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Thursday, December 19, 2013


Not only did I get all the papers graded, numbers crunched, blah blah, I also turned in the idiotic paper forms before the office closed at 7 (with 20 minutes to spare). I have to check Banner tomorrow: a student showed up this evening, because she'd forgotten to get my signature on the withdrawal form and to actually process the withdrawal. Doesn't say much for her organizational skills, but I rather liked her as a student, at least in terms of the class discussions, and she's talking about signing up for one of my 102s again next semester. I don't mind in the least, though I have no clue how well she'd actually do.

The students who wanted papers returned with comments came by to get them today, and one or two thanked me sincerely. It was interesting (and a little ouchy) to read the self-evaluations from some of the 102 students, though what they said wasn't anything different from what they'd said in the wrap-up session. I'm too hard. They learned a lot, but I'm too hard.

Paul got a comment like that from one of his honors students: you're too hard--but I learned a lot. We're both observing that the students apparently don't see that those two things are linked.

I have to confess, however, that the self-evaluation that bugged me the most was the one that was filled with excuses--and pleas for mercy. ("I know I don't deserve a good grade, but look how hard my life was, and even though it didn't look to you like I was trying, for me I was, so can't you give me the grade I want?") He also said that he'd have gotten better faster except he was trying to do assignments without feedback from me, that I was holding on to five of his logs, so of course he couldn't improve until he got them back. (Bullshit. I may have had one or two, but never that many.) In the event, he actually earned the grade he was hoping for, largely because, at the end of the semester, he finally started to actually pay attention to my feedback (which, I must point out, he'd been getting all along, so even if I had been holding five assignments, he still had 20 others to refer to for guidance)--and finally started to actually work. Apparently the comment that got through to him was when I said something along the lines of "When you get tired of getting bad grades, maybe you'll do what you need to do in order to improve."

Oh. What a concept.

I've been feeling relatively grumpy and decidedly Scroogey today--I was snarling about the department party, saying I hate them (which, in point of fact, I rather do; hate may be too strong a word, but I do not find them at all enjoyable). And Paul and I were both somewhat wrestling with that feeling of "I'm doing something wonderful for you, and you are acting like I'm handing you something utterly worthless." I know better--Paul does too: we both know that their rejection of our gifts is not anything personal about us or what we have to offer; it's entirely about them. But it still gets one's goat sometimes.

But this semester is behind me. I will jitter for a while, go through the usual post-partum stuff for a few days, worry that there's something crucial I've left undone, but I hope I can turn any of that anxiety into working on getting all the handouts ready for the start of next semester--and then learn how to relax again for two weeks.

I'll be back on January 6th for scheduling, but I have no idea how much (if any) I'll post to the blog between now and the start of classes again on January 19. So, faithful readers, enjoy the holidays in every way that you can, and tune in again for the further adventures of Prof. TLP.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wha hoppen???

I was so sanguine when I left last night, was so relaxed this morning--and then, as the day wore on, the anxiety started to build. I know I'll get it all done--I always do--but I have no idea what happened: somehow it now feels like tomorrow will be a mad scramble, not the relaxed stroll I was anticipating yesterday. I hadn't intended to, but I came back to the office after my doctor's appointment to get some more grading done. Well, specifically, to get some commenting done: once I get to the "read it and slap a grade on it" part, things will move more quickly; it's commenting that takes real time. But even the read/slap process does take time: (I do actually read the papers--maybe not every single word, but I at least skim everything, and read good portions of each paper, so I know why I'm assigning a grade.

I also spent some time just now starting the fussy process of grade calculations--which I certainly make harder for myself than is strictly necessary, but years ago I realized I was simply going by gut and that I'd feel more secure in defending the gut decision if I had some "data" to back it up. I grant you, grading in the humanities is very much a gut process. Even when we have specific criteria by which to judge, what really determines the difference between an A thesis and a B or C thesis? We know what a thesis is meant to do, but part of the evaluation is unquantifiable (our perpetual dilemma in assessment). But still, having a mathematical equation to resort to at the end at least gives the appearance of rationality. The decision of what specific grade to give a particular assignment may still be highly subjective, but once those grades are assigned, I can (and do) add the numbers, apply the appropriate weighting of percentages toward the final grade, and come up with a number. And I will say that in the past, when students have come to me to complain about a grade, it's been very useful to be able to simply point to the math.

I also spent a little time getting the idiotic paper "permanent grade record" forms ready to be filled in. Every semester since we switched to Banner I've bitched about those paper records: in the electronic age, why the fuck do we need them? But this is just one of those hoops one is required to jump through. I used to say it about graduate school, and now I say it about applications for sabbaticals and promotion: the Powers That Be hold up various hoops for us to jump through, and all we're required to say is, "OK: in what attitude and wearing what costume?"--and then comply.

One of my colleagues always responds to onerous demands with "Or what?" You must turn in your permanent grade record forms--or what? You must put in X amount of time advising students (quite apart from the reassigned time that Paul and I get)--or what? No one has satisfactorily answered that: the big threat is "or you'll be considered in breach of contract," but it's fantastically rare for that to lead to any actual consequence (docking of pay, de-tenuring....)

In any event, I'm glad I had today to just put my head down and grind (and I did get one more little thingy crossed off the "to do" list). Paul said that Advisement was mobbed--and of course, at this point, we're hardly seeing the experienced, well-prepared students who understand the degree requirements. I'm very happy to have missed it.

Now, however, since it seems I will have to jump to work with some alacrity tomorrow, and since it's getting late, I'm leaving (again). In a moment of wild optimism, I suggested to Paul that maybe we could go out to dinner together tomorrow, but now I'm wondering how long I'll be chained to the desk (as I refuse to leave until I am utterly, completely finished). Miracles do occur, however. If I'm visited by one tomorrow, that will be lovely. If not, c'est la vie.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Cue the waterworks

One of Paul's students came to meet with him today, very bright young woman from his honors comp class--but she's turned in no work, and apparently this is a pattern for her. He had to tell her to withdraw or face a failing grade. I saw her wiping the tears out of her eyes and offered her my box of Kleenex. And it's that time of year: students finally reach the point of no return, and the result is often tears.

I was prepared to face the waterworks from two young women in the Mystery class. Both ran smack into the difference between the kind of writing they're used to and what college writing demands, and both suddenly started getting help at the very end--too little too late. I'd been warning them that they were unlikely to pass, and although I was concerned that the message hadn't gotten through (they were still coming to class after all), apparently I did a reasonable job, as neither was surprised. I'd forgotten that I'd offered the Mercy D to one of them (in addition to promising at least that to the Worker Bee); the other took the withdrawal slip. Both will be in the position of having to learn how to write properly from someone else, somewhere down the line. But I was proud of them for staying the course (literally).

What I was not prepared for was for Judy Blue Eyes to implode yet again. This morning she wrote to ask me about the topic for her last essay--which was due today. She wanted more time to turn it in, and I had to say no. I've given her as much slack as I possibly can, and I did warn her that she might hit the point at which I would no longer be able to bend. She did. We stood in the hall outside class for half an hour, essentially going through the same conversation we've been through over and over, but this time, there was no more room to maneuver: she has to take the withdrawal or she will fail the class. She's miserable about it, of course--and she cried. But I told her it's time for me to practice tough love. Bottom line: she did not submit enough work of enough quality to pass. I got lots of promises from her, but no follow through, and whatever her reasons are--events in her life, her psychological state, any other factors--they do not alter the bare fact. She told me she'll have to face her mother (this has been part of the script all along, her messy relationship with her mom)--and she told me that the withdrawal will ruin her whole life. I assured her it would not. And it won't, though I'm sure it does feel like that to her at the moment.

