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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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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Getting those bad reviews on Rate My Professor

I know those bad reviews on Rate My Professor will get added to in the wake of this semester. Comments may come specifically from two students who expressed their intense displeasure at their grades. One was a particularly interesting case: all semester he's been getting B's and C's, and upon receiving a solid B for the semester, was offended, considered it a slap in the face, that he hadn't gotten an A. He wanted me to bump him up to at least a B+--but his overall grade was an 82.4. The minimum for a B+ is an 85. That may seem like "only" three points, but since a B is anything from an 80 to an 84, three points is actually quite a bit. (And to get those three points, he'd have to have something like an extra 30 in the assignments, given the way things get averaged.) Well, he was slapped in the face, but not by me. He may never realize that the slap was administered by reality.

Another woman--who knew that her final paper was an ungodly mess (and it was, on every level, including the fact that there were absolutely no citations in it, anywhere) and who had been struggling to get anything higher than a D all semester was similarly shocked and amazed that she got (drum roll please) a D for her final grade. She made a point of writing me an e-mail to tell me that, thanks to me, she hates English even more than she did before. And that I'm too hard.

I'll just let the logic of that sit there for a while.

I know there will be more fussing from students via e-mail over the coming weeks, despite my attempts to head that off at the pass (I told people that after this afternoon, complaining will make no difference, as once the grades have been submitted, that's it). But I am about to put the automated message on my office e-mail that says I will be away until spring semester and that I won't be checking e-mail. In truth, I will be checking e-mail--even that e-mail, just to keep the in-box from silting up while I'm away--but I'm sure not responding to anything from students.

And the amazing thing is, I'm able to sit here and blog for a few minutes because I'M DONE! Stick a fork in me, I am DONE!! All the papers have been read, all the numbers crunched, the final grade sheets produced and put on the door for students to pick up. I've even submitted the paper grade record forms and have put all my grades up on Banner. (Shhhh, don't tell: I even submitted the grades for the classes that officially end tomorrow, even though I'm not supposed to do that until tomorrow. The system let me do it, and I figure if students can make end runs around the "rules" because the system doesn't stop them, so can I.)

Of course I still don't quite feel like I can breathe, but at least I can run one or two more errands this evening and still get home in time to pack before midnight. And I don't have to take anything at all relating to this semester with me on my trip. I'll take stuff so I can work on next semester's syllabi--if there's an easy opportunity (I'm not going to worry about it over much). And I'm leaving the office a little bit of a wreck: I can tidy up files and so on once I'm back--and know whether my lit courses are going to run. (The numbers haven't budged in the past few days. I'm working to remain sanguine.)

But now, my faithful readers, I will say that it's very likely you won't hear a peep from me again until after January 9. I wish all of you a wonderful holiday season (and those of you who are with me in the trenches a peaceful and relaxing break). May the new year bring us all that is best and brightest.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday Blooper

"The environment has been something that has been around since the beginning of time. It has always done good for us humans never once has it done us wrong."

This falls under the "Masters of the Obvious" category.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blooper of the day

"For many years dating back to the 1950's era, Americans have always taken advantage of one of the worlds natural resources for granted which we call H20 or Water."

Before the 1950s, of course, we didn't use water.

I also rather like that "back to the 1950s" and "always" are the same time period.

OK, ok, I know what the guy is trying to say. But just as another example, "By conserving water we not only save the environment but we save money and pollution as well."

Good to know that pollution is being preserved. Heaven forbid we should run out.

Oh, heavy, heavy sigh.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Again, brief...

Leaving the office in just a few minutes to have dinner with former student/former cat sitter/still friend Natasha. I have four papers still to finish for the short story class--and the one I was just looking at I have to run through the plagiarism check, dammit all to hell. One of the remaining four actually needs to be marked (I was saving that one, for among the last as I know it will be among the best). Heavy sigh. I was going to run a bunch of errands tomorrow but I don't think I can take the time: if I push through the weekend, I should have time either Monday evening or Tuesday morning. I hope. I still have to do some online shopping for the few people who are getting gifts from me; that will be tonight after dinner. I truly am going to be virtually comatose when I'm on the flights to Montana (and hanging around Sea-Tac airport in-between flights).

Marian and I did get most of the adjunct schedules done--or rather, used up most of the available courses. Bruce may open more sections to provide work for some of those who didn't get anything: there will certainly be plenty of students; the bigger question is, whether there will be classrooms. No movement today in the two lit classes, but I won't start really worrying unless there isn't a significant up-tick after New Year's.

But that's for another time. Now, it is indeed time for a drink.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I just spent much longer than I ought typing a student paper into the computer so I can run it for plagiarism. I don't think anything will turn up, but either this student has been hiding her light under a concrete bunker (never mind a bushel) or she's gotten someone to write her last two papers for her--or at very least give her a hell of a lot of "help." But if I can't catch the plagiarism, I'll go ahead and give it the grade it would get if I were sure she wrote it. If she did, she gets the gratification of the good grade. If she didn't, I have to believe it will bite her in the ass somewhere down the line.

I decided to help myself keep working by alternating tasks. Now, when I read a final paper, I'll record the grade, then put together the student's final grade sheet (record all the marks, crunch the numbers, calculate the final grade). That way I won't lose my marbles reading paper after paper after paper after paper.... And there is a certain gratification in getting those grade sheets neatly typed up instead of scrawled by hand.

But I have reached the point where I cannot type (it's taking me four and five tries to get simple words down), can only marginally think, and am essentially useless (not furry enough to make a good rug even). I was rather hoping that taking the time after class to crank through some work would also help me figure out what my body needs for dinner. Other than a stiff drink, I can't think of a thing that sounds right. However, I don't think having just booze for dinner is a terrific idea--under any circumstances, but in particular as I need to be back here tomorrow, grinding through more papers before and after Marian and I work on adjunct schedules.

For now, I'm going to waddle homeward, hoping that some sort of dinner inspiration strikes along the way. Here's hoping for a swift collapse tonight, deep and uninterrupted sleep, and a bright and perky start to the day tomorrow.

As my buddy Jane used to say, "Onward and awkward!"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Coming along

I just checked Banner: I've picked up one more student in each of next semester's electives. Turns out there are two highly recommended students registered for Nature in Lit. Oh, man, please God, let that one fly.

