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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Last before the break

I probably won't have time to blog tomorrow: the instant the Native American Lit class is over, I intend to blast myself out of here and head for home and spring break. Whatever happens in tomorrow's two classes (and office hour) will have to go unrecorded--or get referred to at a later date.

I got the papers graded for today's class with plenty of time to spare--partly because I didn't have to really grade two of them. One--submitted by the young man who sometimes gets obstreperous in group work--didn't have the marked first version attached (he gave me his first paper, all three versions, instead; obviously he saw a rubric sheet with red pen on it and assumed it was the correct thing). I'll get it back to him after the break.

The other was plagiarized. It took me a little while to track down the source, but I found it. The young man is smart, but English is not his first language. I suspect that two things happened: one, he does not fully understand the appropriate use of sources (even though we went over it in class), and two, he panicked. But either way, he needs to learn and learn the hard way. So he got the Paul letter, and a zero for all three versions of the paper. He was hanging around after class to talk to me, until I told him we wouldn't talk today: the first sentence of the letter clearly says I won't talk about a plagiarized paper until after 24 hours have passed, but students frequently don't believe I mean it. He was pissed off--about the zero for his paper and about the fact that I wouldn't talk to him on the spot--but I told him to contact me after 24 hours and we'd set up an appointment. He will now have to wait to talk to me until after the break, but that will give him time to cool down and think about how he wants to approach this. As I said to Kayla after class, if he's contrite, I'll be kind. If he makes excuses or claims innocence or is hostile, not.

Another student who is potentially very good I kicked out of class for texting. He'd been warned before, so I booted him. (Paul's more draconian about that from the first day of classes, but I hate doing it until someone chooses to ignore a warning.) He was pissed off, too, but as I say--as I said to him--he'd been warned.

It's a shame, really, but these are the tough lessons students need to learn. Another student was guilty of a small instance of plagiarism (just a couple of words but given without citation), and between that and other penalties, his paper earned a D-. Also a shame, as he's potentially very good. He's been utterly silent in class--until today. He was in a group with the young man above--who also is very quiet--and one young woman who is more vocal but somewhat shy. I said to the guys, "You two tend to be very quiet, but it's not fair to make [the young woman] do all the talking, or to leave her sitting in silence. So I'm going to ask you to step up to the plate here. In fact," and I turned to Mr. Silent, "I'm putting you in charge of the group. You have to make sure everyone is doing what needs to be done." I reminded him of his responsibility later, too--big smiles from him both times--and lo and behold, in the class discussion, he asked a question, for the first time ever. Victory! I'm sorry I had to taint the victory with the D-, but I'm hoping he now realizes it's not dangerous to speak up in class.

The discussion was pretty good: I think we hit most of the main points, and I didn't have to drag them out of the students; they arose directly from what the students were picking up on in the text. That's a triumph of sorts in itself.

There's a small stack of stuff to be graded on my desk; if I can get what I have for the two lit classes marked and back to them by class time tomorrow, I'd be very happy (and so would the students). I think there's at least some chance of that. I also need to put in a call to see if I can reserve a room for the ecocrit reading group I'm setting up. When I return from the break, I'll have two batches of journal-logs and glossaries to mark for 102 (today's batch and what Paul collects on the Monday) and the Assessment reading to do. Over the break, even though I don't intend to work much, I may put in some time on the Chancellor's award (God knows it needs it). Other pearls may be falling through the floorboards as we speak, but that's all I can think of right now. My god, this is a blessed semester! I don't feel like I'm drowning, and that's a miracle right there.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Wall--again

Well, I thought the thing with the adjunct was over and done with, but noooo. I won't talk about it much here, but suffice it to say that we're heading into potential legal territory. I don't think there's any concern just yet, but it's decidedly uncomfortable, and escalating. Very heavy sigh, with a small dollop of anxiety. But Bruce will be the fearless leader in this, as in most things departmental.

Still, as a consequence, I spent time originally slated for grading papers working instead on a response to some e-mails. By the time I got back to paper grading, I was already heading toward the wall, and I hit it after grading just a few. So I have more left for tomorrow than I'd ideally like--and I want to get journal-logs and glossaries marked and back as well--but I know I'll get it done one way or another. (Probably the other.)

Today's class was great. I read a Carter Revard poem, "An Eagle Nation," in my best Okie-Arkie accent--and the students loved it (the poem and the reading). Great discussion: these young women are the best, the absolute bee's knees--even the whiner, when she's not whining. Granted, she was obviously unprepared for class today, but she just was quietly taking notes, and her one contribution was good. But she also came to me after, inquiring about a meeting as if it were something I wanted. No, I told her; if you want it, set it up--and know what it is you want to talk about. If you don't want it, or don't have any idea what you want to discuss, then don't do it. Subtext: do you want the help or don't you? If you do, come get it. If not, fine by me--but then don't whine about your grades. It drives me crazy--and it isn't just this young woman. There is a prevailing attitude that everything that goes on in class is intended to gratify some weird fetish that professors have, instead of there actually being something going on that the student needs to be involved in and responsible for. If this young woman does meet with me, and if the opportunity presents itself, I may point this out to her. But note the qualifiers. I don't feel it's my job to point out that she's the one who needs to take charge of her education--unless she indicates she's ready to listen to that idea. So far, she hasn't.

And the senior observer again drove me somewhat bats. She's sweet, but she doesn't know when to quit. I'm glad she's jazzed about the material, but if she tells me one more time how much she's enjoying everything in the textbook, I may fling it (or her) out the window. Once was gratifying; twice reinforced the point. Every single class is frankly annoying. I also got annoyed when I was trying to make a point about the reason we say "goodbye." I said, "We don't say 'goodbye' to an empty house," and she leaped in with, "Sure we do! I say 'goodbye, Pet Rock!'" OK, but then the house is not empty (as pointed out by the Shining Star)--and you're not addressing the house. You're treating the pet rock as if it is something living that you care about. (And I'll admit: when I move out of a place where I've lived for some time, I do say goodbye, but that's different: I'm really saying goodbye to the segment of my life I experienced in that place, not to the place itself.) And she wouldn't let go of it. I kept trying to get on the track that was needed to gain an understanding of something in the poem, and she kept insisting on her direction--and more to the point, taking the conversation away from the actual students. Let me talk to them, get their thoughts and responses, without having to shut you up, goddammit! Finally I got noticeably annoyed, yanked the discussion out of her hands (as it were)--and fortunately, the students were amused, by both of us. The grey-hairs having it out. Gawd.

Well, anyway.

Having hit the wall, I need to listen to my brain and body, both of which want to be home and winding down for the night. I allowed myself to sleep late this morning (making up for a late night last night), but I've still been idiotically tired all day, so I want to head away from work and toward relaxation ASAP. I have some life-maintenance to take care of on the way home, but then I need to pry my little bulldog teeth out of today and let sleep take me gently into tomorrow.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Time flying....

I have no idea what happened to the time after class, but I suddenly find I've accomplished very little and it's almost time to rush off to dance class (unusually on a Monday this week, which is part of the time crunch). I did get some notes prepared for Paul, so he can think a bit about subbing my class on the Monday after the break; I wanted to give him as much time as possible to prepare, knowing how much I appreciated that when I subbed recently.

Of the students in Nature in Lit, the two young women showed up today; none of the men. And neither had read the assignment in any detail (or at all). So, we were back to where we'd been the first few classes: me reading a few sentences aloud, then we talk, then read more, then talk. At the start of class, I did let them read a while on their own, while I did a little review: I realized I haven't read the material in a very long time, and this is something I don't know well enough to wing it. But I'll be ready for Thursday. I hope they are, too.

