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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Grim

OK, so one confirmed plagiarist in 102--and he was warned in his proposal that I suspected he was plagiarizing. He did more of the same in his final paper. I just finished writing him a letter and am having an anxiety attack, imagining him harassing me about it, even though I told him I would not discuss it with him and that he needed to refer any "defense" to Bruce. (Sorry, Bruce.) Also just realized that I really did set myself up for an ungodly crunch in terms of the poetry class by allowing people to submit so much stuff so late (OK, file that under "never again"--but I was so scattered with them all semester, I didn't feel I could be too draconian at the end). The student who wanted to turn in his paper tomorrow e-mailed me to say that he has to work all day so can't meet with me. I replied that clearly work was his priority, which was fine, but it did mean that he is out of options in terms of my class. I'm tremendously unhappy about it, as he was a delight when he was in class, and was capable of terrific work. Hell and blast and hell and shit.

I will be very glad when this is all a distant memory.

I did get all the papers graded and numbers crunched for today's 102. I'll wait and post all the grades at the same time, which will also give me time to think about whether to make a student take the C he actually earned (because of missing homework and reading journals) or whether to give him the gift of the B his papers could have gotten him. (I'm inclined to make him face the music about that missing work.) I also need to consider whether to give a mercy D to a student: if he needs to transfer, he'll have to take the class again anyway--but really, his work shouldn't pass (and again, I'm not terribly inclined to be merciful at the moment, even though I know he'll be crushed). I don't want to make those decisions in haste--or when I'm still pissed off by the plagiarist. So I'll sit on it for a while and see how I feel come Thursday.

And now I'm going to grind through as much as I can for the poetry class until I hit the wall. I won't be in as good shape as I'd hoped for Thursday, but c'est la vie. Up until the other day I'd been assuming I'd be on campus on Thursday, finishing up; I just got caught up in this wild hope that I might not need to do that. But we're back to the original plan--which isn't so awful, really. Not really (she says, hoping to persuade herself and to mitigate the moping).

No more for now. I want to hit those papers hard tonight, quick, before I fade.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Down to the wire

OK, so status as of Monday evening. P&B business is, I think, done--assuming nothing boomerangs. The work didn't really take all that long, but long enough that I did think how nice it would be not to be re-elected (and the Grand Cosmic sense of humor being what it is, that almost guarantees I will be). I have given a couple of students in the poetry class a little extra time to get me revisions of old assignments or to finish typing up their final papers. One student e-mailed earlier to tell me--not ask, tell--that he would be submitting his final paper on Wednesday. Um, no. I wrote back and told him that was not an option but that we need to talk. Haven't heard back from him regarding when he might be able to see me tomorrow, but he is missing a lot of work--and, I realized yesterday, was absent ten (yes, ten) times. That's ten out of thirty. That's a third of the semester. I don't think he has any options left, but he certainly doesn't get extra time on his final paper.

In any event, I don't think it will make any difference in the long run for some stuff to trickle in tomorrow, as God knows I've got enough to read already. In today's 102, only one student asked for comments on her paper: I'm happy to provide them--and happy it's only one student wanting them. And the only papers I still have to collect are from tomorrow's 102, plus the in-class final for my five 101 students.

I don't know how much more grinding away I can do today. I may do some of the noodly work: filling in forms, crunching the numbers I have so far, that sort of thing, which requires a lot less brain than reading papers (even without marking, reading them requires a certain amount of alert brain). I'm also mulling over what to take home: I probably have to hang out a bit in the morning until the cleaners show up (so nice to have someone else clean the house! I can't really afford it, and certainly can't afford to do it often, but right now, it's entirely worth the expense). I won't know for sure when to expect them until I get home tonight and get the confirmation phone call from the cleaning service, but no matter what, I need to get working relatively early...

And writing that I felt a huge wave of anxiety. Intellectually I know it won't be bad once I start whacking through the underbrush as it were, but the anticipation is killer. I just don't have a good sense of how much I'll be able to get done tomorrow, and I want it to be a lot. I want to go into Wednesday almost completely finished. If I can get to the point that all I have to do on Thursday is submit the grades on Banner, I'll be ecstatic. But I won't know how fast I can churn through it all until I start churning--and I know I will churn faster, better, when I start fresh.

