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

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Quick pre-break post

I don't remember if I mentioned that I got an e-mail from a student who was in the short-story class last semester, saying she didn't understand why she got an F, that I'd told her she didn't need to worry, that I hadn't warned her she was in danger of failing, that it was unfair, that she didn't know professors could change grades but now that she knows.... I sent a very measured--even cheerful--response, saying the matter is too important to discuss in e-mails, so she should come in to meet with me after the break; that way we can look over her grade card and the final grade calculation and see what happened and why. Since I'm too tired to mark anything now (just finishing up my office hour before I head to class), I thought I'd dig out the needed back-up. Sure enough, she had not turned in one of the major essays at all: 15% of her grade was a zero--and since most of her other grades were C's and D's, the final average was a 52. Passing is a 60 or better. I think I'll give her the chance to write the paper. I doubt she'll take me up on it, but if she does, I can legitimately change the grade. Otherwise I'm going to have to contend with "but you told me" versus "I'm sorry if you were misled" (note use of the passive voice here) "but the numbers are what I need to go on at the end." It'll be interesting to see how that one turns out. I could also offer her a mercy D.... I won't know for sure until I'm actually talking with her.

But I did cc Bruce on my reply to her e-mail, which had her message to me embedded in it.

I just had two students from the Native American lit class in here--and I realize I've gotten to the point in the semester when I stop caring about due dates much: there are only seven of them left, and I want to keep them all--and the main thing is for them to do the work. I'm giving them more time for their second major essay, more time for revisions....

I have about a million things on my mind that I should go over with them today, but I don't know if we'll have time for all of it. Or that I'll remember once I get there. I will say, I am not taking one fucking piece of student work home with me for this break. I don't have that much of it--even with what I'll collect today--and I can do it when I'm back. I'm steamrollered, and I need a break.

And in 95 minutes, I'll start one.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wait, you mean I have to come back tomorrow?

I got all the papers graded--I don't quite know how--and even had enough time to eat a leisurely lunch and read a bit before class. But I am so fried by the experience (and the lack of sleep last night) that I keep blissfully forgetting that I have to come to work tomorrow. Granted, I have to be here for my office hour and one class, that's all, but just the fact that I have to be here at all seems grotesquely unfair.

I'm going to have a parade of students during my office hour, too--if everyone shows up who said he or she would. That's actually fine, more fun than marking the few assignments I have in hand, and better for maintaining a high energy level than reading (my concentration being pretty well shot even when I've had enough sleep).

I realized today that I have a very different demeanor with the two 102 classes. With the earlier one I'm a little more nurturing yet serious; the the later, I'm yokking around--landing the punches but with humor. And I'm very pleased to announce that one of the students in that later group got a well-deserved A- on the first version of his paper. He's still taking the revision seriously: there isn't anything profound to fix, but he's striving for that A+. He may just make it. The young woman who was upset because I won't let her be touchy-feely any more was there today, working at it diligently and with a lovely, positive attitude. In fact, everyone was there in the later class (well, everyone who is left); there were some absentees in the earlier one--but I think they're absent permanently. Among them was Mr. "Please, Miss," who was always trying to get me to make exceptions just for him. No paper. Big zero. Five absences. He can "Please, Miss" all he wants; he just blew his chances of passing--and I hate to admit that I feel a sort of grim satisfaction about that. The young man who tries to warm-fuzzy his way out of having to do things ("It's too hard," "My feelings are hurt," "You'd help us out if you made it easier") had missed the first go-round but was there today--and trying to find a quick and easy way to revise. Ain't none, son. Revision is ten years in the salt mines. Deal with it.

In the earlier class, I was pleased that a student who had resisted the entire notion of revision on his first paper seems to be taking it more seriously this time. He even called me over to ask some questions--not about anything very substantive, but still, it's a step in the right direction.

I really like that part of this process. They get their papers back with my typed comments and red pen (I try to keep that to a minimum but I am utterly fucking compulsive about marking stuff, which is why it takes me forever to get through even a few papers). They read my comments, and then I say, "If you have a 'See me," call me over." The "see me" comments are the ones where I need to explain something that is specific to a line or two (not the whole paper) but that is too complex or potentially confusing to try to write up in comments. Usually there is silence for a minute, and then a hand will go up. As soon as one student goes for it, then hands are flying all over, I'm being asked for, students are giving each other a hard time about who gets my attention first--and one can all but smell the brains at work. One young woman in the earlier class is really struggling: she's used to getting good grades without having to exert herself, and suddenly her grades have taken a nose dive. She called me over with a bit of an attitude, and after talking to her for a minute, I said, quietly, "I can tell you're frustrated." Yes, she admitted, and I could tell that she was close to tears. "What can I do to help?" I asked, and she calmed down, said she just was confused--and I reassured her: "You have the ideas. They're there; you just have to pull them out and focus on them. This is a very particular kind of writing, and it has very specific rules. They're a pain in the ass, but they're how this kind of writing is done." She seemed somewhat comforted, at least briefly--but then it turns out that she is friends with a student in the other class; when I found that out, I said to the friend, "She's very frustrated; she's mad at me right now," and the friend said a big, heartfelt, "Yeah." I'll help. I will--as much as I can. But they have to do the heavy lifting. I've been promised a deluge of e-mails over the break. Fine by me.

