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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 20, 2012

All over but the shouting

And I suspect there will be shouting from a few students who failed. I didn't fail as many as probably deserved it, but a few simply did not turn in enough work and, in one case, were absent all too many times (even with the forgiveness factor in the wake of the hurricane). And the Would-Be Wonder Student was stupid and didn't follow through on the withdrawal, so he got a UW (unofficial withdrawal)--which averages in his GPA like an F. He is not, repeat not, going to be happy, but he's fucking himself up and needs to recognize that fact. I think he's one of those who would benefit from a year or two (or more) out there in the real world, away from school, to get knocked around, learn a few lessons, and come back when he's ready to really put in the effort, not just make a lot of noise about it.

Poor Dear Thing found out she was going to get a D+--and this is her second time taking the course, with the same result. I gave her the option to withdraw, and she took it. Honestly, she's one that I truly believe deserved the F, so just as well she'll have to take the class again, whatever her grade. But I'd lay even money that she'll get a puffball of a professor next go-round and will sail through--maybe even with an A, who knows. It's happened to students of mine in the past.

I didn't spend a lot of time working with Bruce this morning--scattered focus, too much going on--but I did help him solve one problem, recommending one of our former full-time faculty for one of our electives that was begging for an instructor. Happy all around. I'll be back working with him in January, when that round of shouting begins, but for now, we're OK. I'm happy to report that in all the byzantine recording that has to happen, I didn't make any mistakes. That sound you hear is me patting myself on the back.

Shifting gears back to the "all over" part: I had hoped to escape it, but I will have to come in tomorrow--but briefly, just to copy the paper rosters and submit them to the department. Not a huge deal: I will be in the area anyway, for a physical therapy appointment, so it will be easy enough to drop by and cross the final T's, dot the last I. If I'm feeling wildly ambitious--or simply in need of a little futzing around to round things off--I may clean up the hazmat area that is my desk. (Christ only knows what's lurking there in all the detritus.)

But there will be no blogging. I won't blog; I don't care how nicely you plead. Not until January. (Unless, of course, a P.S. sneaks up on me. One never knows.)

And until then, a very Merry Happy to you all.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Oh, yeah, and...

...looking at what's left, I've decided not to take work home. I think I can still do some scheduling (if Bruce hasn't finished it off) and still have time to get everything graded and the numbers crunched before too late. I might even have time to go home, feed the cats, and get back to the neighborhood for a dance get-together tomorrow night.

But that's tomorrow. No plans. Just today.

Surprise, surprise

I'm hearing Gomer Pyle: "Soo-prize, Soo-prize." I didn't think there would be any opportunity for me to blog today, but here I am in Advisement, having read and graded the stack of papers I brought with me (I didn't bring them all--and perhaps I should have). There are few students, long pauses, and I still have a little over an hour before I can get the flock out of here. So, what to do? Write a blog post, of course.

Things I wanted to record (in no particular order):

I can't remember if I mentioned yesterday that I realized, if I were to average the homework grades for the students in my later 102 class, I'd be handing out failures left, right, and center, as most of the students had racked up an impressive number of zeroes in their idea logs and (especially) glossaries. I'm getting soft in my old age: I don't want to fail them, mostly simply because they gutted it through to the end. I don't mind handing out an entire classfull of D's, but failing six of the eight who remain? I can't do it.

I told them about the problem--and what I was thinking about as a solution. I may consider anything that they turned in after the storm as extra credit. If I do that, those who turned in all the logs and glossaries would get a whopping benefit--perhaps too much, which is why I'm unsure whether that solution will fly. I don't want to end up having to move someone who deserves a D or a C up to a higher grade; I just want a legitimate, numerical justification to pass them.

I'm not sure about the fairness of making that kind of adjustment for one section and not the other--but in the other section, more students beat themselves to bits to get the work done, even if they did a crap job of it. It's all going to come down to the number crunching tomorrow; I'll juggle solutions until I come up with something that works to my satisfaction.

In terms of the reading of papers, there is one student--I think I've mentioned him before--who is certainly plagiarizing but whom I have not been able to catch at it. I read his final paper, and I'm even more sure that it is not his work. If he's using someone else to write his papers, I won't be able to nail him (which frosts my ass, as I wish I could burn his)--but my sincere hope is that he's getting over-confident, time-pressured, and therefore sloppy, and that consequently I'll find evidence to use to blast him. I spent a good while in the office typing his paper into a Word file so I can grind it through the plagiarism detector software I have at home. I really want to catch the little rat.

And I've done the same for a student in the earlier 102. I don't think she'll pass anyway; her paper has other significant problems, and she's been conspicuously absent (and not turning in work) most of the semester, especially since the storm. But if she plagiarized--and I think she did--I want to let her know she can't get away with it.

Well, sometimes they do get away with it--witness the rat in the Short Story class--but it seems useful to be able to scare the crap out of a student, hoping that the lesson actually has an effect.

I have to say, across the board the final papers are sub-standard, despite the incremental versions thing. Some student conveniently forgot the critical essay requirement. Many turned in a paper that is significantly under the required length. Lots of bozo errors. Generallycrappy writing. I'm giving grades that I know in my heart are way the fuck too high--but I painted myself into a corner with earlier grades. Still, many are getting a lower grade on the final version than they got on the in-progress steps, which drives me bonkers. How can I get them to come through on the promise of their in-progress work--even if it isn't much promise? I thought the proposal process was the problem, but it seems not. I will stick with the incremental submissions thing regardless: it does make more sense, even if the results are not what I'd like. But this is another area in which I'm going to look for that mythical perfect delivery method that gets every student to produce praise-worthy work.

That reminds me that in the discussion with the earlier class yesterday, one student said that she thinks there is nothing I can do to help students understand what idea logs should look like, why observation and summary (not to mention personal response) are not actually ideas. Her point--and she may be right--is that it students simply need to learn by doing, and not succeeding very well, and responding (at least theoretically) to my comments. But they did all love the procedure I instituted part-way into the semester, of distributing green and purple pens so I could distinguish their class notes from the work they'd done at home. That encouraged them to take class notes--because they knew they could get better grades if they did a good job of learning from the class discusion. My concern is that they won't be willing to risk doing the work (and making mistakes) at home, which is always a problem. I will have to remind them, over and over, that I'd rather see them  take a good stab at it and miss--or ask a zillion questions--than provide answers that are not useful to analysis.

Well, but that's next semester--and the ones to follow. Right now, I have four papers to comment on, another seven to read, a little Assessment dealy to do, and then the number crunching. Hoo-fucking-ray.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A gamble

I'm going to believe that I can get to the office early tomorrow and knock off the papers for the Short Story class in record time. Only two asked for comments, and one of those has already been commented upon; the other is half done. If I can hit the ground running (as it were), I think I'll be ready in time for tomorrow's class period--and I'll hope to hell that no one shows up looking for a final paper grade before I've had a chance to read the damned paper. It's a gamble, but I'm willing to take it--so I can get home, feed cats, and still make it to dance class. (A life? Am I allowed to have one of those?)

Tomorrow's going to be a mad dash of a day, not only because of the flurry of paper reading in the morning but also because I have to leave straight from Advisement to get the cat to the vet. I intend to do my Advisement time a little early, although that will mean leaving the office before the official end of the class period for the Short Story class. If I am done in Advisement early, I face a little less concern about getting to the vet appointment on time--and anything I can do to reduce stress is good.

Tomorrow I should take work home with me, so I can get a jump on the commenting (on four papers) and reading (of the remaining fourteen) for Thursday. I want/need to spend time Thursday morning working on adjunct scheduling--and one of my promotion mentees wants to meet with me in the morning, and she of the freelance job wants to meet with me in the afternoon, truncating the time I'll have for papers. Plus I want to be crunching numbers and figuring final grades by the afternoon, if at all possible. I fully intend to have everything done and my grades posted before I leave on Thursday, even if I have to stay until midnight.

But that's planning, and lately, my plans have a way of going south in a huge hurry. Tonight is enough to deal with.

It was interesting to get the feedback from students in both 102s today. Across the board, students said that they learned how useful the idea logs could be, and that they valued the revision process. Across the board, they said they feel they can read and write better. In the earlier class, we had a long discussion about whether group work is valuable. They think not; I know better, but they have a point that, especially at the start of the semester, students need more structured tasks in their groups in order to work productively. (I also realize--again--that I have to be very clear to give them permission to be confused and feel stupid.) One student also wanted me to do more spoon-feeding of the start of the novel--but again, I know better. If I hand them a lot of information before they start reading, what I say will be meaningless, as they won't have a context for it. I do wish I could make students read the entire book, cover to cover, once through, as quickly as possible, without taking a single note or doing anything other than reading, then have them re-read according to the assignment schedule--but I know damned well they won't do it. I am, however, feeling that the whole approach to the novel needs some rethinking--or that I need to rethink teaching the novel at all, at least for a while. Hmmmm.

I'm looking over at my desk, and I see things stacked up that are not papers to read: what am I forgetting? I'll head over there when I've finished this post and do another triage list, then pack up and split. No blog tomorrow, I'm sure, but I'll probably post when I've tied off the last bit of the semester on Thursday. God, I can't believe I've only got two more days. Shit!

Monday, December 17, 2012

I take it back.

Over the weekend I told several people that this week shouldn't be too bad. I take it back. I just realized I have a lot to get done for Wednesday at 11--and virtually no time to do it in, not and do my job in terms of adjunct scheduling. I passed by the office today and saw Bruce hard at work on the scheduling; I'm hoping like mad there isn't much left for me to do--or that maybe I can do it on Thursday instead of tomorrow (which would free up a ton of time). I canceled my physical therapy appointment for tomorrow morning; the receptionist asked me if everything is OK. I said, "My life is blowing up, but my body is fine." Continuing cat crisis and, and, and... I don't even know what all. No time, no brain, too much to do.

