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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

How nice do I want to be?

I've been sitting here, waiting for a student to show up to get the withdrawal I offered yesterday, instead of the F he actually earned. He said he could be here about 3:30 or 4, and I said I'd wait for him--but he seems to think I'll wait indefinitely. I also just checked: the Registrar is closed for today. I decided I'm done giving him chances to redeem himself; I've given him the F and I'm moving on. If he comes to me and complains, I'll decide what to do on the spot; I'm not going to worry about it now.

Scheduling was difficult, mostly because we're all pretty crunchy with final-grading fatigue. I'm a bit worried that we've made a lot of howling blunders, but if we did, we'll just have a lot of fun and frolic on Thursday, sorting it all out.

In terms of the adjunct scheduling, Bruce informed me that I should be braced for a lot of very unhappy people--with a lot of seniority. Enrollment is way way down, so a lot of classes are being canceled, and that means people's schedules are going haywire. Bruce was miserable today; I wish I could help him more, but he keeps telling me not to worry about it. I need to talk to him tomorrow about when he needs me there: Paul is doing a little pre-commencement festivity (as usual), and usually I go--but if I need to be here until the bitter end of the contract signing day, then I'll be heading straight from here to the commencement venue, no party for me (and I'll have to get creative about food).

Enh. Whatever. Speaking of food, I need to eat so I can get to dance class. I'm lucky that the class was rescheduled, or I still wouldn't have my grades in, as I'd have had to leave to get to class on time. Sometimes, God smiles.

I hope to write more tomorrow. I still have a mare's nest of stuff to tend to before the end of the week--and I feel a teeny bit ike I'm in a scene from Hitchcock's The Birds, attacked by tasks instead of seagulls. But I'll beat them off in time. Task by task, one at a time.

Monday, May 20, 2013

First time ever...

This is the first semester in my entire teaching career when I was in town, on campus--and unable to turn my grades in the final official day of classes. I am held up in part by a student to whom I offered a last-minute withdrawal: I don't know why he thought he had any chance of passing the class, as his first papers all got below-failing grades--but then again, I don't know why I didn't notice that earlier and let him know he should get the hell out. I think I did give him an early warning, but he needed another, and another. I imagine he's pretty pissed off--and when he shows up tomorrow with the withdrawal form, I could offer him a mercy D--but I am human, and I do make mistakes. Ah well.

I actually have the numbers crunched for all the classes, and I could (apart from that one student) go on Banner tonight and enter the grades, but I still have to fill out the stupid, idiotic, ridiculous and ought-to-be-replaced-with-an-electronic-form paper grade forms, in which I explain what marks the student got for each assignment and what the relative weights are. I understand the need for that information; what I don't understand is why I'm still doing it on paper.... (Not just me. All of us. Stupid, I tell you. Stooooopid.)

Meanwhile, Mr. Enthusiastic-but-Disappeared from the Native American Lit class e-mailed me over the weekend saying that he urgently needed to talk to me. I knew what was coming: even though he bailed on the semester half-way through, he was going to tell me his travails and ask for a passing grade. I had said he could have a "mercy D"--but that was predicated on his actually being there and turning in some kind of work. He was profoundly upset, and I understand that he is in a terrible situation--and that my class wasn't the only one causing a problem. But as I told him, this is one of those unfortunate situations when life simply sucks, is just flat horrible--but that in fairness to all my students, I can't make an exception for him, no matter how awful his circumstances. I offered him the W, but he didn't feel he had the time to get the paperwork done. I'll give him the UW--and hope for his sake that A) eventually, policy is changed so that grade is no longer punitive (right now, a UW computes in his GPA as an F) and B) when the policy is changed, it's retroactive on transcripts.... I know there's a potential can of worms there, as the UW can affect academic standing, blah blah blah, and really, generally speaking, I don't care what happens with the policy--but, for this one kid's sake, it would be nice if he could get out of the class without the hit.

On the other hand, he had all semester to see me about what was going on, more than a month in which to get the W processed, if he'd been on it--and in fact, he contacted me ages ago about an "urgent" need to meet me and then didn't follow up on it, so, well, this is how we learn things, right?

But as of now, I'm exhausted. It's after 8:30 p.m., and I have to be back tomorrow morning.for scheduling--and I'm really brain fried. I'm going to need all the brain I can summon tomorrow, not just for the scheduling but to finish the paperwork and computer entry of final grades. I'm going to stagger off for some dinner and then home to collapse....

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cue the shouting...

When I get to this point in the semester, I tend to say, "It's all over but the shouting"--largely because I tend to anticipate that some student somewhere along the line will be unhappy over a grade. Usually said student will not have done anything during the semester to try to improve his/her grades, nor will said student have come to my office to find out what the final grade calculation is. I used to give students a sheet in which everything was tallied and the numbers crunched--including their final papers--so the last time I saw them would be their chance to talk to me about the grade and there wouldn't be any Banner surprises. ("Wait, what do you mean I didn't pass??") I don't remember when I stopped doing that, or why: I think it was probably in a fall semester somewhere along the line, when I was going to compute the final grades on my way out of town. In any event, I don't think it makes much difference. The current system may set me up for the occasional summer e-mail complaining about a grade--or for the rare situation that I faced earlier this semester, when a student asked for (and, unusually, received) a change of grade (but only from an F to a "mercy D"). But the real advantage to the current system is that they go through their emotional reactions out of my sight. I don't mean that to sound snotty (well, maybe a little), but truly, it can be uncomfortable to see the upset, anger, utter discouragement that some of them experience. And that tends to outweigh the occasional expression of delight and relief. So, yeah, I'll stick with this--unless or until something occurs to persuade me to return to the old methods.