Shifting gears to something that is giddy good news: Usually, after our schedules for the upcoming semester are distributed, it turns out that there are some electives that are unassigned, and Bruce throws them up for grabs. I was sure that someone else would have grabbed it before me, but I thought, "What the hell," and asked to swap out a 102 for Fiction Writing. And I got it. Two electives, folks, and one of them a creative writing class, which has limited enrollment to start with. Of course, they're both brand new to me, so I'm going to spend a lot of time starting a few weeks ago getting ideas so I can invent lessons and schedules and that sort of thing. But if I'm chosen for Advisement again (and I may not be, as I have been absent a lot this semester), I'll have three classes--and only one comp. It's like choirs of angels are singing and God rays are shining on me. I'm jazzed. Very super ultra nifty.

Seems like there was something else I was going to say, but damned if I can remember what it was. Apparently the adrenaline of teaching is wearing off, and the engines are starting to sputter and stall. I'd best get out of here before the rough landing.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

burned at both ends

It's after ten p.m. The bollix that hit today's plan was an unexpected doctor's appointment. I did mark two papers while I was in the waiting room, but I had to wait to get home to do the comments--and I realized I needed to run some errands on the way home, so I didn't start grading until 7:30. This is taking for-fucking-ever. I'm going to have to get up at 5 in order to have even a faint shot of getting them all marked--and that's with bailing on both tomorrow's meeting and Advisement. Shit. Fuck.

I'm sure there are things that happened today that I could/should comment on, but my brains aren't working well enough to do that. I'm hoping like hell that after at least a few hours of sleep, I work more efficiently--but I have to assume I won't, and make sure I have enough time to get them done, and at this rate, I'll need five hours. Coda: Shit. Fuck.

Well, but blogging isn't going to get me to sleep, so I will sign off. I hope I get a chance for at least a quick post tomorrow, even though I'll have a lot to do after class (and will be paralytically tired)--but I won't be blogging on Thursday; I'll be out of there so fast I may break the sound barrier.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Hooray! Oh, no, wait, Boo...

Hooray! I got everything marked for every class before I went to the first of the 102s today, so my feet are entirely clear for reading, marking, and commenting on the first versions of their second papers.

Boo! Now comes the hard part: getting through them. This is when the attrition rate starts to work in my favor: I collected a grand total of 25 papers today. (I'm disappointed that I didn't get one from one of my favorite students in the later 102, the student who carried everyone through the homework last week, but ah well.) I marked/commented on three papers this evening (hooray!) but I'm not sure how on earth I can get through the rest before class on Wednesday (boo!). There are theoretically enough hours of waking time--or should be, barring disaster; the wrinkle is how having to spend time in Advisement affects the commenting process.

On these first versions, I don't write much with my red pen (OK, "much" is a relative term)--but I do type up extensive comments. And it is true that I have access to a computer in Advisement, and can bring my flash drive (to facilitate cutting and pasting, so I don't have to reinvent the wheel every time I need to say "you need to follow the correct formats for quoting poetry"), so theoretically I could type comments there just as easily as anywhere else. But this semester there's a whole new log-on system, and I can't print to any of the printers in the Advisement center itself. If I print a document from their computers, it comes out in the printer here in the office. (I know: stupid.) And I'm not sure I'll have time to dash from there to here to pick up the last batch of typed comments before I have to get to class.

It's all about technology glitches. Ridiculous, really.

Obviously, what would be best would be if I could get through all the marking/commenting tomorrow--but I know damned well I don't have that kind of stamina. So I'm trying out scenarios that will allow me to finish on Wednesday: "If I don't eat lunch and just run to the office..." "If I let the students in the first session go early..." "If I bail on the stint in Advisement...." I rather like that last option, but then I have to wrestle with my conscience about calling in "sick" again--or wrestle with my laziness and make up the time some Thursday morning. I'm already going to have to make up time for other reasons, and I truly don't want to have to give up two Thursday mornings, but it is an option. And may be worth it.

Fortunately, I don't have to decide this minute. And I did get a bit of a reprieve about Wednesday: I still have to go to our departmental Assessment meeting, but I don't have to take new kitten to the vet to be spayed (long story), so I won't be quite as frantic as I feared I might be.

All that aside, two interesting student interactions today. The first was with a young woman in the first section of 102. She's very bright, potential A material (though she may not get there this semester: she's getting B's and B+s so far)--and she wanted to talk to me after class, just to chat. She had mentioned to her father, who is a fan of SF, that we'll be reading Left Hand of Darkness, and he said yes, he'd read it, but he prefers works by C. J. Cherryh--whose work I have not read. I had to explain that my field isn't really SF, blah blah, but we also chatted about the opportunity we all have to see Joy Harjo in Manhattan on Thursday (I'll be there, barring disaster), and clearly this young woman wants to make some personal contact with the professor. Cool by me. She's sweet. She started the semester with pink hair; now it is a beautiful cobalt blue. I like what that says about her.

