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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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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Done #2 and #3 and completely

I intended to blog "Done #2" last night, but I was in such a rush to get out of here and get home to bake that I kinda forgot about it. I actually was done with the second class in the morning, and most of the way done with today's class by yesterday afternoon. Still, somehow, little niggly bits got in my way yesterday, so I ended up not being as productive as I'd planned. (I did get my baking done, however.) The same kind of "overwhelmed by niggles" threatened to happen today, but I got everything finished before the department party at 11:30 a.m. I spent the time after the party and before Advisement doing some filing that I've meant to do for the last several years--and that is not an exaggeration. I keep track of students' attendance and grades on index cards, and I have them going back for years. I've been intending for years to indicate which semester the student was in the class, and file the cards alphabetically--just in case sometime in the future someone asks about a former student.

That actually did happen once: I got a call from the Department of Defense: a former student--from almost five years prior to the call--was applying for security clearance as a member of the Navy JAG corps, and so the DoD was engaged in a deep background check. Fortunately, I remembered the student vividly, so I didn't have to rummage through my files--but there are others I don't remember as clearly, and one never knows when a question might arise. In any event, it was an interesting memory exercise. Some students I remember in detail the instant I see their names. Others, I can see the name, and the grades, and nothing so much as quivers in my memory banks. I tend to remember entire classes: where the class met, who was in the cast of characters. As I say, interesting.

And relatively useless, but it did feel rather nice to do a little of that, after all this time.

I cleaned out a few files, too, and am already planning possible new assignments/exercises for next semester, based on what I'm seeing in those files, remembering what worked, where the students need more if I can possibly provide it.

I also had great time talking with BYM. He was the only student from that class to drop by for a visit--and he did so largely so he could hang up fliers for Nature in Lit. We're both frantic for the thing to run. (Prayer, people. I'm serious. I'm not religious in any way, but I do believe in the power of prayer; don't ask me to rationalize that.) We had a great time talking, and I'm looking forward to working with him in the spring.

And now, the plants are watered as deeply as I can manage without a bathtub to submerge them in, and things are tidied away just well enough not to cause despair when I return to the office. I'll be interested to see what, if anything, I accomplish in the next few days/weeks--but I highly doubt blogging will be on the list until I'm back on campus the second week in January.

So, my dear readers, I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season. (I sure plan to.) And if you wouldn't mind, make a comment or something, so I know you're out there: I know about a few of you (thank you for reading, and for letting me know that you do), but I'd be curious to know just how big (or, more to the point, small) my audience actually is.

Happy merry joyous and bright, y'all. "God" bless us, every one.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Done #1

Completely done with the Short Story class, except for entering the grades in Banner, which I'll do on Thursday. I'm available for students to drop by tomorrow--not that I'd change a grade because of a student complaint about it, but if someone shows up and demonstrates that I left something out (which happened with students today) or that my math was in error (I did catch one howling mistake in the short story class), I want to have the opportunity to make the change before it's up on the computer.

I did get everything marked before today's class, with plenty of time to spare, so I also spent time working on adjunct schedules. Of course, I am second guessing every choice I'm making, as I'm doing it solo for the first time, but worst case scenario, Bruce will fix what I've done--or he and I will fix it together. He actually is comfortable with doing a lot of the work on his own before we embark on it together; as he explained it, it gives him something to do. (And I'm thinking, Christ, on a break, you need work-work to give you something to do? I can always think of a zillion more things than I can possibly find time for, no matter how long the break.) In any event, I'm glad I'm getting a good start on it, just to give him that leg up, and I hope I find good opportunities to chip away at it a little more over the next few days.

Class today was the usual chaos. I didn't even try to rein a lot of it in. The Gang of Four were talking about schedules and whether any of them could take Nature in Lit, joining BYM, who is in the class and as nervous as I am about whether it will run. There was a lot of cross-the-room conversation, having nothing whatever to do with the class. I didn't talk to them about the ideas I have about reconfiguring journals, but they did have some suggestions about how I might rework the final paper project, so they have a chance to write more than just what is required for the proposal and get revision feedback from me before turning in the done deal.

Based on their feedback, I may reconfigure the proposal so that it is an in-progress draft--but the problem is, anything I don't point out as a problem still tends to slip past the students, so whatever they'd complete on their own would still evidence the problems I'm seeing in final papers. By the end of semester, they are better able to fix what I point out, but they still can't see their work objectively. Part of what I'm trying to teach them is how to see their own problems clearly, but I know I can't do that fully (or even very significantly) in one semester. It takes lots and lots of practice, lots and lots of feedback, and by the end of the term, we simply run out of time. I have colleagues who have made an earlier assignment into the big one that requires research--which would give students time to dig into revision and which would alleviate pressure on the end of the term, but on the other hand, I don't think it's fair to ask them to do an "all the marbles" assignment half-way through the game.

Well, it's something else to mull over.

One of my favorite comments from the students today was from a woman who said she has learned more respect for English as a subject. She used to feel she could write a paper and it would be fine; now she's starting to understand the kind of intellectual commitment it takes to really do well in English. And she also said that, even though the class rocked her back on her heels quite a bit, she still loves the subject. (Contrast the student I had several semesters ago who said that, thanks to me, she now hates English.) The same woman who said she now respected the discipline also said she gained confidence this semester. Ah, that's lovely to hear.

But despite (or maybe because of?) the positive feedback I'm getting, I find that I'm going through a strange emotional reaction to the impending end of the semester. I'm not quite sure how to identify it. Parts of it are certainly a kind of narcotic withdrawal/post-partum feeling, parts stem from that faint whiff of worry that I'm not more frantic and harried (surely I must be dropping the ball somewhere?), parts are I don't know what. I can tell I'm emotionally unbalanced because my sleep and eating habits are all gone wonky, because I'm fighting with myself about doing what I know will make me feel virtuous and healthy and in control, rather than indulging in behaviors that will make me dislike myself in the morning. I was joking with Paul about it, saying the choice is between eating my brought-from-home soup for dinner and going to dance class--or buying several pounds of chocolate and heading home to lie on the sofa and stuff my face while I read something trashy and useless (or watch back-to-back-to-back episodes of TV fluff on DVD). Clearly other options exist, but I wouldn't be feeling the pull toward hedonistic vices if I weren't trying to do an end run around some emotional foo-raw. Perhaps I need to join a Workaholics Anonymous group? I'm sure there's a way to 12-step my way out of whatever it is I'm in. But this mild disturbance as I face, as the semester draws to a close, makes me realize, again, still, that I truly do love this career. I love teaching. I love the impact I can make on students' lives. And I do go through a kind of empty nest syndrome when they fly off to their next semester and leave me--until it's time for me to greet the next batch of hatchlings.

But this semester isn't finished yet. Each day seems to be taking forever (in part because I'm not running around like my hair is on fire), but each day does pass, and the work of the day gets done, and I am then that much closer to the real letting go.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Almost there...

I've got four more papers to grade for tomorrow's 102, four more students' worth of numbers to crunch. I'll still be collecting one last assignment from them tomorrow--their self evaluations--but the plan is to be able to duplicate what happened in 102 today:

We were talking about what they learned over the semester, what they found most helpful in terms of assignments--and many said how much they loved the final-paper proposals, how clear and simple those were. I agreed but stated that my concern is that there is often a problem with follow-through: students get their proposals approved, but then their final papers show evidence of lots of "first version" problems, instead of being as clear and polished as their final versions of papers 1 and 2. (This is a real concern for me, but I'm not sure how to address it--yet.) They blanched a bit at that--and then one asked, "Do you have our final papers?" I said, "I do," and pandemonium broke out. They utterly freaked; they'd been calm and steady, knowing they had to wait to find out, and to suddenly realize they could know right then what their grades were was a huge emotional whammy. I said I'd be happy to still hold on to the papers until Wednesday, but no, they decided they'd rather not suffer any longer, waiting to know. I also had final grade forms for them, the ones with everything filled in except the self-evaluation--so I gave them their grade forms and papers, then went over how to calculate the final grade.

Of course, several were hoping that the self-evaluation would put them over a much bigger hurdle than is possible from one tiny assignment (it won't move a student from a low C to a B, for instance). But they now know pretty much what their final grades are going to be. I told them I'd still be available in the office on Wednesday as planned, if they want to come by to talk to me about anything, but otherwise, we just accomplished what we'd have been doing during that final class period. One said, "You mean this is the last time we'll all be together?" When I said yes, she said, "I feel ... that makes me kind of sad." Several of them said that my class was their hardest class but I was their favorite professor--and since they already knew their final grades, I don't think they were blowing smoke. One (the good, solid A student of the bunch) had said earlier that one of the frustrations was not only because the work was hard but also because they like me and want to please me. They were reluctant to leave, reluctant to let go of the experience, so at the end, I had them all stand up and I said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the survivors of Prof. P's ENG102JC" and we all applauded. That broke the last few strings tying them to the class, and to me, and off they went--many saying they would, in fact, see me on Wednesday. That would be lovely.

And I have to say, of course it is immensely gratifying when they tell me they like me, want to please me, that I'm their favorite professor. I do not teach to be loved (obviously); I get that kind of validation elsewhere. But it is lovely, and flattering, and strangely soothing to know that students who have just been through hell and back in my class still can think kindly of me as a human being. I'm touched.

But when I say I want the same experience in 102 tomorrow, I don't mean I want them to shower me with warm fuzzies. And I don't mean I want them to freak out (that surprised me, honestly: it hit their bodies to the point where one was fanning her face, several were holding their chests; I might as well have flung a lightening bolt into the room). I mean that I want to give them "closure" on the class a session early--so they don't need to come to the office for their final grades on Thursday, and so I don't need to prolong the fuss. One of my students from the T/Th class wrote to me yesterday to say he's very anxious about his final paper. I told him he'd have to wait until Thursday, because at that point, I was thinking I wouldn't push to get these papers done. But after today's class, I thought, why not get it over with? Why keep them hanging on?

