genres are and what SF is and blah blah blah--when I suddenly thought, "I've written some of this before; I know I have. Where might it be?" It is, not surprisingly, in the "course description" part of the syllabus. What I have there is not as lengthy (and still probably too wordy), but it covers the bases. I originally was going to simply dump the handout I was working on, but I've retitled it "lecture notes" and I'll rework it so I can refer to it when I talk to the class the first few days. I hope I also remember to write a note to myself to write things on the board. It really does help students keep track of what I'm saying. I could do a Power Point presentation (antiquated delivery system, as far as my students are concerned): that would have the advantage of being something I could post on the Blackboard page so students could refer back to it--but it also would take a lot more time to create (though creating it would be fun: I like that design process way more than I ought to). Well, something to think about.

What I didn't do was work on any of the handouts for the 101s--and there will be a whole lot more of those than there are for SF (though even the SF students will groan at the number of handouts--and their length). I may shove the whole bunch of folders into one of my tote bags to take home with me so I have them to refer to as I work tomorrow.

I do plan to work from home tomorrow; I'm not interested in coming in to campus again, even though it is easier to get into work mode here. I have to be back on Monday to work with Cathy on whatever preliminary sorting through we do on the adjunct schedules (she'll work on them when she's upstate, though I wish she'd rely on me more instead of doing everything herself). And I assume that, whenever I wrap things up with Cathy, I'll come back upstairs to crank away at my own stuff, even if it's just to have printouts ready to send off to Printing and Publications, so I don't use up all the department's copier toner and add to the wear and tear on the machines. We're supposed to send big jobs to Printing in any event--but it's hard to do that without sufficient lead time, and right now, I don't know how many copies of anything to get, as I have no idea how many students I'll have in any of my classes. (Right now, three in one 101, four in the other, and nine in SF.)

But that's all down the road. For now, I'm going to figure out what, if anything, I want to take home--and then head out to do some life maintenance stuff. Nothing urgent, but it will be good to get it taken care of.

Posting from home tomorrow, is my guess. Thanks for hanging around over the summer, faithful readers. I'll try to continue to keep you amused (or whatever you are).