Oh, and one more thing I crossed off the "to do" list today: I ordered my books for fall. I pretty much made a snap decision, rather than digging into the various options, but I simply did not want the decision hanging over me any more. I decided to go with a new handbook in the fall. That means a lot of lesson prep (I have to read it so I know what I want to assign, and then I have to come up with new review assignments--though I have a thought about that: I think I'll prep one assignment that students use with each reading, in which they have to pick out ten important points from the reading and explain them ... or something like that. Sort of like the reading journals: have them generate what they think matters). And of course, since I'll be teaching a whole new class in the fall--I've not taught the short story class before--lots of prep for that. Guess what I'll be doing in August?

But I have to get through May first. So, a little prep of forms and so on now, while I figure out what to do for dinner. That's a decision I might be able to make--perhaps not wisely, but there is a reason why certain meals are referred to as "comfort food."

Oh, yes, and breathing. I need to remember to breathe. This is the time of semester when Paul, William and I often find ourselves sighing heavily in unison. Pretty funny, but it's an indication of the energy demands on our brains....

Sigh. ***Sigh****

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Struggle continues

Fighting a migraine all day, which makes helping struggling students particularly difficult. I've been trying to work with a student from 102 who does not appear to have read the book: I don't know how else to account for the total lack of comprehension of even the most basic issues. I don't have it in me to give her much more guidance. Same goes for another student: in both cases, I need to see some signs of intelligent life, and if I don't, I see no reason why these students should pass. Axes may be falling. I'm giving three students (the two aforementioned and one other who has a pretty good shot at getting something going) until Friday to come up with something--possibly unwisely. I should probably drop the axe now, at least for the two who don't seem to get it at all. I should probably have dropped it at the beginning of the week. I may be giving them a false sense of hope: if they're so utterly incapable of coming up with a working thesis at this juncture, what hope have they of writing an entire paper by the beginning of next week--or at least of writing anything that has a chance of passing? Some hope, perhaps, but certainly not a hell of a lot.

Sigh.

Earlier I was feeling good because I got all the accumulated homework for today's 102 marked and back to them, was sure I'd be able to return everything to the poetry students this afternoon, and then be in good shape for tomorrow's classes. Unfortunately, instead, I spent a lot of the between class break lying on the office floor, consciously trying to relax neck and shoulder muscles in a vain attempt to curtail the incursion of a railroad spike into my right temple. I know this is my body saying "you must slow down, you must get some sleep, you must let go," but jeezus I wish it wouldn't say it quite so loudly at this particular point in time. I need to get this work done, and I simply cannot when I am in this state.

Not sure what's happening with tonight's steak fest either: the colleague who instigated the whole thing just came by the office saying she's going home, cannot go out tonight, has no appetite. I thought she was ill--she looked about like I feel--but no. Turns out she is simply too furious with how the P&B run-off election is being run and has to go home and be enraged for a while, get the hell away from this place until she cools down.

Long complicated story, but she's angry because the decision was not to start over from scratch: the person who got enough votes on the old, incorrect ballot, is elected (he was the only one to get more than 50% of the votes), so the run-off is for two more full slots on the committee and two alternates. There are I think six of us in the running (yes, I stayed in the race: I'm leaving it up to fate, the gods, whatever). Let the chips fall where they may. Furious colleague feels that since the ballot was flawed, the entire thing should be invalidated and we should start over. She is certainly not alone in feeling that way. I won't go into the argument on the other side, but it's valid. But really, all the furor is over a two-year position on a departmental committee. In the grand scheme of things, even if there is a problem with how this election was run, one outcome will be that rules will be drawn up for how to deal with this kind of circumstance should it happen again. And whatever the election results, there will be another election next year, so the composition of the committee will continue to change. I grant you, it is a very important and politically sensitive committee, but still, I've gotten to the point where I feel we're losing perspective. And honestly, I simply can't get wound up about it. I had my moments of emotional upheaval; now I can't summon the energy. I've got other stuff to be fertutzed about.

