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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Done, as in Finished

I'd have been out of here a while ago, but the Shining Star showed up wanting to know her final grade and wanting feedback on her paper (which, I have to say, was brilliant--a little rough in a few places, but truly, brilliant). Instead of writing comments either today or next week (the idea of which made me faintly ill, even for such a terrific paper), I read it aloud to her and talked my comments, writing a few reminder notes in the margins. Cool to see her thinking through her ideas more fully, absorbing the critique, learning, learning. And as usual, we got into a general conversation--which almost lasted long enough to make her late for her final final. Her paper was an A+. Her grade for the semester, an A, even though she'd started with B's. I'm glad it worked out that way; I'd have hated to give her anything less.

And she's the only A of the semester. There is a reasonable crop of B's and C's; only one D--and a huge dollop of F's and W's. Ah well.

But all the grades have been submitted electronically and on paper. It took me more of the day to get all that done than I anticipated--mostly because I also was helping with the year-end Assessment report, which needed some serious work (but I'm sticking with my role as Conceptualizer; the secretary of the committee is stuck with the hateful task of actually putting it all into a document). But I also ended up chatting with a few students, not just Shining Star, but also Wonder Student, working out the preliminary schedule for his fulfillment of the Incomplete--and a surprise visit from a student from last semester. He was one of the more boisterous members of my preferred section of 102 in the fall, a group that was more animated and vigorous than the other section--and he's charming, so it was a nice chat.

I also found a few other little pearls that had been hiding between the floor-boards, but I got them dug out and back on the string. Or however that metaphor makes sense.

In any event, my desk and bookshelves remain Haz-Mat sites, but I'm not going to stay to tidy anything up. If I feel like hanging out after scheduling sessions next week, I'll chip away at it then. Or some other time. Or not. The worst of what's on my desk will get cleaned up eventually, just so I can function at the start of the fall semester, but the rest has spent years in a state of increasing entropy (in the sense in which "improbable order succumbs to more probable chaos"*). I don't see any urgency to stop that process now.

I can't believe the semester is actually over. I know Paul and I celebrated last night, but I feel like something is needed--a ceremony, if you will (since I just spent an hour talking about ideas of ceremonies in Silko's novel). I'll have to think that over. And I will be back next week--maybe even tossing in a blog entry or two--but generally, I'll be in summer mode as of tomorrow morning: few if any posts until August.

Have a wonderful summer, dear readers. I'll write more on the flip side.

*Eric Zencey, "Some Brief Speculations on the Popularity of Entropy as Metaphor," North American Review, 1986; JSTOR

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


I probably could have finished up today, except I'm waiting for assignments to trail in from two students from the Lit courses. One is the young woman from Nature in Lit, who came so far, I would hate for her grade to take a nose-dive because of missing journal-logs. The other is Shining Star, who was in an abject panic yesterday. Somehow, what got saved on her flash drive was a rough draft of her final paper: she'd lost all the work she'd done to finish and polish. In another student, I might sneer at the excuse, but I do believe her. In any event, she deserves the chance to submit the best possible paper. She was miserable about having lost the work, saying that what she'll hand in "won't be what it was." No, I said, but that doesn't mean it will be worse: it could, in fact, be better. In her reply e-mail, she said she chose to believe that the universe didn't like her paper as well as she did and was therefore forcing her to try again. Yeah, let's go with that.

That whole group was lovely yesterday. They all felt they'd learned a lot, but the most moving part to me was that one student in particular said she felt she was a better person for having been exposed to the philosophies and ethics underlying Native cultures. They all admitted the course was wildly difficult, but they all also said that as a consequence, it was the course they cared most about doing well in. (Nice confirmation, that.) And when I opened the discussion up to anything they wanted to talk about, the one who'd been my student last semester said, "I want to know about your road." I asked if she meant in the semester, but no: she wanted to know how I got where I am. So I gave them the Cliff's Notes version--and showed them my dissertation (it's nice for me to trot it out from time to time so I remember the accomplishment that was--and how much I loved it). I truly am going to miss them all, and I hope they keep in touch. I don't think they'll join the ranks of former students who have become friends of one sort or another (well, Shining Star could, possibly), but I want to know that they're doing well.

Today was largely about finishing up reading final papers for the lit courses and beginning to crunch numbers. I also decided on a course of action for the definite plagiarist. Even though I said the students needed to check for a message from me (one was so conscientious that she double-checked via e-mail, as her phone is out of whack), she didn't--so I wrote her a letter. It has a "more in sorrow than in anger" tone--or at least that's what I was aiming for--but I told her A) I'm going to give her one and only one chance to fix the problem. Consequently, she is getting an Incomplete for now. B) In order to fix the problem, the first thing she has to do is contact me via e-mail to set up a meeting. Then, she has to fix the offending bits of her paper and resubmit it no later than June 6. C) If she doesn't contact me, or doesn't adequately fix the problem, or misses the resubmission deadline, on June 7 I'll submit a change of grade form and change her grade from an Incomplete to an F. If she does abide by all the stipulations, her final paper grade will be reduced 10 points from what it would have gotten if she'd done it right in the first place, but I'll include the final paper when I calculate her course grade and, again, submit the grade change on the 7th. I went back and forth about whether to send the letter to the Dean of Students and ultimately decided not to. I think the chances that this young woman would repeat the error are microscopic, so I prefer not to involve any higher powers in the situation.