I did finish the freelance editing job for my colleague--but now she wants to sit down and go over it. I told her Thursday--by which time things really should be better; I should be down to crunching the numbers, not reading/marking any more papers (or only a few) (or I hope). And I finally took a look at the promotion applications I'm mentoring and responded about those. I have some bits of leftover homework for the 102s that I will, by God, get done tonight--but I'm going to take it home (need to be home to care for the cat). I had hoped to go do dance tomorrow, but that's looking unlikely, unless a miracle occurs.

The students in the Short Story class really did not want to do the wrap-up, talk about what they got out of the semester, what worked. They confirmed my hunch that in the future, I need to give more specific topics for the paper assignments: even though they will need to learn how to develop their own topics eventually, it seems they're not ready for it yet. Fair enough. They generally said that the idea logs were helpful. Most of them had at least one story they'd liked. A few legitimately felt they got something good out of the experience. A few gave a nice goodbye at the end (including two who thanked me for making them stick it out, not quit). Only two want comments on their papers (sweet). I'm glad as many crossed the finish line as did--and I see a number of "mercy D" grades coming.

No clue what the 102s will be like tomorrow. It will be interesting.

But now I have to figure out what to take home--finding that balance between what I'd like to get done and what's realistic to expect I'll actually do. And I have to go home.

More tomorrow.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Good decision? Bad decision?

I'm not going to take any work home with me this weekend. I may regret this come next week--and if I start to get jittery about it, I can always drop by over the weekend and pick stuff up (I'll be in the  neighborhood anyway). But at the moment, I think I can get everything done next week without undue strain--including looking at those dratted promo folders--and I'd prefer to spend this weekend finishing that editing project for my colleague and, well, I don't know what else. There's always something. (I've suddenly turned into Rosanne Roseannadanna).

I did write up that observation, finally, so that's off the triage list. I also spent a little time yesterday gathering together a bunch of stuff to send off to the copy center, so I don't have to strain the hell out of the department copiers (well, not as much anyway). It would be terrific if I could get my syllabi pulled together in time to send those to the copy center as well, but somehow, I don't think I'll count on that.

I got all the Short Story second versions graded and on the door to be picked up. One student e-mailed me to say she wouldn't be able to get hers today after all (growf), but if she doesn't get it before Monday, that's her too bad.

Both classes were nearly non-existent today, as I anticipated. A few students proofread their own papers; some exchanged papers with a classmate to proofread; more just pulled together all the pieces, handed them to me, took the self-evaluation assignment, and split. Piece o' cake. And I got some idea log flotsam marked as I waited for the late-comers to blow in the door. One student had completely forgotten her paper at home; she kept trying to find ways to turn it in late (tomorrow? Saturday? Sunday?) but I just kept shaking my head, "no, no, no." I said, "What's your day like today?" Well, she's finished with classes and is going home. And where is home? I can't remember what she said, but I simply lifted my eyebrows, and she realized that, if she wants to be responsible, she needs to go home, get her paper, and bring it back to me today. She asked how late I'd be around; I said "pretty late"--but in fact, that probably won't be the case. Still, I will leave a note for her to put the paper on the office door, that I will pick it up later. I just won't specify that "later" means either tomorrow or Monday.

I do want to get out of here as soon as I get a few things organized. I need to make an actual triage list, not just the one in my head, so I don't lose track of anything next week. For instance, I keep tending to forget that I have to fill in some information for an assessment of "information management," with my Short Story students as the guinea pigs; I need to do that as soon as I have the papers evaluated. I'm even going to put the routine paper-work on the list, just because it will make me feel good to get it crossed off. Mostly, I need to take a look at what is on (or near) my desk and know what's where. Then I can toddle off home and watch something dopey on DVD while I munch popcorn or something. I need to turn my brains off for a while so maybe I can actually get a good night's sleep. That's one think I'm looking forward to more than almost anything: mornings when I don't have to set an alarm. Between class days and two weekend appointments, there are six more alarm mornings before I have two weeks in which to loll about in bed as late as my little old heart desires. Yah. Nice.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

All the chocolates in America will not clear out this little mind

Lady Macbeth I am not, despite what my students think, but I do feel like I'm responsible for a bloodbath. I've marked all but three of the second versions of the final papers for the Short Story class, and although they genuinely are better (hooray!) they still have a long, long way to go (boo!). I do wish I could bring myself to mark the last three: I tried to save the best for last, but I looked at the first paragraph of one of them and thought, "Oh no. Oh shit. Oh well." And hit the wall.

In class today, I asked students to let me know when they could pick up their marked papers; the one I just looked at needs to be ready by 11:15 tomorrow morning; the other two I can grade during my office hour. So the plan is to come in as early as I can make it, grade that one, do adjunct scheduling until my office hour, then grade the last two--and see where that leaves me in terms of time.

The class period was pretty easy today. I went over the procedure for submitting final papers with them, worked out when they'd be picking them up, told them they could work with each other or stay and ask me questions--or they could simply split. Most split (not a surprise--and in fact a relief.) One student needed to have his paper marked then and there, as he had no other opportunity to pick it up; a few others stayed briefly to ask questions. One of those is the one I know has been plagiarizing all semester, but I haven't been able to catch him at it (very sophisticated plagiarizing). I did point out to him that two pieces of information in his paper had no textual support anywhere (the plagiarism flag flying in my head)--so he agreed to either find the support or remove the information. Still, I don't want to expend energy and anxiety tying my knickers in a knot trying to nail down plagiarists. If I can do it relatively easily, well and good. Otherwise--as in the case of this kid--I have to adopt a Pollyanna-ish stance and believe that their cheating ways will at some point bite them in the ass (the evidence of Big Finance notwithstanding)

On the other hand, going over the paper with the student who needed his grade right then was kinda great. The student has good ideas; they just haven't been making it into his papers very well. I pointed out where ideas needed to be clarified, where the connections were missing, where he had an idea to develop and where he was off track--and he seemed to be getting it. It was an experience validating Paul's assertion that one-on-one conferencing is the best way to help students see what's going on in their work. Paul's right, and I know it works; I just have made the choice not to expend that kind of energy. (Are we noticing a trend?) If I ever do it again, it will be with final papers, when I have fewer students to meet with. I admire Paul's tenacity--and devotion--in continuing the process, but I'm trying to make life easier for myself, and conferencing is exhausting.

And I'm already exhausted: the ongoing cat worries (especially Monday's drama) have wrung me out, and I am finding it a challenge to recover. (I also find it a challenge to know what day of the week it is....) Part of the slow recovery is actually anticipatory in nature: I know what's still in front of me to be done. Final versions of final papers are arriving from the 102s tomorrow, and final versions of final papers from the Short Story class on Monday. Consequently, you may well ask (as I ask myself) when I intend to look at promo folders, and write up that observation, and finish the other tasks that must (really must) be finished before the end of next week. And my honest answer would be, I don't know. This semester is a very interesting exercise for me in learning the futility of plans (mouse plans or human plans, they do seem to gang agly, not just aft, but damned near always). I live by the Book of Scarlett O'Hara (though I have yet to make an outfit out of old drapes). Sufficient unto the day are the tasks thereof.

And the chocolate thereof. William showered me with chocolate, not only for my birthday but to help me get through the whole issue of the sick cat--and I damned near polished all of it off tonight. (I have to say, dark chocolate and cocoa dusted almonds are wickedly snackable.) But even all that sweetness (and the bit of caffeine within) won't get me through one more paper. I'd write the observation up, but I'm concerned to get home before too late.

I truly cannot believe that a week from tomorrow it will all be over. How is that possible? Is that possible?? Weird as hell.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Jesus, this is just the semester from hell. Appendicidis, hurricane, and now a critically ill cat. I had to cancel class (and bail on Advisement) yesterday to rush her to the vet, lots of sturm und drang, got home mid-day, and collapsed. Fortunately, I didn't leave a ton of student work in the office, so I was able to be home and essentially senseless without washing about in waves of guilt. I could have worked on that editing job for my colleague, but nah. Maybe this weekend.

Everything is in tumult at the moment: my personal life is as bouleversee as my professional life. My promotion mentees have been very gracious about waiting (interminably) for feedback on their folders (which, fortunately, are not due to the college-wide committee until March). I have yet to start adjunct scheduling, which I intended to start two weeks ago. The broken strand of pearls analogy no longer works: I feel like a very inept plate-spinner. (Cue sound effect of smashing crockery.)

Because of the need to cancel yesterday's class, I am now trying to figure out what to do about the second version of papers for the Short Story students. One solution--which I do not like at all--is to collect the second versions tomorrow, grade them over the weekend, return them on Monday, and reschedule the final paper so it is due the last day of that class. I dislike that option for two reasons: one, it means I'd have to read and respond to papers over the weekend (which is more of a psychological problem than anything). Two, it means I'd have to madly read papers and crunch numbers the final day of my semester instead of being essentially finished. The only other option I can figure is to collect the papers and return them to students later in the day tomorrow or on Thursday, depending on when each student would be able to retrieve his or her assignment. I like that option better, even though it means a rather hellish stint tomorrow afternoon into Thursday morning. Not only would that solution bring an earlier end to the "I have to comment in ways that make sense" thing, I can sell it to the students as giving them more time to complete their papers once they get comments back from me: the whole weekend, not just a day and a half. I think I just sold myself on that option. Whew.