In the second class there is a young woman who has been turning in rotten work all semester, the same crap over and over, and who clearly is frustrated and feels shamed about her grades--that familiar pattern of acquired helplessness and self-manufactured defeat. I've been wanting to talk with her, as she also clearly had no intention of quitting--and I don't want her to quit. I do, however, want her to do more than crumple in defeat. I've been trying to get her to come to my office for some time, but she says her work schedule makes it impossible (which may be true). But today, since students were finishing up and we had some time before the end of class, I just took her out in the hall and talked to her.

I was my most encouraging, sweetest, nurturing self, and she opened up to it pretty quickly. She was defensive at first, but soon she was admitting that she's hard on herself, that she doesn't understand why--when she responds so emotionally to the poetry--she's not getting good marks, and so on. I trotted out my personal example from grad school, of sitting in my first ever grad class and feeling like an utter moron, as students and the professor were talking right over my head--but I decided, "It's my education, dammit, I don't care if I look like I have the IQ of a slug," and I asked questions. As soon as I did, at least three other people in the room had that "Thank god you asked!" look. As soon as I said that, she admitted she's been on the side of being grateful that someone asked, so I said, "Would you be willing to be the brave one who asks?" She said yes. Cool. I hope it works. I don't think she'll get the B's she wants (especially having left the effort so late), but if she can at least begin to submit C-level work, I'll be happy. Happier. About her at least.

It seems to have been a day for using my stories from grad school, as I trotted out two different stories in the earlier class. I told the students that if they had done all the work they could squeeze out of their brains today, they could go--and one asked if I'd judge her for leaving. So I told my story about having spent a year revising my dissertation, then going in to my advisor only to have her suggest one more monster revision. I sat there, tears puddled up in my eyes, and I said, "Joan, I will do anything you want, but you will have to tell me exactly what to say, because nothing else is coming out of my brain"--at which point she said, "Oh! Well, in that case, you're done." Of course, someone asked whether that meant they could stop now, and I said, "I spent a year revising before I got to that point; you have to spend at least a week."

I then overheard Blue Hair and a student I had last semester (a young woman, smart and very giggly), talking about not being able to imagine writing a book. Ah! Another teaching opportunity. So I trotted out the story of being told that I shouldn't think of writing my dissertation as writing a book: I should just think of it as writing five 25-page papers. (I made sure they understood that by the time one gets to grad school, a 25-page paper is standard; we'd do them all the time). Lesson: break the task down into manageable chunks. Take it a piece at a time. They nodded: "Yes, Yoda."

But that makes me think I should take in the paperback copy of the dissertation (ratty as it has become). I don't often get to show it off, and I did write the damned thing. I mean, I wrote a book. I got a doctorate out of it. That's no small potatoes, and I want the students to understand that there is a reason I get to stand up there and tell them what to do. They should be impressed, dammit. Not intimidated, but aware that I have some literal authority.

It's odd to get on that particular riff, as earlier today I had one of those moments when I was struck by how weird it is that I do what I do--I mean that it's just little ole nothin' much me doing what I do. Bizarre. Doctor? Professor? Me?? Strange, strange. But now that I've reminded myself that, yes, in fact, I have become this person who apparently has some idea what she's doing, I'm going to toddle my inflated ego off home. Let tomorrow take care of itself.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Strange days indeed, most peculiar, Mama

I had a brutal night last night: didn't get to sleep until after 3 a.m. I tried to sleep in, but was awake at 7:20. Rescheduled my doctor's appointment (which I wasn't going to make), and didn't rush through my morning routine; I got here at about 11. I made sure I had photocopies of stuff I'll need for the 102s next week, got some things uploaded to my faculty home page, and then pointedly did not look at any student assignments: I just read the book about mystery and detective fiction that I'm using as my start on underpinnings and theoretical background. I'm not learning anything entirely startling or new, but it's nice to have the margins filled in better--and the more I read, the longer becomes the list of things I'd love to assign. As always, it's going to be quite the challenge to make the selection out of all the terrific stuff I'd love to have the students read.

I did that right up to class time. And there were three--count 'em, three--students there, plus the senior observer. I think at least three of those who were missing today will be back; I sure as hell hope so. But today was actually a great day. The five of us had a great discussion about the poems, and there was even one of those moments when the students were talking back and forth to each other, not going through me, and another moment when two were kind of jumping over each other, so eager were they to say what they had to say. Generally, they really liked today's selection of poems (cool beans), and even better, they understood them very well. It was actually lighter, easier, more energized than Tuesday's class, when there were more students in the room. Interesting.

I'd come close to canceling, too, and I'm glad I didn't. I truly do want to get everything marked to return to them next week--and I don't want to try to use Monday in Advisement to do it. It's not a lot (especially since I only got three mini-papers and three sets of idea logs today), so it truly won't be onerous--and I am curious to see how they did on their first big papers. I have to head in to the City tomorrow, so I plan to use my time on the train for grading. Perhaps I'll even get a little marking done before I get on the train; the more I can get done tomorrow, the happier I'll be. Well, "happy" isn't quite the right term: the more relieved I'll be.

And I'm doing a little more hand-holding than I'd normally do: I did send an e-mail reminding those who were absent how to go about submitting mini-papers for credit. I neglected to say anything about their logs (slightly different rules for submitting those), but I'm really mostly concerned about the mini-papers.

I'm also afraid that today's absence and missing work means that my former student has just completely sunk his chances of making it. Very disappointing.

