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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Attack of the "shoulds"

I had to leave Advisement early to take one of my cats to the vet, and I very conscientiously brought work home with me, as I'd planned to put in a good chunk of time in my office this afternoon and early evening. Now that I'm home, however, and my cat working off her frustrations at the indignities she has suffered, I find I simply can't face any of the grading. Not even one little piece. I'm done. Stick a fork in me.

Of course, this means I probably should get up an hour earlier than usual tomorrow--but I don't think I'll do that, either. One way or another, I'll get the first versions of 102 final papers marked, and if the gods smile (as they sometimes do), I'll also knock off the rest of the second papers that I have in hand (I may get one or two more, but that's it). Then all I'll have to do over the weekend is grade second essays for the Short Story class--which will be enough, dammit, as I also have social events on my calendar that I refuse to miss.

Class today was fine; the students started out saying the story du jour (John Crowley's "Gone") was "weird," but when we started talking about it, they got to the meat of it pretty well. The senior observer said it was almost like a sermon in the form of a story--and in terms of what it conveys, he's nearly right. (It's also simply a beautifully written story; Crowley can be a bit too much sometimes, but I'm a fan.)

I'm not sure how many students I actually have left, but I think it's thirteen (though I rarely have all thirteen in the room at once). That's not counting the senior observer--who also was very complimentary today as he left class, telling me that it's been a privilege to be in the class. (Thank you. I'm honored.) I'm glad I have that many left; it's still an insanely huge attrition rate, but it's better than some semesters. In the 102s, a few more have fallen by the wayside--including one who by all rights should have been this semester's Wonder Student. He's still coming to class, but he's stopped turning in work. I need to talk to him.

Two nice moments I want to record, one from yesterday, one from today. Yesterday, as I was leaving my last class, a colleague called to me in the hall and told me that he'd seen my e-mail asking people to tout Native American Lit for me--and that he thought his 102 class had some good candidates. I've been chatting with his students as I pack up to leave and they come in, so when I made the pitch, several of them immediately wrote it down with great interest. I thought that was very nice of him--and it was nice to see that those students respond well to me simply because I'm friendly with them. (I still have only seven registered for it--but it's early days yet, or so I tell myself.)

Today's nice moment came in the form of an e-mail from the student who had braided himself trying to avoid admitting that he'd been irresponsible. He wrote to say he'd forgotten to thank me for allowing him to withdraw, that he thought I am an "awesome" professor, one of the only serious professors at NCC--and that he was learning a lesson: that it's time to grow up. He thanked me for that, too. Nice. It took him a while, but it's a good realization for him to have had. It probably won't stick just yet, but that's OK. At least the seed has been planted.

It was interesting, yesterday, to talk to my students about the process of writing--all over again, as if it were the first time. After our discussion of the novel, they were saying they were probably going to have to change their theses. Yes, I said: that's the process. You have to throw out a lot of crap ideas before you find the one that will fly. That's just how it works. They looked a little as if I had told them there really is no Santa Claus, but I think they've had enough lived experience of revision now to begin to believe I'm right. (I'm right.)

After class, the Poor Dear Thing ran through her song and dance with me again, first protesting that I kept saying she was misreading the novel but she didn't think she was. I said if she did understand, then she needs to work on expressing what she understands, because it sure looks like she doesn't get it--and I think I'd be the better judge of whether her understanding is accurate. But the conversation then turned into a lecture about her negative self-talk, and about self-fulfilling prophecies, and how she is undermining her chances of success before she even tries by telling herself how stupid she is and that she'll never make it. As she left, she called down the hall, "I love you, Professor!" OK. Thanks.

It feels strange to be blogging from home instead of from the office--and my kitchen is calling to me (the meal I've been meaning to cook for ages singing siren songs, "O, chop onions! O, saute eggplant!"). Enough for now. I may not post tomorrow; I have another observation immediately after my last class and probably will just hop in the car and head home after. I'm just explaining because I know you worry.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

a non-post post

Just to say no time to write tonight. Backson. Bisy backson.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Grind, grind...

