Notice about Cookies (for European readers)

I have been informed that I need to say something about how this site uses Cookies and possibly get the permission of my European readers about the use of Cookies. I'll be honest: I have no idea how the cookies on this site work. My understanding is that Google has added a boilerplate explanation. That's the best I can do.
Student Readers: A Warning

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.

Follow by Email

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I'm out

Results of the run-off for P&B were in today. Two candidates got enough votes to get in, but there has to be another run off for the third position--and based on what was going on with my candidacy, I've withdrawn my name from consideration. I'm disappointed--and I confess my ego is a little bruised, as it is a bit of a popularity contest (and my numbers went down, not up): I truly do/did like doing the work, though sometimes the stress levels got pretty high. Ah well. There was a moment last week when I considered withdrawing anyway, just as a stress alleviator--and now the stress will be alleviated. One of those times when the universe helps out by making sure the best thing happens, despite what we may think we want. I already am thinking of ways to take it a lot easier next year, committee-wise (I can afford to relax for a year before I start pushing for full); among other things, I hope I can refocus attention on my teaching--and on the large (and wonderful) changes happening in my personal life.

Both classes went pretty well today, and I had productive meetings with two students in my office. One is working very very hard to comprehend The Left Hand of Darkness: he admits that he doesn't read much, so it's a skill he hasn't developed. We worked on strategies to help him--and I suggested (among other things) that he start focusing on what he does understand instead of what he doesn't: the sense of getting it will begin to self-reinforce, instead of feeling confused, which tends to lead to a block against understanding (the brain feels dizzy and can't take in even things that normally would make sense). I hope it helped: the students have proposals for their final papers due at the start of next week, and the ones who have a hard time understanding the novel are going to be facing a brutally difficult task.

The other student who came to my office came in to work on a revision (special circumstance, so he gets a little more time). But I think I mentioned him earlier: he's sharing the novel with friends at work, discussing it there, and having a blast getting his mind blown. He's really grooving on it now: mega-cool.

I probably have more I could say, but it's getting late and since I was too wound up to sleep well last night (got about 4 hours worth) and still feel wired for sound, despite eyelids made of heavy-grit sandpaper, so I need to find ways to unjazz myself. My usual soporifics haven't been working well of late, so I'm not quite sure what I'll try, but here's hoping for success.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Physically better. Got about 7 1/2 hours sleep, thank God, and the body has calmed down. Classes went OK (102 a little bit like pulling impacted wisdom teeth again), churning through stuff, turning the crank, as Dad used to say. The poetry students did some very good work on a couple of very difficult poems, and at the end (forgetting how much I'd assigned), I asked them to move on to one more. They hadn't read it before, but it was pretty much just for fun anyway: Susan Griffin's "Answer to a Man's Question, 'What Can I Do About Women's Liberation?'" A fine and funny rant. I let them go early (wow, there's a shock)--but three of the young women stayed to talk to me about their final paper proposals. I love doing that kind of one-on-one work, and I look forward to getting the results. Smart and hard-working young women, all three of them. Nice.

However, I did just type in three (THREE!) papers to check for plagiarism. I have a sneaking suspicion that none of them includes the kind of plagiarism that will turn up with an internet check, though, dammit. Sometimes work in the E-Cheat type sites won't turn up (as one has to buy/download the entire paper to get at the bits that students have used)--and sometimes, the students have shuffled things just enough that whatever formulae/logorithms the computer program uses can't catch the raided source. There is also always the help from boyfriend/girlfriend/cousin/Mom/whoever kind of plagiarism, and that really is pretty much impossible to catch. I'm not going to drive myself insane over this (as I sometimes do--especially earlier in the semester, when I have more energy for righteous indignation). If the computer software doesn't find anything, I'll let them get away with it. None of the papers is good enough to get a great grade anyway: plenty of other problems. And I have a Pollyanna-esque sense that somehow the students will get their come-uppance somewhere, if not from me then somewhere down the road.

But I do feel rather defeated, or deflated, or some such thing, when I encounter papers that raise the red flags. "Oh, Honey, if you'd just try to THINK, you'd probably do OK..."

There is, of course, a lot of other stuff that needs to be graded/marked, sitting there on the radiator, looking at me with a blank stare: "Yeah? And what are you going to do about me?" Ignore you, for the time being. I will have a reasonable chunk of time tomorrow to chip away at that pile of student work, possibly even the mental energy to write up the observation I conducted, oh, a while ago. The law of diminishing returns is making itself manifest at the moment, however. My intention is to find something relatively innocuous to do to whittle away the time until Paul is done with his evening class, after which we will go out for a celebratory carnivorous blow-out dinner. Very happy to be feeling up for that tonight. Geez, it's nice to feel better after feeling poorly. And the sun is shining, God's in His heaven and all's right with the world. For now.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Soooooo tired

I pretty much bailed on both classes this afternoon. I got very little sleep last night, on top of two days of not feeling very well (since developing celiac, any stress hits me straight in the guts: I feel rather like a ferociously squeezed toothpaste tube). I spent the whole morning trying to decide if I could make it through the day, going back and forth, and finally had used up what little energy I had about five minutes before my first class--by which time it felt a bit idiotic to cancel. I might as well have, however, as I let the students go almost immediately after taking attendance. In 101, I met with two students who wanted to go over papers with me. (I hope what we did was productive. They both felt more confident, at any rate, which is good.) The rest went off to work on their projects. In 102, I collected revisions, returned reading journals, talked to them a minute about reading journals, and then told them I'd hang out for anyone who wanted my help with anything, but that otherwise they could go and put the time to whatever was most productive for them--including a nap, which is what I was/am aching for. A few hung out for a while: one of them is having a great time with the novel; he's reading it with his work buddies, talking it over with them, enjoying having his mind blown by some of Le Guin's ideas. Very cool.

In terms of my own nap needs, however, now it's that awkward limbo time when it's too late to nap and too early to go to bed. Still, my eyes are burning, and I am utterly incapable of doing anything remotely productive. Despite being out of bed at 5 this morning, I accomplished almost nothing--and still have the papers to grade for 265, which need to be ready to return by tomorrow at 2. That means another morning of getting up well before dawn, but I'm hoping I can wind down sufficiently to get to bed at a commensurately early hour tonight. To do that, however, I have to regretfully miss dance class. I really hate missing it--but tonight it's way more important to be home and winding down (something I'm not doing very well at these days, I confess).

