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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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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Yes, she can.

I got the assignments all marked with five minutes to spare, in which to eat my sandwich before P&B. Huge sigh.

This will be another very quick, unrevised, unreviewed post, however--and probably my last one for the week. I'm blasting out of here very soon to go to a private dance lesson, followed by class; tomorrow I'll be working at home (unlikely to blog, as I'll just be grading papers); Thursday I have to leave immediately after my last class for an appointment.

The good news: both classes did well with the discussion today--perhaps better than any classes I've had in terms of getting some of the fine points in Le Guin's "Ile Forest." Hooray. In both classes, the conversation could have continued far beyond the end of the class period; I love it when the students are so caught up they don't realize we're out of time.

I'm a little less sanguine about their understanding of their first versions of their papers. It will be a good sign if I get a flood of e-mails with questions about it--and it will be interesting to see how the process rolls. Some of the students had a rather unhappy realization that getting an A may require more than they thought: I showed them the SUNY description of what it takes to "exceed expectations"--and told them that A papers exceed expectations. I did reassure them that they'd have the opportunity to work to improve: that's the whole point of revision. And of course, in the later class, a couple of smart-asses asked what would happen if I thought the paper was an A, or an A+, in its first version. "There's still room for improvement." They're not buying it, but it's true. An A for a 102 class isn't the same as an A for a literature elective--nor is an A in a freshman-level course (which 102 ostensibly is) the same as an A in an upper-level course. "What if it's perfect?" "Perfection is unattainable, my friend."

All in all, I have one student in each class who should be able to get the first paper to A quality. A few more may surprise me. I showed them the classic bell curve: that's what real grading is, folks. Forget about grade inflation.

A lovely development to record: one student in the later class has suddenly started teasing other students, even me a little. Prior to today, she was Silent Bobette, and suddenly she's blossoming. I love when that happens.

There's probably more I could record, but I'll leave it at that so I can wolf down a little food before I go dance myself silly. Further posts this week are possible if something of great moment occurs. Otherwise, I'll leave you with this lovely thought from a student's idea log: "The women showed their manhood." A neat trick if you can do it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Can she do it? (Drum-roll...)

A bag of peanut M&Ms got me through from about 5:30 until 8:15, in which time I finished about a third of what I needed to get done tonight. I foolishly didn't cancel tomorrow's appointment with the TIAA-CREF rep about my retirement; I thought about it this morning and then I thought, "Nah, I want to keep it; I'm sure I can do this." Well, not so much. So even though I hate to cancel on someone with utter lack of notice, I'm going to have to reschedule that appointment or I will never get everything done to return to students tomorrow--and I absolutely must get everything back to them before they have to do the first versions of their papers: it's the only fair way to give them every possible edge heading into that high-stakes assignment.

Even with canceling that appointment, I'll have to get in here by 9 a.m. at the latest. My brains will be crispy-fried, but I'll have to gut it out anyway. The one consolation I have is that I have a private dance lesson scheduled after work tomorrow, so I have something delightful to look forward to. And I can sleep late on Wednesday, which we have off for Yom Kippur. Unfortunately, I'm going to have a shitload of work to do on Wednesday, too: the students from the Short Story class don't have their first mini-papers back yet, and their second one is due next Wednesday. I don't see them again until Monday, but once the papers come in from the 102 classes, it will take all I've got to get those back to them on Tuesday for their next step, so I have to get the Short Story stuff marked before those 102 papers hit.

Jesus, I hope that makes sense to anyone other than me. Syntax and I have parted company at this point.

The class session with the Short Story students went well today. I had to toss two for lack of homework. A few classes ago, one of those two students had gone through a charade of "I have my log here somewhere" when in fact she didn't, so she didn't get tossed that class--I very nearly threw her out, but she said she'd read the story, and she was in a group with another young man who truly had read the story (and well) but didn't have his log, so I let them stay. This time, I wasn't having it. I was cheerful enough about it, but out she went. It wasn't easy to get her to go: she really tried not to leave, but I kept returning to hover over her--and finally said I wanted to talk to her in the hall. She got huffy about it, saying, "I'm going!" but I said, "No, I'm not hassling you about that; you said you had a hard time understanding the story; that's what I want to talk to you about." And I did, reminding her that when she's struggling with a story, that's the most important time to do a log.... She said she understands, but I'm not taking bets whether she'll be back.

The other young woman I tossed has been sporadic in her attendance anyway. She didn't seem unduly pissed off to be sent away, but again, I'm not taking bets about her return. I don't think she's a bad student, so I hope she comes back--but hard to tell when they have their noses out of joint.

I also had to have a conversation with a few students who clearly didn't bother to read my late paper policies--and with one young woman who has been plagiarizing her logs. She didn't deny having looked online for help understanding the stories, but she said, "I put it in my words." I know, I said, that's part of the problem. I told her that some of my colleagues would flunk her for the course just for what she did (true: William would), but instead, I was going to just ask her not to do it any more, to go ahead and struggle, and that I'd be delighted to get a log that is nothing but questions, as long as she is at least trying to answer her own questions. Better to struggle through it on your own than to rely on a crutch, I said; you will actually learn something if you do it yourself, even if it's harder. She was actually grateful by the end (or said she was, anyway)--mostly, I think, because I didn't flunk her and could have. We'll see how she does from here. Mostly, I feel good for having taken advantage of the "teaching opportunity." We'll see if she takes advantage of it, too.

