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I welcome students readers to this blog. However, be aware that, although I do not use anyone's actual name, the descriptions of behaviors and conversations are not disguised. This is a space in which I may rant, vent, and otherwise express responses that I would do my best to mask or at least tone down in professional interactions with students. This is my personal, gloves off, no holds barred, direct from the gut expression of what it feels like to do my job. If you think you might be hurt or offended or upset by that, read no further. The person I'm ranting about could be you.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Small breather....

Talked to Bruce just a bit ago: he told me to go away and not think about any of this until Tuesday. Well, if he insists.

The office staff were amazingly patient and helpful--all of them. I'm getting gifts for them. I know how to keep people on my side--and I know that the office staff can be angels or obstructive as hell, depending on how well they like a person. Not only will I go to great lengths not to piss them off, I'll drench them in butter, just to make my own life easier.

It was nice when one of them said, "You're getting good at this, Tonia." And I must say, by end of day today, it did feel like I finally was getting the hang of things--now that I'm essentially done with it. I will check in with Bruce on Tuesday (at his request), but that'll be easy as pie. (Which rather begs the question: how easy is pie? It's not necessarily easy to make, though it is easy to eat. Strange expression.)

But from a completely different angle, most of the work I had to do has pretty frightening implications. We opened something like 20 new sections of remedial (excuse me, "developmental") comp and canceled close to 10 sections of first-semester, credit bearing comp. Some of this may be attributable to the new (and loathed) computerized testing system--which gives higher marks for florid yet meaningless sentences than it does for pithy ones--but the Placement coordinator said that a lot of the students were, in fact, being correctly placed into the 001 classes. And that's scary. What is happening in their educations prior to us that makes so very many of them incapable of writing at the basic level we expect for their entry into the credit-bearing classes? We sure as hell are not holding the bar very high, and they still can't get over it.

All the more reason I'm grateful I'm staying away from 101 for a while. Maybe forever. As far as I'm concerned, 101 classes are a perfect storm of things guaranteed to drive me bat-shit: students who are generally not very good readers or writers, pretty poor thinkers, and have absolutely no idea how to behave appropriately in the academic culture. I get enough of that in 102, after they've had at least one semester to learn how it all works. Come to think of it, I get enough of it in the lit electives.

For years I've thought I'd like to do in-service days with English teachers in area middle schools and high schools, looking at the difference between what they have to do to meet the requirements of the school board (and standardized testing) and what we want from the kids once they get to our doors. I don't know how to bridge that gap, but just doing some consciousness raising might be a step in the right direction.

Some other life, perhaps. Other things are higher on my personal list of priorities.

Speaking of priorities, I don't know what I want to do with the rest of today. I'm very tired and very hungry and my brains are decidedly swiss cheezy. Whatever I'm going to do, however, I'm not going to do it here. Take your Crayolas and color me gone....

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

new technology

I know I'm showing my age, but I fucking hate the fact that everything is trying to go digital. I just went through tortures of the damned trying simply to get an actual print desk copy of one of the textbooks I'm going to be using. I sent a request for the book and instead got a very chipper "we're so proud of ourselves" e-mail--not even from the publisher but from some kind of distributor/fulfillment center--saying that my subscription to the online textbook was now active. Navigating the site to figure out how to get the physical book required a call to tech support (because I also couldn't reach our textbook representative either). Christ, it's annoying.

But now the book is on the way. Until it arrives, I just have to remember to bring the copy I have at home into the office (I always like to have one at each location, so I don't leave it in one place and find I need it in the other).

In terms of the whole scheduling madness, today was not bad--despite the fact that I got about an hour of actual sleep last night (I'd doze and wake but didn't go all the way under until about an hour before the alarm was going off). I don't think I fucked anything up; I'm starting to get the hang of things, mostly with Kathy's help. I didn't even need to talk with Bruce much; we still have some fires to put out, but there are plans in the works--and it's a moving target, as students continue to register. The only slightly maddening aspect of today's work was that every fifteen minutes (or so it felt), someone was calling in a panic saying that there were no sections of 001... and yet they're still testing students to place them into classes, even though we have no seats for them. Eventually, our hands are going to be tied: we won't have instructors or classrooms left. But the juggling continues for now.

All in all, I will be very glad when the Big Boss is back in town and I can turn whatever mess remains over to him.

I meant to be out of here an hour ago, but now I really am going to grab my bags and skedaddle.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

reduction in panic

Today was better. Before I left last night, I had left a message for Bruce about a couple of fixes I wanted to make: I know he thinks I'm being ridiculous to keep checking with him, wants me to take more initiative--and I will, as I get to know the system better. Indeed, I did today--and solutions are opening up. Kathy, the main administrative assistant in the office, was very helpful today: she's done this for millennia, so she was able to tell me what kinds of solutions might be possible, and in fact she just presented me with a few more. I did talk to Bruce, too. Right now our two main concerns are the full-time schedules that are in jeopardy because of low enrollment in composition classes (not even electives: this is the weirdest semester ) and the high seniority adjuncts who have classes in danger of cancellation as well. We have to be sure that the people with the highest seniority get sections that run; I'll be interested to go through that particular juggling act with Bruce to see what we can and cannot do.

