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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.

Monday, November 7, 2011

On the fly

I got here at about 9 a.m. for a 9:30 observation and haven't been able to stop or get back to the office until just now. Classes went well enough, nothing specific to report. I'm very happy with how the students in today's 102 are doing with the Le Guin novel: they're asking smart questions and seem to be getting the whole gender/alternative biology thing a lot better than usual. Of course, their reading journals may reveal a different understanding (or lack thereof), but the class discussion was great. I let them vote whether to work in groups or get into a circle and contribute individually: the vote was close, but the very slight majority voted to do the circle. It went well: lots of comments and questions flying around the room, and just about everyone asked or said something. The short story students opted to work in groups--which I love. They do it very well, and I'm delighted they see the value in working that way. Most of them contributed something to the class discussion. A few required a little prompting, but even one or two of the more shy and retiring students, when asked, had something to say. Cool beans.

I'm about to have dinner with Paul, so I'm still flying around. I do not want to come to the office tomorrow, even though I will spend the day working instead of (as I had hoped to do) lounging about the house metaphorically in bunny slippers and eating bon-bons. (I initially typed that as "in bunny slippers eating bon-bons," but--perhaps because I just observed a grammar class in which one of the topic of discussion was the possibilities for misreads--I realized that it might sound as if the slippers were the ones chomping on treats, which is an amusing image but not what I meant.)

(I can frequently gauge the extent of my exhaustion by my levels of either crabbiness or daffiness. One or the other seems to become dominant in my demeanor when I'm falling over tired. I think the daffy quotient indicates that I'm running on fumes but still manic as hell. The crankiness takes over when I'm just tired, dammit, and not running on anything any more: I'm behind the car, pushing it to the gas station.)


I have no earthly idea what I'm going to work on tomorrow, out of the 10 gazillion possibilities, so I'm just going to take it all home. Once I sit down at the table, in front of my beautiful and ever-so-helpful editor's desk, I'll do the triage. Probably I will have to start with clearing off some student work for the short story class, as they are about to do their second major essay and really should have their reading journals at least, if not their latest mini-papers. Other student work is going to have to get in line behind the observations I have to write up, and the promotion folders I have to evaluate (which I will do once I'm back on campus, as I can't take those home with me). Writing letters for the sabbatical applications is going to have to wait just a little bit longer--though I can't put it off too long, as the applications have to go over to the college-wide committee relatively soon. After missing the observation last week, I have started writing things in big red Sharpie on the wall calendar in my office, so I won't miss them (I sometimes forget to look at the calendar in my bag). I'm not fond enough of electronics to set a phone or computer or whatever to buzz or beep or deliver a swift kick when I need to remember something. Yes, I'm a troglodyte. I still rely on pen and paper. And I realize I need to put the date for submission of sabbatical applications in red on that calendar--probably with arrows and asterisks and various other flags and attention getters.

Bleagh. Yuck. Enough. I'm going to shuffle a few more papers around, shove a few more things in a bag, and go eat seafood with my buddy. Oh, and have a big drink. Ahhhhhhh.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ye gods

What a day! I did sleep in late (ahhhhh, lovely)--all the way to 8:00 a.m. I got to campus about 11:30. And I've been on the run ever since. My desk is a chaotic mess; I really do have to take a look at it before I leave campus just to figure out what's there. I thought I'd get more done in the time between my arrival and class, but I can't figure out what, if anything, I actually accomplished. Other than meeting with students, that is. The minute my door opened for the office hour (actually, a few minutes early), I had students showing up one after another.

I felt particularly bad for the Sweet Young Man, the one from my 102 who is there for help regularly but whose sentence skills are atrocious. He'd seen a tutor in the Writing Center who essentially told him he should simply withdraw as he had no chance to make it. She may be right, but he can't learn anything further if he withdraws. I talked to him and said even if he were to fail, I think he should stay and get his money's worth: he's paying for college out of his own pocket, and if he withdraws, he loses the last few weeks that he's already paid for. He'll have to take the class again either way, so I think he should stay and learn all he possibly can so he has a better shot at it the next time around. I know the tutor, too, and I'm surprised she was so harsh with him--but maybe that's because I know him personally and I have an investment in his success. She doesn't: she just saw his skill level and gave an honest appraisal. Ouch, but still.