I know that the time is going to whip by; I know we're into the "hang on to the safety bar and scream" part of the roller-coaster ride, but each day feels like being stuck between mill-stones, or being the mill-stones, or being the donkey walking around and around in a circle, turning the mill-stones, or something. I really should have ground one more paper out of myself today (or seven more out of myself over the weekend), but the grind just gets to be too hard to take. And the grind is only going to increase: I'm going to have my hands full getting successive versions of final papers looked at and returned to students over the next three weeks. This week I'm getting first versions from the 102s; next week, first versions from the Short Story class and second versions from 102s; then the next week, second versions from the Short Story class and final versions from the 102s--and then final versions from the Short Story class, and I'm done. But meanwhile, I have the second essays from the Short Story class, which I need to get back to them by Monday so they have a shot at revising, and I'm still collecting logs--and I still have seven more final versions of second papers to grade for the 102 classes (and a few more are still pending).

Jesus, this semester is just a cluster fuck. I'm feeling sick thinking about it.

Two moderately annoying student interactions today. One of the lunks from the earlier 102 wrote to me over the weekend to ask if he could withdraw. I made him come talk to me--and lectured him rather severely about actually working, not counting on charm, or whatever he thinks has gotten him through to this point. The annoying part was watching him try to pretend that the hurricane was sufficient excuse--even though his first major fuck-up was not turning in the first essay. He was all but tying himself into macrame trying to avoid admitting that he simply was ravingly irresponsible all semester long--and I have no patience for it. It isn't cute. Grow up.

The other moment was in the form of an e-mail from a student from the later class who I actually rather like. She's cute and smart (though she, too, hasn't buttoned it up in terms of getting her work in, even before the storm). She's the one who showed up (with her twin) at the end of class on Tuesday last week--and I realize now I probably should have told her to withdraw then. She was very confident that she could read the novel over Thanksgiving, but in her e-mail she asked if I thought she could write her paper without having read the book, if just doing the research was enough. I'm still trying to wrap my brains around the fact that she asked, but I simply said no, she does have to read the book because the bulk of her paper has to be her analysis of the novel, which (obviously) she can't find through research. She wrote back to say that was what she thought, but she'd gotten to chapter 7 and was lost.... Well, Sugar, that's what happens when you miss three weeks of class after the disruption of the hurricane. I wrote back and said (essentially), OK, so what do you intend to do? She didn't even ask about whether she should withdraw, or ask if she could meet with me.... Up until this moment, I'd been thinking I'd encourage her to take the class from me again in the spring, but now I'm not so sure. I'm beginning to suspect she may not be as good a student as I'd given her credit for, and I don't want to have to smack her around for another semester. But she really does need to cut her losses this term. She isn't going to make it.

To end on a positive note (as I like to do, whenever I can), I'm still getting lots of positive feedback in Advisement, students telling me that I'm much more helpful than other advisers they've had. Good. I may not be as "efficient" as some of my colleagues, but the students leave feeling confident and knowledgeable, which I think is the real goal, not to get them in and out as quickly as possible.

But thinking of getting out as quickly as possible, I'm going to fold my tents and steal off into the night. I had intended to make a grocery run and cook up some food that has been in the fridge just about long enough--but I'm reconsidering. I may find a delicious book and take myself out for dinner. Whatever helps get one through, yes? And with luck, when I come in tomorrow, I'll be ready to take on the rest of those papers and knock through them with dispatch. One student is going to meet with me tomorrow to talk about the novel (good plan); I'm wondering if others may want to join us. The more the merrier. But that's tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day. Maybe I'll be stronger. (And as God is my witness, I'll never go hungry again. Sorry, it's completely irrelevant, but it's another Scarlett O'Hara quotation, and since I'm thinking about dinner...)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

staggering into the oasis

Gawd almighty it was hard to get myself here today. Every molecule in my body was screaming "Nooo!!" at the very thought of having to do anything other than lie about in my sloppy clothes and stare mindlessly into space, interspersed with naps. Rather like the cats. If all goes as planned, that's exactly what I'll be doing tomorrow.