Still and all, I like ending the week with this class. Even if I end up just with the three who were there today, it will be a good class; if I end up with the six I hope will stick, I'll be delighted. Plus, it's delicious to be finished early--office hour, class, and done--particularly now that it's light out, even as I finish this blog post. I don't even have to do anything else before I walk out the door: plants are watered, bag is packed, I'm as organized as I'm going to get. Early dinner and early home: that's the plan.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


I got everything marked with something like 10 minutes to spare. It feels awfully damned good to have that bolus of stuff disgorged (as it were). I have a few assignments for the Native American Lit students--which I may or may not get marked in time to return tomorrow (it would be great if I could, but I have an a.m. appointment that will put a bit of a crimp in my time). I will collect more stuff from those students tomorrow, and I have a very little bit of stuff I collected from the 102 students today (those who were there). So I'm not feeling too weighted down heading into the mad panic of next week when I get first versions of papers to respond to. It will be a mad panic, as I have a shitload of things on the calendar for Wednesday morning (which is when I'd normally be finishing everything up); I'll just have to put in a hell of a Tuesday, I think.

Of course, how hard it all is will depend some on how many papers I actually end up getting. There were only nine students in the first section of 102 today--though I think really there are 14 of them, if my assumption about who remains on my roster is correct. Actually, that's how many I think remain in the other section, too. However, now that they've seen their grades on their first papers, I may lose a bunch. I wish I could choose: you get to stay, you have to go. But it doesn't work like that, and sometimes I lose someone good but can't get rid of a lunk who drags everything down for the whole damned term. Next week will reveal quite a bit.

I like that we're at the point now that we tease each other a lot. The humor goes up as the comfort levels go up--and (not surprisingly) they also seem to learn better when that dynamic kicks in (if they're going to learn at all, that is: see above about lunks). Their work may be relatively crappy, but they're at least there in class, paying attention and connecting with each other. I didn't lecture about logs; I decided that I've said enough about them, and if the students haven't gotten the message by now, they're not going to.

I'm sorry I missed the first day of class and my opportunity to give the "college will change you" and "work through frustration" speech--especially because I had a nice e-mail exchange with the student from last semester who was most powerfully affected by that speech. She's the one who was an attitude problem at first but who thought, "what the hell; I'll try it"--and lo and behold, ended up doing very well. I wrote to her to ask for one of her assignments to use as a model, but I also asked (of course) how she was doing. She said, " Just to let you know I think about you and your class all the time.  It really helps me get through difficult situations. Your class really changed my outlook on many things.  I no longer look at something difficult as impossible.  I take it little by little and get through it.  I'm so glad I stuck through your class and I hope you continue to give your new students the same great advice because it WORKS."

I know that not everyone got it as well as that young woman did; some hear the same speech but never try to put it into action. But the fact that even one student has gotten so much benefit from it is a lovely thing to know. These are the moments that keep us going.

I have a lot of noodling that I could do tonight before heading home, but I think I'm going to leave it at this. I don't know what kind of energy I'll have tomorrow, but since I don't absolutely need to push myself, I'm not going to. Paul and I have postponed our steak night, so I may take the opportunity to do some life-maintenance (pick up prescription cat food at the vet's office, run a few other errands). Now that we've changed the clocks, my sleep rhythms are for shit, but it is interesting to be able to contemplate going home while it's still light out.

And the days are getting longer all the time. Spring is arriving. Pretty soon, I'll be counting how many classes are left--and we'll get to the down-rush of the roller-coaster. It seems like the semester will never end, but when I think about some of the stuff I have to do before it does, I realize how little time remains. (Conference paper? Qu'est que c'est la?)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Here's hoping

I got all the papers marked for the 102s, and I started on the enormous stacks of logs and other homework I've been collecting since last week--and I hit the wall. I'm hoping madly that I can get it all done tomorrow in Advisement, because the students truly do need to have it back before the weekend. Many of them probably won't take advantage of the homework for their papers, but I want them to at least be able to use it; I don't want it to be my fault if they can't (or don't).

I realize that tomorrow I'm going to have to have a serious talk with them about how crappy their papers were, especially in terms of revision. It may be time to trot out the "pushing the car" analogy. I also want to talk to them about acquired helplessness: so many of them are not really trying--because they're so sure that their efforts won't produce results (or that's my analysis of their mindset anyway). I have to confess that part of me would dearly love to cancel tomorrow altogether--but, well, see above about the need to get that work back to them.

I'm also already having conniptions about next Wednesday: I have to take my kitten to the vet in the morning to have her spayed, then I have a departmental assessment meeting, then Advisement, then classes--and then I'm picking up a very important guest at the airport at about midnight. Thank God next Thursday will be easy, and even more thanks that what follows will be spring break. That week will not be anywhere near long enough; I'm already looking at the assignment schedules to see when I can declare my own personal snow days (as William calls them).

But that's projecting into the future, and of all people, I should know the sheer, blazing futility of attempting to know what will happen next. Suffice it for me to get through the rest of today. I know I'd feel better if I could get even one or two more students' worth of work marked, but brain no worky.