Despite my firm decision to leave all work in the office this weekend, I ended up running to campus on Friday to grab some stuff: I realized I'd forgotten about the journal-logs and glossaries the 102 students had submitted on Wednesday, and I wanted to be able to get at least that much back to them today. Which I did. Tomorrow I'm going to have to do quite a slog of paper grading; ditto Wednesday, to get their papers back to them--but I have a little more time for all that tomorrow, too, so it should work out. Note the qualifier: "should." I almost always encounter unexpected delays--and I always get the work done eventually, even if not always or in the way that I initially intended.

Of course I keep forgetting about the damned Assessment chore, but enh. I'll get to it. And if I don't turn it in until after the break, what are they going to do, put me in the town stocks? I don't always have to be the good girl.

On another note of good news: as it turns out, I don't have to observe the potentially problematic adjunct. He tendered his resignation. I was surprised: it's a hell of a huge response to a simple potential observation, but his doing so has rendered the rest moot. One thing I can cross off my "to do" list.

At any rate, I have enough time to eat a little something before I hop in the car and go swing and hustle. Which sounds a lot like what I do during the work day, but somehow the dance versions are much more fun.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Compassionate ferocity

I love when I can compassionately acknowledge students' struggles, the difficulties, the frustrations, when I can offer support and encouragement--and still insist that they do it right, whatever "it" might be. When I can do both, be kind and hold firm, without even a glimmer of anger in my soul, it feels absolutely right. I can't always do it: sometimes my own frustrations and angers get into the mix, and there are times when allowing the darker side to show is a calculated decision, made for the shock value (as last semester when I said "I'm going to fucking force you to read this book"). But I like it better when I can (metaphorically) bury the axe in their skulls with sympathy and kindness. Today felt like one of those days. Nice.

The students from Nature in Lit signed up for appointment times without a complaint--and as I suspected might be the case, a couple opted for two meetings. (As I also might have predicted, that was not the case for the student who is most in need of multiple meetings.) Only one student in Native American Lit took me up on the offer, but I did meet briefly after class with the Shining Star. She's being driven crazy by the B's and B+'s she's getting: she wants those A's, dammit, but she also is way over-extended, so a part of her (with which I empathize profoundly) also would rather take the easy route, go for the obvious, superficial thesis. However, as I remind her, doing so would also earn her a B, so she might as well keep the A-quality ideas and work on expressing them in A-quality writing. She truly appreciates being driven to excel, even as she hates it. Who can't relate.

Another student in that class is more problematic. She's been coming to me with one sad story after another, about how awful her life is this semester--and how she's always been such a good writer, gotten A's, so she's deeply frustrated that she can't seem to grasp what I want. I empathize with the latter frustration (see my comments about Shining Star above), but the sad stories are getting tedious. It all may be true, but you know what? Shit happens. Either suck it up and do your best in terrible circumstances or get out, but stop whining. Of course, as I write that, I am aware that a lot of what I write in this blog could be considered whining--but I hope it's more an expression of frustration analogous to what's going on with Shining Star than an attempt to get a pity pass, which is what I feel is going on with Ms. Whine. (Of course, if getting a "pity pass" were my intention, the only one I could hope for would come from the cosmos, the great Professor in the sky.)

I wish the weaker (or more whiny) students understood that the reason the stellar students are stellar is that they want the challenge; they want to be goaded and to have the bar set high (to mix a metaphor). Wonder Student told me today that his journal-log on the essay for today was six pages long, didn't cover the entire essay, and--here's the kicker--that he wants to continue with the log for the rest of the essay, even though I've already collected the homework. He wants the feedback. Shining Star wants to get nailed to the specific requirements of proof that are the hallmark of good academic writing, even though it's new, uncomfortable, and frustrating. They both could whine to me about their struggles. They don't. I know about what they're going through, but they offer the information just as information--almost cheerfully, with a sort of "crazy, isn't it?" demeanor. And that I have no problem with. I'll bend rules and flex deadlines for them as much as I can, because they're worth it. Ms. Whine might be worth it too, but I'm not persuaded she has the work ethic, or not yet, or not this semester. I'm becoming increasingly aware of the essential truth: intelligence alone won't cut it. Hard work alone won't cut it. Excellence requires both.

I only graded one more 102 paper today, still have 11 or 12 to go (I counted and have conveniently forgotten)--but I'm refusing to take any of them home with me over the weekend. I may surprise myself, but I don't intend to do any school work of any kind for the next three days. Instead, I'm going to be social: phone calls and meals with friends, dance class, that sort of thing--and if I do anything else, it will be life-maintenance. The freedom to make this decision and know it won't mean a brutal grind next week is why this semester is such a gift. I am incredibly, enormously, deeply grateful that I'm having a semester that allows me my weekends, at least most of the time. Thanks and praise, thanks and praise.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Again with the better

Kayla was right; there was no need for my panic of Monday. Well, maybe a little, as several students weren't there today, and it is entirely possible that the novel (or the addition of the glossaries and plot summary to the journal/logs) scared them off--but if that's the case, better to lose them now. It's also entirely possible that they'll show up again next Monday. We'll see.

But the students who were there today did a fine job; they got most of the salient points (many on their own, others with some prodding by me--but that's OK), and they had good questions--though they were weirdly more reticent about asking the questions. One student who has been on the thin edge all semester suddenly is alert and contributing, much more lively than I knew was possible. She's delighted because she's getting it; as she left class today, she said that books are easier for her than short stories. (Me too.) I also have graded her poetry paper, and although she missed doing the first version (so had to do the rest of the steps on her own, with no input from me), she did a much better job than she did on her first paper. Progress. She's still going to have a hell of a hard time passing, given how deep the hole is that she dug herself into at the start, but I'll do what I can to encourage her to keep on learning and growing.

And the young man who started with the chip on his shoulder actually beamed today, great big all the way smile--more than once. I love successes like that.

There was one student there today who is still teetering on the brink--and who met me as I was walking in to class with a sob story about how his pack was stolen today, and it had everything in it, all his books, his homework, everything. The story may be true, but it's the second time this semester he's had an excuse of that sort, so I think it's unlikely. And even if it is true, he hadn't done his homework: if his pack was stolen today, he should already have done the reading, and he clearly had not. I've been anticipating his implosion for some time, and I think it's only a matter of time.

I'm not always right about that, however, as evidenced by a student from last semester. Kayla and I were walking to class, and I finally realized that someone was yelling my name: the young man had been teetering on the brink most of the semester, but he gutted it out--and passed. He may even have gotten a C, just because he managed to turn in enough work of just sufficient quality. I don't know that the young man in this semester's class can do that: he's missing enough work now that I don't think his grades will compensate for the zeroes he's collected.

I also notice that at least a couple of the students who got early warnings have gotten religion. One who was chronically late is suddenly always there on time; the one who is suddenly lively has also suddenly started turning in work. Sometimes a little fear works wonders.

I'm glad I ended the day with the good class, as the start of the day, finishing up the grading for Nature in Lit, was truly painful. The papers were so disappointing across the board that I've decided I'm going to require that each student meet with me for 30 minutes after the break: I have an appointment sheet set up, and I will tell them exactly how to prepare for the meetings. As I'm writing this, I'm realizing that I've given grades that are too generous on most of the papers, and I need to go back and be more honest in my appraisal of the work. The C- grades I gave are actually D's--if that. I can't think of any other way to get through to these students that they are not cutting it other than to make the grades hurt, and force them to do the work to improve. I have a feeling that some of the students will jump at the chance to meet--and may want to meet with me more than once, which would be great. But even if not, the meetings have just become mandatory.

I've not looked at the mini-papers from the Native American Lit students, but I suspect they're better, at least somewhat. Assuming they are, I will offer students the chance to sign up for an appointment (or more) with me, but I won't require it. In fact, I see no reason I couldn't make the same offer to the students in 102, assuming I have appointment times left. I don't want to chain myself to my desk for six days, but if it's optional, not everyone will go for it--and if the attrition rate is what I think it might be, there wouldn't be that many appointments even if everyone did take me up on the offer. I'll see what the sheet looks like after the lit class students have filled in appointments. If there's still a lot of space, I'll make the offer to 102. If there isn't, I won't.