Then Mr. Determined/Dedicated showed up. I love how much he's learned. He's able to look at his first papers and see how deficient they were, and he's got solid ideas for how to revise them, and for how to write his next papers. I'd take classrooms full of students just like him and be happy happy happy.

He was followed by the Bright Young Man, who had asked a question via e-mail about quotation use: I was unable to envision what he meant and suggested he simply show me in class and make the correction by hand--but he decided to show me prior to class. I didn't feel like I was being very clear about explaining what was going on (essentially, he had a sentence with a lengthy quotation in the middle, too hard for the reader to keep track of his sentence with the quote in there). But he got it.

In fact, lately I don't feel like I'm explaining anything very well. Mr. Determined had some very helpful feedback about how to reframe the wording of the mini-paper assignment sheet to try to elicit the kind of papers I'm looking for. But everything I say, or write, sounds like mud to me. I just finished advising a couple of students and I truly was surprised when they left feeling they understood something. Thank god they do, but if I had to hear myself, I'd be going, "Wait, what??"

That was a little bit the reaction from students about everything in terms of the journals, glossaries, and reading from Left Hand of Darkness today. This is the first time this class got less out of the reading than my other section. Part of that is because one student--a relatively smart young man--kept losing the thread and asking, well, let's not call them stupid questions but ones that evidenced the fact that multitasking doesn't work. He was trying to take notes and listen and read all at once, and he kept only hearing a fragment of what was being said. Then there's the young woman who is not getting herself the help she needs: some of her comments were great, very smart, and others were a bit out of left field (typically), but I had to stop her blurting out answers or comments or questions when I was in the middle of explaining something. At least one student seemed to already have checked out: she's one who has struggled all semester and yet has not come to me for help. I don't know if she'll manage to squeeze through the remainder of the term or if she'll fall by the wayside. The usual suspects were doing their usual fine job--as was at least one student who has not had much to say in class up to this point. She was more alert and focused today than I've seen. Better late than never.

Next week will be the acid test. I'm still not sure what to do about the fact that they only have one day next week to talk about the book with me, instead of two. Still kicking that around.

I now have an hour to kill before I have to observe one of our new adjuncts. I wasn't planning to go back to the office--just because I'm already on the side of campus where the class will be, and my office is all the way over there--but thinking about that rubbish heap on my desk, maybe I will. Then I might be able to finish the observation and leave, which would be great.

My time here is done. Off I go.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I got the papers for the short story class marked--had to use the beginning of the class period to do it, but the students are so good about getting into their groups and doing solid work that I could just crank through the last few papers and then join them in progress. I did have to ask one group to get back on task (they're so funny in trying to demonstrate a connection between whatever personal conversation they're having and the literature when I ask them to return to task: "Really, campus parking has direct connection to Hamlet's existential concerns")--but they got back to it and only needed the one poke in the right direction. And the class discussion was very good. This particular group did the best I've yet heard on "Heat," by Joyce Carol Oates. I assign it partly because it's completely weird, and I am curious to see what they manage to do with it. I don't quite know what to make of it myself, so it's intriguing to see it through the lens of the students' attention.

I did realize that I'm a bit behind in terms of getting them ready for their next paper, so I postponed it, just by one class. No big deal--and may be easier for me in the long haul.

Of course, now that I've finished that batch of papers, the temptation is to let go completely, as if I'm out of the woods--but of course I'm not. Not only did I collect final versions of the second papers for my comp classes today (another batch to follow tomorrow), I still have observations to write up and promotion folders to evaluate and sabbatical cover letters to write--and other things that I'm almost certainly forgetting, too.

But I am experiencing a big shift of gears now. The short story students have one more big paper to write before their final papers, but for the 102 students, all they're doing until after Thanksgiving is reading the novel and getting ready for their proposals. I'll talk with them about those next week, so they'll have two weeks to think and prepare.