As an attempt to salve my conscience and make myself feel less like a whining waster, I just went into ShitStorm--I beg your pardon, I mean TaskStream--and made a few changes that we discussed at our last meeting. In the process, I uncovered a potential problem that we'll need to discuss (dammit). We're having the world's worst time getting all the language in place and all the pieces put where we want them--and we're being forced to have a meeting with the assistant in the Office of Assessment and Program Review to "walk through" our work space and make sure it's "complete." I argued like hell about whether the meeting was remotely necessary; my confident expectation is that it will be annoying as hell and a fucking huge waste of time, with the assistant telling us that stuff is easy while we try, unsuccessfully, to explain why it's not so cut and dried. I've suggested we meet after spring break but before the April departmental meeting; that way A) those of us on the subcommittee can try to get some more stuff up and working before we have to justify ourselves to OAPR and B) we can report back to the departmental committee what the meeting was actually about. A lot of my snarling reluctance about the meeting stems from the fact that the VP in charge of OAPR was completely non-specific about what we're actually going to DO in said meeting. She kept saying other departments have found it "helpful," but other departments have very different concerns than we do--and even if they've found it helpful, that doesn't mean we will. Just leave us alone to do our work, and if you don't like the way we're doing it, tell us why--and we'll either fix it or tell you why you have to adjust what you want to the way we're doing it. (If that makes sense.)

Obviously I can get very wound up over this. I rather do hope I'm asked to do a presentation at the college-wide symposium on the problems with the corporate-style insistence that we "quantify the unquantifiable"--and that we do so in a way that fits a fucking computer program (designed by those with a corporate mindset) instead of doing it in a way that makes sense to us.

OK, I'll dismount from that hobby horse for the nonce.

Class today was rather flat. In fact, at one point--faced with a protracted silence in response to my request for reactions to the poem we'd read--I said, "I guess you guys are done with this one." The best student in the class said, "It's just the poem is heavy...." and I said, "And you're not up for heavy lifting today." Yep. Well, I understand that. They did perk up a bit when I distributed two poems I teach in the 102 classes: even working those on the fly seemed easier to them than the one they'd had a chance to read and log about. (The latter is admittedly a very allusive and elusive poem: I freely confess that there are bits of it that I have yet to find a reasonable interpretation for: Peter Blue Cloud's poem "Turtle." It's gorgeous, but....) I see, too, that it will take a while for the class to settle and for me to know for sure who is staying and who's out. One young woman has desperately wanted to make it--I've mentioned her in previous posts, I think--but today was her sixth absence, so she's now in withdraw or fail time. The plagiarist apparently got scared off by the fact that I wanted to talk to him about his mini-paper, as I haven't seen him since. Another young woman who was struggling along making C's apparently has bailed. And my former student was absent again today. I think I'm going to have to tell him to cut his losses. I hate to lose him, but he's just tied his own hands; I simply don't think there is any way he can recover, he's fallen so far behind. If I'm right about who is actually going to stick--at least for a while longer--I think there will be six students plus the senior observer. I hope I can keep all six....

Speaking of six: the bells are ringing for the hour, and even though I should stay for my evening office hour (I'm supposed to be here 5-7), I'm going to split. If anyone says anything, I'll make up the time--I'll probably be here a lot more than I'm scheduled anyway. I brought something to eat for dinner, but I don't want it. I think--I'm not sure, but I think--I'm going to go out to eat and then go to dance class for the first time in months. I may bail on both (my appetite and moods are utterly weird these days), but I'll see which way I turn once I'm in the car: toward the restaurant or toward home. Tomorrow will be a steak night with Paul, assuming he and I both have settled enough tummies to handle that extravaganza. It will only partly be a working session, but we have a deadline to have some actual work done on our project for the Wednesday after the break. It will be good to have the fire lit under my ass to actually start getting some stuff on paper (or the electronic equivalent thereof). We're not going to have a real handle on the thing until we start actually writing--even knowing that we'll have a huge task of writing, revising, cutting, replacing, lather, rinse, repeat ahead of us. Gotta start somewhere. I'm looking forward to that.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Catching up

There are a couple of things that happened on Wednesday last week that I don't think I recorded in here, so, since nothing of tremendous interest happened today, I'll make note now. If I did talk about them, well, my brains are made of Swiss cheeze these days, so I can't be held responsible for what falls through the holes.

First, I was grading final versions of those first papers for the 102 classes--and came across one that was completely unrevised (and largely uncorrected), but the student had made a note on one of the earlier versions explaining why what he had done was fine and didn't need to be revised. Au contraire, mon frere. I'm afraid I rather lost it--though even so, I pulled my punches. I told him that my comments are there for a reason: subtext, I know what the fuck I'm talking about, and if I say you're off base, you need to believe me. Essentially I told him that his job was to reconsider his ideas based on my feedback, and that if he doesn't believe I have anything of value to offer, he's going to have a hard time getting anything worthwhile out of the class. Hint, hint. Smug, arrogant shit. I'd be more willing to give him a little kindness if he had any justification for his arrogance, but he doesn't: he's not a top-class brain and hardly a stellar writer. It will be interesting to see how he responds.