Today, the 102 students were still struggling: weirdly, the theses that they managed to pull out of their asses last class evaporated over the intervening days, so we spent a lot of time clarifying those theses again. And I almost had to have a show-out in the hall with one student in the later class: he kept insisting that he was making the argument I asked him to, and that his misreads of points in the book were correct, and that the slender thread he picked up on was sufficient to support his paper. I kept saying, "I'm trying to help you," and "You may think it's working, but if I tell you it isn't...." At one point he said, "I'm just going to write my paper the way I think  I should," and I got up and walked away from him. He tried to call me back, but I said, "If you're not going to listen to me, what can I do? Go ahead; write your paper the way you want." I knew, even as we were wrangling about it, that his reactions were defensive: he was confused, scared, and didn't want to let go of the life-raft of the familiar--even though it was wrong. I helped some other students (while we both cooled down), and then I went back to him, saying that perhaps the way I'd phrased the question was throwing him off. I asked him some very leading questions, then wrote down a version of his answer and showed it to him. He saw what I meant, and that it was, in fact, a thesis he could argue. I said that unfortunately, some of the ideas he loves so much may not work with that idea--but it's where he needs to go with the paper. He pretty much has to start from scratch (and overall he's in serious trouble anyway, because of missing work), but we'll see. I'm hoping I can legitimately give him a C for the class, but I'm dubious.

After I'd wrestled him to the ground, Poor Dear Thing chimed in saying she doesn't want to get help through e-mails because I'm so mean. I said that the two of them could have a party, sit down over coffee and commiserate over what a bitch from hell I am. Mr. I'll Do It My Way said no, on the contrary, my class is his favorite. Yeah, I'm not so sure I believe that, but OK. Poor Dear Thing had to admit that she is interpreting sarcasm and put-downs in what are, in fact, genuine answers to her questions. I love that class, but man, I wanted to throw the two of them out the window. And not open it first.

One of the students who should still finish the course (and could, potentially, get a decent grade--if I ignore his lousy attendance) was not there today. I deeply hope he shows up with that final paper on Friday. If he does, that means I'll have seven students remaining in that class; the Would Be Wonder Student withdrew, saying he'll see me next semester. (OK, if you're sure that's the best thing for you.) At least one other student needs to bring the official withdrawal form--or he'll get an Unofficial Withdrawal (a new policy this semester; it has the same effect on the GPA as an F). I am not sure how many students are left in the earlier class: could be only 8, or it could be 10 (or 9). I'll know more on Thursday.

I'm sure there is more I could complain about, but obviously it isn't anything all that urgent. Short version: I'm overwhelmed. Welcome to end of semester. I am, however, absurdly proud that I got everything for tomorrow's class marked and ready to return. It wasn't much, but when I left class today, I wasn't sure I'd be able even to blog, never mind do any productive work. Getting even that little bit done feels like a triumph. But now, I'm tired, and I have a cat to medicate. Speaking of medication, I may stop at the liquor store on the way home....

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I know I had a brain around here somewhere...

I spent ages today looking frantically for a student's second essay to grade and return. I looked everywhere I could think of, at least three times, and finally gave up. I went to class, all set to tell him that I'd mislaid it and to ask him to send me the revision (and apologize for losing the first version)--but when I said I'd lost his paper, he looked at me like I'd lost my mind and said, "You returned it to me already." I had. I'd even recorded the grade. Talk about the absent-minded professor....

His paper would have been the only bit still hanging over my head from the last week or so: I am happy to report that although it was a near thing, I did get everything I had in hand marked (sort of marked) and returned. Because I returned all those assignments, the students in the first 102 section wanted to ask a zillion questions--especially about how to calculate potential final grades--and I got so caught up in helping them, I almost missed the next class. The earlier section actually did a damned good job discussing Le Guin's "Is Gender Necessary? Redux" and the intro to the novel, even though most of them hadn't done the reading. Just enough of them had--including some of the duller students--and to my delight, they were getting the points, and getting them well.

The second class was more problematic, partly because Would-Be Wonder Student kept hijacking the discussion to talk about sociological or philosophical questions, not focusing on the actual texts (largely because he hadn't read them). The student who seemed to understand it all best is one who's been missing the last few classes; he's sweet and honorable and wants very much to do well, but his life has been a train wreck, so he's been behind most of the term. It was lovely to have his participation but sad, too, as I had to tell him after class that he probably needs to withdraw.

And that is the situation with WBWS. He and I had a long talk after class, the upshot of which was that the offer of an incomplete is withdrawn--on top of which, because he is well behind the curve in submitting the first two versions of the final paper, he won't get comments on the second one (the first was ungradeable). I could have graded his second version over the weekend and returned it on Tuesday, two days before the final version is due--but I didn't want to put myself out when he's not been holding up his end. (So there.) But I didn't tell him that. I did tell him that his grade for those versions will take a hit for being late. He's not quite ready to acknowledge that sometimes situations beyond our control fuck up our best intentions, nor is he entirely willing to admit that although he had all sorts of "new leaf" resolve about this semester, he truly has not put in the effort he's capable of--granted, in part because of those situations beyond his control, but the fact remains.

In any event, I may end up with both those young men in my 102s next semester, which would be fine by me. WBWS was trying to massage the angles so he wouldn't have to resubmit the work he turned in this term--and my answer was, well, kinda: I'd allow him to turn in this semester's final version of each paper as his first version for next semester--but he'd have to revise from there.

He was upset (understandably) but also very complimentary: he said he'd done his research and read on Rate My Professor that I would provide a real, high-level college experience, which was what he wanted. (Be careful what you wish for, I reckon.) He said that I taught at a level of sophistication that he hadn't encountered anywhere else. I'm somewhat surprised he'd say so, but I'll happily take the compliment.

I'll also happily take the weekend without work. I have some logs to mark for the short story class, but I'll do them next week (maybe even Monday before class, if I get here early enough). I have a teeny bit of stuff to mark for the 102s, but not enough to even think about. I'll have to do serious work reading the promotion folders for my three mentees (I've been falling down on my P&B business)--and next week I really do have to start work on the adjunct scheduling. But this weekend, if I do anything at all, it will be prep for next semester. My primary objective for this weekend, however, is to flush stress out of my system. I can feel it starting to build for the first time this term: I've been busy and harried but not as stressed or anxious as usual--until this past week or so. I don't want to carry stress around with me any more; it is at very least counter-productive, if not downright damaging, so whatever I need to do to alleviate it will be the order of the day.

Oh, I almost forgot (speaking of alleviating stress): I did snap at Poor Dear Thing, who interrupted me again. It was interesting to watch her after I'd scolded her, fighting down the urge to interrupt. She's so odd: she brings up her ideas in a belligerent manner, as if she's in the midst of a fight--even when A) it's the first time she's mentioned something and B) she's right. I suppose it's a defensive reaction because she feels "stupid" and is therefore all too willing to assume she is being judged as inferior by others, before she even opens her mouth.

But speaking of opening mouths, I'm hungry, so my method for alleviating stress at the moment means getting the hell out of here. I feel pursued by the "shoulds," but I'm going to try to lock them in the office and run. I can't do much tonight anyway, so what's the point in wearing the hair shirt of "should"? (It's chilly outside, but that's not a good choice of a warm layer.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Assessment meeting was fine. I don't remember what else I'm supposed to do in terms of Shitstorm (er, Taskstream), but at least we got the main stuff covered. I think.

Class was fine. Students did a decent job with the last reading, and did a decent job working on their papers in pairs.

Advisement was fine. A steady stream of students, only one of whom was annoying as hell. (First case of that this semester that I can think of). I even got to mark one assignment while I was there.

Got through the huge, steaming pile for the first of tomorrow's 102 classes. The pile for the second class is slightly less huge, and perhaps not quite as steaming (a bit less shit, I'm hoping). I may regret not working on it more tonight, but not only am I hitting the wall, I have to get out of here so I can get to the vet's office before they close and run a few other cat-related errands.

I'm tired. But I realize, since I'm not actually holding class the final days, I will only see the students from the Short Story class three more times, and the students from the 102s four more. (and I feel a surge of anxiety: the "Oh shit!" feeling about how much work remains to be done if I'm going to get out of here with my feet clear.)

As I said, gack. But for now, I'm out of here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


I feel like I'm being chased by a pack of rabid chihuahuas. It seems everywhere I turn, someone wants me to handle something, or there is some piece of business I have to attend to, or (most pressingly), I have huge, steaming piles of student shit to shovel through that must be marked immediately if not sooner.

I did get all the first versions marked for the Short Story class (whew), and tomorrow we're not going to talk about the last story I assigned unless we have time after we work on their papers some more. The most common problem is that the students try to compare two stories that are wildly dissimilar: for instance, both stories contain the word "God"; therefore they can be put together. Consequently, their "thesis statements" are so enormous as to be essentially meaningless--along the lines of my old favorite, "Many people feel the same and differently about many things." The attempt to stretch the evidence from the stories to cover the huge space they've staked out is painful to observe. (At least my students in 102 are spared that, having only to write about the novel.) This does make me think that perhaps I need to suggest pairs/themes--even if only very broadly. Students here, at this level, may just not yet be equipped to find good fits on their own. (And they give me fits in the process.) After all, in my other lit courses, I do provide more scaffolding in terms of parameters, choices; next time I teach the Short Story class, I need to rethink the essay structure.

Today's students were pounding their heads against the second versions of their papers. Would Be Wonder Student showed up today--and reminded me that I had suggested they could simply scrap their first versions, since so many realized in class that what they'd come up with was not going to fly. He missed an important decision that I made after I said that, which was that I would, in fact, collect their papers and give feedback, but I'm going to give him a break over the confusion--and he'll just get the same grade for versions one and two, and only get my feedback once before he has to produce the final. I'm glad I didn't lose him entirely--but I still need to talk to him about the incomplete, as he's rather falling down on the arrangement.

But as I said in both classes, I'm getting tired of policing shit. Hand in whatever. If you don't have it today, get it to me next class. Or the next one. Don't put it off much longer, or I won't be able to grade it in time for it to count. Yeah, fuck, whatever. Don't bother me with the begging about wanting more time, the excuses about crap quality, any of that. Hand the stuff in and go away.

