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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Knockin' 'em down

OK, I didn't get anything graded for the short story class, but I still feel like it was a productive day. I decided I couldn't stand having the left-over bits from the 102s tangling around my ankles any more, so I put them on top of the triage stack. It ended up being a wise choice, as I was very much in Professor-as-Mommy mode all day, and I wouldn't have had large enough chunks of uninterrupted time to focus on longer papers--but it was easy to flip through old homework in the interstices between bouts of student hand-holding.

Poor Dear Thing showed up at 11, and I worked with her for an hour, but at the end, she felt infinitely more confident about her ability to read and about her revision of her paper. She didn't show up to class today, however; I hope the novel didn't scare her off, after all that. Still, it felt very good to work with her. I told her she'd made my day--and she, along with two other students, did. Of course my ego was gratified because she recognized the gift I was giving: my time, my help, my support and encouragement. She was very complimentary, which is always nice, but more, I could see in her face and hear in her voice that she is learning, actually learning. God damn, that's great to observe.

She left, and not long after, another student showed up: very bright young woman whose writing sucks out loud--and yet she's always been told how good it is. She writes effusive and highly embroidered sentences that contain no clear, concise thought--and I've told her it's my mission in life this semester to beat that out of her, to get her to present her analyses precisely and logically. I know she has it in her, but she's going to have to let go of something she's been proud of, believing it to be exquisite, and instead don the straight-jacket of academic analysis and argument. I hope I got the message across; I'll know when I see her next revision. (On the final version of her first paper, I found myself writing, "Oh, for God's sake!" over some burbling bit of garble. Enough with the Valentines and lace, dammit, give me a heart made of meat on the plate.)

As I was working with Ms. Embroidery, yet another student showed up--and I had an experience with her very similar to the experience with Poor Dear Thing. She was one of two students I mentioned earlier in the semester who were bitching about the work, and she's the one who was grudgingly acknowledging that I had a point when I said that gutting through frustration was a vital life skill to learn. Her compadre has dropped off the radar--apparently still complaining while not doing the work--but this young woman has turned around her attitude and is putting in the effort. Not to my surprise, but somewhat to hers, it's paying off. She specifically said that she decided to try out my advice about gutting through frustration--and she was beaming with the results. Yes, Ma'am. She may get her work from the D's she was earning at the start of the term up to B's; she's certainly capable of it.

In the first class most of the students were doing well, but by unfortunate chance, one group was made up of three young women who were completely baffled by the first chapter of the novel--and two of them decided that the best way to handle that was not to listen to the class discussion and to mutter-murmur when the rest of us were talking. I may have to pull them aside and suggest that they pay attention, for fuck's sake, especially as they're confused. I'm not sure what to do about those three, but I will try not to put them in a group together again. However, Ms. Embroidery, Ms. Changed Attitude, and a third young woman were in a group together today, and they were sailing. I may let them continue to work together as often as possible (maybe with the addition of a fourth young woman who is also pretty danged smart), following Paul's philosophy that the good students deserve a good experience, not to be tortured by being put in groups with the attitudinous.

By the way, in our individual meeting Ms. Changed Attitude informed me that the novel "wasn't so bad." Apparently she resisted it like mad, didn't even want to open the wretched thing, but once she started, she got very interested. A student in the later class said essentially the same thing. (Hah! says I.)

The later class was, as always, a step above. The students wanted to work in a circle (we'll probably stick with that for the rest of the term, as they like it and do well with that format)--and we got into some subtleties about the text that the first class didn't get close to. One young man, who registered late and has been doing sub-par work since, clearly understands the novel beautifully, is picking up on details and their significance.(Interestingly, he's the one who said he hated the novel at first but now thinks it isn't so bad.) Nice. I just hope his writing steps up a notch or three. He has A potential--but he's not this semester's Wonder Boy because to date he's been half-hearted at best. If he kicks into gear, he could give Wonder Boy a run for the money.

I think I mentioned my decision to refrain from imposing the penalties on their first papers, as a one-time-only "Get Out of Jail Free" card. I returned the papers today; the red pen showing what the penalties would have been was left in place, but I circled in blue the grade from which the deductions were taken and recorded that. The sighs of relief probably will affect the strength of Hurricane Sandy. I did emphasize that next time, the axe will fall--but they were so grateful to get the reprieve, I think it will motivate them to keep going. I hope so anyway.

On the committee front, I've corralled some P&B business: I've determined when I will do the three observations I'm responsible for (two new adjuncts and one full-time faculty member who is under dire warning for being utterly stupid about his job). I'll read the two tenure promo folders on Monday. I have the stuff for the short story class in my bag to bring home, and I feel confident I can get through it all without having a hellish weekend--and certainly without it hanging like the sword of Damocles over me for my natal anniversary. Which--even though it is tomorrow--I intend to start celebrating in five, four, three....

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A little less gnashing of teeth

I got all the first papers for the 102s finished. Jesus, what a load off. I still have the Short Story papers, and a stack of random detritus from the 102s. Part of me wants to clear the clutter and get the stupid 102 stuff marked and gone, return it all tomorrow, before I collect more (yeesh), but on the other hand, it's more important that I get the Short Story papers completely finished before Monday's class, so I probably should oughta put those on top of the "about to spontaneously combust" pile.

One thing that's been feeling good is that I'm finding takers for the observations of new adjuncts. There are six of them, and the prospect of having to observe all of them myself was painful. However, former members of P&B are coming through, and I think I can unload all but two--and two won't be painful. In fact, one of them I actively want to observe, as I'm the one who hired her (last minute). I want to see if I made a good choice.