But the entire process, everything I've just written about, truly would be much easier if I didn't want to teach, if I were willing to merely go through the motions. Well, shoot me: I care. I think what I do is important.

Getting back to the 102 class (to end on a positive note), I started a new procedure today: at the start of class, I distributed green and purple pens and told students to put away any other writing implement. I then said they were free to add as much as they wanted to their journal/logs and to their glossaries--but I wanted to be able to tell at a glance what was from class and what they'd done on their own at home. The results are pretty revealing, though not surprising: a fair proportion of the students turned in assignments that were either mostly or entirely green or purple. A lecture will ensue about the necessity to do the work at home prior to class, to the best of one's ability. But I think I'll continue with this procedure: I'll carry the colored pens around with me--but I'll also note if anyone has done homework in green or purple (and if so, I'll be sure to give that person the other color).

I've got a good sized stack of various assignments to mark, and I'm thinking about the order of attack: I'll either do mini-papers for Native American next, or I'll do homework for 102; the big papers for 102 move to the bottom of the stack. I will return those before the break, but maybe not until Wednesday next week. I can only take so many at a time. We'll see how much I plow through tomorrow--and I know I'll get a couple more mini-papers and who knows what else from the Nature in Lit students tomorrow morning. But they're going on the very bottom of any stack there is: I'm not busting a gut for students who won't come through on their end of the bargain.

So there.

I take a deep restorative breath, and start to let go of the work part of today. Tonight: dinner out, then dance class. And tomorrow is, as always, another day.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A better day

Grading the papers for Nature in Lit is still painful, and taking longer than it ought, as I want to provide comments that might guide them toward the kind of writing they need to produce, but at least I'm getting through the stack.

I had a nice meeting today with Wonder Student: he knows that he has a tendency to write sentence fragments (a habit he evidenced back in the Comp 1 days as well), and realizing he didn't know how to recognize them, nor how to fix them, he wisely decided to come in to talk with me about it. I think he gets the concept now, but as I've often remarked, there is a lag between understanding something conceptually and being able to put it into practice. I told him to expect that lag time; this will take being shown the problem and fixing it, over an over, until it starts to soak in.

I'm having a harder time with the students who don't know how to think--at least not in any real way. Sample sentences, from several students' papers:

"Francis Bacon and Henry David Thoreau are two different authors with both similar yet slightly different views."

"Man and nature have a very unique relationship. ... If nature wasn't around to bring out the finer points of man, then man would simply die out and wither away."

"Thoreau focuses on deep emotions and uses many strong words to describe nature."

"We can depict nature as being this boundary as what we consider to be the unknown, as I have said throughout this paper. It is something that we cannot live without, so we learn to cope and deal with it."

[Regarding Thoreau's essay "Walking"] "It is very inspirational, and it keeps readers on the edge." (That one made Paul laugh out loud. Yeah, it's a page-turner all right, a breathless and fast-paced read.)

I read that bilge, and scribble and comment and get frustrated in red pen, all over their papers--but I'm not entirely persuaded that it has any effect whatsoever. The student who was the sole attendee the other day was at least clued in enough to recognize that she needs to think a whole new way--and her paper shows effort in that direction, but across the board, the empty phrasing is only the start of the problems. In addition to lack of clarity and precision of thought (as evidenced by sentences such as those above), the papers lack connection, lack focus--and the students often lack understanding of the quotations they select. I keep writing, "But the author's point is much more specific." Generalities, trivialities, meaningless phrases: argh argh argh.

And yet, with all that frustration, today was a better day. The meeting with Wonder Student helped; we chatted a bit, in addition to working on the sentence problems. He's one of those rare birds who is both a scientist and someone with a love of and facility for language. Once he starts publishing in his field, he's going to knock people's socks off. (My kid sister has the same combination of skills, and it is one small but significant contributor to her shining success.)

I'd rather hoped for a canceled P&B meeting, but we met--and in fact we have some work still to do: mentoring year-end evaluations, a completely stupid requirement that tenured faculty balk at but that is contractually required. I was absolutely certain that I had to do one this year (those of us who are tenured have to do them every second year); I had zero memory of doing one last year. But I did, so I'm off that particular hook. I just have to round up the evaluations from the group I'm responsible for and provide the little P&B statements that accompany the evaluations. Tedious but not terribly time consuming--and not due until May, thank God.

Most of the meeting was not about work we have to do but rather was devoted to talking about what may or may not happen when the current contract expires and debate about whether faculty can effectively teach four sections of our developmental courses--or anything else. (Four sections of 101? 102?) We also talked about what to do now that so many students are being misplaced into 001 because of the idiot computer testing system (Bruce has an interesting plan that we'll pilot to see how it works), as well as whether we might try to have an additional "lab" hour attached to certain sections of 101.... Nothing was determined, but it was interesting to bat the ideas around.

I wish the administration cared enough about education to understand what is going on in a meeting like that. We're perpetually trying to figure out how to actually educate students, and how to educate them better than we do now (if that's possible). And the administrators manifestly do not give a rat's ass about education in any real sense.

In fact, I get pretty incensed when I think about the "support" for community colleges being bruited about by individuals in the federal government (Obama, Arne Duncan, and recently NY Senator Gillibrand): all of those "supporters" assume that we are trade schools. Maybe I should figure out how to do a TED talk about that. Writing what I would take more time and energy than I feel like I have, but if I could just rant into a camera for a while, I might end up saying something relatively pithy and intelligent.

Wait. I'm supposed to be talking about what a good day today was. Let me get back on track.

Got a few papers graded. Check. Had a lovely meeting with a bright and capable student. Check. Found out I don't have to do a year-end evaluation of my own. Check.

Had a terrific class with Native American Lit. They're getting the poetry beautifully, and my hope that we might churn through it a little ahead of schedule seems to be coming true; that means we should be able to begin reading Ceremony before the break, which would be great. Doing so would help get their feet under them for the reading that's due after the break. I told them I'm canceling class on the Tuesday after the break (rather than finding the right sub for such a tiny group), so giving them a start on the novel before the break makes up (in my mind at least) for the missed class after.

After class I had another good meeting with a student, one of the young women from Native American Lit who wanted guidance in revising her papers. I think she is starting to get the idea of what's needed; we'll see when I get the revisions.

As the final good thing of the day today, Paul and I are talking about the possibility of writing a style guide together. We've looked at about a zillion of them over the years, and not one does a decent job of talking about theses: what they need to include, how to develop them, how to recognize a good one. Most style guides also do a crap job of explaining documentation, both conceptually (why it's needed, what it does) and technically. Of course, there are about twenty different variations on in-text citations, and probably a hundred variations on the entries on a works cited page, so it is admittedly complicated, but it needs to be broken down into small, understandable increments for students. I also haven't found a style guide that does an adequate job of talking about how to incorporate quoted material, or about a dozen other points of writing well. Paul and I together have a lot of ideas about all those things, and we'd teach them all beautifully--if we had time. The point of a style guide (I think) is that it allows the professor to assign pages so the students can teach themselves, freeing up class time for the stuff that we actually want to impart. In effect, Paul and I would have all the time we need to teach the lessons as fully as possible--and other professors could let us do that teaching for them.

And if we were to get such a guide published, and if it were widely adopted, we could live off the proceeds and quit our jobs.

Of course, that wouldn't happen any time soon. Not only would it take us a good while to get the thing written, we'd then have to sell it to a publisher. And the publisher would have to publish and market it--and possibly design some kind of web apparatus to go with it, as that seems de rigueur these days. So this isn't a quick out--and may not be an out at all (as there are the rather crucial "if" components of the plan)--but it's cool to contemplate, and the process of figuring out the best way to write it all down would do a hell of a lot for our own pedagogy, I'm sure. More fodder for the perpetual search for the magic assignment.

