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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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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

P.S.

It occurs to me that I have no idea how many people are following this blog, even semi-regularly. I know of a few, because they tell me about it, but I'd like to take a head count--just for my own curiosity. So if you're reading, please add a comment to this post. If for some reason you can't post a comment, send me an e-mail letting me know. I know some people have been unable to become "official" followers (I don't understand why), and I'm considering exporting the whole magillah to another platform that may be more reader-friendly. So, let me know if you're out there, if you've tried to comment unsuccessfully, if you've tried to become a follower unsuccessfully. Enquiring Minds Want to Know.

Oy

Today felt like a much longer day than it actually was. I got in about 9, graded a couple of papers before heading over to Advisement; graded a few more at Advisement--and actually did advise a few students, as well as doing some other stuff (including a little flat-out noodling). Earlier I had had one of those "oh shit" moments, when I thought I'd forgotten to update a set of study questions that my 102 class needs for next week, so I took my flash drive with me to Advisement--and discovered that I had updated the questions (I have no idea when; I didn't check the document date, simply being relieved that I'd done it). I fixed a few little bits and now I've uploaded the questions to my home page, so any eager beavers can get an early start on the questions; I'll pass out the handout in class on Monday.

Now I just have to remember to make the photocopies.

Another "Oh shit" moment: my Native American Lit students said they'd like to workshop a mini-paper or two, if we get the chance, so I need to photocopy the volunteer papers before tomorrow's class. I've got plenty of time to do that; I just need not to forget. And I need to mark their journals and mini-papers, so they have them before they have to write their big papers, due next week. I'm on the fence about whether to swap assignments (as I will have to do for the Nature in Lit students), moving their journal/logs to Tuesday and the papers to Thursday. We'll see how tomorrow goes, I reckon.

My desk is madly silting up with a thousand other things I have to pay attention to. I tend to blissfully forget that this will happen and am shocked when it does. There is a kind of amnesia I experience, which I realize is a form of self-protection. If I carried with me at all times the memory of how hairy things can get, I wouldn't be able to face this job at all.

Today's class was OK. They're not the most scintillating bunch, I have to say, but they seemed to be doing better work on the poems than they were on Monday. One student interaction I missed, but it's cause for concern: Kayla told me that one student snapped at his group and made everyone defensive. One of his group-mates was struggling to understand the poem under discussion, and he said something along the lines of "the interpretation would be obvious to anyone who had done the homework." Kayla gently said that there are multiple interpretations possible, and that just because someone has a different interpretation, it doesn't mean he or she hasn't done the homework. This young man is a potential problem in terms of the social structure of the class. He is more than a little arrogant--and also deeply insecure (how often the two go hand in hand)--so he tends to dismiss a lot of what's going on as "obvious," frequently missing something that isn't so obvious in the process. I'm interested that he has yet to "misbehave" with his peers while I'm around; Kayla has seen his thorny behavior in groups several times. I can manage his arrogance in the whole-class discussion, but it's more important to keep him from infuriating his classmates--and I've not been there to address it directly.

Returning to the topic of grading their papers, Ms. Chip--as in has one on her shoulder--got the gloves-off treatment from me on hers: "As a first version, this could have given you something to work on. As a final version, it meets none of the required parameters for college-level writing. This is clearly unconsidered and thrown together, as if tossed off, casual work will suffice. It will not." Grade: F. I foresee several possible outcomes from that harsh a response. 1) She'll be angry and flounce about--and possibly drop the class. 2) She'll shrug it off: "See? I'm no good at English" or "See? The professor is an unreasonable bitch." 3) She'll get a wake-up call and will put some effort into her work from now on. The order of those possibilities reflects where I'd place my bets. I can't get a read on her. Today, she made a couple of reasonable contributions to the class discussion. They weren't terrific, but they weren't terrible--and she got some encouragement from me for them. But her written work is clearly thrown together with as little energy expended as possible. Her efforts are simply too sporadic, haphazard, inconsistent. If she wants to talk to me, I'll say precisely that. Essentially, she has to choose where she wants to put her energy--and if she doesn't choose to put it into class, she'll have to take her lumps.

There's also a charmingly energetic student in that class who is clearly struggling--she of the utterly missed first paper. She didn't have her journal/logs in class today (she was the one who set Mr. Arrogance off), and she seems determined to believe she cannot understand poetry. (We talk something over with the class as a whole, and she sits there shaking her head "no, no, no.") But she was brave enough to admit she was confused, and when I worked through an image that she asked about, she said she was still confused--and asked the rest of the class to be honest about whether they were. They were. So I talked them through what I'd done, working on connotations, associations, drawing inferences--and said that the process is the same even when readers come up with different interpretations. It's no more complicated than that, I said. But that doesn't mean it's easy; it just isn't complicated. (That idea always blows their minds: that something can be simple but difficult. True fact, as my father would have said.) There is no arcane mystery to it: one "simply" works through the language of the text.

But I'm now practically reeling, and need to get myself home. I'll see how early I can get myself in tomorrow, how much I can accomplish. I have a meeting, dammit, which puts a crimp in my day, but I just need to have everything for tomorrow's classes taken care of. Any grading of 102 papers that I accomplish on top of that is a bonus, that much less to do over the weekend.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Almost didn't make it

I was so exhausted this morning, I very nearly went back to bed and stayed there. I did go back to bed for a while (fortunately I was awake early enough that I could), but I realized I was lying there with my brains racing. I lay still for a while, giving my body a while to recover some energy, but I knew a day at home would be counter-productive, so I brought myself in to work--and did everything I had to do: meeting, P&B, and class.

I had to read the riot act to two students in Native American lit. They're sweet boys, both of them, but one has turned in three assignments (poorly done) and one has turned in nothing. I told them that they have a decision to make: they need to start coming to class prepared, having done the reading, done the homework, done paper assignments, ready to participate, every day--or they simply will not pass the class. And they need to start doing that as of Thursday. There is no more time to get caught up, or get in gear: it's now or never. I wasn't mean (I don't think), but I was very firm. So the next question is whether I do as Paul does and toss them out of class if they show up again unprepared. I think the answer has to be "yes." I hate to do that, but--as I said to them--they aren't learning anything if they're not doing the work.

I think both of them are intimidated by the women in the class, who all seem to understand everything we read and have interesting things to say about it. I reminded both young men that they should feel very free to bring questions to class: that their questions will help the other students think more carefully about things they may have overlooked. And even if not, it's still their education: they need to be sure they get the understand they're paying for.

We'll see.

On the other end of the spectrum, one of the young women was annoyed with her grade on her homework. I wrestled with her about the fact that she needed to sit down with me to talk about what's going on, that I couldn't in six seconds say "You need to do X" and solve the problem. She was full of excuses about why she couldn't meet with me--but as it turned out, I let the class go early, so we took a few minutes to look at the homework she was complaining about. And what do you know: she'd left out the "explain" part. First she tried to tell me that the assignment sheet didn't say she had to explain anything, but when we looked at it again--well, what do you know: there it was, right there. She had the good grace to apologize, but she's a bit of a piece of work, that one, and I'm going to have a hard time persuading her that she may not be quite as magnificent as she thinks she is.