Another load that has been lifted is that I don't have to look at sabbatical applications again for a bit. I never got through the first load; I was on a tear, and fully intended to be good this semester and look at every blessed one--but then appendicitis struck, and when I got back, we gathered the comments for our various mentees and are now moving on to promotion applications. And this year, blessings be, there are only two people going up for assistant/tenure, so that's all I have to do for next week. (That will be a Monday afternoon job for sure.) So the P&B load is lightening up a bit right now, too.

And the paper-grading load is getting progressively lighter. I e-mailed one student who seems to have disappeared to see if he's coming back; if he isn't, I"m not grading his paper. I was about to send the same e-mail to another student when I got a message from him saying he has to withdraw. Whew. I'm sure I've graded some papers for students in the 102s who are gone; they often are done in by the poetry paper, finding it just that much more difficult than the story paper. I'm still in double digits in all my classes--but not by much, in the 102s. And the fat lady has yet to begin warming up.

The China Doll withdrew today (saw that coming). Another student who disappeared weeks ago e-mailed to say he needs to withdraw (good idea). Another showed up at the office yesterday, wondering what he could do about the fact that he didn't turn either of the first two papers in 102 (um, withdraw or fail seem to be the only options; which would you prefer?). Yet one more showed up at the end of the first 102 with her withdrawal slip. I'm starting to feel like Annie Oakley in a shooting gallery: ting, ting, ting, hitting those Withdrawals. But as I said, I'm rather hoping it levels off now. I like the balance and the numbers as they are right this minute, and I'd very much like to end the semester pretty much with the students I have right now.

Because I didn't hold my office hour on Monday, I held a make-up session today, and lo and behold, a student from the earlier 102 showed up--one of only two young men left in that class. He's not sullen, not slack-jawed and dim, but in his charming and perky way, he still seems to answer all my questions with "I don't know." Well, think, dammit. I honestly can't tell whether he doesn't have the chops to do the work or if he's just dealing with deeply ingrained acquired helplessness, but if he doesn't start getting some ideas, and damned soon, he's going to be toast very shortly. And I don't want to lose him--mostly because he is charming and perky, and in that earlier 102, we need that kind of energy.

Tomorrow, Poor Dear Thing (the complainer I complained about in yesterday's post) will meet with me at 11:30. She's very happy to have an appointment with me--and I hope it helps. I'm not sure how much I can do for her, but I'll try. Then I rather expect I'll have a parade of students coming to my office hour--possibly from the comps and the lit class. I just hope I get enough time in between to churn through some of those papers....

Nothing else of import to note today. I'm a little worried about the fact that I don't feel so frantic today; surely I'm forgetting something, or am thinking something is more close to complete than it is, or something. But quien sabe? Either I'm really OK, or something will hit me in the face like a flying asian carp.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Grind, grind, grind

In both 102 classes, I gave the "this is when the weak are separated from the strong" thing. We'll see whether that has any effect.

I managed--barely--to have the papers ready for the work they were doing in class today. Two students sent papers via e-mail over the weekend, and I got the print versions too late to have them ready before class; I've promised to have those two ready to be picked up tomorrow. However, students who missed last class, didn't contact me, and simply showed up today with their first versions are on their own.

I've been frustrated as hell, but really, in some ways they are learning. What I saw in class today was evidence that sometimes they simply need to swan-dive into the pavement a few times before they learn that something they've always done is not a good idea. In both classes, I said, "If something didn't work the first time, it's sure not going to work the third: Try Something Else."A number of them specifically addressed that, asking me what they should do instead of what they've been doing. That's a hopeful sign.

I still have a bunch of the first papers to finish, which I must do tomorrow. This seems feasible. Then papers for the Short Story class. Then miscellaneous flotsam (idea logs and so on from ages past). Committee work. After class today was all about putting the stack of shit I have to do in priority order. Never mind the stuff on the back burner.

I think I was fretting in an earlier post about this semester's Wonder Boy, who suddenly dropped off the radar last week, didn't turn in a first version of his paper. He showed up today--and told me that his life just took a bad turn, and he's been fucking up: as only one instance, he went out last night instead of working on his paper. He did give me a bit of a sob story (grandfather died, girl broke up with him), but mostly he admitted that he allowed himself to become completely irresponsible--and he asked what he could do to get back on track. I gave him two options: One, he can do his best to do all the parts of this second paper with no feedback from me, know he'll take a hit to his final grade but have the work done and out of his hair and be able to move on. Two, IF he does everything else beautifully for the rest of the semester--not even the tiniest screw-up--I'll give him an incomplete and we can do the paper 2 process, all the steps, together next semester. I did warn him about the perils of that option, but of course he'd prefer it: he's bucking for an A, and he doesn't want the hit to his final grade. I told him that even if he goes with the incomplete, there's no guarantee he'll get the A (and honestly, much as I appreciate his smarts and his enthusiasm, I'm not so sure he's got an A in him at the moment), but having the shot seems very important to him, despite the very real risks. I told him to think it over and let me know next week what he wants to do. I bet he goes for the incomplete--but mostly, I just want him to stick in the class; I don't want to lose him.

In fact, I don't want to lose anyone else from either class, especially not the later one. In each class, there is one student whose effect is neutral: it doesn't help to have him there, but it doesn't hurt (and yes, both are young men). In the later class, everyone else is an absolute benefit--even one poor dear thing who is so utterly confused she's about to fall apart. She tends to want to monopolize my time, mostly to tell me how hard everything is and how stupid she feels; I'm trying to get her to turn her energy to something productive  instead of spending her time wandering around in a morass of fuss and feathers. She is, in fact, in serious trouble. Not only is writing tremendously difficult for her, she has serious problems with reading. As an example: she found the phrase "instill pride" in one of the critical essays and used it continually as a noun phrase in her paper, as in "The poems show instill pride." I mean, where do I begin? I gave her all the warm fuzzies: you're not stupid, this just isn't where your brain works best; we just need to find the tools that will help you; yes this is hard, and it hurts, but you're learning--all that bilge. OK, it isn't bilge; there is actually some truth there, but whether she's capable of getting where she needs to get in the nine remaining weeks of the semester--especially when we're about to embark on Left Hand of Darkness? Mmmmm, maybe not so much. Still, she's working and trying and refusing to quit, and I give her credit for that.