I also blew up at that entire class. The student who perpetually wants to persuade me that I shouldn't teach the way I do got into a thing with another student about how they couldn't do their idea logs because they didn't understand the poems. First, I had to get him to shut up and listen to me (I had to yell), and then I said, "ASK QUESTIONS. How many times have I said that this semester? It's fine if you don't understand--but then you need to ASK QUESTIONS. You're not supposed to understand everything; if you did, I'd be out of a job. But when you don't, it is your responsibility to ASK--and to at least TRY to answer your questions, even if doing so just leads to more questions." I managed to keep from actually getting angry (OK, for a second I was, when he wouldn't shut up), so the students weren't scared--though maybe they should be, as their logs still are pathetic.

I need to figure out how to get them to understand the process of questioning. I realize that's one important key to understanding. The other is to slow down: when students try to understand the entire thing (whatever it may be) in one big gulp, they just choke on it--and I'm sick of having to do the intellectual equivalent of the Heimlich maneuver. Take it a little bit at a time and look at it carefully. I don't know how to show them what to do, how it's done. The students who get the readings quickly will be frustrated by the exercise (if I can come up with one), but even for them, it can be valuable, as it can reveal not only depths they may have missed but can help them understand how they do what they do. I just have no idea how to do it. The PowerPoint thing was such a disaster, I'm afraid to head into that territory again, but it's very clear to me that we need to do something. Of course, what "we" really need to do is go back in time and educate them properly from kindergarten on, but barring that, I really want to find a way to get them to question their way into answers, and to pay attention to details.

As long as I'm on the topic of annoying things, the student who wants me to make exceptions for every rule for him, the one who didn't understand why he can't submit work late, sent an e-mail today asking to be "excused" for his absence because he had to go to a funeral. I'm sorry for your loss, I said, but there are no excused absences. Things like funerals are why students are given three absences with no penalty. I pointed him--with some asperity--to the syllabus and suggested that perhaps he might want to read the policies again....

I think I mentioned the student in Native American Lit who was struggling with the difference between critical essays and short stories, writing his papers about the former rather than the latter. He sent an e-mail today, asking what he should write his big paper on: should it be the critical essays? Read the fucking assignment sheet, you moron. It specifically says what you need to write about.

Why do I bother writing directions? Why do I bother saying anything in class? They're so locked into what they think they know, it's like trying to get someone's attention on the opposite side of a very loud bar, with a live band and maybe a brawl going on in one corner. They can't hear me over the din inside their own brains.

Oh, and that reminds me: I added to the "Bozo Errors" lists. New entries include "Dinner, Diner, Dinning, Dining" and "Manner, Manor." Pretty soon the damned list is going to be 40 pages long, if this keeps up. I'm simply not going to give in. I know that even the most prestigious of publications are now guilty of howling blunders along those lines (a favorite case being when Time magazine included reference to someone wearing a "solar toupee"--a whole new way to charge one's electronic devices, apparently). But I refuse to allow my (ostensibly) college educated students to fall into such sloppiness. There are some things I'm not a stickler about, but that sort of, well, bozoness, for lack of a better term, reduces me to slavering incoherence.

Ok, ok, reframe, reframe. Let's think of something positive. Although I didn't finish marking the 102 papers over the weekend, I do have the assignments marked to return to the Native American Lit students tomorrow. (Of course, there were only about 6 of them, but still, it's done.) I have six more 102 papers to grade, and a huge pile of homework that I need to get back by Wednesday, but if I just plop grades on stuff and don't comment (huge note to self: don't comment), I can probably get through it all OK. I don't have a meeting tomorrow, only P&B and the one class. Of course, there's always the possibility of the unforeseen interruption or nagging need to get something else done instead (or to do something really self-indulgent, like sleep in, rather than setting the alarm), but hope springs eternal.

Oh, and a nice event from today (hooray! a positive note to end on!): Mr. Enthusiastic, from the Native American Lit class, showed up to my office hour today and we went over his ideas for his paper. He was off base to start with (much too big an idea, and not enough specific focus on the stories), but I think he has a handle on something better now. I probably offered a bit too much help--I rather handed him the topic--but I want him to do well, and I think with my resetting of his direction, he has a chance to do fine. I sure hope so. I'm interested to see how that class continues to shake out: I've got a couple of students holding on who probably should bail, and I've lost a couple I'd rather have kept, but I think there's going to be a good mix of intelligence and hard work in there, and that in the end, the class will be a success. That sure would be nice.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

I'm not gonna

I actually did more after class than I intended. My plan was to walk into the office, log on to the blog just long enough to say "I'm done; I'm out of here," and leave--not unpack the pack, not organize stacks of shit that needs to be done, nothing. But I did want to check e-mail briefly, and I realized I had promised letters of recommendation to a student--and that if I didn't get them done now, I'd forget, or miss the deadlines. So I did that. And now, I'm going to leave everything where it is, except my purse and the bag I carry my lunch in, which will come to the car with me. And I'm going home. I have an ungodly shitload of paper grading/assignment marking to do--I tried to get some done in Advisement today, and it was painfully slow. It shouldn't be; I'm not marking much (really, I'm not), but for some reason it was just like crawling across a field of sharp pebbles. I may come to the office on Friday; whatever I do, I MUST get papers marked this weekend. I won't get much done tomorrow, because students want to meet with me and we have a department meeting--and I'm racing out of here after class to meet a friend for a social evening. But tonight, I'm done. I'm just done. So I'm not gonna do another damned thing having to do with work.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Such a bad girl