I will still have to read the self-evaluations and plug in the mark in their final grades--but that's painless, as I'm very interested in what they have to say. Several suggested that I distribute their responses to my students next semester--and I may take them up on that. (I have thought about doing what several colleagues do and instead of a final self-evaluation, having them write a letter to the next batch of students with advice about what to do--and not do--in order to succeed.) But really, that last thing is so tiny, it feels like nothing at all.

And I already have graded a number of the papers for the short story class. I gave them their grade sheets, too, and explained how to figure out what kind of grade they'd need on their final papers in order to get the grade they want for a final grade. I was tired enough (and have enough trouble with math) that I got a little confused in the explanation, but they sorted it out. And several had a somewhat painful reality check: yep, those missing reading journals and mini-papers really do hurt your final grade. I made a point of explaining the concept of the "mercy D," and of course, Mr. Determined asked if I wouldn't also give a "mercy B"--but that's not mercy, that's tantamount to saying the student's actual work is immaterial. (I could work up a pretty good "pissed off" about that, but, enh, not worth the energy.) At least two students in the class will fall under the "mercy D" category--but they left knowing they can at least graduate; I figure just the fact that they stuck it out to the bitter end and turned in a final paper deserves that much (or little).

In the short story class, we talked more about what might help future students in terms of the structure and language used for assignments--and I ran the ideas past the students in 102 as well. There was, of course, some debate about whether various reconfigurations would be helpful--and the students recognized, as do I, that sometimes they simply have to wrestle with misunderstandings and make mistakes in order to come to comprehension. (Learning often requires a long period of frustration and the "I don't get its" before one has the "ah-hah!" moment.) So, yes, I'm already projecting into next semester, in the perpetual search for that Holy Grail that turns all students, without exception, into engaged, productive, active learners. I know the beast is mythical (to mix a metaphor), but I can't stop myself from searching for it, no matter what dismal swamps I find myself lost in along the way.

But at the moment I am, as a colleague noted, almost giddy with the fact that I'm so close to utterly finished with this semester. There's some nit-picky paperwork I will also have to tend to, once I've got absolutely everything marked and numbers all crunched, but I'm all but capering about with delighted anticipation of being done done done.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Lovely, but somehow unfair

Why do you suppose it is that this semester, when I don't have to worry about getting everything done early so I can travel unimpeded by school work, is the only semester I can recall when I've been in shape to be finished early? There's some kind of cosmic influence at work, I'm sure.

OK, the cosmic influence is aided by the following facts: 1) I am teaching three classes, not four; 2) the attrition rate in all those classes has been drastic. I have a grand total of 32 students left at this point. That's only a fraction more than the usual enrollment for one section at the start of the term (literature classes are officially capped at 28; comp sections at 24, though unofficially, sometimes sections get overloaded).

I confess, I'm feeling marginally guilty about this. I made the decision not to see my family for the holidays this year because I was so certain I'd be facing a repeat of the last many years, of frantic flurry and stress and grinding exhaustion getting the semester finished and myself packed an on a plane--and now it seems I could have traveled with a minimum of fuss. But I also confess, I feel almost giddy with relief that I can glide into the holidays without even the jangle of having to pack. I'm soaking in the miracle of stress-reduction.

So here it is, the Sunday before the final week of classes, and I'm all but finished with two of the three sections,, to whit:

For the short story class, I'll be collecting their final papers tomorrow (Monday); I simply need to read those to determine the grades, enter that last number into the mathematical equation, and presto: final grades. I'm on the fence about whether to show students their grade forms with all but that last piece in place and let them figure the math of what they need to pass, or to get the grade they're hoping for. (As in: if you want a B, here's how to figure what your final paper grade would need to be in order to get it.) Doing so would certainly reduce any amount of fuss on the last day--but it may also scare the bejezus out of students who mathematically are going to fail but to whom I intend to give a mercy D. I don't know. I'll mull that over between now and tomorrow.

For the M/W 102, I will be collecting self-evaluations tomorrow. Their papers are already read and graded. Once again, I simply have to plug in the last piece of the math and the final grade will pop out. I actually already am pretty certain what the final grades will be: that last assignment isn't likely to tip anyone over (or under) a border between two grades--but it's marginally possible. A few students are riding close to the edge, but most are solidly in whatever range for the grade.

In any event, because I'm so far ahead of the curve, I'm taking the rest of today off. I've been putting off getting groceries for days, and as it's a sunshiny day (chilly but bright), I'm going to take this opportunity to stave off my tendency to turn into a mole person and head out into the light. I'm even going to make the trek to the far but splendid market (she writes, with an internal, triumphant "So there!"). I'm heading into the week knowing I'll have plenty of time to work on adjunct scheduling--maybe even time (and brain energy) to work on my own article, or the Chancellor's Award. Wouldn't that be amazing for a final week of a semester?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Next time

I'm continuing the thinking that started yesterday about how to restructure assignments for the lit courses. The big reconfiguration that I tried this semester with the 102s seems to have been worth it, so I'll run with that again next term to continue to collect data: was this semester's success a fluke or a valid finding? But now that I'm leaving 102 alone for a while, it's time to retool the lit sections.

Among other realizations--this one primarily for my own benefit, but also beneficial to the students: I'm going to give deadlines for revisions along the way, instead of accepting them up to the last minute. Human beings procrastinate: if I give students until the end of the term, they'll take it, and then they'll end up in a horrific crunch at the end. And so do I. I'm spending a lot of time right now cranking through revisions as fast as I possibly can, so I can get them out of my hair before I embark on final papers. Even though I'm not commenting at all, it's time consuming to determine whether the revision merits an improved grade. This is the first semester when I've gotten so many revisions: usually I get a bare minimum, but this time, almost everyone submitted at least one--and some students resubmitted everything, all at once. It's maddening, as I want to get to those final papers, but I allowed it, so I have no one to be angry with except myself.

In any event, as a consequence, the plan for next semester is to give students two weeks from the date I return a graded assignment in which to do a revision: after that, the original grade stands. I'm still mulling over how to structure the assignments so it's clear they're meant to build, so students use the various assignments to maximum benefit. But more on that some other day.

I was unhappy to lose one more student from today's 102--and to lose her today. She wrote to me earlier in the week to say that her son has been very ill, in and out of the hospital, so she'd not been able to attend class. At that point, she intended to show up today with her paper in hand--but she e-mailed this morning to say that things had taken a turn for the worse and that she wouldn't be able to attend, and therefore knew she wouldn't be able to pass the class. I told her I'd give her the W, but it's a shame to lose her when she'd gotten so close to completing the course. Still, perhaps she'll take the class next semester from someone who isn't as ferocious as I am, will be able to apply all she learned from me, and pass with a much higher grade. Mostly, I hope her son is OK.

So we're down to eight students in that section. I put them in pairs today to review each other's papers, looking specifically for bozo errors and for correctness of documentation. They were very sweet about helping each other (of course). I'm hoping the papers are good. One young man in the class didn't submit everything with his paper that he needed to (no sources, no approved proposal): I've sent him an e-mail about that but I think I should call him, too....

Meanwhile, Native American Lit has picked up one more student--and Nature in Lit is still hanging at six enrollees. Dammit. I put up a whole bunch of fliers yesterday, but I have a feeling they're going to get taken down again (long and boring story about the rules for who is allowed to post what--and conveying the rules to Public Safety officers and maintenance staff). So I'll print out a bunch more and put them up again next week--and try to hit a few more places. Please, God, let that course run!

I was rather hoping that one of my favorite students from last spring would sign up for Nature in Lit, but I now believe she won't. She got an incomplete from me in Native American Lit--she simply had bitten off more than she could chew--and I've been hounding her all summer and all fall about getting the work in to me. (She's also my cat sitter, so there have been many opportunities for me to nag her.) She had promised me the work on Monday, then Tuesday--and then yesterday, sudden silence. Uh-oh. I called and asked her to call me so we could talk. As I feared, she had not been able to finish--and that the main thing she was missing was the final paper. I told her to send me what she had, and I'd give her a mercy D--which would blow her GPA, of course (and sadly, she's in the same situation with a history class), but a D would be better than the F that would automatically ensue if she didn't clear the incomplete. She was deeply upset, barely keeping herself from tears, but also remarkably adult about the whole experience, knowing she'd done it to herself--and also knowing that in the long run, it would not be the end of the world. She was angry with herself, and knew her mother would be angry with her, but she was willing to accept the full consequences, have a crappy weekend of self-loathing, and then move on.

So, she e-mailed her assignments to me early this morning--and they were exceedingly good. Excellent. I could pick nits (perfection is unattainable), but they were terrific--her poetry paper and one unbelievably brilliant reading journal. I had already thought about seeing if there was some way I could petition to have the incomplete turned into a W, but even that didn't seem good enough, once I saw that work. And I thought, what the fuck. Is it really my job to make sure she suffers consequences of a simple error in over-confidence? Or is it more beneficial to her to give her a break? So I called her this morning and said, "At some point in your life, write me a paper on Ceremony. Meanwhile, I'll give you the A for the class." She was at work--and working with horses (who tend to get skittish)--so she couldn't jump around and yell, but she was almost inarticulate with relief. I submitted the change of grade today. Merry Christmas, Blondie.

I also submitted a change of grade for another student from last spring who had gotten an incomplete. The young woman was certainly capable of A-level work, but her mother-in-law to be had just been diagnosed with cancer, so she missed a lot of assignments and her final paper was pretty crappy. She earned a C; at the end of the spring semester we talked it over and decided she deserved a chance to turn in her missing assignments and to re-do the final paper. After repeated attempts to reach her, I never heard a word, and all semester, I've been wondering what to do. I decided to change the grade to the original C. It's better than the F of an unfulfilled incomplete--and she can demonstrate her sterling worth in some future class. She did, after all, actually earn the C, so she might as well have it. Interestingly enough, I looked at her transcript today, and she also earned a C for her 101 class. I wonder if she's overly confident about her abilities in English classes and so tends to blow them off a bit. In any event, that's another chapter closed.