I'm very torn about this. I hate making my students miserable--and the students in 102 wondered if it bothers me that so many withdraw, that they were miserable (I told them yes, dammit, it bothers me a lot, but not for the reasons they expect)--but if anything, I'm concerned that I may have been too easy on Judy months ago: perhaps it would have been better for her if I'd not given her the slack at all, ever. I do know, very clearly, that at this point, it would do her no favors to bend any further. At very least, sometime or other she will have to face the genuine consequences of her actions, so it might as well be now. But also, I have to confess, part of why I won't give her more slack is that I have a small, uncomfortable thought that I've been played. This may simply be the cynicism that arises from dealing with students who manufactured the pity card out of a fabric of lies, but that niggling little feeling is there, the voice that says, "She was sure the tears would work. This is her M.O.: she gets out of having to do the work by assuring teachers that she's actually very good but her life is just too hard...." In fact, what work I did see from her was not good; even if she'd been turning everything in all along, that level of work wouldn't have gotten her a decent grade. She may be completely capable of good quality work, but I sure didn't see it.

Purely selfishly, I also wonder if she'll now withdraw from Nature in Lit--and take her friends with her--because I am the Monster Bitch from Hell (as I joked to the class today). While Judy and I stood in the hall after class, me making her cry, one of her friends from the class waited for her--and I would especially hate for that student to withdraw from Nature in Lit. I've not said much about her; she's simply sailed along, doing good work, but she's precisely the kind of student I want most (wants to learn, wants the challenge, will put in real effort, cares, has intelligent things to say). She wants to be an English major, in fact, which is why she wants to do well in my classes. If Judy abandons the class and takes the English Major with her, I'll be very disappointed.

I'll also be very unhappy if Judy stays in the class and does the same routine next semester. I want her to stay, but I want her to actually do the work, and do it well.

Well, we'll see. I can't get knotted up about the possibility that any or all of them will ditch the class. I don't think Judy's friends will follow her out the door--and she may not, in fact, bail, even though this semester she didn't get the outcome she wanted (and, the cynic in me says, even though she found out tears won't work at the end). It's also possible that she may withdraw for other reasons, having nothing to do with my refusal to budge at the end: I can't take her behavior as a personal affront. But it does matter to me, and I do care, deeply. I'm not talking about whether Nature in Lit runs, either: I'm talking about the emotional and psychological--and academic--well-being of my students. Over which I have very little control, I know: even if I were to lower my standards beyond what my integrity can tolerate, students still either do the work or they don't. And they have to take care of themselves, and their own lives.

Times like this, I realize how much of my interaction with my students arises from sublimated maternal impulses. I'm nobody's mother, but the urge to mother is deeply woven into my psyche, and my students get the benefit--and, I suppose, pay the price. Ask my nephews: I'd have been one hell of a strict mother.

Ah well.

I can't quite tell how tomorrow will shape up. I provided comments on stories for two of the five students who asked for comments, so I need to finish that up. And about five students in each of today's classes want comments as well. Even though I won't be doing Advisement and won't have class (because of the doctor's appointment), I'll come in to the office to work: I'm much more productive here, especially when I can just put my head down and plow through it, without having to go to a meeting. I have a few things on the "to do" list, which I'll use as a way to still feel productive when I need to get my head out of student writing for a while. I think it will all come together nicely, and with minimal stress. But check back in about 48 hours: I'll either be in a flap getting the last of it done, or I'll be serenely writing a blog post--or, dare I hope, even on my way out for a celebratory dinner with Paul...? Meanwhile, tomorrow is another day, and sufficient to Wednesday is the work thereof.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Bouncing it out the door....

The Fiction Writing class ended extremely early today--no real surprise there, as I simply needed to collect the final revisions of their "portfolio" stories, ask them to consider what they got out of the semester--and then let them go. I was very touched that Edison Adams waited around until everyone was gone to thank me. He's going to NYU next semester (impressive), to study philosophy and literature. He'll do great. Calyx said she'll see me in the spring (hooray!). The Real Writer gave a nice goodbye, as did a few other students. Five of them want their stories back with comments. As it happens, I'll be at a doctor's appointment when our class would meet, so I'll leave those stories on the office door for them to pick up.

I still have some marking to do for tomorrow's classes, returning everything I have in hand so all I have after tomorrow's classes are the final papers. If I remember (I'm checking with William to be sure), we don't have P&B tomorrow. And (I'm such a bad girl), I used the Wednesday doctor's appointment as an excuse to bail on Advisement. That gives me a couple of good, long chunks of time in which to churn out the final grades.

I haven't checked the triage list in a while--I'm sort of afraid to, for fear I'll see something that absolutely must be done before Thursday evening--but two things hit my desk today and I lobbed them back out again after only one bounce: Calyx gave me the address for a letter of recommendation, the one school that has a tight deadline (that hit the desk, and I lobbed it into the mail); and those of us with reassigned time got a "request" for a report on what we've been doing, so I quickly cranked out that report (that hit the desk and got smacked right back out). I sent off the material to be photocopied for 102 readers (yay)--and miraculously, over the weekend, I did a fair amount of work getting Nature in Lit set up: syllabus, reconfigured first paper assignment, that sort of thing. The enrollment count as of five minutes ago: ten. That's not bad at all for this point, so I'm feeling not exactly confident but not quite so panicky as usual. I also have the dates for 102 assignments figured out for spring; I just need to meld the spring dates with this semester's assignments, as the configuration will be the same. I don't have the specific assignments for Left Hand of Darkness parceled out yet, but that's easy enough to do--and with any luck at all, I'll be able to get that done, plus a few more "start of semester" handouts and send it all off to the copy center before the break. That would be cause for celebration indeed.

Back to the semester wrap-up with the students in Fiction Writing: I got a lot of very helpful feedback that I want to implement should I ever be lucky enough to teach the class again. And everyone learned something, even if all the utter lunk learned is that writing stories is hard. I don't know if any real friendships were formed among the students, but at least the good writers know each other now--and I hope that they all send a story in to the student literary magazine; I think they've all got a good shot at getting accepted.

I actually thought I'd be out of here almost the minute I left those students and came back to this room. In fact, I started this post intending to write it and be out of here--but then I ended up spending some time noodling around with Nature in Lit: just before class, I'd done a little research, found another article that talks about the Le Guin novella we read at the end of the course (my own article that includes discussion of the novella used to be the only one I knew of to address it). So I read the article (very interesting) and adjusted a handout. Then I thought, "Oh, wait: I'll do the letter of recommendation," and when I went downstairs to get letterhead on which to print it, I saw the request for the reassigned time report: "OK, that too: get it out of here so I don't have to think about it again." But now it truly is time to get my tired, hungry little self home. If I set the alarm at all for tomorrow, it won't be for six. That in itself will be unbelievable decadence.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

O frabjous day!

