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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.


Hi! And you are...?

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

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






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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Like the optimist who jumped off a 30-story building...

...who passed each floor on the way down, saying, "So far, so good."

But, well, yeah. So far, so good.

It's going to be an interesting rhythm to get used to. Tuesdays and Thursdays, I only have one class, at 4 p.m. On Tuesdays, I'll have P&B before class (and I'll have to split on the stroke of on time, or I won't be able to trundle across campus in time--as, given the SNAFU over rooms, the class meets in a science lab)--but unless I have a meeting of some kind, which will be rare, I don't have to be anywhere until that point in the afternoon. My plan is to use the time for working on the online Nature in Lit--grading discussion board posts and so on--though I realize that not all students will have posted work by the time I check on either day. (I should have made their deadlines Monday/Wednesday, so everything would be in by Tuesday/Thursday, but, well, I didn't.) So I'll have to do some work over the weekend on that class, to make sure I give any necessary feedback within the week when it's all due. I have very strict deadlines: if a student hasn't posted within the week when the assignments are due, it's an "absence," and the posts receive zero points--so it behooves me to give feedback when the students are still likely to be checking.

And for the record, one student already submitted her self-evaluation assignment. It's a bit short, but I'm delighted that she's on top of things. It is interesting to have a photo roster for the course, too. I probably won't ever actually see any of the students (though Paul said some of his online students did, in fact, make in-person appearances)--but I "know" what they look like. I expect I will refer to the photo roster as I mark stuff: having a human face to put to the work is somehow important.

In any event, I met with the SF class, and they seem like a reasonable bunch. I ended up talking at length with one student after class; she got special dispensation to take 102 and my lit elective at the same time, and she's one of those students who flunked out of a four-year school, went out into the work world for a while, and now actively wants to be a student. I've got at least one other student who seems a bit older than the average--and pretty smart (with a lovely Brit accent, which, as far as I can tell, is genuine (remember the pseudo-Brit from the Fiction Writing Class years ago? No? I do...)). They were asking pretty good questions. They seemed to enjoy my rather whacky manner today. (Tired. Daffy. It's what happens.) But it is early days--and we know how quickly classes can transform in either direction. Indeed, sometimes first one direction, then the other.

Breaking with tradition, we had a P&B meeting today. (Traditionally, the first Tuesday of a semester is meeting-free.) Nothing of major import--in fact, some of it was just Cathy and me filling folks in on the mad scramble of the week before the semester--and, as a lovely compensation for the fact that we met at all, the meeting ended well early. Good.

Tomorrow, I will be in Advisement, helping all the poor students who for one reason or another don't have a schedule yet and need to try to put one together out of the limited courses still open. Then I trundle back to the office, at which point I hope to do some further organizing. I did spend quite a good amount of time today getting things organized: sorting out and filing the stuff that kept lurking over my left shoulder last week; making sure I had enough copies of handouts for each class; putting handouts in piles according to what I'm handing out when, in the case of the 101 class, that sort of magillah. I did, however, manage to leave the photo roster for SF in the office--but no harm, no foul. It gave me an opportunity to tell them that I am the absent-minded professor, which they'll figure out soon enough anyway, so might as well lay it out there early. And there are a few things that I'd have sworn I printed at home but do not, in fact, seem to have (and at least one probably needs to be changed anyway, so that's actually not a bad thing). I don't know whether I'll have time in the morning to take care of that, but I hope so. If not, c'est la vie.

And on that note, it is time for me to sit in traffic for a while getting to my PT appointment. So, my friends and faithful readers: until tomorrow.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Up to Week 11...

So, obviously I made slightly better progress today. And really, I only have three more weeks to construct, as the final week, week 15, is just the final essay and the final self-evaluation.

But not so fast! I have to adjust/alter/reconsider the next two essay assignments. And what the fuck am I going to have the students write about? "Animal encounters": OK, but ... what? We like animals. Animals are interesting. We should appreciate wild animals...

You see the difficulty.