But I still have to finalize this semester. Bleagh. I know how much I have to do, but the part of me that doesn't know how long it takes to do anything is saying, "I'm OK: I've got plenty of time to get it all done." And maybe I do, but I'm also aware that in a few days I may be screeching here about how much I still have to accomplish and how little time I have left. I spent a couple of hours this morning working on spring schedules and would like to do even more next week, to try to help Bruce as much as possible, since he was so good to me in the fall. And, of course, there's a lot of other flotsam that I need to get tidied up, like sending the pages for the photocopied 102 readers over to Printing and Publications....

Still, even with the knowledge of all that is to be done, I intend to put everything in a bag and take it home. My anxiety meters are creeping into the yellow zone (not on red alert just yet), but the whine about being tired and cranky is louder than the anxiety right now. I'll be sitting on the LIRR tomorrow, on my way to (and from) a quick doctor's appointment in the City before the rest of my usual Friday (including a ride, dammit; I've not been on a horse anywhere near enough this fall): the time on the train will be an opportunity to get a good wodge of work done. Then I've got most of Saturday and all of Sunday to alternate between the "I don't want to" whining and the "I'll feel better if do" good-girl routine. One way or another, in almost exactly a week, it'll all be over: I'll be finishing up paper work and posting grades on Banner and beginning my transformation back into a pumpkin or whatever it is.

And I'm working very hard not to think about all the stuff I need to do before spring term begins, or during the spring. That way, madness lies. Sufficient unto the day is the paper grading thereto.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I'm in Advisement, and there are no students, so of course I'm not grading any of the papers I brought here with me; I'm noodling around at anything else instead. I just had a nice conversation with one of the professional Advisers here about lives outside of work, and now I'm blogging.

I'm a bit unhappy right now about the revisions I collected today from the Short Story class. Two of them I suspect may maybe be plagiarized, so I need to type them in for the plagiarism checker. I'll be relieved if nothing turns up; even if the student got "too much help" from someone, I'll pretend the work is legitimately the student's own and let it go. But I do resent the time it takes. I was a little disappointed with the class--but not actually surprised. Only three students had read the story we were supposed to discuss; they'd been frantically working on their revisions instead. Fair enough. We ended up talking first about questions/concerns about their final papers, then about the structure of the course in general--and they've got me thinking about possible changes for next semester.

The commentary that is influencing my plans for spring was regarding whether the mini-papers are useful. Somehow, despite all I said (and wrote), most of the students didn't grasp the idea that the mini-papers were prep for their bigger papers, just as they didn't grasp how reading journals also are prep for papers. Several students were saying they wished they'd been able to do the proposal process for all their big papers, not just the final one, so I asked if I should do that instead of assigning the mini-papers. But then the debate began. Some had found the mini-papers very useful--and liked the chance to have the low-stakes chances to find out about my grading. Others, the ones who hadn't seen the connection between the mini-papers and the other assignments, thought I should make the switch. They did admit, across the board, that I told them that the journals and mini-papers were tools to get them to the big papers, but they said "somehow" they still thought of them as separate assignments and therefore just as something to complete for their final grades, not a useful tool.

So now I'm wondering if I should call the assignments something else. Instead of calling them mini-papers, should I call them preparatory papers? Should I refer to reading journals as idea logs? A lot of this teaching gig is really psychology: what is happening in their heads that makes them behave in X fashion, and how can I influence that with the way I present things?

I will say, I'm happy with the idea that each journal is 1% of the final grade--though many students still tend to blow them off. However, if I call them idea logs, that may mean reworking the structure of the assignment (certainly the instructions), but then they might more fully understand how each percentage point works toward a paper assignment. The more I can indicate the ways in which the assignments are interconnected--through language and through the grading structure--the better. As I'm writing this, I'm thinking maybe I can include journals and mini-papers in the grade for each paper: the paper is worth 30%, say, but that includes X percent from idea logs and X percent from preparatory papers...? Hmmmm. It's something to consider. I might be able to do that for the comp classes, too, tying the journals to the paper grades. Never thought of that before.

The 102 students were ready to fling their papers at me and run until I suggested that they not look at their own, just read someone else's specifically to find and fix bozo errors and formatting or citations. They did that--and still finished up about 45 minutes early. It was great for me, as I was able to return to the office for a leisurely lunch and a little staring at the walls before I had to come here.

And now my time here is done. I'm going to post this without rereading at all and head out. I'm going to return Little Dorrit to the library, post some more fliers, and head to my office. I'll be here until heaven knows when, but not too late I hope.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Today I looked at most of the applications for associate and full professor, was feeling very proud of myself about the accomplishment--and we ended up mostly talking about the applications for assistant, which I never looked at. Figures. I've been pretty much useless on that committee most of the semester, and I hate feeling that way, so today was just more of the same--but I am now essentially on top of what remains for this term. Which ain't much, as the term is essentially over, but still, it was a productive stint of work.

In working so hard to get those promotion applications looked at, however, I completely forgot to do the last set of journals for today's 102, dammit. One student asked about hers--and she has to turn in her paper early, as she'll be away on Thursday--so I told her to let me know if she needs the journal to finish her paper, and if so, I'd have it on the door tonight. I've not heard from her, so I'm assuming she doesn't need it back until next week.

The students in today's class were great, back to their best behavior, engaged and active in participation. They asked good questions that were useful for everyone, about documentation, using critical sources, and so on. Eventually, however, those questions ran dry, and I was able to go from one to the next, circling the room to help out as needed. At that point, I told them (as I had for yesterday's class) that if they were better served by taking off to work on their own, they could split--and a few did, but the majority stayed, including the one young woman who has been resistant all semester. She's finally getting it, and she and I talked about that a little, what might have helped her get on track earlier. I told her she's a better student now, learning more now, than she has been all semester. She was unhappy that it's too late for her grade, but I reminded her that the learning is what matters most. If she's on the borderline between a D+ and a C, I'll give her the C, as a reward for her (belated but still significant) effort. I wish she could acknowledge that she robbed herself, not only of the better grade but also of a significant college experience, by trying to do as she's always done in the past, despite mounting evidence that doing so would not be sufficient. I'm not sure what she's learned in terms of herself, her behaviors, but she certainly has learned that she needs to put more effort into being clear about what's expected early on.

In fact, I'd say the interactions with students in class were all good: interesting to me and productive to the students. I love the way they tease and ruffle each other. The threesome (usually foursome, but the fourth member has been absenting herself somewhat) were in their usual form today, helping and challenging each other. At one point, the two young men were vying for my attention, while the young woman sat between them, not asking for anything--so of course, I gave her my attention first. The guys got their fair share, but ye gods, are they aggressive about it sometimes. After making sure everyone else had what they needed, I ended up essentially editing some of Bright Young Man's language, talking it through as I did so. He's sophisticated enough in his thinking that I don't need to pull the wording out of him; right now, he's better served by seeing how his own wording can be clarified by being simplified. My ego was nicely bolstered by how impressed he was, not only by how quickly I can read and respond but also by how quickly I could edit. Years of experience, Darlin', years of experience.

At the end of class, BYM followed me back to the office, largely because he wanted to talk about possible schools he might transfer to. By luck, Paul was here, so when BYM asked about Middlebury, although I could provide no information, Paul knew a lot and cheerfully provided it. In addition, I'm encouraging BYM to consider schools from Berkeley on up the coast: I think he'd be very happy in the northwest. He was worried about asking me for a letter of recommendation, but I assured him--quite truthfully--that I'd be delighted. I've got an investment in his success, and I want him to end up at a school that suits him and where he'll thrive.

Thinking of him, I just took a look at my class counts. Nature in Lit is not moving, dammit: I need to get more fliers out. And the student who needs to turn in her paper early said she signed up for Native American Lit, but I don't see her on the rosters: I may check with her about that. BYM is trying very hard to shill Nature in Lit for me, which I appreciate. Any help is good. Prayer counts, too, for any of you willing to get on the wavelength for me on this.

Shifting gears, I'm still worrying a little, mostly subliminally, about my To Do list: I can't shake the feeling that I've forgotten something crucial. (In fact, I got a hell of a scare today: I dropped off my observations, and Bruce's administrative assistant called me to say that she had me down for one more. Panic in the streets--until Paul overheard and said no, that person was his to observe, and the observation is in the process of being written. Fortunately I hadn't had time to get in a full-fledged lather about it, but zoiks.) Not being certain what else I need to do, I started working on recording grades, for those who simply disappeared from classes: it's never too early to start getting the paperwork done. I find the paperwork oddly enjoyable, too; it appeals to the fuss-budget side of my psyche. I'm not sure how much more I'll do tonight. I can get into spells of nitzing around with stuff like that sort of endlessly, and the next thing I know I'm scarcely able to move from sitting so long, so I'm a bit reluctant to embark on more of the process. On the other hand, since final papers start coming in tomorrow--and since I'll be working on adjunct schedules on Thursday morning--it's not a bad idea for me to get as much fiddling done as possible before Rome begins to burn. Then again, back on the other side of the equation, the idea of being home early and spending an evening being semi-vegetative has appeal. I feel I ought to want to go to dance class, but in point of fact, I don't want to, so, well, I won't. So there. I'll toss this post up to the blog, go sit in my other chair, and ponder the mysteries of the universe until I figure out what my brain and body want most--at least of the options currently available (as a months-long vacation in the Caribbean or the Greek Islands is not on offer at the moment). Once I figure out what feels right, I'll do it. And tomorrow is that proverbial other day, after all.