But I also sat here crunching numbers and waiting for Mr. Shrug and Smirk and Ms. Lovely to show up to collect their final papers with my comments. I made Mr. S&S read my comments and then tell me what he thought his grade on the paper should be. His estimation matched mine, so that's what I gave him. He passed the class with a C--and he's got the potential to be an A student, in terms of his intelligence, but the work part is severely deficient. He actually was lucky to get the C; if I'd counted his absences against him, he'd have failed. But he was very sweet, in his gawky, awkward, socially inept way; clearly he's been humbled by being in my class, and clearly he appreciated the experience; he sort of didn't want to leave, but as he did, he awkwardly stuck out his hand for me to shake. I think he really wanted a hug, but I don't offer those--and would be uncomfortable about it with someone like him in any event. (He seems to need a Mommy, poor dear, but I ain't gonna fill that role.) Ms. Lovely also read over the comments, and when I told her she'd get a B for the class, she was thrilled. She also said she might e-mail me with questions about my comments (she didn't have any as she was sitting here), and that would be cool. I love it when students don't want to stop learning. (I love that about people in general, in fact.)

So I'm all but done. I have some Assessment business still to do--not my own assessment of my Native American Lit students, which took all of two minutes to do, but helping put together the department's annual report (generally speaking, a tedious and snorting pain in the ass). That plus evaluating those last bits of student work to come in, crunching the last of the numbers, and filling out the forms will take me off with a bang and a couple of sobs (as said in some British murder mystery I've read a zillion times; I can't now even remember which one). I plan to stay here through the time when I would normally hold class tomorrow afternoon, but with any luck at all, most of the day I'll either be helping Bruce with adjunct scheduling or (even better), I'll be cleaning out files and maybe even (dare I say it?) cleaning out the rat's nest that is my bookcase. And please God let nothing suddenly appear snarling on the doorstep, needing to be tamed at the last minute. I want to head into next week, and the scheduling of full-time faculty and gathering of requests for adjuncts' desk copies of text books, with nothing but that to do.

So tonight, I can sail off to a steak and scotch blow-out with Paul. He almost couldn't do it, as he is still buried under papers to grade (and was thinking he needed to provide comments; I'm afraid he needs an intervention). But he decided that a man needs to eat anyway, and that the couple of hours to decompress might be exactly what he needs. I'm glad he came to that on his own, as I didn't want to resort to emotional blackmail. Now I don't have to, and I still get the treat of one of our decadent evenings.

Speaking of which, it's time to get in the car and roll.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


No time for detail, or complete sentences. Flew out of the office so I could do laundry before dance--but the quick update is:

Plagiarism Detector didn't, so I'm working on the assumption that the various possibles are clean, and that the one definite is only guilty of the small bits I caught. Of course, she's not responding to phone message or e-mail saying she needs to meet with me tomorrow, so I'm working out a plan B.

Big kerfuffle in P&B today (emergency meeting, in fact; we'd originally planned no meeting). Icky situation which I won't get into here, but it did take a bite out of what I wanted to get done.

Got through the adjunct scheduling; now it's up to Bruce--and the office staff--to figure out what I fucked up and fix it. Yeesh.

Students from Native American Lit still excessively cool. I hope to say more about that tomorrow. I'll miss them.

Now I just have to wade through all the late submissions of stuff and final papers for the lit classes--and do a very small assessment of the Native American Lit students (long story, won't bother now)--and then I crunch numbers and am done.

Maybe tomorrow I'll get a chance to eat lunch; didn't today.

Again with the Yeesh.

over and out until tomorrow.

Monday, May 14, 2012


I have another plagiarist in 102. Maybe three of them. And the Accidental Plagiarist did the exact same thing, missing needed citations for ideas from his sources, on his final paper. So never mind all my fussing about what to do with his second essay: I told him he needed to learn what plagiarism is before he's ready to move on to the next level. He asked if I could give him a D. No, I said: you need to take the class over. He was furious--but civil to me (thank god for the respect taught in other cultures), and he stormed in with the withdrawal form shortly after class ended. The young woman who almost caught fire but turned in her paper late was surprisingly unfazed by being told that I wouldn't accept the paper and that she wouldn't pass the class. I gave her a lecture about responsibility, and told her that she was driving me crazy because she could have been a good student if she'd done the work. She listened and nodded, said "OK," and left. So, OK.

But the other instances of definite or suspected plagiarism bother me. The definite one is the paper by a lovely young woman who has tons of potential. Clearly she's gotten good grades before now because of that potential, but as the semester progressed, it became increasingly clear that her deficiencies were deeper and more problematic than first appeared. I need to check the rest of her paper (I'll run it through the plagiarism detector program when I get home), but I already found one small instance. I didn't talk to her about it today; I just told the whole class that I might have to call people in for individual conferences--and I already knew that she was going to get the call. I'll determine her fate partly depending on what the rest of the plagiarism check shows up, partly depending on her response when I confront her with what she's done. But I'm deeply disappointed that she'd even try the bit that I see so far. I'm sure she was motivated by panic, but still; for someone with that much potential to fall back on cheating at the end is simply painful.

The other two papers I haven't checked yet. As I began reading the second of the problematic papers, I noticed some ideas that made me wonder; then a few distinctive phrases raised more red flags. I'm hoping like hell that the time I spend typing it up so I can run it through the program proves that she has not, in fact, cheated. She's struggled a lot more than the other young woman, splashing about but not even quite dog-paddling yet, but still, if she's opted to cheat at the end, I'll be distressed.

 And the third is Mr. Shrug and Smirk. He wants comments on his paper--and he may get comments he doesn't much like. At the very least, he's guilty of not providing sufficient credit for ideas from a source; I'm hoping that's all. But I'm going to type it up and run the detector check just in case there's more.

I fucking hate this.

On a nicer note, the students from Nature in Lit gave me a lot of helpful feedback. Indeed, Wonder Student made a suggestion that I ran past the 102 students, too, and I like it so well I'm going to try to use it in all my classes in the fall. He suggested that I demonstrate the kind of thinking/questioning that needs to happen when approaching a work of literature, that I present a work that is not on the syllabus, go through it and show what analysis looks like. My first idea was to present students with a short text and my own journal-log, but the students in 102 said it would be more helpful to see it "live," as it were. So I'm going to figure out how to do that: PowerPoint (one screen cross-fading into another, items being added...)? A Word document with the "Notes" feature activated? If I do this, I will have to be on top of the game very early, as I'll also have to make sure I have the AV set-up ready for the various rooms, which would have to be requested well in advance. The need to be ready with it early may be a significant impediment to my actualizing this plan. But it sure seems valuable.