In any event, I don't know what Paul will think about the whole steak thing, now that our other colleague is out of the picture. He and I did just go two weeks ago--but it also is pretty fun to go. I'll hang out here until he's here between his classes and we'll talk it over.

In the meantime, while I wait for him, I intend to do nothing that approaches work. I just met with a student and realized that I had given him incorrect feedback twice on his proposal, telling him he'd made a mistake when in fact he had not. And I made those mistakes before my head started to split. I recognize that I will accomplish nothing of value if I try to work in this condition, so I won't try. Whatever I can get done tomorrow before and after our department meeting, I'll do. Anything else, well, there's a weekend coming up. One way or another, it will all get done, by the end of next week. Pretty amazing, that.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Proposal approvals

Wow, that was painful. Today's 102 students faced a truly intense struggle to come up with working theses that would fly. Some I approved more in hope that the proposed "thesis" will turn into something than because it was very solid as written, but I reminded each student that the idea is to write one's way into a thesis, that one must gather the evidence and chew it over and make sense of it before one is really sure what one ultimately can/will prove. At that point, it's time to revisit the thesis and clear it up. If they can actually execute that procedure, they'll do OK. But--again, always--I remind myself that understanding something conceptually precedes the ability to execute (as I know from my riding lessons, from my dance classes...).

I also told the students my story of my dissertation advisor pushing and pushing me on revising the dissertation until I felt completely squeezed dry, to show them that I could empathize with where they were. Paul and I talked about it yesterday, and he reinforced for me that this is a good exercise for the students: to keep having an unacceptable idea boomerang back at them until they can get it to work, that repeated "try again" teaching them A) that coming up with a good idea requires hard work and B) that they can persevere through something that is difficult. They all did, one way or another--and if I'd been able to get the proposals rolling earlier, I'd have pushed some of them even further. We just ran out of time.

One young woman was incapable of coming up with anything at all. Anything. At all. She's a lovely girl but has been struggling all semester: something is clearly going on in her personal life that's getting in her way, and in class today she was in one of those awful almost fugue states in which her inability to come up with any workable ideas made her freeze up even more, an awful self-augmenting panic. She's going to come to the office tomorrow--not necessarily to come up with a working thesis (I'm not sure she can), but to at least strategize what to do if she cannot come up with one, if she cannot, in fact, write this last paper. I find that my desire to rescue her is powerful, but I need to remember what I was saying about the perils of enabling parents: the same philosophy holds true for me. This student is a young adult, and she needs to take responsibility for her own success--or lack thereof--and I can't rescue her; she's got to do it herself.

My 101 students did their presentations today. It was in a way easy for them, as the five of them all feel very comfortable with each other, so no stage fright (I don't think). But in a way, it was difficult: any actor can empathize with how painful it is to play to an empty house. The energy in the room was more flat than it would have been if there had been more students as audience. Still, they did fine--the usual problems with focus, misstated factual information, unclear presentation, but nothing egregious. And I think they all learned something useful from their projects. We'll conduct our semester post-mortem on Thursday, as they have an in-class final on Tuesday. (Oh, and that reminds me: I need to hand out the self-evaluation assignment to today's 102. I completely forgot. Story of the semester, the semester of "oh shit," as in, "oh, shit, I forgot to ..." fill in the blank.)

I did get all the revision essays marked and back to students. Now I just need to crank through their last reading journals--I hope being able to get those back to them tomorrow, so they are out of my hair for the weekend. I also have some P&B business catching fire on a back burner: I need to get that tended to before the whole place goes up in smoke (metaphorically speaking, of course).

But the big dilemma of the moment is, do I go to dance class tonight? I missed last week (sub instructor, didn't mind missing); I will certainly miss next (end of semester screaming in progress). I haven't gotten my money's worth out of my class pass--but in other months I've gotten way more than my money's worth, so I figure that comes out a wash. I am excruciatingly tired (what else is new?) and do have to get up at 5:30 again tomorrow if I want to have any hope of getting those journals back--and I don't get home from dance until after 10 (if I stay for both classes; I suppose I could just go to swing and bail on hustle). I know this is of burning interest to all you, my faithful readers, but this is the kind of thing I can fuss and waffle over for a very long time (this and what to eat for dinner: the momentous decisions of my life). Tough call. I will be out late tomorrow (steak night with Llynne and Paul): can I do two late nights and early mornings in a row? Do I want to?