Monday, December 12, 2011


I just had to kvetch at Paul for a few minutes: I've spent the day reviewing promotion applications, reviewing student writing, reviewing other P&B members' revised letters in support of applications, and I just fucking cannot evaluate anyone's anything anymore. Stick a fork in me; I'm done.

Over the weekend I got the observations written up--finally. Yesterday and today, I went through the promotion applications for my two mentees, so those are done--finally. I looked at another one to do at least a little more of the P&B business that's been taking a back seat all semester long--and I'll look at whatever else I can tomorrow. It feels good to get things crossed off the enormous "to do" list (flambe), but I have that horrible sense that I'm forgetting something crucial.

One huge relief: I realized that the deadline for the paper I've been working on is actually January 31, not December. I can't let it recede too far into the background: the publication will publish the article in English, but I need to provide the abstract and key terms in both English and Spanish. Therefore, I have to be certain my excellent and praise-worthy translator has sufficient time to do the translation without feeling crunched for time himself.

Keeping the pressure on, however, I do want to get a start on the adjunct schedules this week, and really, the only time I have is Thursday morning. But I'd like to have more time than that, so the question becomes, do I ditch college-wide Assessment yet again (I've been away more than I've been there) so I can buy some time tomorrow? I do have a question for the dean of that area (a question arising from our departmental Assessment meeting), but I may have to track her down outside of the meeting anyway. I don't know: I'll wait to decide tomorrow.

And the Chancellor's Award application? Oh, I don't know. Later.

Classes today were fine. All the students who remain in the short-story class got their proposals approved, and we still had time for a reasonable class discussion of the story they read last week. We'll discuss one more story on Wednesday; then I'll collect their final papers on Monday, do the little end-of-semester "post-mortem," and that'll be that. Most of the students in the 102 didn't want much if any help from me: they showed up; I handed back their last journals; I had them work with each other for a bit and ask me any questions, and then I said, "If you'll be better served by taking off to work on your paper on your own, or to do your math homework, or whatever, go ahead and split." Their papers are due on Wednesday--as in, two days from now; then they do final self-evaluations for next Monday, and then that's all over but the shouting. One would think they'd want my help, but when I told them they could split, most did. A few stayed, and I was somewhat cranky with one of them: he's trying, bless his heart, but trying to explain things to him is rather like talking to a box of cotton. I keep telling him his problem is that his sentences are not clear, but really, what I know, and what Paul says not only to me but to his students, is that unclear sentences are evidence of unclear thinking. And that's the real issue. This kid wants a B, but he doesn't have a B brain, I'm sorry to say. He'll get a C because of his efforts--assuming he can pull his paper together at all.

Well, well, what's a girl to do.

Head for home, I think, is the answer. I'm going to shovel things around a little, so I have an idea what's in front of me for tomorrow, and then I'm going to shuffle off, not quite to Buffalo, though if I thought I could get away with the escape, even that might be a desirable destination. The winter break can't come soon enough--or last long enough. Can't I just be off until next fall?

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Started to develop a wicked headache as I was marking journals for today's 102--not a comment on the journals, just the weather change of the last 48 hours plus the garden-variety end-of-semester foo-raw. I keep thinking of a bit in The Word for World Is Forest, when a character is thinking of his own health, "Migraine headache, margarine breadache, ow, ow, ow." This isn't a migraine, but I want to be sure to keep it that way, so I'm bailing on my Advisement stint and heading for the hills. Class was great, and the Bright Young Man followed me back to the office to talk further about the novel, a specific area that he was trying to make sense of. We covered a lot of good territory in class, but toward the end, we got into a conversation about Prof. P and her dissertation and correspondence with Le Guin and graduate school and previous employment history.... It's what Paul calls their desire to "get under the hood," to figure us out, how we tick. It was easy enough to allow it, as they were doing so well with what they'd read. And sometimes I think it's valuable for them to see us as people, me as a person, to reveal some of my passions and the work I've gone through to get where I am.

But I didn't get enough accomplished today, so I'll be back in the office tomorrow, writing up those observations, reviewing promotion applications. I've got a socially jam-packed weekend ahead of me, which is lovely in many ways but increases the pressure on the work week. The endless refrain, yes? All I can do is take each day, each task, as it comes, and have faith that somehow it will all get done--and that I don't have to drive myself into the ground like a tent-stake to do it.

And it's not dark yet. I didn't make it out of here before full dark yesterday (the last student I saw in Advisement kept me there 30 minutes beyond my "finish" time), but I will today. Everybody sing: "Grab your coat and get your hat..."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Oh, hooray! I can hardly believe my good fortune. Not only is it very quiet in Advisement today (I saw three students and now no one is waiting, so I'm free for the time being), I also got all the proposals evaluated, graded, and returned to students--along with reading journals for today's 102. I collected another batch of reading journals from the 102, but I postponed collecting the journals for the short story class: we spent the class period working on getting their proposals approved instead. One approval is complete (Mr. Determined/Dedicated: well done!); several are close, others will require more work. I hope that Monday is not completely consumed with getting the remaining proposals approved; again, I encourged students to work for those approvals via e-mail over the weekend. If the approvals don't take too long on Monday, we can talk about the story we were meant to discuss today, but if that doesn't happen, ah well. We'll just have two stories to discuss on the last days of class, which is peachy.

The one unhappy moment was that I had to give a student the bad news that he's not going to pass the class. He was skating on extremely thin ice all semester long, and didn't get his proposal to me on time. I told him that deadline is absolute--yes, even if his grandfather had to be rushed to the hospital. I'd be more inclined to give him a little benefit of the doubt if A) any of his preceding papers had ever been on time and B) I'd gotten some kind of panic-stricken e-mail begging for mercy. The fact that he just showed up today and expected to be given more time? Nope, won't fly. He was furious, stormed into the room to get his coat and bags saying "I just wasted a whole semester" (I guess you did, if you choose to see it as a waste), and then he stormed back out again, saying, "Good luck to all the rest of you." I wasn't sure if that was a slam at me (as in, "with that bitch as a professor, you all are going to need luck") or if he sincerely felt a connection to the other students and wished them well. Strangely at variance with his behavior, his tone actually sounded more like the latter than the former--but who knows. In any event, he truly won't be hurt by having to spend another semester in school. Maybe he'll learn something about responsibility, if nothing else.

But I confidently expect another negative review on Rate My Professor.

However, to balance that moment, at the end of class, two students made a point of letting me know how much they appreciate the time and energy I put into communicating with them. One of them said, "Most professors are like, 'Whatever,' but you really care; you really want us to do well." Yes, I do; thank you for noticing. I did thank them for the praise--and it genuinely does make me feel not only happy but relieved. My efforts are not in vain: at least some of the students actually value the experience they're having.

I don't remember if I said yesterday that the class started with a comment from a student: "Are you sure you're in the right place?" I asked what she meant, and essentially, the students embarked in a discussion of whether I belong at a community college. I said yes, in fact, that's precisely where I do belong. One student said I was harder than the professors she'd had at Stony Brook (which is unlikely--but even if so, that wouldn't have been the case had she stayed there); another said I was more like the professors at his previous four-year school than like other professors at Nassau. Perhaps (though I know many of my colleagues here are every bit as tough as I am), but even so, isn't that what they want? They kept saying "yes, but...." Yes, they want to be prepared, but it hurts. Yes, they would rather know that they may never find another class as hard--but the hardness is overwhelming right now. Eventually, one of them said, "It's a compliment," so I said, "Thank you. But it doesn't sound like one." Later, the student who had started that particular ball rolling apologized to me, saying she hadn't meant to say anything bad about me. I reassured her: I was not offended, or upset in any way. I just wanted them to consider what they were really saying, what they really want.

Yesterday's class was a little bit scratchy (again the problem of them asking so many questions, jumping ahead and worrying about little details that I had a hard time getting to what we needed to focus on); today's 102 was great. We were discussing Le Guin's essay "Is Gender Necessary? (Redux)" and the intro to the novel, and the students had great comments and questions. We ended up getting into some pretty advanced concepts and philosophical questions, and they were right there, soaking it in. I could practically smell and taste the deep thought going on, and that's the classroom experience I love most. That's real college stuff, guys, no bullshit.

We'll see what tomorrow brings, from the 102. I do have their final journals on the novel to mark--and then all the other mounds and heaps and piles of work I've not been able to attend to yet--but I intend to do nothing else productive with the balance of today. I have what I hope will be one final appointment about my stupid tooth tomorrow morning, but after that, I can come to campus and dive back in. I may even come in on Friday--unlikely, but one never knows (lots to mull over about that before I decide, and the decision will probably happen at the last minute). And tonight, I truly believe the breather, small though it will be, will do me more good than trying to grind through more work. Suddenly, the waiting room has filled up, but I'm only here for about another 30 minutes, after which I intend to go to the office, drop off my wheelie-pack full of student detritus, grab my purse, and leave. Imagine: I may even be home before it's fully dark. Wouldn't that be a miracle?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Brief brain break

I'm finding it very difficult to evaluate what I'm reading in student proposals, so I'm taking a brain break. I hope I can get back to the marking for a while longer tonight; even though I plan on getting in early again tomorrow, I have a lot to get done for tomorrow's classes.

As I'm evaluating the 102 proposals for their grades (which is getting my head out of the short story proposals), I realize I approved a few in some haste: I really should have asked the students to take at least one more step in their thinking before saying "yes, you're good to go." However, it's not too late for me to direct them into a clearer focus; I'm just making comments on the "approved" proposals, either specifying the change that is required or saying "see me." Sometimes the problems are just too hard to explain in pen in the margins.

I also wish I'd done what I did with today's class, and slapped grades on them at the time. True, this moment to read more carefully is pointing out to me where I need to give a little more guidance, but on the other hand, this is taking a fuck of a lot of time. The returning student I have in the T/Th 102 said today that he can see a decided difference in me from last semester: I seem much more stressed. So that sense of having not enough time is leading to galloping anxiety. I just need to breathe through it, and keep pushing forward, and know that I'll get there, one way or another.