Oh, and Mr. Irrepressible repressed himself right out of the class: he withdrew today, with the "my grandmother has been ill" excuse. She's getting better, he said, but too late to help him in this class. Right.

And although I did throw a few minor snit-fits about promotion folders, I talked to the two mentees who still had bits that needed fixing, and now I can officially wash my hands of the whole thing. P&B could have been over in about 20 minutes today, but one member raised a bunch of questions that, honestly, I don't think were within the P&B purview, but they are areas of legitimate concern to the department (and college) as a whole. I got impatient with the discussion, but that says more about me than it does the necessity of the conversation.

In fact, Paul and I just had a conversation about the college as a whole. I realize more and more that what we as faculty mean by "education" is something very different from what the administration means--and until we address that fundamental disjunction in the basic premise of the "conversation," we cannot possibly communicate with each other. I think the faculty know that this is the problem, but I don't think anyone has clearly articulated it--nor has anyone expressed it precisely to the administration. I'd love to think that I'll stand up in a Board of Trustees meeting and lay it out there, but--again, as I just said to Paul--I'm tired and cranky, and in order to say what I think needs to be said, I'd have to put a lot of time and energy into it, which I don't have.

There's also a minor brouhaha brewing over an elected position to the campus-wide Promotion and Tenure committee: a bunch of us are interested in running (including me--and yes, I've taken leave of my senses), but each department only gets one possible slot, so we don't want to run against each other. Long story, but there's going to be a straw ballot, so we can see which of us the department would be most likely to support. If it isn't me, I'll be relieved. If it is me, I'll have to run around like a madwoman getting my candidacy petition and statement of purpose ready by next week. (See? Lost my senses.) And right at the moment, I'm not even sure why I want to run (see "tired and cranky" above). But we'll see what the department thinks about my candidacy. If there isn't a clear majority in my favor, I'll graciously (and gratefully) bow out. And even if I do run, there's no guarantee I'll be elected: the vote is campus-wide, after all, and who knows who else might be up against me. If if if. Again, we'll see.

But now it's still light out, and I have at least one errand to run on the way home, so I'm going to read this over, post it, and then bow out for tonight.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Pulling teeth

I admit, freely, that I'm still recovering from a respiratory flu that I had over the break, so I'm no doubt unduly tired and cranky, but today's class was very hard. Kayla thought it went pretty well, but the students felt dull and flat and lifeless to me, and it was not quite but almost painful. They were working on the first poem of the semester, and honestly, in some regards, they did well: they did better than usual in terms of staying grounded in the specific words of the text instead of springing off into wild (and unfounded) interpretations right away. But I feel an enormous resistance from them about this work, and it's going to be hard to deal with.

Two students hadn't bothered to pick up their marked first versions of the papers that were due in final revised form today. I spoke to them after class, saying I was unsure what kind of revision they were capable of without feedback from me. The option was, keep the paper, rework it taking my comments into consideration, and take a late penalty--or simply accept the (no doubt painful) consequences of having worked without my comments. One of them didn't have his final version ready anyway, so he's going to work to respond to my comments. The other--who truly does have a chip on her shoulder the size of Alaska--opted just to take her lumps. OK. Kayla and I took a quick look at her paper, and I can tell you right now, without having to read it in detail, it doesn't pass.

And one student showed up today having missed the entire paper process. She wanted to know if she could turn in just the last one (no), or do all three versions on her own (too late)--and she was shocked, totally shocked, that 15% of her final grade is now a zero, even though the grade weights are very clearly stated in at least two different places. She wanted to know what the effect would be on her final grade. Answer: "Well, if you earn a 90 with all your other work, the best grade you could get is a 75." Shocked, I tell you! Jaw agape and shocked! We talked about it some, and I told her to stay in the class and do her absolute best work all the way to the end of the semester, at which point we can discuss her final grade. Privately, I'm holding in reserve the option of an incomplete--though we know what debacles those usually are. But equally privately, I'm not sanguine that she'll stay on top of everything well enough to earn the chance. It will be interesting to see what happens.

After observing me talk to the students, Kayla said, "You've gotten nice." Oh, it's early days yet. I'll get mean, trust me.

Sidebar: I do not, repeat do NOT, want to read their papers. I know I need to, but I truly do need to be stronger to face that.

I had a similarly difficult experience in Nature in Lit this morning. Two of the more lively students were not there, and of the ones who were there, only one had done even part of the reading. I talked to them rather gently about coming to class prepared--I don't want to scare them off--but on Thursday, if the whole group is there, I need to get severe. As in, "Do you need me to start throwing you out of class and refusing to allow you to make up work so you will take this seriously? I don't want to, but if you need me to, I will."

I also am being driven mad by the promotion folders, like being plagued by gnats. I truly should look over the folders for my three mentees, one last time, but I am irritated in the extreme--especially by their questions about where to put things and the stuff they want to include that is overkill. At this point, I'm half tempted to say, "It's your promotion. I've already given you my feedback. Do what you want with it; I have no further input. It's on you now." But I kind of can't: I do have a certain obligation here, and they're not in the least wrong to be concerned to get everything right, nor are they wrong to want the benefit of my feedback, as I have more experience with these things than they do. My irritation is not rational, but that makes it no less present and grating.

Sidebar #2: I'm not looking forward to the advent of daylight savings time. It's true that it's nice to have it still be light as I'm finishing my day (if I finish early enough), but I like the fact that it gets light pretty quickly even on my early morning alarm days. It's nice not to have to spend all morning under electric lights--but once we change the clocks, I'll be back to pitch darkness for most of my morning routine. Bummer

I had intended to get out of here pretty early tonight, but Kayla and I got talking--and it was a lovely conversation, about a great deal more than simply work. I enjoyed it so much I let it go on longer than I should have, and now it's dark and my voice is shot--and even though I know I'm tired, I'm going to have a hard time letting go of the day to wind down for sleep. Lots on the agenda tomorrow, too: a meeting (which may be somewhat torturous but I hope will be somewhat brief), organizing stuff, starting to grade those wretched papers maybe.... So, I need to get the flock out of here. Off I go.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mid-day

In just a moment, I will turn my attention back to the stuff I want to get marked before Native American Lit meets this afternoon, but I won't have time to blog after class today (I'll be dashing home to get ready for tomorrow's flight to Arizona), so thought I'd dash off a post now. No classes next week, so I'm not anticipating any posts again until Feb. 27. Time is really whipping past.