Sweet moment a minute ago: student from 102 came to the office to turn in his paper--and he asked me if he could use my poem about how students misread Sexton's "The Starry Night" as a critical source. I said that poems are not critical sources, but it was flattering--and he actually used lines from the poem in a way that made it sound like it could have been. Really, I was flattered and touched that he wanted to use my work that way. Another nice moment: a student from 101 is so worked up about the topic for her second paper that she joined the Sierra Club's fight against the Hetch Hetchy dam, sent them money.... Her family is making fun of her, but I told her I thought it was terrific. It is great when something clearly is getting through. It may not be what I'm most worried about, but it's something, and it is valuable to them, and that's truly uplifting.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ah, that's better

I feel a little bit more like a teacher today, less like a schitzoid zombie. One student in the poetry class today had a proposal ready: we talked about it for a moment after class, and she's got a good idea to work on. She's decided to do some poems beyond what we read for class, which is also cool. I'm keeping my plagiarism antennae actively vibrating (for all my students, not this one in particular), but I'm looking forward to evaluating what she's up to.

I also had a productive and friendly conference with one of my 101 students this morning. She is trying very hard, is very earnest, and I'm hoping madly that she can incorporate at least some of what we talked about. I will be meeting with another of the struggling students tomorrow. I am, as I think I have said, enormously proud of them that they are still in there fighting to learn. I may get frustrated and despairing about how far they still have to go, but the fact that they refuse to give up is laudable. My heart breaks for them sometimes: they try so hard, and in many cases, much of their effort is for naught (trying hard at the wrong thing being at best an exercise in futility). All I can do is point out, over and over, where to put the effort, what kind of effort, to try to break it down and simplify and clarify until what they need to learn can finally work its way under their skin, into their DNA.

I have to remind myself that the students are, in essence, unlearning years of bad habits--and are for the first time being required to think, period. I have to try to help them learn a whole new way of using their brains as well as a complete set of new habits, a process that requires patient and continual iteration. (I'm not terribly good a the patience part in any aspect of my life, so the need for iteration is often uncomfortable for me: I try not to get testy about it, but being human, sometimes I inadvertently show my irritation.) I know--and have been forgetting of late--that often the result of all the work I will do this semester won't be apparent for at least another semester if not another year--or two, or many. I do need to see a certain amount of progress, a certain skill level, in order to feel a student is adequately prepared for work at the next level: I adamantly believe it does students zero favors to pass them along only for them to hit a brick wall at the next level. (Think about students who have a "describe your favorite pet" 101 class and then end up in a section of 102 taught by someone with serious academic standards.) But I have to remember that the progress may be minuscule, and that "just barely" may be as close as some students can get--and may, for now, be enough. Not enough for a high grade, but enough to keep the student moving forward. The learning may lag behind a bit. One hopes (with a certain desperation) that the learning will, in fact, eventually happen.

Today's 102 did better than they have in a while in terms of discussion. They were still a bit on the quiet side when in their groups, but I gave them some time to work individually before putting them in groups, which I think helped at least a little. Some of them used that time just to read the novel, trying to get caught up--but I'll take that, if that's the best we can do right now. No one, not one student in that section, has gotten as far as I have assigned: I'm very nervous about that, as their proposals are due next week, and if they haven't gotten at least most of the way through the novel, they're going to have a hell of a hard time coming up with a reasonable paper thesis. But we did get to talk about thematic stuff, some of which arose from getting plot points straight. (Talk about iteration: we had to review portions of the novel we've already talked about at least two or three times. But if that's what it takes to get them to understand, then OK, that's what we'll do. I did get a sense that some of them are at last starting to feel like they have a handle on what's going on.) I'm looking forward to tomorrow's group. I'll probably structure the day pretty much the same way (individual review, group work, class discussion), but that bunch is ready to move on to the next thematic issue, which should be fun.

Of course, I have a stack of homework to chip through, as I want to get as much back to them as possible tomorrow (reading journals at least, so they have those for their proposals). I'm expecting a student from 102 any minute now, coming in for help with her revision--and this will be a delight, as she's very bright and has interesting ideas.

God, it's nice to feel the burden of self-castigation lift. This is decidedly not one of my better semesters in terms of, well, just about anything, but weighed against a career, a ragged semester now and then is not catastrophic. Something else for me to remember.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Apologies needed

I have just learned a few very important lessons about this blog--and need to reassure some of my students, who have been reading it. I re-read my own entry from a few days ago, and I realize that it did sound awful--mean, nasty--and I apologize. I was overly tired, in a rotten mood, and wrote/posted without thinking fully about who might read what I was saying, much of which was overstated at best. I do get frustrated; I want so much for my students, and it hurts when I feel like I'm not able to give what you need. I get depressed about it, and see the situation as much more bleak and miserable than it is. But I do not, will not, and have not given up on anyone. Even those of you who are struggling, whose last papers didn't pass, still have 55% of your grade yet to go, so every single one of you still has a chance to pass. You will have to work incredibly hard, but you are capable of that hard work, and it can pay off. I use this blog to blow off steam, to vent--and I need to do that because I care very deeply about my students' success. And please, if you are still in any of my classes--101, 102, 265--know that I see that you are clearly dedicated, hard-working, and worth every ounce of effort I can put forth on your behalf. Don't quit, don't give up--but come to me for help. I will do everything in my power to help you, I can't help you if you don't make that effort.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Quick update

I woke up--just because I did, not because of the alarm--at 5:30. Spent some time lying there, considering whether I might fall back to sleep and finally realized I probably wouldn't, so went ahead and got up to go to the seminar. I'm incredibly glad I did. It was fascinating, entertaining (the speaker was wildly funny, made me laugh out loud numerous times)--and very useful in terms of giving me things to think about to improve my pedagogy. I'll note more about it all later, once the main ideas have had a chance to percolate through, but truly, it was a terrific event. Every now and then, being "good" pays off in inexpectedly wonderful ways. Today was fine example of that.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The panic begins

I got the 101 papers back to the students today: it was torturous to grade them (the best grade of the lot was a C+) but they're back in the students' hands (until they boomerang back to me in revision next week). I was gratified that several of them wanted to talk with me today after class (which was an event we went to, not me having to teach--and I was very proud to see that my students were taking notes and genuinely paying attention, unlike the student from another class who sat in front of me and played games on his phone the whole time). Still, I feel frustrated that it takes them this long to realize that they need help--and not only to realize it but to come get it. But I will give them what I can in the time we have left. Whatever despair I feel arises because I actually do care. I want to give up, but I won't--and days like today, when students come to me for help--trusting that I will give it to them--make me remember why I don't give up. As long as I feel like something, anything, is getting through, I keep trying, no matter how worn out and despairing I get.

In fact, I'm starting to get panic e-mails and calls from students in all classes, wanting to meet with me for help. One 102 student, whose paper is due on Monday, e-mailed tonight to ask if she could meet with me. Unfortunately, the hour before the revision is due is the only time I have. I did suggest she use the Writing Center--and that she contact me via e-mail for whatever help I can give over the weekend. I also met today with a student who was unhappy with his reading journal marks and his paper grades: I felt awful as we've tried several times to meet and I kept having to put him off--but we finally got together, and I think he has at least a trifle better understanding of what I'm looking for. Whether he can implement it in his work is another issue, but I again made the offer of help via e-mail. I hope he takes me up on it.