But now it's crowding 9 p.m., and I need to get home and indulge myself with things like dinner and sleep. (Jesus, I spoil myself: dinner AND sleep? How hedonistic can a person get.) Besides, the kitties are tapping their little wrist-watches, saying to each other, "Where the hell is she? Doesn't she know it's past time to feed the cats?" So I'm going to throw this up on the blog completely raw. Any errors or infelicities, sue me.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Crossing things off the list

Gawd, it feels good to get something done, utterly, completely, "this requires no further action on my part" done. I finished the minutes for the Chancellor's Award Committee and just sent them off to all the various places they need to go, and I did the cover letter for William's application (my other task on that committee). Now all I have to do is finish my summary of my own application; then I won't have to do anything else involving Chancellor's Award until spring--unless something utterly unexpected arises. Which is possible, but I'm hoping unlikely.

Of course, I still have a pant-load of student assignments to mark for next week, and photocopies to make, and and and, but tomorrow I have nothing to do but sit around the apartment and wait for my spanking new fiber-optic internet service to be installed, so I plan to chip away at the work--with many breaks, but turning it over. There are other bits of committee flotsam for me to tend to, but my main objective for the next week is to have the decks as clear as possible before the arrival of first versions of papers from the 102 classes. I'll be getting those next Thursday, so next weekend will again be filled with work at home. I might as well resign myself to the fact that this is going to happen with some frequency. But I also am determined to reduce the frequency, to continue to do less and to do it more efficiently, turning more of the actual gut work over to the students.

In terms of today's classes, I was deeply disappointed that the young woman who had so impressed me the first day of class has already decided to withdraw from the earlier section of 102. She's not wimping out; she has a horrific work and class schedule, and she simply doesn't have the time. She said that she'd try to sign up for 102 with me again next semester, and I hope she does; it would be very interesting to see what her potential truly is. But losing her reduces the mental wattage in an already somewhat lunky class. They did a little better today, once we actually got talking about the stories, although when I tried to get them to paraphrase the definition of "theme" I provided (so I could be sure they understood it), I got a resounding silence--and obvious evidence of panic. I asked one young woman what "expand" means, and she shrugged "I don't know." I said, "Oh come on; you know what 'expand' means," and she finally gave a definition (to happy encouragement from the professor)--but the fact that she was unwilling to hazard even that much clearly demonstrates the level of fear in the room. I said to them all, "Tell me what you're confused by, what you're having a hard time with" and still got silence. I said, "You can't possibly give the wrong answer if I ask you to tell me what confuses you"--but still silence. Ah well. I'll just be happy that they were able to get into the story discussion with some vigor.

The other class, however: that's a whole different dance. They were willing to take stabs at the definition of "theme"; they had great ideas about the stories--and they're starting to recognize what they're doing wrong in their idea logs, beginning to get a grasp of what would be right. Somehow, despite the clear instruction in the PowerPoint to read the entire story first, then log, plus the fact that I've written that on their logs several times, a number of them (in both classes) said today, "I realize I need to read the entire story first before I do my log; that's good advice"--as if today in class was the first time they'd ever heard it. Something is wrong with the translator microbes, apparently. (Farscape reference.)

As I mentioned, the later class did a terrific job discussing the stories. As was the case in yesterday's Short Story class, I'd say at least 75% participated in the discussion. ... Actually, I just checked: of the 20 students who were there, 15 made at least one contribution, so that's 75%, right? It's interesting to note, also, that there were 20 (out of 24) students in that class, all prepared with their logs. In the other class, there were more absentees and more who came to class unprepared and had to leave. Class chemistry: it's a mystery.

Right now, I've got that slightly gritty, acidic feeling in the eyeballs that comes from being under-slept--but a bunch of folks from dance class are meeting at a local club tonight, and I'm going, dammit. I'll take myself out for a quick dinner, and then dance until my feet hurt too much to continue; it'll be the perfect way to end the week--and what are weekends for if not napping?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Resorting to chocolate

In Advisement today, grinding through logs for the 102 classes, I hit a wall and found that only an infusion of chocolate would help me over it. It did help, sort of--but I still am woefully behind in what I had hoped to get done. Of course. Situation normal. I just looked at the stack of stuff I collected from the Short Story class today, and know that I will collect two sets of logs from each of the 102 classes tomorrow. What that means is that by the time I leave here tomorrow, the "to be marked" stack will include the following:
     six sets of logs (two for each class);
     mini-papers for the Short Story class; and
     the remainder of the self-evaluations for the 102 classes
Clearly it's time for me to stop giving much feedback on logs. I'm hoping I've provided enough feedback on the first few for them to get the idea (if they're going to)--and if not, any student who wants further guidance is perfectly free to come see me.