It was fun--well, fun for me anyway--to start the novel in class. We only got a few paragraphs covered, but my aim was to demonstrate that they actually understand a lot more than they may realize at first. The novel starts out with a bit in italics before the actual meat of the first chapter: "From the Archives of Hain. Transcript of Ansible Document 01-01101-934-2-Gethen: To the Stabile on Ollul: Report from Genly Ai, First Mobile on Gethen/Winter, Hainish Cycle 93, Ekumenical Year 1490-97." Of course, their first response is "What?????" But I start asking questions: What's an archive? What's a transcript? What's a document? What might those numbers mean? If it says it's "To" the Stabile, is a Stabile a person, place or concept? Who generated the report? I do simply give them some information (Ollul is a planet; Gethen/Winter is another planet, one that is referred to by two separate names; Hain is another planet...) but they actually get a lot out of it without the help from me. And we continue like that: we read a paragraph aloud, then discuss what we got out of it, what the context clues are, what we're learning so far.

Of course, they now have to read a big chunk of the book all at once, and journal on it as well as beginning to put together their own glossaries (so they have a reminder of what Erhenrang is, or a gossiwor, or who Pemmer Harge rem ir Tibe is): it's a hell of a lot of work, but it was the trade-off for being able to have more time on their papers. I hope they ultimately decide the benefits are worth it.

I'll be most curious to see how tomorrow's class handles the same thing. Given past experience, I suspect we'll spend more time getting them to understand the reading journal and glossary process (they tend to ask lots and lots and lots of questions to make sure they really follow) and possibly less actually reading, but I'd like to get to the same point in the first chapter.

And then, next week, I'll be most curious to see what they are starting to get a handle on, what remains opaque, how well they're keeping up.

Next week things will start to heat up in Advisement. I've been seeing more students, but registration begins next Wednesday, so that's when we'll have students in a holding pattern, practically circling the building waiting to come in for a landing. So I want to try to get as much nailed down this week as I possibly can.

But I need a breather. Just tonight, but I need to take a step back from the work and do something, anything, else. My plan is to leave campus as soon as I can; I'll finish here just before 5, will trot back to the office just long enough to drop off my (brand new and very nice) wheelie pack and pick up anything I left in the office (my travel mug), and then I plan to head home. I was going to have dinner with Paul tonight, but my body is telling me that I need to take much more tender care of it right now: an enormous slab of animal flesh, fat-soaked potatoes, and a tumbler of booze may be just a little more input than my system can take at the moment. So he and I are postponing until next week, and tonight, I want to be home and still. I'm not sure, but I think I can get away without setting an alarm, too: I need to check my calendar, but I think I am not actually required on campus until my office hour at 1 p.m. That would be heavenly, to sleep as long as my body needs and then get in to campus and start working. Bliss.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Grinding away

The short story papers are moving through my red-pen mill relatively rapidly, but I've not been very successful at finding as much time as I'd like to work on them. Little annoying bits that must be tended to keep swarming around my head like gnats, and until I can swat them away, I can't focus. I'm also facing the law of diminishing returns: I'm getting tired enough, after cranking all day, that I'm not reading: my eyes are running over the pages, but nothing is getting through the brain barriers. This indicates it's time to pack it in for the night, which will mean a pearly early start to the day tomorrow--but that is nothing particularly new, now, is it.

I'd like to report a piece of good news--or at least a gratifying moment--having nothing whatever to do with me or my work but having to do with the fight against the administration. There was a move afoot to institute a computerized scoring system to read placement essays and determine which students should go into remediation and which were prepared for college-level course work. The particular scoring system has some serious flaws--such as the fact that it would award higher scores to lengthy but meaningless sentences than to those that are pithy and powerful. Other illustrations of problems abound, but the administration was ready to institute this test without ever having met with the Placement Coordinator to get her feedback. In fact, they were ready to institute it without listening to any concerns from anyone--even though a pilot study run over the summer showed that something like 39% of students using the computerized system were misplaced, either too high or too low.

After repeated attempts to get the two administrators in charge of this to listen to concerns, the issue was brought before the Academic Senate today--and all reports are that our Placement Coordinator (my colleague and friend Cathy) and Bruce knocked it out of the park; they utterly crushed the administrators with their presentation of data. Further, the student representative to the Board of Trustees came in with his own crushing response. I'm inventing the words here, but as I understand it (cribbing from Paul's report), the student said, "So, let me get this straight. You thought 39% misplacement--which I think is obscene--was tolerable, but what level of misplacement would have led you to believe that the system was not workable? 50%? 75%?" The administrators huffed and blustered--and then another faculty member got up and said, "I'd actually like to hear your answer to his question." I wasn't even there, and I want to get up and cheer my colleagues, the student, the forces of good and righteousness and education, embattled as we are by the forces of corporatized, stupefying mindlessness.

