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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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Sunday, February 18, 2018

A teeny bit of headway

After being in "I'm on a break; I can collapse" mode for several days, I have just spent the day trying to get caught up and even a little ahead on the Nature in Lit course. I did find some critical material to provide for them to use for their second essays--though I don't quite know how to get it to them, as I have it in print and I think our library only has it in print (and a number of them cannot get to campus--in at least one case because he's not even in this state). But I did also manage to pull together essay topics--and to get a rough idea of the essay topics for their final essay as well. I think I may have mentioned that one of the librarians is going to create a LibGuide (a focused guide to specific research) for me for that essay, which will be wonderful. I'd do the same for my SF class--except there's already a LibGuide on LHoD that they can use, plus all the materials I put together on my sabbatical. I will do the same for any other electives I teach in the future. I'd dearly love to get rid of the critical research component altogether, but it's one of the Course Goals, so ... well, needs must.

I also realized I could organize a few things better--specifically where students go to see the essay assignments. I had that information buried in a "weekly" folder, but some students I know will want to get rolling on their essays early, so (duh) I made a specific "essay assignments" folder. I am, however, putting time restrictions on when the assignments appear: they can't see Essay 2 until after the due date for Essay 1; can't see Essay 3 until after the due date for Essay 2.

Then there's the issue of grading. I did grade everything--or so I thought, but when I look at the overall grade records, some students seem to be missing grades for assignments I'm pretty sure they did--and in at least one case, not all the grades are showing up in the "Total" column (which will entail a call to the Help Desk, dammit).

And, oh joy, I realized that I hadn't gotten quite as far as I remembered in terms of getting the Weekly folders ready to go. I grant, I only have three more weeks to do, but I thought I'd at least sketched out everything. Nope, not so much.

Well, c'est la guerre.

So, at the moment, I have several stacks of books on the bedroom floor--which obviously isn't going to get the information out of them and to my students, but I'm hoping I won't have to scan in the neighborhood of 15 separate articles. I think I can do that on campus (though I'm not sure how it works on our new copiers), which would be better than using my little at-home printer-scanner-copier-fax dealie (which gets the job done but can be torturously slow).

I don't even quite have it in me right now to put away the stuff I pulled out but am not going to use. I'll just pile that stuff up on the floor too and deal with it ... guess when. Oh, you'll never guess. But try. Guess.

(Yeah, yeah, that's right: tomorrow. When the sun will come out. When it's another day.)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

High praise indeed

Let me reiterate how much I enjoy the SF class. I was scattered and addled today (having raced to class after an unexpected doctor's appointment--and all is well, thank you for the concern), but the students still picked up the class and rolled with it. I was finishing up marking homework I wanted to return today (so they'd have it to use when they work on their essays over the break), doing other paperwork kinds of stuff, had distributed a few more handouts, circulated among the groups--and when the whole class discussion began, after a few questions/comments winged around the room, one of the best and brightest noticed my custom-made red-and-black cowboy boots and his comment was, "Those are awesome boots. That's really bad-ass."

I'm not kidding: that's high praise, for a grey-haired Caucasian English professor to be called "bad-ass"--even if it's just because of the boots.

I'm about to race out of here (heading to yoga class), and I don't know how much posting I'll do over the break, but probably some. I will be very interested to see the general tenor among the 101 students when class resumes. I talked to most of the ones who made appointments--and a couple I thought I wouldn't see dutifully showed up. The young woman who had the panic attack missed her appointment yesterday and contacted me today to ask if she could reschedule--but by that time, I was heading off to go to the doctor. Being at the doctor's office took forever, which normally wouldn't be a surprise, but this particular practice usually runs a pretty tight ship. In any event, I'd had the foresight to warn the SF students I might be late, and I told the poor, panicking 101 student I might be able to see her if I got back in time ... but I didn't. I've suggested that she try to see me during my office hour on Monday; we'll see if she does. I don't want to lose her, or not yet anyway. I'd love to help build her confidence a bit (though she does still have to perform).

Anyway, the 101 students are as ready as I can get them for the next step. The SF students are as ready as I can get them for their first essay. The Nature in Lit students are decidedly getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop, a neglect I intend to rectify tomorrow and into next week.

And at that, I'd better boogie.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Tempted to noodle ...

I am tempted to noodle around, doing house-keeping sort of stuff, but I am exhausted. Even though this is a night when I'd usually stay until 7, I'm going to take off in about ten minutes. I don't even have a lot to say. Those students who come out of BEP are just really difficult to deal with, because their frame of reference is so removed from what I'm trying to get them to understand. I asked one student today what his strongest point was, and he told me he was good at using quotations. No, I said: I mean, what point are you making in your argument that you feel is a very good point.