I just checked enrollment for Nature in Lit, as Judy Blue Eyes told me today that she has a bunch of friends ready to sign up for the class. There are now 9 students enrolled--which is reason enough for some celebration, but even more, I am thrilled that beautiful Calyx has joined the class roster. Truly, I am delighted, and honored.

As is often the case, I see a name on the roster that looks incredibly familiar, yet I don't think I've ever met the student. I wonder if she's been on my rosters before, or withdrawn early from some previous class...? It will be interesting to meet her, in any case, and find out if our paths have crossed before.

The 102 class went better than I anticipated. I told the students to be sure to see me about every single place where I'd written "see me" on their papers--so each one got at least a few minutes of my undivided time. I felt bad for the three quiet young women in the far corner of the room, as they had to wait until the very end of the period in order to talk with me, but I feel like every single student now has at least some idea of how to improve the paper. Of course, the end results may not show much change--but some of them have already made significant strides toward a better paper. If all goes well, there should be at least three good, solid B's in the bunch--and that's a good ratio, out of 12 remaining students.

The Mystery class was more haphazard, as I'd told students that if they weren't dropping off work and didn't want to talk to me about papers, they didn't have to come--and most of them took me up on that. A few who have never asked for help before specifically wanted to talk to me, which is gratifying (better late than never, I suppose). And my poor Worker Bee talked to me for a while: she prefaced the conversation by saying that she is terrified--not just about my class but about her whole semester. She's still missing a lot of work, and she didn't have her revision ready; I'd told other students that I wouldn't accept anything on Monday except their third essays--and the extra credit assignment, if they choose to do it--but I'm making an exception for her, as we had an agreement that she'd get me as much work as she could as soon as she could. Knowing that she can't make up as much as she'd hoped, she was in a panic about the outcomes she could expect from the semester--said she's sure she failed her Criminology final, for instance--so I asked her, bottom line, what is the absolute minimum she needs to get out of the semester. She said all she needs is to pass. With any grade at all? Yes, just pass. I said, "OK, I can guarantee that," and you'd have thought I'd just given her a puppy, she was so thrilled. I've never known a "mercy D" to be so clearly an act of mercy. She's still going to do all she can to do a great job on the third paper--and to revise the second one, if she can--but she'll get the D, no matter what. She's tried so hard; she deserves that much.

Judy Blue Eyes and Ms Enthusiasm were being complete lunatics; they are off the wall, those two, and they bring out the middle school student in each other. I chased them out of the room while I talked to the Worker Bee (who is also part of their group of friends)--and then I saw them outside the building after class. They have been getting riotous about how I'll regret having them in the Nature in Lit course, and since I'd been thinking about that in the elevator on the way down, I stopped to talk to them. I told them that I love their silliness (which is true) but that next semester, they'll have to tone it down: there are other students in the room, and important work to be done. Judy said that I'd have my hands full because of all her other friends coming into the class--and I said, "You don't want to see the other side of me." I metaphorically smacked her on the nose once for, I thought, using the word "gay" to mean "weird" (she apologized later and explained the context, which I'd missed), and that's about the only time they've seen me get tough--but if I have to pull out the drill-instructor aspect of my professional persona, I will. (In fact, sometimes I kind of miss it: I do that so very well, after all.)

And I am--still, again--working to figure out how to make Nature in Lit less daunting, more "user friendly" as it were: to make it more like the Mystery class in keeping students engaged and presenting them with not just a challenge but the sense that they can meet the challenge. I know I'll need to rework the paper assignments, but there's only so much of that class I'm willing to let go. It matters to me: I take it perhaps too seriously.

Meanwhile, I am steadfastly ignoring the pile of student work that awaits my attention: I'll deal with it next week. I finally wrote the last of the observations--more cause for celebration!--and now I only have to get some food in me before I go to the play tonight to watch the Real Writer to see if he's also a real actor. I'm damned tired and rather wish I hadn't committed to going, but by this time next week, I'll be in the final grading process and damned near calling it a wrap on the fall 2013 semester. And man, that will be a reason to celebrate indeed.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Nearing a milestone

When 67 more people view my blog, I'll pass the 10,000 hits mark. Woo-hoo! (A lot of blogs get that much traffic in a week or less. But still. A simple thing, but mine own.)

Again, with the risk taking...

I've marked two of the papers for 102, ten more to go, and yet I'm calling it quits for tonight. I don't want to get to the stage in which the words all start to blur together and I confuse the students more than helping them because my comments don't connect with what the student has actually done.

Still, just working through the two I've done, I remain perpetually astonished and dismayed at how little students learn--or perhaps how quickly they revert to old patterns. Student one: every body paragraph begins with an unintroduced quotation (high school tactic number 3). Student two: starts the essay with huge generalizations (even though on the previous version I very clearly pointed out that I want the very first sentence to state the work of literature, the author, and the overall topic of the paper.) And that also contributes to my decision to quit now: I'm afraid if I try to push through a few more, I'll be so cranky that I'll start wanting to take it out on the students.

I was moderately fierce with a student in the short story class today: he's hands down the worst writer in the class, and he steadfastly refuses to actually do any revising. He drops one or two sentences, changes one or two, and the rest of the utter shit he's written remains completely unaltered. I told him that the changes were not sufficient to make a difference in his story, and that if he wants to actually improve, he'll have to do a lot more work. The Real Writer and Edison Adams also were very honest with him, even though they were masterful at keeping the critique friendly and helpful rather than saying flat out how unbelievably limburger-stinky the story is. I'm beyond annoyed with Mr. Stinky Cheese and I'll be grateful to see the back of him.

We did get to workshop all the stories, though: whipped through the comments, so everyone can take oral as well as written feedback home in order to do their final revisions. Once again, I felt that The Real Writer--and in some cases Edison Adams--were giving more helpful, thoughtful, intelligent feedback than I was, but as long as they don't feel ripped off by the experience, I'm delighted to learn from them, and as always, interested to see what others pick up on that I miss. When The Real Writer and I had our rambling conversation after class a week or two ago, one of the things he said was that even if the class is taught by someone who is incompetent, the workshop process still works and is useful. He then rushed to say, "Not that you're incompetent..." but my response when he'd said it was to laugh--I didn't feel he meant me, and even if he did, he's got a point. I did, however, argue back a bit to say that he was operating on the assumption that everyone in the workshop is tuned in to language, can read and understand the written word with sophistication along the lines of his own. I gestured around the room where the other students had just been sitting to make the point that this was clearly not true of all classes, and he had to allow as how I might just be right on that score.

There are a couple in that class I won't mind if I never see again. But there are a couple that I hope remain in touch: The Real Writer, my lovely Calyx, Edison Adams, even the Rap Artist. It's been a blast. I'd love to do it again.

Advisement was moderately busy: I did get a few minutes at the end to cross a little assessment task off the list (whew)--and I got a few students who were intelligent enough that I pushed Nature in Lit in their direction. Today, there are seven students registered. If none of them disappear (which does happen, for various reasons) and I get 8 more, it'll run. I finally made more fliers: tomorrow I'll put some up in a few locations I've not yet hit.

Seems like maybe there was something else, but damned if I can think what. My brains have experienced vapor lock. I'll get out of here while I still have sufficient mental acumen to drive.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Packing it in...