I've ploughed through a bunch of little bits and sherds: self-evaluations from 101 students (very interesting, always, even when annoying, as the one I commented on yesterday), write-ups and grades for most of the presentations I've seen so far (two more for the Monday class--and then I'll see two more new ones tomorrow). I had thought I'd be chipping away at grading during the class period for the short-story class, but a couple of students dropped by, and instead of just picking up their revisions and leaving, they decided to hang out and talk with me. It was very sweet, actually. One of the young women had just finished Catcher in the Rye and wanted to talk it over with me. (She hated it. I do, too--or did. I haven't read it in millennia and wonder if it might be worth rereading, in case I see something I didn't when I was younger.) (Wait, don't go all nuts on me: I loved Franny and Zooey, the collected stories, and Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters. Salinger isn't the problem.) That got us started talking about books generally. Then another young woman decided to stay, much to my surprise: she's very quiet, only started participating in class late in the semester and then minimally. She was still very quiet in the chat today, but she contributed more than I'd have expected--since, as I said, I was surprised she stayed at all. We talked about books, about movies, about reading experiences as kids, when we encountered what.... I love that kind of "shoot the shit" session with students: I wish I had time for more of that kind of thing. I wish we had a campus Quiet Space: not the food court (ick), not the library (shhhh, people working), somewhere cozy and designed to foster conversation. It would be cool to have a place to hang out, get chatting with other faculty, have students drop by just to yack, nothing as formal as office hours--and away from the freaking office. Well, it's a lovely dream.

I'd have been more worried about having "lost" that time (not a loss, at all, just not time spent getting through the final grading), but my reprieve was that I had thought I'd spend this afternoon working on adjunct schedules with Marian--and she had to reschedule. We'll be here on Friday instead, which isn't bad, even though I usually resent having to come to campus on Fridays. In this instance, it means (among other things) I can leave stuff here tomorrow evening instead of lugging it all home, and try to get as much as possible done before and after Marian and I meet, so there's less to lug home for the rest of the weekend.

So far, a grand total of seven students want papers back with comments, five from the short story class, two from 101. One of those two provided the stipulated envelope. The other did not--but I'm inclined to give him the feedback anyway, as he's one of the brightest students I've ever had, and I want to give him every ounce of boost I can. He and I intend to get together next semester just to chat: I'll look forward to that. Very interesting young man, seriously smart.

I can feel my energy draining, however, like a receding tide in time-lapse photography. My brains are being left high and dry, lie flopping fish stranded above the water line. I'm hoping my internal tides are unlike the world's and that in twelve hours I'll be riding an incoming surge of energy. I'll be home, waiting for a cleaning-service estimator (again), but it will be lovely to sit in my cozy little apartment, drinking tea while I grind away at the final final final grading.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Eye twitch

I do have an eye twitch, literally, that has been going on, sporadically, for some time: I'm not sure when it started. I know it's a sign of being tired. But it does make me think about a friend who had read some self-help book about how our physical symptoms are all indications of our psychic turmoil--and she'd have asked, "What is it you don't want to look at?" The answer is obvious, and they're piled up on my desk, the radiator, in my bag....

I have a handful more revisions and reading journals to mark for the short-story class; I'll finish those off in the morning. Then it's just down to grading final papers--though I do I want to write up brief comments on the in-class presentations by the various groups so the students can see why they get the grades they'll get. I'm stewing now about the time limit thing: a number of the groups were significantly short of the time parameters (I stipulated 14-16 minutes; several groups ended at about the nine minute mark); a few ran long. I had to force one group to stop today: one guy in the group wouldn't let the others get a word in edgewise--and he wouldn't shut up in general. I think he felt he was the only one who had prepared adequately, but in fact, he hadn't prepared very well: he had too much information and no significant organization. On the other hand, he now knows a hell of a lot about the topic and was interested enough that he really, really wanted to tell all he knew.

That's my favorite thing about the presentations: even though students may not actually give a rat's ass about the environment--or even about the topic for their presentations--they end up knowing a great deal and feel comfortable holding forth about it outside of the presentation situation.

One of my least favorite things is the kind of student who resists everything up to the final second of the semester. From a student's end-of-semester self-evaluation: "I never benefit from assignments. ... I just want to get them done with. I wont [sic] learn anything from this that will help me out in the world. I never understood how math and english [sic] benefit my life in the future. ... I did learn many things but ill [I'll] forget them all in a year. I wont [sic] need to know how to write essays in life." My response: "Maybe not, but perhaps you could have learned something about thinking clearly, which could benefit you."

I'd growl and grump, but oh what the hell. Go forth and multiply. Be a happy, stupid consumer. Zei gesund. No skin off my dainty little nose.

I feel weirdly optimistic about getting everything done with minimal tearing out of hair and frantic, glazed-over panic. I wonder how long that will last.

But no matter what, in a week, I'll be finishing off my paperwork, then heading home to pack. Eight days to Montana, sixteen days to Washington. I keep counting them down....

Monday, December 13, 2010

Getting there

I have one more student registered in each of my lit classes: I'm up to six in one class and seven in the other. I talked to one of Paul's students today, who is signed up for Nature in Lit: I told him to advertise the class, talk it up. I'm hoping this helps. Thanks to Christina, I also understand why my flyers keep disappearing (a confusion over who is allowed to put up flyers with what kind of permission). Not sure whether I want to keep papering or let it go. We'll see.

I had a rocky weekend in terms of my physical ability to focus: I keep getting spells of light-headedness, which literally make it hard to see, not to mention concentrate. So I didn't walk onto campus smug with relief at having gotten anything crossed off my "to do before final papers come in" list--but I did manage to get everything returned to today's 101 class (and collected more, but nothing major). I should be fine to return everything to tomorrow's 101s, which will get my feet clear so I can try to get all the backlog marked for the short-story class by Wednesday morning. Then, I dive into grading final papers. To my vast surprise, five students in the short story class want their papers back with comments. Two of the requests were not a shock, but the rest were.