He honestly couldn't answer the question. Essentially, he didn't understand the question.


I did spend a lot of time in the past few days telling students that they have to just try and make the mistakes--and then work to fix the mistakes, not start all over to make the same mistakes again.

I almost want to take my fiddle in to class and show them how I practice: hit a glitch, work though it, slowly, repeatedly, until it unglitches, then run through again to the next glitch. Oh, I got the right notes but my bow position was off. Oh, the bow position was right, and I kinda got the right notes, but....

and on it goes.

I've also been finding it very difficult to focus on marking the homework for the SF class--not because the homework is particularly difficult in itself to deal with, in fact the contrary. I keep seeing responses and I want to have more scholarly knowledge to bring to the discussion. I spent a good whack of my time in Advisement today doing research on the school databases--and found a bunch of interesting articles, two of which I've printed. (Every now and then, I get a tiny bit of Paul's "I want to do some scholarship" bug--but I never felt that confident of my abilities as a scholar, so I don't yearn for it as he does.)

What ever.

There will be that other day that will show up in about six hours--and I hope to be sound asleep when it does flip over to the 15th. More later.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Ups and downs, again (and again)

Today's P&B meeting included more dire and awful possibilities as reported to us by our fearless chair, idiotic and ill-considered maneuvers by the administration being rammed down our throats while we are expected to smile and nod. Even though today was a day when my mood was relatively fragile, I didn't come close to crying this time. Either I'm getting inured to this shit or my psyche said, "Nah, I've got bigger fish to put in the skillet."

I missed today's department meeting (the "active shooter" information session--but Paul and I are in agreement: we'll shove heavy furniture in front of the door and hide, while William cheerfully said he'd put a target on his chest). I didn't actually mind at all missing the meeting, and I was able to get the promotion folders read, the letter for my mentee fixed, and at least one essay graded.

But my first student meeting was pretty painful; one of the students who came straight out of BEP. (Turns out another P&B member also seems to have a 101 with an inordinate number of students who've been hurled over the gap and weren't quite able to securely land on the 101 rim.) Cathy did say that the people who work in that program now acknowledge that essentially they're simply trying to get students to be able to write anything: words in a sequence that makes some kind of sense. Many of our colleagues in that department are excellent teachers who are highly qualified, but some do what Cathy calls "la-la balloons and put it on the refrigerator" work. In any event, Paul was there as I tried to get this poor young woman to think, work, consider--and not just say she feels like she isn't doing very well (she isn't, but it's the first essay in a long semester, and she can do better) and that she's frustrated. I told her that it's fine that she acknowledges the frustration, but that doesn't mean I'm going to tell her she should quit--or that I'll make the work any easier. She just has to work through the frustration.

Mr. Over Eager but Can't Follow the Rules didn't make his appointment today. Why was I not surprised?

And the student with whom I ended the day--and whose appointment I completely spaced until I finally meandered upstairs and saw her waiting for me--was very good indeed. Her essay was a bit of a mess, but her lead-off comment was that she was surprised how different it looked when she reread it. Teachable moment. She's one of those students who was a happy surprise: I didn't have much of a read on her at all before our meeting today, but she's actually highly intelligent and has the chops to be a fine writer. Very different affect face to face than in class.

And of the two essays I graded after I met with that student, one was jaw-droppingly excellent. Truly. Excellent. Of course there were things she could fix, but ... wow. Her homework has been good, but she's very shy and retiring in class, and I had no idea she had that mental and verbal power. That's a good, deep breath of very fresh air.

The SF students were, as usual, great--though I did have that confrontation with my former student who plagiarized. She swore to me she hadn't found the information on line--and I was pretty pissed off about it; I told her I was deeply disappointed and I refused to engage with her about it. I finally said it didn't matter where or how she got it; what mattered was that it wasn't hers. She asked if she could do it over. No. She asked if she could do make-up work. No. But when I was packed up and heading back to the office, she was in the hall and called me over: she told me she'd "looked up the definition" and that she did that all the time and it wasn't a problem. The "definition" she'd looked up was an explanation of Mercerism in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I told her that wasn't just looking up a word; that was looking up a concept from the novel--but as she continued to explain, I realized that she has been so confused she didn't know that it was a term made up for the book: she thought it was a real thing in the world. In any event, I told her from now on, she needs to cite even when she looks something up--and she needs to ask more questions in her notes and try to answer them. My usual spiel about how that struggle--trying to make sense of something--is learning. I said, "Having the answer isn't learning; it's how you get the answer that's learning."

Ooooo. Deep.