I'll put off the decision for a bit. When I can't reach a decision, it often helps to stop thinking about it for a while.

Instead, I should be thinking about what books to order for fall--but all the books I want to evaluate are at home. Perhaps I'll bring them back to the office, in the fond delusion that I'll get a chance to look them over and make a decision this week (hah!). I really do have to deal with that before the term is finished, however. One more thing to add to the back-burner.

But in nine days, it will all be over but the shouting--which I hope is merely a figure of speech, rather than an indication of possible student reactions to grades.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Just finished typing in a paper to run a plagiarism check on--again. I ran it when it first came in, didn't turn up anything, but the same alarm bells are going off with the revision, so I'm trying one more time. If I don't turn up anything, oh well, but I'm pretty sure this isn't legitimately this student's work. At very least, he's getting a too much help from somewhere. I had that conversation with another student today: on her proposal I voiced a concern that she was relying on a study guide. Turns out, no, she was relying on her mother (who was offended that I suggested she was using the study guide). I e-mailed the student and said that relying 0n her mother was also a form of plagiarism--and I talked with her about it today. (The mother apparently was a little huffy about some of my comments on the first proposal, given the comments in pencil--in one of which she admitted to being the student's mother.) The student swears that her mom only helped her with the thesis, nothing else. I don't believe it, but I'll act as if I do. I'm a little huffy myself at the thought of potentially grading her mother's work--her mother is not my student--but if that is the case, then my student and her mother will both face a pretty serious awakening at some point, when Mom can't do Daughter's work for her and Daughter gets slammed for what she is incapable of doing on her own. I'd like to believe that this is truly Daughter's work, but given what I've seen all semester, I know damned well it isn't. (And if daughter happens to read this blog, there's the truth, young lady--but since I can't "prove" it, I'll let you get away with it, knowing that the fall will come, if not in my class, then down the road.)

I wish parents would recognize that they are not helping when they "help" in that way. They are creating wimpy, dependent, functionally incompetent cyphers, not strong young adults. And I wish the kids would recognize the problem, too, and refuse the help, so they can actually develop their own strengths.

Makes me a teensy bit ill.

In any event, I'm churning through revisions, still have huge stacks of reading journals to return, and am trying to determine how best to go about getting all this done. I am, again, rather neglecting the students in the poetry class: I have a huge stack of response sheets to mark and return to them. We raced through several poems today, not entirely productively, as we're all pretty crunchy, but we only have one more to do and we'll have completed the syllabus. (Triumph!!) Several students are taking me up on the "memorize a poem" extra credit assignment. I think I may bring in one of the poems I have memorized for them, too (who knows, maybe memorize a new one, just for them? I'm thinking about James Wright's "The Branch Will Not Break," which I discovered the summer I was 13, staying at my grandfather's house in Athens, Ohio). I'm letting go of a lot of my rules for them: a few didn't have revised proposals for me today, but I'll accept the revisions on Wednesday. The rest of the proposals I approved in class today.

In addition, I'm happy to report that only one student in today's 102 class is still struggling with her proposal, but I've given her extra time so we can try to get her to something that works. I realized today the serious difficulty she has in determining what to pay attention to and what to let go when reading the novel: she's been so locked into understanding minor side-stories that she has pretty much missed the main events. This presents a bit of a problem when it comes to writing a paper with any sort of thesis. I will say that a few of the students who got approved proposals today probably don't really understand even now either the novel or what it is they need to do, and they may well crash pretty badly on the paper itself--but at least they have some kind of idea to work on, and can gut it out. One student didn't show up today: I think she flamed out at the last moment. That's always a shame, when a student gets this far and then can't make it for that one last push. Still, there's a pretty good ratio in that class: started with twenty-three students, now I have sixteen (with the loss of the one who wasn't there today). In the other 102, I'm down to 10: four fell apart over the proposal (at least two of whom could have pulled it out if they'd persevered). Eleven students remain in the poetry class. Five in 101.

