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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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Friday, July 21, 2017

Turning up the metaphoric heat (to match the temperatures outside)

Today is my second day home from vacation. I spent all of yesterday and a chunk of today doing life maintenance (which needed a lot of doing--and still needs more--given my long absence), but today I did manage to get to some work. I mostly was scanning documents for the 101s, essays I hope to use in place of (or in addition to) things I used two years ago, but I also checked enrollment numbers (which have not moved at all for my courses). That's discouraging; so is the amount of just tracking through that needs to be done: making sure each part of every assignment is available on Blackboard for the 101s and making sure all handouts and essay assignments and Turnitin links are there for all three classes (assuming they run).

One frustration: I dropped by campus yesterday, enthusiastically looking for the special edition of the handbook that I ordered for the 101s so I could start working on the schedule--and the shipping department of the publisher had sent me the regular edition. Argh. I don't mind having an extra copy of the regular edition, mind you, but I really, truly need that special edition. Without that, I can't really put together the assignment schedule, and without the assignment schedule, I don't know how many points to give to various assignments, as I don't know how many there will be.

I repeat: argh. But oh well.

But I really do want to get churning hot on that work. I'm getting increasingly anxious about the lack of progress and the brevity of time remaining before classes start. And tomorrow is a day when I'll be a student all day: if all goes as planned, I'll be in yoga class, tango class, and fiddle lesson, from about 11 a.m. to about 5 p.m. That puts me home about 7--unless I opt to have dinner in the City--but in any event, I know I will get nothing done on my semester prep tomorrow. Yikes and likewise zoiks.

Right now, however, I have to close up shop and leave the house so my cleaning lady can come in and make things relatively presentable (though the cat sitter obviously vacuumed between the last time the cleaner came and when I got home, as the rugs were remarkably free of cat hair). Not quite sure what I'm going to do with myself, but whatever it is, it will involve going out in the 95 degree heat of this afternoon. Quite a shock to the system after being in the Pacific Northwest for ten days. I'm not sure I can crank up the heat on the work to really match that level, but it's a worthy aim.

Now: computer off, printer covered, and more perhaps on Sunday. The posts are going to be relatively frequent from now until December at least (in case you were jonesing for my maunderings). More soon.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A little work, a big wall

I actually did some work today. It's not the first day during my travels when I've spent a bit of time crunching through work, but it may be one of the best in terms of actual forward momentum--even if there was precious little of that (and every chance that I may decide to reinvent various wheels for the umpteenth time).

I had really hoped to make some progress on the schedule of assignments for the 101s, but I realized I can't do that until I have the handbook in front of me. Remember, this is a special edition of the handbook, including a section on sentence skills that I've not used before, so I need to work through the handbook assignments very carefully, not only checking the page numbers to be sure I'm assigning what I want when I think it will be most valuable but also including more assignments (or lengthier ones, or different references for the "mechanics review" stage). I just won't know until I am actually looking at the book.

On that front, however, I realize that my patience wears out pretty quickly. I know how important the information is for the students, but going over it myself is fucking tedious. Slog, slog, trudge, trudge. Yet it must be done--and quadruple checked, so I know for sure I really am assigning the pages that will be most valuable and am as sure as I can be that I'm not assigning certain pages multiple times (an error I have discovered on many an assignment schedule in the past).

And I have done zero work on the SF class--or the online Nature in Lit. When I get home, after a day of allowing my brain to catch up with my body, I'm going to have to dive in and push fucking hard to get everything done, copied, and ready to go without last-minute panic.

Speaking of last-minute panic: I took a look at the enrollment patterns today, and they're just weird. I don't know if students are signing up for all the early classes because they don't understand that they can scroll down to find more options (or are too lazy to scroll down for more options) or whether suddenly, in the last two years, we have a campus full of early birds and a significant reduction of late risers. The early sections are almost entirely full, across the board. The midday to late afternoon sections--including sections that used to fill to overflowing almost as soon as registration opened--are damned near empty (except for the sections taught by certain professors who are either justifiably beloved or who have reputations for giving everyone good grades, nothing below a B). In any event, it's weird as hell, and very worrisome. However, the last two semesters we had late enrollment surges, so I'm going to try to refrain from panic just yet.