I was delighted to see a student back in Nature in Lit today whom I thought we'd lost. That brings the attendees back up to seven. It was our first class in the conference room setting, and again, I like it. As I think I mentioned, on Monday they decided they'd like to workshop a couple of each other's papers, so we did that. I had to keep reminding them to talk to the author of the paper, not to me ("He's right there...")--and of course the students weren't picking up on some things that I see--but I think it was useful for them to have that experience of building objective distance. Certainly it was helpful for the two student authors. Wonder Student was particularly helpful in giving specific--and spot on--feedback. I particularly liked how he explained what an introductory paragraph should do. Interestingly enough, what he said is almost identical to how Paul said he talks about intros and theses to his students, yet I don't think Wonder Student had Paul as his professor (I'll have to ask). This may just be one of those "great minds think alike" moments--but I'm taking notes for the future.

The only thing I wasn't thrilled about is that it means we slighted the reading--but it was apparent that lot of them hadn't done the reading anyway. I hope to hell they read the Thoreau essay I've assigned for over the break--and that they remember they've got another mini-paper due the Monday we get back.

At the end of class, a couple of students talked to me about missing work, and for this class, at this point, I just want them to turn it in. I'm not going to fret too much about whether it's late. I want them doing the work, and I want them doing work of acceptable quality. And I want them in the class. Other than that, everything is flexible.

But now the Native American Lit assignments are calling to me. I do want to get them done before class--maybe even get some of the stuff I collected from Nature in Lit today marked--so I have as little as possible hanging over when I take off. I am not going to take any student work with me over the break: I'll return to it when we return to campus. Over the break, I have to finish reading the book I'm supposed to review and write the review: that's enough work for a week "off."

Signing off until end of the month....

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Answer: Yes, she can.

Got 'em done. Time to spare (thank god for a lack of students in Advisement--and no meeting of the faculty advisers, which we've had the past two Wednesdays). That's a huge sigh of relief.

In fact, it's such a load off to have them done, back to the students, and out of my hair that I keep almost forgetting that I have classes tomorrow--and a little bit of marking to do for Native American Lit. But it's really only a little bit, and I can easily get it done between classes.

So, here's the overview of the class today.

Frighteningly few students were there at the start of class, but a few showed up late (and one came to withdraw, which was a good plan on his part, as he's only been in class twice, I think). One student who had not turned in his first version had been conscientious about following the instructions for that eventuality, e-mailing me yesterday to ask what he needed to do for today's class. I told him--and apparently it was just too much, as he wasn't there today. Too bad, as I think he had potential, but the work does need to get done. He didn't do it.

Two students who turned in first versions weren't there at all (one is imploding in any event; I hope she has that realization soon and withdraws, as clearly class is dead last on her list of priorities). I had thought I'd call those two students to let them know their papers are marked and on my door for them to pick up--but then I reconsidered. If they care enough about their work to want my comments, they can e-mail me to ask about getting their papers back. If they don't, I'm not chasing them down. If they turn in their final versions with zero feedback from me, well, they'll just have to be judged on those results, which I assure you will not be good.

I didn't run the class the way I originally intended: no pairs, no partners, no peer anything. I told them that the instructions for what they were going to do with partners today should be what they do at home on their own as the last step before they turn in their final versions. Instead, I told them to start addressing my comments right there, right then. (In fact, I have a note to myself to change the instructions so we do things this way from now on: I just have to consider how much work I want them to do on their own before they come to second version day.)

Once I told them to look over my comments and start trying to respond to them, one student immediately came to me and wanted me to look at his whole paper, as he'd significantly revised since Monday. I told him no, that he needed to evaluate it to see if he thought he'd addressed my comments. He sat in the back of the room, looking rather shattered and lost, so at last I relented and took a look at his thesis. Lo and behold, he'd made exactly the right improvements on his own. I told him how well he'd done, and it was a delight to see his face light up.

Much to my surprise and delight, one young woman who I was sure would be in an utter snit about her grade--and who came in late (as usual: on Monday she missed the entire period, just showed up at the end to turn in her paper)--was actually fully engaged in the work, asking me questions, writing, thinking, writing some more. In fact, at the end of class I got a beautiful, beaming smile out of her as she suddenly got the idea about her thesis. "I think I just had an epiphany," she said. Big praise from the professor.

One young man who was very defensive in his peer review was a bit defensive about my comments, too. (I asked, "How are you doing?" and got a relatively snippy, "I don't know" in return.) But he finally asked a couple of good questions at the end, and I think he gets what he needs to do. I think. Again, he has a lot of potential, but his paper was a train-wreck. I told him that if his paper had been a philosophical exploration of ethics, it would have been grand, but it isn't. It's literary analysis, so he needs to stay within those very specific bounds. He said, "I'm going to have to change the whole way I think"--and I reminded him about my lecture the first day, that college will change them. Yes, I said, you will have to change how you think--but don't see it as having to completely give up the way you're used to thinking; just add this as another way to do it. He wasn't exactly smiling as he left, but he at least was reiterating his summation of how he needs to revise his approach: "In other words, I need to come down to earth." Yes, indeed.

One student showed up the last 15 minutes of class: she'd forgotten her paper at home and had to get it. I told her she'd get credit for having version 2 on time, and gave her the Cliff Notes edition of what she'd need to do before she submits the final version. She also listened in on a lot of what I was saying to the Philosopher, and I asked her if it was helpful. Yes--big smile. She's been painfully quiet so far this semester, and her work has been missing or inadequate, but I think she's starting to pull together. She's got a hell of a row to hoe over the break, turning the mess she submitted into an actual paper--but it was delightful to see the light come into her face when I talked with her.

In fact, it was a delight to see a lot of faces light up. Kayla and I have disagreed about one young man, Kayla thinking he's got less to offer than I see: his paper was not horrible but it was not good, either (so we're both sort of right). I finally went to check in on him (he hadn't called me over), and he had some good questions, listened intently to the answers. When I told him he was on the right track, there it was, that light in the face. Another student has been a puzzle: in group discussions she seems very bright, but her journals have been disappointing. Her paper, however, was the best of the bunch--and in fact, she got a couple of blue shiny stars. (I figured as long as I'm using the bozo error stamp, I should give them a reward when they do well. I was feeling very smug about this idea, until I found out that Paul's been doing it for ages. Damn that man; he's just too good at teaching.) But she seemed stuck, so I went over to talk to her--and in the course of my helping her out and providing encouragement, her face lit up a couple of times. Mr. Chip (on his shoulder) was struggling but coming up with really good stuff; I told him so, and, bing! There it was, the light in the face.

Only one student was deeply disappointing, and he's one of those young men who has a lot of native smarts and who can hold his own in discussion but who does not apply discipline to his work. I think it's one of those "real men aren't supposed to be smart and care about school" things, and that's an attitude that's hard to counteract--without someone like last semester's Bright Young Man to be there as a living exemplar of the opposite. Well, he'll either pull it together or he'll flame out. It'd be a shame to lose him, but he has to find the discipline and will on his own; I can't do that for him.

