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Monday, April 30, 2012

Avoiding chocolate

If I stay and keep working tonight, I'm going to need chocolate. Since I'm trying to prevent my waistline from expanding any further, I'm trying to avoid chocolate--so I need to stop working.

Interesting rationale, don't you think? I wonder how many professors use the "I don't want to eat so I can't work" excuse.

Not that it's bad, really, even though I'm in a real struggle with Nature in Lit. Wonder Student is having a horrible semester and wants very much to withdraw; I'm trying like mad to persuade him to take an Incomplete instead. I found some information I wish I'd had last semester, when I was fretting about my student from the spring Native American Lit not completing her work before the December deadline: I checked with Bruce, and not only can I turn an Incomplete into a Withdrawal if I want to (who knew?), I can also formally create an extension and give the student another whole semester to finish the work. With that information in hand, I'm hoping I can coax and cajole Wonder Student into finishing over the summer, into next fall if need be. He's been struggling with his health all semester, and now he's got a serious emotional issue going on, so no wonder he can't face the work at this juncture. He also said he might retake the class next spring--but I'm not at all sure I'll be the one teaching it next spring, assuming it even runs (more on that in some other post). So for my own selfish reasons I do not want him to withdraw; I want him to finish the course with me. Of course, I'm within my rights to refuse the withdrawal, but I wouldn't do that to him. If he can't be persuaded into the Incomplete, I'll sign the drop form--but it will hurt like hell.

The other two students were both there today (one on time, one late), and I spent some time with each one, going over the first versions of their papers, given immediate feedback and grades, and sending them off to keep working. I told the young man that his overall grade is in serious jeopardy unless he turns in a huge bolus of work by May 10. He keeps saying he'll "definitely" do it--but he definitely hasn't up to now, so I may be invoking the "mercy D" policy. The young woman will do fine. I ended up having a lovely conversation with her after we went through her paper (I'd seen the young man first and sent him on his way): she was about to give a big presentation in her Women's Studies class, so we talked about what she was going to do, then got into a discussion about feminism and various other topics (student attitudes and immaturity, the distinction between a person and his or her ideas...). I love that kind of conversation with students, the times when we can just talk, not about class stuff but just talk.

Advisement was fine; I had some time to do my own work in between students. I would like to note, however, how frequently someone who is clearly about as intelligent as a box of hair has ambitions to become a nurse. Thank God our nursing program is notoriously ferociously selective: I hope all such programs are equally demanding; otherwise, the quality of nursing care becomes terrifying to contemplate. I certainly don't want someone like the young woman I advised today handling anything about my health care--not even filing my folder under "P."

And 102 was also fine. I put the students in pairs to provide each other feedback on their second versions, and I made myself available to answer questions as they arose. (Kayla was stuck in traffic, so it was just me today.) They are doing well with the peer review process; I was very happy with the feedback they were giving, and with the questions they were asking me. I was interested--and happy--that among the students who specifically voted to engage in peer review was Mr. Shrug and Smirk, who has tended to believe he's too good for the whole process (and who has often acted as if my comments or requirements are borderline idiotic--which is, of course, guaranteed to win my love and respect). But apparently he wanted the feedback, which was great.

I focused their attention in peer review by reminding them to get rid of what I call "unsupported commentary" (the stuff when they're just bloviating about society in general) and instead to focus on analysis of the novel. I also told them to make sure the evidence proves their thesis, that the "citation boundaries" are clear (where they being using a source and where they stop), and that any sentence that includes a quotation still makes sense as a grammatical whole. That last one is hard for them, as they can't even tell for sure when their own sentences are grammatically sound, but at least they're thinking about it. I put all that on the board, and they diligently copied it down--and followed it as they reviewed each others' papers.

I also put something on the board I wish I'd put up ages ago (and again, to my surprise, they actually took notes). I wrote the following:

For each paragraph:
       YOUR IDEA
            illustration from the novel
           YOUR IDEA about the illustration from the novel
               [illustration from the critical source
                 Your Idea about the illustration from the critical source]
         YOUR IDEA: demonstrating link to thesis

 I talked it through with them, and I think they're starting to get the point.

I've only looked at two second versions so far (out of ten), and both are incrementally better than their first versions. I'm hoping the trend generally holds true. I'm still being somewhat conservative with grades, because I want somewhere to go for their final versions. I want to give students who manage to come through in the end a nice big reward.

I don't want to get into the latest horror story about the administration, as relayed by Paul: it's just nasty as hell; there is a toxic miasma seeping out of the Tower (appropriate, isn't it, that that's the building where the Powers that Be are lodged?), and it truly is making this place a hell to work in. And I know I "should" go to the Board of Trustees meeting tonight (especially since the senate and union are presenting a budget proposal, which is sure to be torpedoed)--but I can't do that to my own psyche. If I were to go, I'd either be devoured with rage and disgust (and a sense of being utterly ineffectual) or I'd be cripplingly depressed. Neither is good for my psyche (or my adrenal glands), so I'm staying away. I've got enough of my own emotional/psychological malaise to deal with.

Oh, but I need to reframe: I can't end on that note. Here's a nice moment from today: a colleague happened to see me in the hall and rather timidly asked if he might sometime observe me in the classroom. He thinks I'm very organized (hah!), and he's particularly interested in how I teach revision, so he wants to sit in on a class sometime next semester and watch me do my thing. Isn't that a lovely compliment? I'm truly somewhat abashed, and honored. And of course, I'm happy to have anyone observe my classes, any time. I get discouraged and self-castigating, but at core, I know I'm damned good at this.