That class session was fine today: we had a nice conversation about the semester, wrapping up what they learned. This means I won't meet with them on Monday: I'll just have their final papers graded (and those five marked) and their final grade sheets done, ready for them to pick up from my office door. I also got some helpful suggestions from them about assignment structures, so I think I'll be revamping my reading journal forms for both lit classes next semester, and I will be assigning mini-papers. The students pretty much across the board told me that although they hated writing the mini-papers, those low-stakes assignments were indeed helpful when it came to writing their big papers. Ditto the proposals. It is gratifying when students volunteer their sense that the pedagogy works. The whole point of mini-papers is precisely what they pointed out: they get a chance to see what I'm looking for before it counts heavily, and they get a chance to work out their ideas, which they can then combine into their bigger papers. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to get mini-papers to work with 229 and 281, as I've never approached the papers that way before, but maybe it makes sense to let go of the more carefully constructed topics I've used in the past and allow the more free-form explorations I used in the short story class (and in last semester's poetry class).

Today's 101 was a curious mix. One group--Mr. Macho's--did their presentation, and although the information was fine, what should have been a 15 minute presentation was not quite ten. Sigh. However, the other group did a lovely job: they presented the factual information very clearly and, well, factually--but then they had put together an adorable, very funny little 5-minute video, starring all of them: they had put together a series of little scenarios in which people needed to be taught about recycling or precycling, and in each case Captain Recycling (the shyest student in the group) appeared to save the day. It was extremely well done, funny and informative. And I loved seeing the young man being Captain Recycling: he had a blast doing it. (They get an A.) The best part for me is, we decided to do the end-of-semester wrap-up on Wednesday, as we'll surely have time, and once again, that means I don't have to meet with them on Monday: I'll just be here in the office, crunching numbers and getting grading done. They can come by to pick up their final grade sheets any time after 11.

Lovely moment, too: I had made a comment on a reading journal submitted by the smartest student in that class, saying how I'd love to talk with him more about some of what he'd been musing over in his journal, and he came up to me after class to say yes, he'd love to talk with me, too. If we can find a time this week, we'll meet; if not, we'll meet next semester. He's one of those rare students who is worth keeping in touch with, who's fun to have just drop by for a chat about ideas. That young man will go far. Nice.

And now, I'm in the position I usually find myself in when I blog: do I have it in me to grind through a few more assignments for tomorrow's classes, or do I call it a night and hurl myself back into the fray early tomorrow? I still have a LOT to do for the short story class, even though I'm whipping through it all as fast as I can, so it would be best in terms of time if I were to try to do more tonight. But the woozies are making it difficult to bear down on the miscellaneous bits for the 101 classes, to clear those out and make room to finish the short-story stuff. Jesus, I don't even know if I'm making any sense or have suddenly started the written equivalent of speaking in tongues. I'm guessing that in itself is a pretty good indication that I should pack it in for tonight and just get an early start in the morning--or at least go home and relax for a bit to see if my brains stop wobbling.

Weirdly, a candy bar and a bag of peanuts didn't fix the problem. Something obviously is cosmically awry here.

Home, home, here I come.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


I keep checking Banner about every 20 seconds to see if more students have signed up for Nature in Lit. So far, five students; my hunch is that there will need to be at least 15 in order for it to run. I don't know if I said, but I also wrangled Native American Lit: it was going begging for an instructor, and I'm one of the few qualified to teach it (well, sort of). Very cool--except it's also in danger of not running. So far, seven students. And I keep putting up flyers that keep getting taken down--by whom or why, I don't know. I don't really have time to do a full-campus papering with them (much as I'd like to); maybe next week I'll just do it even without having the time (triage: make myself nuts later in order to put the time into that). I'm almost to the point of tackling students at random on campus and forcing them to sign up (though how I'd force them is a rather difficult issue). Maybe I should consider blatant bribery instead, or lies. ("I assign no writing, and I don't hold you accountable for any of the reading. You can pretty much just sit there, bullshit your way through the semester, and still get a B.") OK, maybe not. But I'll be on tenterhooks until I know for sure that at least one of them is going to run, preferably both.

I'm focusing on next semester because I'm really done teaching for this semester; it's now all on the students. I'll barely even see the students from the short-story class: next week I'll see them when they drop off their papers and pick up the stuff I have now; then I'll see them on the 20th for a quick end-of-semester wrap up and to distribute the sheets that explain their final grades. I'll see more of the 101 students: they have presentations next week and will be turning in end-of-semester self-evaluations and final papers. Two of the three sections I'll see on the 20th and 21st to do the end-of-semester wrap up and distributed grade sheets. The last section of the week, since there are so few students left, I realized we could do all their presentations on one day, do the wrap-up conversation on Thursday next week--so on the 21st, instead of meeting with them, I'll be here in my office, finishing up paperwork. They can pick up their final grade sheets if they want, but they don't have to. I also told all the 101 students that if they want their final papers back, they have to provide a self-addressed, stamped envelope--and I made very clear what that means. I bet one or two will still screw it up, but most won't bother to ask for comments, especially since they have to go through a rather complex procedure to get the comments back. It will be interesting to see how many requests I get--and from whom.

I did chip away at marking revisions from the short story class. Didn't make an enormous amount of progress, but some. More important, I got the reader for next semester's 102s pulled together and taken to the copy shop. That is a huge weight off. I'm still frantic as hell, and no doubt will continue to feel breathless and jittery until I'm at the airport on the morning of the 22nd, but I can feel things gradually beginning to move off my chest, as it were. And it will be beyond worthwhile to go through twelve days of mania in order to get on the plane with absolutely zero school responsibilities until my return in January. The last two years I've taken stuff with me to finish up over the break, and it's hell. This year, instead, I'll sleep, read trashy novels, and stare off into space, all the way to Montana. I cannot wait.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Too frazzled to write much or make much sense. Everything is unraveling: things fall apart, the center cannot hold. I got up early and raced around, bought a "box of joe" from Dunkin Donuts to take to my 9:30 meeting--which had been canceled. I missed the last one, and no one thought to tell me. Ah well. Chatted a bit with Bruce, and set up a time to work with Marian on the adjunct schedules for spring; just spent a couple of hours on that with her. Similar to work on the full time schedules, but easier: fewer people, fewer classes, fewer options.

Writing that reminded me: I needed to touch in with the other members of the scheduling committee to see if we're going to work the week before spring classes start or over the Presidents' Week break. So I took a petite break in writing this to send off an e-mail. When I think of something, I need to do it that instant, or it will vanish into the vortex.