So, all in all a good day--and I am profoundly ready for tonight's steak and scotch debauch with Paul. The debauchery is entirely gustatory, unless having a headlong, free-ranging conversation with a good buddy counts as debauchery. But the food and drink will be completely sinful, and I cannot wait. Bring it on, baby.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Quick post: Can she do it?

I have about ten minutes to blog, then I race off to dance class. I'm only doing one, as I need to get home, hit myself over the head with a frying pan so I'll fall asleep, and get up early tomorrow because...

I have ten papers to grade tomorrow. I know I'll get 'em done, but I am going to have to churn through them--and bail on my Advisement time. I have no clue what happened to today, why I got so little done. Well, yes, I sort of do: I graded stuff for Native American Lit, and had to review some other people's promotion-folder letters for P&B, and visit the Human Resources office to review the personnel files for my mentees (only to find that I didn't check everything I need to check, so I have to go back, dammit all to hell). It really did need to be done, but, well, this is what happens. I also had to do ridiculous things like eat, and pee (so time consuming!)

I'm also still getting things prepped for the ASLE meeting this coming weekend. I just printed out a bunch of preparatory stuff (and yes, I'm aware of the irony of using all that paper for an environmentalist organization). But I can't absorb things as well when I read from a computer screen. I think there's been real research done on that, and that there is evidence that our brains really do process pixels on a screen differently (and less attentively) than print on paper. Ask your neuro-scientist friends if this is true.

Had the first class in the little conference room, and I'm happy with the arrangement. I think the students do feel more relaxed, more willing to talk. Three or four of the eight clearly hadn't done the reading--and although Mr. Irrepressible is doing a great job of keeping himself repressed (no burlap bags required), his homework is significantly lacking. He keeps saying he can't find any quotations to talk about--but then he said he wrote an analysis. OK, I said, where did the analysis come from? What quotations led to your conclusions? Gosh, what a concept! He now thinks he'll write his analysis first, then look for the quotations. Fine, I said, but I don't want to see the analysis without the quotations: I want him to follow the journal/log format I have set up. It astonishes me how much students resist that structure, which is intended to help them. (They like things concrete, but then I make them concrete and they rebel. Weird.)

I also had a lovely conversation with Shining Star after class. She is obviously bucking for an A (and perfectly capable of getting it), but we also got into just a general conversation. Among other things, when she lived in Santa Fe, she met the actor Wes Studi on a number of occasions. Cool. I'm also interested to note that although her demeanor in class is very reserved, even shy, and she looks very mild and gentle, her writing reveals a fierce and angry streak. Repressed fires in that woman, and I'll be very curious to see how they develop through the semester, whether she puts them to use in her work or whether they get in her way.

I'd say more but I'm out of time. This is another that gets flung on the wall with no editing, no proofing, not a second glance. Time to put on my dancing shoes.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Monday Report

The sense of that broken strand of pearls is building: little precious bits are bouncing around and I know some are falling through the cracks, despite my lists and reminders and determination not to be a bozo. For instance, I keep blissfully forgetting that I have to check the personnel files for my promotion mentees, and that I have to do a stealth observation of a potentially problematic adjunct. (I could have done that tonight, but I want to talk to Bruce first, get a sense of how to manage potential body-blocks the guy could throw. Metaphorically speaking of course.) And Friday morning I fly off for the ASLE Executive Council "retreat" at Biosphere 2 (completely cool: check it out at http://www.b2science.org/It's also fun to look it up on Google Maps: do the satellite view and you see nothing but desert for quite a ways around...). I'm looking forward to the trip (not so much to the 3 a.m. alarm), but it's also one more damned thing to juggle (when to clean, when to pack, what to take in the way of work).

I was a bit worried about the juggling act over the weekend, in fact: Sunday I had blazingly good intentions to get all the assignments for all three classes marked--and I simply couldn't do it. Not because I ran out of time, but because I was so frustrated. However, in looking for ways to distract myself, I checked my e-mail--only to find that my report to ASLE is pretty much the first thing on the agenda: I've been asked to give an update on Friday night. Felt a big yikes about that--but then I realized, this was the perfect "displacement activity": I could get the report done and out of my hair while simultaneously avoiding marking assignments, assuaging the guilt I'd otherwise have felt not to be "working." I was working, just not on grading. And in fact, it took a couple of hours to comb through everything--and see what pearls had already been rolling into cracks and under the fridge.

But of course, even though that was a good task to have accomplished, part of me was worried that I wouldn't be ready for today--and yet (thanks to a very dull day in Advisement), I was. I still have to do the mini-papers for Native American Lit, but I'll do those in the morning ("tomorrow, when I'm stronger") before I launch into grading first versions of papers for 102.

Now, in terms of actual classroom stuff: Nature in Lit is an interesting challenge. The students are not taking as much responsibility for their work as I'd like ("I wasn't sure if we were going to read this in class..." Bullshit. What do you think "Reading Due" means?), and although their papers were not terrible (except the plagiarist), they also weren't good. So, I clarified: yes, from now until the end of forever, I expect you to do the reading at home and come in to class prepared to talk about it, no matter when your journal/log is due (today, the journal/log was due, well, TODAY, and still I'm getting the excuse about maybe we were going to read it in class. Argh.). And yes, I understand that you're used to getting a specific question to answer when you write your papers--but that's not how it works when you get to four-year colleges. You must learn to develop your own thesis out of a big, vague topic. And you actually have a relatively specific topic; you're just being required to break it down into segments for the mini-papers.

I was very sympathetic about the struggle to come up with a narrow focus on one's own, to write a short paper (I confessed--and it's true--that the hardest writing I ever had to do was for a course in which I had to produce a 1 to 1-1/2 page paper every other class, and was penalized fiercely if it went on to the third page). But given their worries, I floated an idea I'd come up with over the weekend: "would you like to workshop a couple of mini-papers in class, so you have a better sense of what's needed for your next ones?" Unanimous "yes, " plus two volunteers willing to have their papers workshopped--one of them being the plagiarist. Speaking of which, I didn't catch how he did it--I suspect someone is offering too much"help." There were other huge, systemic problems, so I didn't grade it; I just told him to revise and resubmit, and suggested he make regular use of the Writing Center. After class he was trying to explain why what he did was correct. Um, no. And he wanted to extend that conversation after class. Again, no. If he wants my feedback, we need more time, and he needs to make an appointment. But it will be interesting to see how the rest of the class responds. The other student who volunteered had a decent paper to start with--but it can be better. I don't remember if I've talked about him: he's in the college production of Spring Awakening right now, and he's so obsessed with it that he can hardly talk about anything without bringing it up. I understand his enthusiasm (been there, just like that), but it is a little tedious. However, he may induce me to finally break through my resistance and see one of NCC's productions. I have a profound intolerance for amateur theatricals, no matter how "good" they may be, but he's specifically asked me to go, and I'd like to support his aspirations, so, yeah, I probably will. Maybe I'll make Paul go with me, and we can go out and drink heavily after.