Of course, who knows what will happen next, but at least for the moment, the administration has had to back down.

I must note, however, that in this particular instance, the thing I find most disturbing is that the two administrators at fault in this particular rhubarb are both women I had worked with as faculty colleagues and liked very much. Now I find I want to spit at the sound of their names. I feel personally betrayed.

Still, they got checked and checked hard on this. Find images from hockey games of guys getting "checked": like that. Thank god.

Class today was generally great. One poor student is really struggling, and I should encourage her to withdraw. If she doesn't show significant improvement on her revision, I'll have to urge her to leave the class. She is sweet as all get out and wants very badly to do well, but she does not get the help that she needs in order to understand what's going on. She keeps saying she needs to get a counselor with the Center for Students with Disabilities--and she does, but I can't make her do that. She needs to take the initiative. And until she does, I'm afraid I have reached the end of my ability to help her see what's needed.

Two of my gang of four--the two young men--were funny today. I think one of their compadres is getting a more than a bit annoyed with them, as both are aggressive about getting attention from me, whereas she tends to be more accommodating of others' needs. I did put the "boys" on hold at one point--the two of them could easily consume the entire class period, asking me to check their work in detail. But I find them charming, and they're working hard--and doing good work--so I actually enjoy devoting the energy to them. On the other hand, I also have to ensure that the other, less aggressive, students also get as much of my time and attention as they want. That said, however, two of the students who needed the most help (apart from the young lady mentioned above) didn't ask me a single question that I can recall--except one of them asked why her paper was considered two days late when one wasn't a day when we have class. (Answer: it's still a day, and if you'd paid any attention to the syllabus, you'd see that the late penalty accrues for each 24 hour period, not class session.) But most of the students asked at least a few questions--or felt that they'd already addressed my comments to the best of their ability. (Fair enough.)

It's an interesting corollary, however: it doesn't hold invariably, but mostly. The better writers want the most time from me; the worst, the least. I hate to say it, but I suspect that reflects the fact that the worst writers feel it's simply hopeless, that they have too much to do so they simply give up. I agonize over that. I want them to keep trying--it's the only way they'll learn--but I don't want to give them a false sense of where they stand in terms of what they need to be able to do. I've never been sure how to handle that paradox.

I do recognize that it is part of my job to help students hang in there and keep trying as long as possible--but sometimes, it's also part of my job to tell someone the hard truth. I just wrote a letter to a student in the short story class, telling him that purely on a sentence level, his writing is too poor to be considered college level. (That's apart from his ideas, which are also woefully deficient, but he could potentially scrape by with a D if he could at least write a sentence that made sense.) He's getting that news from me at this late date because this is the first actual writing assignment (other than a reading journal) that he's submitted: there have been three mini-papers to this point, and he hasn't turned in one. The only formal writing assignment he turned in was his first substantial paper (which was supposed to be 5-7 pages and was 2 1/2)--and I gave him ten points for turning in something, as a mercy. On top of that, 21% of his final grade is a zero, because of all the assignments he's missed. He can't come back from that, unless he is capable of suddenly producing B-level work for every single assignment for the rest of the term. He did get a B in 102. Was he doing something radically different from what he's doing now, or is this--as I suspect it is--an instance of one of my colleagues having no standards to speak of in terms of grading? I confess that in this case, I don't feel too bad for the student. He dug himself into this hole, and he'll find that once one is in a hole, to continue digging simply makes the hole deeper.

Ah well.

On a personal level, I am going to skip my dance class again tonight. The last two weeks it's been easy to miss, not only because of my work load but also because the instructor I like was away. This week he's back, and I'd love to go to class, but I'd get home too late. In order to wake up in the morning with any shred of the intelligence needed to finish those papers, I must head for home now. Or, well, in a little bit: there are a few more of those gnats that I need to swat first.