No chocolate required.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Quick P.S.

Both 102 students got their papers to me before 2:00. Well, one was about 3 minutes late--but close enough. I'm relieved.

The Greater Good--unpublished from ages ago

Somehow I located this post from ages ago in my "drafts" folder. If I did post a version of it, I don't recall. One can tell it's ancient, as I was teaching 101 when I wrote it. Kind of interesting to revisit that time.... What follows is what I wrote back then.

I'm reading free-writes that the students did last week, leading into our in-class discussion. I didn't really talk about that in previous posts, and I should. Especially in a comp class, in which most of my time is spent trying to get the students to have a basic understanding of what they read and then to be able to say something productive about it, we don't often get to just talk about ideas in general. And I think that's one of the most important things that can happen in college. This is why, in my lit classes, I don't mind if the conversation strays pretty far away from the topic at hand, as long as we're discussing real ideas. But I wanted to take that moment in the 101 classes as well, to let them think about ideas and kick them around a bit.

The conversation came out of a reading in which the author talks about his response to otters and beavers in a zoo--how he didn't want to understand them scientifically, he just wanted to experience them--and then his discussion morphs into a riff about altruism, especially altruism extending beyond the human family to other living beings. In response to that, I gave the students a free-write quotation by Norm Henderson: "The true meaning of life is to plant a tree under whose shade you do not expect to sit." Of course I had to translate that a bit: the sentence structure is sophisticated enough that I knew some of them would get lost. And the idea is expressed metaphorically, which I assumed they also would find difficult (I was right). But after they did their writing, we started talking about the common good, and specifically about whether one would be willing to experience discomfort or do something difficult for the benefit of an unknown person and without expecting anything in return. The general consensus: no. They'd at least want to know that what they did was appreciated, but many of them said that the point of life is to make yourself happy, not to worry about anyone else and certainly not to do anything for a random stranger, who might not deserve your largess.

Of course, quite apart from my concerns for their ability to read and write with more understanding and clarity, that attitude worries the hell out of me. I know it's epidemic in our society, and it is, in fact, one of the reasons I do the environmental theme in my 101s: it's a way to get them thinking about something other than merely the pursuit of their materialistic goals. In the course of our conversation I asked them to list five things that are extremely important in their lives right now. Of course 99% said family and friends (some broke that down so that the five "things" were individual people), but a fair number said that their car was very important, or "things," or money. I'm willing to grant that in our society, money is extremely important--to a point. But at what point does the pursuit of money stop being the need to ensure one's well-being and become instead a masturbatory, circular, purely pleasure-seeking endeavor? They'll pay lip-service to the idea that it is problematic for our society to be so materialistic, but when they're challenged--what possessions would you be willing to give up?--their attitude shifts. They want their toys, and they don't want to give any of them up, especially without some concrete, immediately visible, feel-good reason.

I hope I can show them the little online video "The Story of Stuff." I should have time in RB tomorrow, as only one group will be presenting, but I'm less sure about the other classes. The two groups that presented in MB today took the entire period, and yet each presentation was to be 14-16 minutes long: the rest of the time was taken up trying to get the technological elements to work (and one group never did get their video to play--though they had a good back-up plan and did very well). If that happens again on Wednesday, I won't be able to show the video--and I think it will be provocative. Especially if we have time to discuss it.

I've just posted the video to this blog so you can watch it: I think every human being living the Western lifestyle, especially every U.S.-American, should see it, along with the documentary The End of Suburbia (available through Netflix, if you do that). I used to show portions of The End of Suburbia in class: I didn't this semester but I think I'll go back to it next fall. Some students are bored by it, but it hits others squarely between the eyes--which is the point for the students (though this entire topic is a tangent here).

And of course I'm nattering about this because I need a brain break from the 101 revisions and left-over homework (the same piles I've been bitching about for weeks on end). But I want to get them done and out of my hair, so I need to jump back on that bus.

Early Post

I have back-to-back-to-back appointments of various sorts immediately after class this afternoon, so if I don't blog now, I won't get to it. And I like to end the work week with a post of some kind.

The thing I'm most proud of at the moment is that today's displacement activity was writing a letter to Gov. Cuomo. There are now two vacancies on our Board of Trustees, and Paul has been saying for some time that he wanted to write a letter to Cuomo urging the appointment of actual educators to the Board. Because apparently all my best ideas come from Paul, I stole a march on him and did precisely that today. It was also a palliative against the guilt I was feeling for not going to the picketing during "club hour" today. I even suggested that we postpone a committee meeting so people could attend the protest--and then I didn't go. I also have a strong suspicion that I won't do anything (or anything that counts) to follow up on a suggestion I made about an alternative to a protest at graduation. Things are rapidly going to hell at this institution, and I know I will be self-castigating if things get truly bad (which is likely) and I haven't at least tried to do something to change the situation for the better (which is unlikely, at this juncture at least). But I only want to apply my energy where I feel I can contribute something of substance. My letter to Cuomo isn't much, but it feels like it has the potential to be more significant than simply being another body on a picket line. Whatever else I contribute to this ongoing fight, I have to feel like I'm making the most of my energy, that I'm doing something that I can do particularly well and that it will have impact.