Well, returning from that little digression, I will be very interested to see how the workshop goes. If it goes well, and the students think it's useful, I may offer to do it again--but on the proviso that other students volunteer their papers. It might be interesting for everyone to get one workshop session--and there are so few of them that's possible.

The 102 class went well, I think, as students began the revising process. Most of the students were very engaged, including the young man who'd started the semester with a big chip on his shoulder. Suddenly, he's smiling, asking questions, alert--and today was working hard. Two of the young women took my instruction to take notes a little too seriously: they were so busy writing notes they weren't getting to the actual feedback part (were still reading the second page of each other's papers when most groups were already talking). Note to self: the instruction needs to be "jot down things you want to remember to bring up in your feedback." But once I steered them out of that water, they did a terrific job of helping each other.

A couple of the students were not really digging in to the actual process of writing by hand on their papers to make changes--and I'm glad Kayla encouraged me to show them my own writing process, in which I show them my hand corrections to a typed version of a book review I wrote. They could see the extent of writing that I want to see on their papers, too; good tool. I need to remember that this is how to use it: not just to hold up, but to show them so they can compare the quantity of their hand-corrections to mine. I mean, if I do that to my own writing....

I'll know more once I start grading them. I'm disappointed that two of the potentially better students didn't show up today, and haven't (as yet) e-mailed to ask about what to do, now that they're late. One student showed up at the very end of class to submit her paper; she's going to have to do the hand-written work on it herself (I hope she understands that; I was a bit rushed in giving her the instruction); with any luck she'll be there on Wednesday ready to work.

They still don't understand the value of these various processes. To them, these steps are just so many idiotic hoops they have to jump through because I want to be entertained (I guess). But the only way to get them to understand the value is to jump them through the hoops until they realize that they're actually learning to get over a very important bar.

On the way back to the office, Kayla and I discussed how we might pair them up differently next class--but we can't do much of that in advance, as it depends on who's there. I did realize that two students who have seemed pretty disengaged in their group work to date are actually just very shy: they ended up working together, and I think it went well. Kayla and I were trying to strategize what to do with a student who was way too defensive about his work: his (rather timid) partner just stopped trying to help him, in the face of his rejection of her suggestions, so we want to pair him with someone who can stand up to him. One student was resisting madly; who'd make a good partner for him? Do we put him with a piece of dead wood so neither of them sinks anyone else? Or do we try to find someone who can help him past the resistance? We'll just have to see how it goes.

Enh. I can feel my brains shutting down as I write--and I'm almost at the end of my mandated evening office hour (which I thought I was going to bail on tonight: see what a good girl I am?). I'm pretty much going to leave everything in the current disorganized mess and head home. Home. Mmmmmm. I can't wait for next week, when I can do my best banana slug impression around the house.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Keeps getting better

Seriously; I'm not being sarcastic. It does keep getting better. I don't know when the idea began to formulate itself, but I was thinking about how small my two lit electives are, and yet we're in rooms with lots of (empty) desks, in a little circle trying not feel like the few huddled survivors--or the students are dotted around a huge circle, and I feel like I have to use semaphore to communicate. Yet, just down the hall in this very building, there's a nice little conference room--and I know other professors hold classes there. Hmmmm, I thought; I wonder if I could move my classes there, even at this point in the semester?

Answer: yes. I had to fill out some paperwork--and the request does have to be officially approved--but I can't think of any reason for the powers that be to say no. I've already told my Native American Lit students that the change is effective as of next week; when I meet with Nature in Lit on Monday, I'll let them know, too.

There are two reasons why this change delights me. One is that we'll be sitting around a table, which reinforces the "senior seminar" sensibility in both classes. If I position myself along one side, rather than at the end of the table, there's more sense of equality--which I hope will encourage them to respond more directly to each other, instead of feeling everything has to be mediated through me. It's more relaxed, more comfortable, and we have room to spread out materials (important when students need to have notebooks, logs, and texts all in front of them while we work: hard to do on the skimpy little classroom desktops, so students are perpetually dropping notebooks, texts, papers, pens...).

The other advantage is that it's right down the hall. I actually enjoy walking across campus (unless the weather is completely revolting), but staying in the building buys me just that little bit of extra time. And any way that I can squeeze a little more time out of any situation is a boon.

So, hooray.

Classes went well. Mr. Irrepressible repressed himself, amazingly enough (he learns! miraculous!); he realized he was about to get off topic so he stopped himself. The woman I've been crowing about was even more confident, readier to jump in with her (excellent) comments: she's a shining star indeed, and is coming out of her reserved shell. I think Nature in Lit is settling in, too: it's becoming apparent who is going to stick and who is going to drop by the wayside. (It's a little harder to tell with Native American Lit just yet; I'll know by the time we're back from the Presidents' week break.) I'm very happy with both classes and am being very lenient about late assignments, attendance, and so on. At this point, if they're doing good work, good enough. I'm happy.

The only less than delicious news is that this is the first weekend of the semester (so far) when I have to take work home with me. I could stay and try to burn through more tonight, but I'm tired, dammit. I realized this morning that this early schedule simply doesn't work very well with my circadian rhythms. I was staggering around the house, bleary-eyed, and found myself counting how many more mornings I have to set that damned alarm. We have twelve more weeks to go. That's twelve more 5:30 alarms--assuming I can get away with only getting up that early on Mondays. On the other days, I'm getting up at 6 or 6:30, which is still uncomfortably early for me, but it's those 5:30s that really hurt.

But only twelve more? That's not horrible to contemplate. In fact, it makes the semester seem really really short. It will feel longer, I know; I'm counting only the Mondays when I have class, not the two that occur during the breaks. And I'm only counting Mondays, not thinking about full weeks--but it still seems short. On the other hand, it does feel like we've been at this a lot longer than merely three weeks. This is a sort of Doppler effect to time that I've noticed. Deadlines approach with frightening rapidity; what's passed feels remote. ("That's tomorrow? YIKES!" versus "That was yesterday? It feels like ages ago.")

Ach, I'm rambling. I'll stop. No yoga class tonight, I don't think; I'm going to run a very quick errand or two on the way home and call it a week. The only big decisions I am facing are what to eat for dinner and whether to read or watch a DVD. Life is rough.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sigh

I think one of my students in 281 may have plagiarized. No, let me rephrase: I know he did, in one way or another. Whether I can catch him at it is another story. His paper won't pass in any event, but if he plagiarized, I want to be able to point that out--and make him stop.

But really. All I can do is sigh.

I can sigh a little with relief, too: I did get the journal/logs marked for today's class--and went to my 9:30 meeting as well as my hours in Advisement. So, hah. And I got the last of the logs and study questions for Native American Lit marked for tomorrow, too. Again, hah. What I have now--and what I will carry into the weekend--are the journal/logs I collected from 102 today, and mini-papers from the two lit electives. Including the plagiarist.

Sigh.