I'll almost surely regret it, but I am going to pack it in for tonight. I have three more stories to comment on for tomorrow's workshop (plus some that were finished in the last round and need to be graded), and I have the second version of 102 papers to review, one more observation to write up, some homework that came in from the Mystery class today, other assorted bits of flotsam--but my brains have apparently gone off-line for the night.

Well, mostly. I can still eke out a little blog post.

In 102, I went over some technical nuts and bolts for the students, as they're supposed to be working on sentence-level changes at this point (though most of them have a lot more revising to do). Of course I had to preface what I was about to offer with the comment, "You might want to takes notes on this, because you may not think it applies to your paper--but it might." Notebooks diligently were opened. I had written the following sentence on the board: "In The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin reveals concerns about gender." I asked the students to identify what was wrong with the sentence. First response: the title isn't in italics. OK: I underlined it to indicate italics. What else? There's no comma. Where do you think there needs to be a comma? Um... um... OK, I said, let's look at it this way: "The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin" is just a lot of words to identify the book. So what if we wrote the sentence this way: "In the book reveals concerns about gender." Does that make sense? Many furrowed brows, complete consternation. The knew it didn't work, but they couldn't figure out why. Mixed construction, guys. I couldn't clearly explain the two constructions to them (baffled looks increased), so I simply pointed out the two easy fixes: One, eliminate the word "by." Two, eliminate the word "in." One student said, "I did that: I'm fixing it right now."


The material I went over was all along those lines--and when I'd gone through all my notes, I told them to read through their papers carefully, on a sentence level, making corrections, keeping the things I'd just said in mind. I suggested two techniques: one, read the last sentence, then the second to the last sentence, and so on. The other: read a sentence, then pause. Absorb it as a sentence. Then read the next one.

And the result was one of those silences I love, a silence filled with the "sound" of students' brains hard at work. Occasionally, a student would call me over with a question or request for a clarification--but mostly, they just worked through their papers. They have a strong tendency to say, "I'll wait to see what you tell me"--and I need to be more direct at countering that: they need to realize that I won't always be there to point things out to them, so it's important for them to practice recognizing problems and fixing them on their own.

But still, I think it was a useful session. The Mystery class was more of a bust: many students were not there (scared of the snow, I guess), and those that were had already pretty much done as much thinking and talking about the book as they could bear. (Everyone's getting pretty crunchy at this point of the term.) I let them go very very very early--but I told them they could hang around and talk to me about papers, and several took me up on it, including one young woman who was in my office yesterday and who is working like mad to get her work from a B to an A. In fact, that describes two of the students who stayed in class today--and both said that my class is the first one in which they've actually cared about learning what to do in order to write better papers. Judy Blue Eyes and Ms Enthusiasm hung around mostly just to yack with each other--though Judy did want to talk to me about her paper (not much, not in detail: she keeps telling me she knows what to do, but I have yet to see any evidence of it. Still, it's her grade, her learning experience: it's not up to me to try to force her to ask me more questions, gain further understanding). My Favorite Student hung out just to be somewhere warm and dry while she waited for her next class, which is in the classroom next door to ours.

I liked working with those two young women, the getting-B's-but-want-A's students. It's always delightful when the penny drops, the light bulb goes on.... I certainly hope their papers show the benefits of the conversation.

I'd also like to note that today contained another minor miracle or two: despite the fact that I had to make an unexpected trip to the vet this morning, losing about two hours out of the time I'd anticipated having in which to work, I got everything marked to return to today's classes. Part of that is because P&B ended early--and the only reason we weren't out earlier is that the problematic promotion mentee had left his promotion folder in his car and had to go get it so we could sign off on it. He's still working on it, so whenever he's finally finished with it, Bruce and I will have to go over it one last time with a magnifying glass to be sure there are no problems--which is a snorting pain in the ass, as it should be completely out of my life by now. But apart from his utter inability to be appropriately diligent about the application, he's a dynamite colleague and deserves tenure more than about half the department, so although I'm annoyed, it's worth the effort to be sure he gets it. And he owes me a drink: we've made that clear. Still, the short P&B meeting meant I could finish up the marking--and still eat lunch.

Now, however, I want to get home before the wet on the streets turns completely to ice. I won't count on more minor miracles tomorrow, but they sure would be nice.

Monday, December 9, 2013

I'm kinda surprised myself

Several minor miracles today. First, when I walked into Advisement, there was not a single student there. I practically did a triple-take--but then I also nearly did the happy dance. I had taken work with me "just in case," and I did get some done. Then, only one student showed up for my office hour (of the three or four who'd said for sure they were coming): more time to work. Finally, despite a small "I don't want to" fit, I got another small batch marked after class today. And the wonderful news is, tomorrow, I don't have a meeting. I should spend some time working on adjunct scheduling, even if it's just an hour or so. I'll check in with Bruce and see how things are going; I need to talk to him anyway about when he'll need me over the winter break.

Today's class was a bit chaotic again--but we did get the stories workshopped and had time for a quick (and very difficult) free-write. I need to explain very clearly what is needed for next week, though, as some students are still apparently confused.

The more I can get done tomorrow before class, the better: I want the decks as clear as possible for those incoming 102 papers. We're all wondering what the weather will bring: we are supposed to get 3-6 inches of snow tomorrow--but how quickly that will accumulate is anyone's guess, and the accumulation will, in turn, affect whether we have afternoon classes or not. I hope we do, just so I can collect those dratted papers--but if not, I guess I'll learn to use the "comments" function of and do it all electronically. I'd rather like to test-drive that function anyway: it may be easier than any of my current methods.

Meanwhile, I've been driven ever so slightly insane by two students who are asking questions about revising papers. I usually love that process--and indeed, several other students have been asking questions without annoying me in the least--but these two have big areas where they are mentally dense, simply unable to understand what I'm explaining. One cannot understand that an introduction to a quotation has to actually precede the quotation and be attached to it in some way. I finally had to write one for her--and it was all I could do not to say, "There, God dammit, can you finally fucking see now what 'introduce' means? How hard is that, really? What was going on in your little pea brain that you couldn't figure that out--even when you've seen other examples?" She's sweet, truly, but she's one of those who tries so hard that she sets up impenetrable static in her own mind, completely blocking out any information or explanation. The other poor student just doesn't have the kind of language skills he needs in order to truly understand much. He takes direct instructions pretty well, but he can't think beyond the specific instruction to apply it elsewhere, or extrapolate, or grasp a concept....

Which reminds me of one student I saw in Advisement today. I respect and admire her determination to attend college, but she could not understand the simplest part of what courses she needs or how to register--even after multiple explanations. I don't think I raised my voice, but it felt like one of those conversations when one is trying to make oneself understood to someone who speaks a completely different language and--even though we know it doesn't work--one begins to speak louder, as if that will suddenly lead to comprehension by the other party. It's maddening to be speaking English to someone who also speaks English and have that same feeling of not being able to communicate even a syllable.