I was about ready to remove Poor Dear Thing's head today. In her self-denigrating panic and confusion, she tends to get so caught up in her excuses and worries and "I can't" statements that she interrupts me and won't listen to what I say. I finally snapped--only a little, but after about the fourth time she interrupted me I did say, "God dammit, stop. I'm serious." I'm about at the point where I'm going to say, "Clearly you have no interest in what I have to say, as you perpetually interrupt, so I'm not going to respond any more. I will answer no more questions and provide no further help. Period." Of course I doubt I could stick to it, but her behavior is seriously getting on my nerves. The maddening thing is, she actually has a few good ideas; she just can't recognize them as good ideas, even when I tell her they are. She insists, "I don't know how to say it"--or, even more irritating, "I have an idea, but you don't understand me." "Clearly, then, the problem is in the expression of the idea, so you need to write it over and over, as many different ways as you can think of, until finally you feel like you've expressed it clearly. And because you are still a student, you then run it by me and see if I agree it's clear. If I don't, then you go back to the writing board (as it were). That's the process. It's not just you; it's anyone, everyone. That's how writing works."

Fuck. Well, whatever.

I realized with a sinking feeling that we have an assessment meeting tomorrow morning--time I had, of course, counted on for paper grading. And my Thursday morning is going to be eaten up as well: I am seeing a student at 10 (assuming he shows up: I'll double check with him tomorrow), and then I have to make up time in Advisement--and the Would Be Wonder Student has already said he wants to come to my office hour--and I should start work on the schedules with Bruce, but that just ain't gonna happen this week. But with all the other bites taken out of my time, when, you ask, will I mark all the second versions for the 102s, never mind the make-up logs and glossaries? Good question. I wish I had an answer. The only thing I know for certain is that no more of it will happen tonight. I'd push the make-up time in Advisement to next week--but I have a zillion appointments and meetings next week, too. Fuuuuck.

Well, whatever. Somehow it will all come out all right. ("How will it?" "I don't know; it's a mystery." Thank you, Tom Stoppard.)

Monday, December 3, 2012


...where did I leave off?

I didn't blog Thursday, and there were some blog-worthy events, particularly in the later of my 102s (of course). The should-have-been wonder student wasn't there, hadn't handed in the first version of his paper--has now effectively sunk himself entirely. Offer of an incomplete is hereby withdrawn. The other potential wonder student--even smarter, actually--also blew himself up (metaphorically speaking). He showed up late (again) on the day students were getting their first versions back to work on and sat there looking at the assignment sheet. I called him out in the hall and told him he couldn't pass (no essay 2 submitted, no version 1 of final paper submitted, lots of absences and lateness, and so on). I also told him he was driving me crazy--because he had the potential to be an A student, if he'd do the work. He tried to wiggle out of the situation because--wait for it--he's already on academic probation. I don't know how the withdrawal will affect that, but not positively, is my guess. I said he might not be allowed to come back to Nassau until he petitions for readmission--but before he does that, he needs to be sure he's ready to commit the time and energy to school. I trotted out my speech about "Sometimes the most important lessons we learn in college are life lessons..." and he agreed. (I gave the speech again today to another student from that class who also needs to withdraw.)

Of the students who are left, however, all were in the situation of struggling to come up with a clear, focused, debatable thesis. I circulated the room, helping as much as I could. The Poor Dear Thing got what Paul calls a "hit to the pleasure centers" because I read part of her first sentence aloud: perhaps the only thing she did right was to start of immediately talking about the novel instead of making big generalizations. She was thrilled to know she did anything right (note to self: remember to let students know!). The rest of her paper was a wreck (and I got an annoying e-mail from her this weekend asking me to tell her which chapters she should look in for evidence to prove her points... um, no), but at least she did that first sentence right.

Toward the end of class, another student pointed out that I had said we probably need to go over works cited pages in class. I saw that a classmate nearby had his head down on his desk, so I said, "Look at him: can I ask him to think about works cited pages now? Let's do it next class." But the young man raised his head and said, "No, no. This is me trying to take it in. I guess I really do need to pay attention to your comments on my papers." No shit, really? You think?

But I turned it into a joke. I was tired and consequently giddy enough that I was turning almost everything into a joke. And they were laughing. But they also were coming up with theses. Finally.

Then I went to observe one of our new adjuncts, and although there were some things about her class that were good, she clearly wasn't addressing the problems of remedial students. We had a long--Loooooong--talk after, in which I gave her ideas, pointed out the problems, explained what she should be focusing on. Of course, it's now so late in the term, I'm not sure what's going to happen with her poor students when it comes to the exit exam, but at least they have material for their portfolios. It was odd to realize that she honestly doesn't understand A) how to pull things out of the students' heads (instead of handing too much to them) and B) how to make almost any exercise interactive--which is what prevents boredom. In any event, I told her that the evaluation would be "needs improvement," but that I'm sure she will improve. She wanted me to come back to observe her again this semester, which I can't do (I don't think), but whenever we hire her again, I'll make sure someone observes her, so we can show that she has, in fact, improved. I know she wants to--and I think she can. But something about how I talked with her about it made her feel incredibly grateful, so much that she insisted on giving me a kiss on the cheek. (At least I hope that was gratitude.)

Today's main event of note, in the student department, was a long conversation I had with a student who wants to withdraw because he's getting a C. He's the one who hung his head and told me he was frustrated when he got my feedback on his first essay. He is, in fact, struggling to understand what he needs to do--but he is getting there, and I decided I'm not going to let him bail. I told him a C is not the end of the world, and I think there is a lot he can learn yet. He is learning; his work is improving. He just needs to gut out the next few weeks.

I started marking the first versions of the final papers for the Short Story class, but I hit the wall. I know this will bite me in the ass tomorrow and into Wednesday (I may be getting up at 5:00 all week), but I also know when I've hit the point of not diminishing but vanishing returns. I hit it like a dropped brick.

I need to spend some time starting the spring scheduling of adjuncts tomorrow, but I also have to get papers marked. Hmmmm. Maybe I need to miss P&B again? Or postpone the scheduling bit? I'll talk to Bruce in the morning and see what's possible. Right now, I'm painfully tired (not much sleep the last 4-5 nights, and a lot of stress over the weekend, not work related), so I'm going to sit here until I figure out what I want for dinner, then head off. And tomorrow is another day. Ain't that the truth.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Attack of the "shoulds"

I had to leave Advisement early to take one of my cats to the vet, and I very conscientiously brought work home with me, as I'd planned to put in a good chunk of time in my office this afternoon and early evening. Now that I'm home, however, and my cat working off her frustrations at the indignities she has suffered, I find I simply can't face any of the grading. Not even one little piece. I'm done. Stick a fork in me.

Of course, this means I probably should get up an hour earlier than usual tomorrow--but I don't think I'll do that, either. One way or another, I'll get the first versions of 102 final papers marked, and if the gods smile (as they sometimes do), I'll also knock off the rest of the second papers that I have in hand (I may get one or two more, but that's it). Then all I'll have to do over the weekend is grade second essays for the Short Story class--which will be enough, dammit, as I also have social events on my calendar that I refuse to miss.

Class today was fine; the students started out saying the story du jour (John Crowley's "Gone") was "weird," but when we started talking about it, they got to the meat of it pretty well. The senior observer said it was almost like a sermon in the form of a story--and in terms of what it conveys, he's nearly right. (It's also simply a beautifully written story; Crowley can be a bit too much sometimes, but I'm a fan.)

I'm not sure how many students I actually have left, but I think it's thirteen (though I rarely have all thirteen in the room at once). That's not counting the senior observer--who also was very complimentary today as he left class, telling me that it's been a privilege to be in the class. (Thank you. I'm honored.) I'm glad I have that many left; it's still an insanely huge attrition rate, but it's better than some semesters. In the 102s, a few more have fallen by the wayside--including one who by all rights should have been this semester's Wonder Student. He's still coming to class, but he's stopped turning in work. I need to talk to him.

Two nice moments I want to record, one from yesterday, one from today. Yesterday, as I was leaving my last class, a colleague called to me in the hall and told me that he'd seen my e-mail asking people to tout Native American Lit for me--and that he thought his 102 class had some good candidates. I've been chatting with his students as I pack up to leave and they come in, so when I made the pitch, several of them immediately wrote it down with great interest. I thought that was very nice of him--and it was nice to see that those students respond well to me simply because I'm friendly with them. (I still have only seven registered for it--but it's early days yet, or so I tell myself.)

Today's nice moment came in the form of an e-mail from the student who had braided himself trying to avoid admitting that he'd been irresponsible. He wrote to say he'd forgotten to thank me for allowing him to withdraw, that he thought I am an "awesome" professor, one of the only serious professors at NCC--and that he was learning a lesson: that it's time to grow up. He thanked me for that, too. Nice. It took him a while, but it's a good realization for him to have had. It probably won't stick just yet, but that's OK. At least the seed has been planted.

It was interesting, yesterday, to talk to my students about the process of writing--all over again, as if it were the first time. After our discussion of the novel, they were saying they were probably going to have to change their theses. Yes, I said: that's the process. You have to throw out a lot of crap ideas before you find the one that will fly. That's just how it works. They looked a little as if I had told them there really is no Santa Claus, but I think they've had enough lived experience of revision now to begin to believe I'm right. (I'm right.)

After class, the Poor Dear Thing ran through her song and dance with me again, first protesting that I kept saying she was misreading the novel but she didn't think she was. I said if she did understand, then she needs to work on expressing what she understands, because it sure looks like she doesn't get it--and I think I'd be the better judge of whether her understanding is accurate. But the conversation then turned into a lecture about her negative self-talk, and about self-fulfilling prophecies, and how she is undermining her chances of success before she even tries by telling herself how stupid she is and that she'll never make it. As she left, she called down the hall, "I love you, Professor!" OK. Thanks.

It feels strange to be blogging from home instead of from the office--and my kitchen is calling to me (the meal I've been meaning to cook for ages singing siren songs, "O, chop onions! O, saute eggplant!"). Enough for now. I may not post tomorrow; I have another observation immediately after my last class and probably will just hop in the car and head home after. I'm just explaining because I know you worry.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

a non-post post

Just to say no time to write tonight. Backson. Bisy backson.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Grind, grind...