OK, so what note do I want to sound for the end of the day? Picking up on the fact that--despite all the things that remain unchanged in their work--they are learning, I need to remind myself, and them, that the wheels of learning simply grind exceeding slow, and we all get pulped in the process. I did make an executive decision to mark all the penalties for their finished first papers--the kinds of stupid errors that knock a C- paper to below an F--but then grant them mercy: I'm going to let them have the grades they'd have made without the penalties. But just once. For the second paper, the full weight of the penalties will crash down upon them. I think seeing the dreadful fate they narrowly escaped may help get them to button up. I'm hoping, anyway.

Hope. I want to keep it present, for them and for me. It's such a lovely and potentially fragile thing, and so important to perseverance. If I can keep hope wafting through the classrooms for another nine weeks, we'll all benefit.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Again from home

I left Advisement early today to get the all-clear from the surgeon (yep; all clear) and after took myself out for somewhat celebratory late lunch/early dinner; then I came back here to crank through some more papers. I got a bunch marked in general during today's brief stint in Advisement; at home, I typed up the comments for those papers (five of them, I think). I still have more to do tomorrow than I'd like--and I haven't finished all the final versions of first papers yet (fuck). The main goal is to be ready with the first versions of second papers for tomorrow's classes--which probably means an extra early alarm tomorrow. (This is not a particular problem: I can't go dancing yet anyway, so it won't much matter if I'm whipped at the end of the day.) Several students were to have left papers for me on my office door today (and dammit, I forgot to put up a notice that I had to cancel my office hour; shit). I think I'll get three; that means I'll have seven papers to do tomorrow. I still have a bunch of big papers from the Short Story class to get through as well. We do have a department meeting, but I think I'll blow that off--anything to get through this work as expeditiously as possible.

I wish I could continue to blow off P&B business, too, but that's going to bite me in the ass pretty soon here. (Again, fuck.)

But today's class went well. A snippy student came in to withdraw; I said, "I can't persuade you to stay?" and she said, "Not with C's." I signed the withdrawal form--and then saw that her last idea log got a B. I considered rubbing her nose in that: "If you'd only had the guts to stick it out, you'd have seen that you were learning and your grades improving...." Nah. She ain't worth it. Seems like we're down to about 16-17 students in the class--possibly more, but that's all that were there today--and they're a good group. Lively discussions, positive outlook, learning well.

Funny, when I logged in to write this post tonight, I thought I had a lot to say. Turns out I don't, it's all just going through the meat-grinder that is the middle of the semester. I am trying very hard to stay out of the grinder myself (I wonder how long I can milk the "I had my appendix removed" excuse?), but my students are in it big time. Now we begin to separate the strong from the weak, the mature from the babies. I'll tell them that; it might be a challenge to the ones who are wavering, make them want to stay.

Ech. More tomorrow.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


And no, I don't title this post that way because it's "Talk Like a Pirate Day." I've been trying to grade papers, and it's been trying indeed. Sweet Jaysus but they're bad. Sucky awful bad.

The student mantra seems to be, "If I keep writing the same way, eventually the teacher will see how brilliant it is." Au contraire. I want to scream at them TRY SOMETHING ELSE! I don't much care what, just something different. Write a way you haven't written before, because you keep doing the same thing over and over, even when I tell you it's fucking wrong.

I know. I know. The logical, compassionate part of my brain reminds the impatient, cranky part that they are having to let go of a very tenuous security they have writing as they have done in the past--because it's all they know. Even when it never got them good results before, it's what they know. And I'm asking them to throw it all entirely out the window and try something not only very new but rather difficult. Every molecule in their bodies is screaming in protest. Ed said I have to break them down, and I do--but as I'm dealing out the grades that I honestly think their work deserves, I start to hate myself for the pain they're experiencing. I know, on a beautiful theoretical level, that it is up to them how they incorporate the experience: they can see it as just pain or they can see it as the ache and stretch of a challenge. But their little selves are so deeply tied up in how their work is evaluated, and they don't have the maturity yet to take the "ouch," take a deep breath, and then say, "OK, what do I have to do?"

So sure, I can feel terrible that they are experiencing my feedback as severe pain, pain with no reward--or I can simply be the dealer in harsh realities and let them grow up or not, as they choose.

But of course, it isn't so simple. I do not like hurting them; I want to help them. But I don't have time to do it slowly and gently. And I don't want them to leave me completely unprepared for where they may go next. Even focusing on the process is brutal--because they do not get the process at all, either. Not the process, not the end result.

And I sit here, having to read their turgid platitudes or their ham-fisted statements of the obvious and try to explain to them why what they have produced is not analysis, not critical thinking. Fuck me blind.

They're dropping like flies, too. The most worrisome is that this semester's Wonder Boy was not in class on Thursday, and I haven't heard a peep from him since about submitting his paper. I'm about to e-mail him and find out what's going on. I'd hate for him to get anything less than at least a B, but if he punts this paper, he can't get there.

Plus I'm tired. Not quite enough sleep last night, and although I feel pretty much fit as a fiddle (however fit that may be), I am still recovering from surgery, so my energy ain't what it might be. Gawd, Gawd. Well, speaking of taking a deep breath and saying "OK, what do I have to do?" that's where I am at the moment. And since I'm (unusually) not only posting from home but posting over the weekend, the answer is, stop working, feed the cats, and get some rest. For tomorrow is another day.