But once I got here, of course, the old war horse knew the drill, trotted through her paces like a trooper. Or trouper, if one considers what I do a performance, which in some ways it is. Students were mostly present for the Short Story class--and I mean that in both senses: most of them were present, and the ones who were there physically were mostly present, if not entirely. I wasn't surprised by most of the absentees: they've been falling apart anyway. Most of the students had papers for me, too. And with a little prodding, they got into a pretty good discussion--even of Gallagher's "The Lover of Horses," which they'd been obstinately resisting on Monday. Two rather overlapping thematic categories are emerging from the stories (actually, the stories were chosen specifically with those categories in mind): one is Coming of Age, the other is Parents and Children. Of course, in terms of their papers, those ideas are way the fuck too huge: "What about Coming of Age? What about Parents and Children? What's the perception or insight we gain from the stories?" (Prof. TLP's perpetual comment: if it would fit on a stamp, I'd have one made up, like the Bozo Error stamp Paul had made for me.) But they're still hacking away at it--the ones who are left.

Typically, the attrition rate in all of my classes is approximately 50%--a little more for the Short Story class. I have about 13 of 28 students left, and I'm not completely sure all of them will stick to the bitter end. Most will, but a few more may implode before it's all over. I haven't counted the exact number remaining in my comp classes, but I think the tally would be low double digits in both. And again, I'm not sanguine about how many of those will make it through. I think Paul's right: this must be a sign that I deserve promotion to full professor, even in the absence of any meaningful scholarship or contributions to the college as a whole.

Somewhat surprisingly, there was a pretty steady stream of students in Advisement. Paul had thought it would be relatively empty (day before Thanksgiving and all that), but I think two factors were at work. One, students had to be here for classes anyway, so decided to make use of the time on campus. Two, a number of them probably thought exactly what Paul did and figured they would have less of a wait if they came today. It took me a while to get the cogs of my brain engaged with the wheels of Advisement; the first few students I saw must have thought me a gibbering idiot. Nothing was making much sense to me, like when I'm tired but trying to read something with any weight: what the students said, their paperwork, information on the computer, all washed over me without soaking in: lots of words but no understanding. "Blah blah blah, Ginger." But I got there eventually, and received genuine thanks from a few students who told me I'd helped more than any other adviser they'd seen. Thank you; I'll take the compliment.

Sitting in Advisement, I got thinking about my own spring courses: I just checked, and Native American Lit has five students at the moment. That's not bad for this point in the registration process, but I've been to this fire before. I hope I don't go through the usual nail-biting about whether the thing is going to run--but I will have to print out fliers and hang them up in Advisement (if nowhere else), for the delectation of students waiting to be seen. My colleague who is teaching Nature in Lit distributed his flier, and I'm very interested in his approach. I've asked for his reading list; I'll be curious to see what he'll be teaching that's new to me. I'm happy to shill his course for him--but in exchange I may ask him to shill mine for me, especially as I see he already has more students than I do (eight to my five: Shall we have a competition?). Of course, what I really hope is that both run with full counts. Wouldn't that be great?

I have a little time in which to noodle around before I meet Paul for a steak dinner/work session. I can feel the muscle knots in my neck already letting go, just at the thought of that kind of fun. I'm taking a bunch of papers home to work on over the weekend, but I'm not going to think much about that for at least 40 hours or so, maybe more. And I will be back with you, Dear Readers (all two of you), next week.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

on the fly

About to run off to dance class--passing up a golden opportunity to do damage to my blood pressure by attending tonight's Board of Trustees meeting.