I know that the time is going to whip by; I know we're into the "hang on to the safety bar and scream" part of the roller-coaster ride, but each day feels like being stuck between mill-stones, or being the mill-stones, or being the donkey walking around and around in a circle, turning the mill-stones, or something. I really should have ground one more paper out of myself today (or seven more out of myself over the weekend), but the grind just gets to be too hard to take. And the grind is only going to increase: I'm going to have my hands full getting successive versions of final papers looked at and returned to students over the next three weeks. This week I'm getting first versions from the 102s; next week, first versions from the Short Story class and second versions from 102s; then the next week, second versions from the Short Story class and final versions from the 102s--and then final versions from the Short Story class, and I'm done. But meanwhile, I have the second essays from the Short Story class, which I need to get back to them by Monday so they have a shot at revising, and I'm still collecting logs--and I still have seven more final versions of second papers to grade for the 102 classes (and a few more are still pending).

Jesus, this semester is just a cluster fuck. I'm feeling sick thinking about it.

Two moderately annoying student interactions today. One of the lunks from the earlier 102 wrote to me over the weekend to ask if he could withdraw. I made him come talk to me--and lectured him rather severely about actually working, not counting on charm, or whatever he thinks has gotten him through to this point. The annoying part was watching him try to pretend that the hurricane was sufficient excuse--even though his first major fuck-up was not turning in the first essay. He was all but tying himself into macrame trying to avoid admitting that he simply was ravingly irresponsible all semester long--and I have no patience for it. It isn't cute. Grow up.

The other moment was in the form of an e-mail from a student from the later class who I actually rather like. She's cute and smart (though she, too, hasn't buttoned it up in terms of getting her work in, even before the storm). She's the one who showed up (with her twin) at the end of class on Tuesday last week--and I realize now I probably should have told her to withdraw then. She was very confident that she could read the novel over Thanksgiving, but in her e-mail she asked if I thought she could write her paper without having read the book, if just doing the research was enough. I'm still trying to wrap my brains around the fact that she asked, but I simply said no, she does have to read the book because the bulk of her paper has to be her analysis of the novel, which (obviously) she can't find through research. She wrote back to say that was what she thought, but she'd gotten to chapter 7 and was lost.... Well, Sugar, that's what happens when you miss three weeks of class after the disruption of the hurricane. I wrote back and said (essentially), OK, so what do you intend to do? She didn't even ask about whether she should withdraw, or ask if she could meet with me.... Up until this moment, I'd been thinking I'd encourage her to take the class from me again in the spring, but now I'm not so sure. I'm beginning to suspect she may not be as good a student as I'd given her credit for, and I don't want to have to smack her around for another semester. But she really does need to cut her losses this term. She isn't going to make it.

To end on a positive note (as I like to do, whenever I can), I'm still getting lots of positive feedback in Advisement, students telling me that I'm much more helpful than other advisers they've had. Good. I may not be as "efficient" as some of my colleagues, but the students leave feeling confident and knowledgeable, which I think is the real goal, not to get them in and out as quickly as possible.

But thinking of getting out as quickly as possible, I'm going to fold my tents and steal off into the night. I had intended to make a grocery run and cook up some food that has been in the fridge just about long enough--but I'm reconsidering. I may find a delicious book and take myself out for dinner. Whatever helps get one through, yes? And with luck, when I come in tomorrow, I'll be ready to take on the rest of those papers and knock through them with dispatch. One student is going to meet with me tomorrow to talk about the novel (good plan); I'm wondering if others may want to join us. The more the merrier. But that's tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day. Maybe I'll be stronger. (And as God is my witness, I'll never go hungry again. Sorry, it's completely irrelevant, but it's another Scarlett O'Hara quotation, and since I'm thinking about dinner...)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

staggering into the oasis

Gawd almighty it was hard to get myself here today. Every molecule in my body was screaming "Nooo!!" at the very thought of having to do anything other than lie about in my sloppy clothes and stare mindlessly into space, interspersed with naps. Rather like the cats. If all goes as planned, that's exactly what I'll be doing tomorrow.

But once I got here, of course, the old war horse knew the drill, trotted through her paces like a trooper. Or trouper, if one considers what I do a performance, which in some ways it is. Students were mostly present for the Short Story class--and I mean that in both senses: most of them were present, and the ones who were there physically were mostly present, if not entirely. I wasn't surprised by most of the absentees: they've been falling apart anyway. Most of the students had papers for me, too. And with a little prodding, they got into a pretty good discussion--even of Gallagher's "The Lover of Horses," which they'd been obstinately resisting on Monday. Two rather overlapping thematic categories are emerging from the stories (actually, the stories were chosen specifically with those categories in mind): one is Coming of Age, the other is Parents and Children. Of course, in terms of their papers, those ideas are way the fuck too huge: "What about Coming of Age? What about Parents and Children? What's the perception or insight we gain from the stories?" (Prof. TLP's perpetual comment: if it would fit on a stamp, I'd have one made up, like the Bozo Error stamp Paul had made for me.) But they're still hacking away at it--the ones who are left.

Typically, the attrition rate in all of my classes is approximately 50%--a little more for the Short Story class. I have about 13 of 28 students left, and I'm not completely sure all of them will stick to the bitter end. Most will, but a few more may implode before it's all over. I haven't counted the exact number remaining in my comp classes, but I think the tally would be low double digits in both. And again, I'm not sanguine about how many of those will make it through. I think Paul's right: this must be a sign that I deserve promotion to full professor, even in the absence of any meaningful scholarship or contributions to the college as a whole.

Somewhat surprisingly, there was a pretty steady stream of students in Advisement. Paul had thought it would be relatively empty (day before Thanksgiving and all that), but I think two factors were at work. One, students had to be here for classes anyway, so decided to make use of the time on campus. Two, a number of them probably thought exactly what Paul did and figured they would have less of a wait if they came today. It took me a while to get the cogs of my brain engaged with the wheels of Advisement; the first few students I saw must have thought me a gibbering idiot. Nothing was making much sense to me, like when I'm tired but trying to read something with any weight: what the students said, their paperwork, information on the computer, all washed over me without soaking in: lots of words but no understanding. "Blah blah blah, Ginger." But I got there eventually, and received genuine thanks from a few students who told me I'd helped more than any other adviser they'd seen. Thank you; I'll take the compliment.

Sitting in Advisement, I got thinking about my own spring courses: I just checked, and Native American Lit has five students at the moment. That's not bad for this point in the registration process, but I've been to this fire before. I hope I don't go through the usual nail-biting about whether the thing is going to run--but I will have to print out fliers and hang them up in Advisement (if nowhere else), for the delectation of students waiting to be seen. My colleague who is teaching Nature in Lit distributed his flier, and I'm very interested in his approach. I've asked for his reading list; I'll be curious to see what he'll be teaching that's new to me. I'm happy to shill his course for him--but in exchange I may ask him to shill mine for me, especially as I see he already has more students than I do (eight to my five: Shall we have a competition?). Of course, what I really hope is that both run with full counts. Wouldn't that be great?

I have a little time in which to noodle around before I meet Paul for a steak dinner/work session. I can feel the muscle knots in my neck already letting go, just at the thought of that kind of fun. I'm taking a bunch of papers home to work on over the weekend, but I'm not going to think much about that for at least 40 hours or so, maybe more. And I will be back with you, Dear Readers (all two of you), next week.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

on the fly

About to run off to dance class--passing up a golden opportunity to do damage to my blood pressure by attending tonight's Board of Trustees meeting.

The good news is, I'm caught up on P&B business. Now I get to turn my attention to paper grading. A small but significant portion of the 102 students haven't yet turned in the final versions of their second essay--and next week we start the process of their final papers. I've also decided I don't want the half-assed crap they've been submitting in lieu of actual plot summaries/logs/glossaries--so I've told them to button it up, do good work (i.e. something approaching completion of the tasks I've actually assigned) and turn it in all at once.We'll see how that flies. It will be a bit of a crunch for me in terms of marking, but I'm not going to comment, just read enough to assign a grade.

One student I thought I'd lost for sure showed up after class today, ready to resume. I'll let her try--she's smart and had been a pretty good student until the storm, which coincided with a death in her family. I don't know if she can pull it off, as she hasn't even started reading the novel yet, but it doesn't hurt me any to let her make the attempt. The funny thing was that she showed up with her twin sister. At first, I saw the twin and thought she was my student, but then I saw the other face, and I said, "I'm looking at [the one not my student]--but that's my student there." They were astonished I could tell them apart: they may be genetically identical twins, but their faces are distinctly different. They were cute about it; cute in general, in fact. We'll see what happens.

I ended up giving both classes the "this is for you" speech, the one in which I say that it's their responsibility to ask questions and make sure they have the information they need. "It's your education; take responsibility for it." The ones who most need to hear that of course don't--or don't right now. I hope that somewhere down the line the words will return to them in a time of need.

And I note again the marked difference between the two classes. The first one was like wading through cold, congealed oatmeal; the second included laughter and good points, good understanding. I told the second class that I'll be teaching Native American Lit in the spring. I didn't mention it to the first class.

Ach, whatever. I told Paul today that between the two sections, I have approximately one section's worth of students. He said that should count as "recognized distinction," the criterion for promotion to full professor. I couldn't agree more.

But now off I go. I hope to post a slightly better crafted, more coherent precis of tomorrow, but those dancin' feet are callin' me.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Everything but papers...

I bailed on my Advisement time today (cough, cough, wheeze, snort, I'm too sick to come in): I realized I could clear a lot of the underbrush by taking those hours and applying them to committee crapola. And damn, it feels good. Of course, I'm pointedly ignoring a steaming pile of essays from the 102 students that I have not begun to mark, as well as random scattering of (pretty crappy) idea logs and glossaries--but I got the letter written for the sabbatical application I'm mentoring (the application is a mess, but the letter is done); I looked at most of the rest of the applications and took notes (and will have a chance to look at the rest tomorrow before P&B); I wrote up the observation from last week; and I just finished doing some additions to the work-load rationale we're putting together to help the union in contract negotiations, which will get very hot very soon. (The contract expires next August, but the administration already started the battle by suggesting they were going to require that we essentially punch a time clock, sitting in our offices for a 40-hour work week. You can imagine the hooting and cat-calling--and suggestions that if they pay us for overtime, that might not be a bad deal, as most of us routinely work more than 40 hours a week, albeit not necessarily in our offices.)