Unproofed, unedited, unread, raw from the brain, up goes the post.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

From home

Even though I'm home all this week, recovering from an appendectomy, I'm still grading papers--and of course still fretting about classes and my students. It was amazingly hard to decide not to go in at all this week; I've had to pry my little bulldog teeth out of my schedules and let go of the arrogance that says I'm the only one who can get the students through the byzantine process of revision I've set up. In fact, I've got a perfectly lovely sub set up for the comp classes tomorrow, and the Short Story students are no doubt enjoying a holiday from reading for my class. I decided to have the Short Story students pause where they are until I'm back next week; I'll rework the schedule, cutting some stories out (thinking carefully about what to ditch--but that can be sort of fun). When I return, we'll discuss the stories they've already read and then move on. I'm also going to have to push all the paper due dates back a bit--we'll see how much I can juggle without running into problems with the final papers.

My schedules are always pretty tight, so the concern about time between papers is always somewhat problematic--but I'm also realizing that all the due dates, even the adjusted ones, are right on top of me. The semester seems interminable, until I have to juggle dates, or take a good look at how much work there is to do before it's all over; then it seems like there is no time at all.

I decided to jump onto the blog tonight because I've just been reading a paper that I'm damned sure is plagiarized in some way, but I can't prove it. In a weird way I'm glad I can't: the kid is an ex-Marine, and I'd hate to have due cause to nail him for cheating. My guess is that he has a girlfriend who is good at English, but since I can't prove it, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. If he really did cheat, I choose to believe (Pollyanna that I am) that his cheating ways will eventually bite him in the ass. If he didn't, well, as the Aussies would say, good on him. I'm not going to drive myself crazy about it; let him have the grade, deserved or not.

But hitting the potential plagiarism meant hitting that wall: I can't face any more grading tonight. As it is, I'm going to have a hell of a weekend ahead of me: the 102 students are turning in first versions of their second essays to the sub tomorrow, and providing comments on those is the part of the process that requires most time from me. So the more grading of other bits I can get out of my hair tomorrow, the better. Mostly, the plan is to have the decks largely clear so I can enjoy my birthday weekend next week and not have steaming piles of student work hanging over my head. Bad enough that I'll still be recovering from the surgery (though I expect to be largely back to normal by then). No way in hell am I giving up my birthday weekend to students. As I think I've said in posts past.

And now, back to my scheduled loafing about in sloppy clothes.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Is it December yet?

Well, I didn't get any papers marked today, but I did read half the sabbatical applications--and met with two frustrated students from the Short Story class. I started the day with an interesting meeting of an ad-hoc committee; I won't say much about it here (shhhh, the possibility of spies from administration monitoring what I do on this computer), but I did volunteer for one small task. Small, really (I hasten to add, hearing a groan of disappointment from the crowd: she missed the punt!)--and I volunteered largely because my friend Kristin has done 99.9% of the work for the committee so far, and I could tell she was about to take this other piece on, too. I'm not sure this task goes on the triage list, but it's probably one of those "I can't be in student minds any longer without going bonkers, but I need to keep working for a while" bits.

It's a good thing I was feeling good about accomplishments when I went to class, as I ended up having a mini-rant at the earlier 102 class. No one wanted to volunteer an answer from today's homework, and someone said they all were scared of me--and then one of the students who had been bitching about grades on Tuesday started up again with the "we see our grades and get discouraged" thing. OK, if you hit my "launch" buttons enough times, eventually I will indeed take off, though as my rants go, this one was pretty low-octane. I snagged one of Paul's lines--giving him due credit, of course. He differentiates between "bad" pain and "good" pain, as in the difference between a sports injury and the sore muscles of having played hard. This, he says--and I echoed--is good pain. The one who'd been bitching didn't say anything, but I did see her body language saying "Well, yeah, if you put it that way, you have a point."

In that class, I was truly appalled that several of the students didn't know who were on the opposing sides of the Revolutionary War. I said, "That's like not knowing who the first president of the United States is," and a student--in all seriousness--said, "Abraham Lincoln, right?" I stared, mouth agape. Another, seeing that that was obviously the wrong answer said--also in complete seriousness, "Benjamin Franklin?" I just put my head down on the desk for a minute. They all laughed--and I was playing the moment for comedy, but I genuinely am utterly aghast. I said something about it, and the girl who had suggested Franklin said that history was her worst subject in high school. I said, "This isn't about school; this is about just being a person in the world! How can you live to be your age and not know this, no matter what you studied?" She just laughed, but, well, words fail me. I mean, I sort of know this is true, but when it slaps me in the face like a rotten flounder, it's a different matter. It was a relief to get to the second class and have the Bright Boy of this semester not only know his history but automatically get bits of the poems that I usually have to draw out of students like impacted wisdom teeth.

In both classes we galloped through the day's poetry a bit too fast, but they were getting it--and in both classes, students who have never before responded to readings had things to say. And some who've talked up before but seemed a bit dim actually had very smart things to say. Excessively cool. Along those lines, the second class has developed a fondness for sitting in a circle instead of working in groups; I'd be concerned about the tendency of some students to retreat into silence when they're not in small peer groups--except that most of them are not, in fact, retreating into silence. They're talking, and responding directly to each other.

Two favorite moments, both from the later class: A) Two young men started to talk at once and then had a brief "After you, my dear Alphonse" back-and-forth yielding of the floor--until one of them said, "No, you go ahead, Bro." The other students responded with gentle laughter and smiles, acknowledging the warm familiarity. B) A student was fussing around with papers when I was getting ready to move on. I was waiting for her, and she said, without looking up, "Don't wait for me; pass out a handout or something." I laughed hard, as did the rest of the class. Prof. TLP, the Queen of Handouts. As I was laughing, I said, "That was brilliant!" She looked up and said, "Did you just call me brilliant?? I'm writing this down!" They're fun.