But now, I'm about to take off. There is, of course, more work to be done, but I'm trying for another early night tonight. Sleep not only knits up raveled sleaves, it also makes it easier to hold on to patience and compassion when grading crap papers. A consummation devoutly to be wished.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Oh, God, debacle at each end. Three students showed up for Nature in Lit, not one of them remotely prepared to talk about the reading--and it's one of the readings that will form the basis of their next papers. I tried to turn the class into a productive experience, but gawd, it was like having my teeth filed. I hadn't been in a great state walking into the room: I'd been grading their papers, and the first two I looked at were painfully shallow and--well, I'd say sophomoric, but that's where they're supposed to be. High-schoolic. Lacking in anything approaching actual thought. I'm systemically cranky these days anyway, and reading that bilge pushed me into a morass of annoyance. Then to have a crap class was not conducive to lightening my mood.

Things are starting to heat up in Advisement, too, so I saw a number of students, had very little time to work on my own stuff. The student encounters were relatively unpainful, for which I am grateful, but the fact that I couldn't just crawl into my own work and shut everyone out was another source of crankiness.

Then the 102 today was horrific. I started by doing a quick lesson on how to avoid the simple errors that can are mild varieties of plagiarism (leaving out quotation marks, or citations, or paraphrasing badly), put them in groups--and they barely interacted with each other. Still, we got through the examples, and then we started on Left Hand of Darkness--and they were paralyzed. Completely unwilling to admit that they could understand even the most simple of things ("what is an archive?" resounding silence, lots of deer in headlights faces). In all my years teaching the novel, I've never experienced such a deadly response to the first pages. I didn't get past the second paragraph with them, they were so freaked out. Instead, I gave them some of the basic background (stuff that isn't specifically in the novel), hoping it would give them a kind of rock to hold on to as they read the first two chapters. Of course, some of that background isn't strictly necessary to know--and enough can be deduced by a savvy reader that whatever is essential to this novel is understood--but these are not savvy readers, and they need to feel they have some grasp of what's going on. I'm hoping the little background helps--but based on a student's question at the end of class, the approach may have backfired.

I'm freaking out already about Wednesday; Kayla reminds me not to, but to wait and see what they come in with on the day. Maybe they'll do better than it looked like from today's class; maybe they'll at least come in with questions. Lots of questions, I hope. In fact, that's what I intend to do with them in their groups on Wednesday: "as a group, jot down as many questions as you can come up with to ask so you understand what's going on." Let's acknowledge the questions and get them answered.

I was saying to Kayla that we might have to slow it down at first--but dammit, I want them to get through chapter 7 before the break, because they'll get some truly pertinent information in that chapter. And God I hope I find a really good sub for the Monday after the break. If I don't, I may have to come in for just the one class--which I do NOT want to do, but it's better than facing an empty classroom the next class, which might happen if they don't get some good hand-holding each step of the way.

They're already snarling about the glossary assignments, too. Fuck 'em. If they do those well, they'll see the value--and realize they're worth the time and energy.

To end on a positive note (re-frame, re-frame, focus on the good), the homework I've been marking for the Native American Lit class is pretty damned good. They're getting the poems really well, and they seem to be dialed in nicely to the major thematic material. I don't worry about them. They'll do fine.

I could allow myself to be pursued by a cloud of "shoulds" (I should grade more papers tonight; I should work on the Chancellor's Award application; I should do the assessment evaluations I'm responsible for), but I'm trying to let myself off the hook. I'm going to rework the assignment schedule for Nature in Lit so we have more time to read the pieces I think are most important (which means I may have to rework their final paper assignment, but ah well)--and once that's done, even if technically I'm supposed to be here for my evening office hour, I'm going to head home. Maybe tonight I'll get more sleep, relax a bit further than I have of late, and be more refreshed and ready to take on the world tomorrow. One can only hope.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

No real post

I'm going to fly from Native American Lit to sub that class for a colleague to home, so no time to blog much today. It's been a hell of a whirl. Briefly, the observation last night was in one sense interesting, in another a debacle: the professor was not in his assigned classroom, and when I tracked him down in the computer lab, he was showing a movie, after which the students were going to write--so he said. Reports are that he ALWAYS shows movies. Bruce and I are discussing strategies for the future. Long story short, Bruce will let this professor know that his class will be observed--but that the observation will be unannounced. So I have to go again. And sit through whatever the class ends up being. And write it up.


Nothing else of note to report: I've just been running from class to meeting back to the office to prep to sub and now to the back-to-back classes. I will be very glad when this day--and this week--are over.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Another bullet to the feet dodged: I did not shoot myself in the foot by putting of the paper grading until today: I got it all done before class--even with the time I had to spend in the longest advisement session I've ever had with one student (he kept asking the same questions over and over and would not leave)--and I still had enough time to eat my soup before class. Two of the AWOL students were back today, but strangely not the two I anticipated. One of the returnees was a young woman I was hoping would return; the other I thought for sure was gone.

The one I thought was gone has not been doing very well, on any level (and didn't turn in the first version of her paper), but she showed me what she'd written and at least she's now on the right track (she seriously missed the boat with her first paper). The other young woman should by all rights be getting at least B's, but she had a family crisis and isn't sure she'll be able to turn in this essay at all. She can still pass (potentially), even with that huge zero--but not with the kind of grade she ought to earn. I told her to keep coming, and if she can keep on top of all the rest of the work and do it well for the rest of the semester, we can talk about options at the end of the term. This is my own personal code for "I could give you an incomplete," but I no longer say those words, because students then think they can bail on just about everything--and because I truly hesitate to offer the incompletes anyway. We know how those usually turn out.

The Somewhat Angry Young Man had a few bones to pick with me about his first paper. One issue he was right about: I'd taken points off for a missing works cited page, but in fact it was there, so he got the points back. The other issue was about his suddenly shifting from talking about forgiveness to justification for a crime. He said he hadn't confused the two terms. I said I didn't imagine that he had, but he had brought in a whole new idea that had no bearing on what the rest of the paper was about. He gave one of those dismissive "I don't really buy it" shrugs, and the sound effect to go with it. I said, "What does that mean?" and imitated the gesture and sound. He said he didn't see why it really mattered--and that glanced off one of my hot buttons. Precise use of language and focus of intention are indeed things that matter. He tried to shrug that off, too, and to argue with me, but I cut it short: "This is one of those times when you simply have to trust the professor." Clearly he didn't like that; fair enough. Mostly, I was happy with myself that A) I didn't cut him off at the knees, and B) I didn't engage in lengthy argument/justification. I'm right; you're wrong; get over it.

In terms of the lit electives, I decided just a few minutes ago that I'm not going to beat myself up to get papers and journal/logs returned to the Nature in Lit students tomorrow morning. They've been so slow getting stuff to me, why should I knock myself out to get it back to them? I'll tell them that tomorrow--and I'll go over the changes to the schedule necessitated by their chronic tardiness with work. I'll also let them know that I'm not going to keep on doing this. I mean, yeesh.

But I did promise the Native American Lit students that they'd have their papers back tomorrow, and to that I hold. Not a problem: I've already graded two and a half of the four, so they're almost done. Then I will turn my attention to prepping for my substitute duty tomorrow. The papers and journal/logs for Nature in Lit will just have to wait until I'm damned good and ready.

I came very close to bailing on the adjunct observation I have to conduct--again--under the "I'm tired and cranky and I don't want to" excuse. But it will not get easier, no matter when I do it, so I might as well get it over with. I do, however, plan to take myself out for dinner after, and to have a sizable drink. Unless I'm simply falling over tired, in which case I may pour myself into my car and wobble on home to snarp down a bowl of popcorn and call it a night.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Shooting myself in the foot?