Speaking of the vortex, I'm a little worried about what might be getting lost on my desk right about now. It's genuine madness.

I did, however, just have one of those light-bulb over the head experiences about the readings for 102. I know what I'm going to assign, at last, at last. I just need to sit down with the huge 17-week long grid I have to see where assignments need to fall, so I know the order to put things in for the photocopied reader. But at least I know what I'm photocopying. Whew.

I'm also relieved as hell that I'm not doing a damned thing with the short story class next week. They're dropping off their papers on Monday; I'll be in the classroom on Wednesday in case anyone wants to see me about anything (and a few will be bringing last-minute assignments). But mostly I'll be plowing through student assignments--for them and for my other classes--and getting ready to crunch the numbers for final grades. I have an insanely huge pile of shit to read for the short-story students--but I'm not going to put any mark on any of it except for the score or grade. It's still going to take forever to chunk through, but ah well. I've got slightly less ridiculous piles for the 101 classes--but I've still got a hell of a lot of feet clearing to do before (and, realistically, while) final papers come in.

And sitting here blogging accomplishes none of that. I'm going to noodle around here for a while longer, then head for the hills. I won't be in super early tomorrow: I've got a routine doctor's appointment at 10 and don't intend to try to do any work before that. After that, however, chip, chunk, chip, chunk, on I go.

And please heaven, the copy machines will be working (yesterday the mail room was locked all day: someone broke the lock. Today, the room was open but both copiers were out of commission. Greaaaat.) I want to get that 102 reader out of my hair, god dammit, so I can stop fussing about it.

Chip, chunk, chip, chunk.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Saved by the fumes

I got the papers done for my earlier class, but I was having a horrific time getting the last bunch done for the last class. I was getting progressively crabby and hag-ridden with anxiety, and was on the verge of canceling class but thought, no, I'll go but I'll make them leave me alone while I finish up. Got there, and all my students were piled up in the hall: turns out, the room reeked of gasoline, or fumes of some sort, and they were scared to go in there, felt it was potentially dangerous (had sort of been freaked out by a colleague of mine whose room, next door, was equally filled with fumes: he told them not to go in, it could kill them--perhaps a trifle overly dramatic). Ah, what the hell. I sent them off to work on their projects and told them their papers would be on my office door.

I just sent them an e-mail, reminding them that their next assignment is attached to their papers: for their final review sheet from their style handbook, I assigned them each a specific task, drawn from the errors I see on their papers. They have to prepare a five-minute lesson to teach to a classmate next class. (I'll be doing the same with my 101 tomorrow.) I'll be interested to see how that flies.

I still have an enormous wodge of shit to mark and will be getting even more tomorrow, but ah well. I won't be able to do anything much tomorrow: I've got a 9:30 a.m. meeting, and then in the afternoon, when I'd normally be slogging through assignments (or home napping), I need to start working on adjunct schedules with the woman whom I am replacing as evening assistant chair. So, Thursday I think I'll pull together my readers for 102, get that done and out of my hair, and then spend the weekend blazing through all the assignments I now have in hand so I can return those and start collecting final papers. Yikes and yikes and more yikes. If I think about it too much, I get panicky, so I'm trying not to think about it but just do each thing in front of me and not look up.

It's been a struggle to stay awake all day, and I should go home and directly to bed, but instead, I'm going to that high-class establishment Applebee's to have a drink and something to eat with my buddies, then home and to bed.

I do wish the anxiety would let go, though. I'm wound up so tight I can hardly move or think or breathe. And I'm not enough of a drinker to be able to consume sufficient booze to undo those knots, so I just have to try to breathe through them. Not, not, not easy.

But soon this too shall pass, and I'll be in Montana with my family, then in Washington with Ed. Now there's a soothing thought.

Monday, December 6, 2010

oh, and... favorite student bloopers of the week

"My confusion wasn't good and compact because my essay was all over the place."

[I would suggest that is a sign that his confusion was complete.]

"If there were more organic farmlands then there would be less exposure of intoxicated pastures around the country."

[Horrific for our children, having drunken pastures exposing themselves all over the place...]

Blood from a stone

I'm trying to squeeze out just a few more papers tonight--even one--and I just don't think I can do it. I've put in a terrific stint the last two days, really churned along well, but it suddenly hit me tonight all the other stuff I have to get to, in addition to these papers, and that next week I'll be getting final papers (yikes and likewise zoiks!! What on earth happened to the time????) And I still need to pull together the reader for next semester's 102s and get that off to the copy center--plus about a brazilian other things that I want to get done in the next 15 days.

Anxiety levels off the charts--and (as I was just saying to Paul) anxiety makes it harder for me to work and focus. One would think that the wild burst of energy could be harnessed for good use--if not for spurring me to work then at least for lighting up Christmas trees or menorahs or something. But no. My brains start making a high-pitched screaming noise and I can accomplish nada, zippo, zilch.

And I need to go to the grocery store tonight, and I feel like I either have to stay here working (if I have any brain power left after I finish blogging) or go home and fall almost immediately into bed. But a girl does need to eat, dammit, even though I sometimes resent that fact.

Shifting gears radically, interesting update with Mr. Macho. He got his "revision" back today--and hadn't revised. He started to argue with me about why what he'd done was revision--the old aggressive, confrontational approach--and I lost it. I mean, after he'd said, "I'm telling you..." I snapped, finger in his face, "You don't tell me anything." At which point I thought, "Not in front of the other students." I hauled him out to the hall--and in just that brief pause, I was able to calm down enough to approach him more reasonably. I said, "First, I apologize for losing my temper: I shouldn't have done that." Apology graciously accepted--and he immediately calmed down himself. I went on, saying I understood he was frustrated, but he was forgetting what he'd learned about his attitude, that he'd been improving up until today, that I knew he didn't understand but I was trying to explain, and he needed to listen to the explanation. I explained the difference between editing and revision. Then he started telling me that he was frustrated by his group, that two of them were not doing their share--and I realized that his frustration was really panic: he got the low grade on the revision and was terrified that his group was going to let him down and he'd not be able to pass the class.