I didn't get up super early. The alarm went off at 6:30, and I turned it off and went back to bed for an hour. I didn't hustle to get in--and had forgotten that I'd arranged to meet a student at 11. I was three minutes late--no big deal, but he was waiting. I got no papers graded for 102--though I did finish marking everything for the Native American Lit class and even reviewed the critical essay I'd assigned for homework. I was besieged by students after class, including having a rather frustrating conversation with one young man about the difference between critical essays and short stories, trying to make him understand that I wanted papers about the latter, not the former. But I got everyone straightened out eventually. I'm being lenient with most of them: the attrition rates are climbing, and I don't want to lose any more brain wattage if I can help it. Mr. Enthusiastic was back in class today, but he's fallen behind, so after class I also spoke with him for a while about what he should do to get back on track. The student I met at 11 is my former student, the one who has the smarts but can't seem to do the work. He's way the hell behind the curve, but he's finally trying to pull it together--and it was good to reassure him that it's OK to write in his homework that he's confused, that he doesn't know the answers. As long as I see him making an attempt to understand, I'll be happy--and, as I told him (and keep telling the students who are left), the errors are instructive: they help us all understand.

For example I understand that I have to rework the study questions, as apparently they are confusing--and I have to rework the paper assignments, so it is clear that the mini-papers go with the big paper topics. And even though the schedule of assignments clearly states what is primary material and what is secondary (critical) material, the students still get confused: I have to figure out if there's another way to make that distinction clear.

In any event, after class, when I got back to the office, even if Paul hadn't been here to function as a grand distraction (much more fun to talk to him than to grade papers), I could tell I wasn't going to get any work done. And, what do you know, I haven't. I spent some time writing an e-mail to a colleague who has asked me to present at the annual assessment symposium, giving a session on how the English department conducts our assessments. The presentation would be a good credit in a promotion folder (if I ever go up for full professor), but I told her that I can't honestly boast about what a great job we're doing because--although I think we're doing as good a job as possible under the circumstances--I think the whole process is profoundly flawed. Of course, if she wants me to present on the philosophical problems with assessment--and especially with TaskStream--I'd be delighted to have the opportunity to share my thoughts in a wider forum than just our departmental meetings. But I kind of doubt that's what she had in mind.

So, that took a little time. Then I spent some time finding YouTube videos of the musicians who will be playing at a concert I have tickets for on Saturday: my original date fell through, and I'm looking for someone else to come with me (or I'll not only have to go alone, I'll be out $40 for the other ticket). So I sent the clips in an e-mail to Kristin and am hoping she'll be free. If not, I'll have to scramble to think of someone else who might be willing and able to come--and fun enough to invite.

And now I've noodled around so long, I know I won't even look at those fucking papers. I will have to face them eventually, but I'm whining and throwing little internal tantrums about it.

It seems clear I simply don't want to have to work for a living--or at least not full time. If I could get by financially only teaching one or two classes at NCC and having no other work responsibilities--no committees--I'd probably be fine. (In other words, if I could be an adjunct.) But since that isn't possible (no one can live on adjunct pay), I do the work of my real, full-time job--and bitch about it.

Shifting gears, Paul and I had a good time looking at sentences in the "tale told by an idiot" paper I mentioned a few posts ago. I can't resist the urge to share one: "European conquistadores played a seminal role in the confrontational aspect of irregular comparisons of post-modern discrepancies of modern history, the role of man and his clandestine trial of inferior men can be interpreted as righteous, the Native American positions himself to a higher standard as of his counterpart; the European." Even setting aside the comma-splice errors (that's actually three independent clauses), it's not just word salad, it's chopped word salad. I mean, really, what the fuck does any of that mean?? I've read some deconstructionist theorists who sound almost like that, but somewhere in their verbiage one can faintly detect an idea--which may or may not be bullshit, but at least there is an actual thought that ostensibly is being conveyed. But what this student wrote? There is no "there" there.

And now, I'm in Scarlett O'Hara mode. Forget doing any more work: I'm finding it difficult enough to decide whether I want to return to dance class tonight or whether I still need to hide under the sofa for a while (metaphorically speaking). I have to make up my mind soon; tempus fugit. As for those papers for the 102 classes? Eh, whatever. Whenever. I'll get 'em done eventually. And I'm not going to beat myself up right now. Later, perhaps, but not now. So, yes, I'm a very bad girl, but bad girls have more fun.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Lots of heavy sighs

Jesus, I'm just hammered. I get these surges of desire to do things that are interesting--prep for the Mystery and Detective Fiction course I'm teaching in the fall (at least I think I'll be teaching it; it's what I assigned myself, but Bruce hasn't distributed the finalized schedules yet), work on the project with Paul, even start work on the paper I'll be presenting at ASLE in May/June--but then my energy goes pffffffft, and all I want to do is go home and stare at the TV, or read popcorn. I will say that the next batch of popcorn reading is all going to be stuff under consideration for the Mystery course: I love mysteries, and I don't have to read them as a scholar just yet; I only have to consider whether they seem like something the students can get through. One of my colleagues is our resident expert in this stuff--he really knows the deal--so at some point I'm going to sit down and pick his brains. I have a copy of his syllabus (interesting), and the syllabus of another colleague who teaches the course (weird as hell: it's almost all theory, very little of the literature itself--for a community college??), but I also have to figure out my own hook on the thing. I've got time--but time does have a way of disappearing faster than one might think.