The day turned out to be busier and more frantic than I anticipated. I'd forgotten that there was a big union meeting today; usually I give those a pass, but in the current state of the campus, I thought it behooved me to go. Nothing much new was said, just more details cementing what we already know: the president and BOT think we're a bunch of spoiled whiners and that we're only complaining because we're losing our "perks." (I'd be curious to know what they think a "perk" is: a teachable class?) The union leadership filled us in on what they've been doing, but they didn't tell us about any plans for future action until they were pretty harshly challenged. There are some plans in the works, but it would be nice if they'd let us know about them without our having to beg to be informed. They may be concerned about tipping our hand to the administration, but I don't think any of the plans would be stymied even if the administration did know about them in advance. I was very glad that the union secretary stood up and challenged the challengers, saying, "If you think something needs to be done, then volunteer to participate in what's being done." Amen sister. I get heartily sick of colleagues who perpetually say "they" should be doing something: Sorry, guys, but WE are the union, and if anything's going to happen, it's because we do it.

That said, however, I do believe the union officers are playing way too nice. Their thinking is that they need to keep to the higher ground, demonstrate that we are civil, professional, and prepared, and there is something to that--perhaps. But when you're dealing with a plague of rats, the higher ground may keep one's shoes out of the shit but it doesn't address the problem.

I also had hoped that P&B might be canceled again today, but no such luck. There was some routine business to take care of, which didn't end up being quite routine. We have to approve requests for reassigned time before they are sent to the administration, and there was some debate about whether several of those who had requested such reassignment had made reasonable requests in terms of the amount of time they asked for. It was an interesting debate about who is doing what kind of work and what kind of equivalence there is in terms of the work load for certain functions. In any event, the debate extended the amount of time it took to sign off (literally) on that piece of business--and then the fun began, about a student's grade grievance. It's a sticky situation, and it's entirely possible to understand both the professor's stance and the student's complaint, but the actual upshot is that the case is (unusually) going all the way to the college committee that handles such complaints, instead of being handled entirely in our department. Three members of P&B will be among the adjudicators, along with three faculty from the campus committee, and there will be a non-voting student representative there as well. But the best moment for me? The meeting will be scheduled on a Wednesday at 3, so I was instantaneously off the hook, didn't even have to feel guilty about not volunteering to participate, as I'm in class at that time.

Speaking of which, class today went well. The five women (plus senior observer--also a woman) were all there, had read the poems, and had great things to say. We finished one poem and got most of the way through a second--and that leaves two more (plus that smidge left over) for Thursday. However, as I told the students, if we can hustle through the poems a little faster than the syllabus stipulates, we can start earlier on the novel--and I'd love that.


I took a break in blogging at that point to write some e-mails (that "if I don't do it this second, while it's in my brain, I'll forget it" thing). None of them were urgent or earth-shattering, but those little bitty things can crawl under my skin like a chigger and drive me insane until they're dealt with.

But before I start patting myself on the back for tying off those little loose ends, I must confess: I have a wodge of papers to grade before tomorrow's class. Obviously, I should be grading them now--but once again, I'm facing that wall of resistance that I never seem able to overcome. Fortunately there are not many of papers (though unfortunately, part of that is because the two students I was concerned about haven't contacted me--and I'm truly afraid they may be gone for good). I don't remember if I said that Ms. Chip on the Shoulder withdrew yesterday--a wise decision and a load off the class, as well as meaning one fewer paper to grade. I've only marked two papers, and started a third--and I'm hoping the current trend doesn't apply across the board. What I've seen so far is that they have some good ideas, sometimes even well expressed, but those ideas are buried in a sludge of crap thinking and writing: vague, unsupported, unconnected.

I have to keep reminding myself that the kind of writing I take for granted is actually very difficult to learn--especially if nothing in one's educational background has provided preparation. And I have to give them credit for the good ideas: the students who remain have at least glimmers of the kind of thinking that can get them through. Also, if I use a microscope, I can detect improvement since their previous papers. This experience is why Paul is making the case that grading papers like we do is contact. "What are you proving in this paragraph?" "What's the link to your thesis?" "Where is the specific evidence for this point in the language of the poem?" "This is too vague/general: what exactly are you talking about in terms of the poems?" "You got this idea from the critical essay: you need to give credit for that or you are guilty of plagiarism." "But the quotation you use does not, in fact, illustrate the point you are making here: what does the quotation actually say? Is there another quotation that would work better, or should you change the point you want to make?" All of those are actual comments made on papers: that's every bit as valuable (and actually much immediate to the individual student) as anything I do in the classroom. And many of my colleagues, whom I respect, have said, "If we have to teach a 5-5 load, I'm switching over to multiple choice tests and brief in-class essay exams." And that's no way to teach writing. Or literature for that matter.

Which drags me back to the union meeting today: more on the "faculty need to put in a 35-hour work week" insanity the administration is pushing, the latest demand is that everyone needs to teach an extra six contact hours--that's an additional two courses. Essentially, they want us to work like high school teachers do, and in the process truly turn the college into "13th grade," which has been a dismissive (and wildly inaccurate) charge leveled at NCC for far too long. I have the greatest admiration for anyone teaching in the K-12 system, and I have no idea how they survive their work load--but I do know that one of the things that suffers because of the way their work days are scheduled is the depth with which they can explore any subject area. Another is the depth of response they can provide on student work. That's what makes college different: the entire intention of "higher" education is that it gradually moves students into ever more specialized and profound understandings of whatever is being studied. At each level of education, mastery increases but breadth decreases: the focus becomes increasingly sharp and penetrating.

But then again, the administration doesn't give a rat's ass about true education; that's manifestly obvious, and we simply keep getting more piles of evidence to support that point.

Oh, lordy. So how do I reframe today to end on a positive note? I did allow myself the luxury of some M&Ms; that was nice. I am going to go dancing tonight for the first time in weeks; that'll be nice. And I did enjoy the session with the students in 229 today. That class is a delight, and I'm happy to have a chance to work with those young women in that sharp and penetrating way. They seem to be getting a lot out of it, too, and for me, at the moment, that's sufficient evidence that God's in His heaven and all's right with the world.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Weird start to the week...

Whew. OK. So, stemming from a very invigorating lunch with a friend and colleague on Saturday, I decided to get proactive about gearing up my scholarly life, instead of sitting around moaning about it. I realized I need the buddy system, an obligation to others that will make me do the work that I am insufficiently self-directed to take on otherwise. In addition to floating the idea past dear friends in far places, I sent out an all faculty e-mail, asking who'd be interested in joining with me in an ecocriticism reading group--and I've gotten a surprising number of positive reactions, including one from a faculty member at Stony Brook, who may bring a Ph.D. candidate along for the ride as well, and who is talking about including folks from the City.... This could quickly become much bigger and more unwieldy than I anticipated--but then again, once we actually embark on the work, some may drop by the wayside, as it may not be what they were hoping for, too far from their disciplinary interests.

But now that I've floated the idea and gotten the responses, I actually have to organize something. Although I generally hate being in charge of stuff like this, I realize that this is a very good exercise for me: I tend to try to please everyone and get stressed out when I can't, but what I need to practice is pleasing myself (reading what I want to read, meeting the way I want to meet), and if that means the whole thing falls apart, so be it. But I suspect at least a few will be willing to come along for the ride, whatever I decide--and once we're rolling, I'm willing to consider more suggestions from the group, operate more by consensus than by fiat. But for now, fiat will do.