And then there's me, hanging on by my finger-nails, which are bending backward with my efforts not to completely fall off the ledge.

Before I leave tonight, there are two proposals for tomorrow's 102 that I want to look over so I can let the students know in advance if they have some more work to do (and I think both do). I'd like to get a few more revisions graded, but I'm not sure that will happen. I may have to blow off one more meeting--the last departmental curriculum meeting of the semester--depending on how much work I can make myself get done tonight and how early I can get in tomorrow. It's so close to being over, so close to being done, and yet this semester just will not end. Breathe, Tonia, breathe, and keep forging ahead. And take it one moment at a time. I keep feeling like I have to make decisions about tomorrow right now, but I don't: I can see how things go, as I go along, and decide at each turn what to do next: go home and nap or keep working here? dinner out or something (probably something very weird, given the state of the pantry and my energy levels) at home? dance class or not? The mantra of the moment is "we'll see, we'll see." And in ten more days, I hope like hell I'll be submitting my final grades and have everything out of my hair so I can relax and enjoy a glorious start to my summer.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

P.S.

Forgot to say that the debacle that is the P&B election is ongoing. The elections committee decided not to run the whole thing from scratch (for complicated reasons that I won't get into here), but now some faculty are up in arms about that decision. I had a long and lovely talk with Bruce about it all today, and my decision to keep my hat in the ring stands. I'm leaving it to fate, the Gods, the will of the department, whatever you will. If I get elected, fine. If I don't, fine. I'm not going to get wound up about it. I can't do anything about how the election is re-run; I don't know if I'll get re-elected or not; it'll be what it is.

Good stuff

I've lost a little bit of the glow I felt earlier: I was going to come back to the office immediately after my poetry class to blog, because I felt so great about what had been going on with the students, but, well, I don't even remember for sure what sidetracked me first--I think a student showed up unexpectedly, and we ended up having a more in-depth conversation about his proposal than either of us anticipated--but I ran out of time before I had to interview another adjunct (I'm done interviewing, mercifully, just have to write up quick recommendations or rejections), then Paul was here and we got talking, and ... whatever happened, I meant to have blogged and marked a bunch of proposals by now, but best laid plans and all that.

The reason I felt so great about the class is because I got to talk one-on-one talking with most of the students. (One was not in class Monday, didn't have a proposal today, and seemed not to understand that he cannot turn it in on Monday as it needs to be approved by then. I told him if I don't have it tomorrow, I won't be able to accept it. We'll see whether he can pull it together that quickly.) In any event, the conferences were pretty quick and very informal, right there in the class with the other students in a holding pattern waiting their turn. They kept themselves amused in one way or another (reading mostly) while I conferenced. I truly do think each student left feeling more secure about the project, more capable of taking on the work and getting something useful out of it. Everyone seemed at least somewhat charged up leaving the room, a number of them had that, "Really? I came up with something good so easily?" look on their faces. The ones that have a somewhat more daunting task at least have a sense of the incremental steps to take. That makes me think that even the proposal process may not be incremental enough. Maybe I need to find a way to back up the prep for final papers even further, start even earlier, so students can take smaller steps, bite off smaller chunks at a time, feel less daunted. I'm not sure I can do it myself--my organizational skills are pretty stretched to the limit as is--but it's worth considering.

I truly do like meeting with students one-on-one. They get something very different out of that kind of interaction than they do from the class dynamic. Both are important--and I like the class dynamic, too, when it works--but sometimes one can actually see the penny drop in an individual conference, even quickies like today.

And the last student to leave thanked me for being patient. I hardly needed the thanks: she is very earnest and hard-working, and it's easy to be patient with a student who cares. But they were nice to get anyway.

Had a little bit of the same conference-esque experience in today's 102. I got every single student to ask at least one question or make at least one comment about the novel--and a lot of them opened up more than they have in the past because they knew everyone was going to be called upon for a contribution of some sort. I let them go pretty early, but a long line of them wanted to talk to me, generally with pretty good questions or requests for clarification.