Tomorrow I'm supposed to go to a seminar on student apathy, which I very much want to attend, as I want to find ways to deal with it more productively. But the prospect of having to get up pre-dawn to get to the stupid thing on time is unbelievably painful (why why why do they start these events so fucking early??). I may decide not to set the alarm and see when I wake up: if it's early enough for me to get there, I'll go--or I may simply go late (though I really do hate to do that). I will ride tomorrow, regardless. The weather is supposed to be gorgeous, and I missed last week, so....

But I am falling over tired--and I haven't eaten dinner yet (need to get something healthier than trail mix into my body)--so this will suffice for today.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

101 Blues

I've graded two and a fraction of the seven papers I have for 101. The two I graded did not come close to passing. (One could have earned a very low D if she'd done all the requirements and turned it in on time; the other would have been an F under the best of circumstances.) The one I started also is not looking very good: a D at best. The other four papers will probably be at least passing, if not reasonably good--though having said that, I'm madly touching wood, as students can fall into the abyss very unexpectedly. For example, the smartest student in that class seems to have vanished: he e-mailed me some time ago to tell me he'd broken his foot and to ask permission to e-mail his paper. I granted it and encouraged him to keep in touch with me about his foot so I'd have a sense of when he'd be back to class--and I did not receive the paper and haven't heard from him since, not even after sending an e-mail asking if he's still expecting to come back (and telling him I'd very much like him to).

I'm so utterly discouraged. The three students whose papers I've read (or started) won't pass the class, as their current papers reflect their work all semester. This is a new--and shamefully bad--record, even for me, to start with 23 students and at the end of the semester pass four. I'm not even talking about good grades here: I'm talking about just passing. Of the four, one is probably capable of solid B-level work; the others seem to be pretty much in C territory.

I wish I could just sign off on the entire course right now, cut my losses, and put my energy into the classes where it might still do some good. This is advice I frequently give students who don't have very good chances of passing, but as the professor, I can't just bail: I have to gut it out to the end, even if it just feels like pouring myself down the drain, draining myself for zero positive result. God, this is flat-out painful.

And I know I only have to get through four and three-quarters papers to have that bunch off my desk, out of my life (until the revisions come in), yet I just feel sick at the prospect of facing them. I'm not sure what to do here to turn this around for myself.

Add to all that malaise the fact that I am such an utter mess this semester that I completely forgot that the poetry students had a mini-paper due today, that their proposals--about which I have told them zero, zip, nada--are due on Monday. Obviously I'll revise that due date so I can talk to them about the assignment, but the fact that I just plain forgot? That's frightening. In the past I've felt like a plate spinner, but I always managed to keep most of them from crashing to the ground. This semester, I'm standing in a heap of smashed crockery, looking about me in a fog, wondering, now what?

So, OK, now what? I will do what I can to get the poetry class sorted out next week, adjusting due dates--and letting go of any late policy in terms of mini-papers (at this point, I just want them to get the work done and get credit for it: I don't much care about holding them rigidly to rules). In the 102s, we'll start talking about thematic issues in the novel (now that they're mostly starting to understand it), and I'll get them set up for their proposals. And 101? I'll finish this blog and then plug myself into my iPod, listen to whatever music fits my needs--knowing that sometimes the music will be a distraction, but that's OK--and simply force myself through the papers until it's time to go meet Paul.

And I will try very hard not to think about the fact that I'll be teaching three sections of 101 in the fall--not to think about the abject dread I feel at the prospect. Nope, don't go there. Get through this first, and dream of the summer to come.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A little bit of a miracle

I did not get all the papers done for today (101 still in a stack beside my desk), but I returned the papers for both 102 sections, so they can now work on their revisions. Even just that much is a small miracle for me these days.

I'm going to skip 102 tomorrow morning to chip away at the 101 papers--after getting some sleep, please heaven. I was up at 5 this morning so I could get those 102 papers done, and both yesterday and today, if it hadn't been for the alarm, I'd have slept until God knows when. (My body is finally starting to override my mania. "I don't care how wound up you are, dammit, go to sleep and stay there!") All I had planned for the class was a little review of sentence-level problem spots and then more discussion of the novel: they won't miss anything by not having the class, which probably wouldn't have run the entire period anyway. I do intend to come in for the poetry class in the afternoon, but if I'm too exhausted (or haven't gotten enough grading done), I'll cancel that, too. We've been joking in the office about "snow days." William will declare a snow day for his classes on Monday; Paul's declaring one for himself tomorrow. (I've had more snow days than both of them put together--but I've always been pretty good about taking a lot of time for myself when I feel I need it.)

Class or no class, Paul and I are going to go out for a drink tomorrow: he needs to blow off some steam--and I need to celebrate getting promoted to associate. That also feels like a bit of a miracle: of the ten people from this department who applied, six of us got it--including all five of the applicants from my "year" (the people who were hired the same time I was). That means William and Kristin got it, too, which is great: we're all so close, it would have been unhappy if some had made it and others not. Now we have to keep fingers and toes crossed for Paul when he goes up next year (he decided to wait a year--which means I now outrank him, something I'll take great pleasure in rubbing his nose in at opportune moments).

But getting back to the classes today: I realized that there is actually a reason why 101 is so painful (beyond my general impatience to get this semester over with). Because there are so few students left--and because even the best of them still can't quite operate on full college level--it's torture to try to do anything at all with them. We can't have a profitable discussion about the reading (because half of them won't have read it or won't have understood it), and for some reason it feels weird to go over nuts-and-bolts stuff in "chalk and talk" mode with them (I guess because I am so indoctrinated in the "small group/interactive learning" methodology that lecturing only feels appropriate to a large group? Hard to explain or even understand myself). In any event, I canceled the last two readings and their accompanying journals. One student asked if they could do them as extra credit and I said no, rather fiercely: "If I'm canceling them, that means I don't have to deal with them either." (They laughed.) The other advantage to canceling those readings is now I don't have to re-read them--another time bonus. Thursday we're going to go to attend a talk on local environmental initiatives given by a state assemblyman. All next week, I'm turning them loose to work on their final projects. I'll be there to help, but any substantive teaching feels futile at this juncture, so I've stopped trying to do the heavy lifting. There's pedagogically useful stuff still going on, even if the in-class time is decidedly unstructured: they'll still be doing revisions of the papers I have yet to mark and return; they'll still be doing their projects and final papers (which arise out of their projects) and an in-class final. And all that will be good enough.