One poor student in the Short Story class came up to me at the end of class today: her English is minimal (despite having passed out of the ESL developmental class and having passed two comp courses), and she is utterly lost. She can read the stories and summarize, but she honestly has no clue how to do anything more--and she certainly doesn't have any idea how to approach even a mini-paper. I told her to submit anything as her first mini-paper--even if it is only summary--so she has something to "revise," and then to contact me via e-mail to set up an appointment: I need to figure out what help she requires, whether I can do it or whether I have to pass her along to the Writing Center or ... I don't know where else. I hope she is brave enough to hang on and get a handle on this, but she's so quiet and shy, she may vanish before we can get her there.

Other than that, the class was a great success. The students are really getting into the swing of working through the stories, and there was a lively debate about Katherine Anne Porter's story "He," whether Mrs. Whipple really loves her profoundly retarded son or whether her behavior is merely intended to present a good image to the neighbors. I'd say about 75% of the students participated with at least one comment, a damned good ratio. Nice.

I also had what may be a cool idea. I keep thinking about how to reconfigure that wretched PowerPoint thing, and I think I'll commission an artist friend of mine to create some images: a whole story containing a lot of details; the details spread out but not doing anything, just lying there (observation); the observations starting to have ideas attached (interpretation); and the interpretations beginning to come together to form an overall analysis (interpretations from observations of details leading to analysis). If together she and I can figure out a way to turn the concepts into something visual, that may help: I can work from the visual image to textual examples.... Hmmm. Worth a try, I reckon.

But back to the current work load: I'm not going to do any more marking of assignments today. I'll do some photocopying (brainless but necessary), and then Paul and I are going to have a working dinner. Yes, we'll be having a steak blow-out (and alcoholic beverages will be involved--though not to the point of tiddly-ness), but we're going to start hammering out the concepts and ideas for the style guide we want to write, the one that addresses all the stuff most style guides don't talk about, or talk about badly. I already have some ideas I want to bat around with him; it will be interesting to see where we agree and where we have differences. For the most part, he and I are on the same page, though sometimes we give more or less emphasis to various aspects of writing. I'm not going to say a whole lot about what we come up with in here (don't want anyone raiding our ideas and stealing a march on potential publication), but my aim is to insist that we meet at least once a month to work on it. This is pretty much going to take the place of the ecocrit group I tried to put together in the spring; this semester I sent out the call to those who'd said they were interested and only one responded with days/times when she could meet, so I think that's died away. Ah well. I may do something less groupy, more individual, with that colleague and maybe another--and that may be good enough.

But apart from the work with Paul, my scholarship is going to have to take a back seat for a bit here, until I get some committee stuff cleared off my table and am on top of the wave of student assignments, not cowering in the face of the tsunami.

I do love this though, when it's going well. Even with the sort of "Bambi facing the headlights of a semi" feeling I get facing huge, steaming piles of work to do, I still have enough missionary zeal to keep me charging forward. Nice to have an actual career, and one I care about very much.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Well, that didn't work.

Last night I finished marking the idea logs for the Short Story class, both the ones the students did before seeing the PowerPoint and the ones they did after--and there was no discernible difference in content or quality. I'm now chipping my way through the post-PowerPoint logs for the 102s, and although some may show a hair of improvement over the pre-presentation logs, it's certainly not enough to make the game worth the candle, as my father would have said. I may have made this observation in a previous post, but I realize I have to do several things in revising the presentation. 1) It needs to be shorter. 2) I need to explain that the point is to move from mere observation, to interpretation, to overall analysis of the work. That's pretty abstract, so 3) I need to show specific examples of the kinds of log responses I do not want--and the kind I do. Or, as I'm learning to rephrase for the students, the kind of responses that will be beneficial to them and the kind that will not. (They can interpret "beneficial" any way they like. I mean beneficial in terms of their understanding and their preparedness to write their papers; they may simply see it as beneficial in terms of earning them better grades. Either one achieves the same end.)

With that in mind, before I returned the logs to the students in the Short Story class, I copied them; now I can put together examples to show the differences among observation, personal response, judgment of quality ("this is a good metaphor"), value judgment ("this is a stupid way for the character to behave"), almost interpretation, and real interpretation leading toward analysis. The hope is that they will better grasp the concept from the improved presentation, including student examples (fuck what I'd do; I need to show them student work). And the hope is I won't have to do what I did this time around, which was to write the same comment on 50-plus logs: "You need to ask yourself, 'Why is this significant to a deeper understanding of the story as a whole?'" I'm not sure they understand what I mean by "significant" or "deeper understanding"--but I hope we'll get there.

I also found a good definition of "theme" to share with them, so we started talking about potential themes in the stories they've read. Their first mini-papers are due tomorrow, and they're rather freaking out about that; I did briefly consider postponing the assignment, but nah. I want the time to mark the papers--and I think it's better for them to get an idea of where they stand as early as possible. The mini-papers are usually a harsh awakening for the students; best to get it over with.