Ah, deep breath. OK, let's work out a solution. We talked things over for a while; I listened while he vented about the group mates that he's worried about. I told him I want him to make it; that I want to reward the ways he's improved so he can at least pass. I said it was too bad he was so close to failure, but we'd gotten off on the wrong foot at the start of the semester--and he apologized to me. I said, "Well, we both had to learn something, didn't we." He smiled at that.

Anyway, the upshot is that he came to see me this evening, as we arranged, and he said that the other members of his group seemed to be coming through so they were going to stick it out as a group. I talked to him about what else he can do to increase his chances of success--and man, I really want to pass him. He's perfectly capable of doing the assignment and doing them well, he just hasn't had to put in any effort before, in his life, and he's resisting the discipline of college work. But I can see the worried boy in his eyes, and I hope he's learning something about how to handle himself, and the work, and relationships with authority figures (and women generally). I want this to turn into a success story, I truly do.

Oh, and when I went into that class today, there was a little note on the chalk board: "I [heart] T. Payne." Don't know who left it: I said, "That's sweet--but whoever left it still doesn't get an A." A girl in the back said she left it (I don't believe her), and I said, "Thank you, but you still don't get an A." She said, "I don't? Or does that apply to anyone who left it?" I said, "Anyone. It's very sweet, and I'm touched, but it doesn't matter to any one's grade." I left it there all class. It may have been a joke, but I liked it anyway.

I'm suddenly overwhelmed with yawns. That's generally a good sign: it means I'm decompressing (which helps turn down the volume on that screaming noise). But this is one of those judgment calls: which is going to be more productive? Pushing on tonight for a bit and having less to do tomorrow, or coming at what I've got left when I'm fresher, having let go for the night and gotten (I hope) at least a little decent sleep? I just really don't know. Sometimes I can get a read on what makes more sense, but not tonight.

I figure I'll sign off, go back over to my desk and see how I feel facing one more revision. If I can do it, I will. If I can't, then that answers that and it's off to Fairway with me.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Five-minute precis

Met with a few students for individual help with proposals and revisions, generally to good result. Met with two 101 classes, talked about the common good vs. personal gain: better thinking, more interesting conversation with the later class. They got more out of me about myself--and why I teach. I'm interested to note that in the three discussions on this topic, each class got more of me and my thinking. At some point I'll figure out why. Almost bit the head off a student who showed up half an hour late (as I was running the discussion) and from the door went "Psssst!" and gave me the little "Come here" gesture with her head, as if I should drop everything and run out to talk to her in the hall. ("I'm teaching a class. I have a room full of students that I'm working with right now. Wait for me outside.") Students in the later 101 had to be forcibly chased from the room, as they were working in their groups very productively. Almost bit the head off another student who kept worrying about how his absences would affect his grade and asking if he could do something to make up for the missed classes. ("Don't miss another class." but but but but "Don't miss another class. That's all." but but but "I think you heard what I said." "You said don't miss another class but but but" "Nothing else. Just don't miss another class.")

I make no predictions about the weekend or what I will or will not get done. My only prediction at the moment is that in about three minutes I'll get into my car and go meet Kristin for dinner. She's on a year-long sabbatical, and I miss her; it's going to be great to get caught up.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Stormy weather

Ye gods, what a storm. I damned near did the Mary Poppins thing walking to my first class today. After that I got sensible and left the umbrella in the office--and mercifully, the torrential downpours all happened while I was in class, not walking across campus.

But the weather simply adds to everyone's brain fatigue (including mine). I was supremely unprepared for the short story class today, hadn't reread either story and didn't remember them as well as I should have. Ah well. Students were mostly concerned about their proposals (most of which didn't pass, meaning most of them have to revise) and their last papers, which they finally got back (and many of which didn't pass, ditto). One poor student is having to wait to get his papers back--but I don't feel too terrible, as he got them to me late anyway. He's the one I met with this morning. Strange thing: when he works on his own, without seeing me, the ideas he comes up with are pretty terrible. As soon as he's talking to me, his ideas become clear and precise. I tried to point out to him the difference in approach so he can start doing the clear thinking without having to come to me (or whatever professor) first.

And now I'm facing a madding crowd of students who want to meet with me--or whom I asked to meet with me. I'll be filling lots of my "spare" time over the next week sitting down one-on-one with students who are trying to squeeze ideas out of brains that have been pretty well bled dry. But, man, I just love the one-on-one stuff. I truly do. If I could teach two classes and then spend the rest of my time meeting with students individually, I'd be in freaking hog heaven. (Sudden image of hogs freaking: not what I meant. Oh, you know.)

Today's 101 was modestly productive. We did just sort of kick around ideas, a free-flowing debate stemming from the question, "Is a commitment to a common good that will benefit generations to come more morally laudable than working diligently to achieve personal gain?" (Taken from's "Product Information" about For the Greater Good of All: Perspectives on Individualism, Society, and Leadership [Jepson Studies in Leadership]. Ed. Donelson R. Forsyth and Crystal L. Hoyt. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011 [forthcoming].) The students were moderately engaged--at least no one fell asleep (a triumph on a day like today). Mr. Macho was great: contributed to the conversation seriously, thoughtfully. It took a little prodding to get him on task in the first place, but he did great. His group's proposal, however, is the only one in that class yet to be approved, and I'm more than a little worried about that. I did, however, impress specifically on him that Tuesday is the "drop dead" date: no approved proposal, they don't pass. For his sake, I hope they pull it together.

And now I'm looking at the huge pile of things I need to mark for that class, and the other 101s (or part of it: a lot of it is at home). Two of my favorite students in that class were rather wistfully asking when they might get everything back: I understand that they want to know, and they're right to, and I feel awful about how long it's taking me--but not necessarily awful enough to do any work tonight. I'll schlep it home, however, so I have stuff to work on while I wait around the doctor's office tomorrow morning. And I'll just chip, chip, chip away at it. What else can I do?

But for now, what I can do is drive carefully home, avoiding the worst of the road-lakes (and under a very strange purple sky) and try to recharge batteries (mine, metaphoric) so I have a shot at being productive at least some time over the weekend. We'll see. (The mantra of the semester, of my life these days.)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Who's adding papers to the stack?