And honestly, for the last essay, I'm not quite sure what I mean by "Responses and Responsibilities" (these "thematic" titles are fun to come up with, but as soon as I have to actually turn them into something with academic merit, things start to crumble).

Further, there's the "Informational Literacy" "Goal" that we're supposed to address in all our classes. I sort of have that figured out for the SF class (though it's still a bit bumpy). I like the overall approach there, however: I give them a selection of critical essays to use for their second essay, so they know what critical material looks like and how to use it; then I make them find their own sources for the final essay--though still with guidance from me. But, well, that means I have to do some preliminary research myself, so I know what's out there, so I can make a few selections for the students, so I can give them some guidance for the final essay.

And Oh, God, when and I going to have time for that??

And I just realized--hello, wake up, Prof. P--that I created the Turnitin assignment for Essay 2, but no assignment sheet. Ah, fuck.

But man have I ever hit the wall. My plan to get up and move once an hour fell to bits when it turned out I couldn't hear the timer in the other room over the music I was playing. I did get up a few times--and I took a healthy break a little while ago to do some meal prep--but now? My brain is experiencing the intellectual equivalent of vapor lock. We ain't goin' nowheres.

So, I console myself. I keep thinking I'll be able to work on the class in the next few weeks because I won't have that much work to mark--but then I remember, Oh, actually, yes: I will have a lot to mark. Nevertheless, there is the February break, thank God--and the students won't know that I don't have anything constructed past the break, as they only see weekly folders once they open (which happens the Wednesday of the week before, in case anyone is anxious to work ahead).

God, I can't even make sense of all this. I have to check work email--one last task before I turn my brain to "white noise" mode. Then, well, I have my evening. I may  not get to post tomorrow; I can't remember right now when my physical therapy appointment is, but it may mean I have to hustle off campus pretty quickly after meeting the SF students. But we'll see. If I have time to post, I will.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Yep, really, totally screwed

Enrollment in the Nature in Lit dropped briefly back down to eleven, but overnight, four more students registered, so now it's at 15. (I picked up a few more in the 101, lost one and gained another in SF, so that's holding steady.)

And I spent a little bit of time yesterday working on the online course materials, plus some time today (though not as much as I'd hoped or expected)--and I've managed to get one and a half weeks further along than I was when I last was on the site. At this rate, I'll have the course finished about the time the semester finishes--if then.

Of course, as I was complaining a few posts ago, part of what I was doing was going back through all the stuff that I sort of tossed together in order to get the course approved--most of which has changed at least a little if not radically. I had to keep combing through to make sure I hadn't missed anything (a process that seems set to continue for some time). Today, a lot of time was spent checking how I had things set up in terms of how students will submit their work, making sure I had the parameters I want for everything--and that everything was in the right order so I can find what I need to without scrambling once the course is officially open and running. Which will be ... day after tomorrow.

Fucking panic in the streets!

However, I did realize today that--although I am absolutely compulsive about finding images to include for each week (even when there isn't really anything specific to illustrate)--I am going to be a lot less detailed in my "lectures": the text I write to help situate students in the readings. I confess that I ended up adding to and reworking some of what I'd already done on that stuff, too, for the historical pieces--but I've gotten to the point in the semester when things are arranged thematically, not chronologically, and when the students are more likely to understand the basic framework of what they're reading.

I have been noticing that most nature writing requires a certain grasp of cultural history and a modicum of science: one needs to know who Linnaeus was, for instance, and what is meant by morphology. I'm trying to remember to gloss some of that for students--as I remember (or see an annotation in my copy of the textbook that says "gloss")--but I expect they will be baffled by things I don't expect. Their bafflement often baffles me: "You really, seriously don't know this?" Often, they really, seriously don't, which makes one wonder what on earth they have been taught.

Shifting gears: tomorrow, I really do need to set the timer so I'll periodically get my ass out of the chair. I have to do a little walking tomorrow for some life maintenance, but one spell of walking isn't enough to counteract hours upon hours of sitting. As soon as I started this post, I became aware that my knees and butt ache from being in one position too long.

