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

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Well, that's done

I kept putting off working on the accumulated homework from the SF class, but I just spent the afternoon cranking through it--and actually reading and responding to a lot of it. I'm no longer making comments about the quality of the notes, but I will correct mis-reads and add comments or ask leading questions for the students who put enough substance in their notes to give rise to comments or questions.

And I checked the discussion board posts for one section of 101. I "should" do the other, but I need to do a little more life maintenance today, before it gets too late.

Mostly, I want to record my bafflement about the Budding Literary Critic. I finally was compelled to comment on his notes about his apparently adversarial approach to any and all reading. As one example, he accused Margaret Atwood of "victimizing" women (because she shows them being victimized in her books) and slammed her "disgusting," "false" feminism. (He also completely misread the timelines in The Year of the Flood, despite my careful work to orient everyone to its relationship to Oryx and Crake--an orientation that worked even for some of the least competent readers in the class but not, it seems, for him.

In the past I've pointed out to him that his emotional reactions to what he reads are, of course, valid--but that focusing on them inhibits his ability to understand the literature in any more meaningful sense, as he tends to see what he thinks he'll see instead of seeing what's actually there. That's not at all uncommon, in fact, but it is disappointing in someone who apparently has the native intelligence to read more carefully and insightfully. But this time I pointed out that he seems to attack the readings and authors, as if the only way he can respond is through hostility. I can understand feeling a certain amount of hostility toward an author whose style I find distasteful (especially when I "have" to read whatever it is for some reason--my reactions to J. K. Rowling thus far being case in point), but even as an under-grad I think I was capable of setting that hostility aside and approaching the text with some kind of critical, analytical view. But this kid can't, it seems.

I'm interested to note that my response to his hostility toward the readings is to get angry in return, as if I am being attacked. And I guess in a sense I feel that I am, since I chose these readings--and at least in the cases of Atwood and Le Guin, I did so because I love them (though in very different ways). So I'm aware of trying to keep my anger out of my comments, to frame my comments in such a way that I encourage better reading tactics on his part instead of just swatting him like a pest.

How successful at that I am is a different point, of course. You'd have to ask him.


I don't have much else to record at this juncture, but something about my reactions to that particular student called out for a blog post. Tomorrow will be the usual fun-filled day of Advisement, class, office hour, class--and Thursday can't come soon enough. I do wish we had Wednesday off, but I'm not canceling class: for one thing, I've told the students I will be there, but also, I've taken three days off this semester, and that seems like plenty to me.

So, on that note, I will turn off the computer, stuff all the student work into my tote bag, and head out into the wind chill to run a few errands.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Well, OK, so ...

For the past week, every morning I've thought, "Oh, maybe I'll call in sick today." As I noted in my last blog post, I compromised yesterday by going in late.

Today, I'm not going in at all. I could have--I had a pretty bad bout of insomnia, but going to work sleep-deprived is situation normal, as I've been noting ad nauseum of late. When I woke up this morning, my first thought was to go in long enough to pick up the unmarked homework for the SF students to bring home to work on. Then I thought, "Nah, I'll just go in; I can give them the critical essays they'll use for their next essays, even if I don't have all their homework done--and after class I'll work on promotion folders."

But since there is almost always another way to do anything, I ultimately decided to cancel class, office hours, evening supervisor hours, and not to even try to go to campus today. When I go tomorrow for the event, I can collect the student assignments to take home over the weekend and I can work on whatever promotion folders I can get to. I've just rescheduled my make-up time in Advisement, so next Tuesday morning is also clear, to be used to finish whichever of those tasks--marking student work or reading promo folders--I haven't yet completed.

And today, I'm going to do a combination of sleep and--maybe--life-maintenance (getting my bike to the shop to repair broken spokes and rust from it having been ridden on wintery salted roads last season; collecting mail from my P.O. box--the stuff that I don't want to risk getting misdelivered by it being sent to my house; posting "Found Cat" fliers...). But the life maintenance really is a maybe. Right now, I'm simply spectacularly grateful to not be on campus, not be facing any work, that I may just spend the day on the sofa.

It's amusing to me to write that, knowing that in a week or two, I'll be posting--as I always do at this point in the semester--that I have too much to do and no time to do it in and am freaking out even though I know I'll get it all done. These patterns of thought and behavior are so entrenched, I should just apply a numbering system and provide the play list: track number 6: Student papers are crappier than I expected and I'm miserable grading them. Track number 14: I love working one on one with students; those connections are deeply gratifying to me. And so on.

But--apropos of nothing--I can't remember if I mentioned that reading one of the promotion folders suddenly lit a fire under me, and I sent off an abstract for a paper presentation to the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. I sent it after the deadline--and I wrote it in about 25 minutes--so I won't be at all surprised if it gets rejected, but it was fun to have a moment of thinking, "Why not?" I proposed a topic I've been thinking about for years: "Real Fantasy versus Fake Fantasy, or Why I Hate Harry Potter." If the proposal is accepted, I'll have the cast-iron reason to finally do the damned thing. If the proposal isn't accepted, no worries: I'll go to a meditation workshop instead. It's all good.