The Nature in Lit students across the board had good feedback. (I think I need to institute the whole self-evaluation thing for lit electives, too, by the way.) They also suggested that it would be very helpful to have some critical readings specifically assigned. I don't remember if I ever tried doing so in that course, but I do it in Native American Lit, so it would make sense to do it for Nature in Lit, too. (It would be harder to implement in the Short Story class, as students have too many options for what to write about--but maybe I need to devote one day to a critical source that we all read, maybe even a critical source about the same piece I do my analysis demo on...?) But the three of them clearly learned a lot this semester, and they are aware of it, which is lovely.

It was especially sweet to me that the young woman, who almost abandoned the class in frustration over her grades at one point, gave me a thank-you card and gift. The card reads, "You pushed me, and continued to push me. Thank you so much for a wonderful semester. Enjoy your summer. You can start it off with a great book!" She and I had had a conversation about Wicked, which she loved, so she gave me a copy. Lovely. I'm genuinely moved, and said so.

I also got a sweet thank you and gift from Kayla: a charming card, a bottle of wine, and Swamplandia, which is one of her favorite books (and which has been on my library list for ages; now I own it). The best gift from her, however, is that she wants to do another internship in the fall--and if she does, she'll either intern my Short Story class, or she may intern one of Paul's 101 classes. Either way, she'll be around, and that will be delightful.

And with that, I hit a wall. I think I can manage to type in the remaining suspect papers so I don't have to do it at home and can just run the program, but then it's homeward bound for me.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sorting it out

I just did some number crunching for the 102 students, hoping it would shed some light on what I should do about the two problem students I mentioned yesterday. I did talk to one of my advisers (the other I didn't see today)--and I also bounced the case of the Syllabus Misreader off the students in Native American Lit. I only did so because, as I was heading to that class, I saw that Syllabus Misreader had left her final paper on my office door. Mind you, she never sent the e-mail I told her to send--and apparently she didn't check her e-mail, either, as she also never responded to the message that I sent her. In any event, I was stewing about it as I walked into class, and one of the students commented on my apparent dismay. So I told them what was happening. It was interesting to get their perspective. At first, the two who joined in on the conversation were inclined to grant mercy: "Well, she did do the work," one pointed out, "But then, I'm also biased." Naturally a student would be inclined to suggest clemency. However, as I provided further details, my student from last semester asked, "Well, has she been on top of things the rest of the semester?" Not so much. At that point, both the students flipped their recommendation with no hesitation. They recommended no mercy--because this wasn't a one-time offense but evidence of a pattern. Good point.

The case was made even more clear for me when I looked at what the student had submitted. Included with the versions of her paper was the original assignment sheet--with the due date clearly stated. Further, I'd forgotten that she'd had some excuse about the first version, didn't have it the day it was due--and I already granted her mercy in that instance. So not again. I'm not sure whether to allow her to withdraw or simply to give her the F, but at the moment I'm inclined toward the latter. That inclination is partly because I think she may need a very sharp slap as a wake-up call--but it's also because I'm pissed off that she's trying to get away with bending the rules not once but twice. As my other students pointed out, it's a pattern. I'd been inclined to grant some mercy because when she's on, she's fine, but not only is her work erratic, she does not evidence much responsibility--so my sympathy is fading rapidly. Even if I let her withdraw, she'll need to take the class again, and either way, she'll be very upset--but apparently that's what she needs.

As for the Accidental Plagiarist, I'm inclined to split the difference. I'm going to maintain the zero for the first versions of that second , and I'll give him half credit for the final version; he did, after all, do the work (following the logic of my Native American Lit student)--and he did finally get it. So his grade will all come down to his final paper. If he does well on that, he may pass. If he doesn't, he won't. Even if he does pass, his grade will be extremely low--so low that if he wants to transfer to another school, he'll have to take the class again. All in all, that wouldn't be a bad idea. So I feel pretty good about that decision.

Other than the momentary hiccup over Syllabus Misreader, today was fine. The two students who remain in Nature in Lit had (surprise!) done all the reading and had missing work to turn in. (Of course, now I have to evaluate it, but I'm going to do the most sketchy possible job.) The young woman followed me back to my office so we could go over her in-progress final paper. She's doing the good work of struggling to clarify her ideas. They're good ideas, but the hard part is demonstrating the connections, ensuring that the points are conveyed fully and well. At one point she said, "This is just really hard!" Yes, it is. Hard for me, too. But that's the work.

I got a decent whack at the adjunct scheduling, too. I had made a few minor errors in what I'd done on Tuesday, but not to the extent I feared. The departmental secretary got a bit annoyed with me at one point; I wasn't sure how to interpret the preference forms, but she assured me that what I saw simply indicated that the instructor wants anything, any time--"Just give me a course, please, I beg you! I'll take anything!" But as I parcel out the courses, I'm starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel in terms of what most people want (or are qualified to teach)--and what I have left isn't easy to distribute. I'll give Bruce a progress report on Monday and ask how he wants me to proceed, whether maybe he and I need to do the rest together. Now's when it gets interesting, and there's a certain amount of horse-trading that can be done, but he knows the ins and outs of that better than I. And Jesus, is it easy to get lost in the underbrush.

Mostly, I am filled with gratitude that the week ends with the Native American Lit class. I really do love them; they are picking up on all the right stuff in the novel--and we could easily have spent another week or two on it. One student realized with a shock that she was missing pages at the end of the story; she knew she was missing something, but she thought maybe only a portion of a page. Nope: she is missing more than 20 pages. Yikes. She borrowed my copy so she can finish the book, her journal-log, and her paper. This is the young woman who admitted to a bias in suggesting mercy for my 102 student; she asked for a bit of mercy for them, too: could they turn in revisions on Tuesday, along with their final papers? I almost said "No," because it means more work for me to do at the last minute. But then I thought, Oh, there are only three of them. What the hell.