In any event, that's all out from under my feet now, and it's remarkable how much easier the load feels. I do worry a little about what may have fallen through the floorboards (there must be something major I'm forgetting; I must be heading toward an "Oh shit!" moment)--but not too much. The main thing for now is to take a look at what's still on the desk, including those student assignments, and determine whether I can get more done today or if I'm going to pull a Scarlett O'Hara.

I've lost a few more students from the Short Story class. One needed to go a long time ago; it's good he finally recognized it. One could have been a good student, but she never did the work she needed to do (she hasn't officially withdrawn yet, but when we talked last week, I got a strong feeling that was where she was heading). Most of the rest are hanging in--bitching about their paper grades, but I'm not fussing about that. I can't help it if they aren't smart enough to figure out that if they are unhappy with their grades, they need to see me to figure out what to do differently, and more than once if necessary.

But the main thing that struck me today is how differently classes will respond to the same reading. In past semesters, the Le Guin short story I'm teaching, "Malheur County," has been a bust: students couldn't get it at all. Today, at least one young woman got it just right: beautiful. But also in the past, students have loved Tess Gallagher's "The Lover of Horses"--and this time, no one got it, and most of them hated it. (A connection between those two things perhaps?) We didn't really finish talking about it today, so we'll see what I can pull out of them on Wednesday. Maybe we need to start with the final paragraph (which is pretty powerful) and work backward. I do wish I could get them to stop thinking in cliches, but maybe that's just too much to ask.

I've just had a very nice chat with Paul about everything from sleep to food to students--and even though it's relatively early, I'm done. I will at least put the piles of crap on my desk into some kind of order before I go, but that's as far as I can manage. Scarlett O'Hara time. And again--this is becoming all too frequent--I'm going to toss this up on the blog with out re-reading so much as a syllable.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"trampled to death by geese"

Paul used the phrase the other day to describe what our lives feel like; I did some looking around, and the quotation is by Kierkegaard, from a journal entry of musings about death, in which he wonders "which is worse: to be executed or to be slowly trampled to death by geese?" Shoot me now.

It's the little stuff. It's all the detritus, the niggly bits, the chain reaction stuff: to do this means first to do this which means first to do this then to do this.... I got some little bits of flotsam at least chipped at, but more is tangling around my ankles and buzzing around my head. I'd say it's endless, but it does at least pause periodically. Still, the next pause won't be for quite a while. It's that time of semester. Hang on to the safety bar and scream.

I should try to get one more thing done today, but I just can't face anything at all. In addition to everything here at NCC, I also am getting whapped in the face with ASLE business, which I simply do not want to pay attention to right now. I'm wondering if I should resign this year, as I feel utterly useless at it and really have no time for it. I'm particularly cranky about it right now, because today's ASLE e-mails include a rather fierce statement that people really should not propose solo papers for the next conference but should form a panel, or at least a partial panel. I'm still trying to get my fucking abstract pulled together, and it's due tomorrow--and how in the bloody hell am I supposed to put together a panel, even a partial one, and with whom? I wrote an e-mail to the VP in charge of the conference and asked if I should even bother. I hope he answers tonight or tomorrow morning; my intention was to work on the abstract tomorrow, but if there's no point in doing so, God knows I have enough other shit I have to do. I will be pissed off and hurt and upset if I can't submit an abstract--I am feeling increasingly disenfranchised from my own group, god dammit--but on the other hand, I will take the opportunity to come to the office and get some P&B business done.

Fuck. This just hits me squarely in the "I can't be a scholar because I'm so busy trying to teach severely undereducated young people how to begin to think" button. I want to be a scholar. I love being a scholar. I don't remember how to be a scholar. My scholarship is more than a decade out of date by now. But I don't want to be one of those people who throws the students under the bus, because I want just as much to be a good teacher, too, and I care deeply about reaching those students.

And I did reach them, at least a little today. Two students showed up for the discussion session--and were deeply grateful. We had our library research classes today, so most of each period was spent with the students starting to find sources for their final papers (and I just have to note one of the two library instructors was a disaster). Even so, I know I was helping the students, talking with them about what they were finding, and how, and so on. (I also spent some time during the librarians' presentations reading some of Le Guin's blog entries on her website: fierce, touching, laugh-out-loud funny. I'm going back for more.)

Well, hell. All I can do is all I can do. I will trust that whatever happens in terms of proposing a paper for ASLE is for the best. If I'm encouraged to go ahead, I will; if I'm not, I'll focus on the relief--and move my attention to my own book idea (speaking of Le Guin), and the project with Paul.

And now, I'm going to sign off and drag a bunch of papers home to work on this weekend. I'm not sure how far I'll get, but anything is to the good. I will have to do some paper grading over the Thanksgiving weekend, too, which I was madly hoping to avoid (the fucking hurricane ruined that carefully laid plan; the mice and I are in agreement about how agly plans can gang), but the more I can get off my plate before next Thursday, the happier I'll be. (Of course, the real trick is to be happy even when the work is avalanching. I'll see what I can do about that.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Very quick bitch, er, post...

Last night's observation ended up not happening: the students were going to spend the entire period writing first drafts of a paper, so there wouldn't be much to observe. The cool thing is that in today's P&B we decided to postpone that observation until spring. Ya-hoo.

I held another discussion session for just myself. Actually, one student did try to come, but there was a miscommunication, and she went to my office instead of the conference room where I was waiting. I feel a bit guilty about that (only a bit)--but most of the students don't seem to want the extra discussion time, and the few who do generally can't make the times I have scheduled. I'll hold a few more (I can grade papers anywhere), but if they're really not happening, I'll cancel the rest.

Thursday my 102s will be in the library (so no discussion of the novel, just work toward their research papers). I don't know what that will do in terms of making them feel more need for the discussion sessions--or less.

Tonight's observation, of a new adjunct, was a complete delight. A very well run class taught by a charming instructor. Nice.

I have so much shit on my triage list that I just want to hide. William and I were joking earlier that the thing to do would just be to declare the semester over, grade the students on what they've done to this point, and tell everyone "We'll see you in January." Wouldn't that be heavenly? Barring that, I'm about to take a page from the Albert the Alligator playbook and yell, "Earthquake! Earthquake! Game called on account of an earthquake!" (You have to know your Pogo to follow this blog.)

I feel frazzled but not anxious, if that makes sense. Frantic but not worried. Whatever. All I can do is whatever is right in front of me at that moment to be done; no sense fretting about what next. And now, what I can do is go pick up my laundry and go home to collapse. After all, tomorrow... well, you know the rest.

Monday, November 12, 2012

I gave a discussion session...

...and nobody came. Good. I can mark assignments.


Very suddenly I'm in full "oh shit, I have too much to do when am I going to get it all done" mode. The trickle of student assignments coming in is starting to turn into a freshet (thank you, Ed), and there is P&B business, other committee work, my abstract (still a mess, though more words in the mess).... Plus much of the free time I'd usually have for marking stuff is going to the extra discussion sessions for my 102 students. And the increasing stream of students in Advisement (no real pauses today, except the break I took to eat my lunch). And two observations this week. And dance class. Yeesh.

Consequently, I won't have much time for blogging for a while. I had most of the remaining students back in class today; only one still among the absent, and I have at least heard from her, so I know she's OK and plans to return. Discussion was OK. We spent some time reconfiguring the assignment schedule--again--and ditching a mini-paper, moving the second big essay just a smidge.

I'm about to go to one of those discussion sessions, and immediately thereafter I have an observation, which won't end until about 8, by which time I'll want to head straight home. Tomorrow: study session, P&B, class, class, observation, back to back, no break. Wednesday: class, Advisement, study session, dance. Thursday... well, you get the idea.

Off I go. I'll take work down the hall with me, in case no one shows. Be interesting to see.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Getting through

I got a good wodge of P&B work done today; yesterday I marked all the assignments (well, the few I had) for today's classes, so I had the morning free to crank away. I looked at all the promotion folders for the folks I'm mentoring; there are two more that I should look at, just as a good Do-Bee, but next week is early enough for that.

I have a fair-sized folder of miscellaneous flotsam to take home and mark over the weekend--as much as I can, but I also must must must finish the proposal for a paper I want to present at the ASLE conference next summer, and that has to take priority. I'm having a powerfully difficult time getting any genuinely interesting thoughts to coalesce, but I'll fall back on the "write anything and see what comes out" technique.

I was playing to pretty empty houses today, in my role as Spinster Professor. As was the case yesterday, some who had been there on Tuesday were not there today, and some who'd been absent were there. I really do not know if the students will be able to read enough of the novel and understand it well enough to write their papers. I'm not sure what to do if we get closer to that point and they're utterly lost. I suppose I could ditch one of the preliminary versions... But I'm not going to get into the "what if" scenarios. I said I'd be improvisational, and that means no planning.

A sweet moment: a student arrived at the end of class to withdraw. I asked if he was OK, how he'd gotten through the storm--but honestly, he'd pretty well vanished long before the hurricane. I asked if he was sure withdrawal was his best option (I was pretty sure it was, but I thought I'd give him the chance)--and he said yes, but that he was really sorry. "You're the best English professor I've ever had. I've had two here before you, and I really mean it, you're the best. You're so organized." I've heard that before, and every time I do, I'm pole-axed. Me? Organized? OK, if you say so, but it sure doesn't feel that way from my end (pearls falling through the floorboards).

