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Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Today was mostly about working out the knotty places in schedules with Bruce. Before he came in, I started by checking the various logs to make sure everything matched (each assignment is recorded in three places--and since things move around a lot, there can be errors and confusions). I'm happiest about the fact that the stacks that said "problem" are mostly resolved. For now. The issue that will continue to need to be addressed over the next week is when sections either are canceled or added. I'm mostly concerned that full-time faculty have back-up plans, should some of their low-enrollment electives get X-ed out, but Bruce says he isn't worried, believes things will run. Gawd, I hope.

The other good news is that at least one of the copiers was working just fine today, so I got those syllabi re-copied, along with another handout or two. As we worked to figure out tomorrow's plan of attack, Bruce asked if I had reasons to be on campus tomorrow, other than doing the last of the problem solving with him--and other than being here to get the contract signing process started. Answer: um, yeah. It's just freaking endless. As much time as I have, I could easily spend here, working things out, cleaning things up, organizing--even (imagine!) rereading what I'll be teaching so I have it fresh in my mind, have an idea of particular points I want to be sure to bring out, if the students miss them.

I also keep wanting to print out my rosters now, even though I know there's a chance they'll change: students can still drop out of a class, and as soon as a window opens up, someone else will jump in. I might do it anyway, just because it's gratifying, in a factory-work sort of way, to transfer the information from Banner into my own Word document. There won't be a lot of movement between now and the 1st (or 7th, in the case of my M/W classes), and I can always make adjustments as necessary. So, well, maybe I'll just go ahead and fiddle around with that. (Does anyone smell something burning? Rome?)

I think that's about as much brain power as I have for what remains of today--but I may catch a second wind. I'm on the fence about whether to hang out here for a few more hours and then head to dance class, or whether to bail on dance and toddle off home. I could write all the "on the one hand/on the other hand" idiocy that will go into this decision, but honestly, it sort of bores even me, so I'll not drag you, my faithful readers (both of you), through the labyrinth of my psyche.

Suffice it to say that I feel content with the level of productivity today, even if I decide to revert to sea cucumber status very shortly.

And tomorrow is, as you know, another day.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Another argh

I guess it's a good thing I'm here futzing around with syllabi and so on, as I keep finding mistakes. I was feeling so smug: I'd proofread my syllabi, which I don't think I've ever had time and energy (and visual acuity) to do before, and everything was all copied and ready to go, nicely early--and last night, as I was working on the little index cards I use to record attendance and grades, I realized I'd made howling blunders with the schedules for all of my classes, especially the Tuesday/Thursday section. Like, oh, say, having a class scheduled on Thanksgiving Day, or another on a day when classes follow a Friday schedule....

Thus ensued much swearing and kicking of myself from pillar to post, but I fixed the problem and came in to the office today, even though Bruce sent word he wouldn't be here and so I didn't need to make the trip: I thought, "well, I'll just copy the syllabi all over again"--and, of course, not only were there a bunch of people also wanting to make syllabus copies, but both copiers were utterly on the fritz.

To quote Pogo, "Growf, rowr, bazz-fazz."

And to use one of my own more common phrases, ah well. I have to come in tomorrow anyway, to work with Bruce on sorting out problems (and finding faculty for any new sections that may have opened up, as enrollment rises), so I'll hope the copiers get fixed and I do my copying all over again. If not, I reckon it's time for a trip to Kinkos, because Wednesday will be harried enough without having to fight off adjuncts wanting to copy their contracts while I monopolize the machines.

Kvetching aside, I am still in good shape. I even spent a little time today working on the assignment sheet for the second paper in my 102 classes--and I won't need that until October. If I can get that and a few more homework assignment sheets pulled together before I head out of town, that will be a relief.

I am sort of having subterranean conniption fits about the paper I will be presenting in October, however. I'm still keeping it on the back burner, but I know I'd better get it done--or mostly done anyway--before the semester really gets rolling, or I'll create unnecessary worry for myself. That trip is coming up frighteningly soon. Even the handouts I'll need for October can't be left sitting too long. In terms of staying on top of stuff, October might as well be tomorrow....