I don't understand: somehow, no matter how hard I slog on the papers for the short story class, it seems I cannot, cannot get them all graded. I did get the proposals marked and ready by today at 11, as promised--and all of three students have picked theirs up (and not some of the ones I was most sure would be here at 11:01, champing at the bit). I have to meet with a student from that class tomorrow a.m. at 10. And I am, god dammit, going to dance class tonight, even though I'm having minor dizzy spells and frantic attacks because I cannot seem to get the effing papers graded.

I have no clue how the next weeks are going to play out. No clue. I am beyond cranky. And I can't indulge myself with any more blogging tonight or I really won't get those papers done. Gawd alone knows how early I'll have to get up in the morning--or whether my brains will be in any kind of shape once I do get up insanely early (sometimes it just doesn't pay off very well).

Oh, grouse, bitch, moan, complain, I can feel my fingernails bending backwards as I strain to hold on for another three weeks, just three weeks--and now I'm hyperventilating about that, so much to do, so little time.... AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Post Scriptum

Marking student proposals for the short story class, I came across the following. Asked to explain the value of a critical source to the student's argument, the student wrote, "By selecting this work as a critical source, it takes much of the tedious work out of finding useful quotations out of the text itself away."

Yes, indeed, that's why we use critics: that way we don't have to bother our pretty heads with finding quotations in the literature itself; we can just use the quotations the critic pulled out as useful to his or her argument. Because, after all, it is incredibly tedious, just utterly beyond boring, to review a story to find evidence to support one's own point....

The dismal swamp

That's where I spent the holiday weekend. Not only did I not get everything done that I hoped to, I didn't come close to getting done what I really needed to. Instead, I moped about the house, lachrymose and revolting even to myself. It's November. April may be the cruelest month (debatable point), but November is certainly one of the gloomiest. The diminishing light gets me down, and then there's the appearance of utter futility in all my teaching attempts. My logical brain tells me otherwise, but emotionally, I can't help but feel that I'd be just as productive if I were to sit in the classroom and read to myself and let them indulge in whatever mayhem they like. (Maybe one semester I'll try that. I'll just give them a bunch of paper assignments at the start of the semester, collect and grade them as we go along, and leave it at that: no lessons, no readings, no comments, zero effort from me. OK, not really, but part of me seriously wonders if the net result would be appreciably different.)

So I was too mired in the sludge of my own mental states to mark assignments, or work on next semester's syllabi, or figure out readings for next semester's 102s, or anything remotely useful. Blah. Blech. I feel mentally covered in goo and am trying to get it washed off so I can be my usual self, with my usual sense of mission.

The students are remarkably patient with all this. I tell them that they won't get assignments back and they just roll with it. I know they want to know their grades (and I don't blame them) but when I tell them they'll have to wait, they just take it in stride, bless their pea-picking hearts.

I did have a lovely moment at the end of the short story class today. I turned the students loose almost immediately: three had read the story I'd assigned, which actually was three more than I anticipated, as they were working on their final paper proposals. I stayed to talk to a few who are struggling to pass--and ended up having a lovely conversation with one young man. He is the first in his family to go to college, and his parents don't understand why it's so much more work than high school was: they put a lot of pressure on him to do things for the family, believing that his protestations of work to do are just an excuse to get out of his chores. But he also has fallen in love with psychology, finds it fascinating--and feels he has to pursue a degree in accounting. I talked to him a long while about that. I encouraged him to go ahead and get the degree in accounting so he could get a job that would pay for an advanced degree in psychology--but first, to talk to a couple of accountants, and to a couple of psychologists, and to ask them what they actually do in their jobs. Not what their lifestyle allows them to do, but what their actual work entails--what the best things are about it, what the worst things are about it. I reminded him that he can change his mind at any time along the way. I urged him to go with a field that awakens his passion, not just that will give him a decent paycheck (though the paycheck does matter). We probably talked for 20 minutes, about how hard it is to make a decision, especially at his age, when stopping to think deeply is anathema. But he's aware of that, which is a very good sign indeed.

And I confess, that's a part of my interactions with students that I love beyond anything: when I can just talk to them about life, about becoming adults, about choices and why we make them--and that they cannot live their lives for their parents but must live their own lives, for themselves.

In that light, I was delighted, amused, and not entirely surprised that a number of them have decided to write about the "coming of age" stories for their final papers. Hit a chord there. And I think that has helped me decide the stories to use for 102.

Today's 101 was a different story in a way. I made the remaining reading journals extra credit. I told them the plan for the next few weeks--which is mostly that they'll be working in their groups, interspersed with some work on technical aspects of writing and some general discussions, not based on any readings (some of those discussions about becoming an adult, and adult decisions, and stopping to think and why it's hard to do). I looked over three of the four proposals (the fourth the students were writing in class, so they'll have to do it again--if nothing else, they'll have to type it up). I was dismayed that the group I had the highest hopes for came up with a proposal that was much too huge, much too diffuse to work--but I took their ideas and kept pushing them smaller and more focused until I think we finally got something that will work. I look forward to seeing it when they get it pulled together. Only one of the four groups got approval on their proposal right away: good for them.

But now I have to mark the proposals for the short story students so they can pick them up tomorrow, then turn my attention back to the papers I've been putting off (and putting off and putting off). I confess, the levels of saurian ooze I've been wading through have diminished significantly now that I'm simply back in the groove: classes, meetings, office hours, full weeks, no breaks, just doing the thing until the semester is over. It does help not to have much more work coming in until the end, too.

It helps to remember to breathe, too. I tend to forget that part.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tuesday is Thursday, Wednesday is Friday... least as far as NCC schedules are concerned, so today is my last day of teaching this week, as I've been mentioning rather too frequently in the last few posts. My last class today was in one sense a washout: the vast majority of the students had not read the Weston essay, so I didn't even try to do the debate. However, on my way to class I'd been thinking that I wasn't sure I had the energy to set up the whole thing, work to get it to run, that I really just wanted to put them in their groups to work on their projects and leave it at that. Wish granted. In that regard, it was a howling success: the students were thrilled to bits to have essentially the entire period to work on their projects, and I was relieved not to have to do any heavy lifting.

I did run the debate exercise with the earlier class today, with a modicum of success, and this time I did have them produce a statement at the end. They read their statements; I put the various points pro and con up on the board. And this time I did weigh in with my own thoughts about it--still not with the vehemence I've shown in the past, but ultimately I asked them, "Do you think I'd teach this course the way I do, that I'd focus on this theme, if I thought it was too late and there was nothing to be done?" It does feel good from time to time to tell them what matters to me, what I think and why.