In any event, with all that in my mind, at 4 a.m. I woke up like I'd been poked with a cattle prod, mind (and heart) racing. I was determined to try to get back to sleep--even if only for a few minutes before the 5:30 alarm--so I refused to look at the clock again, trusting to the alarm to tell me when my efforts were in vain. I finally drifted off to sleep again, knowing I had carefully set the alarm for 5:30--but I'd forgotten to turn it on. (And yes, we can clearly see the subconscious desire being expressed by that convenient "forgetfulness.") I woke up at 7:10--and only because my little cat jumped on me. I shot out of bed--again, the cattle prod metaphor is apt--screaming "Shit! Shit!" and proceeded to run around the house trying to do my morning chores in record time--and trying to figure out when the absolute latest was that I could leave the house.

I got to campus at about 9:10 (a minor miracle demonstrating what can be done when it's necessary). That's 20 minutes before class starts, instead of the full hour or more that I usually feel I require. A little frantic flurry ensued, and I walked down the hall right at the stroke of 9:30, into the classroom--and it was completely empty. Hmmm. I went back to my office and grabbed some additional work, just to keep myself amused until anyone showed up--wondering how many of them forgot to "spring forward," despite my reminders last week. At 9:45, one student came tearing in, frantic because she was late--and she was the only student to show up at all. Weirdly, two students left their papers on my office door--I'm pretty sure while class was in progress, as I don't recall having seen the papers there before class started. Why didn't the students come to class? No clue. One student showed up after class had ended with yet another excuse about why he wasn't in class, why he didn't have his paper... oh, whatever: I have it now, but he told me he had to write it all over again, so I can't imagine it's very good. Poor Wonder Student is ill, and was sweetly apologetic about missing class--but I'm worried about his ability to keep up with the work if his health continues to be poor for much longer.

It was a potential debacle, I suppose, but the student who was there had e-mailed over the weekend, wanting guidance about how to go from B's to A's on her journal/logs, and I'd told her we'd have to meet to go over what is needed. We used the class session as a one-on-one tutorial, in essence, in which I pointed out a whole new way of thinking that will be required if she is to achieve the A's she wants. It's deeply puzzling to her that the way she's thought up to this point (and that has gotten her A's) is no longer sufficient--but she's genuinely starting to comprehend what she's missing, which is wonderful. She is one of those who is willing to work hard--and willing to work differently--and in my book, that's a crucial combination. So, hooray.

I had a nice moment in Advisement, too. One young woman came in completely bewildered about how to proceed, a million ideas but no way to pull them into anything approaching a plan for her academic progress. By the time we finished our session, she was beaming but also near tears, felt like she'd been given the keys to the kingdom. All I did was tell her where to get some information and various kinds of support the campus has to offer, and show her what it would mean if she were to go for the AA degree versus the AS--and it was as if I'd showered her with pixie dust, or turned her pumpkin into a gilded carriage. Very sweet, actually.

The 102 went well, too--for the twelve students who were there. Two of the absentees worry me: they're both potentially good students, and the fact that they weren't there and that I've not gotten anything from them via e-mail is a source of concern. I truly hope we haven't lost them; I'll be deeply disappointed if we have. But the ones who were there did a good job of digging into the work; Kayla and I kept them busy and focused on the work at hand. I will say that one student was blatantly texting (Kayla has often seen him at it; I've not): I had my back to him so didn't notice, but Kayla gave me the high sign--and I was on him like a duck on a june bug (as my aunt would have said). "This is the last time I will see that, ever. I see that again, and you are out"--all said in my most stern "I brook no shit whatsoever" tone. The students around him all had a little "chickens in the hen-house when the fox is at the door" reaction, lots of twittering and nervous shuffling. You betcha. Good. Be afraid.

But otherwise, they seemed to be working productively. I'm especially pleased with Mr. No-Longer-a-Chip, who has nothing on his shoulders now except the mantle of his responsibilities. He is fully engaged in the process and doing, for the most part, good work. Given the way he came in at the start of the semester, his earnest--and intelligent--effort is a delight.

On a very different note: I'm creeping closer to standing up in a Board of Trustees meeting and delivering a few hard truths. I started writing what I want to say--but I don't think I can pull anything together in time for the meeting on Wednesday, and I don't want to put my name on the list of people wanting to speak until I'm ready to say something that is as pointed and fierce as it needs to be. Am I taking on one too many things? Perhaps.

Speaking of taking on too many things: I've agreed to do a ten-minute presentation about a publication of mine that is currently part of a display in the library, among other faculty-authored publications. The presentation is not until late April, thank god, and is only ten minutes, thank god, but still, I have to figure out what I'm going to say. I don't have to be a scholar about it (yet again, thank god), but I do want to say something about the context in which the publication was put together; it's the longer version of the paper I presented in Portugal last summer, the full-length version that went into the book arising from the event. The English department is also doing a similar display (no presentation required for that one), so my only two copies of that book are on loan. I sure as hell hope I get 'em back....

What else... Prep for my substitute gig this Thursday? On hold until I get through the current crop of papers. Chancellor's award? Ditto--at least until I get the papers for 102 done (the other paper grading may alternate with some chipping away at the award application). Review of a reassessment of revision in our classes? Ditto (and that's due earlier, so I really should turn my attention to that first). Meeting with one of my departmental colleagues and the administrator in charge of assessment, about a new computerized method of reporting data (a huge snorting hairball)? Waiting until he and I can find a time we both can meet--and then hoping she's also available at that golden, fleeting moment. Observation of the potentially problematic adjunct? Set for Wednesday (another reason I may wait until the next BOT meeting to say my piece). Meeting with an evening student who has a complaint about a professor? Waiting to hear if he can come to my evening office hours.

I'm probably forgetting things. But here's the kicker: that's less stuff, really, than I'm usually dealing with. Isn't that insane? I'm not precisely unstressed, but I am less stressed than is often the case. And here's another "thank god" (though I'm knocking wood as I say this), there is no P&B business to tend to. Bruce even canceled last week's meeting (which I'd have missed anyway, as I was home hacking and snorting). Hope springs eternal that the same will happen a number of times the rest of this term.

For now, I'm going to do a very minimal shuffle through what's on my desk, so when I come in tomorrow I'll at least have a start on the organization and triage. After that little shuffle, I'm off home. And I'm taking no work home with me. So there.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

That was fun

I just spent about two hours talking to the Bright Light of the Native American Lit course. She has a class after mine but it was canceled today, and since I'd written "see me" on several of her assignments, she thought she'd grab the opportunity. We went over her work pretty quickly, but then we ended up in one of those amazing, free-wheeling conversations I sometimes have with students, a conversation that covered everything from her former marriage to a Peruvian, to students texting in class, to Borat. Turns out she'd ferociously wanted to take Nature in Literature--and one of the reasons the enrollment kept going up and down was that she'd sign up, reconsider and drop it from her schedule, then, motivated by desire, sign up again. But she simply couldn't take the class and accommodate her work schedule. She told me she'd even have switched her work days from Monday/Wednesday to Tuesday/Thursday so she could attend, if it had been offered Monday/Wednesday--but the damned thing meets on Monday/Thursday, and she couldn't swing it. She'd have been a real delight to have in that class--but she's also a delight in Native American Lit, so I win either way.

I think there were four students in Nature in Lit today. I'm pretty sure one of the absentees will be back, but the others may be permanently gone. One is a bit of a loss; the rest, not so much. They did a fine job of going over the poems today (not so easy), and most of them had their journal/logs ready (minor triumph)--but only one was prepared with her big paper. Ah, fuck it. I gave everyone until Monday--and let the one who had the paper ready take it back to keep working on, as she wasn't entirely happy with it yet. I'm simply not going to be a monster about deadlines. It's not like I need to be in order to keep the work load under control, and that's why I'm usually strict about deadlines: it's self-preservation, not a sense that it's an important lesson for the students to learn. That's not to say that submitting work on time is unimportant (try being late with a project at your job); it's just not a lesson I'm deeply engaged in teaching. They'll learn that one other ways, and I have lessons to offer that are more uniquely mine.