In that later class, a student showed up today who I thought for sure was gone for good. He told me his "sob story"--his words, not mine--and it does sound like it's been a rough time, but mostly he accepted that he is seriously behind the curve and will not be able to make the kind of grade he could/should have. In fact, after class I ended up talking with him and three other young men, all of whom are behind the curve, for any number of reasons. One also told his sob story (my words, not his), about how he had to go to court and hadn't even been sure he'd be allowed to go home (as opposed to being incarcerated, one assumes)--and apparently he's still not certain whether he's going to end up in jail or not. I told him about the possibilities for an administrative withdrawal and how to go about looking into that; we'll see what happens. Another of them is quite bright, but he's barely waving at most of the work--and he registered at the last possible moment, so he missed the entire first week. Well, he'll either pull up his socks or he won't. True for all of them. I've pointed out that their socks are falling down; the rest is up to them.

But shifting back to the students from Short Story who came to the office today: I think I mentioned the one who is clearly developmentally disabled, and it was extremely difficult to get him to understand that summary is not an argument, and that adding quotations does not create an argument if there isn't one. He said the right words when he left, but whether he understands the concepts behind those words is anyone's guess. I suppose I'll see when I get his next papers.

The other student had talked to me after the very first class, telling me that he always did badly in his English classes. He was submitting his paper late and wanted to talk to me about it--and I told him that just by glancing at the first paragraph, I could see he was doing all the things I've expressly said not to do, and conversely that he was not doing what is required. He dropped his head--a common reaction to being told that one's work is not cutting it. At first he looked up from time to time, but his head was hanging lower and lower, and the glances up stopped altogether, so I finally said, "What is it?" He whispered, "I'm frustrated." Oh, sweetie. I could see he was fighting tears, so I spent the next ten minutes giving him a pep talk: that gutting through frustration is the mark of the best students; that he's doing the right things by seeing me and working it through; that I'm making him write and think in ways that are completely new, and it's hard to let go of old habits; that it's early days yet--and he can revise. He said that he does want to learn and wants to do whatever professors say, but he also wants good grades, and the two are often in conflict. Yes, indeed. If one wants to learn, being concerned about the grade can get in the way. I ended by telling him that I refuse to lose him; he is going to make it through the semester, and he's going to see his grades go up. His first response was doubtful, so I made him restate it with more conviction. He left, saying he would do his best. That's all that can be asked of anyone.

Now I have a bag full of papers to take home over the weekend. I almost decided to take more with me, but I realize that would be evidence of delusion: it's highly unlikely I'll get through what I've already put in the bag. I'm just concerned to get the decks as clear as I can before Thursday's onslaught--and I'd prefer not to spend Tuesday on campus, grading. I'm willing to do some at home, but as long as the presidential debates are going to force me not to teach and fuck with my schedule of assignments, I'd prefer to treat Tuesday as a bonus gift of a day "off." Sleep late, leisurely breakfast, mark some papers--and go to dance class with no stress or worry about the work....

I just looked up and was reminded of the seasonal change: it's full dark out, and has been for a while. I sometimes complain about the short days, but right at the moment, it feels rather cozy, to be in my lamp-lit office (no overhead fluorescent lights for this woman) against the dark and nip of an autumn night.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I may regret this.

I'm feeling surprisingly on top of things at the moment. I have ten brazilian papers to grade, it's true, and I have to look at sabbatical folders, but I am completely caught up on logs--and I even got a couple of 102 papers graded; they seem to be going pretty quickly (minimal marking and brief comments: it's the ticket). I also feel like crap physically, so as soon as I finish this post, I'm going to do an errand or two (because when else will I have the chance?) and then go home. I may regret it; come Monday I may be bitching about having too much work to do and no time in which to do it. But for today, it feels like the right thing to do.

The day started with a departmental assessment meeting, which was a bit of a hairball. I confess that I created some of the mess, throwing a few too many balls in the air (mixing metaphors); I just wanted to download some of the stuff in my brain into other brains as well, so I wouldn't be the only one carrying it all. The whole ShitStream (oh, I beg your pardon, TaskStream) thing is going to be a bitch, but once we have it up and rolling, things should--please God--get easier.

Because that meeting was more than a little chaotic, it ran late, which got me to class late. No harm, no foul; the students didn't care, and a few got the benefit of not being counted late because they nipped into the room a few seconds before I did. But I think I've lost one of my favorite students, dammit; I'm not sure what happened to him, but I've not seen him for three classes in a row. Half the class had not read the story for today--not a surprise; that always happens--so we did a read-around; the story is short enough that we could read the whole thing and have plenty of time to discuss. I was directing more than I usually do; I notice that as one of my habits. When I am tired, cranky, or under the weather, I am less willing to do the heavy lifting, so I either send the students away or I hand them stuff on a platter. Today I almost opted for the former; I'm sure they'd have loved it, but I didn't want to deal with either calling in sick to Advisement or having to make up yet more time--and as long as I had to stay for that, I figured I might as well teach the class. We still finished early, so I met with the China Doll (meaning I wouldn't have to meet with her after Advisement, hooray).

That meeting with the China Doll was an interesting meeting. I hope she understood me (hard to tell), but the impression I got was that she doesn't really want to have to do the hard work she'll have to do in order to have even a chance of passing. I told her she'd probably have to do that work somewhere down the line, as she will need a literature class if she wants to get her degree, but I allowed as how she didn't necessarily have to do it with me--and I have a feeling she'll withdraw. I laid out very clearly what she would have to do if she remains in the class, and I told her that even then, I couldn't guarantee she'd pass. I told her I wanted her to try putting in the extra work for at least a month, but I also said that it was her decision. I reckon I'll know by Monday.