One of my own 102 students came to me in Advisement, too. I spent a lot of the session trying to talk him out of tearing himself down so badly that he gives up--round and round that particular mulberry bush we went, until finally I said, "Why are you doing this?" He looked startled and said he supposed it was to motivate himself. I asked him if that was working: was he, in fact, feeling motivated? No? Then maybe a different strategy is called for. We finally got around to talking about the courses he might consider for spring--and then he wanted to talk to me about his final paper. Oh, I cut him off short on that one. No: that's what my office hours are for, or you can make an appointment, but you can't take my time in Advisement for that: I'm there to advise about academic programs, not about my specific course.

Most of today's Advisement encounters were the run of the mill ordinary student with ordinary questions--but one student (one of the last I saw), was obviously bright: I could tell just from talking to her and how quickly she picked up on things, how organized she was. She needs to take 102: I invited her into mine.

I've been thinking a lot about which one to drop, too--assuming I don't end up teaching three comps and no lit. Long, complicated thought process there, which I won't get into now, but this is the kind of thing I'm stewing about when I should be sleeping.

Speaking of that, however: if I get myself out of this office in the next few minutes, I may actually get an earlier night tonight than usual--and that would be yet another minor miracle. "Tomorrow is another day." "I'll think of that tomorrow, when I'm stronger." You know the quotations.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Just a teensy bit of panic in the air

Today was a solidly productive day, thank all the gods at once: I got all the papers marked for both classes (just barely, but done is beautiful) and still got a few other bits of flotsam taken care of. I completed the letter for that promotion folder and wrote up one of the remaining observations (only one more! woot woot!). I'm still feeling small bursts of panic--not so much about work at the moment, but I have a rather packed weekend ahead of me, including a stint as a judge for a speech and debate event, where some of our students will be competing. I've never done it before, and now I'm regretting like hell that I agreed to do it: I was thinking "this will look good for promotion"--and it will, but I'm not so sure that the line in the promo application is worth the agita of having to schlep way out east on Saturday afternoon for a few hours. Blech.

But ah well.

I've also had to send out e-mails to several students today informing them that, sadly, they are have to make the painful decision to withdraw or they will fail the class. I said the same in person to two students, too: one in each of today's classes. I hate it when this happens, that students who have been trying heroically all semester run into an insurmountable problem at the end and can't make the last lap. It's almost never the student's fault: in most cases, something has blown up in the student's life over which he or she has zero control--but nevertheless, the outcome in terms of class is what it would be if the student had deliberately sabotaged the semester. Too many absences, too many missing assignments--or a missing first version of the final paper, in the 102 class (my rules on that are very clearly stated, and it's the one time when I absolutely cannot not be flexible): it doesn't matter why, all that matters is that it's happened. Sucks, but that's adult life.

I confess to a few little zips of anxiety over having to deliver that bad news. A teensy bit of panic knowing that next week will be very much like this week in terms of having to crank through assignments. The only reason the final week will be any less anxiety producing is because I don't have to comment on the papers (or not on most of them): I just read, determine the grade, and crunch the numbers. Two weeks from right this minute, I'll be finishing up, please god.

On a more positive note, I think the 102 class went pretty well. We went over the final two readings very quickly; then I returned their papers and went around the room answering questions as students read my comments and began working on their revisions. I did snap at them a little: they all were groaning over the grades (of course), and I said, "Read the damned comments, don't just look at the grade." One student--the one who gets herself in trouble by trying too hard--said, "But this is bad!" pointing to all the comments I'd written. I snapped that it isn't bad: "Do I write those comments to make you feel like shit about your papers?" "No," one student replied, "You do it so we can improve." My patented response when a student gets it: "Thank you." I reminded them that the comments are intended to guide their revisions so they understand what they need to do. As I circulated the room, student after student said a variation on "but what you're asking is really hard." Um, yes. It is. Writing is hard. Writing well is harder. Learning to write and write well is harder still. I did tell them that part of why they feel frustrated is that the bar keeps getting raised. One student asked if it couldn't stay the same for a while and I said "No. Not if you want to learn anything."

OK, I admit. I'm cranky. But I don't feel angry or upset with them: I'm just getting past being sweet and nurturing Mommy. It's time for tough-love, my dear lambs. Deal.

In fact, I'm aware that, for my Monday office hour, I'm going to have to summon up some patience from somewhere: a student in the Mystery class has been whimpering all semester about how she's never had trouble with her papers in English classes before, and it's so frustrating that she can't get good grades from me, and she doesn't know what she's doing wrong--and yet she has not been to see me at all this semester, nor has she visited the Writing Center. She intends to come to my office hour on Monday--and I'm going to have to try very hard not to say, "This is absolute garbage. You have no ideas and your sentences make no sense. It's such crap I don't know how you graduated high school, never mind ended up in a sophomore level literature class." It's true: she's producing word salad and telling me that she's gotten good grades for it before. She may be trying to run a guilt trip: I've had students do that before: they've told me how they've always gotten wonderful grades in all their classes before mine--and I check their records to find that, no, in fact, they've gotten just about the same low grades I'm giving. Or she may have had what Paul and I call "joke" classes, taught by our colleagues who simply pat students on the head and give them good grades like they're passing out lollipops, keep the kiddies happy happy--and she genuinely may not know that what she's producing is largely incomprehensible and utterly inane. She wanted me to explain it via e-mail, or in the few minutes we had after class--but no: I said she needed to meet with me in person so I can show her in detail what the problems are. Of course, I've been saying this since her first graded assignment, but maybe this time she'll actually show up.

There's also a student in that class who is working his fanny off but is borderline learning disabled--and I'm being so generous about his grades, anyone who ends up with him after he leaves my class will think I've gone insane even passing him, never mind giving him the decent grade he's likely to earn. But with enough hand-holding and specific direction (and a lot of help with the sentence-level stuff), he can squeeze out a low C paper--and he's willing to put in the work to get there. I sincerely hope he never had to rely on his skills reading or writing to make a living, however.

Wow, I thought I was heading into positive territory and I ended up back in the more unhappy stuff. I guess the thing to celebrate is that these students are still hanging on. In fact, I let class go way early again today--and they wouldn't leave. I laughed and told them they are the only students I've ever had who didn't bolt for the door if I let them go early, and one of my gang of girls (Ms Enthusiasm, Judy Blue Eyes, and the Worker Bee) said I should be flattered. I am, of course, and deeply gratified. Note to self: keep this up for Nature in Lit next semester--and indeed for all my classes.

All those little jolts of adrenaline are keeping me on the manic side, but I need to try to let go--at least get out of here and get some dinner. Stories are already home to be read over the weekend (anxiety going zap zap zap at the thought); the rest stays here. Breathing, breathing: that's the main thing.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Invading my dreams

Last night I had a dream about backed up toilets overflowing--many of them, not just one. I don't suppose that has any metaphoric connection to how I'm feeling about the work these days, do you?

I'm trying to breathe and repeat the mantra: "Somehow it all gets done. Somehow it all gets done." It does, but I'm looking at that stack of student work to read and evaluate, knowing that buried under it is a to-do list of committee work that has been on the back burner so long, it's boiled dry and the pan is about to melt.