So, on that note, I'm going to sign off and get up. Here's hoping for an amazing spurt of productivity tomorrow.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

That satisfying feeling of figuring something out...

There was very little to do today in terms of helping Cathy with adjunct (and FT) scheduling, so I was able to go to the little "panic" workshops offered by the good folks in Distance Ed; I needed help understanding Grade Center. Both the staff members who were there were busy with other faculty (one of whom was clearly way out of her depth), so I was asked to go ahead and sign in and to interrupt with questions. I didn't want to interrupt, so I simply started clicking around on stuff--going back to the very beginning in some ways and making sure everything made sense for the changes I've made since I initially got the course approved. As I did that, I thought I'd take a look at Grade Center, mostly to make sure I could ask my questions in intelligent ways--and as I was looking, lo and behold, I managed to figure something out on my own. That was a teensy triumph--but you know, we'll take those wherever we can. The other questions I still had were relatively easily answered.

So, I came back to the office to get ready to make photocopies of my FTF classes. I found a few more errors in the SF syllabus (and it took me three tries to get them all made and uploaded onto Blackboard, for anyone who loses a syllabus during the semester). Then I started working on the 101 syllabus--and the changes I absolutely know I made are not in the file I have here at work. The date on the file apparently is meaningless: my fear, again, is that I copied in the wrong direction, copying things off the thumb drive and onto my hard drive, in the process erasing all my hard work. I really hope not--but I won't know until I get home.

I copied everything else for the first week, though, and I may come to campus briefly tomorrow to copy that 101 syllabus. (That rather depends on how long it takes me to get it fixed and right on all the various transportable devices, not to mention my computer at home.)

In any event, being unwilling to duplicate effort--in the (perhaps forlorn) hope that I have the correct syllabus at home--I stopped work on the 101 and started working on the Online Nature in Lit. The fact that I did some of the work so early--and have since changed my mind about things--means I have to go through everything with the proverbial fine-toothed comb, as little changes tend to proliferate like tribbles, and trying to track them all down and fix them is a snorting pain in the ass. But it does need to be done.

So, I haven't actually made any forward progress, dammit--though all the work I've done today did, in fact, need to be done.

I have to dash out of here pretty soon, as I have a PT appointment (and have to deal with rush hour traffic to get there). I need to shove a bunch of stuff into my tote bag, so I have it at home, if I need it. And I have to water the office plants--which I told myself I would do hours ago and completely forgot until just this minute. And no, since you ask, I did not, in fact, look at that steaming pile of handouts from last semester that I noticed at the end of the day yesterday. I just noticed it again, having blissfully forgotten all about it until just now.

If I'm this scatter-brained at this stage of the game, it doesn't bode well for the start of the semester. But at least I got through today without having to help Cathy put out any particular fires, which is a relief.

I may post tomorrow, if I have time before I head out for the evening. Or not. Probably not Saturday. Very likely on Sunday. I know you can't sleep until you know when the next blog post can be anticipated.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"Define 'Interesting.'"

I posted something on Facebook about how panic-stricken I am about the online Nature in Lit, referencing the repeated comment in the old TV series Farscape, the hero, John Crichton saying, "We're so screwed!" One of my FB friends added a comment of a similarly wonderful quotation from Firefly: the hero, Mal, asks the ship's engineer to define interesting, and the response is, "...Oh God, Oh God, we're all going to die?"

Well, it's not quite that dire, but I am going to be in a right tizzy for the next bunch of days.

The problem, you see, is that once again, I used most of my available mental acumen to handle more scheduling SNAFUs, from about 11 to about 3. I have a feeling that, if I hadn't pretty much sprinted for my office at that point, more problems surely would have arisen--and I'm reasonably sure there will be another maelstrom of problems to resolve tomorrow (albeit a slightly smaller maelstrom, or so one hopes). ("One" meaning me.)