Paul put the overall situation very succinctly today. He said that other than our colleagues on the faculty (and not even all of them), no one here wants what we have to offer. The students think we're torturing them for no reason, that there is nothing of value to be gained from the experience we provide. And the college president and board think we're useless, if not an actual impediment to their goals (which clearly aren't about actual education, but I digress). So, as Paul said, "Cannons on the left; cannons on the right." We're being bombarded from all directions; no wonder we just want to take cover.

But about those students. Thinking about Nature in Lit, I realized that the first versions of final papers are due on Monday--and the students still haven't submitted the essay that was due three weeks ago. I'd told them before that I'd scrap it, but I'd have to reweight other assignments to compensate--and they didn't like the idea. Today, it happened by fiat. I told them that they have until the Thursday before the end of semester to turn in any revisions or any missing journal-logs. Using whatever I have at that point, I will take their three best mini-paper grades and average them together to be their essay 2 grade. They were relieved. The Actor (have I talked about him? I don't remember) is cruising for a mercy D: he's not turning in anything at all. He only submitted two (of four) minis and hasn't turned in a journal-log in forever--and the ones he has turned in have mostly been D's. I can't tell as clearly with the other two what they're likely to get at the end: it's all riding on their final papers and what they manage to turn in by May 10th.

But they had done more reading for today, which was better. We actually had some stuff to talk about that was pretty good. A relief.

Funny how my mind sometimes does something subconsciously that benefits me: on Tuesday, I hustled the Native American Lit students through the pages we'd read for the week, as if it were Thursday and we had to get through those pages before the next bunch were due. As class was coming to an end, I thought, "Whoa! Oops! Now what are we going to do for Thursday? We've kind of covered everything." I told them we'd dig in deeper to the pages we already covered--but I'd forgotten that the syllabus has a video scheduled for today. I remembered that much later in the evening, and it's rather a relief. The video is about storytelling in Native literature generally (and several of the authors they've encountered are among those who are interviewed)--and there are some bits specifically about Ceremony. So that will take a good part of the period; consequently, it's actually a good thing we already covered the pages they read for this week. I hope we have time to dig a little more, and I hope we have time for them to ask questions about the papers coming up. But if the video pretty well covers it, no harm, no foul.

I also can't remember if I said here that the Whiner is withdrawing. So I'm down to three in that class, too. When the Whiner wasn't whining, she was great--but since that better side of her contributions had pretty much disappeared by last week, I'm just as glad she's gone. I'm over getting excuses.

Speaking of which, it's almost 2 p.m., and I've not gotten papers from the students in 102 who have to get something to me by that time today or fail the class. One I know is at least working--though he's resisting the requirements of the assignment like mad, so heaven knows what the end result of this will be. The other? I hate to say it, but I yesterday I had a pretty strong feeling that she wouldn't pull it together. I hope she surprises me. She has made great progress this semester, and I'd hate for her to fall apart so late in the game--but she told me yesterday that she has a ton of other stuff due this week, so... her English class might fall by the wayside. It's a shame, really.

But speaking of whining (as I was a while back), I'm wishing like mad I didn't have to be here tomorrow for the stupid faculty development thing--but right now, we are contractually obligated to attend two each year. I didn't do any in the fall, as there was nothing appealing, and this semester's opportunities have also lacked appeal--until this one. And next week is the Assessment Symposium, which I attend mostly because I'm on the committees. I hate having to set an alarm on Fridays--especially two in a row--but ah well.

But here's the amazing thing: three weeks from today, I'll be submitting grades and final paperwork. I'll have to do scheduling for a few days the following week--but then I'll be done with this place until August. We really are on the down-slope of the roller-coaster now.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I have ten minutes before I have to run off to introduce the English Department's winners of the Chancellor's Award this year. (If I get it, I'll be one of the recipients at about this time next year.) Happy to do it for Bruce, but what with one thing and another, it's been a hell of a flurry today.

In class, I had to give two students a very stern talking to. Despite the clear statement in the assignment sheet that I would not accept any version of the final paper late, they didn't have anything for me on Monday, when it was due--and still didn't today. However, for various reasons, I don't feel like being as draconian with the policy as I've been in the past. I told each student individually that he or she had to submit the first version to me in my office by 2 p.m. tomorrow--or fail the course. I also said that I'd give half the credit the paper would have earned if it had been submitted on time, and that I would not provide any feedback or commentary. It will be interesting to see if they come through. I take no bets either way.

After class I had a brief meeting with an adorable student from that class. At first, I thought she was sulky and sullen and had a 'tude the size of Texas, but no. She's sweet and hard working and cares deeply about learning and doing well. She is in better shape with her paper than she thought, but we went over some places where she needs to do some more thinking.

Class went pretty well--better than the last few sessions. The groups were talking well, bringing up good points, engaged. Some good analysis going on; I'm pleased. The papers didn't necessarily reflect that analytical ability, but I think this process will do much more to help them get there than the old proposal process did.

But that's the students. For me, in class, and in just about everything else today, I was pretty much a blithering idiot. I'm blaming it on lack of sleep (I don't know why I keep waking up a minute or two before 5, but I do, dammit), but it could also be the time of semester. It's sort of a perfect storm of brain static: no sleep, end of semester, and sudden curve-balls of tasks to accomplish.

Like doing those introductions, which I have to run off to do in 5, 4, 3....