Nevertheless, I haven't given up hope that I'll get a chance to do some deep cleaning/organizing of the office, which is approximately as neatly organized as a rat's nest at the moment. I have uncovered some pages of notes, which have been useful as I prepare assignments--and I've also uncovered pages of bloopers in the stacks of god-knows-what at home. I found one blooper today, on the back of reminders for myself regarding caveats for students when they write introductory paragraphs. I will close with it today, because, well, sometimes you just have to laugh. It's from a paper about W. P. Kinsella's short story "Dance Me Outside":

"[One of the main characters] had killed a young girl just because she made fun of his gentiles."

Well, goyim can be pretty funny.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Calm before... well, you know the rest

Bruce and I got a few more adjunct scheduling problems sorted out, but he's nervous about next week: sections may suddenly get added, and we're close to the bottom of the adjunct pool, even with hiring a few people who were interviewed new in the spring. We may have more courses than we do faculty, unless we hire people sight unseen, just on the basis of a resume. I'm hoping like hell we don't have to resort to that, but what he tells me is that wild tempests will probably break loose next week.

That means I'm no longer relieved that contract signing happens on Wednesday and Thursday. I thought that meant I could take my trip without screwing Bruce up at all. Apparently, just because contracts have been signed doesn't mean we may not have to continue to pull adjuncts out of hats or our ears or other assorted orifices. I'd misunderstood some e-mail that had been circulated: I obviously read it too quickly, as I thought registration would close early. It won't. Students can register through August 31--which is the day before classes start. So I will, in fact, be abandoning Bruce right in the heat of things, dammit. I feel pretty shitty about that--but not shitty enough to cancel my trip. It's just that now, instead of assuming I'll have one day at home to relax between trip and start of classes, I'm prepared to come in and help Bruce, who by that time may be unable to think any more. (His hair's too short to tear out, or he'd be doing that, for sure.)

Well, I'm learning. I'm learning that if I'm going to keep this position, I need to be more careful about being available when Bruce needs me. He tends to be much too kind about telling me to go off and enjoy myself, and then he works himself into a froth trying to do work that by rights I should be helping him with. Ah hell. But as I said, I'm learning. I'm learning at what stage in each semester he will need me--but I'm also trying to learn to accept his kindness: if he gives me permission to absent myself from the process, I need to recognize that he is perfectly capable of saying "no," and therefore I can take him at his word and go without too much beating myself with cudgels.

In terms of my own classes, I'm in good shape. The knot I was fussing about the other day worked itself out--or at least I think it will work. Like any new process, I'll learn how to do it better by trying it out and seeing what works or doesn't. There are a few more handouts and assignments I'd like to get nailed down before I go, if I can, but it's not absolutely necessary. I have everything I need for the first few weeks, all copied and ready to go. I haven't done any more of the organizing of files (or my bookshelves) that I started, but I'm hoping I can get some of that done even once classes start, before homework starts coming in.

It's weirdly good to be spending this time in the office prior to the semester start: it will make the first day of classes a bit less of a jolt than it would otherwise be. Being here does feel almost frighteningly normal--but there's some comfort in that. The deep and ferocious resistance I felt about this job earlier in the summer has receded and is replaced with a calm "Oh, I can do this; no surprises here" sort of feeling.

Which may be about as good as it gets for me. Bruce was talking about some of our adjuncts who are in their 80s and teaching, and he said he figured he'd have to re-evaluate whether he wanted to keep teaching once he hits 70. I shuddered and said I hoped to retire long before that (if I can, financially, but that's a whole other story). In fact, I said, if I didn't need the money, I'd retire right now. He was surprised and said, "You wouldn't miss it?" Fuck no. There are things about it that I would miss, I'm sure--and I would certainly miss the camaraderie, unless I were doing something that gave me a reasonable substitute. But no, there are too many other things I want to do with my time, and even though I feel very passionate about this work, and want to do it as well as I possibly can, this is not what my soul yearns for. I might feel otherwise if I were teaching a different student body, or different subject matter, so that I'd have to engage more regularly in my own scholarship. But staying at NCC until I'm in my 70s, never mind 80s? Dear God, deliver me.

So, yes, that calm, confident feeling of "I know how to do this" is about all I'm looking for at present from this job. When I have those moments of joy actually reaching students, they're little bits of glitter, teeny treats, and I enjoy them utterly. But I don't expect them to sustain me: they're too few and far between. I do this and I do it well. That's enough.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Gearing up

I've actually been chipping away at semester prep for about a month--more, if one considers the reading of short stories to see if there was anything I wanted to use either to supplement what I did last time I taught the American Short Story class or to replace some readings I'm getting tired of teaching. I hit a couple of interesting snags along the way, including one that induced a mini-temper tantrum, when I realized that what I thought was a small wrinkle in the 102 syllabus was actually one of those knots that, when picked at, unravels the entire thing. I had a petite hissy fit, shoved the paperwork out of sight, put it all in the back of my mind for a week--and when I went back to it, found a solution that at least has a chance of working.