I'm still chipping away at my own stuff, too, and every time I turn something over I think of another little task to tie off. Of course, I'm also forgetting them as fast as I'm finding them, but that's largely because none of them are vitally urgent at this red-hot moment. When it gets closer to time when it's important that the task is completed, I'll remember--with luck before it bites me in the ass.

But now I'm going to get out of here. I'm going to take myself out for a leisurely dinner, read my book, and relax until time for dance class. And I found out that the office will be closed on Friday, as part of the holiday weekend: that's a relief right there. It's all pretty much OK. Life is good.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Gearing up

Classes don't start until next week, but I've been gearing up, that up-shifting acceleration of the semi.... I'm not sure when I started actually working, as the first steps were small and largely internal, but my on-campus days started last week. I had a stress dream about the administration the day before I came in to start helping Bruce: that's a new one. I've had all the "missing classes" or "not being able to find the room" or "dealing with wildly unruly students" versions of the Teacher's Nightmare; fighting with the (now resigned) college president is a whole new wrinkle.

The demon spawn president of the campus did resign, which is a good thing, but one of his hatchet men is still here--and the board is iffy: one member seems to be supportive of faculty, and there is at least one vacant spot, possibly two, but the rest are the same corporate shits we were dealing with last year. Ah well.

In terms of my classes, I did a major reconfiguration of the paper-writing sequence for the 102 classes. I realized that focusing on the end product was an exercise in frustration for them and for me. The end product still matters, obviously, but I'm putting more emphasis on the steps of revision--and a lot more of the responsibility for evaluating in the students' hands. The plan is to type up comments for them (that also will create boilerplate that I can cut and paste, as Paul has been doing for years--the a la carte version of feedback: "I'll take one You Don't Have a Thesis, one You Need to Use Evidence More Smoothly, and three Sentence Level Problems..."). I intend to use red pen only to point out one specific example of each problem I comment about--or each thing that the student does that is good. The way I've used red pen in the past has been overwhelming to the students (they can't see what to focus on)--and horrifically time-consuming for me. I'm hoping the new process works, but I'll let them know that they're test subjects: new strategies usually don't work as planned, so I know at very least I'll need to tweak, but it will be interesting to see how things shake out.

I also have decided to take the advice of Wonder Student from last semester and show the students how I want them to read. I'll have them read a story (very short) and fill out their idea logs however they think they should. Then we'll go over a PowerPoint presentation I've developed showing my reading process, so we can figure out the difference between what they do and what I do. I will be extremely careful to explain that I expect their logs to be different from mine (especially the first one--and even when they get the idea, they probably won't get to my level of sophistication in one term), but the point of the exercise isn't to trick or trap them; it's to have something concrete we can look at to explore the difference.

Now all I have to do is A) remember to bring my laptop to campus the two days when I'll be doing the presentation and B) hope like hell Media Services got my request for the necessary cables to hook my computer up to the Smart Boards.

I have my syllabi and other handouts for the first few weeks of class all pulled together and copied (I think; I'll double-check tomorrow). One would think I'd therefore be sitting pretty and able to just kick back and enjoy the last week of summer, but nooooo. Bruce is out of town, and has left me pretty much in charge of all the last minute shit hitting the fan in terms of scheduling adjuncts--and dealing with full-time schedules when courses don't run. It's a weird semester: sections of 101 are not filling (some are insanely low: like 1 or 2 students)--and we desperately need sections of 001. I now understand why Bruce worries about not having a large enough pile of adjuncts who do not have any classes yet assigned (or with only one): we need people to drag in at the last minute to cover classes that either get thrown back by the high seniority adjuncts or when we have to pull new course sections out of our ears. I should have invented a few new sections of 001 today, but before I can open a new one, I need to be sure there's someone who can teach it, and I'm waiting to hear back.

It's a bit of a problem that Bruce's organizational methods and mine are very different. I'm having a hard time finding information, figuring out where things are that I need--and remembering what the hell is going on. The office manager, Kathy, is being saintly in terms of putting up with my blunders (and I've made a number of them already)--and fixing them. In fact, all the office staff are being incredibly helpful and patient. I need to get flowers for everyone, or something.

Tomorrow we start contract signing, and I have an interview with yet another adjunct (so does Allen, the Assistant Chair). And there are still a lot of brush fires to be put out before the conflagration gets out of control. But the office is closed, so no more work will get done on that today--and as Kathy said, it will all still be there tomorrow, and no doubt it will be just as big a mess. It's an interesting learning curve. And Bruce is so completely unruffled by anything, it's a nice balance to my tendency to get so wound up that springs start popping out of my brain.

It is very helpful that my own work is under control, so I don't have to flurry around about that. I'll print the student information cards today before I go, and then I'll be in Scarlett O'Hara mode.