I also decided to attend the meeting this morning, the one I was going to blow off. I'm glad I did, in terms of what happened in the meeting (I'm becoming a sort of institutional memory for that committee, and a general translator from our language into Assessment-Edu-speak)--but again, that contributes to the sense of time crunch.

And I don't want to even hope that I might get a breather after the current batch of assignments is out of my hair. For one thing, I know I'm going to be getting a bunch more reading journals from all three classes this week; for another, there's still a mountain of stuff that I've been sitting on since early November that I've yet to complete. I don't want to continue the self-tantalization of thinking I'll get a break that doesn't materialize. I'd rather just accept that I will not, in fact, be able to relax at all this term, not for a second, and that I'll still be relatively busy over the "break." I don't know when to hope for a chance to lie about drooling and blithering--unless I have a complete breakdown, which is unlikely. But I do know it will happen eventually, as long as I keep the pressure on for a while longer.

But I don't want this to sound more horrific than it actually is. I do give myself breaks: they're small but significant. For instance, I will be leaving here at 6:45 to meet Paul for dinner: that's a lovely thing to look forward to. I'm finished in Advisement at 4:15 tomorrow, which means I have a little extra time in the office....

But now, a colleague needs me to jump her car, so off I go to do that.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fog and more fog

That's the weather outside. It was profoundly foggy this morning as I drove to campus (an hour later than I'd intended, but I found I simply could not bear the idea of a 5 a.m. alarm), and when I came out of Advisement a while ago, the fog had set in again. I was going to make some comparison between external and internal fog, but in fact I don't feel foggy. I feel groggy (even a 6:00 alarm hurts), and somewhat scratchy moodwise (nowhere near as cranky as I can get, however), but my head is still surprisingly clear. Overwhelmed, but clear.

Today was very easy in terms of teaching. The students in the short story class listened to a few announcements from me, handed in their proposals, and split. I sat there grading papers (the ones I would have finished before class if I had gotten up at 5), and two straggler students showed up with proposals. (One didn't: no surprise. He's been hanging on by a thread all semester and the thread snapped.)

Since no one else was there, and I had time, I had good conversations with each of the stragglers about previous papers, especially with the student who was guilty of plagiarism. I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt: she may have been deliberately trying to cheat, but somehow I don't get that feeling from her (either she's a much better actress than anyone I've ever seen, or my radar is in need of calibrating, or she is, in fact, honest). The plagiarism was not as glaring or wholesale as it sometimes is, and it was one of those instances where she'd looked up a story to get help and the line between help and use got blurry. I still gave her the whole "plagiarism is a failing offense" line, and she's getting The Letter, but I told her I'd give her a chance to revise: the grade will be the average of whatever her new grade is and the zero she'd have gotten for the plagiarized paper. She feels better about that--and I know that the grade will be so low that it might as well be a zero.

I'm honestly not angry or upset with her--but I was wildly frustrated yesterday when I had to spend ages finding the evidence of the plagiarism so I could show her what she'd done. It just takes so fucking much time to catch, dammit, and I don't have the time to spare right now. I actually had to check two papers of hers: I won't go into the details, but I didn't get the printout of her first paper until very late, so I was grading it yesterday, too--only to realize it was about two stories we'd not read. Huge red flags went flying all over the place, but I ran the paper through the plagiarism detector mill and nothing turned up. Either she was plagiarizing herself--a paper she'd written for some other class perhaps--or a friend gave her a paper, or she legitimately was simply confused. Again, the paper she "wrote" gets a zero, but that one I'll just let her write all over again, from scratch, and instead of averaging the two, I'll simply give her whatever grade she gets.

But oh, the time, dammit, the time it took to determine the amount and kind of "cheating"!

That was last night, however. Today, time was less pinched. The 102 was pretty easy, too. A couple of the students had gotten their proposals approved via e-mail, so I just had to collect the revisions so I can evaluate for a grade. The rest brought revised proposals to class for me to evaluate on the spot. Most I could approve right then and there (though again, the grades are yet to be determined--all but one, which is a solid A). Only one young man had to keep working on his thesis in class, and it didn't take him long. And again, I was deeply touched by how frightened they were as I came to each one of them to read over their new proposals. One young woman chatting with her friend until I came over, and then she said, "Oh, my heart just started racing! I was fine, but now I can hardly breathe." My poor sweethearts. I'm proud of them for getting so far, concerned about the fact that they're still struggling on so many levels, hopeful that they'll finally take off and fly with this final paper.

But getting back to the shortage of time (which is close to the title of a Le Guin story, "Some Approaches to the Problem of the Shortage of Time"--makes me want to reread it to see if there are any good suggestions): I think I'm going to bail on tomorrow's Assessment meeting. I feel so woefully unprepared for our P&B meeting, never mind the papers I have to grade, that I need the time. I'll try to get up at 6 again (oy!) and get in to the office ASAP and crank through whatever I can accomplish before P&B at 1. But I don't feature myself going to dance class tomorrow night: I'll either be working, or I'll be heading home to collapse.

Which is the plan for right now. I'll putter until I figure out what I want to do about dinner; then off I go. But I leave you with this profound statement, penned by one of my students, to consider: "Death is something that can cause serious changes in life and everyday society." I'd say yes, death certainly changes life pretty radically.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


I just was looking at the numbers of posts from previous months and years, and I see very few posts from April and May of this year. I wonder what I was doing that I wasn't blogging? One of these days, I may go back and re-read what I've flung up here. It may be interesting (or nauseating) to see what themes return....


It was a bit of a mad dash at the end there, and I did have to rush a couple of students through their visits during my office hours, but I got the proposals and reading journals marked and back to the students today. Whew, and other exclamations of relief and collapse. We also had a pretty good discussion about the end of the novel, after which I was able to go around the room and help everyone get a handle on revising their proposals.

Two students from the M/W 102 were among those I hustled in and out of my office relatively expeditiously today. One was struggling to get to a thesis, and he may still not quite be there, though by the end of class on Monday (if not before), he'll be able to come up with something good enough. The other is poised to get an A, if she keeps on as she's going now: she had the ideas; she just hadn't pulled them together into a coherent claim yet. She had written a revised thesis, but on her walk over to my office, she had an even better thought--and that's what she's going to turn into her revision. It's a great idea: if she follows through on it fully, it will work beautifully.

But I'm hedging there, aware of the possibilities for a derailment. By now I should know that whenever I am confident that a student will nail a proposal (or a paper), I'm likely to be wrong: often the students I'm most sure will do beautifully in fact don't. Case in point, the Bright Young Man. He was brave enough to tackle the loyalty and betrayal theme, but he engaged in a process simply of proving that instances of loyalty and betrayal exist in the novel, rather than making a claim regarding what Le Guin is saying about loyalty and betrayal. He'd written a sort of mini-paper (good plan), but essentially he was left merely summarizing events, rather than producing analysis. After class, he followed me over to the Advisement Center, talking about it--and realized that he'd pretty much missed what was going on with the theme anyway. He's still going to go with it (again, a good plan), but he's feeling a bit like a fraud at the moment, as he truly hadn't seen what he needed to see in order to do the topic. But he's on track now, and I'm confident he'll do fine with his revision.

The young woman who was in my office on Tuesday did the best job of coming up with a thesis. In fact, her proposal was the best across the board: her only downfall was that she wasn't specific about the value of the quotations she intends to use from her critical source. She should be proud.

By contrast, one student was on the verge of tears in the class today: in fact, as she and I were talking about what she needed to do to revise her proposal, she was so panic-stricken that she was struggling not to give way entirely. I suggested she step outside and let herself have the moment of panic, then come back. She did, and I think she now sees what her claim actually is. She had a good idea, but she was using a point that would belong in a body paragraph as if it were her overall claim: I had to lift her out of that and into something that would fly--but I think (hope) she'll do fine, now that we talked it over.

I'm expecting a barrage of e-mails over the weekend, as students frantically revise. It does break my heart when they are so stressed that they verge on tears--or, on occasion, actually cry. It is literally awesome how much so many of them invest in their course work. They are highly ego involved: they view their grades as significant indicators of who they are as people. I tend to forget that aspect of it all: I'm so locked into the struggle to impart what Paul calls the habits of mind that I forget that the students don't see what we're doing as merely an intellectual exercise. And they're right. It isn't just an intellectual exercise--but what is being said about them as human beings does not reside in their grades, as they believe. Rather, it lies in how they manage the difficult tasks, whether they improve, by how much, and in what areas. Grades don't measure that very adequately--but those intangibles are the real purpose and value of education.

It's such a delicate balance, between making sure they get where they need to be in terms of that intellectual journey and bolstering their emotional states as human beings: providing support and encouragement while maintaining standards. I expect I will perpetually veer between utter conviction that my standards are appropriate and profound concern that I am overly demanding--at least for the time and place in which I find myself. The zeitgeist says I'm way the hell off base, but I fight that ghost with bulldog tenacity. I'm engaged in a rear-guard action, I know, but I refuse to surrender, as long as I still have the energy and mental acumen to continue the battle.

And I certainly identify with the panic and pressure my students are going through. I'm not panicked myself, at the moment, but I can tell this is going to be one of those days, weeks, that is hard to let go. Talk about my bulldog tendencies: I tend to sink my teeth into a day or week (or longer), and even when it's time to back off, relax, do something else so the batteries can recharge, I keep my jaws locked on the work, either by fretting or by engaging in tangential activities that accomplish very little, though they "feel" somewhat useful--or that are a pretense at relaxation without actually being very relaxing. The inclination to putter (or noodle) is hard to avoid; even thinking about letting go entirely can bring on waves of anxiety. "I can't relax! I have too much to do!" And yet, if I don't let go, I'll become increasingly inefficient and ineffective. Yeesh. Times like this, when I contemplate the enormous mounds of stuff still to be done, render even the blogging an insufficient form of decompression. What's a girl to do? My usual response is to find something mindless to read (or watch) and to eat equally mindlessly. Books (or DVDs) and food: my narcotics of choice. I'm not sure which I may indulge in tonight, but I do know I need to get out of this room if I'm to have any chance of prying those bulldog teeth loose.