And now I'm as worn out as I'd have been if I'd taught not merely a full week but a spectacularly busy one. I got zero assignment marking done this morning: I ended up doing life-maintenance stuff at home and got to the office only a little before our department meeting at 11:30. It did feel good to get the life-maintenance stuff dealt with (though I could as easily have done it tomorrow), and even though the pile of stuff to mark is ludicrously large, somehow it feels like I made the best use of the time.

You will note that I'm also not marking anything right now. (Ahem.) And honestly I don't have much faith that I'll do any tomorrow, though it would be incredibly smart if I did. I will be meeting Paul for dinner tomorrow: maybe the knowledge of that reward will give me motivation to work during the earlier part of the day. And I'm going back and forth now about whether to go to dance class. I haven't been in a while, and I do love it (and am dressed for it, in a sassy little above the knee skirt that twirls nicely)--but another part of me wants to just go home and collapse on the sofa, reading Our Mutual Friend (chilly weather = Dickens, for me). Let me weigh the emotional balance: if I skip dance, go home and collapse early, will I be more likely to work well tomorrow? Yeah, probably, though how much more likely is an open question. Is that sufficient reason to skip dance, even though I could use the exercise and love the dancing? Yeah, probably. Will I regret missing dance if I find myself still in a slug-like torpor tomorrow, not getting any work done? Nah, I don't think so.

So, there it is: decision made. Skipping dance, heading home, hoping for a freak wave of enthusiasm and energy tomorrow. O faithful readers, you will no doubt read me bitching bitterly on Monday about how little I got done and how stressed I am. You're used to that by now (so am I). Don't know if I'll blog tomorrow (unlikely) or otherwise over the break (also unlikely), so I leave you all with best wishes for a great Thanksgiving--which will happen on the real Thursday, not the NCC-dictated one.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I'm somewhat surprised how hard it is proving to summon up the enthusiasm to come in and teach this short week: if my sense of professional responsibility wanes any further, it's possible I may use up my entire stock of "sick" days before the semester is over. (Honestly, I have no idea how many I have, but I know I'm making a hell of a dent in them this term.) I'm praying madly that I don't genuinely get sick: that would knock everything into the proverbial cocked hat. An odd image, come to think of it.

But, with much internal whining and kvetching, I did come in today and made a relatively productive day of it. Got reading journals back to the short story class, was semi-ready to teach 101. Friday's seminar gave me some interesting ideas for potential ways to conduct the lesson: the seminar presentation was on the pedagogical usefulness of structured "conflict"--perhaps more appropriately called simply debate. Today's reading was Anthony Weston's lovely essay "Is It Too Late?" (text of which can be found here: So, I set the students in pairs, and we went through the "conflict" steps set out in the seminar, one side debating that it is too late, the other that it is not.

The codified steps are as follows: 1) time to prepare a case for one side of the debate; 2) time for each side to present that case; 3) open debate, in which each student tries to point out the problems in the other's argument while defending his or her own; 4) role reversal: each student has to present the argument for the other side; 5) abandoning advocacy, both sides work to find a mutually agreed-upon proposition. I rather left out that last step, in the interest of time, but it was interesting--and sad--to note that most of the students disagree with Weston and do, in fact, feel it is too late, that our individual actions cannot do anything useful in terms of environmental problems. I didn't get into it as fiercely with them as I sometimes do--lack of energy on my part--but it was good to see at least most of them trying to think. Something I'm not doing terribly well myself at the moment.

A little grace note: Mr. Macho made a point of taking a moment at the end of class to thank me for the chance to resubmit his paper in the correct format and to wish me a happy Thanksgiving. I do wish I could crawl inside that young man's head, to see what is genuinely going on in there. I sincerely doubt that his "conversion" is as complete as it seems, but as I've said, as long as he's doing a good job of pretending, I'm happy to go along and act as if he is completely sincere.

Curious dynamics: when I arrived, a number of the young women in the class were verbally, if humorously, attacking him. He was joking about it, "You said I'm stupid and ugly and can't pass," but once again I rode to his defense. I had to call a halt to a battle of the sexes several times, in fact. Strange that the rather juvenile male-female gender assumptions are being expressed so powerfully in that class--brought on largely, I think, by Mr. Macho's attitudes and behaviors, which have aroused the displeasure of the young women. He asked, at one point, why they were ganging up on him and they said, almost in unison, that he'd called it upon himself. I'm reminded of a scene in Jane Smiley's Horse Heaven, in which a young stallion who thinks a bit too highly of himself jumps a fence into a field of mares and gets the shit kicked out of him. I wonder what the metaphoric kicking is doing to Mr. Macho's conception of himself, or of women, or of how an adult should behave in the world.

I got zero work done over the weekend--still getting myself recentered in my work-mind, still getting my energy levels back to the necessary full tanks, after Ed's visit. I'm not going to try to do any paper/assignment marking tonight. I'll noodle around a bit putting together readings for next semester's 102s; then I intend to head for the hills the instant my official office hour is over and hope for an early night and a good, productive day tomorrow. I know I'll be taking a ton of work home over the break--and knowing myself, I'm aware I'll probably put most of it off until the Nth hour and then will be bitching and tearing my hair out to get stuff back to the students by the dates I have promised. That simply seems to be my MO, and I am (right now) resigned to that fact. Still, it's fun as well as productive to work on the readings for next semester, so I needn't feel guilty about taking the time for that instead of trying to summon the mental fortitude to grind through grading. Ah, the mental games I play with myself, getting through what needs to be done.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

End of another week

Strange week, only two days for me (since I canceled Monday and Tuesday), and very little heavy lifting in terms of actual teaching. Next week will also be very short--only two days (Wednesday will follow a Friday schedule, so since I don't teach on Fridays, I get an extra-long Thanksgiving break--hooray!!).