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Displacement Activity

I'm avoiding grading more first versions of final papers for 102. So far, they're pretty awful. I know this is typical; it takes students a while to get away from unsupported social commentary and into actual analysis of the novel--and some students take a hell of a long while to understand the novel well enough to say anything that makes any kind of sense. And that doesn't even include the problem of their understanding the critical essays they've found. (Based on ideas in a critical essay, one student apparently thinks a pronoun is either an idea or a kind of person....) I've made things a trifle easier for myself by typing up comments. I had to write the comments for he first paper I marked from scratch; the rest will be made up of raided/adjusted sentences. That way I don't have to keep rewriting "You need to focus on the novel, not on unsupported social commentary." In the past, I'd wear out my hand and my red pen, writing that by hand on just about every paper. This time, I can pretty much cut, paste, print.

But even though I know this is typical, it's still painful. The despair has hit: I feel like I've been talking into a black hole for eleven weeks. Blech.

And I've gotten to the point where I feel very much like Bartleby: I prefer not to.

However, I do need to get them back to the students tomorrow, and there aren't very many of them in total, and they're short, and I don't want to be frantic in the morning. This week and next are looking more frantic than I'd like anyway: I didn't realize until this morning that the two "professional development" events I've selected to attend this year (as contractually required) meet this Friday and next--and both start early in the morning, which I fucking hate: early alarms, god dammit, even though I have no intention of showing up at either one on time. (One starts at 8 a.m., the other at 8:30. I mean, really.)

But my office mates have led me into a much longer (and more enjoyable) displacement activity, and now I really do have to get some work done, so I'll have to blog more/better tomorrow. Well, more. I can't guarantee better.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Gripe session

I'm not happy with the way anything turned out today. I got to work nice and early only to find I'd left the "script" for my presentation at home. I put up a sign letting my students know I'd be late, drove home, got caught in terrible, slow traffic, got the damned thing, came to work--and the class is down to three (the student who has been AWOL is still gone; I think she's too embarrassed to even contact me about what's going on). And not one of the three was remotely prepared for class. So we talked about their next paper--even though they've not turned in the last one yet--and I let them go early, hoping I'd have two minutes to reread the presentation. Nope: student wanted to talk to me after class about what would happen if she didn't submit essay 2 at all. At this point, it looks like the grades for the class will be a couple of W's and F's, one mercy D, and two incompletes. Fucking hell.

Then I raced to the library to do the presentation, again hoping to have a few minutes to go over my script before I had to present: nope. Senior observer was there and wanted to chat with me about absolutely nothing, even though I patently had my nose in my paper. The Bright Young Man from last term was there, and about five other people, maybe seven by the time I finished presenting. Somehow, even though I'd made the "script" short, so I could extemporize some, I was given the two minute warning long before I expected. I found I was stammering and misspeaking a lot, very annoying. I also think the presentation was circular and repetitive. Fuck again.

In Advisement, what felt like a parade of morons, who couldn't understand even the most basic things about how to pick a schedule, and most of whom hadn't done any preparation. I've not yet developed Paul's technique of shooing them off to look at the course catalog on their own; I need to work on that.

And I'm down to nine students in 102. One withdrew (the one who was so glad last week that I told him he had potential); the stoner was there and said he didn't even know that first versions of final papers were due today, so that was his sixth absence (withdraw or fail time); and another student is now at seven absences, so she's gone, too. And I need to talk with a student who was there today but who didn't have a paper to turn in. Technically, he should now be told he needs to withdraw or he'll fail, but I'll decide how fierce I want to get with him. The ones who were there were doing OK, but the flame-outs left a bad taste in my mouth.

And only three people showed up for the ecocrit group--and I'd bought food and wine for at least twice that. Two bailed on me at the last second, and a couple who'd said they might come didn't. Nine people had said they wouldn't be able to make it--even though the consensus earlier was that Monday nights were good. Further, among the four of us who were there, the discussion was interesting but had very little to do with the actual reading, so I got a bit frustrated with the whole thing. Not to mention I now have a ton of food and wine that I hardly need to have in my house. I'd leave it here, but the office is closed, so I have no access to the necessary refrigeration. Fuck again.

So all of that was decidedly irritating to already somewhat raw nerve endings--and yet I don't feel as cranky and snarling and bitchy as I might, just a little bit around the edges.

I think my favorite moment of the day was trying to open one of the wine bottles with Kayla: I just have a little el-cheapo T-shaped corkscrew, and it just wasn't happening. But Kayla, bless her, works in a restaurant, so she had her wine key in her car, got it, and came to my rescue. We got giggly trying to open the bottle before resorting to that simpler solution: it would have been about as easy to try to pull an entire football team out of a concrete mouse hole.

And--in my usual "let's look on the sunny side" re-frame of the day--the people who did show up for the ecocrit group were very happy with it, and grateful for the experience, and want to do it again--and sooner than I'd have guessed. Plus, losing students in droves does mean I have fewer papers to grade, which is not at all a bad thing.

That's what I'll be facing tomorrow, so I'd best sign off now and get home. I refuse to take any work home with me tonight, so I'll need to get a good jump on tomorrow.