One nice thing: I have no more work to collect from anyone this week, so whatever is in my hands right now is what I'm going to have until Monday. Therefore, I stand a fighting chance of getting the decks clear at some point in the next week or so--and that really is a miracle. There are little niggly bits of P&B business I have to tend to (setting up appointments to interview potential adjuncts; writing up the last of my observations) and of course the various committee meetings continue unabated (and yes, I was a good girl and went to departmental curriculum today), but that's all just what Daddy would have called turning the crank: churning away at the routine. Once I get the present stack of stuff out of my hair, I'll have a little bit of a breather. Evaluating revisions doesn't need to take much (they don't care about comments, just the grade); proposals are a bit of a push (I have to turn them around fast), but they're short and relatively easy to respond to. At the end of the semester I have to read a hell of a lot (but no marking!) and the number crunching takes some time but no processing/responding (which is the part that is painful). But that is always just a week of mania and then blissful collapse into sea cucumber status. Ahhh, that will be great.

And it's four weeks and two days from right now. Still seems too long, and still is going idiotically slowly, but I know the pace will soon pick up wildly: that whole down-side of the roller-coaster ride, fling-your-hands-in-the-air-and-scream thing.

Right at the moment I'm noodling away time until dance class. I am not even telling myself I "should" be working, as I know damned well I don't have anywhere near the requisite brain for it. (The last two 102 papers I graded were incredibly difficult: they were both good papers, but I have no idea if I was making anything approaching sense in my commentary, as I was unsure whether the problems were with their writing or my ability to comprehend, which is seriously compromised at the moment.) Dance will be great: no brain required (and in fact it can be a hindrance). For some reason I'm a little gun-shy about hustle these days--despite a blast of a class on Sunday, in which I was the demo model for not one but two instructors--but I'll do it anyway and if I trip over my own feet (or someone else's), so be it. Then to stagger home and fall blissfully into bed. God, that sounds good!

By the way, regarding P&B election: we're having a run-off--and all the candidates are still in the race. I'm afraid we're going to have a zillion run-offs: if we all insist on remaining as candidates, why would anyone change a vote? The only thing that might make a difference is that on the last ballot a number of people voted for only two candidates instead of three: if everyone votes for three, that might put a few of us over the top? We'll see. My vote isn't changing, that's for sure. Nor is my determination to remain a candidate--unless it becomes clear that I'm losing votes and becoming less likely to be elected (in which case I would graciously bow out--and drown my sorrows in, well, knowing me, a hot fudge sundae or something rather than booze).

Oh, but thinking of committee service reminds me: I got the most wonderful compliment from a colleague today! Saw him in the hall after the curriculum meeting, and he told me I was nifty, that I always say something clear, to the point, and constructive in meetings: that I am not pushy but direct and strong. I was utterly flattered and delighted: what a lovely thing to be told--and how lovely of him to make a point to tell me. Added a bright spot to the day, and the week. Praise is a wonderful thing, isn't it? Something to remember when thinking about poor, struggling students.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I just cannot cannot cannot get these idiotic, maddening papers done. I had to run another (unsuccessful) plagiarism check: I just know that the paper is plagiarized from somewhere, as the ideas are more unique (and some of the phrasing possibly too sophisticated) for this particular student to come up with, but nothing turned up, and honestly, it took so long just to do the checks I did, at this point, if the student is getting away with something, oh well. And I may try to adopt that attitude for the entire T/Th section of 102 (whose papers are as yet not even glanced at). But I am fucking HATING this process, far more than usual. I have two more papers (well, one and a half) to finish for tomorrow's class, then a huge dollop for Tuesday--and I don't know if I'll be able to force myself through the hours needed to get those done. If I don't, well, the due date for revision just keeps getting pushed back and back and back. Eventually, I'm going to run out of semester.

I did go to dance class today, despite the fact that I accomplished so little with the rest of the weekend (and yes, I'm blogging now instead of finishing those last two papers). It actually helped to go to dance: I was in such a funk this morning that I don't think I'd have gotten any more done, possibly less, if I'd bailed on dance and stayed home to work. I keep telling myself that the only way to do this is just to do it, to do it and get it done: this is really the last horrible push of the semester. I never mark as much on revisions, and I don't mark final papers at all (took me a long time to learn that lesson). So if I can just get them done, the relief will be huge. I know that, I know it and it does not act as sufficient spur to get me to just nail myself to the work.

So Scarlett again rears her ugly head.

And again, I may find myself canceling class to get the work done for class. Poetry may get the fuzzy end of this particular lollipop (or, as Miss Mamzelle Hepzibah, of Pogo fame, would say, this loolipoop). (OK, yes, I'm trying to amuse myself out of this entrenched resistance.)

I suppose it's a silver lining of sorts that I've not been sleeping past six a.m. for the past week anyway, alarm or no, so getting up at 5:30 the next two mornings won't be anything new or unusual. (I don't expect I'll do much better with sleep until, oh, June, maybe. Ah well.)

But now that I've taken a petite break, I feel refreshed enough to finish up those last two papers, then hit myself upside the head with a frying-pan so I will fall into bed and sleep, then to fling myself at the rest of the papers with renewed resolve tomorrow (hah!).

May 20 (the end of the semester for me) is thirty-one days away--which is thirty-two too many. Groan. No way out but through.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Blogging early today, largely because I feel I need to be doing something and yet feel unable to be very productive right now. Slept well last night (thank you, whatever gods may be!), woke up before the alarm but not by much and felt rested enough that it was not agonizing. However, I did wake up with a headache (win some, lose some). I have that pretty well under control at the moment (thank you, Excedrin!)--and despite a moment of cowardice as I lay in bed, in which I thought, "OK, well, I slept, but I do have a headache, so I could still cancel classes...," I got myself here and taught a decent class this morning. The students were utterly unfazed by the lack of returned papers and consequent postponement (again) of the revision due date. I went over the final assignment with them, so those who want to start work on it (who want more than the week between revision and proposal) know what to work on. Over the next few weeks, I'll keep asking them if they have questions, checking in to make sure they feel like they know what they need to do. But it's on them if they have concerns. If they don't ask, I won't explain any further than I already have.

I spent a little time doing grammar review, arising from their homework for today. I could have kept going, but I could feel their attention starting to wane, so I put them in groups to work on their understanding of the novel. They seem to be doing a little better, though of course, I'd be happier if they were digging into a deeper level of understanding instead of just trying to get the basics. Ah well. I did not leave the groupings to random chance but carefully selected them, and I liked the selection. I may stick with those groups for the rest of the semester. Something to think about.

I don't have a lot of enthusiasm for the poetry class today. I'm not wild about the poems (assigned because they are culturally significant, period), but the students did a pretty damned good job with what we went over on Monday, so maybe they'll do most of the heavy lifting today. One can hope.

But speaking of that class, I got an e-mail this morning from a student, frantic about his difficulties writing the paper that was due on Monday, not asking for help, necessarily, just for a little impulsion from me to get him going. (My response was, in essence, "breathe, stop stressing yourself out, write something--anything--and bring that in. We'll figure it out from there.") What struck me about the e-mail, however, was the "voice" in it, which is powerfully reminiscent of the voice in e-mails from other intelligent young male students. It's a voice I find quite charming, actually: a rather brilliant stream of consciousness muscular struggle, filled with determination and angst in equal measure. I love working with students like that. All their confusion and bewilderment comes out of a desire to do well, to grapple in a significant way with the material, and man, that is just heaven. I'll take that stew any time over smoothly written and organized specious trivialities (boring boring boring--and maddeningly shallow, lacking in anything passing even vaguely for thought). I suspect that this young man--like the former student who called me recently to ask for advice--is finding that he has a class that makes him take himself seriously as a student, and as that is new to him, he has to figure out how to do that. I look forward to seeing him in class today, to talking with him after.