Still, although I'm done teaching this week, in a way the week isn't over yet: I will be on campus tomorrow for a seminar, starting at 8:45 a.m. OK, the seminar starts at 8:45; I probably won't be there until later--but I'll be there. Professional development and all that. I've actually gotten some pretty terrific ideas from this particular series (IDEAS: I don't remember what the acronym stands for but the ideas are worth the all-caps treatment), even though I find getting to campus that early and spending a good portion of the day here on a Friday a trifle painful. I don't usually do any work on Fridays: I work on Saturday, on Sunday, but Friday is usually a day that I allow myself to have in its entirety, so even though I won't be doing what I usually consider work (not teaching, not grading, not doing class prep, not doing committee stuff), it is still work of a sort to be here, so there's a soupcon of resentment about giving up Friday for it.

And I'm getting pretty burned out, typically for this time in the semester. In fact, I'm toying with the idea of canceling the last few readings for the 101s. The students have rather have stopped caring, and now they need lots of time to work on their final projects and get ready for their final papers. I like the last readings, and I generally feel it's valuable to work on improving students' reading skills, even when the readings don't play directly into specific writing projects--but I also get tired of the fact that most of the student stop doing the readings at about this stage, so there's a perpetual struggle over that. I hope I can take a few minutes this weekend and figure how much difference canceling those assignments would make in the final calculations, for them and for me. Hmmm.

Another random bit to report: I got the retyped paper from Mr. Macho, and though the margins are now correct and the overall format is better, the font is still wrong. I called him and left a voice message saying I'd give him one more chance at it. He just called me back to thank me very much for the additional chance and to let me know when he'll leave the paper for me. I find I'm rather enjoying the transmogrifications of my relationship with this young man.

And I'm realizing again how little of the semester is left. The pressure still feels significant, but I am aware that the simple fact that the end is nigh makes the pressure less. I've got a healthy list of tasks to do in the next two weeks, but once I grind my way through the enormous stack of assignments now on my desk (received in the last two days), in terms of student work I will get to coast a little until the mad panic at the end. I hope I can stay on top of all the things I want to get cleared up before I leave in December: that's my primary goal at the moment.

However, that said, I'm not taking anything home with me tonight. Since I have to be on campus tomorrow anyway, I'll leave it all here, in a huge steaming pile on my desk, until after the seminar. Then I'll stagger out to the car, carrying far more than I have any realistic hope of getting done over what will be left of the weekend--but somehow it feels irresponsible to leave hunks of it on my desk over the weekend, as if somehow it matters where the stuff sits as I dig down the stack. But I already feel my brains shutting down for the evening, so whatever further thinking needs to be done will have to wait for the new day.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Been a while

Whew. I haven't blogged in a while, and it's rather strange to be back at it--and back with my primary focus on work instead of on my personal life. I was realizing today what a lovely narcotic work can be: it provides highs (especially if one considers any kind of adrenaline rush a "high"--even the ones caused by a difficult situation); it is a magnificent distraction ("I can't worry about that now, I have to focus on work").

And it does provide moments of genuine enjoyment. Had a good class with the short story students today, all of whom are opening up, talking more, getting into the swing in lovely ways. We ended class early (as usual, it seems) but I think they got their money's worth. Today's 101 was also good: I explained their final projects, assigned their groups, and set them to work on their ideas for their project proposals. Mr. Macho was there--despite having stormed out of our last class meeting, angry because, yes, his paper was still due on the due date, despite the fact that he wasn't in class.

Let me digress about that for a moment: I've not encountered this problem before, but it keeps cropping up this semester. Somehow, despite what I say in class and despite what it says in the syllabus, students have the idea that if they simply miss the class when a paper is due, they can turn it in the next class with no penalty. I find I resist adding even more language to my late-paper policy (if I try to cover every single potential contingency, my syllabus will end up requiring a fork-lift to move around)--but on the other hand, this mentality about due dates seems to be suddenly mushrooming, and I don't much want to continue to fight about it. Mr. Macho's reaction was somewhat larger and more belligerent than most, but the exchange was pretty typical in gist: "Why did I get points off my paper for it being late??" "Because it was due on Tuesday and you didn't turn it in until Thursday." "But I wasn't here!" "I know, but your paper was still due." "But I wasn't here!!" "Nevertheless, the paper was due on the day it was due!" "But I was sick!!!" At which point the professor wants to say, "Are you repeating this because you think I am stupid, or don't understand English, or am deaf? And have you actually heard what I said?" Yet, working to maintain calm, she replies, "I understand that you had a good reason not to be here, but the paper was still due." "What was I supposed to do, send it from my coffin??" Professor, finally starting to see red: "[Student's name]: You weren't dead, you were sick. E-mail still works when you're sick." Mr. Macho was ready to keep going a few more rounds, but I said to the entire class, "Once you have your paper back you can go" and he stormed out.

But, as I said, he was back today--being super friendly, no doubt a complete act, but I am more than happy to pretend he's being genuine and give him friendliness in return. And he was actually pretty well focused and being a good student today. He asked a question and made sure to clarify that he wasn't trying to be obstreperous (my term, not his obviously), just was trying to understand. He turned in his paper at the end of class--incorrect format and font. I called him over, saying in sort of teasing sorrow, "I don't want to have to take the format and font penalty! Look, this is what you need to do. Can you fix it and drop it off for me tomorrow?" We went over what was wrong and what he needs to fix, and I said if I get it corrected tomorrow I won't take any penalty.

I find I really want this kid to pass. Funny how invested I've gotten in this student I sometimes would cheerfully strangle.

On the other hand, Mr. Contempt, from a different section, is mercifully gone. Before I took this little private vacation, I pointed out to him that he doesn't have the grades to pass and that his best bet would be to withdraw. I was very nervous about the conversation but kept it quite civil and friendly--and out he's gone. I'm trying madly to weed out the ones who are either just taking up space (when we get to group work, everyone needs to be working, no dead wood) or who are problematic. Figuring out groups around Mr. Macho was interesting--but from what I saw in class today, most of the groups are going to pull together nicely. His may not, but it won't be because of personality problems, I don't think. The other groups seem to be working together very well indeed--and in one of them, I'm delighted to see one of the more shy, retiring young women taking the leadership role. Cool.

But now that I'm getting back into the groove, I realize how much I want to accomplish in the remaining weeks of the semester--not just with these classes, but prepping for next semester, as I won't have a chance between semesters, not without messing up my time with family and loved ones, which I won't do. So I have to sort of switch on the afterburners and rocket ahead.