I anticipate an intermittent parade of students to the office over the next few days--and floods of e-mails. The only problem is--and it's a huge problem--that NCC e-mail addresses have been banned by other servers because of a successful phishing operation which is now generating massive amounts of spam under the guise of coming from NCC. This means that I try to reply to students and my messages get bounced back to me. I'm going to start using my G-mail account, but those messages may go to students' spam folders. The maddening thing is that this seems to happen frequently at this time of semester, right when it is most crucial to be in e-mail contact with students. Fuck.

But shifting gears back to the positive--I'd like to stay on the positive angle for a while tonight--one of Paul's students has just won an enormous scholarship, on top of about 50 others and being accepted to Cornell. She is the first student from Nassau to win this award--the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Award--and she was lured to the college president's office (in the guise of there being a problem with her application) for a celebration: a photographer from the campus newspaper was there, the president, several deans.... Very big deal, very exciting for this young woman. And she is delightful, a completely lovely person in every way. She is over the moon with happiness--which I know because both times she's come to tell Paul her good news (he helped her with all her application essays, wrote letters on her behalf), he hasn't been here but I have, and she's been so bursting at the seams with happiness that she had to share it with me. I've been here on many occasions when she and Paul have been working on something, and from time to time have tossed in my dime's worth, so she and I have had some contact, but I now feel almost like she's my student by proxy (my step-student?). It is wonderful when someone of her ability also has her drive and her work ethic, and can do the whole thing, present the whole package. This is the kind of student who comes along very rarely in a career, and we cherish them more than they know.

Ahhhh.

I'm staring at the stack of proposals for tomorrow's 102 that are on my desk, but I don't think I've got the chops to do anything productive with them tonight. I'll take them home to work on in the morning, when my car is in the shop; I'll hope to get a few more done in my office hour--and I'll hope we can wrap things up with 101 early, should I need that time to finish the proposals. I don't see why not: essentially, the 101 students need to get ready for their presentations next Tuesday. After their presentations are done, we'll talk about their final papers and their in-class final. I keep losing track of the fact that next week is essentially it: I'll be collecting papers the following week, and conducting the usual post-mortems, but the rest will be me cranking out grades. Remember when I was bitching about how slowly the semester was going? Now I'm in some weird time-warp, in which it still seems like two weeks is an insanely long time to get through before it's over, but then when I think about when/how to schedule things, I realize that there is no time left. Even figuring out when to go out with Paul and our colleague Llynne (who specifically requested another evening out for steak indulgence with Paul and me) presented a challenge: we have to do it damned soon or we won't be doing it until fall. (Next Wednesday is the plan. My carnivorous jones was well satisfied last week when Paul and I went out, and I don't really have the desire for either the meal or the expense, but what the hell. The company will be amusing.)

So, what for the rest of today? Life maintenance: pick up my glasses, which are ready; pick up my laundry, which is ready; go to the post office; home.... early to bed, one hopes.

And remembering to keep breathing. That really is the secret.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Weird day

A bizarre day on all kinds of levels. I did blow off the 8:45 meeting but somehow had a very rugged morning trying to get ready to come to campus so didn't get here until later than I intended. I have most of the 102 proposals ready, but not all, and I still have the proposals for 265 to grade. I haven't looked yet to see how many of those students didn't turn in anything at all: at least one (in addition to the guy trying to get caught up, the one I wrote about yesterday). In today's 102, of the students who showed up, three didn't have proposals; one at least had some sources and an idea, but two had zip, nothing, nada. Four students didn't show up at all. I'm now in a bit of a conundrum. If I follow my own rules, six students have now failed the class. A few may have been on that borderline anyway, but some stood fair to at least pass, if not do as well as they might have hoped. I'd hate for them to blow up at this point, but on the other hand, I don't think it's fair to the students who gutted out something to give the ones who didn't a buy on this. If they'd come to me with an explanation and at least an attempt at something, I'd have allowed them a little more time, but to have nothing at all? Especially when I have repeatedly made a huge deal about the fact that these cannot be late (since I have to turn them around so fast)? I'm having a hard time justifying being very forgiving.