And now that I've given myself time on marking the revisions, I am happily looking forward to writing up the classroom observation from last week, setting up interviews with potential adjuncts, doing other P&B business. (That's Personnel and Budget, Sam, in case you read this before I have a chance to respond to your e-mail.) It will feel good to get my feet clear of that. I may even have a chance to write up tomorrow's observation tomorrow, which would be delicious: then I can cross that whole category off my "to do" list.

I do have to be careful, however, not to get so relaxed about the revision reprieve that I put them off too long again and find myself next week in the exact same hole. I know I'll be doing umpty-ump plagiarism checks (murmph, rowr, bazz-fazz, to use Pogo-isms), but well, there it is. At least I don't feel frantic about the time that will take, annoyed though I am about the need to do it.

And it is a spectacularly gorgeous, sunny day. That brightens a mood no matter what else may be going on. I love the longer days, the warmer temps, the increasing incidence of sunshine, the spreading green. Distracting as hell, but purely beautiful.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


That's when I woke up. Couldn't get back to sleep. This is very unlike my usual insomnia pattern, in which (if I have a problem, which is rare) I struggle to fall asleep but once I'm out, I'll stay out. This waking up at ungodly early hours after nowhere near enough sleep is painful--and the lack of solid sleep is starting to tell on my body again (that sore throat is coming back, dammit). This morning, I gave up at about 4:30, answered some student e-mails, graded a few papers until 6, when my eyes were slamming shut again, so I went back to bed and slept until 8:30. That meant I didn't get to work until 11--and partially as a consequence, I am facing 8 papers to grade by tomorrow at 11 while simultaneously being so tired I could fall over. (The other reason I still have so many to grade is that I keep stopping to run plagiarism checks. Just ran across another paper I have to check--maybe not the whole thing, but at least portions. Fucking hell.)

I honestly don't know quite what to do. The other issue is, even if I were to bag it for tonight (and I think I have to), get up voluntarily at, say, 5:30 tomorrow morning to get those last 8 graded, I'd still be facing the batch I need to have done for Thursday, and--as I said before--I don't know when I'll have time to get those done. Not much time tomorrow, and Thursday is going to be packed as is.

So, again, I have to engage in triage: what to do if I can't get the papers back? I do want to give the students a week to revise, but the postponements up to this point are already cutting seriously into the time in which they should be focusing on their final proposals. But, in the teeth of this current crunch, I tell myself that the vast majority of them wouldn't spend more than a week (and most not even close to that much) on the proposals anyway, so giving them a week should be enough. Right? Oh, hell, I don't know. But if I bought myself that time, I wouldn't have to get up so early--and knowing I don't have to push, perhaps I'll sleep better? OK, perhaps not, as a lot of my sleep disruption has nothing to do with school anxieties, but even if I don't sleep better, it won't matter quite so much, as I'll be able to chip away more slowly.

Hmmmmm, that's starting to feel like a genuine solution. Of course, miscellaneous homework is also stacking up in the meanwhile, but ah well. In five weeks, this will all be departing my life, no matter what happens between now and then.

Somewhere in the back of my head, a little voice is saying, "If I don't sleep well tonight, I'll cancel classes tomorrow." I don't want to, actually. I want to be able to talk with the 102 students about the novel, with the poetry students about--well, anything, actually; they're a kick in the shorts. I have a student coming to see me in my make-up office hour tomorrow (and if I cancel the day, that office hour gets canceled too). By the time I get home tonight, I hope I've made my peace with some solution that feels like it will work for me and for the students. And I hope I sleep. If I don't, well, we'll see.

I did briefly contemplate making the revisions optional, but I am not comfortable with that, as I've been harping on the value of revision all semester. However, I just had a conversation with a student who submitted her paper ridiculously late and told her I wouldn't accept it, therefore she can't do the revision. I'm now thinking, since I haven't graded the damned things anyway, why not give her the zero for the first one (because she did miss the deadline) but still mark it up so she can revise? She'll be happy to have the chance, and as long as I don't have to kill myself to get it done, why not give her the break?

I'm feeling some desperation to hang onto students, especially the pleasant and relatively intelligent ones. Lost both young women to whom I'd offered incompletes (one arrived today and said she figured she should withdraw; since she didn't turn in her paper, yes, that's her best option--but I do wish madly that she'd come to me for help instead of just giving up). Told another student in 101 that she has no hope of passing, so now I'm down to seven in that class. One wasn't there today: he broke his foot, but e-mailed me to ask if he could submit the paper that way. Yes. He's extremely bright; I want him to have every chance possible to get the grade he deserves. Peculiar that the two smartest students in that class both have crappy attendance records. What's that about, do you suppose?

Today's 102 went much better than yesterday's, as I suspected it would. The critical mass has shifted in both classes: the M/W group seemed brighter but less lively at first; now they seem not only less lively but less bright. The T/Th group are much more fun--and much more interesting and interested. They're struggling with the novel, but they are not bitching about it: they're just digging into the struggle. We got into an interesting discussion about gender and gender roles, springing out from the novel and then circling nicely back into it. Love when that happens. It's a relief that they are not bitching about having to read the thing and write papers about it. They're just going "OK, so that's what we need to do...."

I do feel a little funny when someone asks me--as a student did today--how many times I had to read the novel before I got it. Um, once. It really is not hard! But I wasn't quite as brutal about it today: I said that reading the novel required reading skills that college students should possess, but if they didn't we'd just have to work on developing them. Reading skills like, oh, picking up something from context; realizing that the explanation following a word is, in fact, an explanation of the word; making inferences from what is given. I suppose it's too much to ask for some imagination, too. (And I cannot tell you how much it pisses me off when students remark--as they almost always do--that Le Guin must have been on drugs, because of course it is impossible to have a creative imagination without them. Grrrrrr.)


I'm noticing this evening that it is still light--and that when I glance up and out the window, I see green green green. How lovely. I am going to dance class tonight, even though I feel incredibly clumsy and stupid (and even though it will make for a late night, which I shouldn't do, given my sleep problems). I haven't been in a few weeks, and I feel like I need to get out of my head for a while. The madwoman in the attic is making her presence known, and I need to offer her a sedative of some sort. Dance will do.

Monday, April 12, 2010


I'm plugged into my iPod, which is probably a mistake, as the music is a hell of a lot more compelling than my work. I keep telling myself it's a way to keep from drowning in the pabulum of the students' work, but I'm not persuading myself very well.