Now, let the slobbing about begin. I feel the siren call of the sofa drawing me...

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

I can't believe I forgot to mention

The absolute best part of yesterday was the mentoring appointment with a student from the later 101 class. I may have mentioned him before, but I don't think I've given him a moniker--and I can't think of one right now. He's extremely smart, but his work has been sporadically submitted and not always done to the best of his ability. In his first mentoring appointment, he wanted to talk about time management--so we did. I suggested he make a schedule for himself, so he has specific times "budgeted" for specific tasks. When we met yesterday, we did talk about his essay--for which he missed the first version and all the in-between steps--but he also showed me his beautifully color-coded schedule, which he is not following. I said that he then needs to rework his schedule, as he's learned something about how much time he needs for various tasks, or how he works, or what he needs to set up for himself.

But the conversation continued: he's a "parentified child," so I heard a lot about how he and his sister are trying to manage things for their parents. Earlier in the semester, he told me he'd had to be out of town to help settle his mom into a new apartment; apparently over the past few weeks, he's been away helping his mother more than he's been home. And he's exhibiting signs of depression (says the pop psychologist), in that he finds it very difficult to motivate himself to get off his bed to actually do anything. I had suggested he might want to withdraw from the class, but right now, he's using school as a reason to get up and get out of the house--plus his sister paid his tuition, and he doesn't want to waste that. I talked to him some about self-forgiveness, about why we do things we know are not in our best interest sometimes, about having realistic goals, about self-awareness. We agreed that his goal would be to complete this semester--not worrying about grades, just doing his best to gut it out to the end. (Interestingly enough, I had a similar conversation with another student from the same class today, though the one I spoke to today is nowhere near as sharp.)

Whatever I said, at the end of our talk, he said, "Can I give you a hug?" Of course. My sense is that--as a young man who is parenting his own mother--he needs some mothering, and yesterday, I filled that particular role for him. It was lovely. And I hope it helped. He does have an appointment with one of the campus counselors later this month, which I am very glad to hear--despite what I think I know about psychology (from having been "on the couch" myself), I am not at all trained to offer counseling of that nature, and I want him to get the kind of help he really needs.

As for today, I got in to Advisement late: I very nearly bailed entirely, as I let myself sleep until I woke up on my own, not to an alarm, but I realized I'd only be about an hour late, and given how hammered we are at this point, I thought it would be beneficial for me to be there, even if only for a while. Classes went OK, too. It's pretty amusing to be talking about the effect of "our" attachment to our devices and social technology to a class full of students who can barely stand to go three minutes without checking their phones. The irony was not lost on any of us.

The only concern I have now is that I really want to get everything marked to return to the students in the SF class--and I'm not sure I'll have time to do that tomorrow. Plus I really need to look at the promotion folders we didn't discuss in P&B so I'm not quite so functionally useless next week. I reassure myself that, since there is an important event on campus on Friday, I will be here anyway and can spend time working on the promo folders then.

Meanwhile, my sleeping "late" seems primarily to have reinforced how deeply sleep deprived I am (me and virtually everyone else in America), so despite the number of assignments I need to mark for tomorrow's class, I am going to have a hard time setting that alarm for tomorrow. But, well, that's another day, isn't it. I'm going to draw a line under the work portion of today and leave it at that.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

...and then there was chocolate

I've done a pretty good job of staying out of the little candy bowls all over Advisement and the department office, but today, the narcotic was necessary to keep my energy up for the long haul of the day.

For whatever reason, the powers that be, in their infinite wisdom, decided to open spring enrollment to the entire student body all at once at noon today--and the system pretty promptly crashed. It took hours for IT to get things back up and running (if indeed they have), but in the meanwhile, absolutely zero work could take place in Advisement, as the advisers couldn't access student records to evaluate their progress toward their degrees, look at transcripts, look at course offerings: nothing. I'm sure the decision was made in part because students in the past complained that they couldn't get the courses they wanted because by the time it was their turn to register, courses were already filled to capacity. That's a legitimate beef, I grant, but today's enrollment feeding frenzy could have been anticipated. I just hope to hell that the students who were suddenly shut out--unable to register for their classes, whether they wanted to see an adviser first or not--don't say, "Fuck this for a bag of apples; I'm going to Suffolk." We hear all the time how we need to encourage retention, retention, retention (and that we need to get the enrollment numbers up): today's fiasco, in addition to the crumbling infrastructure of the campus (one building semi-demolished even as we're still teaching in it), is unlikely to send students the message of confidence we'd like to project.