Right now, I am undergoing an attack of the "shoulds": I should be marking more 102 logs, but my brains are crispy-fried, and my ability to focus and say anything intelligent in response is pretty well shot for the day (crappy night last night, so I'm desperately under-slept). I'll take a look at my calendar, and if it seems I will have time to finish up the 102 stuff between Advisement tomorrow (where things are very quiet these days) and Thursday prior to class, I'll pretty pack it in for tonight. If there's something on my calendar on Thursday, I'll try to squeeze a few more pages of marking out of myself tonight. I'm also trying to decide whether I have it in me to go to dance class or whether I would be better off to simply fold my tents now and collapse at home. I'll putter around a bit here as I try to make up my mind. Heaven knows I have lots of little bits of flotsam to tend to, some of which requires very little brain. It all needs to be tended to, but I am enormously grateful for the parts that are essentially factory work. So off I go, staggering into the evening....

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Very quick

I have some bookkeeping stuff to do before I split tonight, making sure I have all the work I might maybe do in my bag to take home, that sort of thing, but I don't want to be here late, so this'll be fast.

The day went well; all the logs were marked in plenty of time to return to students--I even had time to reread the story before going to the first class (minor miracle). I am very happy that my week seems to be ending with a really great group of students: the difference between the class energy in my 2:30 class and in the 4:00 class is significant. In the earlier class, a number of students were absent today (permanently, or just a fluke?), which may have brought the energy down some, but I think it's just one of those chemistry things. The 4:00 class has it; the 2:30 class does not.

The only huge yikes today (an entire strand of pearls that I'd lost under the floorboards) is that I never applied for my travel money after my trip to Tucson last spring, and Accounts Payable needs to close out the books--so I have to have the paperwork to them by Tuesday morning. Of course I wanted to get it done right away, but any receipts I have are at home in my tax files, not available here in the office--so it looks like I have to pull that together tonight and come in to campus tomorrow. The papers need Bruce's signature, and he won't be in, but I'm hoping his assistant can sign for him. If not, I'll have to grab him before my first class on Tuesday, get the signature, and run the papers over to the right building. Panic in the streets!

The committee meeting today went great (gotta love Kristin, who knows how to run a meeting, making it productive and ending as soon as possible). Anything else can wait to be thought about later. I'm done. Over and out.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chunking away

Today started with a 9:30 departmental assessment meeting, which was the usual process of trying to sort out what makes sense for us and then figuring out how to massage it so it satisfies the administrative assessment folks--who, of course, are slightly peeved by our use of narrative, wanting more graphs and charts, numbers, quantifications of the unquantifiable. We also got into a discussion of the need for a course designed for those who are in the uncomfortable middle ground between remedial--excuse me, developmental--level courses and those who can more readily begin to perform at the college level. I tried to get support for such a course eons ago, to no avail, but suddenly it's looking valuable, largely because of the debacle of the computerized placement test. I could spend quite a bit of time passing along the problems pointed out by the Placement Coordinator, which go far beyond the simple fact that a computer's only problem with "colorless green ideas sleep furiously" would be that it isn't sufficiently sesquipedalian. And as usual (she says, with all due modesty), I was pretty much the one clarifying the threads of conversation so they weren't all in a snarl but carefully differentiated. Others had much of great value to say--probably more valuable than my contributions. I'm just good at recognizing when too many related ideas are getting muddled together as if they are one.

The other hairball arising from that committee is that a bunch of us need to be trained in how to use an idiotic online assessment machine called TaskStream (which is, I hasten to point out, costing the college a gazillion dollars a year for the license and unlimited one-on-one tech support from the company--and do I remember rumors that somehow our illustrious ex-president has a connection to that company?). The administrator in charge of assessment is making tsk-tsk noises at us because we're behind her schedule for getting all our shit put together in a way that works with the program and getting it on our "workspace"--but Bruce and I both say, "Ah, fuck that. Let her fuss." The whole TaskStream idiocy is quite a bit too much the tail wagging the dog, and I'm not going to get my knickers in a knot to jump through those particular hoops. (An interesting mix of several metaphors there.) But I am on the subcommittee that has to deal with it eventually. Still, I'll learn the program, but then I will maintain my function as a conceptual voice: I'm not getting my hands dirty with too much of the actual inputting of crapola.

As for the teaching end of my professional life, in the Short Story class today, most of the period was taken up with handing out assignment sheets, getting the student information cards filled out, doing the name-game (more for my benefit than theirs, but they got into the spirit of the thing), so the students only had about 15 minutes at the end of class to discuss the day's story. I told them we'd simply have to discuss two stories on Monday (and right now, I can't remember what the next one is; I guess I should take a look at my own schedule). They seem lively and interested; I'm hoping we get some good conversation going next week.

I was successful in chunking through the first batch of 102 idea logs in Advisement today. I had intended to get a handful done for the second batch when I got back to the office, but I ended up doing something somewhere between sweeping up a few little pearls and noodling. I made the first "to do" list of the semester; it's relatively brief and doesn't have much that's particularly onerous on it, but still.

As Paul said, two weeks down, fourteen to go.

I also realize I am going to have to take work home this weekend, dammit. I need to return the first two sets of logs to the Short Story students when we see each other next--which will be on Tuesday, given the school holiday for Rosh Hoshannah (no classes Monday; Tuesday classes follow a Monday schedule, to be sure every class has the same number of meetings). Nice to have the extra day for the weekend; rather sucky that I have to spend a chunk of it marking logs. Ah well. I didn't push like mad today to get the 102 logs done, which would have allowed me to work exclusively on the Short Story logs tomorrow and perhaps at least reduce the weekend work, so that's the bed I made. No, wait; that analogy doesn't work: I treasure the mornings when I can sleep in, so unless the bed is made of nails, lying in the bed I made sounds like a treat, not a come-uppance. I'll have to find an alternative cliche.