I've almost got the decks clear to face those first versions of papers, and (as I was just saying to Paul), I realize that for several reasons, I need to significantly reduce the amount of marking I do on those papers. It will be very hard to refrain from the kind of obsessive comment I am famous (notorious?) for, but not only have I gotten myself into a position in which I simply do not have the time for it (not if I want to get the papers back to the students in time for them to revise), I also am once again faced with the futility of that kind of comment. The students appreciate it because it makes them feel they are getting their money's worth, as it were, but they just cannot take it all in, or even a fraction of it. Paul keeps reminding me of the rule of three: give them three concrete things to work on--and one pat on the back. (I remember in my first workshop on being a teacher, one of my grad professors admitting that in one case, the only positive she could come up with was, "Well, you certainly put a lot of words on the page.") I need to focus my comments much more specifically instead of trying to point out everything.

It's spring: the students and professors are rapidly losing focus in the distraction of the beautiful reawakening of the world (green, blooming things, sunshine and warmth, summer palpably approaching...). We all wander off into daydream and mental white noise. And yet, there is still teaching to be done, ostensibly, as well as learning still possible--though neither of those feels very likely. That feeling of bashing myself against a wall of immutable inability grows daily. The students are practically in pain (particularly as the 102s struggle with Left Hand of Darkness, which baffles them completely. I may have been unnecessarily cruel today, but I did say, "You know, honestly, this should not be hard for college students to read. If it is, I'll help you, but you truly need to work on your reading skills.")

Speaking of which, all the work I did with today's 102 to lay groundwork that would help them understand the novel was utterly useless. They are just as baffled as they would have been had I said nothing. I ended up saying it all over again (and will no doubt say it 400 more times before the end of the semester). We were working on the terms they need to put in their glossaries, and you'd have thought they'd never seen any of those terms before--when in fact they have, multiple times, in the first pages of the novel. (I also had to send four students away, as they had not done the reading and did not have their books with them. Sigh.)

Ah, God, why do I bother? Malaise, malaise. I need to gird my loins (grid my lions) and do what I can, little though it may be. I see this lot of students in class 10 more times--but who's counting?

The poetry class was a bit of a circus today (and dammit, one of the plagiarists got out the door before I gave her paper back. Shit.) We actually got into a rather interesting (if chaotic) discussion of race, racism, whether it will always exist, where it comes from, how it is perpetuated, if it's better now than 80 years ago (reading poets of the Harlem Renaissance). I think there is room for that sort of thing (as I think I've said before), that one need not always stick strictly to the slated subject matter of the class. The discussion was pretty wild and woolly (I don't think the part about the milkman still making home deliveries in Hicksville was entirely pertinent), but I just didn't feel like killing the fun. Let 'em blow off some steam, let 'em run around for a while (like recess). We spend more time being serious than not--and they had just killed themselves to get papers done, so what the hell.

I'm rather grateful that 101 will be doing peer review tomorrow: that leaves me a little time to work. Unusually, I'll have an easier day tomorrow than I will on Thursday (observation, norming session, office hour, class class). That means I really have to have the papers for the T/TH 102 graded by end of day Wednesday (yikes). And in turn that means, I really do have to do at least some papers for the M/W 102 today. Tonight. But later. Tomorrow morning I have to review adjunct applications prior to P&B, but tonight I'll do the last of the class feet clearing (so little left and yet so hard to summon the enthusiasm to do it); I'll eat, and then I'll mark some of those 102 papers--at home. I swear. Really. I promise. No matter how tired or out of it I feel. I did wake up, wide awake, at 4:42 this morning, for no apparent reason, finally got up at 5:30, which made for a good, productive morning today but means my energy is truly beginning to flag now. All the more reason to eat soon while it's still relatively early so I can get home and work a little more before it's too late and I'm really cooked.

That being said....

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Damn and damn

Two plagiarists in 265. Both on mini-papers (1-2 page explications of a single poem). They're both getting the Paul letter. I am seriously not in the mood to deal with this shit today. I started marking homework, putting the (smallish) stacks in the order in which I want to be able to return them, hit those two papers--and promptly have put the stacks back in the blue bag used for schlepping things to and from the office. I know it's partly that I'm just in a bad frame of mind today for concentrating on anything, for being professorial and objective, but finding the plagiarized papers left such a bad taste in my mouth that I lost what little appetite I had for the entire endeavor.

But I know I will not be happy with myself if I go to the office tomorrow having accomplished so little. I'll be getting up at 6 (may be another week of that--but I've done it so often I find I don't actually mind any more), but I want to get at least something of value done today. So in a few minutes here I'll work on the final assignment for 101, and maybe the final paper assignment for 102, just so those things are done and can be crossed off the list.

Thinking about the 101 assignment--and again, this is reflective of my current mood--I don't think I've got it in me to try to figure out how to connect their projects to any of the readings in any meaningful way. I'll make it an option, if I can find an easy way to do that, one that will not be confusing to them, but not a requirement.

Whatever. At this point in the semester, as my stamina wanes and I am confronted (again, always) by the enormous gap between what they need to learn and what they can actually pick up and incorporate, I lose sight of what is pedagogically useful. I don't know what I can realistically expect them to learn, or what demands I can still put on them with any hope of them at least trying to come through.

And as I write this, I'm running a plagiarism check on the paper from the male cheater in 102. He got it in just before the drop-dead mark (72 hours after class is over, I won't accept a paper at all any more), and he sent it with a little "I hope you enjoy this" followed by a smiley-face emoticon (ick yuck). Enjoy??? Hardly. Even if it is entirely his work, enjoy is quite the wrong word for what I'll do. (Just checked: it looked like the detector was turning up some plagiarized material, but found no sources for it, so I'll take it as his work. My own quick glance at it? I'd guess a low C--before the 30 point penalty for being late. But now I actually do have to read the fucking thing. Hell.)

But putting together the assignment sheets (as mentioned above) is glorified factory work: I have to change dates, read over to be sure I don't want to change anything significant (tighten up and simplify where I can), and then send it to myself at the office so I can print and copy tomorrow.

I do wish I knew how many students are truly going to remain in 101....

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Six to go

Weeks, that is. Another way of thinking about it is that I see each class 12 more times. Eleven, actually, as the last two days I won't hold classes but will just be finalizing grades. I'm not sure why that seems easier--usually a larger number seems like more to endure--but seeing the kids just 11 more times seems incredibly fast. Yikes, we have a lot to cover in 11 meetings! That in itself makes the time seem much more rapid.