And up it goes, posting without revision or proofreading of any variety whatsoever. Mistakes be damned.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I did it, amazingly enough, and managed to get the damned award application finished and submitted today, shortly after 5 p.m. I even had a chance to read it over one last time, found a few small errors, fixed them (reprinting the necessary pages), and feel relatively good about the result. Part of my ability to do this is that all three of the students I was supposed to meet with today canceled their appointments (well, actually, one was simply a no-show), which bought me almost two hours that I didn't think I was going to have. Last night, talking with Ed, I suddenly thought, "Oh shit! I forgot to include classroom observations!" Then this morning (yes, at 5 a.m.), I suddenly thought, "Oh shit! I forgot to add the rubrics I described!" Then this morning when I got to the office, I saw Paul's lovely, glowing letter of praise and support for my application--but, oh shit! He mentioned my conferencing with students in my comp sections--and yesterday that was a piece I'd decided not to get into. As it turned out, it was not difficult at all to add a bit about that, and to add the "conference guidelines" handout, as well as a few other handouts I also decided to include (with out the swearing involved). I'd been amazed and daunted--and also amused--by the size of Paul's application folder, but, well, gosh, turns out mine is pretty much the same size. Same size binder, anyway, though not quite as full.

I will be stunned and utterly humiliated if I don't get the damned thing now. But it's done. Thank god.

On a bit of a down side, one student did withdraw from Nature in Lit; he'd said he thought he needed to, and he didn't let me talk him out of it. Another has been AWOL all week (the one who was a no-show for both appointments this week). I left her a message on her voice mail, asking her to check in with me--but she's so shy, if she's feeling embarrassed about something, I'm not sure she'll have the courage to show up and talk to me about it. I hope I haven't lost her, though; she was starting to come out of her shell beautifully, and I'd hate for that to come to a halt.

And in Native American Lit, the Whiner was absent today--and sent me an e-mail with the subject line "Please Read." That got my hackles up a bit ("Don't I always? Have I ever not read one of your messages?") but more to the point, the message was a long, rambling sob-story about why she had to miss class. More Whining, and I'm utterly, thoroughly sick to god-damned death of it. My e-mail, however, was very compassionate: gee, I'm sorry about your difficulties; of course you need to take care of these problems; I understand you have no option but to miss class (blah blah blah)--BUT you're about to fail just on your absences alone. What do you want to do about that? Nice nice nice WHAM.

She's obviously not been doing the reading, and she hasn't done a lot of the writing, and even though it would reduce the class to three, I'd actually be somewhat relieved if she'd just go. If she stays, I hope she sheds the sad-sack, poor-persecuted-me routine, sucks it up, and does her work.

Back to Nature in Lit, I did talk to them about their missing papers (ahem). What do you want to do? If you're going to turn them in, you'd better do it soon or they're going to run up against your final papers. If you want me to cancel the assignment altogether, I can--but then the grade weight has to go somewhere else.... The three who were there looked sheepish and all promised papers next week. Uh-huh. I'm pretty confident I'll get the one from Wonder Student; the other two? Not so much.

But they are signing up for appointments with me, which I like very much.

Tonight I have one more chore I want to at least start, if I can concentrate well enough (proofreading the course selection form for spring 2013). Then water the plants and the week is done.

Oh, such bliss to have that application out from under my feet--literally!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Four and a half hours of clanking through the Chancellor's Award application and I think it's actually almost pulled together. I had to do my usual organizational tactic of spreading papers all over the office floor--and there are some bits that I didn't expound on too much (or decided to eliminate altogether)--but I think that all I'll have to do tomorrow is double-check the organization, review and print out the actual application, and put all the pieces in the binder. Most of today was spent gathering the documentation for my various claims: photocopied pages demonstrating that I really did publish or present what I said I did, class handouts, samples of student work, and so on. As I pulled the documentation together, I made sure I had some kind of descriptor in the application itself: that's the part I want to review carefully tomorrow, after an overnight breather. I probably will have to make a trip to campus Friday morning to submit the finished product, as I doubt I'll get it done before the office closes tomorrow--but c'est la vie.

Class today was somewhat painful but not intolerable. I gave everyone some time to pull together questions from their journal-logs, glossaries, and the novel itself, then we again sat in a circle and went around, each student in turn asking a question. I'm rather astounded by the questions: they're not asking about the stuff I think is most important, which worries me some, but as I explained to Kayla, A) I refuse to spoon-feed them what they should be getting, and B) once they start working on their papers, either they will start to notice what's important or I can point it out to them: "Remember the bit where...?" It's also that time of semester when I feel I'm pretty much finished teaching--apart from feedback on their in-progress papers. As Kayla said, if they haven't gotten what they need in the past three months, they're not going to get it in the next three weeks.

One student--the one who started out silent but who has woken up nicely as we've embarked on the novel--asked if I had a model to show for how to begin this essay. I said that the process is very much what they've been doing all along: same approach to the first paragraph and the gathering of evidence. But then I acknowledged that I'm testing out a new process, with them as my guinea pigs. I said that my previous method hadn't worked very well, so I'm hoping this will work better. I think they appreciate knowing that. If nothing else, it demonstrates that I'm trying to help them do as well as possible.

Speaking of which, I did tell them they can revise their journal-logs for the novel, if they've been getting bad marks--and if they've missed some, they can turn them in for partial credit (better than a zero). I also told them that if they've not done their glossaries to date, they can produce one big one for next week, and I'll use the grade on that for each submission they should have been making all along. I did, however, warn them to focus first on their in-progress papers. Way more important. It will be interesting to see what I get. My guess is that, as usual, the best students will take advantage of the opportunity and do better; the students who really need to take me up on the offer won't.