The 102 went pretty well today. They ran out of juice a bit early, which was fine: I reviewed what they need to have ready for Monday and let them go. A couple needed to go over reading journals: one poor student had missed the class when I handed out the form as well as the class when I gave feedback, so--not knowing what else to do--all she did was produce a plot summary. I'm still uncertain whether she understands what she needs to do, but at least she's closer now--and I'm letting her revise the journal she turned in, plus the one she did for today (which was essentially the same thing). A couple of students were handing in journals late (because they'd been absent) but wanted them back before they had to write their papers: the fact that they realized the journals would be a tool for that is a minor triumph. (The journals are marked, sitting on the office door as I write, so they can pick them up before they leave campus today.)

Kayla and I talked about it, and I think I need to just ditch the word "journal" from the assignment. It just leads the students into areas where I don't want them. So, starting next semester, they will be idea logs, period, no /anything else.

The discussion was good in class--and I actually rather like the way Kayla and I work together (Can I keep her, please? Pleeeeese can I keep her? I'll take real good care of her, I promise...) I circulate quickly, drop in a comment and move on; Kayla digs in with them, following up with question after question. The students are also getting used to the doubles act--and my favorite moment came at the end of class. One very bright student has been getting crappy grades on her journal/logs, and she asked if she could talk to me about it after class. Instead, while I was talking to a bunch of other students, Kayla sat down with her and painstakingly walked her through what she needs to do. The student listened intently, asked questions; Kayla asked questions to pull more ideas out of the young woman.... At one point, I heard Kayla ask how the student would use a quotation in her paper, and when the young woman's jaw dropped open, Kayla hastened to reassure her: "You don't have to answer now...." By that time, I had no students needing my attention so I jumped in: "Yes, you do need to answer now. You need to write your entire paper right this minute." They both laughed: apparently my humor was starting to make sense to the students.

I got another laugh from that student earlier in class when she asked Kayla "Do our ideas have to come from the stories?" and I jumped in and said, "Yes! Where else are they going to come from? Your left ear?" And then I kept going, "That's where I get all my best ideas. Specifically your left ear, not my own." Modest amusement from the class, but at least I tickled myself. Still, I did get a couple of laughs from the class today, which always makes me feel like I scored points in the big game.

Kayla had some great questions for me, too, about teaching--and she was surprised and very interested that I had to go over basics like how to format a paper correctly, the need to cite all quotations and paraphrases, how to cite--and how to use their handbooks. She said it never would have occurred to her that it was necessary to do all those things, so as I was talking, she had her adorable little electronic notepad out and was furiously taking notes. (I was interested to observe that the students were NOT taking notes, until I rather firmly told them that they probably ought to--and even then, only a few took me up on the suggestion.)

Oh, and I know my faithful readers will be astonished to hear that the student who has the emotional affect of a flounder (possibly less) was not in class today: I told him if he didn't come to class with the story read and prepared to discuss, he was out--but apparently he doesn't understand that this means he is out of the class entirely. I sent an e-mail to students saying they need to get their handbooks by next week--and he replied to tell me that he got the message. That message, he got. The message about his responsibility as a student in the class was evidently not received.

I also had an interesting interaction with one of the brighter students in the class. He wanted to argue with me about a point made in one of his journals (on which he got a low grade), and he didn't want to believe me when I said that he was trying to draw too specific an inference from insufficient support. He really argued with me about it--and even though he eventually (and somewhat grudgingly) accepted the fact that he needed to believe my critique, I'm glad he had the moxie to take me on and to engage in the debate. In fact, I want to let him know that, very specifically. He's very bright, but he needs some bolstering, and I can provide it, I think, without endangering his progress in any way. Not enabling; support.

There were 17 students in the room today. Kayla wondered how many would be there and prepared on Monday. My guess? Fifteen would be great; twelve is more likely. Already, the class is cut in half, just because I'm making them work. Jesus, it's sad, isn't it?

Oh, but I want to end on a happy note, so I'll talk about the more mature student in Native American Lit. I need to come up with a name for her; I'll mull it over. Anyway, I just read her journals and study question responses, and they're terrific--especially the study question responses, which blew my socks off. Truly excellent, in every possible way. What a pleasure. And what a pleasure to write that great big "A" on her assignment.

But once again, I'm here much later than I intended, so I will wave farewell as I ride off into the hills....

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A breather

I was just starting to mark the stack of journal/logs for tomorrow's class and realized that my brains (never mind my heart) weren't in it. I'm not sure if I'll get back to them tonight or if they'll have to wait until tomorrow. And if they wait until tomorrow, I'm not sure if I'll risk that there will be a slow day at Advisement, allowing me sufficient time to finish them during that time block, or if I'll play hooky. (I'm not sure how "sick" time works with that: something to look into.)

I will say that some of the journal/logs do look better than the first submission: some students are at least making a better attempt, even if it still isn't enough to earn terrific grades. I suspect there will be lots of C's--but since I went over grade inflation with them last class, I can remind them of that reality. Of course, when I present that notion, most of them assume that they will naturally fall into the elite categories: their sense of the quality of their own work has been so grossly inflated in the name of "self-esteem" that when they realize their work is, in fact, no better than average, it is deeply wounding.

And as Paul was just saying, in the cut-throat culture in which we live, "average" is no longer good enough. That's relatively frightening: let's think about what "average" actually denotes. More people should fall into that category than any other, so if it's not good enough, what happens to all those people? That's an enormous, systemic problem in the global society--but I can't do anything about it in my little classroom, except to try to help students 1) recognize the actual quality of their work and thinking and 2) work in ways that will help them improve.

Strange how our society sneers and bristles at the idea of an elite--and yet demands that people join it. Talking about society as an entity (and overlooking obvious ways in which the generalization does not hold), the apparent desire isn't to dumb down the elite or to eradicate it, but still somehow, everyone is supposed to be part of it, at which point, of course, it is no longer an elite. Weird lack of logic there.

I didn't have much interaction with students today. Yes, the Native American Lit class met, but we were watching a video about the Ghost Dance "war," so mostly I was just managing the DVD--skipping the scenes I had to cut in order to show them the salient bits that would fit into the class period--while I watched the students fall asleep or doodle. I specifically told them to take notes of questions they had plus specific observations, what stood out to them, but apparently that instruction is useless: say "we're watching a video" and students hear "leave your brain at the door." I may have to make it a graded assignment, devise a sheet of specific questions they have to answer and a minimum of questions they must ask: it seems the only way to make them understand that what they're going to watch is actually substantive and that they need to do more than passively let it wash over them.