However, I did nail down a few little bits that were buzzing around my ears like so many no-see-ums: remembering to schedule the Library class for the section of 101 that I actually will be teaching (which I had to do twice, as I completely screwed up when the class meets in the first request); letting Advisement know when I'll be putting in my time with them; letting the Bookstore know about the class that has dropped off my schedule; letting Distance Ed know ditto.

Each of those tasks, however minor and easily taken care of, did require a moment of time and a smidgen of energy--both of which are in diminishing supply.

Oh, and speaking of that calculus of how much time and energy I'm expending versus how much I have: yesterday I sent a rather snarky email to the students who had not collected their essays from last semester, even though they really, truly wanted my comments and really, truly wanted those comments sufficiently to agree to come to my office to retrieve the essays. Not one of them did. I pointed out to them that I had put some energy and effort into doing that work for them, so it was just a trifle annoying that they couldn't be bothered to get the result. One--young Mr. Street Smart--immediately replied by email, letting me know he'd pick his up today and saying that I deserved better from my students. I thanked him for that. I've not heard from anyone else, but I have heard some faint rustling on the other side of the door, which seems to indicate that at least one or two students have now retrieved their work.

In any event, after I finished with Cathy, I came up here and figured I could at least start getting stuff ready to copy for my FTF classes. In order to figure out what I needed to copy, I had to go through an enormous stack of handouts I was shoving to one side last semester, telling myself I'd sort and file it "later." I did plow through that stack--but just now, I remembered that there is another, larger stack in the bookshelf across the room from my desk. I reckon that's what I'll tackle tomorrow. And I hope to begin with the photocopying tomorrow as well.

I also noodled around a bit with Blackboard stuff for the 101 and SF--but I realized it was more important to get the first week's handouts ready to roll. And all of that--getting handouts ready to be printed, sorting through old handouts to see what I already have, making sure the Blackboard stuff for the FTF classes is in order--sort of needs to be cleared out of my hair and from around my ankles before I can do what I really need to do, which is to work on the online Nature in Lit.

I have no idea when I'm going to get that done. I can't think that far down the road.

In fact, at the moment, I sort of can't think period. I think I've hit the wall, rebounded, hit it again, rebounded, and hit it one more time. I will print out the syllabus for the 101 and check the schedule one more time: I keep trying to adjust it to give myself a little room for canceling a class or turning it over to a sub somewhere around spring break--but I'm not sure I like the solution I came up with. It's a lead-pipe cinch that I won't be able to make any sense of it tonight, so ... tomorrow.

(Out of curiosity, I just looked up "lead pipe cinch." Here's what Dictionary.com had to say: "This colloquial expression is of disputed origin. It may allude to the cinch that tightly holds a horse's saddle in place, which can make it easier for the rider to succeed in a race; or it may allude to a cinch in plumbing, in which a lead pipe is fastened with a band of steel to another pipe or a fixture, making a very secure joint." The saddle thing doesn't make sense to me (why would a saddle cinch be lead, or a pipe??), so we'll go with the latter. Sometimes, people who guess the etymology of colloquial expressions aren't thinking very far, it seems.)

That's it. When things devolve to the point that I'm looking up useless shit on Google, it's clearly time to stop blogging and do something less demanding with my brain. Like ... the intellectual equivalent of white noise. I think I can do that.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Wee-Hawken!

To quote Churchy LaFemme from the Pogo comic strip: "wee-hawken" was his exclamation of choice whenever something was startling or alarming (such as the realization that Friday the 13th is on a Saturday this month).

One course remains unassigned; even though it's got good enrollment, we may have to cancel it, if we can't find someone to teach it. A smallish handful of classes belonging to FT faculty are right on the cusp of having sufficient enrollment to run. Both my worrisome courses have just crossed over the threshold: if the counts hold until tomorrow, I'll be off to the races--and running around like my hair is on fire, trying to get ready for the start of classes next week.

Christ, this break really was not not not long enough. Not. Not long enough. Not.