I also spoke with one student after class. He'd e-mailed me over the weekend, concerned about his absences and his work. Turns out he doesn't have to worry about absences--he's at but not over the limit--but his work is another story. I asked what he'd been hoping to get out of the class, and he said he'd wanted a B but could see that wasn't possible; he also said he was unhappy with himself because he'd wanted to do better with time management this semester and had not been able to do that. I told him I agreed with him that he had the potential to earn a B, but that obviously this was a difficult semester for him. I'm leaving it up to him whether he wants to withdraw or gut it out, knowing he won't get the grade he wants; we discussed his options, and I told him to think it over and let me know. I also told him I'd hate to lose him from the class--and he said that made him feel good, that he felt much better about himself and the situation because I said that. I find that touching.

There are two other students in the class who are facing the "withdraw or fail" decision. One of them I don't mind losing: he's loaded with potential but he's opting to spend his time stoned, which is maddening, and a shame. But since that's his choice, I'm more than happy to let him deal with the consequence. The other student who is in that situation I truly hate to lose. She's also had a snake-bit semester, lots of personal problems, but when she's there, the whole class dynamic shifts into a higher gear: she's intelligent and personable and filled with energy. But she has six absences, and that's the "no options left" point--never mind the fact that she didn't turn in her second essay at all and has missed other assignments.

If I lose all three of them--and I probably will--that leaves ten students out of the initial twenty-four. Ouch, but typical.

I spent some time with Kayla after class, coming up with a game plan for Monday, when the first in-progress portion of their papers is due. I'm going to mix peer review with conferencing; we'll see how it goes.

And I'm looking at my calendar for next week. Jesus, I've made things hard on myself by trying to accommodate a life in addition to marking papers. Shit. Oh well.

But there are only four more weeks of the semester, and only three of them will require any kind of grind. Hoo-fucking-ray. With that vision of the end of the tunnel before me, it's time to figure out what I want for dinner tonight and get the hell out of here. I have to make a stop at Staples for more supplies for the damned application, but then it's unwind time in spades. Woof indeed.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Swearing at myself

It's been a day full of it. Screwing up assignment sheets and having to print them multiple times, losing track of things, dropping stuff (literally as well as metaphorically). I did put some time into the Chancellor's Award, but I am also in an abject panic about it for tomorrow. Every time I talk to Paul, he says, "You're including X, right?" and of course I hadn't thought to, and now feel I have to, but that means I have to say something substantive about it. Fuck fuck fuck.

Well, worst case scenario, I pull out at the last second and go up again (fourth time?) next year. I may beg for a stay of execution (not sure how likely that is). Oh, who knows. Tomorrow.

The triumph of today was not only getting assignments out from under my feet (so I feel "cleaner" heading into Chancellor's Award madness tomorrow) but also my meetings with students. One student didn't show up (hmmm), but the one who was so upset last Thursday had a very productive half hour with me--and I believe she sees now why her grades were unsatisfactory. It was wonderful to watch her thinking so hard--smoke very nearly pouring out her ears with the gears whirring inside. I asked her a couple of questions and when she didn't have the answer, it was quite clear she hadn't done the thinking yet that she needs to. In other places, the ideas were there, but the connections hadn't been made.

But my favorite moment was when she asked me about a specific idea in an introductory paragraph. She said, "I thought this was what we went over in class, but I guess I was wrong." No, I said; you're not wrong, but look: first you mention freedom; then you are talking about nature. They're two different things, so you need to explain what Gary Snyder means about the way those two things are related. We talked about it for a while, and she said, "So the idea wasn't bad?" No, I said, you just need to explain the connection. Then (here it comes), I said, "Now, what does my written comment say?" She read aloud: "Freedom and nature are two different things, so you need to explain this." Oh.

I also had a meeting with the inadvertent plagiarist from 102. He's now utterly gun-shy about the issue (good!), so he wanted me to take a look at a preliminary portion of his final paper to see if he's using the critical source correctly. Almost, but we talked about the problems--and a few others I noticed. Again, it was wonderful to see the gears turning.

And at the end of both conferences, the students left smiling. Wonderful.

Class was terrific (always). I chunked away at the application until I dashed off to an event I thought was tonight: wrong night. Ah well. Now it's time for a quick dinner and dance class. And please God, I won't wake up an hour before the alarm again tomorrow. I'm getting damned annoyed with that little physical habit. I need sleep, and by cracky, I intend to get it.

Monday, April 16, 2012


I don't know how days get away from me like this. I was so sure I'd get all the assessment packets read tonight before I ran out of steam, but I still have one whole set to go. Dammit. I didn't quite get the journal-logs marked for 102--though only one student who was there didn't get his, because he had to leave early; the other unmarked sets were for students who didn't show up, so I got a reprieve on that. Advisement was a constant stream of students--and it's going to be like this for the rest of the semester, I'd guess. Students weren't in a holding pattern waiting for seats, like they were at the end of last semester, but still, the chairs were pretty well filled, and filling more as I left.