Shifting focus, I had one of those "damn, I wish I'd thought of that before" moments this morning. I suddenly thought that at the end of the PowerPoint exercise, I should have had the students write a brief note explaining whether they thought they were doing what they should in their first logs or whether they needed to adjust their process. I also am thinking of ways to rework the entire PowerPoint, less on what I underlined, more on showing the move from observation to something more substantive. And fewer slides overall. I'm not sure if I'll get to that before the spring semester, but I hope so. Maybe that's a task for a day when I want to feel I'm being productive but don't want to do the work that's in front of me (like today, for instance).

I detained Paul for a good while; he was on his way out, and I trapped him in conversation. I enjoyed the hell out of it; I hope he did, too, but I feel a bit guilty about keeping him from his retreat to home just because I didn't want to work.

And now that I'm blogging, of course, my psyche says "I'm done for today." I won't be able to get myself to do anything else productive, apart from maybe shoving a few things into slightly more organized piles on my desk. As for the rest of the logs, and everything else on that to-do list, "I'll think of that tomorrow, when I'm stronger." (One of these days, I need to re-read Gone with the Wind to be sure I'm quoting correctly; a lot of other sources equate Scarlett with "I'll think of that tomorrow," but as someone who works with literature, I should be sure....)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Quick precis

Today was a bit flurried: meeting of the Chancellor's Award committee (I'm now secretary, but it only meets about twice a year, so no big whoop); first meeting of P&B (three new members--and I'm officially Bruce's second in command on the committee); back-to-back sections of 102. I took the PowerPoint thingy out for a spin again, and it worked best the final time--but that's partly because of the students in the class. They were the best of the lot in being able to evaluate their own work and realize they were summarizing and observing, not reaching for interpretation and analysis. Terrific. I did have two brand-new students today (and should have had a third, but he didn't show)--and I know they feel lost as hell, but with luck they'll get dialed in pretty quickly.

I'd hoped to get all the logs from the Short Story class marked and ready to return tomorrow, but that's not going to happen. I'd have to skip dance class to do it--or get up at 4 a.m., which I refuse to do at this stage in the semester (or, I hope, at all: part of the point of the new system is that I won't ever be that frantic). It's not really a worry; it would have been nice, but it's really the next lot that they need feedback on. And I'll have time tomorrow after Advisement, maybe even during advisement--and probably more on Thursday, during what eventually will be one of my office hours. However, knowing that I won't get those back tomorrow, I'm now going to turn my attention to the 102 logs and try to get those done before Thursday's classes. The juggling begins.

Even with the new photo rosters, I am just beginning to know students' names, and I don't like that. I haven't been able to come up with a new idea for a name-learning exercise, so I'll use the same one I've been using for years. It's dopey and the students kind of hate it, but it works for me. I'm leaving sticky notes for myself all over the place, reminding myself the various start-of-semester snippets I still have to take care of (like that exercise, plus getting the students to fill out their information cards, handing out first paper assignments, that sort of thing). Nothing feels out of control yet; I just don't trust my memory. I get caught up in teaching and forget about the apparatus, as it were.

I'm a bit addled right now (for no good reason), so it's probably a good thing that I can get out of my head and into my body, stop thinking and dance. One of the things I love about partner dancing--and riding, for that matter--is that if I think, I get worse at it, so I have to stop thinking and just feel, respond. Nice. I'll take myself out for dinner and read the current "just for fun" book (Robertson Davies, Fifth Business, first in the Deptford Trilogy), then West Coast swing and hustle. Departmental assessment meeting at 9:30 tomorrow morning, so a slightly earlier than usual alarm, but no trauma. And that's tomorrow. Today is today.

Monday, September 10, 2012

working out the kinks

My first test of the PowerPoint presentation on how to read analytically and produce an idea log was a mixed success. The presentation is too long (that's easy enough: I just skipped slides)--and it's hard for the students when I ask for responses from the class as a whole, but I haven't yet figured out how to start with group work. It also took me a while to figure out how to explain to them what I wanted them to understand: a lot of them thought I wanted to see whether they had interpreted the story the same way I did, which is emphatically not the point. I told them I wanted them to compare their kind of response with mine--but it was hard for them to see past the fact that my responses were long, and theirs (generally) were not. Finally I found the language that seemed to work: "Are you observing or are you interpreting? Are you summarizing or are you analyzing?" Then they started to see it--and most realized that they had done a little of bot but tending more toward the first side of the equations. They're still not entirely sure about observation versus interpretation (admittedly conceptually difficult and abstract), but I asked them what they thought about the exercise, whether I should keep it for future classes or not--they said they thought they understood better what I am looking for after going through the exercise. Also gut. (Auf Deutsch, y'all.)