I ended up in a brief conversation with Wonder Student after the class. He's falling down on submitting work, but he has good reasons (his health, primarily). I'm choosing to trust that he'll get caught up and back on track soon. If not, a more stern conversation may be warranted, but today I felt comfortable being forgiving and flexible. He did tell me that he probably should drop the class, because it takes time and energy he doesn't have this semester (he's taking a challenging math class and a science class that is largely about math--not his forte--but he needs both for the program he wants to transfer into, so they require the lion's share of his time and attention). However, he loves my class too much to withdraw; he said he simply refuses to do it. Good. He'd better stick until the end. I may simply refuse to let him to leave.

Speaking of which, one of the young women from Native American Lit showed up with a withdrawal slip today. I tried very hard to talk her into staying in the class--I even blurted out, "No! You can't withdraw; I won't let you"--but I could tell that she is drowning, not in school work but in her life outside of school, and I don't want to hold her head under. I told her she's welcome to join us as if she were still enrolled, come to class and discuss the readings, even if she doesn't do the written work. She wants to be in the class; she loves the reading, loves what we're talking about, but the work load is more than she can handle. Understood. It will be interesting to see if she does continue to come; I've made the same offer to students in the past and they've simply vanished. I hope she does; she's a lovely addition to the discussions.

I don't much want to talk about the department meeting we had today. The latest from the administration is that we have to prove our "productivity," that we need to show what we're "producing" with our time--as if we're manufacturing widgets--and that we should be required to have a 35 hour work week. That's actually laughable: if someone were to tally up how much time we spend, the vast majority of us are putting in a hell of a lot more than 35 hours (it would be awfully sweet to get paid for "overtime" above and beyond 35). Of course the question came up of how that time would be measured and monitored--and by whom--but the real debate amongst us was whether to answer their corporate argument in similar language, fighting the war on their turf, as it were, or instead to simply reject the entire premise, refuse to engage on their terms. I don't know which I think makes more sense, but as Bruce pointed out, we keep acting as if we can educate them, and we can't. Probably the best idea to come out of the meeting was that we need to get our own attorney--not the specialist in K-12 education who has been provided by our parent union--and make sure that attorney is a Rottweiler who will scare the shit out of them. I don't think they'll understand any argument other than legal force, I truly don't.

It is hateful to work in this atmosphere. Both Paul and I left the meeting early. I'd simply gotten to the point where I couldn't listen to the cross-arguments and in-fighting and the same people heatedly saying the same thing about what "someone" needs to do (happens to me every department meeting; I can't stomach any more and I split before I blow up). Paul left because I'd inadvertently given him an anxiety attack, telling him that the "Ad Hoc Work Load Committee" (which I'm on) needs his planned presentation on why grading papers qualifies as contact hours--not just hours, but specifically contact hours, which is the beef against us: faculty contractual time is measured in how many hours we spend standing in a room with students, and the English department faculty are contractually obligated to spend fewer hours doing that than other faculty. But Paul's idea is correct: what we do in evaluating papers is a far more intimate interaction than simply being in a room with students--and that's what we need to argue. Everyone spends hours outside the classroom, even the ones who use Scantron tests (bubble forms that simply get run through a machine, which calculates the grade), even the ones who give the students a series of 500-word assignments and don't give them much in the way of feedback. But we need to argue that our "contact" with students is the same as everyone else's.

That latter example is true-life, by the way. My former student now cat sitter was telling me that her HONORS section of comp 2--which she has to take because of a glitch in her transfer credits--told me that is exactly what is happening in her class. That section is taught, I must add, by the head of the honors program. Five-hundred word essays. Minimal feedback. (As in, "Oh, don't worry about the B+: just fix these two little things and I'll give you the A.") Honors, and that's what they're doing. I despair.

But I don't want to end on a negative note. Part of the function of this blog is to help me reframe at the end of the day (and week, and term), to remind myself of what I love about this job, what works, what matters. And the kind of interaction I had with Bright Light is indeed something I adore about what I do. She described herself as a nerd, and I said, "Yes, but we nerds are the ones who do the thinking for the world." I believe it's true. And it feels good to remember that, and to see it reflected in the face of a woman who has seen a lot of the world (for all that she's a couple of decades younger than I am) and is still invested in learning more. Yeah.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Fire Drill!

Kayla and I were talking after class, our usual decompress session, and the fire alarm went off. It was a drill, and I'm pretty sure the occupants of the building flunked (taking too long to get out, staying too close to the building). It occurs to me this probably means I got a ticket for parking illegally out back, but oh well. It was actually rather pleasant to breathe real air for a few minutes, and now I'm getting ready to wrap up the day.

Class was awful. Pulling teeth would be a frolic by comparison. A lot of students were absent, and those who were there were mostly too insecure to even ask questions about the poetry. Still, I poked them through the three poems for this week, and we even got a moment to talk about the poem we'd left unfinished last week. I didn't go over their responses to the critical essays--but I did refer to the critical essays a few times in our discussion of the poems, so I hope that accomplished somewhat the same thing.

And I didn't issue any reminders about the papers that are due (first versions) on Monday. On the other hand, I gave them a chance to ask questions about the assignment, but they didn't ask, so ... moving on.

I managed to get all the work they submitted on Monday marked and back to them, which feels good. It's going to be a relatively easy few days in terms of marking assignments. I'll have the first big essays for both the literature classes--but there are so few students, even taking the two together, that I'm not terribly worried about the work load. And I'll have the study question responses I collected from 102 today--but that will be it. There is a lot of other stuff I need to tend to over the next few weeks (mostly for assessment, but other miscellaneous bits as well)--but I'm not going to worry about any of that until my health improves. I feel like La Dame aux Camellias, what with this tubercular sounding cough, but "Courage, Camille." Eventually I'll feel better, and that will be cause for celebration in itself.

There's more organizing and so on that I could ("should") do tonight, but I ain't gonna. I'm going to pick up my new glasses (replacing the pair I lost on my trip to Tucson) and go home. This has been enough for a first day back.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What on EARTH??

I just looked at the overall blog (I usually only see the new post). Why on God's green earth do you suppose there is an ad for christening and communion dresses?? What in the world did I say that would lead the Google algorithms to think that this blog has anything at all to do with anything of the sort? It was dumb enough when Google kept posting ads for Phoenix University ("Get a worthless degree online!"), but this passes all understanding.

Ook redux

I got up this morning fully intending to go to work and put in a relatively full day--and about half-way through my morning routine, I thought, "Why am I doing this? I don't feel any better than I did yesterday." So I called in sick, again--and have been having anxiety attacks about it all damned day. I didn't miss anything vital; in a year--hell, in six months--nothing will be any better or worse for my having stayed home. But I have an inner critic that perpetually tells me I'm falling down on the job. I know better, but that voice gets astonishingly loud sometimes.

I know there is a bunch of work waiting for me when I go in tomorrow (and I am going in tomorrow, barring a sudden turn for the worse), and I'm trying not to hyperventilate about that--but on the plus side, I did manage to force myself to finish up every speck of work that I'd brought home over the weekend. I even put in some time on my Chancellor's Award application, which is a snorting pain in the ass, but assuming I get it, it will be a lovely feather in the cap (and line on the CV, under "awards"). I also would get a big, heavy medallion to wear whenever I put on my official academic regalia, which is kinda cool.

I just got a report from Kayla about her interaction with the students yesterday. The Problem Child (he of the inappropriate group behavior) was in a huff about the fact that I canceled class. If he's at all huffy with me tomorrow about it, he'd better be prepared to have his head removed. (Hello: I am a human being and am allowed to get sick.) The usual suspects were unprepared (or absent); it's time to issue the "early" warning--which is already too late. (By the time I realize they're in trouble and get a chance to say anything, the ship has already sailed.) And not surprisingly, almost all of them are struggling with the poetry. I told Kayla that I may ditch active learning techniques tomorrow, not put them in groups, and just do a whole-class discussion, in the interest of covering a lot of territory in a hurry. (The need to gallop through a lot of material is the downside to having canceled class--and I'm not entirely sure that the whole-class technique pays off in terms of their understanding, but I feel better if I've at least touched on all the readings.)