I feel terrible for the poor dear, but I also don't want to be the one to rescue her.

Speaking of rescue, tomorrow in my office hour, I'm going to meet with another student from that class. He is clearly mildly developmentally disabled, and although he's trying very hard and clearly has a lot of ego invested in doing well, I'm not at all sure I can get him to see anything beyond the superficial in any of the stories. I rather dread the meeting, I confess, but perhaps I'll be pleasantly surprised--or will come up with a brilliant inspiration in the heat of the moment. We'll see.

If there was anything else of note today, I didn't note it well enough for it to float to the surface now. I do have to find some paperwork for the Chancellor's Award and print out my summary, but then I will climb into my little car and waft away.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Stick a fork in me...

...I'm done. As I walked away from my last class today, I truly thought I was going to drop all my class crapola in my office, stagger to my car, and head home, leaving the mess for tomorrow. But (mercifully) Paul was here, and talking to him energized me. I was able to sort things into stacks (enormous, steaming piles, ready to spontaneously combust) and stared at my triage list for a while. Not that it made any sense to me, but I did see one thing I could do without a great deal of mental exertion, and then it would be out of my hair. I was bitching to Paul about when I'd find the time to do it, and the answer turned out to be, well, now.

The task was to finish up a five-page summary of my Chancellor's Award application. The process is a bit bizarre: nominees drive themselves into a frenzy putting together an enormous application--which is read only by our campus committee. That huge folder does not get sent to the SUNY committee in Albany; instead, Albany gets a five-page summary. If we were a smaller school with fewer applicants (and less in the way of overall committee responsibility), members of the campus committee would probably write the summaries, as well as the cover letters of endorsement, but that would be madly unwieldy here, so the nominees write their own summaries (all in third person), and a designated committee member writes the letter, which in effect summarizes the summary. Byzantine as hell, but there you go. In any event, now that I've done my job as a member of the committee by writing the letter for William's application and done my job as a nominee by writing my summary of my own application, I think (touch wood) that I am free of any responsibilities for the committee until spring. (And the crowd goes wild.)

The first 102 class today was pretty painful: the bitching about too much work that is too hard has gotten loud--and put a damper on the discussion of the poems, so I spent the discussion period trying to get the comatose elephant off the floor. In the second class, one young woman probably wanted to bitch, but she's too shy and sweet--and because of the lack of bitching (and in fact, a great deal of positive feedback on the process), the discussion was much better. The elephant may have been staggering around, but at least she was up and moving. Interesting how much the discussion of the literature is hampered or enhanced by students' attitudes about the work in general. (And thinking back to yesterday's Short Story class, note to self: if you plan to discuss literature, don't return graded papers until the end of class.)

I also suddenly realizes that not only are the students being cattle-prodded through a very narrow chute at the moment, I am, too: the 102s submit first versions of their next papers next Thursday--and I just collected final versions of their first papers today. Another note to self: yes, it's good to give the students time to work through revision (and reports were that they took advantage of that time--or at least the second class did), but I also have to give myself time to not only to grade but also to breathe. In the fall semester, we don't have week-long breaks (as we do in spring), so everything is crowded and hurried--and that crunch bites me as much as it does the students. I've been poring over the schedule to see if I could shift this second paper back a week, but doing so would A) collide with their reading of Left Hand of Darkness, which we all know is problematic enough and B) collide with my birthday weekend. I refuse to evaluate first versions of student papers over my birthday weekend. (More cheering and applause from the crowd.) But because I have so little time between papers, all I can think is that this will be yet another lesson for me in reducing the amount of marking and commenting I do. I simply won't have time.

Oh, yes, and I'm collecting first big papers from the Short Story class tomorrow, too. And this is the week we have to review sabbatical applications for P&B (which, as a reminder, stands for Personnel and Budget, not, as my friend Stacy suggested, Plagiarism and Bullshit--though I rather like that).


I will say, however, that the attrition is starting to happen in spades. (Interesting expression. Spades as in playing cards, I assume, not gardening instruments.) I'm hoping I manage to hang on to a few of them, but most of them I don't have strong feelings about either way; losing a student simply means less marking to do. Still, it is nice to have a semester in which there are no students that I actively want to lose.

No dance class for me tonight. I was running too late for it in any event, but honestly, I'm not in the right frame of mind. Better to go home and try to remember who I am other than Prof. TLP. E-mails to loved ones want to be written; movies want to be watched--and I'm the one to do it.

Monday, October 8, 2012

No real post tonight

Nothing all that interesting happened; it's been a street-sweeping kind of day. And I forgot that I promised my niece-in-law that I would help her with an essay (huge) which she needs back tonight (shit), so I have to race home and get to that. Heaven knows how long it will take, but for family....

Yikes and likewise zoiks. Off I go.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Briefly, on the fly

I have to be out of here in about 5 minutes in order to get to an appointment, but very quickly:

Today, the earlier 102 outshone the later one by at least one order of magnitude. They're embarking on poetry, and they're doing better than they think they are, but in the second class, not only were many of them afraid to share their ideas (afraid of looking stupid), it was murderously hot and humid in the classroom, which has a stultifying effect on student brains (and professor brains, too). But they did OK. Still, the mysteries of class chemistry: depending on who is there and who is not, the experience is decidedly different.

I had a slow morning getting out of the house (bliss) and still managed to get through some of the stack of Short Story assignments I need to grade by Monday. I've got a dance-filled weekend planned, and I'm hoping I can do it all and still finish all the marking.