Also had a difficult situation in a class in which a couple of students had a complaint about a group mate who was not coming through on the work. They had a truly legitimate beef, but if their group mate is to be believed, they didn't tell her there was a problem until today, in front of me, which wasn't the best of ways to handle the situation. Things got pretty heated among them, but I told them I couldn't adjudicate a no-you-didn't/yes-I-did disagreement: all I could do was come up with a solution. So two of the group members are now a group in themselves. (One of student previously assigned to their group has simply vanished: if he shows up, I told them to send him directly to me. They don't have to deal with giving him the bad news.) The student who was perceived to be the problem has been struggling all semester. She's talked a good game about trying hard and doing her work, but in fact she has been late with most assignments, or missed them altogether--or not done the assignment as instructed. Once the other students left, I had to sit her down and go over her grades with her. She left in tears, which makes me very unhappy: what a shitty day that poor thing just had. However, I'd hate for her to knock herself out to try to finish the semester when truly, mathematically, she cannot pass. I told her I'd let her stay and keep working if she wanted, and we'd come up with something productive for her to do--but I don't want her to do so under any false illusions.

Hate that. Really do.

Since that class ended so early, I was all set to do more work for tomorrow--but a colleague pounced through the door the second that last student left to talk to me about the P&B (Personnel and Budget) election. Utter madness there, too. Turns out, one of the people who ran still has a year to go in her term, so she wasn't even up for re-election. There was a lot of fuss and furor over what to do next, but it looks like the decision may well be (should be, in my estimation) to start over from scratch. And Bruce has persuaded me (ahem-strongarmed-ahem) me into keeping my name on the ballot. I understand the political reasons why I should, but if my numbers go down even further, it will be yet another slap in the ego. Anyway, I leave this to the gods: I'll run, and we'll see how things turn out. If I am elected, I will have the satisfaction of the endorsement from the department and the pleasure (if stress) of doing the work. If I'm not, my ego will recover and I'll have the relief from the work pressures. Win-win, I suppose, if I'm looking for silver linings (and why not?).

In any event, I'm not quite sure about tomorrow morning's meeting. It's immediately before 102, so either I have to be finished with all the proposals for both tomorrow's classes tonight (and there are two that came in a little later than the rest, plus two that need a plagiarism warning at least, depending on how much more time I can devote to tracking down the suspicious areas) or I have to bail on that meeting, too, so I can get the work done.

And life maintenance is getting in the damned way here, all the stuff I have to do just to keep my life operating--from dance class, which keeps me sane and exercised, to laundry, to getting my car to the shop for them to finish up the work they started last Friday. And I have to conduct another adjunct interview tomorrow afternoon, and have to write up the recommendations for the people I already interviewed, and other P&B business that needs tending to, almost forgot about another college-wide committee meeting that I really do have to attend ... and the list goes on beyond zebra. The screaming has commenced.

Funny thing today: in 101, students started talking about the summer and one asked me if I was going away. Part of the time, I said. Where, she asked. Out west, I replied. Like California? she asked. No, I said, Seattle to meet my boyfriend and then Montana to be with my family. Another student had two swift reactions. The first was, "Awww, how romantic, like Sleepless in Seattle," but the second was half serious, half joking when she said that suddenly I seemed very different to her, not really a teacher any more because now I seemed like just a person. She talked about the first time she was confronted with a teacher in civvies, as it were, and said although she knows teachers aren't kept in a box when they're not teaching, it was weird to think of us as having lives like ordinary people. So the fact that I have a boyfriend (a term that makes me gwinch a bit, but there isn't another good alternative) made me suddenly seem very strange to her. And yet, I pointed out, students always ask about my personal life (usually whether I have children, interestingly enough). The difference was, this time I volunteered something personal instead of answering only exactly what was asked--but I knew the question was coming (Why Seattle? Why Montana?), so I just headed it off at the pass: why be coy? Still, it was a funny conversation--and reminded me of how freaked out one former student was to have seen me (gasp! qu'elle horror!!) in jeans. I kind of like rattling their cages a bit, especially at this point in the semester, when we've established a good rapport.

Anyway, strange congeries of events.

I will be interested to see what happens with the students who did not turn in any kind of proposal: if/when I hear from them, whether they'll try to turn something in on Thursday. Trying to figure out the plan of response, whatever happens.