In any event, what with the wodges of make-up work I got from the Nature in Lit students today, plus the papers for all three classes, plus those revisions, plus adjunct scheduling, I'm going to have a relatively frantic week next week. So much for that "this will be easy" coast to the end. It won't be as ferocious a push as I've had to face in the past, but more than I'd hoped. I could, of course, take work home this weekend and get a jump start on it, but nah, I don't think so. I'd rather deal with an increased level of flurry next week and have the weekend to (at least metaphorically) lounge about in my PJs. If I change my mind, I can always come to campus and get security to let me into the building....

But I doubt I will.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Well, hell.

Two unfortunate events from students in 102 this afternoon. One, the Inadvertent Plagiarist submitted that paper for the third time. This time he corrected the problem, but apparently he didn't understand that I was giving him one, and only one, chance to un-do the zero he had earned on the first submission. When he did it wrong again, as far as I was concerned, he was done. In the past in a case like this, I'd have said, "Sorry, you only got one chance; the zero stands"--and I may still do that. But on the other hand, he did (finally) do it right--and I know that this wasn't a case of him trying to cheat but a genuine cultural misunderstanding of what is and is not plagiarism. So now I have to figure out what makes sense, whether there's a "teaching opportunity" here. Does the zero stand? Or do I give him some kind of partial-partial credit? (The arrangement when I gave him the chance to fix it was that I'd give him half the credit the paper would have earned if he'd done it right the first time. Do I now give him a quarter of that?) I'm not going to decide now; I need to let this stew for a while--and talk it over with trusted advisers (Ed, Paul)--but I'm annoyed that I even have to make this kind of decision at this point.

The second unfortunate event (I feel like Lemony Snicket) is that a student came to me at the end of class, looking pale and stricken, and told me that she'd checked the syllabus I have online and it said that the final paper is due Monday, the self-evaluation today. She was absolutely certain about that--and because she took it as gospel, she didn't have her paper today. I have something of a vested interest in getting this student over the finish line: she started out the semester silent and apparently with all the lights turned off, but she's been lighting up and her writing has done a significant turn-around. I'd been feeling positive about her chances of ultimate success, despite the fact that she hasn't been as clear and diligent about assignments as I'd ideally like.

But because the lights have been coming on, when she said that she'd seen conflicting information online, I gave her the benefit of the doubt--despite the fact that A) the assignment sheet has the due date very clearly spelled out, twice, and B) for the past two weeks I've gone over when everything is due at least three times, if not more. Further, everywhere that the assignment is mentioned, my handouts clearly say it absolutely MUST be handed in on time or it will not be accepted and the student will fail the class. But the real kicker is, I went to my faculty homepage, downloaded the syllabus that is posted there--and what do you know: it clearly says that the final paper is due today and the self-evaluation on Monday.

So either she's trying to get away with something (possible), or she found an old syllabus somewhere (though I can't imagine where), or she was looking at the syllabus for one of my lit electives; their papers are indeed due Monday. But now what do I do? Do I give her the F--or tell her she needs to withdraw? This is a pretty egregious fuck-up; at very least, she's not paying attention (or not taking responsibility for checking up on an apparent discrepancy: "Hey, Professor, you've been saying in class that the paper's due Wednesday, but this syllabus I'm looking at says Monday: what's the deal?") On the other hand, I want to give some positive reinforcement to the fact that she's been turning things around (feels similar to the dilemma I'm in about the Accidental Plagiarist: I at least want to acknowledge the learning that has occurred). So do I accept the paper but give it some kind of whopping penalty? If I do that, she probably won't pass anyway, as her early work has already given a huge hit to her grade; given that fact, does it make more or less sense to accept the paper at all?

Again, I need to take some time to stew, and to consult with the inner circle. In this case, I also need to see how the student responds to my e-mail informing her that the syllabus online does, in fact, have the correct due dates. A lot will depend on what she says, or (more to the point) if she responds at all.

So poor Paul has been tripping all over deliberate plagiarism from his students, and I may find myself there, too, in this last shove, but I think these problems are going to be my trial for the end of semester. If this is as bad as it gets, I truly can't complain, but it feels icky. I don't like this kind of conundrum; it's too easy to second-guess my decision ad nauseum. I have been known to make decisions that I think work well and to feel good about them ever after--and I've been known to make decisions that I regret profoundly. Ick, ick, ick.

In any event, the rest of the students pretty much flung their papers at me and fled. Fine by me. The Lovely Young Woman arrived late, but she was the only one of the bunch to take the time to reread her paper (and found and corrected a "bozo error" in the process). She's also the only one who wants comments on the final paper, and the only one who has said she wants to come to the office to get a final grade sheet from me on Wednesday. Somehow I expect that her paper will be the best of the lot. I hope so; it would delight me no end. Brains plus work. There it is again.

More in the "relief" column: I presented the stuff about TaskStream (the idiotic Assessment program) to the committee and survived. I did see the kinds of faces I was anticipating (stunned, pissed off, bewildered--all appropriate reactions), and weirdly, the person I had the hardest time talking to about the stuff was Bruce. He kept saying, "We do this anyway," and I kept saying, "Yes, but now we have to do it IN THE PROGRAM, and we have to be a lot more specific in order to fit inside what the program requires. So even once we have the conceptual stuff in place--which we don't, really--we still have to input it, or take out what we don't want." He kept saying, dismissively, "How long could that take?" Well, to do it right, longer than he thinks. The front end stuff is going to be heinous in the extreme. Once we're into the groove with it, it may make reportage easier, which would be nice--but we have to be very careful that this computerized tail doesn't wag the educational pooch. But now there are five of us who will be actively involved in both the conceptual stuff and in the hands-on adjustments in the damned "work space." The two of us who were originally trying to sort all this out have been joined by highly intelligent reinforcements. When I told Paul the composition of that subcommittee, he agreed with me that we got pretty much the cream of the crop: people who will actually think and get stuff done, both.