I also got a woeful message from a student in Nature in Lit. She really wanted to see my comments before she wrote her big paper, and she suggested I scan her paper and send it to her. Smart thinking: I tend to forget I can do that. However, when she got it, she was crushed, mortified, by the C she received. I'd love to meet with her in person to talk about it, but her schedule and mine don't coincide tomorrow, so I suggested she A) e-mail me any questions or test-flights (as it were), trying on different approaches, and B) remember she can revise. That option to revise is often the one thing that keeps students hanging on in the lit classes, and I'm happpy to give them the chance to truly learn by reworking something that doesn't fly the first time. And her paper was not good, mostly merely paraphrase, with no actual argument. But I do think she's capable of learning, so I don't mind at all investing some time and energy into helping her.

Whoof, even thinking about this, writing about it, is making me tired. I'm now going to retreat to the couch and spend the rest of the evening doing my best sloth impressions. God, I hope I feel better tomorrow; it's hard as hell to do this when my energy is draining out my toes.

Monday, March 5, 2012


I'm blogging from home. I'd not completely gotten over the flu and now have come down with a cold (or something). I'm taking this as a no-nonsense message from my body to slow the hell down. I've withdrawn from the race for the Promotion and Tenure committee--and feel nary a twinge of regret, just relief, with a dash of triumph. I have to keep reminding myself that if I want more time to do my own work, I need to make sure I not only make the time but keep it free: my impulse is always to add something into the space I just cleared--something other than the work I ostensibly want to do. Like my own scholarship, for instance, or more creative work. So no, I'm not taking on another damned committee. So there.

I canceled this morning's class pretty much as soon as I got out of bed (I made up my mind last night not to set the alarm, so that cancellation was already a done deal), but I wavered for a while about canceling this afternoon's 102. The students are more needy (and there are more of them)--but we'll just have to cover what we can on Wednesday. I did ask Kayla to meet with them long enough to give them their homework assignment for Wednesday and to collect their journal-logs; she'll also post the cancellation notice after she's done those things (otherwise the students will leave before she even gets there). I feel a tiny bit guilty for putting her to that use, but I'm more grateful that I can. The main thing is for the students to get their journal-logs back before their next big papers next week, and now I can accomplish that.

In fact, as I've been home today, it's been a mix of marking student assignments and reading relative fluff (just finished rereading Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer, which is my favorite of her novels). The revisions for 102 are a mixed bag. Most of the students have at least made an attempt at revising, which is in itself a victory; I used to have a lot more submissions where a few spelling errors had been corrected and absolutely nothing else. I'm hoping it's the new process I've instituted, that I actually have found a pedagogical tool that works. Wouldn't that be sweet? I still have a few more to read, so I may yet be disappointed, but only two have been complete duds, and statistically speaking, that's not bad.

And I'm hoping that being still and quiet today, and a good night's sleep tonight, will exponentially improve my physical well-being. I'd like to go to work tomorrow not feeling like a rag doll that's been left out in the rain.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thank you

I've been hearing from readers who follow the blog--and was surprised by a few (Wonder Student among them). I'm happy to know that it is apparently easy to post a comment; I'm still not sure about the "follower" function. Keep those cards and letters coming, folks; I know some of you don't read regularly, but I'd still like to know you're out there. And thanks for reading, and for letting me know you do.

I did present a slightly diluted version of the riot act to the Nature in Lit students today, and got a flurry of apologies at the end of class--but I'm honestly pretty sick of the empty promises given by one student in particular. He's entirely capable of real work, but he is allowing anything and everything else to consume his time. I didn't say it, but my internal thought was, essentially, "put up or shut up." And naturally, the students who took my displeasure most to heart are the ones who need to least.

I'm not entirely happy with how the class went--and not just because I had to start with the lecture about their doing their damned work. The conversation simply felt flat. They didn't do badly; it was hardly the proverbial lead balloon. This is systemic: it's not about today. I wish they'd fire up a bit more. The mysteries of class chemistry; I'm afraid there isn't the needed catalyst to get them shooting off sparks. I don't know what the catalyst would be, but it simply isn't there. It's too bad--but ah well. I still love the material, and it is still gratifying to talk about material I know in some depth. I surprise myself sometimes by remembering authors and titles that connect with what they're reading (I, who am so terrible with memory in general, and with authors and titles in particular. And yes, I see the irony of that particular difficulty, given my field.)

Native American lit went fine, too. Still no work from one of the students (current excuse: "I haven't been able to buy the book." Sorry, Chum, it's on reserve in the library, and you can photocopy the pages you need as we go along. It's also half-way through the semester: it's a bit late for that excuse.) As I said, he's a sweet kid, but he's simply hanging himself, and I'm not going to ride to his rescue. Again, empty promises. "I'll have all the work for you next week." Thanks, but I ain't holding my breath: I think I have better chances of winning the lottery. The other student who has turned in essentially nothing wrote an e-mail to tell me that his mother had a car accident, so he had to get her, and he didn't think he'd make it to class. My response (I'm paraphrasing, but this is the gist): "OK, so that's one of your absences; we'll see how many you have and determine whether it will affect your grade. And by the way, what about that missing work?"

But the young women in the class were their usual terrific selves. (Interestingly enough, last time I taught the class, by the end of semester the only students remaining were women: four of them to be precise. I think this class may end up the same way, but with five rather than four--I hope.) They had good responses to the homework, solid ideas about the story--and did a nice job of workshopping the one paper we had time to address. It was a solid B paper, and the students praised its quality while also giving feedback about areas of improvement. In a way I was glad that we could look at a good example, instead of working through the other volunteered paper, which was more problematic. As it happened, I could emphasize the positive of what this young woman did, instead of pointing to a negative example. Better to let the other students see how to do it right.

But after class, the bright but quiet student (I don't remember the moniker I gave her; I'll have to find another one) stayed to talk to me about papers. She said that she could see the clarity and simplicity of the essay we worked on, and that she thinks she's making her life harder for herself than she needs to. We talked a bit about what separates a B from an A. This woman is fully capable of getting an A (though she hasn't yet, and it's frustrating her). Her ideas are truly unique, her insights intelligent--but she hasn't quite got all the pieces pulled together yet. I told her that the unique quality of her ideas is precisely what will earn her an A--but because they are unique, they require more sophistication in terms of support and presentation. I'm not expressing this very clearly; I hope I expressed it better to her. (She was nodding as if I made sense, so hope springs eternal.) In any event, she said that I've written "see me" several times on her work, so clearly she needs to make an appointment. I hope she does, and soon. I want her to get that A, dammit, and time's a-wasting.

I decidedly felt the mental drain of exhaustion during both classes today. Points would drift away from me into some profound fog as I was trying to make them; pulling things together in any coherent fashion, reinforcing connections, was inordinately difficult. I don't think the students noticed anything amiss, but I'm practically woozy with fatigue.

Even so, I have a bag full of student work that I'm going to schlepp home with me to work on over the weekend. I hope I'll also have time in Advisement to finish up, but if I can get a reasonable whack at it over the weekend, that will make Monday easier. And I do need to start finding time to work on that dratted Chancellor's Award application. It's due after spring break, but I want to have it as close to finished as I can manage, before the break. The weeks of having three days free from school work over the weekend are henceforth gone, until the semester is over. (Ten more Mondays to go.) Still, with any luck at all, even with the work I'm carrying home, I'll be able to do some serious battery charging over the weekend.

Which starts ... right ... NOW.