After today's experience, my faith in the intelligence of one student has been somewhat shaken, but there are two others who are delightful to have in class. One is a former student (who was in the less wild section of 102 last semester), and the other is the one who missed class because of a death in the family. Both are quiet and reserved, but when they say something, it's great. There wasn't much class discussion after the video (as most of them weren't paying attention), but the slightly older student had some good responses and questions. In that brief discussion, I did have to show my palm to Mr. Irrepressible a couple of times (and even then he had a hard time shutting up), but that was about it. One student was back in class having missed all of last week. He's turned in absolutely nothing to date--and I'm bending over backward to allow him chances to turn in work. Following my usual formula in such circumstances, I said it was mostly important for him to keep up from now on, but that if he can go back and complete some of the missing assignments, I'll take them for up to 10 days. In a larger class, I'd be digging a hole for myself by agreeing to accept work so late, but there are so few students in the class, I'm treating it like I am Nature in Lit: I'll do what I can to keep them, as long as they're putting in at least a modicum of effort and have enough brain not to pull the rest of the class over a cliff.

Other than that, today was all about P&B business. I missed college-wide Assessment (I've missed more than I've attended), but I did get the last folder read (of the ones I'm responsible for mentoring anyway) and all three letters written. We went over the letters in the meeting today; I have a little revising to do but not much. I may do that next, just to get it out from under my feet.

As I was drafting this post, at that point I got distracted by a long detour through my faculty e-mail; thinking about stuff to get out from under my feet, I wondered if I'd remembered to let a student know that I sent the letter of recommendation she requested. (Yes.) Then Paul and I were talking about a resolution that will be coming up for the next Academic Senate meeting (Paul's a senator; I'm not, but the issue affects us all). Then I saw an e-mail containing information that needs to be reviewed before Thursday's department meeting. Then I saw a response from my final mentee about her folder, confirming a meeting on Thursday after the department meeting. Then I saw a message about two other meetings I needed to put on my calendar.

This is how it goes: one dog (me) trying to chase enormous herds of rabbits (things I have to do) through huge acres of underbrush (um, my mind?). No wonder I sometimes have to just sit still for a few minutes and stare off into space to figure out what the hell I was doing, or what I need to do next. Lists can only take me so far: they get so unwieldy after a while that they might as well say, "Do tasks a, b, c, and everything else."

It's all about the triage.

So, given my inability to focus with any depth at the moment, I think I will take care of some of the little bits instead of marking more journal/logs--and I'll figure out when to finish the marking some other time. Like, well, yes, tomorrow.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sleepless on Long Island

Well, not quite sleepless, but close. I got maybe a little over three hours last night, and I've been surprisingly functional today given that fact.

I am, however, hitting the wall early. I started the promo letters and had all intentions of finishing them up tonight before heading home, but I just can't do it. I can't face the last four pieces of homework I need to do for tomorrow's class. I REALLY can't face the pile of reading journals that just came in (the revised first ones and the new ones from today)--yet I want to get those back to the students by Wednesday if at all possible. And my usual leisurely Tuesday morning has been gobbled up: I'm meeting with one of my promotion mentees at 10, I have a meeting at 11:30, P&B at 1, class at 2:30. But if I can get a decent night's sleep tonight, I might be able to get a good sustained run at it all tomorrow. I want to get the letters done before tomorrow's P&B (at least two of them if not all three); I'm sure I can get the last bits of homework marked, too--and the journals I can turn my attention to after class, in that wodge of time between end of class and my departure for dance. All else fails, I'll bail on Advisement on Wednesday and crank through the journals when I'd normally be there so I don't have to worry about even the occasional interruption.

Several things on the student front that I want to record. First, when I went in to Nature in Lit today, most of the students were there--but not one of them had done the reading. (I'm sorry, but the Super Bowl is not a viable excuse.) I made a joke about howling in anguish over that--but we simply did what we did the first week: I'd read a section while they followed along, then they'd take notes and annotate their texts, then we'd talk, then I'd read some more. I also got off on a few of my patented tangents--so easy to do with that class. And once we were in the reading, they were doing a good job. The student who had only been there once was back (the one who seemed to have a large chip on his shoulder)--and he seemed more alert and lively and less systemically pissed off. Wonder Student continues to be wonderful. One student stayed after class to see why she was getting B's on her journals; I tried to explain my comments more fully, and we'll see if she understands. What may be difficult is that she simply may not have an A quality mind (not everyone does)--but I don't want to frustrate her and lose her from the class. What to do? Do I lower my standards a little? Do I risk losing her? I may have to sit down and talk with her, because I really do not want her to abandon the class.

It was moderately busy in Advisement; that's the one place where I felt unduly stupid today. I couldn't remember how to find information; I didn't know the rules about simple things--like what it takes for a student to get readmitted (it's easy, if said student hasn't attended some other school in the meanwhile). I had to ask the professionals about every single person I saw, I think.

But Kayla told me she thought the 102 went well today; I'm glad she did, as I really couldn't tell. I did a lot more directing than I usually do (partly a function of having no patience because I'm tired, partly because the students really do painfully misread the story--Le Guin's "Ile Forest). A portion of the period was devoted to talking to them about writing, the various stages, how we'll work through their papers and the different versions. The students were somewhat repressed in their responses, both in groups and in the class as a whole; Kayla asked what accounted for that, and it's partly that it's early in the semester, partly that mysterious thing called class chemistry, and partly their insecurity over that particular story, which they find daunting.

The only real negative was that the student who showed up last week for the first time was back today--but hadn't picked up his reader, syllabus, nothing. I told him to go get it and he could stay; he'd only be marked late. But when he got back, he proceeded to sit like a catatonic in his group--not even asking questions and trying to participate, take notes, nothing. I called him out in the hall and was severe with him. I told him it was not at all a good sign that he hadn't taken any responsibility for being ready for class, and that he's running out of time to be ready for the paper. I further said that if he shows up to class on Wednesday without being fully prepared--story read, homework done, ready to participate fully in his group--he's gone. And I mean it. If he isn't ready to work, I'm throwing him out and telling him not to come back. He's just a huge fucking energy suck right now; I have rarely encountered a student who responds to what I say with less affect. He's utterly stone faced and minimally responsive, not saying anything beyond "yes" or--the longest sentence he's uttered yet--"what room is it in?" referring to my office. I'm sure there are deep and profound reasons why he is so shut down, so completely lacking in any signs of life, and if I knew those reasons, my heart might bleed. But I don't know the reasons, and he's not telling me anything, and he's dragging the rest of the class down, and I won't have it.

On a much more positive note, one student in that class was brave enough to admit to all of us that she'd seriously misread the story: one of the main characters commits a murder, so she assumed he was a bad guy, despite all the evidence to the contrary. (She also missed other subtle bits, like who was actually telling the story.) But she admitted to it, and I praised her for that, then used her as a teaching moment for everyone: you have to be willing to let go of a misinterpretation when you read closely and find the evidence that shows you had it wrong.

Kayla and I came back to the office; she photocopied the journals so she can take a look at them herself and offered help (which I don't feel right about accepting, but I'm grateful for the offer). We talked a little about whether and when to give the students a model essay to use as a guide or inspiration (answers: yes, and after they finish their in-class work-shopping of their own essays). A few other bits. And that was the day. I'm supposed to be here until 7 tonight, for my evening office hour, but I have no appointments so I'm going to split before my head does.