"Let go!" (grrrrrrrr.) "Let GO." (grrrrrrrr.) "Bad dog! LET GO!!" (grrrrrrrrrrrrrr.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Maybe a bad idea--redux

I have marked a few of the proposals and reading journals for tomorrow's class, and I truly must get them all back tomorrow, and I truly won't have a lot of time tomorrow to do them--but from the moment I got in this morning, I've been having a hard time keeping my eyes open as I grade. I truly have drifted off a few times, in the midst of trying to evaluate a proposal, my eyes slowly closing and my head beginning to nod. This suggests to me that I may not be working at peak capacity (gee, ya think?). So the possible bad idea is my decision not to mark any more tonight but leave all the rest for the morrow. I may find myself scrambling to get them done before class--especially as I know a few students are planning to show up for my office hour (dammit)--but c'est la vie.

I'd take off for home, but I told a student I'd be here until 6:30, so I feel obliged to hang out for a while longer. She's trying to get her proposal revised right now, which is laudable, but I rather wish I hadn't made the offer to be around; that may be another bad idea, but ah well.

In any event, since I'm using the time waiting for her to show up by blogging, let me recall a moment from yesterday. I have the student with learning disabilities in the T/Th 102 class, you may remember. I talked to my sister about that young woman, and my sister's reaction reminded me that compassion is often the greater part of teaching. I sometimes get locked into a "tough love" stance, but in the case of this student, such an attitude is probably less than helpful. So yesterday after class, I talked to her for a bit. She knows she's not going to pass the class, but she wants to turn in work anyway, so she can keep learning. Yesterday, however, she fell asleep in the hall before class and didn't wake up until class was over, even though some of the other students in the class tried to get her to wake up and come in. (As I've said, they're very sweet about her.) And she didn't have her proposal done, because she hadn't been able to figure out how to use the databases. So I told her that she should just finish doing the reading but shouldn't try to do any other work. (I didn't say that marking her work is time I don't want to spend on someone who can't pass, but that's a sad if brutal truth.) And I told her she was welcome to spend time with us in class, as she needs a place to be away from her group living situation.

I also asked her if she'd registered with the Center for Students with Disabilities: my sister had suggested that I take the student over there myself, if she needed encouragement getting registered. Turns out, the student had registered but didn't think CSD could do anything to help her. In fact, they may not have any classroom accommodations that will help her, but I told her that the counselors can help her understand her assignments better, can help her learn how to process complex instructions--and she lit up like Fourth of July fireworks. That's what she needs: someone who can walk her through instructions and feedback so she can see more than one thread at a time. She was thrilled and said she'd definitely see a counselor for next semester. And when I told her she was welcome to join us for discussion of the novel, she was relieved and thrilled: "If I were allowed to hug you," she said, "I would." I told her I'd hug her back, if I were allowed to. It took so little to add some light and warmth to her life, I'm glad I was able to.

I also had a conversation during my office hour with another student from that class: she also has psychological problems that have been getting in her way, but she's hanging in there, which she says she's never been able to do before. She didn't have her proposal done, which should mean failure in the class (according to the big print all over the assignment sheet and elsewhere in my various policy statements), but she's been working so hard to turn the semester around, I didn't want the axe to fall just yet. So I told her she'd have to get me her proposal by the time I arrive on campus tomorrow morning; that way I can mark and return it along with everyone else's, and she can proceed with the rest of the class. She was on the verge of tears when she left the office, just from having her anxieties allayed.

And the very sweet and earnest young man from that class has decided to withdraw--wisely, I think, but he still wants to come to class and get what he can out of it. At first he said that if he didn't finish the term with me, he'd have to drop out of college entirely, as he's paying for it out of his own pocket, but now he's changed his mind and has decided that he can take the class again, and next time, do better. He's smart enough to do fine; his only problem was his sentence-level skills, which were woefully inadequate. He's gotten himself a tutor and is learning to do it right, finally, at long last. I hope he does very well in the spring: he's got all the determination and motivation to succeed.

So even the ones who are flaming out--or close to it--are learning a lot, about themselves and about academia. I find it very moving.

Shifting gears to today: the short story class did a terrific job on Le Guin's "Malheur County" today. They saw a lot going on, and came up with great comments, questions, and connections. They have their proposals due on Monday, and I'm not sure what to do with them once they turn those in. They don't have any reading due, and they've covered all the stories to date just fine. I'd try to get the proposals graded during the class period, but I don't think I can, as there are 11 students left in the class. That's a fraction of what we started with (I think the initial roster was 28 students) but still more than I think I can mark in 75 minutes. I may just let them go, which would be interesting for them and for me.

The 102 will be similar. Today, we spent about 40 minutes finishing up discussion of the novel; then I had them work on revising their proposals, so they could ask questions and so on while I was there. We'll see how many of them manage to get approvals via e-mail, but I suspect that at least a few will need to use the class time to get those approvals finalized. The thesis is the stumbling block for all of them: even the ones who did a great job with everything else fell apart on their theses. Those who have gotten an approved proposal, I'll send off to work on whatever they want. The rest, I'll keep in class until they get the approval. And then Wednesday, we'll discuss the intro to the book plus Le Guin's essay "Is Gender Necessary? (Redux)", and then they're off to the races, so to speak.

I'm trying not to think too much about all the other zillions of things I have to do--but it is helpful if periodically I remind myself of what's still hanging over my head (yes, rather like the sword of Damocles). Over the weekend, I have to grade papers for the short story class, so they can have a shot at revising before the end of the term (and I need to remember to tell them that I'm going to extend that deadline by two days). I need to review letters other P&B members have written to go with promotion applications before Tuesday's meeting. I need to review promotion applications for everyone, not just my mentees--but my mentees have to come first, hopefully before Tuesday's meeting as well. I still have observations to write up. I need to do the preliminary scheduling of adjuncts for spring. I'm working on a little bit of my own scholarship, and I need to keep an eye on that so the deadline doesn't slip past with no submission from me. I also need to chip away at my Chancellor's Award application, whenever I can winkle out a little time and brain space for that. And it seems like I must be forgetting something dire: that doesn't look like nearly enough to drive me insane.

And three weeks from tomorrow, the semester is over. YEEEEE-HAAAAA!!!!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Very fast

I have about 20 minutes to blog and eat my dinner before I go off to dance class tonight. I'm chipping away at proposals: so far, although a few are at least close to having a workable thesis, no one has gotten approved--and I only have one more to do for tomorrow's 102 class. I think that's a new record, and not a happy one. I'm also cranking through reading journals for the short story class, so they can have them as they work on their proposals. It looks like a very early morning for me tomorrow.

I was somewhat relieved today to find that I'm not as woefully far behind on P&B business as I was afraid I was. I'm still doing a piss-poor job at that this semester, but I'm hoping that by next week, I'll be getting caught up. I still have to get a bunch of student work out of my hair first, but one thing at a time.

I'm hoping I have more time to think and write tomorrow. I like reflecting on student interactions, and hope I don't forget the little bits I wanted to make note of. The students are, after all, why I teach, so it's good to learn from what happens between us.

But my dinner just informed me that it is heated up, so off I go. If only I had a witch's broom to ride....

Monday, November 28, 2011

Back in the saddle again

It's strange how normal it feels to be back at work, buried under mounds of stuff to do. That sounds paradoxical but actually isn't: after my time away, I'd expect to feel a little more disconnected from the patterns here, but it seems they are powerful enough to reassert themselves instantaneously. I was having anxiety attacks on the plane last night, thinking of all I have to do--and it is a ton--but now that I'm back on campus, it's just "Oh, right, this again." All I can do is to keep chipping away at it, doing as much as I can, when I can.

Both classes today went well. The colleague who subbed the short-story class was nice enough to write a little note describing what had happened and saying they are a great class (I agree). They liked her, too, and enjoyed that she tended to say, "I'm hip with that." Apparently they did a fine job of finding the "coming of age" aspects of the Lorrie Moore story they'd read--and they did the same again with the story we read for today, Tess Gallagher's "The Lover of Horses." Many of them seem poised to do their papers on this theme, which is fine by me. I need to warn them that the next few stories are not in that same theme--in fact, I'm not entirely sure what to say about any of them thematically. The Le Guin story they're reading for Wednesday is about a woman and her son-in-law adjusting to their new relationship in the wake of her daughter's/his wife's death and his gradual movement into a new romantic relationship. The other two stories are way out on other limbs, but I assigned them simply because they are interesting. I told the students to read them but pointed out that strictly speaking, they don't need to do their journals on those two: they have 22 journals assigned for 20% of their grade, so I'm counting each journal as 1%. The additional journals get factored into that 20%, essentially functioning as extra credit. Reminding the students of that may have been a mistake (they're unlikely to read if they don't have to journal), but I want them to focus primarily on their proposals and final papers. If the last two stories take a pass, oh well. I will be sorry if they don't read John Crowley's "Gone," which conveys a lovely idea at the end, but again, oh well.

I didn't get feedback from the 102 about their library session, but I forgot to ask: I'll try to remember on Wednesday. Only two of the students wanted time in class to go over their proposals before turning them in: everyone else wanted my feedback, then time in class. Fair enough. We had a pretty good class discussion--and a few of them have already finished the book, which is great. Everyone is supposed to finish it this week, and for once, I think the majority will actually finish as scheduled. I've started marking their proposals, and typically, so far I'm not seeing many with a working or workable thesis. In fact, at least one has a thesis that is actually the exact opposite of what the novel suggests--which does rather make one wonder what the student has been understanding out of what she's read. But they're getting there: I insist on the proposals because I'd rather they have their train-wrecks now instead of derailing utterly at the end, when it's too late to salvage anything.