 But I'm as organized as I'm going to get today. I am completely grateful that I had lights and heat when I got home yesterday, and thus should still be returning to a warm and lit apartment tonight. I wonder how long it will be before I forget to notice and give thanks? But before I go home, I fully intend to go to a cozy restaurant and have a nice meal and a fucking enormous drink. I'd have two if I thought I could drive home safely. I may even literally let my hair down. Six weeks left--including Thanksgiving week, which hardly counts (and which is almost on top of us). The roller-coaster ride begins: hold onto your hat....

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Anyone see four horsemen?

Now we have very wet snow falling on trees that still have leaves on them....

I have almost nothing to say, actually. Not many students, not all the same ones who were there on Monday (some new, some missing), and the discussion was pretty deadly, lots of looooong silences. I saw one student in Advisement: she was thrilled to bits with the help I gave her (really? didn't seem like much to me), and the rest of the time I split between marking assignments and checking weather sites.

I was going to hang out here on campus for a while, but I'm parked out back under some trees, and I'm seeing the branches bending under the weight of snow.... Several years ago a huge branch fell on my car back there, took out the rear windshield and dented the crap out of the roof and hood; I'm not interested in having that experience again.

I suppose at some point I'll be talking about teaching again, but not until some semblance of normalcy has been reestablished. I'm about to find out whether the dance studio is holding classes tonight. I'm on the fence about which answer I'd rather get. Ah, hell, I'll write more tomorrow--assuming the sun comes up. Christ Almighty, this is simply nuts.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Another storm coming

That's literally true, as you may know. My students are freaking out--especially those already without power and heat. Lines to get gas are still ridiculous (and pretty soon I'm going to be in one); I no longer believe the repeated assurances that that situation will "soon" get better. Even students who have valiantly been coming to class so far may not be able to do so as the week progresses, simply because of lack of gas, coupled with an all but non-existent mass transit system that is in disarray. (If I can't get gas in my car, I may not be able to make it either.) Never mind the possibility of losing power again when the temperature is dangerously low (wind chill making it feel like 14 at night), driving in snow when traffic lights are still out in places.... All in all, this is a cluster fuck.

I had more students in class than I expected today, and more of them were prepared (or were more close to prepared) than I would have imagined. I realized today that the gender balance is flipped in the two classes: the earlier class has only two young men, the rest women--and in the second class, there are only three women (and only two of them were able to get to class today). I'm sure that has some effect on the difference in dynamic, but the main difference seems to be the balance of personalities: in the earlier class, both the young men are utter lunk-heads. One at least tries to be upbeat and participatory, though he doesn't do the work; the other does the work but is less engaged and dynamic than the desks. In the other class, no lunks at all. Some of the students are struggling, but all of them are alert, present, interested, engaged--and bonded with each other. I wish I could get rid of the two guys in the earlier class: I bet the whole dynamic would improve significantly. Ah well.

One nice moment in the earlier class, having to do with the Whining Friend of the Turnaround Student (the one who started out bitching but is now becoming one of the best students). Whining Friend had been out a few classes before the storm hit, and I thought she might have bailed from the class altogether. Au contraire. She was back today, prepared, participating, smart and cheerful and bright eyed. Maybe Turnaround Student finally persuaded Whining Friend to stop whining, or maybe Whining Friend simply found her own reason to turn around--but I may not be able to call her Whining Friend any more.

Shifting gears: I fear my reputation as Grendel's Dam fused with the Wicked Witch is getting tarnished. In both classes, the students said--in chorus--that I was the only professor who had kept them informed about classes, and they told me over again how grateful they were for that contact. They also expressed gratitude that I'm being understanding about their work. It's been sweet: most of the e-mails I've gotten have asked whether I'm OK, have sent good wishes for me and my family. They were also deeply grateful for the extra discussion times. We'll see if that translates into action; I'm not taking any bets on how many of them actually show up. But the gesture may have been enough. Jesus, what happens if I get a reputation for being nice??

But I'm being nice under duress: these are extraordinary circumstances. I'm taking a very Taoist approach, refraining from pushing the river. Whatever flows into my hands is what I'll deal with in that moment. Nothing else to be done. That's always true, but it's more obvious under these circumstances, when even the illusion of control and predictability has been stripped away.

I am reminded, repeatedly, of how blessed I am, in all areas of my life. At the moment, I am especially grateful for having work to do that can be so immeasurably gratifying. Yes, it feels good to be appreciated, to be liked, to be respected. More important, it feels good to be in a position that allows me to help, even if it's only by lightening the load in a crisis. I almost don't care about the actual work getting done (though of course eventually that will start to be a concern). I'm just glad to be here, doing what I do, getting paid for it, come hell or literal high water.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Well, it's easy to find parking...

This is going to be an odd semester. Students are all over the map in terms of how badly their lives have been affected by the storm and how ready they are to get back to school work. I haven't heard from a lot of them, which means either that they're not checking e-mail--or that they can't. Since I didn't have ready access to e-mail until Saturday night, I understand. And I count myself very fortunate: one student told me that her family is in a shelter, and I'm sure there are others in that position--or worse.

I am feeling profoundly addled at the moment. I know I have a lot of things to organize so I can move forward, but I'm having a difficult time figuring out the triage. I've told the students we're going to try to stay as much on schedule as possible, but I'm letting go of attendance policies, late paper/late homework policies--at least for now. Seven students managed to make it to the Short Story class today, and I heard from at least another five who couldn't make it. I'm getting a mixed bag of responses from 102 students; most are silent, a few are on top of things, a few are revising the papers that were due last Tuesday--which puts them way the hell behind the curve. All in all, herding cats would probably be significantly easier than trying to get my students in the same general area in terms of assignments.

The students in the Short Story class were a bit dazed and non-responsive, but as the class went on, they warmed up. I could get snarky with those who don't have logs and mini-papers today--because those should have been done before the storm hit (they were due last Monday). But I know that most of them hadn't done the work on Sunday, heard that classes would be canceled--and took the opportunity to coast. I can't much fault them, actually, as I did somewhat the same thing. The main thing is to get enough work collected that I can give them a reasonable grade--and heaven only knows how that will happen as they straggle back to campus over the next week or so.

I have gotten some very sweet e-mails--especially one from the Poor Dear Thing (or whatever I've been calling her)--thanking me for being concerned, for keeping them posted, for lightening the load. We're all going through a mental and emotional regrouping, and I've told them--and Paul, and myself--that school should be the least of our worries for a while. Take care of life first. The rest we'll figure out as we go along.

And just to add some excitement, the forecast is for rain and wind on Wednesday into Thursday. It's just a garden-variety autumnal storm, but imagine what this means for people who are without power, living with flooded basements, and so on. It's getting cold, too. Somehow I can't be too worried about assignments in the face of all this.

And yet, of course, I am. Not "too" worried, but concerned, certainly. It seems the cosmos wants to test my ability to stay in the present, not to try project into an unforeseeable future. I have no idea what to expect, and I have to accept that and simply roll with whatever comes.

I don't even know if I'll have enough gas to get to work on Wednesday. I'm OK for tomorrow, but I'm not sure beyond that (I'm keeping a close eye on that fuel gauge).

Breathing, breathing.

I'm going to return to my desk for a bit and try again to figure out the triage. The "fall back" to standard time means it feels later than the clocks say it is (my body is still on daylight savings), but I am scheduled to be here for another hour in my duties as evening supervisor, so I might as well put that time to some kind of use.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Knockin' 'em down

OK, I didn't get anything graded for the short story class, but I still feel like it was a productive day. I decided I couldn't stand having the left-over bits from the 102s tangling around my ankles any more, so I put them on top of the triage stack. It ended up being a wise choice, as I was very much in Professor-as-Mommy mode all day, and I wouldn't have had large enough chunks of uninterrupted time to focus on longer papers--but it was easy to flip through old homework in the interstices between bouts of student hand-holding.

Poor Dear Thing showed up at 11, and I worked with her for an hour, but at the end, she felt infinitely more confident about her ability to read and about her revision of her paper. She didn't show up to class today, however; I hope the novel didn't scare her off, after all that. Still, it felt very good to work with her. I told her she'd made my day--and she, along with two other students, did. Of course my ego was gratified because she recognized the gift I was giving: my time, my help, my support and encouragement. She was very complimentary, which is always nice, but more, I could see in her face and hear in her voice that she is learning, actually learning. God damn, that's great to observe.

She left, and not long after, another student showed up: very bright young woman whose writing sucks out loud--and yet she's always been told how good it is. She writes effusive and highly embroidered sentences that contain no clear, concise thought--and I've told her it's my mission in life this semester to beat that out of her, to get her to present her analyses precisely and logically. I know she has it in her, but she's going to have to let go of something she's been proud of, believing it to be exquisite, and instead don the straight-jacket of academic analysis and argument. I hope I got the message across; I'll know when I see her next revision. (On the final version of her first paper, I found myself writing, "Oh, for God's sake!" over some burbling bit of garble. Enough with the Valentines and lace, dammit, give me a heart made of meat on the plate.)

As I was working with Ms. Embroidery, yet another student showed up--and I had an experience with her very similar to the experience with Poor Dear Thing. She was one of two students I mentioned earlier in the semester who were bitching about the work, and she's the one who was grudgingly acknowledging that I had a point when I said that gutting through frustration was a vital life skill to learn. Her compadre has dropped off the radar--apparently still complaining while not doing the work--but this young woman has turned around her attitude and is putting in the effort. Not to my surprise, but somewhat to hers, it's paying off. She specifically said that she decided to try out my advice about gutting through frustration--and she was beaming with the results. Yes, Ma'am. She may get her work from the D's she was earning at the start of the term up to B's; she's certainly capable of it.