Today's Nature in Lit session was another with minimal attendance: two of the five. I got an e-mail over the weekend from one student who said he thought he should withdraw. Perhaps he should, but I want to try to keep him, as I think he's finally understanding what I want in terms of papers. He missed class today, not having gotten my e-mail encouraging him to talk to me before he decides to withdraw, but I'll welcome him back on Thursday. The young woman whose feathers were so ruffled on Thursday by the grades on her papers was conspicuously absent today. I'm supposed to meet with her tomorrow morning at 10: I sent an e-mail reminder, and I hope she shows. If we just talk a few times, I think she can get there.

This whole class is an interesting experience. In some ways, I'm letting go of standards left, right, and center, removing requirements from assignments (such as the research component from their second essays), dropping my draconian late assignment policies (turn it in whenever, just turn it in)--and yet I don't feel that squirmy sense of violating my principles that I feel at the prospect of similar adjustments in other circumstances. I honestly don't think my acceptance of my own laxity is a subconscious adjustment so I don't feel sick about what I'm doing to keep the students in the room. Rather, I think I'm realizing, more rationally, that a lot of my fierce policies arise from A) the need to keep the work flow under control so I don't get swamped and B) the desire to train students about academic culture (not to mention a modicum of adult responsibility). In this particular situation, the work flow is not a problem. (I mean, really, five students? Cinch.) And yes, it's true, the students are not anywhere near as responsible as they ought to be--and as they will have to be as life goes on--but they're responsible enough for here, now. I get idiotically stubborn about things and hold on to unnecessary requirements--for myself as well as for my students. I'm hoping this semester is a good experience in how much I can let go and still feel like I'm doing a good job.

The main thing is, they're learning. That's really all I want. They're learning.

The 102 class was in the library today, and apart from having to rather firmly tell two young men to focus on the class itself (rather than logging in to other sites because "I've had this [library] class twice before," or texting in the guise of "making sure I have this URL"), the class went well. No one asked any questions, but everyone seemed to be following along beautifully, and generally they said they were finding helpful sources. The librarian had put together an online guide specifically for my course, simplifying the students' work exponentially; I'm hoping that pays off. In any event, it was an easy time for me, as I sat in the back marking their assignments....

The main thing that's worrying me right now is the Chancellor's Award. I didn't work on it much this weekend (a mix of my own resistance and the need to visit a dear friend in the hospital), and now the week looks like could potentially silt up like mad. Shit. I probably will have to bail on Advisement on Wednesday. They'll be annoyed, but tough. I need the time, and I don't see another window for it, unless a miracle occurs tomorrow. We don't have P&B, which is a help--and I'm trying to persuade myself that students can live until next week without getting marked assignments back (journal-logs, papers, anything). But even so, what with student meetings and class and an evening event, I doubt tomorrow will be sufficient. But we'll see (as the mantra goes). If need be, I'll give myself a huge window on Wednesday, from early morning up to class--and after, if necessary.

I should head for the hills right now, try to get the evening wind-down started (always a protracted process for me: like a semi, it takes me a long time to gear up, but once I'm rolling full speed, it also takes me a long while to come to a stop. But I think I'll take a look at Paul's (huge and dauntingly complete and amazing) Chancellor's Award application so I have a sense of what to do next. Once I have some ideas to let percolate overnight, I'll be more ready to face the fucker, just do it and get it done. It is a snorting pain in the ass, but the bragging rights--and the line on the CV--will be worth it. And, should I get the award (which is statistically likely), I get a nifty medallion on a ribbon to wear with my academic regalia for the rest of forever. Cool beans.

And that's the positive spin for the day. Not at all a bad day, so no big spin required.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


I'm going to have to take work home this weekend--in addition to the Chancellor's Award application, which I had planned to give my full attention to, as I have to have done by the end of next week. Damn. What I have to bring home is not a lot to add, but still, ew. I find myself in that position because I've not slept well the last few nights, and even though I had all intentions of chunking through a lot of work tonight after class, my eyes are drifting closed as I try to read--which obviously means it's a bit hard to evaluate what I'm reading.

I've been reading the essays for an Assessment study on whether our attempts to improve revision are bearing fruit. (I was supposed to have done this before the break. Ah well.) A few semesters ago, essays were collected from a random sample of professors, including an early draft and the final of each student's paper; everyone on the departmental assessment committee got a couple of classes worth of paired student papers to evaluate. So far, the packets I've been looking at have been 001 sections, and at least most of the students are making some kind of attempt at revision, which is good. I'm happy to see that they're mostly focusing on revising at the idea level, rather than merely editing at the sentence level, even though the sentence level problems are pretty atrocious--and sometimes inadvertently very funny. A couple of examples:

"[Texting while driving] is against the law in 97% of every single state part of the United States of America."

"Texting is against the law and also is very illegal."

But I've gotten to the point where all the sentences look like that to me. Time to quit reading for now.

And I find I'm not able to summon the energy to say much about the teaching today. Nature in Lit was again a bit of a debacle: only one student had a journal/log and paper to turn in. I let them know I'm pretty pissed off, and they hung their heads, staring intently at the table rather than meeting my eyes. But somehow I don't think their apparent shame is going to translate into an increase in submitted work. I did have to have a brief talk with one student after class: she got back her mini-papers and flounced around over the grades, then spent the rest of the class texting (no doubt complaining about her utter unreasonable bitch of a teacher). She was sullen and resentful when I started talking with her, but after some reassurance and soothing talk from me, she managed to summon a genuine smile as she was leaving (though I'm not sure how deep it went). Fortunately I have two meetings with her next week to talk about her papers; I hope the one-on-one helps her see what she needs to do to get closer to the grades she wants. I think I've said this before, but the sad truth is that she wants A's, and I don't think she has an A brain. She is, however, capable of hard work, and that can be some compensation for sheer, blazing intelligence. We'll see.