I did forget to have an important handout ready for the students today--but oh well. I'd love to adjust the syllabus to give us more time with the poetry section, but I'm not sure I can.... Well, we'll see.

But now, gotta go. More on the flip side.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"Tired. Very Tired. A Need for Many Martinis."

Except I don't much like martinis. But it's the principle of the thing.

I hoped like hell I could get out of here as of, say, right now--I deeply wanted to get home so I could nap--but I'd forgotten that one of the people I am mentoring through a sabbatical application had asked to meet with me today at 5. I tried to get her to reschedule, but she didn't budge--and since the application is due on Monday, in good conscience, I can't put her off. Damn it.

But I don't regret having stayed at dance class until 10:30 last night. I'd have stayed even later if I hadn't had to be at a subcommittee meeting this morning. The meeting was about that fucking online Assessment  "platform," and even though five of us have now officially been trained and are allowed to get in and edit the department's stuff, the problem is the need for a conceptual mind-meld between the way we in the humanities think and work and the way corporate bureaucracies expect people to think and work. The sciences and social sciences no doubt find the meld easier (though I expect some of the social sciences feel the strain), but we're sort of prowling the edges of the thing, sniffing suspiciously, and trying to figure out a way in that makes any kind of sense for us.

We were trying find a way for the five of us on the subcommittee to meet in a computer lab so we could work through the process together, and I asked Bruce if we could apply for a day off to do it. He said we can't take that kind of leave for college business--even though it's called a "College Business day." (If it's part of our work on campus committees, we have to do it in our own time.) But Bruce was so alarmed that we thought we'd need that kind of time, he told us the good news: the Wicked Witch of Assessment (the one mandating that we use this platform and setting deadlines for "compliance") may be on her way out. Not only do the department chairs think she's using air that could better go to other purposes, so do a number of the deans--and they all made the point abundantly clear in the presence of our acting interim president and a member of the Board. I'm not sure whether that means we can dither around on it, making vague waving gestures, until she's gone--or if, as one subcommittee member pointed out, we're going to have to deal with some version of this bureaucratic bullshit sometime, so we might as well learn to swim in these murky waters. (Jeez, how many metaphors can I mix?)

The issues were left undecided until the entire committee meets next week--and I went straight from there to the Short Story class. Most of the students are still hanging on, despite the grades they're getting--and I actually am happy about that, even though the paper grading takes longer. What I like is that they feed off each other, leading to very productive group work (in fact, it's often hard to get them to stop) as well as vibrant class discussion.

One interesting event in that class: I discovered that a student was plagiarizing her homework and had plagiarized her first mini-paper. Complicated story, which I won't get into now, but when I pointed it out to her, she said, "But I put it all into my own words..." and looked very confused. I know some students are bullshitting when they put on the innocent act (and Paul is even more cynical than I am about that), but in this case, I believe her. When I got the plagiarized paper, she got the infamous Paul letter about it--and 24 hours after class, I got a lovely, apologetic and mature e-mail: she accepted full responsibility and expressed gratitude that I hadn't treated her more harshly. She asked if she could see me after class today--and she apologized again and again expressed her gratitude. It felt sincere, and I'm glad she has had the learning opportunity. She says she is too: she told me she was glad I told her now, before she got further down the road. Yes, Child.

A sadder note in that class. Another long story, which again I won't get into, but one of the students is an ESL student, Chinese I believe, and she is in grave danger of failing. She came to me after class a few weeks ago to ask if she could have extra time to do the reading and to write her papers; I firmly told her no, that she is no longer in "developmental" levels, so she is expected to keep up with everyone else--but I did suggest that she come to my office hours or make an appointment. She hasn't, and if anything, her work is getting worse. Not only can she not write syntactically correct English sentences, she cannot understand basic plot points in the stories--never mind being able to even approach any kind of critical thought or analysis. I know that it probably took all her courage to come to me after class, and the idea of sitting down with me is no doubt terrifying to her, so I haven't pushed her on it. However, I had a long talk in Advisement with a colleague from philosophy, who seconded my thought that I must hold the line with this young woman, not pull punches in terms of her grades--and who also strongly believes I should mandate that the student meet with me. I don't know what I can do to help this student, but what infuriates me is that my colleague showed me how to find out who this girl's professors had been and what grades she'd gotten: in both 101 and 102, she got A's. And I believe I know why. One of her professors teaches the ESL course as well as 101, and I know he is wildly forgiving of non-native speakers' use of English, along the "their problems are fossilized; they can't do better; as long as they have good ideas it doesn't matter" line. The other is reputed to have a fondness for young Asian women.

I need to just let that sit there for a moment and resonate.

The reasons for the A's are bad enough, but the worst part is, this poor young woman has not been prepared for actual college work--and had no idea that she wasn't. Now she suddenly is in so far over her head that I don't see how she can do anything but drown. And I'm the one holding her head under. Well, not really: I'll do what I can, but at a certain point, it really is sink or swim, damn the cliche.

However, let me shift gears into something distinctly more pleasant. One of my colleagues is working on a project that will include a number of Le Guin's works and a bit of an ecocrit angle--but she's coming at it from a non-Western perspective, so she is not familiar with the stuff I know. A lot of what I know is relatively antique from an Americanist perspective, but it's new to her, and suddenly I feel sort of smart again in terms of my knowledge as a scholar. Talking to her may even inspire me to get up to date on the latest Le Guin criticism: I haven't looked into what's out there for some time now, and it would be interesting to see what's new. Neela--my colleague--just finished The Dispossessed and is now a bona fide Le Guin fan. Six more and I get the toaster oven.