But what can I do? I'm cranking through what I can, as I can. I am hugely relieved that my alternate for the elected committee very graciously agreed to attend tomorrow's meeting in my stead: that helped release a little of the pressure. I still have four (maybe five) 102 papers to mark, and six Mystery papers (I'm ignoring all the other homework from both those classes right now): that needs to be done for tomorrow's classes, no matter what. (In fact, I'll cancel my office hour tomorrow: I don't think anyone will show up, but I need to be sure that time is protected, sacrosanct.) I've also been saved by the fact that two students from the 102 class didn't submit papers: they're now both in the "withdraw or fail" position--but that's two fewer papers for me to mark (hooray). I will be taking stories from the Fiction class home over the weekend, but that's not too onerous a task. Some of them will be pretty crappy: I don't have stories yet from the best writers in the class, but whatever. The areas of my brain used in grading papers and responding to stories overlap significantly, but there is just enough difference that I don't get toxically cranky.

The Fiction class was a bit chaotic today: I totally boxed myself in when I created the schedule, so I was scrambling to get enough stories submitted and copied that we'll have something to workshop next week. As it is, we'll probably run out of time on Wednesday--unless I ask people not to contribute unless they have something new/different to say (five stories to cover on Monday, seven on Wednesday--assuming all the students actually come through and submit something). The best part, though, was after class: I had a great conversation with the Real Writer (who is also the lead in An Inspector Calls: I'd assigned it as potential extra credit for the Mystery students but wasn't sure I'd go; now I will, for sure). The talk started because he's struggling with the revision of his third story, but then we got into all sorts of territory--and were talking like peers, not professor/student. Love that. I hope he keeps in touch: he's one I'd like to continue to keep in that lovely group of former students who remain in my life long after they leave my classroom.

After our conversation, I managed to grade a few more 102 papers--did better than I thought I might. I now will quickly (I hope) take care of one little thing on the to-do list (an assessment thingy, yuck): it's due Friday, so I need to turn it in tomorrow (if I'm going to be the good little girl). It isn't much, but crossing anything off that list will feel terrific. Then I will take my aching back home and try for a good night and an early morning.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

boing, boing, boing

I feel rather as if I've been the ball in a pin-ball machine today, racketing around from one thing to another. I'll try to reconstruct, mostly because I need to have a better sense what the hell happened.

I didn't get much paper grading done before my first meeting of the day. However, the Plan B I came up with last night was to separate out the actual papers from the rest of the stuff to be marked for the Mystery class, mark the non-paper assignments, and try like hell to get the papers done for Thursday. (That may be a forlorn hope, but call me Pollyanna.) It worked, insofar as I did get those other assignments marked and returned to the students. So, even though I feel like I didn't accomplish much, I did what I needed to do for today (including detangling some of the vines from around my ankles).

Because I wanted to get even more work done, I was hoping that the meeting of the Chancellor's Award committee would be brief--just the election of a new chair--but I'd forgotten that we are working to come up with procedures for an entirely new award category. The discussion went on so long we didn't get the new chair elected: we'll have to do that the first meeting of the spring. My term on the committee is up at the end of this year; I'm on the fence about whether I'll ask to be appointed again or whether I'll let it go. (The need for college-wide service in applying for promotion to full is the only reason to re-up--but that's a compelling reason.)

P&B ended early, thank God--although it went on a lot longer than need be (one of the committee members drives me batshit: every time we're about to end early, she brings up a hairball of an issue and we end up stuck there for another 30 minutes or more). Also, I'm afraid my mentee who is going up for tenure is about to get hit in the face with the work equivalent of a two-week-old flounder: I had to instruct him to hurry the hell up and get everything completed and ready to be signed off on by Tuesday: yikes! I had misinformed him that he had longer: I was going by my understanding of a different set of deadlines, but Bruce doesn't want P&B to have to deal with that application at all after the break--which makes sense, as it has to go to the college-wide committee almost immediately once we're back. I also had advised my mentee to fix some old paperwork, but that opened up a large can of worms in terms of getting the revised paperwork into his personnel file. Consequently, I had to tell him to get the papers walked through the various levels of signatures and into his file now (as in yesterday)--or to revert to the old unrevised paperwork (with an apology from me for suggesting he do work I'm now advising that he ditch). In any event, I sent a "panic in the streets!" e-mail to him and have yet to hear back. He's been harder to keep in line than I anticipated--and much slower to respond to e-mail--so I'm a bit nervous about whether he'll come through. I also got some helpful feedback on the letter of support for his application that I whipped up yesterday. In addition to comments on the substance from various P&B members, William pointed out some utterly bone-headed errors--shame on me--so I need to get that fixed for next week as well.

What about those observation write-ups you may ask? Please don't ask. I have no clue when I'll get them done. At this point of the semester--as I've said to anyone who will listen--I can teach, or I can do committee work, not both.

The 102 class was simple. I will say that I was not entirely happy to find one of my students sitting outside the classroom, looking like death warmed over, paper clutched in her hand: she told me she's been throwing up all day but wanted to give me her paper--and her germs, apparently (thanks a heap). Four papers have yet to be submitted, and at first I was calling out the hounds on the students who were late, saying that the assignment specifically said "No late submissions"--but then I re-read my own assignment sheet, and oh, oops, I forgot: I decided to allow the same late period I allowed for the first two papers. Duh. I had to call a student back and apologize, after scaring her witless. I'm not sure how I feel about the softening of the rules--only because I worry that I may be making life more difficult for myself--but honestly, I'm not going to get deeply into the grading until tomorrow, so getting some of them late shouldn't make any difference.

In any event, I told the students that if they wanted to stay and get feedback from me, make hand corrections, before turning in their papers, I'd be happy to stay and work with them--but if they were sick of the sight of their papers, they could simply turn them in and split. Only two took me up on the offer of help; the rest took me at my word, dropped papers on the desk and vanished. The two students who stayed for help didn't stay long, so I was out of class very early. I decided to come back to the office, thinking I'd get some grading done--and I have no idea what happened, but no papers were graded. I know I was busy untangling vines, but I honestly cannot recall what ate up that time. (Audrey 2?)

The Mystery class was fun (as always), but they didn't have a lot to say today, so I let them go very early. I've been too relaxed about accepting work late, so in the next week I'm going to get a deluge of past-due assignments. I've told students I'll just fling the marks onto the pages rather than providing any feedback--but it isn't the students who need to know that: it's me. I have to be fierce with myself and get through those late assignments as rapidly as possible. I also have to remember to take some points off for their being late.

After class, Judy Blue-Eyes wanted to talk to me: this time, she had to tell me that she had a profoundly traumatic personal experience shared by a character in the book: the perpetrator of the crime she was victim of even had the same name as the perpetrator in the novel. I am still willing to believe that she truly has experienced what she says and that the emotional "perfect storm" she is experiencing is real--but I am also aware that at best, I'm feeling compassion fatigue--and I confess I'm starting to have some doubts about what she's telling me. I won't act on those doubts unless I get evidence of a reason why I should: even if I have doubts, I prefer to operate from a position of trust and belief in my students.

But what's starting to grate on me is, no matter what the issue is, the dialog is virtually exactly the same every time we talk. She says the same things; I give the same responses. If I were her therapist, I would do the same dance with her week after week--that's part of the job--but I'm not her therapist: I'm her English professor. However compassionate I may be and however much I may like her personally, I've about reached the end of what I can say or do. If her personal experience makes it too traumatic for her to read the book, then she shouldn't read it. If she can put her personal experience behind her as she says she can, then she should do that and read the book. Obviously I can't fix this for her, and I can't help her fix it for herself: it's beyond my training or my job description. Consequently, I don't know how much more I need or want to hear about it. It is helpful to know when a student is dealing with a difficult situation--I'd always rather know the reasons for a student's behavior--but ultimately, the behavior is what matters, not the reason. She can do the reading or she can't. She can do the work or she can't. And she'll have to live with the reality of what she can or can't do.