Native American Lit, by contrast, was delicious. The Whiner had an excuse about her paper (of course) and didn't have her journal-log (of course), and had missed her meeting with me last night (with stupid excuses), but she at least was there and sort of trying. Everyone else came through with the work--and with wonderful questions and comments and connections about Ceremony. I will probably have to come to class with a burlap bag to suppress the senior observer (following the Alice in Wonderland guinea-pig method), but other than that, the class is a delight.

In fact, I realize I'm remarkably un-depressed for this time of semester. Paul said that the Tuesday P&B meeting was largely a bitch session about how little our society values a liberal arts education in general and how woefully unprepared our students are in specific--and that he felt better knowing he's not the only one to feel profound despair. Normally at this time of year I'd be tearing my hair out with frustration and anguish, but not this term. Fewer students, I reckon, and therefore less crap writing to wade through. Next semester, when I'm teaching two sections of 102, will be an interesting test of whether anything else has changed (better pedagogy, more patience, who knows).

The only source of frustration for me this week was that I've become the target of what borders on e-mail harassment. I'm choosing to ignore it for now, but I've already talked to Bruce about how to handle it should it continue or escalate. But still, ick. It's a good opportunity for me to work on practicing compassion. Not only can I feel compassion for my poor students, who have to get over enormous hurdles to succeed, I can feel compassion for the harasser, who must have some deep psychic pain in order to behave this way.

Funny how much that helps me relax and reframe the whole week.

Well, I've already shoved the 102 journal-logs and glossaries into my "take home" bag. I've watered the office plants. I have a triage list going. Nothing more remains for today here at work. And we'll see what next week brings.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

on the fly

Taking two extra days for spring break resulted in a rather frightening silting up of the work flow. It's going to take a while for me to dredge through so things can start moving effectively again (or as effectively as they ever do).

I had a rather nice meeting with the plagiarizing student from 102 today. He doesn't come from the American academic tradition, and so I believe he honestly didn't realize that he needs to credit ideas as well as exact words in order to avoid plagiarism. (Even if he's blowing smoke, I prefer to believe him.) Even though the "Paul Letter" says the zero for plagiarism cannot be mitigated in any way, I've opted to let this student rework his paper to demonstrate that he knows how to avoid plagiarism. If he does so successfully, I'll give him half the credit the paper would have earned if he hadn't plagiarized in the first place. So if, once it's fixed, I deem that it is a B paper (and 83, as I figure it), then he'll get a 41.5. Better than a zero. And he's genuinely grateful; in fact, he nearly cried with relief.

Class today went fine. I was inventing how it would go as Kayla and I walked across campus--and the eleven students who were there did pretty well. We started by talking about their final paper assignment, and they asked some good questions to be sure they understand what I'm looking for. Then I had them individually write down in priority order the questions they had about the novel--any of it, from start to where we are now. Once they'd had a chance to jot down some questions, we sat in a circle and went around a couple of times, each student asking a question, getting clarification. They didn't ask about some of the more curious plot points; instead they were asking more conceptual questions--which actually delights me. They also came up with some great realizations, specifically about one of the main characters. I know they have more questions they haven't asked, possibly places where they don't realize they're confused (if that makes sense), but I'm hoping their journal/logs and glossaries reveal areas that need further clarification.

They have their library class on Monday, in which they are given guidance in doing their research for their final papers. I know those classes are tremendously important to the students (as they have no real idea how to do research), but I always feel a certain frustration in "losing" a day in which we could further discuss the novel, dig in a bit deeper. I was very happy that one student said she intends to read the new chapters over the weekend--and then go back and reread as much as she can up to that point. Yes! Rereading: what a wonderful idea.

Shifting gears, today's departmental assessment meeting was also interesting. I arrived very late--but was in time to participate in taking a big concept of importance to us as teachers and trying to figure out how to turn it into a "quantifiable" assessment tool to feed the administrative monsters that require frequent sacrifices of data. I'm taking on a bit more in that committee than I really want to (helping the secretary draft the year-end report--because I have a sense of what they should look like, what will feed the monster--as well as making a visit to the head of the monster department to find out what the fuck we're supposed to do with the new data-collection program)--but it's balanced by the work I'm ditching on all the other committees I'm on, including college-wide assessment. I'll only go to one meeting this semester; I think I only went to one last. That's two of eight. Ah well. My sanity is intact; that's the main thing.

I'm realizing as I write this that I'm being stood up by a student who was supposed to meet with me--the Whiner, who is still whining about her grades (and who wanted me to show her specific examples in her papers of what she's doing wrong--which assumed A, that I have her papers memorized or am carrying them around with me wherever I go; B, that it's my responsibility to point out AGAIN the areas where she has problems; and C, that the problem is so simple it can be explained in an e-mail). When I see her in class tomorrow, she's going to get a pretty severe talking to. I'm sick of the excuses and the pity plays. If you want to do better, fucking get the help you need--or shut up.

So there.

But now, I need to get back to the mess on my desk and figure out what's there. I'm not rereading this: it goes up, filled with errors and infelicities though it may be. No time for careful crafting right now.