The knot arose consequent to a decision I made having nothing to do with teaching--which has ended up leading to a significant change in my pedagogy. The decision was to send off an abstract for a paper to present at the Western Literature Association, the conference to be held in Montana in October. My paper was accepted, and I'm going--and, because of the way the Jewish holidays fall, giving us a Thursday off the week before the conference, I'm taking a few extra days so I can have some time with my family there prior to the conference.

But that decision meant I'll be missing a week of classes, right when I'd usually be in the first version 1/revision process. I couldn't push the papers earlier: the students need to have read enough to have something to write on. I couldn't push the assignment later without causing a train-wreck with the rest of the semester. So, I'm using a whole new approach to teach students how to move through multiple stages of writing. And I think the new process will mean I do a whole lot less marking.

That, of course, would be heavenly, in terms of my work load--but of course, I'm also nervous about how I can get students to see what they're not doing, what they need to do, and how to start to get there. (And yes, of course, I also want to help them see what they are doing, but in my experience, there's a lot less of that to build on than there are problems for them to recognize and begin to address.)

So, my current frets are two-fold. One: how can I give them at least some guidance and feedback on each step of the process, within the very limited amount of time I've allowed and without losing my marbles? Two: how do I structure the grading?

The latter is a bigger worry right now, because I'm trying to get the syllabi finalized and ready to photocopy, and I need to have that done before I leave town for a brief trip next week. (I leave next Thursday and will get back with one day left before the semester starts--and may I just say, yikes!!!)

Let me try to explain the process as simply as possible: I'm requiring two in-progress "versions" (more complete than a draft) before the final version of each essay. With each version, they'll have a day to work in class with a partner, and they'll have style-guide readings and handouts and rubrics to help them know what to look for as they evaluate their writing and make changes (with luck, improvements). I want to give some very general and brief feedback on the first version, so they'll have my comments to consider, as well as peer review, while they work on the second version. And I am going to insist that both preliminary versions are submitted with the final paper.

As I wrote it up initially, each preliminary version is worth 5% of the total final grade, and the final version is worth an additional 15%, so all three together are 25% of the final grade. But I mostly want to see the first versions to make sure that the process is happening: I'm mostly interested in observing qualitative improvement and substantive change. And I really don't want to spend a lot of time on them. So how do I determine grades for them?

I've felt it's important to actually give grades for the first versions for a few reasons. A) It lets the students know that the assignment is important: they tend to blow off anything they think is "just" homework--or, worse, that they conceive of as "busy-work." B) It gives them something concrete for the effort. If they're doing the assignments the way I hope they will, then the work really should count toward their final grades. C) Certainly from the version I see and respond to, I want them to have a sense of where they stand, gradewise. If something looks like a D (or worse) in the first version, I think the student needs to know--and to know why. Similarly if something looks like it could become an A--or even a B. In my experience, they generally have a terrible sense of the actual quality of their work (even when one takes into account my notorious ferocity as a grader).

The other option that occurred to me would be to give the final version grade for all three portions, assuming the first two demonstrate adherence to the assignment parameters. If something is missing, then I'd reduce the grade for whichever version was lacking something. (If one of the versions is missing entirely, of course, that zero would register.) I know students generally understand and are comfortable with the logic of losing "points"--but I'm not sure how I'd quantify reasons for deductions.

All these possibilities are swirling around in my back brain while I noodle around the office organizing files, trying to figure out what else I need to rework or make sure I have ready. I tried to stop noodling and nail down the 102 syllabus, but I can't until I have this issue figured out--and I don't have the brain to clear it up right now. (It's been a reasonably long day: I got here at 10:30 and worked on adjunct scheduling with Bruce until 3:30, have been in my office since, doing the aforementioned noodling.) So, I'm going to meander on home and hope wildly that by the time I get back in tomorrow morning, the back brain has spat out something that feels like a solution.

However, if any of you are checking this blog in the summer hiatus (hellooo? Anyone out there???)--and if you've got a suggestion, I'd be relieved to hear it.