The good news is, I'm caught up on P&B business. Now I get to turn my attention to paper grading. A small but significant portion of the 102 students haven't yet turned in the final versions of their second essay--and next week we start the process of their final papers. I've also decided I don't want the half-assed crap they've been submitting in lieu of actual plot summaries/logs/glossaries--so I've told them to button it up, do good work (i.e. something approaching completion of the tasks I've actually assigned) and turn it in all at once.We'll see how that flies. It will be a bit of a crunch for me in terms of marking, but I'm not going to comment, just read enough to assign a grade.

One student I thought I'd lost for sure showed up after class today, ready to resume. I'll let her try--she's smart and had been a pretty good student until the storm, which coincided with a death in her family. I don't know if she can pull it off, as she hasn't even started reading the novel yet, but it doesn't hurt me any to let her make the attempt. The funny thing was that she showed up with her twin sister. At first, I saw the twin and thought she was my student, but then I saw the other face, and I said, "I'm looking at [the one not my student]--but that's my student there." They were astonished I could tell them apart: they may be genetically identical twins, but their faces are distinctly different. They were cute about it; cute in general, in fact. We'll see what happens.

I ended up giving both classes the "this is for you" speech, the one in which I say that it's their responsibility to ask questions and make sure they have the information they need. "It's your education; take responsibility for it." The ones who most need to hear that of course don't--or don't right now. I hope that somewhere down the line the words will return to them in a time of need.

And I note again the marked difference between the two classes. The first one was like wading through cold, congealed oatmeal; the second included laughter and good points, good understanding. I told the second class that I'll be teaching Native American Lit in the spring. I didn't mention it to the first class.

Ach, whatever. I told Paul today that between the two sections, I have approximately one section's worth of students. He said that should count as "recognized distinction," the criterion for promotion to full professor. I couldn't agree more.

But now off I go. I hope to post a slightly better crafted, more coherent precis of tomorrow, but those dancin' feet are callin' me.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Everything but papers...

I bailed on my Advisement time today (cough, cough, wheeze, snort, I'm too sick to come in): I realized I could clear a lot of the underbrush by taking those hours and applying them to committee crapola. And damn, it feels good. Of course, I'm pointedly ignoring a steaming pile of essays from the 102 students that I have not begun to mark, as well as random scattering of (pretty crappy) idea logs and glossaries--but I got the letter written for the sabbatical application I'm mentoring (the application is a mess, but the letter is done); I looked at most of the rest of the applications and took notes (and will have a chance to look at the rest tomorrow before P&B); I wrote up the observation from last week; and I just finished doing some additions to the work-load rationale we're putting together to help the union in contract negotiations, which will get very hot very soon. (The contract expires next August, but the administration already started the battle by suggesting they were going to require that we essentially punch a time clock, sitting in our offices for a 40-hour work week. You can imagine the hooting and cat-calling--and suggestions that if they pay us for overtime, that might not be a bad deal, as most of us routinely work more than 40 hours a week, albeit not necessarily in our offices.)

In any event, that's all out from under my feet now, and it's remarkable how much easier the load feels. I do worry a little about what may have fallen through the floorboards (there must be something major I'm forgetting; I must be heading toward an "Oh shit!" moment)--but not too much. The main thing for now is to take a look at what's still on the desk, including those student assignments, and determine whether I can get more done today or if I'm going to pull a Scarlett O'Hara.

I've lost a few more students from the Short Story class. One needed to go a long time ago; it's good he finally recognized it. One could have been a good student, but she never did the work she needed to do (she hasn't officially withdrawn yet, but when we talked last week, I got a strong feeling that was where she was heading). Most of the rest are hanging in--bitching about their paper grades, but I'm not fussing about that. I can't help it if they aren't smart enough to figure out that if they are unhappy with their grades, they need to see me to figure out what to do differently, and more than once if necessary.

But the main thing that struck me today is how differently classes will respond to the same reading. In past semesters, the Le Guin short story I'm teaching, "Malheur County," has been a bust: students couldn't get it at all. Today, at least one young woman got it just right: beautiful. But also in the past, students have loved Tess Gallagher's "The Lover of Horses"--and this time, no one got it, and most of them hated it. (A connection between those two things perhaps?) We didn't really finish talking about it today, so we'll see what I can pull out of them on Wednesday. Maybe we need to start with the final paragraph (which is pretty powerful) and work backward. I do wish I could get them to stop thinking in cliches, but maybe that's just too much to ask.