One of the students from that class dropped by a minute ago to give me the printout of the critical source for her proposal, which she'd not had in class today. She also wanted to talk about her attendance, to see if she's in grade trouble yet. Technically, yes, she is, but I tend to forgive a little for the students who are still hanging on, fighting the good fight, at this end of the term. But the nice thing is that she said she is having her first real college experience: my class made her buy a printer, a laptop computer, a thumb drive--and significantly improve her writing and thinking. She says she will be happy no matter what happens, even if she fails, because she is learning, understanding now more than she ever has what is going to be expected of her as she moves forward. I don't think she was blowing smoke, either: I think she genuinely feels that way. Isn't that lovely?

I am now, however, paralytically tired. My body has no clue what time zone it's in (I've been in three in the past ten days) but it knows it hasn't gotten enough sleep the last three nights, so it's starting to scream at me. I "should" try to burn through some more work tonight, but we all know I start sentences like that to explain all the reasons why I won't. My evening office hour will be over by the time I finish this post, and then I'm off to start the glide toward bed and sleep--early, please heaven, and deep, if not for as long as my body might prefer.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Outta here....

Papers for today's 102 graded: check.

Reading journals for the M/W 102 marked and ready for the sub to return: check.

I had this wild notion that I'd take the journals for the T/Th class with me, mark them on the plane, and express mail them to the sub. They're in my pack right now, but I've regained my sanity: they're coming right back out again. No check.

I'm also leaving the papers for the short story class here. No check.

I am going to take the information about the remaining four observations with me: those I might get done. Then I can print, sign and distribute them once I'm back--unless Bruce's administrative assistant thinks an electronic signature will be good enough, in which case, they might even be done before I get home.

Plants are watered and the mess on the desk is at least put into neat piles. Check.

And with that, I'm outta here. Check and check and check.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ok, so....'s the plan. I got a few papers graded tonight, at least enough so finishing them tomorrow is do-able. Even though tomorrow may be hell on wheels, I'm going to stop for the night. I'll get up at 6 again tomorrow, come to the office, and knock off the rest of those papers plus whatever else I can get done. I was going to do some things in the morning to prepare for my trip, but nope: I have to get those papers done. I tried, I really tried to squeeze one more out of myself tonight, but I couldn't even face the better ones. Stick a fork in me, I'm done.

This morning, although I hadn't planned to, I polished off the mini-papers and reading journals I'd been carrying around for the short story class; I realized I had to get those out of my hair, knowing that today I'd be collecting their second large essays and two more reading journals, and that the sub will collect another mini-paper and reading journal while I'm away. On top of that, the day I get back, they'll have yet another reading journal to turn in. I may take their papers and journals on the trip with me--I know I said I wouldn't, but I may, on the bizarre off-chance that I'll find a time when everyone around me is working and I feel I might as well get a little work done too. Or to chip away at on the airplane. Or something. If I don't get any of them marked while I'm away, then that pile of work will be ready to spontaneously combust when I'm back--but gawd knows I've been there before.

I also re-collected a batch of reading journals and glossaries from today's 102: students submitted them on Monday, but I didn't have time to mark them, so I let the students use them during class and then took them back. I may carry those with me on the trip, too, following the same line of reasoning--and because, honestly, journals and glossaries are easier and more fun to mark than papers. But if I don't get those done while I'm away, they'll need to be done ASAP on my return, along with the set that the sub will collect.

So, as I said, in the morning, I must finish the papers for tomorrow's 102. If I have time after that and before class, I'll either knock off a few more observations (and I misremembered yesterday: there are four waiting to be written up, not three), or I'll look at promotion applications. The final version of the assistant promotion folders are due the day I return, but my evaluation of them may have to wait until I'm back. One P&B member was pushing for us to get feedback to her next week--even though she, too, will be away--but the applications don't actually have to go over to the college-wide Promotion and Tenure committee until the first week of February, so, much as I understand her desire to give feedback to her mentees, I can only do what I can do. And the applications for associate and full professor aren't due to P&T until March, so those can really wait until I'm back.

I will be collecting reading journals and glossaries from tomorrow's 102 students, too. I won't be able to mark those in Advisement (the sweet days of being able to use time in Advisement to do my own work are over), and I doubt I'll be able to take the time after Advisement to do them (I still have to clean the apartment and pack)--but I won't take those journals with me, because I'll be able to do them after my return, before that class meets again. Of course, the sub will have collected another batch in my absence, but still.

So, here's the list of what I have in hand right now:

papers for tomorrow's 102
papers for short story
two journals for short story
journals and glossaries for M/W 102
four observations to write
six promotion applications for assistant professor that I should look at tomorrow (but probably won't)
eleven promotion applications for associate or full professor (including the two that I'm mentoring)--but those really won't be on my radar at all until I'm back.

The list of things that will be added to the enormous, steaming piles while I'm away:

journals for short story
mini-papers for short story
journals and glossaries for both sections of 102.

And as soon as I get back I'll be collecting another journal from the short story class plus final paper proposals for both sections of 102.

What was that I was saying about getting a breather as soon as this month is over? I should know better than to ever say anything like that. The moments of respite, when they actually materialize, usually are not when I expect them--and are shorter than I think they're going to be. But in terms of those moments of respite, and the forthcoming trip, today's students were very cute: they were wildly curious about whether I was taking a vacation, where I was going--and for no real reason, I decided not to tell them but instead to be mysterious. (It's a control thing. I decide what I will and won't tell them about my personal life--and I can be utterly arbitrary and capricious about it.) But finally they said, "If you're taking a vacation, you deserve it." Very sweet. Of course, they deserve it too--and yet they'll be spending their Thanksgiving break working on their proposals for me, in addition to heaven knows what else for other classes.

I should note, too, that both classes today were good. The short story students did just fine with Richard Wright's "The Man Who Was Almost a Man"--back to the competent readers I expect. We also went over the proposal assignment, so they can be thinking about it while I'm away. As for today's 102, after we spent some time going over the proposals, they opted to sit in a circle, each one asking at least one question--but they also were following up on each other's questions. They're doing fine. I'm very happy with them. And I'm trying to figure out what to do to get the other class to come up to the mark.

Returning to the triage: I'm happy to note that despite the avalanche of work awaiting me on my return (no matter what I get done while I'm away), I was at least smart enough to stagger the proposals: the ones from the short story class come in the week after the proposals for the 102s. And then I should have a week--one week!--when all I have to do is mark reading journals. Then final papers come in and I'll be running around like my hair is on fire.

And then it will be over. As I said to the students in the short story class, this is the time of semester when we've finished clanking the top of the roller-coaster hill: we're at the crest now. From here on, it's hold on to the safety bar with both hands and try not to scream.

Or, well, hell, go ahead and scream.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I dropped one in class today. I hesitated for a second (should I? which expletive? Oh, go for it), and then said I was going to "fucking force" them to read and understand the novel. We hardly got a chance to talk about it today: they were freaking out about their proposals and about their reading journals and about everything, resisting resisting resisting. But I was not in a sweet and nurturing mood (the real Dr. P is showing her stripes), so, wham. Right between the eyes.

The reaction was funny to observe. One student had started the class sitting to one side of me (the desks being arranged in a vaguely circle-esque manner); when I got into a more in-depth answer to her questions about the topic, she moved to sit almost directly in front of me. When I dropped the F-bomb, she burst out laughing but got up and moved back to her original chair--out of the line of fire. Most of the students laughed, not without a fair measure of shock; one or two remained sullen and otherwise expressionless. But it certainly got their attention. BYM came to the office after class and mentioned how surprised he'd been (perhaps I shattered an illusion he has about my decorum?)--but he acknowledged my reasons for frustration.

Well, yeah.

I also confronted a student who has been bitching about her reading journals all semester but has yet to come see me for help--which I said to her, again, in front of God and everybody. She started to fight me back about it, but rather than getting into a tussle with her, I said--truthfully--that the problem with the reading journals was not exclusive to her. It was like starting all over again: they were acting as if they had no clue what the purpose of reading journals is, even though they've been doing them all semester long. Since when is simply summarizing sufficient? The purpose of the journals is to explain what matters AND WHY--and if you don't know, ASK. Some of them are still going to be off-base (they're going to think the whole purpose is to ask questions they already know the answers to). And I'm going to go stark staring mad.

William's observation has come true once again: the classes that we start out thinking are the bee's knees fall apart, and the ones we think are borderline duds suddenly catch fire. All semester long I've thought this T/Th 102 was the greatest--and they have been--and now, all of a sudden, they're turning on me, not in the sense of becoming confrontational but in the sense of falling down just when I need them to soar.

I do adore these students, so I'm not as bitter about it as I might be, or as pained, but it does upset me, more than they probably realize. It's particularly difficult to face this kind of struggle now, when I'm running low on patience as well as energy.

And I don't understand it, which is another source of frustration. Why is the other class doing so well with the novel, while the class that has always done so well is coming apart at the seams? What's different? Is it just that the novel is long? Or is the "weirdness" of it sending them into a tizzy? The final paper is just a longer version of what they've already done, but it's the same thing, and they're acting like suddenly I'm asking them to perform a Maori haka--in Maori.

Well, shit. Fuck. Gosh darn it.

I still have all their papers to grade, too, and I absolutely must get those back to them on Thursday. If I can't get anything back to anyone else until after Thanksgiving, so be it, but those papers have to get returned. They've been waiting too long. And I don't want to come back from Thanksgiving to any bigger a pile than I can help. It's going to be big enough as is: just because I'm away doesn't mean work won't still be coming in (the subs are collecting assignments for me). Not to mention the review of promotion folders, which there is absolutely no fucking chance I can accomplish before I go.