Speaking of getting stuff done, the real pleasure of the day was that I managed to churn through most of the stuff I had wanted to accomplish yesterday, so I was able to cross a bunch of things off that triage list. Hallelujah. This means that tomorrow, between classes, I can turn my attention to the adjunct scheduling again and both sort out any mess I may have made yesterday plus make some forward progress. That'd be sweet.

And it's early, given when I'm usually finishing up a blog post and getting ready to pack up my tents--yet I'm able to head home with as clear a conscience as possible. I'm not going to say that I may get a breather here, or that the end of the semester may actually be relatively easy and smooth (saying so seems to jinx things), but at least I know I can take it easy tonight, and that's enough bliss right there.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


I keep getting derailed today; I'm not sure why. I had a few simple tasks to accomplish around the time I needed to spend doing scheduling for Bruce, P&B, and my one class, and somehow none of it has gotten done. None. Part of the derailing has been caused by interesting conversations with Paul--including one about the Assessment bullshit that we're dealing with. I'm happy to have the conversations with him, even when it means he leaves and I find myself in the office thinking "Fuck! Now I'm behind!" Worth it, worth it to talk about anything with Paul.

But thinking about tomorrow's morning assessment meeting has me hyperventilating and very nearly in a flop sweat--and I don't have to do anything except explain to the rest of the committee what the hairball is. I'm having the anxiety reaction simply from thinking about the process I'm going to be explaining, and how utterly hateful it is, and knowing that my colleagues are going to be as miserable about it as I am. None of the displeasure will be directed at me, obviously, but I hate knowing that I'm about to do the equivalent of plugging all my colleagues into a socket--and knowing that I took on the task of my own free will. I am not (repeat NOT) going to do the hateful work that needs to be done, but I despise even thinking about it.

We actually talked about this in P&B, and that got me frazzled enough. The best part will be after the meeting, when I will have passed the buck quite firmly. I am being nominated as one of the people with the power to get into the new web program and edit our departmental information (which means I have to go through what is reported to be a dull and useless training session), but I'm not going to do the clerical shit. I'm hanging on to my role as a concept person only. And that alone is enough to make me sick.

Which, of course, begs the question, why did I take it on? I did because this is one of the places where I can try to mitigate the ill-effect of this administration on our ability to actually educate. I'm not putting my energy into the "activist" stuff; I'll do this. I understand what's at stake; I have a sense for how to head off the ugly shit and turn this (as much as possible) to our benefit; and I know how to do the tasks that must be done. But I hate like hell that the stakes are so complicated: not high for this one piece, but attached to things that are very high stakes indeed. However, as Bruce and I were saying, what can they do if we're late or inadequate with getting everything set up as has been mandated? They can tsk and point to us as the Awful Warning of a Department That Is Fucking Up, but anything else? Really? I don't think so. But I wouldn't bet the farm that they wouldn't possibly try something more. I'm not sure what, but nothing seems beyond the consideration of this administration. (Withholding pay? Knee-capping?)

Ach. Blech. Yuck. Enough.

A bigger concern is when I'll be able to find more time this week to work on those adjunct schedules. I am concerned that I may have made enormous mistakes already, and I think I have to go back and check my work before I go on: the departmental secretary already caught one howling blunder and pointed out a few smaller potential errors, and if I don't sort out any possible mistakes now, fixing them will get exponentially harder. But the process is more complex than I remembered--partly because I'm doing it alone (Bruce and I did it together last year, so he did some of the tracking as we went along and I did the rest; this time I have to remember all the recording steps solo), but also because I have to pay attention not only to days and times but to sessions: we have three summer sessions, one of which overlaps the other two, and I have to make sure faculty are getting courses in the session they want, at the times they want, and if they're in the overlapping sessions, that their courses don't conflict timewise. And yes, at this point, it's all done by hand. Nothing goes into the computer until the contracts are signed. The saving grace is that there aren't many courses--nothing like fall semester. But by comparison, doing the full-time schedules is simple and straightforward. Good thing.

After I finish this post, I hope I still have the energy to finish at least some of the work I had on my agenda for today. I do want to remind myself (always) of what is good--and the students in Native American Lit are the best. Today the second versions of their papers were due, and I read each paper aloud, commenting as I went along about what needed to be addressed for final versions. It was cool to watch the students whose papers were not being evaluated take in what I was saying about the paper that was. I even saw one student take a note or two as I was talking about her classmate's paper--and I did point out a place where one student should pick up an idea that another brought up. The papers were pretty good, too--still a bit rough, but coming along nicely. Lots of really good ideas, mostly very well expressed. All of them have A-quality ideas; the Shining Light also is expressing them in an A-quality way. There are still a couple of small bumps in her writing (which I didn't bring up today, as there were more important things to talk about; I hope I get the chance on Thursday), but generally, it's excellent. Fluent, cogent, insightful. I'm really happy.

It was also interesting to watch the senior observer taking notes as I gave feedback. She asked whether the students would be including the final pages of the novel (which we're finishing up this week) in the final versions of their papers (of course they will)--and at one point she jumped in to suggest a possible interpretation of what a student had written (um, no: it's the student's paper; let her tell me what she means)--but mostly she was well behaved and engaged.