I've just had a very nice chat with Paul about everything from sleep to food to students--and even though it's relatively early, I'm done. I will at least put the piles of crap on my desk into some kind of order before I go, but that's as far as I can manage. Scarlett O'Hara time. And again--this is becoming all too frequent--I'm going to toss this up on the blog with out re-reading so much as a syllable.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"trampled to death by geese"

Paul used the phrase the other day to describe what our lives feel like; I did some looking around, and the quotation is by Kierkegaard, from a journal entry of musings about death, in which he wonders "which is worse: to be executed or to be slowly trampled to death by geese?" Shoot me now.

It's the little stuff. It's all the detritus, the niggly bits, the chain reaction stuff: to do this means first to do this which means first to do this then to do this.... I got some little bits of flotsam at least chipped at, but more is tangling around my ankles and buzzing around my head. I'd say it's endless, but it does at least pause periodically. Still, the next pause won't be for quite a while. It's that time of semester. Hang on to the safety bar and scream.

I should try to get one more thing done today, but I just can't face anything at all. In addition to everything here at NCC, I also am getting whapped in the face with ASLE business, which I simply do not want to pay attention to right now. I'm wondering if I should resign this year, as I feel utterly useless at it and really have no time for it. I'm particularly cranky about it right now, because today's ASLE e-mails include a rather fierce statement that people really should not propose solo papers for the next conference but should form a panel, or at least a partial panel. I'm still trying to get my fucking abstract pulled together, and it's due tomorrow--and how in the bloody hell am I supposed to put together a panel, even a partial one, and with whom? I wrote an e-mail to the VP in charge of the conference and asked if I should even bother. I hope he answers tonight or tomorrow morning; my intention was to work on the abstract tomorrow, but if there's no point in doing so, God knows I have enough other shit I have to do. I will be pissed off and hurt and upset if I can't submit an abstract--I am feeling increasingly disenfranchised from my own group, god dammit--but on the other hand, I will take the opportunity to come to the office and get some P&B business done.

Fuck. This just hits me squarely in the "I can't be a scholar because I'm so busy trying to teach severely undereducated young people how to begin to think" button. I want to be a scholar. I love being a scholar. I don't remember how to be a scholar. My scholarship is more than a decade out of date by now. But I don't want to be one of those people who throws the students under the bus, because I want just as much to be a good teacher, too, and I care deeply about reaching those students.

And I did reach them, at least a little today. Two students showed up for the discussion session--and were deeply grateful. We had our library research classes today, so most of each period was spent with the students starting to find sources for their final papers (and I just have to note one of the two library instructors was a disaster). Even so, I know I was helping the students, talking with them about what they were finding, and how, and so on. (I also spent some time during the librarians' presentations reading some of Le Guin's blog entries on her website: fierce, touching, laugh-out-loud funny. I'm going back for more.)

Well, hell. All I can do is all I can do. I will trust that whatever happens in terms of proposing a paper for ASLE is for the best. If I'm encouraged to go ahead, I will; if I'm not, I'll focus on the relief--and move my attention to my own book idea (speaking of Le Guin), and the project with Paul.

And now, I'm going to sign off and drag a bunch of papers home to work on this weekend. I'm not sure how far I'll get, but anything is to the good. I will have to do some paper grading over the Thanksgiving weekend, too, which I was madly hoping to avoid (the fucking hurricane ruined that carefully laid plan; the mice and I are in agreement about how agly plans can gang), but the more I can get off my plate before next Thursday, the happier I'll be. (Of course, the real trick is to be happy even when the work is avalanching. I'll see what I can do about that.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Very quick bitch, er, post...