I don't have much to say for the week-end round-up here. The 101 class continues to fall apart (though I think the seven students who are left might have done some moderately productive work); the 102s are staggering toward the finish, and at least the remaining students know enough now to start begging me for help--often too late for me to provide much, but I'll do what I can when they ask. The stack of stuff to be marked by end of next week is not horrific (though I know I'll still put it off until the last possible second and then be tearing my hair out to get it done: that's just my M.O., and I try to accept the fact). I have typed up a revised schedule of assignments for 101, as bumping essay 2 version 1 meant bumping a bunch of other stuff, and the students were getting massively confused as I tried to explain. That will come in next week, along with the second paper from the poetry class, so there is a nice staggered effect to the assignments.

I have to do some thinking about the final project assignment for 101. This semester, I want to include use of one of the required readings, partly as a plagiarism check (I've gotten gun-shy about that) but more as a way of showing connections between what they read and the wider world. I've been feeling lately that students often do not see the way in which their readings in class relate to anything outside of class, and I think that it's important for them to understand that academic material is pertinent to their lives--not just because having a degree helps them find better jobs but because knowing more about the world gives them a richer experience of the it. That's a bit of a tough sell, but I have been sporadically (even spasmodically) working to find ways to make it happen.

I've also ordered from Amazon books I may use for next semester's American short story class. Book order time is here, and I haven't found time to compare style guides, consider lit readers, blah blah.

The election for departmental positions--including P&B--is going on this week and next. I'm worried a bit about P&B: I may not get re-elected, which would be disappointing, despite the relief in terms of time commitment (largely because of the kick to my monumental ego and competitive nature--which I try to pretend I don't have but which, in fact, is quite strong). However, if I do get re-elected, I'm hoping the committee chemistry will fly as well as it does at the moment. I'm suspecting there will be at least one run-off vote: there are a lot of us going up for three positions, and many strong candidates who will have significant following among the faculty. It will be interesting to see what comes of that.

Speaking of P&B, I observed a much-liked colleague today as she taught Children's Literature--and she did a great job. Very interesting lesson, and I kept wanting to jump in with contributions, to participate in the class activities. Part of the lesson was about lullabyes, so I kept wanting to offer to sing the ones I know. (Thank you, Momma!) When the discussion shifted to "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," she asked if anyone would sing it. Resounding silence from the students. She said she wouldn't sing it herself. She asked me if I would--so I did. Not as well as I'd have liked, but well enough for the lesson: this was not a performance, after all, merely a demonstration for pedagogic purposes. The actress in me still craves an audience, apparently. And yes, that is part of why I teach. I joke about it with Mark, my actor friend: I still do my eight shows a week; I just do them for a captive audience that cannot leave at intermission.

Following another random train of thought: I talked to a student in 102 today. This kid is very bright, potentially a very impressive student, and his work has been quarter-assed at best to date. I took him outside and told him that if he had been turning in the kind of work I knew he was capable of, and turning it in on time, he'd be getting at least a solid B+ if not an A. As it stands, he's going to be challenged to pass. I told him it's breaking my heart to see him doing so poorly when I can tell he's got so much potential. I think that got to him: he seemed flattered, even touched that I should care. (He apologized to me. Sweet.) I just hope he pulls himself together now and for the rest of the term. He still won't get the grade he could have, but I might be able to pass him. I'm also very disappointed to report that the student I offered an incomplete to has apparently dropped the ball, as she was not in class with her paper today. (The student in the other 102 with whom I made the same arrangement already bailed: she asked for a withdrawal earlier this week. Shame, really.) Another of the better, more hard-working students was also AWOL today--and no e-mail from either one about late submission. I worry.

By the way, the young man from that class who plagiarized e-mailed today, desperate for help on the paper--the one due, yes, today. He wrote 2 1/2 hours before class, which might be considered a trifle late, but he had the good grace to admit that fact and to be honest with me about how desperate he is. The rather ironic bit, however, is that in class he tried to pretend he didn't know the paper was due, when his own e-mail demonstrated he knew damned well it was. He may have been trying to save face in front of the other students, but I need to speak to this kid about lying. Not that I'll change his behavior: he's making it abundantly clear that his automatic response to a difficult spot is to lie. But never mind my class: he's going to get himself into a truly nasty situation someday if he doesn't man up and start taking the lumps that come with honesty. In fact, I intend to point out to him that his behavior is not manly--because I believe he's got a lot invested in his masculine pride. It's the only way I can think to get through to him. However, in his e-mail, he did admit (again) to plagiarizing and apologized again for it. Good for him. But we'll see what happens from here.

And now I'm going to put my sagging little self into the car, drive to one of my favorite restaurants, have a nice little dinner, go home, and try to unwind. Tired as I am, I'm still pretty jacked up from the week, so it may take some time to let go.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Brain fade

I still have some feet clearing to do before I dive into the new essays, and I'd hoped to get a little more done today, as I won't have much time tomorrow: I'll be conducting an observation during my (rescheduled to next week) office hour, and since I've missed several department meetings in a row, I really do have to go to tomorrow's. I'm hoping it's one of those meetings that either dissolves early or in which the discussion is not something for which I feel I have anything to contribute so I can sign in and split. I still won't get everything done--especially as I'm here so late (the seductive pleasure of chatting with Paul), which means I'm unlikely to get here very early tomorrow--but anything will help. And the students will pretty much have to lump it.

Took the poetry students out on the lawn today (one--wearing a very short, tight skirt, was less than happy about it, but ah well). It was an incredibly quick and easy class; I let them go after about half the class period. We'd discussed the poetry well enough; we'd done what we could in terms of getting them set to use critical material in their next papers (though I shudder to think what I'm going to get).... I just don't see any purpose in torturing them or me by making us stay through the entire 75 minutes, especially on a spectacularly gorgeous day, as today was.

I'm also happy to report that the stack of 102 papers from today's class is pretty teensy. I know I'm going to get at least one more, but I feel less dread facing them than I did. I know I'll get frustrated and miserable when I start reading--and now my plagiarism antennae are on full alert--but the frustration and misery will be of significantly less duration than was the case for first papers.

Attrition is a god-send at this point. Two withdrawals from the poetry class today, and they keep slowly vanishing from 102. I hope I don't lose many more from 101, just because it's going to be hard to maintain a critical mass of minds to make anything work. But considering who's left in all my classes, I can't think of anyone else I actively want to lose, which is a nice position to be in.

But truly, right now my brains are all over the place. I'm going to pack it in. Don't want that sore throat to come back after all.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Home, sick day

I could probably have forced myself to be at work today, go to meetings, hold classes, but that sore throat from yesterday (from Sunday evening, actually) is still hanging on, and since there was nothing utterly crucial going on--not to mention that I have gotten a very tender request to take care of myself--I decided to go in long enough to pick up some work and then came right back home. Of course, I haven't done any of that work, but the day isn't over yet. Now that days are getting longer, I'm hoping the fact that there is still plenty of daylight left will help me get at least enough done so I'm ready for tomorrow. Tomorrow I'm supposed to go to a 9:30 a.m. meeting of departmental assessment: we'll see how much sleep I get tonight, but I may bail on that. I do have to finish photocopying for 265, and I'm wondering if I'll have time between classes to get that done. I'm subbing for a colleague tomorrow after my class, too, but I'm just showing a film, so that's not a problem. But that will make for a long enough day, so not only am I staying home from work, I'm staying home from dance. Second week in a row that I'll miss swing class, but I find I don't mind and don't feel deprived. The nice thing about dance is that it will be there; I can go or miss and it's all the same.