But now, I still have a little time to kill before my sabbatical mentee arrives, so I need to brush up my knowledge of the requirements for a sabbatical application--and maybe grind through a few more of the Short Story logs and mini-papers that landed on me today (a bit like having a mountain fall into one's lap). If I can keep my gritty, bleary eyes focused long enough.

And tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Somehow, today, all my usual organization completely went to shit. I'm not the neat and tidy kind of organized, but generally speaking, I do have all the pearls on a string. Today it felt like the string simply vanished, and heaven knows what's fallen through the floorboards. As soon as I complete this blog post, I'm going to sit at my desk for a minute simply to try to sweep together the bits I can find--and update my triage list. As I've said before, I haven't quite descended to the level at which I need to make lists of my lists, but I'm getting perilously close.

I still want to get to dance tonight, too; I hope I make it.

The rest of this will be in no particular order--and I'm not going to try to make any kind of transitions. Bounce along with the pearls, dear readers.

Good news/bad news: Because of the presidential debate at Hofstra on October 16, all classes are canceled at NCC after 11:30 a.m.--which means all my classes are canceled. Good news: I have a bonus afternoon off. Bad news: the students have a moderately important assignment due that day, and I absolutely cannot juggle the schedule to put it off, not without buggering everything else for the rest of the semester. I'm weighing options, but the students may just have to do their best without class discussion or feedback from me.

Realizations: I like the basic idea of the new revision process, but my instructions are way the hell too complicated and confusing. I need to break it all down into much smaller bits--and one page, highly simplified handouts, instead of the comprehensive multi-page mess I have now. I'm also ditching the whole "after the fact outline" idea. It's a terrific tool, to be able to outline one's own argument as a way to evaluate organization, but it's just beyond these students: they have absolutely no clue what's going on, no matter how I try to present the idea. I may see if I can dredge up the visuals I once had for my 101 classes, about diagramming an argument, but I have serious doubts about whether it would be organizationally helpful in terms of their writing (it's better as a tool for analyzing someone else's argument, particularly in a nonfiction essay or journalistic piece).

Interesting e-mail exchange with a student from the Short Story class from last night to this morning. I got a very snotty message saying, "If I wanted to do my mini paper on the story "Sweat" how am I suppossed to do that if you collected my idea log with ALL of my ideas....?  Leaves me with only one new story to chose from "Blood-Burning Moon" which I disliked." My response (condensed): "A) consider the tone of your message. You could have asked politely, but you chose to be antagonistic. I wonder why. B) I'm happy to leave your log on my office door; you can pick it up any time." I have to confess I'm very proud of myself that I didn't say, "Why should I help you out, you snotty little shit?" which was, of course, how I was feeling--and this morning he very politely thanked me. The message may have been dripping with sarcasm, but I chose to take it as genuine and thanked him for the polite reply. I rise above pettiness; watch me soar.

Classes today were a blast. The students were experiencing serious brain melt-down, but at the same time, they were willing to joke around with me and with each other: the ice has completely melted in both classes--and most of the dead wood is gone, so those who are left are doing it. Perhaps my favorite bit was in the second class: first, a student called me over to check out an idea for his revision, and he began the conversation by saying, "You were right..." at which point I interrupted: "Thank you! I'm so glad you think I know something about this." I said it in a completely cheerful and sincere manner, and it got a laugh. Then, not long after, another student said, "You were right..." about something else: again, "Thank you!" but this time I said to the whole class, "I'm so glad you guys are validating my experience here." Big laugh. Even the earlier class was filled with laughter and energy today. Man I love when that happens.

But if I'm going to have that minute to sit down and pull my head back on, I need to do it now, so off I go, tally-ho.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Brain Break

The grading is going somewhat more quickly using this new procedure; I just have to continually remind myself to mark less. I also don't have the typed comments categorized yet, so I'm spending more time than I'd like searching to find the specific pieces I want to cut and paste. Eventually, I'll have all the bits created and in place, but meanwhile, I'm stuck half-way between the old process and the new. Still, I see that the new process has potential.

I'm interested to notice that in the Short Story class, virtually every single mini-paper started with a statement of fact, rather than a thesis--but my 102 students are not stating facts. Most of them are starting with enormous generalizations, but all in all, I'm getting more actual, workable introductory paragraphs from the comp students than I am from the lit students--who should, theoretically, be more advanced. Go figure.

I still have nine more papers to grade before tomorrow's classes--and I don't have my usual wodge of free time in the morning. Instead, I have to do the training session for that hateful computerized assessment thingy, which will gobble up who knows how much time (I already put it off once, and I need to have it done before the subcommittee meeting on Wednesday). Even if I bail on P&B (which I may), that still truncates how much time I can give to paper grading tomorrow. So I need to shove myself through at least a few more tonight, painful though it is. This is a brief brain and dinner break; then back to the grind.

Side note: several students in the 102 classes didn't submit papers at all, even though they contacted me to ask what to do about having missed class. I told them what to do; I guess it seemed too scary. One of them seemed all set to follow through--but he suddenly fell off the map, which is disappointing. Another sent her paper via e-mail--after the 72-hour deadline and from her personal e-mail address (one of those "" addresses), both of which are verboten. I sent an e-mail back saying, "I don't know who you are; if you are one of my students, send your message from your college account." I bet anything you like she'll come to class and ask if I got her paper. I'm going to play dumb: "I don't remember; did you get a response from me?" I'm tired of bending the rules, dammit; they're not so difficult to follow.

On a more cheerful note, the short story class went well again today--even through they're freaking out after getting their mini-papers back. The great news is that one student already appeared during my office hour to get help, and another has written to ask if he can meet with me. That's how to take responsibility for your work, Kiddies. Take note.

My soup is hot. A quick dinner at the desk, then back to the papers. We'll see how long I can hold on.