Please, God, I hope I sleep tonight!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Playing catch-up

The title of this post could refer to me or to the student who showed up to Native American Lit for the first time today. I knew he looked familiar but couldn't place him: it turns out, I saw him in Advisement, and he liked me well enough to take the class, even though he's not a great student in English and even though I told him I'm tough. Poor guy: he's so behind at this point, I don't know if he can possibly get caught up, but I don't want to scare him off. I was telling Kayla yesterday that in my years teaching, I've never yet had a student who missed the first three classes make it through to the end of the term--but I feel it's important to give them the chance. Maybe someday, someone will surprise me. Maybe it will be this young man.

He did come to the office after class, and we talked a good while about the syllabus, journal/logs, upcoming mini-paper. He held up well under the deluge of information (not apres moi, but dans le même temps que moi), but I know he must be deeply confused. Even the students who've been there from day one are still struggling to get the hang of things; I can't imagine trying to make sense of it all at this juncture. But we did talk about priorities of assignments, how to work on literature, and he's very sweet about his insecurities, so of course I'm offering him all sorts of help, as much as I can stand.

Today, poor Mr. Irrepressible was utterly repressed: I think he was ill, or had a fierce headache at least--but he was, as a consequence, able to participate in a well-mannered and useful way. One student was back after a death in the family--and obviously one that affected her deeply. She's an older student, so I believe her emotional reaction (I know some youngsters turn on the waterworks over a completely fabricated excuse, little drama queens and kings). She'd e-mailed me earlier to explain the situation, and after class, she thanked me for my e-mailed response and apologized to me for the low quality of the work she was turning in. When I told her I understood her situation, the tears welled up in her eyes. I'm letting students revise their first journals, so I told her not to worry about it--and to take care of herself.
Ah, god, it's hard, isn't it, being a person in the world and having to continue to function when awful things happen.

But I have another "Irrepressible" problem in that class: my senior observer. I've had her in a class before, and she was relatively restrained today--she's gotten better about not blurting out responses before the students can say anything--but she can't be taught not to bring me every article, notice, flier, postcard or gum-wrapper that she finds interesting. I adore her enthusiasm, her vivacity, her boundless curiosity (and that she calls me "kiddo"), but I just can't match her energy or range of interests. Next to "stick in the mud" in the dictionary is a photo of me.

Nature in Lit went fine, too. The students struggled with Bacon's philosophical aphorisms (all but my former student, who is this term's Wonder Boy), and I thanked them for doing the heavy lifting with me. One student in the class has been telling me about an illness and other complicating factors in his life; I'm bending over backward to allow him to submit work, as I think he at least has the ability to do well. I think I may have lost one or two (one of them a late addition to the class
--another student I'd seen in Advisement; he was there one day, seemed in a systemic snit, and I've not seen him since), but those remaining are hanging on OK. So far. Five of them. Oof. Man, I hope I keep them until the end of the term. I may have to check in with them next week to see if I should lighten the load in terms of the writing....

On the P&B front, not much progress, but a little. I got one folder read, at least, and can now address the questions/problems with the applicant--and begin to draft the cover letter. There are two more folders that I am responsible for mentoring (and for which I must write letters), and a bunch more that I should read and respond to just as back-up for the mentors. Oh, and I also have to check the personnel files for the ones I'm mentoring, to make sure all the requisite paperwork is in place. (Of course, I can't remember right now what it is I'm supposed to look for; I'll have to humiliate myself and ask--again. I ask every year; I cannot remember.) All that business must be done in the next week or so, as the applicants have to have them completely perfectly finished before March 1--and we're on break the week before that. Oof again.

Given that load of work, I'm wondering if I can make myself come to the office tomorrow to crank through at least the two I'm mentoring, and get a draft of the letters going. I hate the idea like a snail hates salt, but this may be one of those cases where the torture of doing it will be less painful than the stress of extending the process. But we'll see. Which is, of course, my mantra, along with "tomorrow is another day."

Which it is: Tomorrow actually is another day. A true fact, as my father would have said. And today is as done as it's going to get, here on campus. I'm packing my troubles--or at least my water bottles and some work stuff--in my old kit bag, though whether I'll smile, smile, smile remains to be seen.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Still here....

I thought I'd be in a yoga class, or at home by now. Instead I'm still here, and still feeling frantic. I took a calculated risk that I'd be able to get reading journals done at Advisement, and that paid off: I was ready for today's class (tomorrow's are another story). However, the P&B business is hanging heavy over my head, and I have no clue when I'll get to it. And I have a couple of letters of recommendation that I've promised, and they're due very soon, too. Yikes, and likewise zoiks.

However, it was a blast working with my new apprentice, Kayla. She talked to the students about the value of their reading journals (which I'm now calling journal/logs, so they get the idea that they're keeping track of something, not just "journaling," which many of them associate with writing down whatever falls out of their left ears). We both circulated the room working with groups; Kayla tended to spend longer with each group than I do, so at some point I need to check in with what she's doing/saying. She may be tending to take on too much direction, not allowing them to do enough of the heavy lifting. At the end of the class discussion, I asked her if there was anything else we hadn't covered, and she very nicely pointed the students to another area of comparison between the two stories, one that might be useful to them in their papers.

I had one of those absolutely spontaneous moments of explanation--which I'll struggle to remember to use again, I'm sure, but I hope I can incorporate it into my explanations of journals: I said, think of your journal responses as the place where you try out the explications for quotations: the "E" in "ICE." Paul and I--and probably a few others--use the acronym "ICE" as shorthand for "Introduce, Cite, Explicate," which is what needs to be done to properly incorporate quoted material into papers. (OK, full disclosure: I raided the acronym from Paul. I use it because he did/does. Thank you, Paul.) I prefer the term "explicate" to "explain," as asking students to explain invariably leads to mere paraphrase. Explicate is to develop the idea in terms of one's argument: the fancy-schmancy term helps students understand that something more sophisticated is required.

I said "helps." It doesn't entirely work. Nothing does.

Anyway, after class, Kayla and I talked for well over two hours. Part of the time was spent with her helping me organize paperwork stuff, but a lot of it was about the "behind the scenes" stuff: how does one create a syllabus, come up with assignments, create class policies, decide on grade weights, try to head off problems at the pass, handle time-management of grading.... I'm sure her head is spinning (mine is), but it felt helpful to fill her in on all the work I've done to get to this point of the semester. And from here, I imagine we'll have fewer reasons for me to lecture so extensively (in effect, that's what it was), though I anticipate we'll touch base briefly before and after each class. I'm going to be very interested to experience this new dynamic. It's giving me a taste of what it would be like to do an independent study with a student (which is something I'm thinking about taking on at some point). Answer, brilliant. I'm loving this.

But god, I need to get home. No real sign off tonight, just throwing this up on the blog--unproofed and unedited, heaven help me--and running for the hills.