In the first class most of the students were doing well, but by unfortunate chance, one group was made up of three young women who were completely baffled by the first chapter of the novel--and two of them decided that the best way to handle that was not to listen to the class discussion and to mutter-murmur when the rest of us were talking. I may have to pull them aside and suggest that they pay attention, for fuck's sake, especially as they're confused. I'm not sure what to do about those three, but I will try not to put them in a group together again. However, Ms. Embroidery, Ms. Changed Attitude, and a third young woman were in a group together today, and they were sailing. I may let them continue to work together as often as possible (maybe with the addition of a fourth young woman who is also pretty danged smart), following Paul's philosophy that the good students deserve a good experience, not to be tortured by being put in groups with the attitudinous.

By the way, in our individual meeting Ms. Changed Attitude informed me that the novel "wasn't so bad." Apparently she resisted it like mad, didn't even want to open the wretched thing, but once she started, she got very interested. A student in the later class said essentially the same thing. (Hah! says I.)

The later class was, as always, a step above. The students wanted to work in a circle (we'll probably stick with that for the rest of the term, as they like it and do well with that format)--and we got into some subtleties about the text that the first class didn't get close to. One young man, who registered late and has been doing sub-par work since, clearly understands the novel beautifully, is picking up on details and their significance.(Interestingly, he's the one who said he hated the novel at first but now thinks it isn't so bad.) Nice. I just hope his writing steps up a notch or three. He has A potential--but he's not this semester's Wonder Boy because to date he's been half-hearted at best. If he kicks into gear, he could give Wonder Boy a run for the money.

I think I mentioned my decision to refrain from imposing the penalties on their first papers, as a one-time-only "Get Out of Jail Free" card. I returned the papers today; the red pen showing what the penalties would have been was left in place, but I circled in blue the grade from which the deductions were taken and recorded that. The sighs of relief probably will affect the strength of Hurricane Sandy. I did emphasize that next time, the axe will fall--but they were so grateful to get the reprieve, I think it will motivate them to keep going. I hope so anyway.

On the committee front, I've corralled some P&B business: I've determined when I will do the three observations I'm responsible for (two new adjuncts and one full-time faculty member who is under dire warning for being utterly stupid about his job). I'll read the two tenure promo folders on Monday. I have the stuff for the short story class in my bag to bring home, and I feel confident I can get through it all without having a hellish weekend--and certainly without it hanging like the sword of Damocles over me for my natal anniversary. Which--even though it is tomorrow--I intend to start celebrating in five, four, three....

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A little less gnashing of teeth

I got all the first papers for the 102s finished. Jesus, what a load off. I still have the Short Story papers, and a stack of random detritus from the 102s. Part of me wants to clear the clutter and get the stupid 102 stuff marked and gone, return it all tomorrow, before I collect more (yeesh), but on the other hand, it's more important that I get the Short Story papers completely finished before Monday's class, so I probably should oughta put those on top of the "about to spontaneously combust" pile.

One thing that's been feeling good is that I'm finding takers for the observations of new adjuncts. There are six of them, and the prospect of having to observe all of them myself was painful. However, former members of P&B are coming through, and I think I can unload all but two--and two won't be painful. In fact, one of them I actively want to observe, as I'm the one who hired her (last minute). I want to see if I made a good choice.

Another load that has been lifted is that I don't have to look at sabbatical applications again for a bit. I never got through the first load; I was on a tear, and fully intended to be good this semester and look at every blessed one--but then appendicitis struck, and when I got back, we gathered the comments for our various mentees and are now moving on to promotion applications. And this year, blessings be, there are only two people going up for assistant/tenure, so that's all I have to do for next week. (That will be a Monday afternoon job for sure.) So the P&B load is lightening up a bit right now, too.

And the paper-grading load is getting progressively lighter. I e-mailed one student who seems to have disappeared to see if he's coming back; if he isn't, I"m not grading his paper. I was about to send the same e-mail to another student when I got a message from him saying he has to withdraw. Whew. I'm sure I've graded some papers for students in the 102s who are gone; they often are done in by the poetry paper, finding it just that much more difficult than the story paper. I'm still in double digits in all my classes--but not by much, in the 102s. And the fat lady has yet to begin warming up.

The China Doll withdrew today (saw that coming). Another student who disappeared weeks ago e-mailed to say he needs to withdraw (good idea). Another showed up at the office yesterday, wondering what he could do about the fact that he didn't turn either of the first two papers in 102 (um, withdraw or fail seem to be the only options; which would you prefer?). Yet one more showed up at the end of the first 102 with her withdrawal slip. I'm starting to feel like Annie Oakley in a shooting gallery: ting, ting, ting, hitting those Withdrawals. But as I said, I'm rather hoping it levels off now. I like the balance and the numbers as they are right this minute, and I'd very much like to end the semester pretty much with the students I have right now.

Because I didn't hold my office hour on Monday, I held a make-up session today, and lo and behold, a student from the earlier 102 showed up--one of only two young men left in that class. He's not sullen, not slack-jawed and dim, but in his charming and perky way, he still seems to answer all my questions with "I don't know." Well, think, dammit. I honestly can't tell whether he doesn't have the chops to do the work or if he's just dealing with deeply ingrained acquired helplessness, but if he doesn't start getting some ideas, and damned soon, he's going to be toast very shortly. And I don't want to lose him--mostly because he is charming and perky, and in that earlier 102, we need that kind of energy.

Tomorrow, Poor Dear Thing (the complainer I complained about in yesterday's post) will meet with me at 11:30. She's very happy to have an appointment with me--and I hope it helps. I'm not sure how much I can do for her, but I'll try. Then I rather expect I'll have a parade of students coming to my office hour--possibly from the comps and the lit class. I just hope I get enough time in between to churn through some of those papers....

Nothing else of import to note today. I'm a little worried about the fact that I don't feel so frantic today; surely I'm forgetting something, or am thinking something is more close to complete than it is, or something. But quien sabe? Either I'm really OK, or something will hit me in the face like a flying asian carp.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Grind, grind, grind

In both 102 classes, I gave the "this is when the weak are separated from the strong" thing. We'll see whether that has any effect.

I managed--barely--to have the papers ready for the work they were doing in class today. Two students sent papers via e-mail over the weekend, and I got the print versions too late to have them ready before class; I've promised to have those two ready to be picked up tomorrow. However, students who missed last class, didn't contact me, and simply showed up today with their first versions are on their own.

I've been frustrated as hell, but really, in some ways they are learning. What I saw in class today was evidence that sometimes they simply need to swan-dive into the pavement a few times before they learn that something they've always done is not a good idea. In both classes, I said, "If something didn't work the first time, it's sure not going to work the third: Try Something Else."A number of them specifically addressed that, asking me what they should do instead of what they've been doing. That's a hopeful sign.

I still have a bunch of the first papers to finish, which I must do tomorrow. This seems feasible. Then papers for the Short Story class. Then miscellaneous flotsam (idea logs and so on from ages past). Committee work. After class today was all about putting the stack of shit I have to do in priority order. Never mind the stuff on the back burner.

I think I was fretting in an earlier post about this semester's Wonder Boy, who suddenly dropped off the radar last week, didn't turn in a first version of his paper. He showed up today--and told me that his life just took a bad turn, and he's been fucking up: as only one instance, he went out last night instead of working on his paper. He did give me a bit of a sob story (grandfather died, girl broke up with him), but mostly he admitted that he allowed himself to become completely irresponsible--and he asked what he could do to get back on track. I gave him two options: One, he can do his best to do all the parts of this second paper with no feedback from me, know he'll take a hit to his final grade but have the work done and out of his hair and be able to move on. Two, IF he does everything else beautifully for the rest of the semester--not even the tiniest screw-up--I'll give him an incomplete and we can do the paper 2 process, all the steps, together next semester. I did warn him about the perils of that option, but of course he'd prefer it: he's bucking for an A, and he doesn't want the hit to his final grade. I told him that even if he goes with the incomplete, there's no guarantee he'll get the A (and honestly, much as I appreciate his smarts and his enthusiasm, I'm not so sure he's got an A in him at the moment), but having the shot seems very important to him, despite the very real risks. I told him to think it over and let me know next week what he wants to do. I bet he goes for the incomplete--but mostly, I just want him to stick in the class; I don't want to lose him.

In fact, I don't want to lose anyone else from either class, especially not the later one. In each class, there is one student whose effect is neutral: it doesn't help to have him there, but it doesn't hurt (and yes, both are young men). In the later class, everyone else is an absolute benefit--even one poor dear thing who is so utterly confused she's about to fall apart. She tends to want to monopolize my time, mostly to tell me how hard everything is and how stupid she feels; I'm trying to get her to turn her energy to something productive  instead of spending her time wandering around in a morass of fuss and feathers. She is, in fact, in serious trouble. Not only is writing tremendously difficult for her, she has serious problems with reading. As an example: she found the phrase "instill pride" in one of the critical essays and used it continually as a noun phrase in her paper, as in "The poems show instill pride." I mean, where do I begin? I gave her all the warm fuzzies: you're not stupid, this just isn't where your brain works best; we just need to find the tools that will help you; yes this is hard, and it hurts, but you're learning--all that bilge. OK, it isn't bilge; there is actually some truth there, but whether she's capable of getting where she needs to get in the nine remaining weeks of the semester--especially when we're about to embark on Left Hand of Darkness? Mmmmm, maybe not so much. Still, she's working and trying and refusing to quit, and I give her credit for that.

OK, so what note do I want to sound for the end of the day? Picking up on the fact that--despite all the things that remain unchanged in their work--they are learning, I need to remind myself, and them, that the wheels of learning simply grind exceeding slow, and we all get pulped in the process. I did make an executive decision to mark all the penalties for their finished first papers--the kinds of stupid errors that knock a C- paper to below an F--but then grant them mercy: I'm going to let them have the grades they'd have made without the penalties. But just once. For the second paper, the full weight of the penalties will crash down upon them. I think seeing the dreadful fate they narrowly escaped may help get them to button up. I'm hoping, anyway.

Hope. I want to keep it present, for them and for me. It's such a lovely and potentially fragile thing, and so important to perseverance. If I can keep hope wafting through the classrooms for another nine weeks, we'll all benefit.