As will I, for myself. For tonight, I probably could do more, but I'm not going to.I would dearly love to bail on Advisement again, but I think I've used up my quota for this term--and I don't want to jeopardize my chances of being selected again.I'll just have to see how much I can do after Advisement and before and after class. I have asked the official alternate for Thursday's committee if he can cover for me: that would buy me a good chunk of time, if he can, though I'm prepared for the answer to be "no." (I'll be disappointed as hell, but c'est la vie.) And I will probably significantly truncate tomorrow's class.

I keep reminding myself: somehow it will all get done. It always does. And there are now ten more days of classes left in the term. Ten. Surely I can survive that.

Monday, December 2, 2013

That dratted wall

I really wanted to get a few more papers squeezed out tonight, but I've well and truly hit the wall. I don't think there's any possibility I can get the papers done before tomorrow's class, not if the current rate of turn-over holds up, so I need to come up with a plan B. I did do a few over the weekend, but of course not enough to be truly helpful now that the week is here. I have a committee meeting tomorrow, too, and have to be at P&B, as we're going over my cover letter for a colleague's promotion folder, so the only time I'll have is between whenever I get in and that first meeting. Then it will be off to the races.

Sadly, I don't even have it in me to come up with a reasonable plan B right now. The wall. Yes, you can imagine the one from Game of Thrones: it's about that big and about that impervious.

Paul and I had a rather depressing discussion about how our grading has gotten less strict over the years. Well, it was depressing to me, because I hate the sense that I'm now grading my students with the expectation that they're only capable of the kind of work that would fly in bottom tier schools--when I used to pride myself that my grading would hold up at an Ivy League school. No longer. I know damned well that what I'm giving B's and C's to here wouldn't even pass at a top-notch educational institution. And that hurts. I want my students to get to the top, dammit; mediocre is not good enough, for them or for me. But this is the trade off I've been learning to accept: I don't hold the bar quite so high, and more of them feel they can get over it. I wish I knew the trick that some of my colleagues seem to have mastered, of holding the bar very high and somehow inspiring students to leap for it. They may not get over, but they're at least willing to try--where as mine tend to simply give up. Very unhappy sigh.

On a more uplifting note, I had an interesting conversation in the hall with a colleague and blog reader, who said that she's borrowed ideas from my syllabus about scheduling the writing assignments for 102--and she may apply it to 101 as well. I'm delighted my ideas are helpful, but I did blanch a bit when she called them Nazi-like. I suppose I am a petty dictator in my classes and am likely a lot more rigid than I would like to believe (how we see ourselves, versus how others see us: always a disconnect there). Not quite a Nazi, I hope, but I understood the compliment anyway. And thank you. And you're welcome.

She also said that what she'd really love for me to do is a student edition--or teaching guide--for Le Guin's Always Coming Home. That will be my next project.

Right now, however, early as it is, I'm heading home. I'm hoping madly that if I'm home before 8, I can be in bed earlier than usual and thus be better rested for tomorrow--which may make the remaining paper grading go that much faster (which would be lovely). Maybe by then I'll have come up with that plan B, too.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Things to be thankful for

The first thing I have to be thankful for is that I made it through these three days without falling over. I've been having a very difficult time with sleep, so I've been idiotically exhausted. Today was particularly difficult, as for various reasons, I didn't get my morning dose of caffeine. I staggered through Advisement, stumbled through reading and commenting on the stories for the Fiction students, and before class, I had time for a 15-minute nap (and yes, I fell completely asleep). On the way there, I also got an enormous mug of tea, so now I'm chipper as a lark (maybe a little too perky, in fact).

So second thing to be thankful for: Paul suggested we have dinner together tonight, and I now am awake enough to do that without simply sitting across from him at a table, drooling. We can talk. Lovely.

I made the last tiny tweaks to the sabbatical proposal and submitted. I truly won't see it again now until after all determinations have been made.

Yet another: the students in the Fiction Writing class. One student whose paper was slated to be workshopped today didn't show up, but the others were there, and the workshop process went very well. The Real Writer had better, more intelligent things to say about the stories than I did. (OK, so despite the nap and the tea, I'm still a little drooly and stupid.) But I had enough to say that I didn't feel a complete yutz. I particularly liked the fact that when I arrived, they all were talking very animatedly about how to download music--and the discussion wasn't divided between the real writers and the hoi polloi: everyone was involved. I love when students just talk, about anything, before and after my classes. Because this is a commuter campus, students often don't know anyone--or only the friends they had prior to coming to NCC--so when they at least are acquainted with students outside their immediate circle (never mind actually finding new friends), it helps them feel the campus is a more congenial and literally collegial place.

I'm also thankful that, because three students were absent and we only workshopped three stories, we were done by 4:20. Thanks and praise, thanks and praise!

True, I've got a bit stack of stuff loaded into my bag to take home and mark, but I've been able to leave work in the office more often than not, so one weekend of taking work home is no big whoop. I also managed to cross a few more little bits off that list of tasks that sits on my desk and nags at me. (Hah! Take that, you nasty list!) Yes, there's more to be done, but gradually, I'm getting the tangle around my feet untangled, no longer in the tentacled grip of an Audrey 2 of work.

The final thing to be grateful for is that, once I check to be sure I have everything I need in my various bags, I can turn off the computer, turn out the lights, and be gone from here until Monday.

May we all have much to be thankful for, and remember to notice those blessings and give thanks for them.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why isn't it Wednesday already?

I had one of those days today when I had a hard time keeping track of what day of the week it is and what needs to happen when. I'm so eager for that lovely Thanksgiving Thursday off that I kept conveniently forgetting that I have to work tomorrow--all day. In fact, I have four stories to evaluate before tomorrow's workshop, plus perhaps a meeting with one of my mentees for promotion. Not to mention the work from the Mystery class that has been piling up, again, for longer than I care to mention.

Still, it was a good day, all in all, and I got a few more bits crossed off my to-do list. P&B was a bit of a goat chase: we spent way too long trying to figure out if the three of us who are going up for sabbatical (all of whom were hired in the same year) should stay that we've had 12 or 13 years of continuous service at NCC: we'd been told by the representative to the college-wide sabbatical committee that we should say 13, but after going around and around about it, we finally determined that logically 12 made more sense (2013 minus 2001 is 12, not 13). Then one P&B member felt called upon to give way too much detail in reporting on his observation of a problematic adjunct--not the one I observed, another one (though I did observe her last year). We spent a bit of time on a colleague's application for full professor, which is much too much of a muchness (she has thirty--count 'em, 30--documents attesting to one item of service)--but ultimately we have to remember that it's her application: if she wants to drown the Promotion and Tenure committee, that's her business; all we can do is advise her to take a different route.