But I also remembered to give the whole class the "panic earlier" spiel--and they not only listened (and laughed in the right places); they told me it could be a TED talk. Hmmm. Maybe I'll propose myself for a TED talk on keys to student success (panic earlier, work through frustration, read-be detail oriented-read-be detail oriented-read, and allow college to change you: I think those are all my big set pieces).

In any event, I'm amazed I'm anything like compos mentis at this point. it's decidedly time to fold my intellectual tents and steal off into the night.

Monday, February 12, 2018


I only have three more 101 essays to respond to--and I am internally kicking and throwing tantrums about it. I don't want to do that work. It isn't that it's such a grueling mental experience; it's more that it's in some way emotionally exhausting. I don't like having to find ways to encourage, console, gently guide. I'm good at it--at least most of the time. There are times when I get wildly impatient with specific students who seem to be fiercely resisting my attempts to be compassionate and kind, but I usually can find a way to convey what needs to be conveyed without just saying, "Christ, what a fucking mess. Fix it" and handing it back to the student, then booting the student out of my office. But it's increasingly draining to find ways to not just call a spade a fucking shovel.

In today's conferences, several students showed up without the homework, without the printout of the essay with my comments, without any preparation for the conference at all, which was annoying as hell. I've rescheduled with them--and have offered second appointments to a few students who seemed to want more, but I really don't want to do a whole lot of hand-holding. One of the best students--my last appointment today--said that she wants the hand-holding, not just from me but from all her professors. I know it's because they want to do well and are frightened as hell that they won't, or can't, but really: they have to stand on their own at some point, and now's the time.

On a different note, I met with the plagiarist from the online class. She started with a question that actually I couldn't answer: she asked if the second instance of plagiarism had been submitted before I sent her the email about the first one. She absolutely admitted that she had plagiarized and that it was stupid, but she was right: the second instance may have actually been virtually synchronous with the first. In any event, I gave her the benefit of the doubt--and we talked about how she can actually do some learning instead of going for the quick fix. I told her I'd be watching her work very intently from now on, and she gets it. (I also got a strange call from one of the administrators; I'd included the Dean of Students as a recipient of the email in which I said something to the student--so I had to explain that, no, I wouldn't be filing the formal paper work and no, there wasn't further action to be taken. Clearly the woman I spoke to had no interest in an involved conversation, which is completely understandable. "So I'll just ignore this," she said and signed off. Yep. Fair enough.)

I'm once again running behind on getting responses to the Nature in Lit students, and I'm getting behind on homework for the SF students. But tomorrow I really have to put most of my time and energy--around the department meeting (on how to handle an active shooter situation, about which I have very mixed feelings) and two student conferences before P&B. So, it will be an early morning--well, early for a Tuesday/Thursday.

And now I have to hustle off to get to physical therapy. Buh-byeee.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Well, that was a grind...

I just finished grading the last of the 101 essays for the students I'll meet on Monday. I only have one essay to grade for Tuesday (because Mr. Can't Follow the Rules didn't submit his), and only three for Wednesday, so this was the big push.

And it was a hell of a push. Jesus God, what a slog. I'm interested to do a little mental correction: in actual fact, of the eight I graded (seven today), they were pretty evenly split between the relatively decent and the deeply problematic. Three were stream-of-consciousness bilge; one was neat and clean and said absolutely nothing. But even the ones that were relatively decent were problematic in various ways. One had no focus; one was 89% report (no argument; two were ... good. Still needed focus, and one needed to have a little more support for her case, but those were infinitely more palatable than the other four. I really feel a bit bad about the young man who wrote the one that was point precise and meaningless: he's trying very hard, but he really has a hard time thinking beyond the most superficial generalizations. I know he wants to get deeper; he is almost desperate to be a good student, and he will, by God, do whatever he can to improve--but there isn't much I can do to help him think better except to keep on challenging him, and I know that's going to get very frustrating and painful for him in a big hurry.

As I just said on Facebook, a lot of these students came into my class straight from the "Basic Education Program"--which, as I think I've explained, exists for students who fail their placement tests in all three areas (math, reading, writing)--and a lot of the students in BEP shouldn't have passed first grade, never mind graduated high school. My students aren't that bad--they are at least marginally literate. But there are three ways students can get into Comp 1: they can test directly in; they can pass one of the English department's developmental writing classes (either working on ESL issues--030--or working on basic writing issues--001); or they can be placed in by the teachers in BEP. I can't always tell the difference between students who went through 001 and those who placed directly in, but man can I tell the students who came through BEP.