Which cannot be said about the classes I teach. I'm about to get the first version of paper two from all my comps, and I feel completely sick about it. The thought of having to read and mark the papers is literally nauseating, despite the fact that (thanks to attrition), I'll be marking many fewer this round. My dread is heightened because I have a horrible sense that I missed a bunch of plagiarized papers in the first round (I kept finding things online that sounded suspiciously familiar--beyond the two plagiarists I caught), so I'm afraid they'll try it again. Not to mention that I am in a pretty bad place right now, in terms of my emotional stamina. I'm hoping that what I feel at the moment is just a passing mood brought on by the physical malaise, that I'm tired, and cranky, and sapped, and thus feel emotionally hammered. But in terms of the comp classes at least, it's very hard to rouse myself to give the tiniest shit about whether they learn anything at all. Their work is depressing the hell out of me. Even my current 102 student from last fall's 101 is deeply disappointing at the moment. Her work has been sloppy and inadequate and seems to be getting worse. I'm not sure what's up with her, but I need to talk to her....

and writing that, of course, I see that I do, in fact, give rather more than a tiny shit. I'm just monumentally discouraged by the glacially slow progress that is the nature of the composition beast. This time of semester is always tough, as it becomes increasingly clear how little the students have managed to incorporate of what they've ostensibly learned; it's just especially tough this semester because I want to pole-vault over the remaining weeks and have it done and over with. And yet there is no way out but through. Head down and slog, Tonia, head down and slog.

However, in my ongoing determination to find silver linings and all that, I need to remind myself that I do reach students, more often than I am sometimes aware. Sara told me yesterday that one of her 101 students is in my 102 (a very bright and earnest student); the student showed Sara her first paper, on which she got a C, and said that although I was tough, she liked it because she felt she was learning. Nice.

Last night I also had a longish conversation with a student from several years ago: he was in another dream section of Nature in Lit, very bright and interesting young man, wonderful writer, and we've kept in touch over the years. He's gotten accepted to a couple of master's programs and wanted my advice about how to proceed. Talking to him, I can feel the calling that will make him a brilliant teacher, and I was truly honored that he sought out my feedback. That in itself was lovely enough, but one of the best things for me in our conversation was that he said I was one of the few professors he had at Nassau who took it seriously, which made him want to take it seriously as well--and that my class was like what he experienced once he went on to Stony Brook. I'm half tempted to have students like him write up testimonials along those lines for me to use in "advertising" future sections of 281. So many students--like Smirky Bitch from last semester's 229--think I'm insanely difficult and demanding, whereas I think I'm being a college professor....


Just glanced over at the work I brought home. It really isn't much, and won't be difficult to get done once I start doing it. And yet I resist, and find myself wondering what else I can do to procrastinate. Lying on the sofa staring off into space and daydreaming sounds good but wouldn't work, as it would leave the volume turned up on the "should" voice. If I'm going to procrastinate, I need something that will drown out that voice. Or I need to put on some good music and just get to it.


Monday, April 5, 2010

I'm baaaaack (ugh)

The transition out of break mode and back into teaching mode is turning out to be unusually difficult this semester. It's difficult for the students, too, in large measure because the weather is spectacularly gorgeous. We always tend to lose bodies in the seats when the weather is nice, especially after a gray winter, as this one was, but I wonder if the students are having somewhat the same emotional reaction I am: the weeks to come will be our longest push of the semester, and it doesn't seem fair that now--after a few weeks and a break, a few weeks and a break--we have to put our heads down and slog for seven weeks. I know that pretty soon I'll be in the "hang onto the lap bar and squeal" end of things, but it's hard to hold onto the fact that the last weeks always go faster than seems possible at this stage, when everything requires Sisyphean effort.

None of this is helped by the fact that I've been feeling a sore throat/incipient cold or something creeping up on me the last few days. All I want to do is go home and go to bed, but I do have student assignments to mark (only a few, but I don't want to fall behind again just yet) and photocopying to do, and and and.... Once I embark on the "To Do" list, I feel that boulder starting to roll back downhill. Argh.

I postponed the paper for 102 so I'd have a chance to go over the unassigned (but possible for paper topic) poems with the students--and I didn't even try. I could tell that, bodily presence notwithstanding, they weren't really in the room, and honestly, neither was I. Instead, I gave them a reminder about title formats (and why they matter), about quoting poetry, about the requirements for the paper--and then I just sat, tailor fashion, on the desk and gave them some background on The Left Hand of Darkness so they have at least a small spar to hang onto in the ocean they're about to find themselves floundering through. Time was, I pretty much refused to give them any set up, just flung them in the deep end (mixing watery metaphors)--and pedagogically, I still think that's a sound approach. But I have also learned that they feel better about their massive confusion if I give them at least a little something first, and if I reassure them that it is natural and normal for them to be confused. And when they feel better, I don't have to work so hard. It's self-preservation and self-protection, actually, not pedagogy.

Of course, I am more than a little tetchy about the fact that the novel is so hard for them. It really is not a hard read at all. I grant you, not everyone's cuppa tea--and I also grant you that Le Guin generally takes a long time winding up a plot before she turns it loose. I personally like that, but it also arises from the fact that she has to set up an entire world (and in the case of LHoD, an entire and entirely unusual race of human beings). But the woman is skilled as a writer, and nothing is given without the context--or a direct explanation--making it clear. Yet somehow students are so rattled by the new/strange words that they utterly miss the definition that follows directly after. They also don't know what to ignore, what to just let wash over them, "OK, this is just there for verisimilitude, nothing to try to remember or understand any better, next?"

I did trot out "verisimilitude" for them today and told them they can now fling it about at cocktail parties to impress their friends. (OK, my warped sense of humor, that these kids would go to cocktail parties and that their friends would be impressed by a fifty dollar word.)

Modern poetry was equally difficult, akin not merely to pulling teeth but to doing an impacted wisdom-tooth removal. Gawd. I let them go half an hour early--but ended up having a nice conversation with a lovely student (I'm sure I've talked about her before) who is struggling to find focus but who has all the chops to do well, if she would just do period.

And I'm here blogging instead of cranking through the stuff I need to return to students tomorrow. (Whining and complaining about it, looking for any distraction: sometimes I feel like I'm six years old.) But it is rather nice to get back to the blog. The more I can do the routine things, the more the muscle memory will take over and I'll get back into the head space of "Oh, right, this is what I do, I remember how this goes." And seven weeks is not really all that long, in the grand scheme of things (she says, hoping madly to convince herself that it is not, in fact, an eternity or two).