The classes were both good. In 102, I had students read a model paragraph of a student incorporating critical material into his argument: I let them spend some time coming up with their own observations about it, instead of simply pointing things out. (Note to self: that's the way to go in the future. It worked very well.) We then discussed the end of the novel--including spending a little time simply looking at passages we like, an unusual luxury--and we still had time for me to review the writing process with them. Of course, they're all in an abject panic about their final papers, but I told them my process--at least five times through even something I consider easy--and let them consider what that might suggest about their own work.

The Mystery class was not quite the usual mayhem, but only because I kept a tighter rein on it than I usually do. Judy Blue Eyes and her new friend, whom I will call Ms Enthusiasm, were ready to raise the roof, but I made them dial it back. Still, I was delighted that Judy Blue Eyes had a) actually done the reading and b) was participating in the class discussion. (I do love that she and Ms Enthusiasm, plus the Worker Bee, have all become friends in my class, but they're also a bit on the wild side.) Unfortunately, she also had a sudden mood shift during the period: I saw it happen in her eyes. We ended up having another heart to heart after class, but I'm being a lot tougher than I was at first. I reminded her that we may not like a reality, but that won't change it. She doesn't like that she's left with two options that are not what she wanted, and she's beating herself up about not having done the work all semester the way she did it today. I told her that she did the best she could with where she was at the time, and whatever she did, now she's in this position and has to make the choice: stay in the class and get a bad grade or withdraw. Lacking a time machine, there is no option C. I gave her some emotional homework: I told her to make a list of pros and cons for each option--and that she had to include some pros for each one (or she'll just focus on the negative and get nowhere). I hope that helps, but I'm running out of things to offer. I'm her teacher, after all, not her therapist.

Back in the office after class, I wrote a "recommendation" for a former student: she's a darling young woman and was tenacious as hell when she was in my class, but her grade would have been pretty low if she'd not withdrawn at the end, and honestly, I can't say much more to recommend her than that she is willing to work her ass off and is sweet. The letter rather damns with faint praise, I fear, but she told me I am the only professor she trusts and likes enough to even ask for a letter.... I did ask her to provide me with one of her papers, and she blanched at the thought, but I said I needed to be able to talk about her work and so needed the reminder of what she'd done. I probably should have been more frank with her and told her that I wouldn't be able to give a very strong recommendation--other than the two qualities I mentioned--but ah well. It's done, is the main thing.

As is one of the remaining observations. Sure enough, writing the positive ones is a hell of a lot quicker than writing the negative review.

Now, however, I'm ravenous--and tomorrow will be that other day I keep talking about. I know I'm going to have to bring student work home with me over the weekend (ah well), but if I can get some other bits crossed off that list tomorrow, I'll approach the weekend in a more relaxed frame of mind. Which is my main objective these days.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Can't change those gears...

It's still early enough that I feel I ought to try to knock a few more things off the to-do list, but on the ta-dah! list is the fact that I finally got the last last final changes to the damned sabbatical application done, all the appropriate pages are signed, and tomorrow, when Bruce's assistant is back in the office, I'll submit it to P&B (those of us who aren't recused because we're all applying for sabbaticals)--and then I don't have to think about it again, please God, until we find out whether sabbaticals are being awarded and if so, who got them. That will be in March or April, if things go as usual.

As I was working on it, I did have a very brief but full-blown hissy fit, when I realized that I didn't have the latest version of the publisher's proposal on this computer and had left my thumb drive at home. Thank god I'd printed it out from home yesterday, so I could copy-edit/proofread, and I had the printout with me, so I simply typed in the corrections/additions from the last two or three go-rounds, and of course I made further changes as I did. For the actual getting it published part, there's more for me to do--but for the sabbatical application, I'm stick-a-fork-in-me done.

That was after class. Between Advisement and class, I got the short stories commented, with enough time to eat lunch--but the to-do list just grew by a couple of other tasks that I remembered this weekend. (Oh, shit! Oh, Shit!!) We'll see what I can crank through tomorrow.

I also made a tactical error today in Advisement. I had 15 minutes left of my scheduled time, and I thought, "What the hell: I can see one more student." I should know better by now. That student was confused, needed to have things explained several different ways, needed a lot of hand-holding--and took almost 30 minutes. I was later getting back to the office than usual. No harm, no foul, as it happens, but there are days when those 15 minutes might have made the difference between "I'm ready for class" and "OK, what's plan B?"

Judy Blue Eyes also came to my office hour today. (Once again, I'd forgoten to open the door, but this time, she knocked.) Sometimes she just sits and stares at me, obviously wanting something (rescue?)--and usually I don't mind working a little to get her to talk about whatever is going on, but today, I had things to do. I reviewed what she's missing, what I suggest she do to finish the semester--and told her she'd probably get a D (and that it might be a "mercy" D). She was not happy with that, but although it feels like failure to her, it is not, in fact, a failing grade, as I pointed out--and right now, it's the best she can do. It's not her best ever, and eventually she'll be able to do her real best again. But right now that's the best she can do--and it accomplishes her goal of not withdrawing. I don't want to be harsh with her, but I also don't want any big surprises at the end of the semester because I've been too gentle. She needs to know where she really stands. After I was sure she was clear on that, I said, "Normally, I'd love to chat with you but..." and she finished the sentence for me: " have work to do." She left, and I went back to the work.

She did report that she and a few of the other students in the class are signing up for Nature in Lit, and getting their friends and boyfriends to sign up as well. Two of the students from the Fiction Writing class also said they were thinking about it--but I'm not holding my breath on those. Four students are officially registered, three of them from the Mystery class--one unknown to me (though her name looks very familiar). It's early days yet, but fingers and toes are still going to be crossed until the class actually runs.

The Fiction class was fine: we workshopped, and it was the usual. If I ever teach the class again, I want to give students instructions about how to start their critiques so we don't hear twelve iterations of "I liked your story; I thought it was good." The Real Writer is, of course, better in the lead-off to his critiques, as he has real feedback to provide. Calyx was there (sigh of relief when I heard from her yesterday; she'd been in a fender-bender last week but is OK). She was obviously exhausted and hadn't read the stories for today's workshop, but we did workshop her story, and she perked up for that. Edison Adams was absent again today. I hope he's OK.

And I really have nothing else to report. I told Paul earlier that these days, I can think about one thing at a time. I was working on the sabbatical application, and he asked me how everything else is going. At that red hot moment, I had no idea. I assumed it was all fine (and indeed it is), but I couldn't haul my brains up out of the sabbatical thing to even remember what else is going on, good, bad or indifferent.

I will, therefore, leave you with some of the student bloopers I've collected over the last month. I just posted them to Facebook, too, so those of you who also follow my Facebook posts, I apologize for the repetition. For the rest of you, let the hilarity begin:

Describing the sleuth in a Nevada Barr mystery: "She falls off a cliff and summits to the bottom."

Talking about an ambitious character in The Left Hand of Darkness: "He may be next in the air to be king."

A student describing the character she's creating in the Fiction Writing class: "He has a scar because in battle a grandad went off next to him." (Man, those old fogies are dangerous!)

Same student, describing the same character, who is a police officer: "He don't spend time with anyone besides his squid."

Another student in the Fiction class, wrote that her character's mother had "won the Most Pristine Woman of the Year award." To hell with the Nobel Prize: that's the award I want on my shelf.