But now, back to our regularly scheduled grading.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Paranoid

I detected two more instances of plagiarism today (one from a student who had already been confronted with plagiarism on an earlier paper: I'm not sure whether that's sheer, blazing stupidity or a complete disregard for my intelligence--or both). In the wake of that, I realize I've gotten wildly gun-shy. It's awful: if I run across a relatively intelligent thought or a sophisticated phrasing, I rush to the computer to check it for plagiarism. This is awful on several levels, one of which is purely pragmatic: it takes a long time and a lot of concentration to hunt around for plagiarized sources--or to type in the paper (the red-flagged bits anyway) and then run it through the software at home. But the more significant awfulness of the suspicion is that I have stopped trusting my students to have intelligent thoughts or to be capable of sophisticated phrasing. And I want to be able to trust them in those ways. It truly sucks to feel this way--for them and for me. Very heavy sigh.

I was interested to note the two different reactions from the plagiarists today. Unfortunately, a lot of students were hanging around after class, so the one who had plagiarized twice--who has now failed the class, won't graduate, and has been reported to the dean--was hovering; I gave him back his paper and said "we can talk later" (code: go away), but he took that to mean he should hang out. He needs to reread the letter I wrote, in which I said that no further conversation would take place between us, and if he wants to argue his case, he needs to take it to the dean. I'm not sure he understands, and I worry a bit that he'll show up for class on Wednesday (late, as always): I just ran a scenario by Paul about that, and if he does show up, I'll just stop him as he comes in and nicely tell him he doesn't need to be there. (I do, however, hope he realizes that he's utterly hosed and stays away.)

The other plagiarist had to hang out after everyone else was gone anyway: he'd missed a bunch of classes because he had the "flu" (I didn't know the flu caused sunburn...) but he wanted to know what to do about missed assignments. He's actually a very bright, very hard-working student in general, so I am willing to give him the chance to get caught up if he can. However, after I talked to him about his proposal and whatever else he might need to submit to get back on track, I pulled out the plagiarized paper (tore off the boilerplate letter and the sources I'd found, having decided to talk to him about it instead) and said, "You plagiarized...." I was about to launch into the "I don't know if you did this accidentally" bit when he said, "I know. You're right: I did. I ran out of time; I was too busy at work and I just took the easy way out." He was relieved not to be failed for the course right that moment, and said I had probably wanted to kick him out. No, I said, I just wanted to understand why. Did he think I wouldn't notice? He was very honest and said that in the moment, that's not what any student is thinking; all he was thinking was that he needed to turn something in and didn't have time. I said, "I wish you'd come to me to talk to me about that time crunch. We could have worked something out. You're man enough to admit you cheated; I wish you'd been man enough to admit that you were having a problem." I acknowledged that he won't always get a professor to accommodate his work crunch--some will say (and rightly) that if one is in college, one needs to make room and time for classwork--but that it doesn't hurt to ask, and certainly doesn't hurt as badly as that zero will. It breaks my heart--and I told him so--because he could have gotten a very good grade and now he'll have to struggle to pass. Shit.

In any event, I don't want to churn through more proposals for 102, but I really must: I have to get them back by Wednesday so students can revise (and almost everyone will need to, to a greater or lesser extent), and I will have zero time to work on them tomorrow--unless I blow off my 8:45 a.m. meeting, which I might do. The committee meeting I have at 11:30 I cannot miss: I've blown that one off too many times already. Then I have P&B (Personnel and Budget, for those of you who have been wondering and missed an earlier identification), then my two classes. The classes will be pretty simple: in 101, I'll evaluate their proposals on the spot (only two groups), go over the reading for the in-class final with them, and then turn them loose. In 102, I'll open the floor for questions, collect their proposals and turn them loose. So I can chip away a little bit in those interstices, but I can't count on a big wodge of time in which to crank through what I need to have ready for Wednesday. And their revisions are still unmarked. Not even looked at. Ah well, soon, soon.

One way or another, it will all be over in seventeen days. That roller-coaster is on the downslope big time now: fling your hands in the air and scream!