I've only had a chance to look at a couple of the logs, but I'm not unhappy--so far. There will surely be the usual lunks (I've already encountered one) and lost souls, but at least a few seem to have some kind of grasp of what's needed. The story was a hit, too: I told them that thematically it doesn't fit with anything else we'll read--I wanted something that would be outside the framework of the rest of the class as their experimental material--but it's got a lot going on for such a short story (Emma Straub's "Orient Point"--which also has the advantage of being set on Long Island). I'm not sure yet, but I think the most important part of my presentation may have been at the end, when I showed them how I would move from the ideas in my log to a working thesis for a paper. One of the challenges has always been to get them to see that the logs (by whatever name) are a tool to help them with their papers, therefore worth some extra effort. Perhaps the presentation helped.

In any event, I'm sure I'll be stewing about it overnight, looking for ways I might adjust for the comp classes tomorrow. I'll be particularly interested to see how they respond to the whole exercise. The Short Story students have had at least a 102 class before entering the literature course, possibly also another lit course, whereas many of the students in 102 have only had the high school experience of literature, and, depending on the high school, that experience may have been radically different from what I want. All interesting. I love these experiments.

Today was the last day for students to add classes, so there was a steady stream in Advisement--but not the mad panic I was braced for. I keep putting the responsibility for their choices back into their laps. I'll show them the (often large) ballparks in which their choices can profitably be made, but when it comes time to actually make the decisions, it's up to them--and they have to go away and do the actual choosing somewhere else. However, as I noticed last week, once I show them the ropes and provide a little reassurance, they're happy enough to toddle off and fight with Banner on their own.

And indeed, as this period is coming to a close, there has been some movement in my 102 classes: a few withdrawals and a few adds--so some students will be brand new tomorrow. I never know whether to consider the class meetings when they were not registered as absences or whether to give them a pass. I do tell them that they need to be very careful about absences: technically they still have three, but since they're already behind, it's in their best interest to act as if they only have one. I'd be more fierce about it, except I know that a at least a few are adding the class late not because of their own laxity but because the financial aid office screwed up. (I'm even more certain that financial aid does legitimately screw up as of today; I heard one of the professional advisers talking about the fact that a significant number of book vouchers either were sent to students who shouldn't get them or weren't sent to students who should....) All in all, I'll be happy when no one else can turn up new; it's rough on them to be thrown into the deep end, and it's disruptive to everyone else to have to deal with someone who has no clue what's going on.

And now the attrition can begin.

I'm here later than I intended today. Usually I will be here late on Mondays, as this will be one of my evening office hour nights, but office hours haven't started yet, so I'd intended to get out early. Instead, I had a grand time talking with Paul. This was the first one-on-one conversation we've had when both of us had no time pressure but could just talk. The conversation ranged from family stuff to professional concerns: we're both weighing whether it's worth the push to get that last promotion, to full professor. I am not sure I want to do the work I'd have to do to have a shot at it, but I confess, part of me wants the title just to have the title. As Paul said, if I don't, I'll feel like the possibility is perpetually hanging over my head--along with the question of why I didn't go for it. But I've seen the promotion folders of people who've gone up for full--and of one who went for it and didn't get it her first try--and they are dauntingly huge. The promotion requires "recognized distinction in one's field," and even though people who study Le Guin know my work, I haven't published much at all since I got the promotion to associate--and that's all that matters. "What have you done lately?" But Paul and I will talk more about this, and about where we might have publishing possibilities. Then there's the matter of actually writing something and getting the fucker published. Growf, rowr, bazz-fazz.

But I'm certainly not going to do anything about that tonight. I'm going to the grocery store, then home to turn my brains off until tomorrow. Nice to know I won't need them tonight.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

One miss, one hit

First, never mind that whole "I'll have lots of time before class to find dropped pearls" thing. I had a crappy night so let myself sleep in, which meant I got here much later than I had planned; then when I finally did arrive, I had to do an Assisting Bruce thingy, administrative paperwork--which was not difficult but took more time than I anticipated, so I was in a bit of a scramble to get to class on time. Bruce, by the way, was on a flight home today--hasn't been in this whole week. Thank God the office staff were on top of the adjunct scheduling stuff, as I had turned my attention to being a teacher and forgot about being an administrator. Kathy handled a few remaining hairballs (as well as could be done), but I am going to have several issues to talk about with Bruce come Monday. I'll need to be in a bit early so I have a chance to see him before my back-to-back class-Advisement day begins; he may be gone by the time I finish and return to the old homestead. Among the Bruce-related pearls in danger of being dropped are some Assessment shit (yuck, ptewy), a potential P&B issue, and two problematic adjuncts. Keeping track of this kind of thing is why I get paid the big bucks.

Back to the teaching part: as per the title of this post, the 102s were a mixed bag today. It's rare that my presentation of something will work equally well with all the sections of that particular course: usually I'll do a great job with the first go round and then forget something that worked with later attempt(s), or the first time screw-ups will teach me how to do better. That was the case today.