Cathy and I very nearly had the blind staggers by the time we got everything straightened out and nailed down. I am quite certain that the department's adjunct union rep will find some reason to threaten us with a grievance, either on her own behalf or on someone else's, but we'll burn that bridge as we cross it.

I just graded the first version of an essay submitted by a lovely student who got an incomplete in 101. It felt oddly normal to be back in grading mode. I wonder how long I'd have to go without grading an essay before doing so started to feel at all unusual. Decades, maybe?


Back to the "hair on fire" thing, I know it is relatively early tonight, so I probably "should" do some work on my classes, but I expended so much energy keeping track of the domino chains for the adjunct scheduling (and fixing FT faculty schedules that were in trouble) that I am afraid any work I tried to do tonight would have to be done over tomorrow anyway.

Tomorrow, Cathy and I will spend some time reassigning the courses that people throw back into the pool as unwanted. Other than that, I should be able to start clearing the decks up here in the office: making sure I have copies of whatever handouts I'm going to need for the face-to-face classes, checking what's up on Blackboard, scheduling a Library class for the 101, that sort of thing.

But for tonight, I think retreat is in order. An organized rout is what it feels like. The best news of the day (other than that we figured everything out as well as we can) is that I didn't accidentally erase all my work from Sunday when I was copying things onto USB drives. I have it; I just have to make sure it's proliferated everywhere it belongs (home computer, work computer, Blackboard, various USB drives). But the fact that I actually have it is quite a relief. (That was a lovely little moment of panic, when I thought I might have lost it all.)

And with that, my faithful readers, I am blindly staggering out the door.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Either way, I'm kinda screwed...

OK, so Nature in Lit is back up to 11 students. Cathy thinks it will run. The section of comp that I prefer to keep is also up to 11, and Cathy ditto. We talked about my taking the Modern American Novel course but for various reasons decided it would be a bad idea. But ... Nature in Lit. Fuck. I haven't worked on it in days, and if it runs, panic in the streets will ensue, as I do not have it anywhere near ready to go.

Shifting gears slightly: I truly like Cathy very much, and I think she's an excellent chair of the department, but I wanted to strangle her just a little today, on several occasions. I kept telling her that I had a record of what classes didn't have instructors and that most had been provisionally assigned to FT faculty whose schedules were in jeopardy. She kept looking at the numbers on Banner and saying, "What about...?" and I'd say--again--"I gave that to ...." or "That's on hold for ...." When I could get her to stop doing that and to sit down at the table and work with  me, things went better, but I need to set up a barricade around her computer, because once she gets on the computer, she gets caught up in answering (or sending and then looking for answers to) emails, and we both lose track of where we were and what we had done.

In addition to which, because of all the if/then scenarios we had to set up or make happen, once it was time to start in with the adjunct schedules--the ostensible purpose for my being on campus today--it turned out to be easier just to erase everything I did last week and start all over. Note to self: don't start on adjunct schedules until FT scheduling issues are resolved. Ever.

Poor Paul has gotten the fuzzy end of the lollipop this semester: neither of his courses is going to run. Well, one might, but it is too uncertain to leave it on his course load; we had to take him off it and leave it for an adjunct to pick up (if it runs, that is). So we gave him a 102; I know he likes them, and he's brilliant at teaching them--but ... he had two honors classes and now he has none. The one that really hurts is his honors elective--a section of Brit Lit I, that went from three students to zero over the weekend. (Students who've been around for a while know that classes that are under-enrolled may be canceled, so if they see that they're in something with low numbers and its getting close to crunch time, they will often bail to find a class that will work for their schedules and that they know will run. I think that's what was going on with Nature in Lit at first--but now enough students are registered that others will take a chance on it (on top of which, most of the other online literature electives are full).

It's absolutely freezing cold in the office; I'm bundled up in multiple layers but my hands and feet are still cold. Nevertheless, I'm going to try to do at least a smidgen of work before I have to hustle off to physical therapy. And I'll be back trying to wrestle Cathy to the table as of about 10 a.m. tomorrow. Somehow or other, eventually this will all make sense, I think...