I think the issue is, the BEP folks are so used to dealing with really profound problems that what looks pretty crappy to me probably looks damned good to them, in comparison with what they're usually working with. Paul and I discovered a bit of that ourselves: his standards are in some ways much higher than mine, but he's consistently been teaching 102, and I've consistently been teaching 101. I've had to let go of a lot of expectations because students simply cannot get there right away. I can keep my standards high at the end of the semester (though not as high as they used to be), but I need to be pretty patient getting the students to the end point. But this lot: unusually dreadful. It's taking me forever to grade these things. If it were later in the term, I'd have more of a "well, you can't do it; I'm sorry" attitude. But this is their first essay, and I want to give them guidance so they can at least try to improve. But I may end up with four students by the end of the term...

I also need to confess that I very nearly bailed on the entire endeavor earlier today. I was feeling sluggish and frustrated and out of kilter--and if I'd really had to somehow postpone everyone's conference, I could have done it. But I managed to metaphorically pull my socks up and keep on slugging.

I'm finishing up much later than I'd have hoped--no surprise there--and I really do need to make at least a quick grocery run (and try to stave off the desperate desire for chocolate). But man am I toast. Toast is me. Oy.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Essentially zero progress

So, I bailed on both yoga class and fiddle lesson today, with the full intention of getting a big chunk of those 101 essays graded and back to the students. I did one. One.

I will say that I spent a good while working on the discussion board posts for the online class--and a student who plagiarized last week did it again this week. I sent her an email telling her she was guilty of it again, and as far as I was concerned, she had failed the class, though if she wanted to come in and talk to me about it, make a case for why she should be allowed to continue in the class, she could do that. I alerted Cathy and the Dean of Students about the issue, too. I honestly don't know what this young woman is going to try to present in her defense, but I'm unlikely to want to buy it. The first time, she tried the "I didn't know I was plagiarizing" thing. I said, essentially, well, if you didn't, you do now: you need to cite your sources. Whatever the source. Doesn't matter. And if you need "help," come to me; don't go looking for stuff you can steal from online. I'm really pissed off about it, in a sort of calm way, meaning I don't feel any need to actually get angry with her, but I am not taking any excuses or justifications about how she didn't know what she was doing, or she didn't use the sources I found.... We seem to have an inner constraint these days against just saying, "That's bullshit" to students--but really, there are times when that's what probably should be said.

As for the one essay I graded: oh, God, shoot me now. Absolute, unconsidered, high-school quality, chatty, informal, stream-of-consciousness bilge. No focus, no attempt at paragraphing--one source used, sort of, but not really. I was generous and gave it a D instead of the F it deserved, but only because this is their first essay and they don't really know what the hell is expected of them yet. (Also, she's one of several of my students who came straight out of the basic education program; our experience is generally that the professors in that program are a lot more generous than we are in what they consider college-ready.)

But that was so discouraging, I stopped. I know they won't all be that terrible, but ... it was pretty dispiriting.

Meanwhile, a student from that class is getting himself into trouble by not adhering to the rules. He is overly anxious (and annoying) about wanting to turn stuff in to me; he'll walk up when I'm in the middle of doing something to give me an assignment, or to talk to me about some problem or other he's having. He registered late, and I think that panicked him a bit. He did try to make up some of the work, but now that we've gotten to the requirement that essays have to be submitted to Turnitin....

He didn't try to submit on the due date. (Points off.) I got an email from him just before midnight the next night, saying that he was having trouble using the app on his phone. I told him to contact the help desk and get the problem resolved, and that once he did, he should let me know. He emailed the essay to me (even though I told him before that I don't accept assignments by email). He said it would prove that he did the essay--but, I responded, that's not the issue. I know he'd done it, because he was there for peer review with it. What he needs to do is upload it to Turnitin, and, by being late with it, he already missed his chance at getting any comments from me. I explained--again--that if it isn't uploaded to Turnitin by midnight tonight, he'll get zero credit.

Nothing. I'm quite sure he hasn't checked his email. This is a common assumption among our students: that when they send an email, that's the end of their responsibility. They don't recognize that they have to check for a reply, as the professor may say "no" to a request, or explain something that the student needs to attend to. Nope: I sent the email; I've done my job.

Well, this will be a hard lesson for him, too. I think he's pretty smart, but he sure has to button it up and get some discipline.

And to my dismay, it turns out that my student from last semester, the young man I called Street Smart, is in Paul's 102 class--and is not taking care of business but making excuses because he's on the wrestling team. He also wanted me to read his essay for Paul because he's pretty proud of it; I'll read it (if/when I have time) but I won't say anything about it: Paul is his professor now, and he needs to do as Paul says, conform to what Paul wants of him.

Well, anyway. I have my work cut out for me tomorrow: at least seven essays to grade (more if I can manage to stay nailed to this computer long enough to do them. But that's tomorrow. Today, I'm stick-a-fork-in-me done, even though I didn't really do anything.