My idea was to have students write detailed instructions for how to write a paper. (Note to self: next semester, specify an argument essay, or a paper about literature; there are too many different kinds of papers students might write. I didn't learn that lesson until after the second pitch of the exercise.) I considered stealing a demonstration devised by one of the math teachers at the high school where I worked eons ago: to teach the necessity of the order of operations in math, she pretended to be an alien and had the students tell her how to make a PB&J sandwich. (Students started with "Put the peanut butter on the bread," for instance, so she put the entire, still sealed jar on top of the entire, still sealed loaf.... You get the idea.) I decided that would take too much time (wisely, as it turned out), but I did tell the students to think as if they were explaining the process to an alien. In the first class, I got my own order of operations wrong: I didn't specify the alien thing until they were already working on instructions, so they weren't giving much detail. More problematic, in the first class, the way I responded when I started collecting their answers shut them down: they started to feel they were "wrong" and stopped tossing out ideas. (They did, however, very carefully write down everything I put on the board: I have no idea whether it will mean anything to them later, but at least they're well trained.) Nevertheless, I got the main stuff covered--and led into using their idea logs, which was the point of the exercise. ("Write down your ideas." About what? "The stories." How do you get ideas from the stories? "You read them and take notes." Oh, OK, so that's really where we need to start, right? Read the stories and take notes? Hence, the idea log.)

With the second class, I put the alien idea front and center--and got almost more detail than I wanted. Then I was more likely to say "Does anyone want to add to this?" or "What do the rest of you think?" rather than "Is that really where we start?" So they were more willing to keep tossing ideas into the mix. Also, while they were still in their groups, before the whole-class discussion, when I saw that a few of the groups had decided they were finished, and I went to them and said, "Do you think your instructions are the best in the room?" When they said "No," which they all did, I said, "Make yours the best in the room"--and lo and behold, they dove back in again. Competition: it's a wonderful thing.

Curiously enough, however, when I started gathering their responses on the board, the second group asked, "Should we be writing this down?" I said, "I don't know: if you think it's valuable to you, then sure. What you put in your notes is up to you." Some did write the stuff down, some didn't. Their responses also got their first "cocktail party" word: "explicate." Some of them knew what had to be done with quotations and paraphrases, so I gave them the technical term. (And two of them immediately turned to their dictionaries to look it up--and didn't find it. "Ah," I said, "This is why I suggest you also have a larger, hard-cover dictionary at home." But man, I'm thrilled to bits that they had their dictionaries with them.)

Interesting, too, that in the first class, there were only two students who had been absent Tuesday, and there were five in the second class (three who had been absent and two new recruits)--and yet the second class seemed more friendly, gelled better, at least today. It will be interesting to see how they shake out as the semester goes along. I'm not taking any bets about which class will ultimately pull together better. I'm also hoping that, in a truly rare occurrence, both are equally terrific. Wouldn't that be nice.

Speaking of how things shake out, as a brief follow-up to yesterday's post regarding the Short Story class, Snotty Miss Text-in-Class did indeed drop (can you tell how I feel about that?), and was instantly replaced by someone new. I sent an e-mail to Miss New Student, telling her I'd left the syllabus and Monday's homework on my office door. We'll see if she's the kind of student to check her school e-mail; if not, she'll start out behind. Also thinking back to that class, I realize I didn't say that there were two young women who were much more busy talking to each other than listening to me. After class I said, "I can tell you two are good friends, but sometimes I'm going to have to separate you." One said, "We were talking about the idea log," and I gave the "No you weren't and you're not fooling me" look, which she had the good grace to sheepishly recognize. Then the other said, "We won't talk no more." Both eyebrows raised: "You won't talk no more?" "Yeah." "So you're telling me you won't talk any more?" "Yeah." I don't think she got it. Ah well.

I'm already putting little X's beside the names of students I suspect are not going to be with me long, making small bets with myself. Some of my colleagues would no doubt huff about the prejudicial attitude, but I am happy to be proven wrong. It's rare, but it does happen.

I'm sure there's more I could natter on about, but I'll spare my faithful readers--and take a little time to get prepped for Monday (to facilitate having time to talk with Bruce before class). Then I'll head for the hills. Literally, the geography of Long Island being what it is.

Over and out.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

And again

I used the same approach with the syllabus today for the Short Story class, and it flew well there, too. I did enjoy the moment when I brought up the problem of cell phones. One young woman had spent virtually the entire class texting, but I didn't single her out. I just said I noticed that some students had been texting while I'd been talking, and I asked why they thought the rule exists. The first response was that it was distracting. I asked, "distracting to whom?" "To the professor." True, I said, but then again, I'm this gray-haired white woman with a stick up her butt. Is there some reason why the rule exists for their benefit? Yes, they said--and gave the response they know is expected: "It's distracting to us; we need to give our whole attention to learning." Yeah, yeah, but can't you multitask? No, they said, not really. How do you feel if you're working in a group and one of your group mates keeps checking his or her phone? Pissed off. There you go.

But I think that young woman already dropped. Someone did; it will be interesting to see who.

And again, a student came to me after class and told me the long saga of his frustration and difficulty with all his previous English classes--and we talked for a while, about what he thought the problems were, what he might do to make things better. The nice thing was that he said I had made it seem like he could talk to me, tell me his worries, which had not been the case with his previous professors. I think I seem a little less scary this semester--and I haven't made my usual "I'm a monster" pronouncements. They'll figure that out soon enough. One student did ask about my grading. My criteria or where I fall on the easy to tough scale? The latter? "I'm tough." They heard the tone. 'Nuff said.