As I've been writing, I've also been trying to get access to the assessment web thingy, TaskStream. My log in isn't working for some reason, so I have to try to get that sorted out. I want to be able to take a look at it before the meeting so I know what I'm doing when I show it to the rest of the committee (as my partner in arms in this battle will probably have to be late to the meeting--if he can make it at all). I'm breathing through this--and am actually much less fertutzed than I was when I started writing this post. And no matter what else happens, in 45 minutes or so, I'm going to dance class, which will shift everything in a great direction. Ahhhh, nice to have a life that has nothing whatever to do with work.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Almost there...

Remember the scene in the first Star Wars movie, when the Rebel forces are trying to destroy the Death Star? One of the Rebel pilots is heading for the teeny spot where the bomb must be dropped, with a couple of Ti-Fighters on his tail. He keeps saying, "Almost there.... Almost there...." right until he's clipped by a Ti-Fighter, runs into a wall, and is blown to smithereens.

OK, so I don't think that's what's going to happen (even metaphorically), but every time I think, "Almost there!" I hear that guy's voice in my head.

One student showed up for Nature in Lit today. OK by me: we essentially had an extended conference about his paper and "class" finished early. He has some ideas; he just hasn't yet learned to recognize a good thing and dig into it. Instead, he drops them amongst the dross and goes blindly on his way. Well, he's young, and learning. The other student who is working to complete the course dropped her paper off later in the day; I'm in the process of marking it up (easy) and will give it back to her on Thursday. Wonder Student has gone AWOL since deciding to go for the incomplete. I'm letting it slide; he's struggling enough as it is. I'll get in touch with him over the summer to see how he's coming along.

As for 102, all but one of the remaining students showed up today. One asked questions about works cited pages, so I decided to go over that with everyone, again. After that, most of them trooped off; three remained to go over stuff with me. Silent Bob, who has truly been struggling, finally got it (or plagiarized, but I choose to remain positive--and the writing "voice" genuinely did sound like his). I've heard him say more in the last three weeks than I did the whole rest of the semester. I'm hoping the experience helps bring him out of his shell a bit.

The plagiarist had turned in his "revised" paper--but he compounded the error of plagiarism, simply moving the uncredited ideas further from the original language (making it more like stealing), still without any citations or even an entry on the works cited page. Well, I gave him the chance. I don't know if he can pass the class now; we'll see how it all shakes out.

And the darling thing (Former Ms. Chip) has terrific ideas and is pulling them together beautifully. I'm most happy with her work of anyone's. She showed me some sentences she'd been working on, and as I pointed out logic problems, missing connections (through asking questions, of course), she'd smile as she saw the light. Truly lovely--both the young woman herself and watching her open up and warm up and learn.

The one missing student--Mr. Shrug and Smirk--chased me down as I was walking back to my office (the class period wasn't quite over, but I wasn't going to hang out for him). He had missing journal-logs and glossary entries from the past few weeks, but I had wanted to talk to him about his grade being in trouble. We went over what he turned in and what he missed--and I pointed out that a lot would be riding on that final paper. "Why is it that it always comes down to a gamble on the last paper?" he asked. Yes, I responded, why is that? He admitted that the problem is actually his time-management skills; he alluded to his recent bout with severe depression, how last summer he "lost" his management abilities--and I said that indeed, this is what happens: things come up in our lives and we need to learn how to allocate our time all over again. But he seemed much more pleasant, less of the shrugging, smirking attitude he's known for, more of a genuine concern to do well. As I said to him, he has the native intelligence to do well; what he's missing is the drive to work hard enough to do something with that intelligence.

Once again, there it is. Intelligence alone is not enough. Hard work along is not enough. Both are required, in pretty much equal measure.

In any event, the experiences with the students today were positive enough that I don't feel as pissed off and downtrodden about Assessment crap as I might otherwise. It will be interesting to see what the result of Wednesday's meeting is; I hope we get some people lined up to do the work, because it's a lead-pipe cinch that I'm not gonna do it.

This is my new approach to committee work, by the way. I point out a problem and suggest what must be done to fix it. Then I leave. If it actually gets fixed, someone else is going to have to get his or her hands dirty. I'm a consultant only.

Oh, but back to class: I don't remember if I mentioned, but I've decided to add an option to the end-of-semester self-evaluation for 102. They may write a brief essay, which is what I've always asked them to do in the past--or they may opt to write a letter to next semester's students, describing their own experience and letting the future students know what to expect, and what they'll get out of it. I'll be interested to see who takes which option. I did say that I'm taking submission of a letter as granting permission to distribute it to other students (after removing the student's name, of course)--and that proviso may reduce the number of people who go for that option. But we'll see.

Advisement was fine--and (as tends to be the case at this time of year) the best part was that there weren't many students to deal with, so I could spend time doing my own stuff--such as reading over the clauses in the current contract about retirement, particularly early retirement. Yesterday I suddenly thought, "Wait, I'll turn 57 next year; could I take an early retirement?" The answer is, "Sure, if you also win the lottery."

Ah well.

Tomorrow I'll come in at about 9 and finish off the last of the year-end evaluations I have to comment on for P&B, plus whatever other noodley bits I can get done before 10. At 10, I start on summer adjunct scheduling for Bruce. I hope I can get a good jump on it; I'm getting rolling a bit late, and there's a lot that needs to be done. Summer contracts get signed the week after spring classes end, so we need to have the schedules put together next week at the latest--mostly so people can refuse what they're offered, and we still have time to scramble for replacements. Then there will be the last minute adjustments because of classes not running, or being added... but Bruce will have to deal with most of that. By that time I'll be up to my antlers in scheduling full-time faculty.


Tonight, however, I'm going to head out of here early. Theoretically, doing so means I'm blowing off my evening office hour, but I've been here so many other non-office-hour evenings that I don't feel guilty about it. I'm liking the fact that it's now light out when I wake up--even when the alarm is for 5:30--and that it's still light when I get home. But it does screw with my sleep patterns. (How can I start winding down for sleep? It's still light out; surely it isn't even time for dinner yet.) So, I want to get home and get myself settled while it is still light. That way, as soon as it's good and dark, my peepers can slam shut for the night.