Last night's observation ended up not happening: the students were going to spend the entire period writing first drafts of a paper, so there wouldn't be much to observe. The cool thing is that in today's P&B we decided to postpone that observation until spring. Ya-hoo.

I held another discussion session for just myself. Actually, one student did try to come, but there was a miscommunication, and she went to my office instead of the conference room where I was waiting. I feel a bit guilty about that (only a bit)--but most of the students don't seem to want the extra discussion time, and the few who do generally can't make the times I have scheduled. I'll hold a few more (I can grade papers anywhere), but if they're really not happening, I'll cancel the rest.

Thursday my 102s will be in the library (so no discussion of the novel, just work toward their research papers). I don't know what that will do in terms of making them feel more need for the discussion sessions--or less.

Tonight's observation, of a new adjunct, was a complete delight. A very well run class taught by a charming instructor. Nice.

I have so much shit on my triage list that I just want to hide. William and I were joking earlier that the thing to do would just be to declare the semester over, grade the students on what they've done to this point, and tell everyone "We'll see you in January." Wouldn't that be heavenly? Barring that, I'm about to take a page from the Albert the Alligator playbook and yell, "Earthquake! Earthquake! Game called on account of an earthquake!" (You have to know your Pogo to follow this blog.)

I feel frazzled but not anxious, if that makes sense. Frantic but not worried. Whatever. All I can do is whatever is right in front of me at that moment to be done; no sense fretting about what next. And now, what I can do is go pick up my laundry and go home to collapse. After all, tomorrow... well, you know the rest.

Monday, November 12, 2012

I gave a discussion session...

...and nobody came. Good. I can mark assignments.


Very suddenly I'm in full "oh shit, I have too much to do when am I going to get it all done" mode. The trickle of student assignments coming in is starting to turn into a freshet (thank you, Ed), and there is P&B business, other committee work, my abstract (still a mess, though more words in the mess).... Plus much of the free time I'd usually have for marking stuff is going to the extra discussion sessions for my 102 students. And the increasing stream of students in Advisement (no real pauses today, except the break I took to eat my lunch). And two observations this week. And dance class. Yeesh.

Consequently, I won't have much time for blogging for a while. I had most of the remaining students back in class today; only one still among the absent, and I have at least heard from her, so I know she's OK and plans to return. Discussion was OK. We spent some time reconfiguring the assignment schedule--again--and ditching a mini-paper, moving the second big essay just a smidge.

I'm about to go to one of those discussion sessions, and immediately thereafter I have an observation, which won't end until about 8, by which time I'll want to head straight home. Tomorrow: study session, P&B, class, class, observation, back to back, no break. Wednesday: class, Advisement, study session, dance. Thursday... well, you get the idea.

Off I go. I'll take work down the hall with me, in case no one shows. Be interesting to see.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Getting through

I got a good wodge of P&B work done today; yesterday I marked all the assignments (well, the few I had) for today's classes, so I had the morning free to crank away. I looked at all the promotion folders for the folks I'm mentoring; there are two more that I should look at, just as a good Do-Bee, but next week is early enough for that.

I have a fair-sized folder of miscellaneous flotsam to take home and mark over the weekend--as much as I can, but I also must must must finish the proposal for a paper I want to present at the ASLE conference next summer, and that has to take priority. I'm having a powerfully difficult time getting any genuinely interesting thoughts to coalesce, but I'll fall back on the "write anything and see what comes out" technique.

I was playing to pretty empty houses today, in my role as Spinster Professor. As was the case yesterday, some who had been there on Tuesday were not there today, and some who'd been absent were there. I really do not know if the students will be able to read enough of the novel and understand it well enough to write their papers. I'm not sure what to do if we get closer to that point and they're utterly lost. I suppose I could ditch one of the preliminary versions... But I'm not going to get into the "what if" scenarios. I said I'd be improvisational, and that means no planning.