I seem to have gotten on a very early schedule, which is actually helpful: I was in bed and asleep by 9:15 last night, awake at 4:30 and up by 5 a.m. Partially as a consequence, I got a fair amount of work done today, despite the back-to-back-to-back events of the day. I did get both sabbatical application letters reviewed by P&B and received some very helpful suggestions, which I have implemented: the revised letters are now in the applicants' folders. I got another observation written up (three more to go). And I did get last week's reading journals back to today's class. So, in the next 48 hours or so, I have to grade those papers for the T/Th class, write up three more observations, and if possible, get mini-papers graded for the short story class and reading journals marked for all three classes. Chances I'll be able to do all of that? Vanishingly remote--but a professor's reach should exceed her grasp, whether there's a heaven or not.

But staying here any later will knock that early routine into the proverbial cocked hat, so I'd best wrap this up and ease on down the road.

Monday, November 14, 2011

At the dentist

Officially that's where I am. Yesterday I told the Advisement Center that I'd have to see the dentist this afternoon after my observation. As it happened, I got in to see her this morning, early (and I need to see her one more time this week, if we can find a time). But I decided to take the time away from Advisement this afternoon anyway. I got extremely rough drafts of both sabbatical applications letters done--at least enough to get feedback on. And I was intending to try to get 13 papers graded tonight. Not so sure about that. But I'll return to that in a moment.

The short story class completely astounded me today: I'd given them a Le Guin story ("Brothers and Sisters," from Orsinian Tales) that I thought would be a cake walk--and they were completely, utterly baffled by it. I don't know how long it is, but to them it seemed horrifically long--and Mr. Determined said that he kept getting lost and forgetting what he'd already read. Talk about short attention span! I mentioned in an earlier post my awareness that students have little or no experience with sustained attention, and man did that ever get proven to me in spades. I also realized, however, when they were struggling with it, that part of the problem is that they read so fucking literally--and Le Guin tends to write very metaphorically. Her writing is beautiful, utterly goddamned gorgeous, but it is allusive, poetic, and the students in that class don't have the tools to handle it. Yet. I reminded them that we're dealing with a sort of "coming of age" theme, and as soon as we started to talk about it, looking at specific passages, they actually got a lot. I told them, "You just freaked yourselves out. But you can do this; you have the chops." They actually do, once they get the hang of looking at that lyrical language and feeling what it suggests.

Now that they've got a little of a handle on it, I told them they could review the story, to rework their journals if they wanted to, and we'll revisit it on Wednesday--briefly. We also need to discuss another story--and their second big essays are due. They tried to push me into postponing those papers again, but I read them the riot act about it. One student said, "Let's vote" and I said, "This is not a democracy. I rule. I may sometimes allow you to vote on things, but I decide what you can vote on, and you can't vote on this." They were trying to tell me that they won't run into trouble with their final papers if this paper runs up against it, and I told them this is a case where I know more about what they need than they do. They actually kinda loved it that I got so stern with them. Cute.

The 102 was OK. Not a lot of energy in the room, and I'm not sure if they're becoming more baffled or if they're just tired and overwhelmed. We'll see how they do on Wednesday.

And about those papers: I know the students in tomorrow's 102 will be very unhappy if they don't get their papers back, but seriously, I just don't think I can do it. Not enough hours--certainly not enough hours in which I can be even remotely productive. I deeply and profoundly want to call a halt to work entirely right now, early as it is--and I may. But I'm hoping that if I get some food in me (I didn't have time for lunch) and maybe even lie down for a little bit, I can get some work done at home--at least a few observations written up, if not papers graded.

But blogging gets nothing done--except blowing off a little steam (which needs to be blown, or this little pressure-cooker will splatter stuff all over the ceiling). Enough of this now. Off I go.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

[Expletive Deleted]

I deleted the expletive, but you can use your imagination to decide which one--or ones--I might have used for the title of this post.

I had high hopes for getting a lot of work done today, which were immediately dashed by the fact that my a.m. dentist appointment took twice as long as I'd anticipated, then by the fact that a colleague whose promotion application I'm mentoring came in to ask a bunch of questions (all valid, but it took a loooooong time), by the fact that because of interruptions I continually had to start all over with the piles of paper (which are on every horizontal surface around my desk), trying to figure out what I needed to do next. Yesterday I never got a chance to blog: I went from class to class to Advisement to observation to a quick dinner with colleagues to the Board of Trustees meeting--and I didn't even manage to hang in there until the Board finished their private session and came into the public meeting. I left a little before 9 p.m., just as they were arriving, and though I felt somewhat guilty about that, I'm glad I left. If I'd stayed, I'd have been home later and far more wound up (high stakes stuff under discussion), so professionally maybe I made a wimpy call, but personally, it was lots better.

In fact, I make a fair number of decisions for purely selfish reasons. It's that time of semester when the work load has increased while the charge in my batteries has decreased, so I feel the strains more. Or bitch about them more at any rate.

The other reason why I'm swearing--internally if not (at the moment) aloud--is because I was cheerfully planning to come to campus tomorrow afternoon to read promotion folders, which I desperately need to get done before Tuesday's P&B meeting. I at least have to read the folders for the two people I'm mentoring, but I really should read all eight of them, or whatever the hell it is. And then I realized that tomorrow is Veterans' Day, and campus is closed. Somehow it didn't fully compute that the consequence of having Tuesday at home would be that, on Friday, even if I were to come to campus, I wouldn't be able to access those folders.

[Expletive deleted again.]

So, guess what I'll be doing Monday after my stint in Advisement. I can't do anything much on Tuesday before P&B because I have an observation at 10, after which I'm supposed to be in two meetings: I'm opting to attend the one that is an orientation session for those who have been nominated for Chancellor's Awards. I was nominated once before and missed all the deadlines; this time, god dammit, I'm going to get my application in on time. But that means Tuesday will look like this: observation, meeting, meeting, class, office hour, dance class.

Though I may have to reschedule that dance class--and not just because the day looks pretty insanely busy, as if that weren't reason enough.

The Chancellor's Award application is one more thing to do, of course--but not this month, thank god. At this particular juncture, I just have to schlep a huge bolus of work home with me and use all my intestinal fortitude to make myself actually WORK tomorrow. I don't have my usual riding lesson, so I have the whole day. And the panic has built to the point that there is a fighting chance I'll actually use it. I want to get as much done as is humanly possible before I head out of town next Friday, so I don't have anything of consequence hanging over my head when I get back. It's worth the push now to fly away clean.

Classes have been going fine. I had a nice interaction with a student after the short story class yesterday. She was slow to leave the room, as she was putting together the list of critical essays she wanted me to copy for her (I provide the sources for their second papers; they have to find sources on their own for the final one). I'd been noticing that she was--at long last--starting to participate in class discussions, so as she was finally leaving, I said something to her about how glad I was to have her joining in. She lit up like Times Square on New Year's. She told me that she isn't really shy but she needs to get to know people and feel comfortable before she can open up, and she's starting to feel very comfortable in our class. As I've been saying, the chemistry is finally pulling together there--in fact, students were very concerned about a classmate who hasn't been around for a while. But I was very pleased to be able to provide some positive reinforcement for that student, and to see it sparkle all over her.

Yesterday's 102 did a great job with the novel--and asked a lot of smart questions about their forthcoming final paper proposals. A few of them confess to actually enjoying the book (imagine that!). In both sections of 102, I didn't focus so much on their reading journals: we did a lot of summary, explanation, clarification, so they feel secure about who the major characters are, when things are happening, what is happening, and what's important about it.

The one somewhat uncomfortable note is the young woman in today's 102 who is struggling and hasn't gotten help. Ms Helpless got the bad news that she can't pass the class, but she wants to come anyway: it's the only class she's taking, and I think she mostly wants something to do to get her away from her living situation for at least a little while each day. She's understanding some things about the novel pretty well, but in terms of the writing, understanding assignments, listening to and absorbing instructions, she's well and truly lost. The other students are very sweet with her, however: they all know her name and sort of look after her. Last time I put them in groups, Bright Young Man (henceforth BYM) ended up in a group with her, and he specifically asked her what she saw, what she had to say, acting very much as my proxy in the group. Today, another student made sure that Ms Helpless didn't misplace an important handout.

And I hereby confess that I'm going to use a double-standard. Two students missed the deadline for submission of the final version of their second essay, Ms Helpless and another young woman. I told both of them that I will not read or evaluate those papers (which is my stated policy): it's not appropriate for me to have to put in work on something that wasn't received in time for credit. However, I'm going to bend that rule, not for Ms Helpless but for the other student. I will not comment on her paper (no time), but I will at least look at it to give her some overall comments, so she knows if she's improving. I'm even tempted to give her some credit for the assignment--at least for the second version, if not for the final one. I'll mull that over the next few days. Ms Trying Hard could potentially pass even with the zero grades she's amassed, but if her paper truly has improved, I'd like to give her at least a shot at a C. She may not make it, but I want her to have the chance.

And everyone thinks I'm so ferociously strict and severe. Hah. I talk a good game, but there's more flex to those rules than I generally let on. I simply need to be tremendously judicious in determining where to invest the time and energy and where (as my father would have said) the game isn't worth the candle.

But my candle is being burned at both ends and in the middle these days. Lovely light, my ass: it's just dripping wax all over hell and gone and running low on fuel. So, I'm going back over to my desk to sort through the carnage to see what's there. I don't know what or how much I'll get done over the weekend: the triage still needs to be done, so I'll take pretty much everything home and start figuring out priorities tomorrow morning.

And in my head, Mr. Rogers starts to sing: "Tomorrow! Tomorrow! We'll start the day tomorrow with a song or two...." Load up the CD player and rock on.