In the "good news" department, however, my own stint in Advisement was pretty well over when the system crashed, so the only effect to me personally was that I didn't have to try to keep working an additional 20 minutes to cover the 20 minutes I was late getting there. (I set the alarm for earlier than usual, but I used up the additional time doing my usual "I don't have to get to campus until later" morning activities, and ... well, oops.)

Class went fine. Nothing of great note in any particular direction.

P&B went fine as well. We were talking about promotion folders--and I'd only read one, so I essentially got to just say, "Pass." The nice thing is that I suddenly was wearing my guise as eminence grise of the committee and corral the conversation, monitor the passing of the "speaking stick," and say, "Should I read that one?" I will, of course, read any we didn't discuss today prior to next week's meeting, but today was pretty easy for me.

And I did finally talk to Cathy about scheduling adjuncts for spring. We have--as I think I've whined before--virtually zero time between New Year's Day and when we must have contracts signed, and as it happens, Cathy will be in London the week when I thought we'd be in her office sweating blood over the falling chains of dominos. However, Cathy has very intelligently prevented one of the larger issues we've encountered in the past: faculty who are teaching a multi-disciplinary course (i.e., one not housed specifically in our department) have it on their schedules as an adjunct course, in addition to a full load of English courses. One of the problems we often have is that the multidisciplinary courses don't run, and then we're scrambling for something to fill the schedule for a full-time faculty member. As things now stand, if the multidisciplinary course runs, the faculty member can opt to teach it as an adjunct course, making some extra money, or can drop something from his or her full-time schedule, which we can then assign to an adjunct.

The other thing that will make our lives easier than they've been is that there just aren't very many courses to cover. Cathy has cut way back on what we're offering--which not only will make it more likely that all courses have good enrollment but also will mean we don't have to take courses away from people because they're not running. The "worst case" scenario is actually a good case: we may have to open new sections of courses if we have more students than we have seats. But those newly opened sections go to adjuncts. The people who are going to suffer, of course, are the adjuncts: a lot of people who are used to getting multiple courses may get only one--or none. It's dreadful for them, but that's the nature of the beast at the moment.

For me, the best news of all this is that Cathy and I may be able to get preliminary adjunct assignments done in December; then that first week in January, I might have to come to campus a bit, but mostly I can simply monitor enrollment from home in my bunny slippers (I really should get a pair of bunny slippers), keeping in touch with Cathy and Lori, our spectacular office administrator, by email. That works for me.

Right at this red-hot moment, I will continue the self-indulgent theme of the afternoon. Having allowed myself a few "bite size" pieces of chocolate, I will now allow myself to head home before 8 p.m. I have plenty to keep me occupied the next two days, but I'll figure out what I need to do when I'm back in the office. I'm pretty sure I'm packed up and ready to roll to Advisement as soon as I get in tomorrow, and that's enough planning ahead for the moment. Sufficient unto the day are the smashing plates thereto. I've got the plates spinning well enough to last over night--and I'll be sweeping up the shards tomorrow.

Monday, November 13, 2017

If anyone sees a brain lying about, it may be mine.

I know I am the epitome of the absent-minded professor, but especially when it comes to the later of the 101 sections, I have gone beyond my usual levels of disorganization and am pretty much falling to bits.

Of course, so are the students. There were eight students in the later class today. Eight. The updated photo roster (which removes students who have officially withdrawn) stands at 24. One I don't think ever attended; several more haven't been there since about the second week--or even since the first class. The earlier class was better: most of the students were there (apart from a few who fell apart over the first essay).

It's fascinating to me how many students--especially first year students--fall apart at the very first bump. The instant a requirement or deadline or expectation is different from what they're used to from high school, they simply bail: it's too hard. The students in the 101s are about to embark on the final topic, which is about "social technology," and I just read an article in Time magazine about teenagers and the ubiquitous "screen-based activities." I'll make the article available to students (though it came onto my radar too late for me to specifically assign it), but it references the work done by Jean M. Twenge, and I have assigned an essay by her about the concerns. In the essay I assigned, "Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?" (The Atlantic, Sept. 2017, retrieved from, Twenge notes, "Across a range of behaviors--drinking, dating, spending time unsupervised--18-year-olds now act more like 15-year-olds used to, and 15-year-olds more like 13-year-olds. Childhood now stretches well into high school." That corresponds with my experience: in the years I've been teaching, freshmen have seemed increasingly immature, babyish, dependent, tremulous. That tendency increases the width of the high-school to college gap, which is already pretty wide.

Ask little kids to take on adult responsibilities, and no wonder they bail.

Well. Anyway.