And tomorrow is another day.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

another down; two to go

Scratch another week off the calendar for this term. I actually have three weeks to go (one after the end of classes for scheduling full-time faculty and being on hand for adjunct contract signing), but only two more with students. I kind of can't believe it.

Nature in Lit? Fuck. One student showed up--late. She's behind on the assigned pages, so I let her spend most of the period reading on her own while I did more annotating in my own text. We did talk a little about the novella at the end of the class, but we got into a discussion of Disney, and children's literature, and literature's function as a way to learn from experiences one has not actually had.... I'm delighted that she's enjoying the novella just as a story. She doesn't have much of substance to say in terms of analysis, but she's caught up in the characters and plot, getting angry with one set of characters, wondering what's going to happen as a consequence of a revelation that has just occurred. Nice. It's so easy when teaching literature to forget to point out that we're reading something that is meant to be enjoyed. Art. Well, some of it is emotionally difficult, so it isn't all "enjoyable," but it's certainly meant to be "appreciated" (a word I struggle with as students use it; I'm not at all persuaded they know what they mean by it). I sometimes remember to point out when something is beautifully written, or powerful--but I don't spend a lot of time explaining why it's beautiful (like explaining a joke: deadly). I just point out that it is beautiful, and hope students "feel" it.

Which leads me to part of yesterday's class that I forgot to discuss in the post. Looking at the introduction to the novel in particular, students were baffled by some of the rather deep (and, to my mind, amusingly expressed) philosophical concepts Le Guin discusses. An example: Le Guin writes, "Fiction writers, at least in their braver moments, do desire the truth: to know it, speak it, serve it. But they go about it in a peculiar and devious way, which consists in inventing persons, places, and events which never did and never will exist or occur, and telling about these fictions in detail and at length and with a great deal of emotion, and when they are done writing down this pack of lies, they say, There! That's the truth!" Some students--not all--pick up on the fact that fiction is a "pack of lies" because it is invented, not real, not (in one sense) true. But when I ask students the difference between facts and truth, all they can come up with is that truth is opinion. Um, no. Well, yes. But no. I do belong to a school of thought that believes there are truths beyond mere opinion, but--as Le Guin suggests (not so much in the passage I just quoted as elsewhere)--it is difficult to define truth, or express it, or give an example, never mind to explain how something that is not at all real could help us find "truth."

But what struck me is that these students, apparently across the board, have never been called upon to think about what Truth is. Or what truth is. Or how one can lie but tell the truth, why facts are different from truth. Or why "truth is a matter of the imagination" (as Le Guin's protagonist says in the first sentence of the novel). These are young people who have never even glimpsed the deep end, never mind ventured anywhere close to it. I'm deeply concerned about living in the world when they're in charge of it.

It makes me want to appoint myself empress of the universe and completely re-do American education from pre-K on--and tell parents to either get on board or get the hell out of the way.

And yet, there are still young people like the three remaining students in Native American Lit, and not only are they getting into the deep end, they're paddling around in it with enthusiasm. One is even doing some free-diving. It's enormously gratifying. So what makes the difference?

Who knows. But Native American Lit was, as usual, a pleasure, even though we were all pretty crunchy, as in toast. When I see them next, the class will be devoted to on-the-spot feedback on second versions of their papers, so I'm hoping I'll be a great deal more alert than I was today. But between classes, I got the P&B stuff out of my hair (hooray!) and cleared a few other nits off my desk. I fully intended to walk in here after class and go through the remaining chaos on my desk to get things at least semi-organized--but nah. And I'm breathing through the Pavlovian anxiety I feel at the idea of leaving everything on the desk exactly as it is until Monday. I have to be back here tomorrow for a long (loooooong) Assessment symposium (ain't gonna be here when it starts, as I've said: I can't think what would get me to campus at 8 a.m. on a Friday), but the only reason I'll come to the office will be to change into my riding duds so I can head straight from here to horse time. And next week will shake out however it does. Nothing to worry about (unless I find a few pearls that have dropped through the floorboards). I might, maybe, possibly, be in for a relatively easy glide to the end. I'm almost afraid to say so, as it seems whenever I do, I immediately find myself in a mad panic--but what a miracle that would be.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Surprisingly Productive

I got in a bit earlier than usual today; I was here at 9, when my normal Wednesday arrival time is 10--but I'm still surprised by how much I got done. Part of that productivity was abetted by the fact that things were pretty quiet in Advisement, so I was able to grade the last two papers for today's class and get some P&B business done. There's more (of course), but it's not so daunting now that I've started it. I always forget: a task is generally much more fraught with difficulty in anticipation than in reality.

I have the last batch of journal-logs to mark for 102, and the non-English-speaking plagiarist rewrote his second paper, eliminating the plagiarism, so I need to read it and give the grade (half the credit he'd have gotten if he'd done it right the first time--and no comments, just the grade--but it's a hell of a gift, better than the zero I'd usually give a plagiarized paper). I'll have a couple more journal-logs from the lit classes tomorrow, but that's damned near microscopic. And really, the rest of the triage list is pretty short.

I can't remember if I said this before, but I decided to cancel the May meeting of the ecocrit reading group. Only two people had told me they could make it; two declined and the rest hadn't bothered to respond at all. Since holding the meeting would mean once again figuring out where to have it, blah blah, I decided (as Dad would have said) that the game wasn't worth the candle. We'll communicate via the Wiki over the summer--or at least I hope we will--and in the fall I'll try to get things rolling again.

