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I welcome students readers to this blog. However, be aware that, although I do not use anyone's actual name, the descriptions of behaviors and conversations are not disguised. This is a space in which I may rant, vent, and otherwise express responses that I would do my best to mask or at least tone down in professional interactions with students. This is my personal, gloves off, no holds barred, direct from the gut expression of what it feels like to do my job. If you think you might be hurt or offended or upset by that, read no further. The person I'm ranting about could be you.


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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Who's adding papers to the stack?

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

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

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

Monday, November 29, 2010

Post Scriptum

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

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

The dismal swamp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tuesday is Thursday, Wednesday is Friday...

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

End of another week

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Been a while

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excelsior!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Teensy bit of bliss

I have every single piece of paper I've received from students in the short story class marked and ready to return to them tomorrow. Apart from a few straggling reading journals I may get from them, I won't be getting anything else from them until next week. That, my friends, is a piece of heaven. I'm about to go off to the last of my 101 classes; they're doing peer review of papers, so I can sit there and get caught up on 101 homework, so I can turn my attention to paper grading soon soon soon with nothing tangling around under my feet. Which will be even more blissful. I'll still be grinding away at papers over the weekend, but it will be terrific if I can get to next Wednesday with only new homework and reading journals to mark, no left-overs.

I was celebrating yesterday that Mr. Macho didn't show up for class with a paper (and I can hope I've seen the last of him). However, today Mr. Contempt did show up for class. The assignment was for a four to five page paper: he had one page, no works cited page, no attached sources, nothing. I'll check through the pile of homework for his class today, so I've got the complete ammunition I need, but I'm pretty sure that on Thursday I will get to pull him out of class before we start and let him know he has two options: withdraw or fail. He has not submitted sufficient work, of sufficient quality, to pass. I'm braced for resistance, but I'll stick to my guns. Withdraw or fail--and either way, don't come to class any more. I should give the bad news to a few other students as well, but it will be sheer joy to get rid of him once and for all.

Toddling off now, breathing good sighs of relief.

Monday, November 1, 2010

I'm drooping; they're dropping

It's that time of semester when I have accumulated enough nights of sleep deprivation that I cannot seem to get caught up, even after several nights of a decent number of hours of slumber. My body doesn't bear up as well as it did even five years ago. I had to resort to candy in the morning today: I was in the office to grade papers and was falling asleep at 10 a.m., having gotten up at six. Ridiculous. The candy did help--at least I stopped almost nodding off--but the concentration factor was pretty nil.

So I'm feeling decidedly droopy; meanwhile, students are beginning to drop like the proverbial winged insects. Some just are conspicuously absent; others are making it official. I lost a 101 student today whom I hated to see go: she was earnest, hard-working, and making real progress--but, she explained, she's studying for her cosmetology license and working four days a week, and she finally realized that the time crunch was going to have a less-than-desirable effect on her grades, especially in my class. Wise choice for her, my disappointment notwithstanding.

Interestingly enough, that 101 section seemed to be holding relatively good numbers until today. But today, first versions of second papers were due--and 15 students were in the room. A few may come in with late papers either on Wednesday or via e-mail, but most of the ones who were missing I rather expect are plain vanilla gone. Mr. Macho among them: he was so poisonous in Wednesday's class that I cordially invited him to leave, and I suspect that was the last straw for him. In his book, I am now certified as the psycho bitch from hell, so I'll be surprised if he makes a return. Still, I confess, stranger things have happened.

It should also be noted that receiving 15 papers instead of 24 will make a beautiful difference in the grading grind over the next week. I'm still getting myself dug out from under a huge pile of mini-papers and reading journals for the short story class, but at the moment, it all feels do-able, even though I do not have the mental chops to grade anything further this afternoon. It will be another up early and grind sort of week, but worth it to get through the steaming piles of papers.

The good news: no meeting tomorrow during club hour (though I will be meeting a student from the short story class to talk about how he can improve his papers)--and during my two classes, I can pretty much sit there and grade, as they'll be doing peer review of their papers. I am rather wondering what to do with the short story class on Wednesday. Originally they had a paper due, so I didn't assign any additional reading for the week--but I moved the paper and didn't plug up the resulting hole. They got through this week's story today with time to spare, so there won't be anything further to discuss on that. Hmmmm. Mulling over possibilities that might help them prepare for their papers. We'll see what I pull out of my left ear (where all my lesson plans come from--that and places less attractive). And now, my office hour is done, and so am I (stick a fork in me). Homeward bound. Tomorrow is another day. Excelsior.