I went from class directly to Advisement--and note to self: I need to remember A) to bring my lunch with me and B) have some cash in my wheelie-pack so I can buy a cup of coffee or tea or something. I got hungry and didn't have food with me, and I desperately needed a break, but apart from a quick trip to the john, didn't have an excuse for one. It's enormously helpful to be able to say, "I have to get a cup of coffee; I'll be right back," and take a brain break. I'll try to remember both those things next week and from here on out.

It was quite a slog in Advisement: the place was pretty filled up (though there weren't lines around the building, as has been the case in the past). As is always the case, a number of students had lost their schedules because of financial problems (if they don't pay right away, they are dropped from all their classes)--and because most classes are now full, it's hard for them to scrape together a new schedule. A lot of what I did today was say, "OK, you already know what classes you want to take. If you can't take those because all the sections are closed, here are the requirement areas where you can look to find something else. Now, go to the Library, where there is tech support, sit down at a computer, and scrounge around until you find classes." Strangely enough, that--or a variation thereof--made them happy and confident that they could do just that. Many of them come in wanting us to make their schedules for them and do their registration--and some of the advisers will do that, but not this gal. "The kitchen is over there. Look in the fridge, and in the pantry; pots and pans are in the cupboards. Make the best meal you can from what you find. Good luck!"

One other nice event today: Kayla is back; she's interning for Paul this semester. It was fun to see her and to let Paul know how she and I had worked the internship when I was her "supervisor." I'll be very interested to hear more from Paul about it. He did say that he felt a little as if she was seeing him in his underwear, sitting at the computer eating potato chips: she is seeing behind the scenes in a way our students don't. But I think it will be very interesting for her to see the similarities and differences in our teaching styles, Paul's and mine. Come to think of it, I'll be very interested to hear more from Kayla about it, too.

Paul and I had floated the idea of a steak night tonight, but we've taken a rain check. There is a meeting of the Conviviality Committee tonight (at Applebee's, yuck, but I didn't choose the venue). I figure I'll drop by, be convivial while I figure out what I'd like to do with the rest of this evening. And I'll have a good long stretch in the office tomorrow before classes in which to figure out what pearls I've already dropped. Not many as yet, but some, I'm sure.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

That went well

Two 102s back to back--and both were OK at this first meeting. I was a little worried about the second group when class started--a lot of them seemed pretty resistant to the whole notion of class--but by the end they were warmed up nicely. There are, of course, a few utter lunks in each class, and one or two of the over-eager, but most of them were alert and engaged at the end of class.

It dawned on me yesterday, I think, that I could even do the usual syllabus go-over differently than I have in the past--and I like what I did. Instead of grinding through it with them, I handed it out, told them to look at it individually and note any questions or observations; then I put them in groups to discuss what they saw; then we talked about it with the class as a whole. Flew like a bird. I'm keeping it.

We had an interesting conversation about cell phones and electronic media in general, stemming from the anti-cellphone rule in the syllabus and from a quotation at the start of the syllabus: “[The] more we text and Twitter and ‘friend,’ abiding by the haiku-like demands of social networking, the less likely we are to have the habit of mind or the means of expressing ourselves in interesting and complex ways.”(Neal Gabler, Los Angeles Times, 28 November 2010, qtd. in “Talking Heads,” Time 13 Dec. 2010: 26. Print.) They were very interested, I think in particular because I wasn't judging them about it, or just laying down the law but actually engaged in listening to what they had to say. If I get a chance, I'll say more about that conversation in another post; I have to make this one relatively fast, as I have to blast out of here for a private dance lesson.

But I do want to record a few favorite moments. One, in the earlier class, a student observed that my own writing, in my little description of the class at the beginning of the syllabus, could be a model for their writing. Nice of her to notice. The second is not unusual, but I always like it: several students came up to me after class to talk to me individually, usually about concerns regarding the class or to explain something about a unique situation I should be aware of. The last young woman I spoke with was particularly touching: she had been very frustrated by 101--and by a previous semester in 102--and was concerned that there was something conceptual going on in terms of college-level writing that she didn't understand. We talked for about five minutes; she was on a bit of a loop, saying essentially the same thing several times over, but I reassured her, I think without giving false hope. I'm a little more concerned about the young man who wants an A: he seems bright enough but I'm not sure if he has an A brain--and if he doesn't, whether he has the kind of brain that can become an A brain through hard work. (Some can't, more's the pity, though all can improve.)

In any event, I'm looking forward to Thursday's classes with them. Nice to be able to say that, as I was feeling a bit disheartened yesterday at the mere thought of starting up again today. And I'll be very interested to see how tomorrow's class goes (American Short Story). I have a stint in Advisement, too--we're being shot right into the thick of things this year, instead of the three-week gradual gear-up that we had last year. We'll see just what kind of madness is going on there; it might be dire, but at least I'll be done early, thank God.

And now, I'm going to eat my little "brown bag" dinner and put on my dancing shoes. No proof, no edit, no reread: the post goes up absolutely raw.