I'm still trying to decide whether to re-up for an appointment to the college-wide assessment committee. I hardly went this year, and I am more than a bit burned out on the whole madness (as stated in yesterday's post), but if I intend to go up for another promotion, I need to keep my hand in some kind of college-wide committee work. I may take a little time to figure out which committees I'm still on, which I still think I'm useful on, and where I want my energies to go in terms of this utterly fucked up place. Hard to decide whether I want to summon up the fire in the belly to fight this nightmare administration. If I don't, I may hate myself for not having at least tried to stop this developing debacle. But if I do, that's yet another thing drawing energy away from where I most want to put it. I guess the real question is, do I think my efforts would actually create an better situation for myself down the line? If I can make my life better by putting in some painful work now, it may be worth it. But if not....

Sigh. It's a crappy position to be in, but that's the cleft stick in which I'm presently stuck.

Shifting gears to somewhere I actually do like to put my energy, class was pretty good. Most of the students had done the reading, and most had questions or comments--but, as if often the case, they missed the bits that would be most useful in writing their papers. Most of them--all but one, actually--are writing on the gender issues in Left Hand of Darkness; for today, they read Le Guin's introduction to the novel (brilliant) and her essay "Is Gender Necessary? (Redux)" (also brilliant). Particularly in terms of the introduction, not a one of them picked up on the most important point in terms of the gender topic. I truly do not understand how they've been taught to read--or rather, how they've been taught not to read. I wish I could figure it out; if I could, I might be able to address it.

In any event, we talked about both pieces; then I returned their second versions of papers and told them to stay, read my comments, be sure they saw me about anything I said we needed to discuss further, and that they understood my comments and how to address them. Typically, they were slow to begin asking anything, but the questions snowballed as the period drew to a close. One student, one who has been almost entirely silent until very recently, admitted that he was lost about how to proceed. His paper was pretty disastrous, and my comments were pretty fierce, threatening him with failure if he didn't get some things cleared up. He was free to meet me after class, so we sat and talked. It was great to hear him ask questions, answer questions, work through ideas--and to see him smile. I believe he left feeling much more sure about what he needs to do, and I believe he's capable of doing the work to make an significant improvement in the final version. I reminded him it's his job to be sure he gets help about places where he feels uncertain, that I can't help him if he doesn't show me where he needs help. Monday the entire class period is devoted to precisely that; we'll see who takes advantage. I'm not going to make them stay if they feel they can put the time to better use (including studying for other classes). But for those who want help, I'll be there, on tap. Hot and cold running professor.

By now, I've wound them up like clockwork toys, and it's time to let go of the key and let them toddle off. I say I'm done teaching, but that's not true. I'm done trying to get through to them en masse. I'm still working with them individually, if/when they want the help. I like this part.

I had a bit of a weird moment after Silent Bob left the office today. I suddenly thought, "How do I know how to do that? How do I know what to say?" I have no idea. I suppose a lot of factors are involved, everything from remembering how professors spoke to me to my own years of doing it and feeling my way forward, always looking for a better approach or explanation. Today, for instance, I had a realization about how to explain what students need to do in order to find a good title for their own essays. I said, "Remember what it was like when you did your research? One of the ways you found the pieces you wanted to use was by glancing at the title. Imagine your paper is subject to the same kind of search. A whole bunch of papers have been gathered together, and someone is looking through: 'Here are the ones about Hemingway; no, don't want that. Oh, good, here are the ones about Le Guin, and better, the ones about Left Hand of Darkness--and look, here are the ones about gender!' You need to let your readers know what they'll find in your paper--what author, what work, and your own particular take on the issue." I also told them not to be afraid of long titles (easy for me to say, as I am the self-crowned Queen of Long Titles). It will be interesting to see if this approach creates a positive result.

But now, I'm calling it a day. Anything sitting over there on my desk is fine to sit there at least until tomorrow, if not longer. I can head for home and my evening plans, knowing that I've just about knocked one more week off the countdown to done.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Systemically cranky

Poor Paul! He asked me how the college-wide assessment meeting had gone, and I very nearly snapped his head off. It actually was fine, but at that particular moment, I felt (as my sister put it) as if the myelin sheath has been removed from all my nerves; in this case, the result is that every nerve fiber is so sensitive to stimulus that things are short-circuiting all over hell and gone. Or, as another friend put it, "That's my very last nerve, and you're standing on it." I needed to not have my head in that space for a few minutes, to just eat my lunch and read my book in peace.

I think some of my crankiness about Assessment in particular is that between the two committees (departmental and college-wide), there is a massive hairball that needs to be sorted out, and like a complete idiot, I said I'd help untangle it. I'm regretting like hell the offer for all kinds of reasons, not just because of the work load. A colleague and I met with the Empress of Assessment for the campus, and after the meeting, he articulated the problem. The entire process of assessment--quantifying the unquantifiable, hair-splitting of data--is dehumanizing, not only in terms of how it views students but in what it makes of us. Further, the entire mindset behind this kind of assessment is not merely antithetical to how we operate as a discipline, it's actively counterproductive. It makes us behave in ways that destroy the very basis of what we do. So, yeah, it makes a person cranky.

On the up-side, however, I just got a visit from Wonder Student. He's going to take an incomplete rather than withdrawing. I feel enormous relief about that; it's truly wonderful news. Whew.

And the two students who came to Native American Lit today had me review their papers right there in class, giving feedback (and each got something out of listening to the feedback I gave to the other student). I'm a bit worried that the third student, the Bright Light, wasn't there, and I haven't heard from her via e-mail about her paper. Hmmmm. I hope she's not going to implode at this point. I'd be devastated.

I've gotten just barely enough of the papers graded for 102 that I feel I can stop for tonight and finish up tomorrow. I keep feeling I must be forgetting something important on the schedule tomorrow, but I've checked my calendar several times and really, nothing. So if I'm in bright and early, I should be able to finish the remaining few papers with time to spare. Well, time to do other stuff with. As usual, the triage list is ever-changing (and ever-growing), but I think I can stand to knock at least a few items off tomorrow. I hope. We'll see.

And now, it's time to have my little brown-bag dinner and then off to dance class. I do like being the student from time to time.