And it seems word has gone out that when the SF course is taught my yours truly, it's a horrible experience: the same nine enrolled students are hanging out in that class, and no one else has decided to join the fun. Well, fuck. Again, I try to refrain from panic.

As for now, I'm just about cooked. I was trying to get folders on the computer organized, so I could find what's where, and even that seemed unduly daunting, which tells me it's time to pack it in for today--and maybe for the next few days. We'll see how things go. Which is always the case, I suppose. But I'm not entirely sure I'll even think about it tomorrow.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Anxiety attack #8,743 (in the last week or so)

I will fully confess that if I don't have a "legitimate" reason to be anxious, I'll certainly manufacture something--I think I'm addicted to the adrenaline jolts--and I also fully confess that there are times when I have no clue whether the reason for the anxiety is even close to "legitimate."

For instance, I do know that many of the things I'm worrying about taking care of before I leave town are extremely minor little blips and absolutely nothing to worry about one way or another--but I feel little jolts of anxiety about them anyway. And I do know that I tend to get anxious about work stuff that somehow, magically, always ends up being OK, usually without a great deal of sweat and heavy lifting on my part.

Nevertheless, the fact that Cathy and I spent from about 11 a.m. until about 5:45 working on fall adjunct schedules--and that we still have a number of unassigned sections with no adjuncts available to give them to--is causing me some anxiety. (Cathy and I also looked at each other with slightly wild eyes when she reminded us that she's "hidden" 36 sections, in order to chase students into the ones that are visible--and as we tried to imagine what today would have been like if we'd had to try to staff those additional sections, in addition to what we failed to assign.)

I know I will leave that anxiety behind me when I leave town, but it will be here, waiting for me--larger, hairier, and with bigger teeth--when I return. But after all the maneuvering she and I did today, we both felt pretty incapable of making any further progress--even if we'd had a larger pool of adjuncts available for courses.

So, what will happen is, on my return in July, I'll sit down and start looking at courses that are under-enrolled, courses we can consolidate, or cancel--or for which we must find a qualified instructor. Cathy will be out of town, but she'll be looking at enrollment numbers too, and we'll certainly be in touch electronically. We'll have a slightly better sense of what the realities are in terms of which classes will fill and which will not by then, though of course that target keeps moving all the way through the beginning of classes.

Then there's the anxiety over the fact that, since I spent so much time working with Cathy today, I didn't get any of my own work done--and although I have a bit of time in which I could work, it isn't really enough to get going. In fact, it's just enough that I can look at the various printouts and files I have and think, "I have no idea where I left off, what I have, or what's going on anywhere." Which is, naturally, cause for further anxiety.

Whatever.

I have put one file folder of recent printouts and scribblings in one of the bags I will take home with me; I will pack the folder and its contents and schlep it along with me. Whether I do anything with it is an open question, but at least I'll have it with me. And at some point, in July or early August, I will have to try to get the files on both home computer and laptop to line up so I have the same versions of the same things organized in the same ways on both devices. I'm sure there are much easier ways to ensure that that is the case, but I find that every USB drive I use responds slightly differently when I copy stuff from one place to the next--and none of them seem to have a setting that allows me to say, "copy only the most recent files onto this computer from this USB--and if you find a newer version of something on the computer, copy the other direction, from the computer to the USB." My less technologically challenged friends and relations almost certainly know some speedy and magical way to accomplish exactly that--but I don't know what it is, and without having one of them here in the office with me and with my laptop and with the USB drive, all at once, I don't quite know how I'll learn anything other than the rather convoluted methods I currently use.

I did, however, just remember that--when I post articles for the 101s on Blackboard--uploading a PDF is not the only option: I can also create a web link to the "persistent link" on the Library's database for an article. Duh. So, sometimes, I have a little tech know-how--and simply forget it for a while.

(And that makes me realize I never heard back from my online course construction mentor on my question about setting up online grading. Well, I'm sure once I'm back in town, I'll have a moment when I think, "Oh, right: I want to know how to do that; let me get in touch with Adam." So I don't need to leave myself a note--or experience any anxiety over it.)

All that said, however, it is now time for me to toddle off to physical therapy--and thence on to the domino chain of trip preparations stuff. (And yep, right on cue: anxiety jolt.)

Ah, it's all good. Whatever. Hakuna matata. (I can't believe I just quoted The Lion King....)

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...