That desire to dim the wattage on my brain activity is somewhat problematic. For example, I took home a bag full of papers to grade for the 102 classes--and grading them isn't that hard, as I don't have to comment much (the comments consisting almost exclusively of "better" or "same problem")--but I couldn't make myself even pull them out of the damned bag. In fact, I almost forgot the bag was there, very nearly headed back to campus this morning leaving it on the table in the living room (and we know the dratted cats won't grade anything, even if I tie the red pens to their little paws).

I spent the time in Advisement grading the next batch of mini-papers for Native American lit (I'm still waiting for a few), and I did get a few of the 102 papers done--not many, but some. The Advisement staff are putting on a little "appreciation" lunch dealy tomorrow, which technically I could attend (it's during club hour, and I don't have a committee meeting), but I'm not going. Not only do I not feel like socializing (or not with them in that setting), I'd rather use the time to crank through more papers.

But thinking about the 102 classes: today's sessions were interesting. A lot of people were absent (many of them seem to have blown up over the first paper, including a few who had potential, dammit)--but I didn't do the usual group thing. We churned through the stuff I didn't do with them last Wednesday, when I canceled class, and got a start on the poems they read for this week. Their logs have been unmitigated shit--one or two crappy responses--and I told them that they need to do more at home, even if it's "wrong." So we went through the two poems we covered today slowly, carefully, and after the first one, I said, "OK, so how did we just do that?" A lot of the students looked like they'd been whacked with a two-by-four at the question, but in each class, at least one student was able to step outside the process and see how it had worked: "We went through it a little at a time, working from individual words to associations and how they connect in the poem as a whole." Bingo. Do that in your logs, people. I gave them the opportunity to take their logs home and add to them, as well as adding class notes--and I'm hoping I see better results. If not, it won't be because I didn't give them as much guidance as I possibly can.

But one student in the earlier class is driving me batshit. Not the one who was trying to joke me out of my standards, but another--I don't know if I mentioned him--who keeps pushing me to let him turn in work late. No. He's one of those foreign-born students who is superficially very respectful, but I can tell that he's furious with me. He gives me the "Yes, Miss. Yes, Miss" response to things--but then he tries to either talk over me or he keeps pushing when I've already given him my answer. Today, he said he didn't understand why he couldn't turn in the work that was due last Monday--a week late. Because, I explained, the homework is there for us to use on the day it is due: it provides the basis for the in-class work of that day. If you don't have it when we're using it in class, it is no longer of any value. That's why there are due dates: because we are actually using the stuff on that date. (I didn't pull out the analogy of class work and work for one's job: if your boss gives you a task and tells you to have it done by a certain date, is it OK if you turn it in a week late? Why not? But if he keeps at it, I will.) I was saying to Paul, I can't wait for him to withdraw. I hope to hell he does, and the sooner the better. Of course, among the things he didn't get done in time was the first version of his paper, so of course the final version is an utter train wreck, on every level, ideas to sentences. I think, what with all the penalties, the final version was a 34. Out of 100. No doubt he'll be furious about that, too, but you know what? Shit work is shit work, and if he'd wanted to do good work, it behooved him to get the first version to me in time to get my feedback.

But I'm not annoyed.

Nor am I annoyed about the student who blew up last semester because of absences and missed work--despite real intellectual promise--and who is doing it again this semester. Nor the other student in that same section (the later one) who also has a lot of promise but has been absent more than he's been present. He may be over the six absence limit, in fact, which would be a hell of a shame. But if this is the only thing they learn in my class--that requirements are actually required (amazing though the concept may be)--then it's still a valuable thing to learn.

I'm reminded of the student I had very early on in my career at NCC who was furious that he failed the class--when he had eight absences. I reminded him that my policy is that six absences means the only options are withdraw or fail, and he said, "But I was only two over the limit."

"Limit." "Requirement." These are apparently very flexible terms, subject to negotiation--or simply to be ignored.

But I'm not annoyed. (Anyone wonder why my neck muscles went into spasm last week?)

Well, whatever. I'm about to figure out what goes home with me, what stays here, and get on the road to home. I hope to be in good and early tomorrow so I can get a good whack in before P&B--and hope I'll have slept enough that I can also get a good whack in after class, before those mental lights start to dim. But getting enough sleep won't happen if I don't start the wind down soon, so off I go, into the wild blue yonder.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


Just got an e-mail from the young woman I talked to on Thursday; she decided to withdraw. Damn and blast and hell. I really hoped I'd keep her--not just because I think she'd have been able to do well but also because losing her lowers the collective IQ in the room, which changes the class chemistry, and not for the better. Damn. I'm more disappointed than I expected to be. But heaven knows I don't want her to live in quivering stress, and I do understand that my classes can be a source of screaming stress for students who want to do well and have to work harder than they are used to in order to get there. If she can't take it, she can't, and I don't want her to suffer.

But still. Dammit. I'm bummed.