A sweet moment: a student arrived at the end of class to withdraw. I asked if he was OK, how he'd gotten through the storm--but honestly, he'd pretty well vanished long before the hurricane. I asked if he was sure withdrawal was his best option (I was pretty sure it was, but I thought I'd give him the chance)--and he said yes, but that he was really sorry. "You're the best English professor I've ever had. I've had two here before you, and I really mean it, you're the best. You're so organized." I've heard that before, and every time I do, I'm pole-axed. Me? Organized? OK, if you say so, but it sure doesn't feel that way from my end (pearls falling through the floorboards).

 But I'm as organized as I'm going to get today. I am completely grateful that I had lights and heat when I got home yesterday, and thus should still be returning to a warm and lit apartment tonight. I wonder how long it will be before I forget to notice and give thanks? But before I go home, I fully intend to go to a cozy restaurant and have a nice meal and a fucking enormous drink. I'd have two if I thought I could drive home safely. I may even literally let my hair down. Six weeks left--including Thanksgiving week, which hardly counts (and which is almost on top of us). The roller-coaster ride begins: hold onto your hat....

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Anyone see four horsemen?

Now we have very wet snow falling on trees that still have leaves on them....

I have almost nothing to say, actually. Not many students, not all the same ones who were there on Monday (some new, some missing), and the discussion was pretty deadly, lots of looooong silences. I saw one student in Advisement: she was thrilled to bits with the help I gave her (really? didn't seem like much to me), and the rest of the time I split between marking assignments and checking weather sites.

I was going to hang out here on campus for a while, but I'm parked out back under some trees, and I'm seeing the branches bending under the weight of snow.... Several years ago a huge branch fell on my car back there, took out the rear windshield and dented the crap out of the roof and hood; I'm not interested in having that experience again.

I suppose at some point I'll be talking about teaching again, but not until some semblance of normalcy has been reestablished. I'm about to find out whether the dance studio is holding classes tonight. I'm on the fence about which answer I'd rather get. Ah, hell, I'll write more tomorrow--assuming the sun comes up. Christ Almighty, this is simply nuts.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Another storm coming

That's literally true, as you may know. My students are freaking out--especially those already without power and heat. Lines to get gas are still ridiculous (and pretty soon I'm going to be in one); I no longer believe the repeated assurances that that situation will "soon" get better. Even students who have valiantly been coming to class so far may not be able to do so as the week progresses, simply because of lack of gas, coupled with an all but non-existent mass transit system that is in disarray. (If I can't get gas in my car, I may not be able to make it either.) Never mind the possibility of losing power again when the temperature is dangerously low (wind chill making it feel like 14 at night), driving in snow when traffic lights are still out in places.... All in all, this is a cluster fuck.

I had more students in class than I expected today, and more of them were prepared (or were more close to prepared) than I would have imagined. I realized today that the gender balance is flipped in the two classes: the earlier class has only two young men, the rest women--and in the second class, there are only three women (and only two of them were able to get to class today). I'm sure that has some effect on the difference in dynamic, but the main difference seems to be the balance of personalities: in the earlier class, both the young men are utter lunk-heads. One at least tries to be upbeat and participatory, though he doesn't do the work; the other does the work but is less engaged and dynamic than the desks. In the other class, no lunks at all. Some of the students are struggling, but all of them are alert, present, interested, engaged--and bonded with each other. I wish I could get rid of the two guys in the earlier class: I bet the whole dynamic would improve significantly. Ah well.

One nice moment in the earlier class, having to do with the Whining Friend of the Turnaround Student (the one who started out bitching but is now becoming one of the best students). Whining Friend had been out a few classes before the storm hit, and I thought she might have bailed from the class altogether. Au contraire. She was back today, prepared, participating, smart and cheerful and bright eyed. Maybe Turnaround Student finally persuaded Whining Friend to stop whining, or maybe Whining Friend simply found her own reason to turn around--but I may not be able to call her Whining Friend any more.