I could probably natter on for a while here, but I need to get the hell out. It's late, and I have to be in at 9:30 tomorrow to make up time in Advisement. And Advisement is now certifiably nuts: registration for spring starts tomorrow, and suddenly we've got students in holding patterns that rival La Guardia's on a bad-weather day. So I will not have any of the promotion folders read for tomorrow's P&B, except the one I'm mentoring (which I read last week). I'll read them on Thursday, I reckon, and send my notes to the various mentors.

I hope I have everything I need packed up and ready to haul to Advisement and from there directly to class; God knows I won't be alert enough in the morning to figure out what I need to take with me.

And as for everything I need to do to be ready for Wednesday? Well, that falls to tomorrow: you know, that "other day" we're so fond of (or of which we are so fond, if you prefer).

Thursday, November 9, 2017

I have absolutely no clue

Am I on top of the work? I think so, sort of, but I'm not entirely sure.

I just spent the last hour fiddling around the edges: making photocopies, putting stacks in bags, checking email. I think my wheelie pack is ready for Monday. I think I have all the student work I've collected of late in my tote bag. I think I've answered/written/sent all the emails I was thinking I should take care of.

But honest to God, I have no idea.

I can say this: I've spent way too much time in computer chairs for the past week, and my sacrum is certainly letting me know all the reasons why that's a bad idea. I've been working on too little sleep for too long. I still have an absolutely enormous shitload of stuff to get through between now and Thanksgiving--and once Thanksgiving passes, we'll be into the "hold on to the safety bar and scream" part of the semester.

I have no idea when I will have a chance to work on the online course, but god damn, I need to do that!

Right at this red-hot moment, however, I can't do another thing. Not one more thing. If I hadn't had conferences yesterday and today, and if I hadn't been subbing for Scott, I'd have called in sick the past two days. Knowing my current lack of mental and physical energy, coupled with the editing review of the 101 essays I need to do over the weekend, I very nearly bailed on my riding lesson tomorrow. But no, dammit: I want to ride. I want to be the student for a little bit, not the teacher. Ditto fiddle lesson on Saturday. I'm going, and be damned to the work. It will get done one way or another--or I'll figure out another plan.

I am about to head off to meet Paul for a little dinner and chat. He's staying down here this weekend, as his family is coming down to do a New York weekend; they arrive tomorrow, so he and I are grabbing the opportunity for a little palaver. (After Thanksgiving, William, Paul, and I will do a steak and booze blow-out, possibly with Kristin, if she doesn't mind the schlep out here from the City.)

Pretty soon, it will be time to not only count weeks remaining but to count number of class meetings yet to go. Nice to feel the semester drawing to a close--and I'm trying not to think too much about how little break I'm going to get before the insanity of the spring semester starts. Sufficient unto this day is the panic thereto.

I'm not making sense even to myself. I'm outta here.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Conferencing: complete, or nearly

I am meeting a few more students tomorrow, but one is a student from the SF class, one is a student I already met once this week, and one is a student who messed up his appointment time and had to reschedule. But I don't have to grade any more essays today or tomorrow, thank God, and I can turn my attention to reading promotion folders to be ready for next week's P&B meeting.

Reviewing the promo folders is the most pressing "in office" task on my list, but I do have to take essays home over the weekend to do the "editing review" pass--which is relatively quick and easy, comparatively speaking (though at the moment the prospect feels painfully daunting).

I haven't reworked the triage list in some time--in part because a number of items haven't moved up, down, or off the list since I first constructed it, but more because the tasks I have to do are all so large that I'm not really forgetting any of them; I'm just in the process of cranking through one after another, as each particular plate threatens to crash to the floor.

There are other things I need to do which I may opt to do before I address the promotion applications--mostly in a feet-clearing frame of mind: photocopying, sorting out the stacks of homework so I know what I have, that sort of thing. But I'm about as set as I can be for tomorrow; I'm prepped to sub Scott's class, and I'm ready to teach my own.

I'm also still suffering from lack of sleep--which is, I grant, a chronic condition, but this week has been pretty extreme, and is unlikely to get better any time soon. I did, however, have time to practice fiddle before leaving the house today, as I'll get home too late to practice then. Other life maintenance is briefly on hold: things are nailed down well enough to get me through the next few days.

The conferences today were fine--or as fine as possible, given the drag of sleep deprivation on my mental abilities. But the students seemed to feel more confident heading into their revisions, which is the main thing. As I'm marking the editing review, I'll be making notes for myself of what I want to cover in Monday's "editing review" classes--which will include more than just editing concerns, as I realize I need to emphasize with them that the abstract required by APA style does not eliminate the need for an introductory paragraph to the essay proper. There are a few other specific wrinkles to APA style that we'll go over--and that's on top of whatever sentence-level errors many of them have to fix.

However, for the moment, I am going to retreat from the fray--as I am frayed. There are specifics about the conferences that I might relate, were I in a more perky frame of mind; perhaps I'll manage to record those another day. For now, it's time to climb out of the trenches until I climb back in again tomorrow morning.