Shifting gears: I fear my reputation as Grendel's Dam fused with the Wicked Witch is getting tarnished. In both classes, the students said--in chorus--that I was the only professor who had kept them informed about classes, and they told me over again how grateful they were for that contact. They also expressed gratitude that I'm being understanding about their work. It's been sweet: most of the e-mails I've gotten have asked whether I'm OK, have sent good wishes for me and my family. They were also deeply grateful for the extra discussion times. We'll see if that translates into action; I'm not taking any bets on how many of them actually show up. But the gesture may have been enough. Jesus, what happens if I get a reputation for being nice??

But I'm being nice under duress: these are extraordinary circumstances. I'm taking a very Taoist approach, refraining from pushing the river. Whatever flows into my hands is what I'll deal with in that moment. Nothing else to be done. That's always true, but it's more obvious under these circumstances, when even the illusion of control and predictability has been stripped away.

I am reminded, repeatedly, of how blessed I am, in all areas of my life. At the moment, I am especially grateful for having work to do that can be so immeasurably gratifying. Yes, it feels good to be appreciated, to be liked, to be respected. More important, it feels good to be in a position that allows me to help, even if it's only by lightening the load in a crisis. I almost don't care about the actual work getting done (though of course eventually that will start to be a concern). I'm just glad to be here, doing what I do, getting paid for it, come hell or literal high water.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Well, it's easy to find parking...

This is going to be an odd semester. Students are all over the map in terms of how badly their lives have been affected by the storm and how ready they are to get back to school work. I haven't heard from a lot of them, which means either that they're not checking e-mail--or that they can't. Since I didn't have ready access to e-mail until Saturday night, I understand. And I count myself very fortunate: one student told me that her family is in a shelter, and I'm sure there are others in that position--or worse.

I am feeling profoundly addled at the moment. I know I have a lot of things to organize so I can move forward, but I'm having a difficult time figuring out the triage. I've told the students we're going to try to stay as much on schedule as possible, but I'm letting go of attendance policies, late paper/late homework policies--at least for now. Seven students managed to make it to the Short Story class today, and I heard from at least another five who couldn't make it. I'm getting a mixed bag of responses from 102 students; most are silent, a few are on top of things, a few are revising the papers that were due last Tuesday--which puts them way the hell behind the curve. All in all, herding cats would probably be significantly easier than trying to get my students in the same general area in terms of assignments.

The students in the Short Story class were a bit dazed and non-responsive, but as the class went on, they warmed up. I could get snarky with those who don't have logs and mini-papers today--because those should have been done before the storm hit (they were due last Monday). But I know that most of them hadn't done the work on Sunday, heard that classes would be canceled--and took the opportunity to coast. I can't much fault them, actually, as I did somewhat the same thing. The main thing is to get enough work collected that I can give them a reasonable grade--and heaven only knows how that will happen as they straggle back to campus over the next week or so.

I have gotten some very sweet e-mails--especially one from the Poor Dear Thing (or whatever I've been calling her)--thanking me for being concerned, for keeping them posted, for lightening the load. We're all going through a mental and emotional regrouping, and I've told them--and Paul, and myself--that school should be the least of our worries for a while. Take care of life first. The rest we'll figure out as we go along.

And just to add some excitement, the forecast is for rain and wind on Wednesday into Thursday. It's just a garden-variety autumnal storm, but imagine what this means for people who are without power, living with flooded basements, and so on. It's getting cold, too. Somehow I can't be too worried about assignments in the face of all this.

And yet, of course, I am. Not "too" worried, but concerned, certainly. It seems the cosmos wants to test my ability to stay in the present, not to try project into an unforeseeable future. I have no idea what to expect, and I have to accept that and simply roll with whatever comes.

I don't even know if I'll have enough gas to get to work on Wednesday. I'm OK for tomorrow, but I'm not sure beyond that (I'm keeping a close eye on that fuel gauge).

Breathing, breathing.

I'm going to return to my desk for a bit and try again to figure out the triage. The "fall back" to standard time means it feels later than the clocks say it is (my body is still on daylight savings), but I am scheduled to be here for another hour in my duties as evening supervisor, so I might as well put that time to some kind of use.