I got through most of the earlier 102 today, in terms of reading final papers and crunching final grades. One sad note: you may recall the student I spoke to around spring break, the one whose life was overwhelming but whose work had been improving--the one who decided to remain in the class and gut it out. The one who then plagiarized the second version of his final paper. I gave him the "more in sorrow than in anger" letter, told him he could do the final version, but that if there was even a whiff of plagiarism about it, he wouldn't pass the class and I'd send everything to the dean of students. Suffice it to say that a letter is on its way to the student, and copies of the entire packet are on their way to the dean.

I have a student in the later 102 who is in a similar situation--and both young men have similar problems. They're both very sweet human beings, but they're facing one hell of an up-hill battle in college, to the extent that I truly am not certain that college is where they should be. They may well be geniuses in other "intelligences" (as in Howard Gardner's theory), but in the specific kind of mental processing required for reading and writing at a college level, they're not playing to their strengths, shall we say.

I think I may put the second potential plagiarist's paper on top of that stack, to get it over with first. Sigh.

I probably should stay and crank through a bit more today, but I'm hitting the wall pretty hard (another night without enough sleep, dammit). It's going to be a busy weekend, too, so I'll just have to finish up on Monday. If the load is light in Advisement, that will make the process infinitely easier. If I can't grade papers during that block of time, I'll still have time to get through it. I may be here somewhat late on Monday, but truly, for today, I'm done. If I stay any longer, I'll be the one doing the shouting.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

That was fun

No, really; I'm not being snide. I had a blast with the second batch of 102 students in our end-of-semester wrap up. We all were laughing; it got pretty raucous, especially when I went through the list of students who had vanished through the course of the semester. I said we'd all burn in hell for being so unkind--but I also know that part of what was going on was that the students were celebrating their own survival: they were not among the flame-outs, and they deserve to make a little fun of the ones who didn't make it.

It was very sweet, too: it turns out, after I'd booted Mr. "I only have a red pen" from class, one of the other students saw him in the hall after class and stuck around until he saw that I wasn't going to be stalked or attacked or something. Very chivalrous of him to be willing to come to my rescue; I was touched.

The other class was a lot less energetic, but they had some good ideas for me to consider in terms of how to approach things better next time around. I've got a some ideas about how to set up the idea log thing, and how to help them with the revision process on the first two papers. Some of their ideas won't fly, of course, but it's helpful to hear what they think even if I won't make the changes they suggest.

By the way, I read the self-evaluation from the student in that earlier group who was silent and apparently truculent all semester--and it's actually lovely. He may be bullshitting--who can tell--but what he wrote expresses gratitude for having been taught that he was not, in fact, as good a writer as his previous experience had taught him to believe. I'm sorry he didn't exert more effort into the class; if he'd done so, he almost certainly would have seen a difference in the results. But ah well.

I do see the need for my first day set-up of the semester, too: the whole "work through frustration" thing--and even before having them do any idea logs, emphasizing that what matters isn't the "right" or "wrong" answer but the process of getting there. They've been taught to be so product oriented that getting them to focus on process is enormously difficult.

Only two students asked for written comments on their papers, and only five (I think) plan to come to the office on Monday to find out their grades (including those two). It will be interesting to see what I can get through tomorrow, what I'll need to take home over the weekend. My guess: not much, and quite a bit--for two reasons. One, there's a department meeting tomorrow, and although half of it will be a party, the first half will include some important business. I won't stay for the party part, I don't think, unless the offered salads are unusually interesting--the rest of the comestibles are not compatible with a gluten-free diet--but even so, that will be a chunk out of the day.

Two, I've volunteered to help the secretary of the assessment committee with the end-of-year report we need to provide to the Queen of Assessment. I won't need to do much beyond read it over and give some feedback--but that will still take time. And other committee stuff may pop up: this is "whack-a-mole" season, after all.

However, it was rather lovely to be able to use my time in Advisement today to nail down various bits of flotsam (if that's what one does with flotsam): I got my book orders in at last, and did some other committee stuff. Now, I'm about ready to do the informal, ad hoc "norming" session with Paul--and possibly head out for dinner and (an even fainter possibility) some talk about, if not work on, our Project. We're both pretty fried (qu'elle surprise), but as we discussed briefly earlier today, it feels good to draw on what we do, the place in our lives and psyches where we have invested an enormous amount of time, energy, and thought over the past 20 years--and where we each have a significant body of material and conceptual underpinning. I may never be a real ecocritic again, but by cracky, I know about teaching writing.

And my students just confirmed that for me, in all three classes.

That's a good note to stop on, I think.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What to do, what to do...

I know I should start looking at student papers, slapping those grades on them, but I want to be sure, first, that truly, no one wants comments--and I've made a sign-up sheet, so if anyone wants to know his or her grade on the final paper or for the course, I know to be ready for that student to show up in my office on Monday. For the students in Native American Lit, I told them they could simply send me e-mails on Monday, asking for their paper grades. They all want to know, and I don't know that I want to have read them all by Thursday.

I've just spent a little time tying up some loose ends in terms of those dratted year-end evaluations. I love P&B: the consensus was that the faculty member who simply sort of waved his dick over this evaluation and figured that would be good enough gets a "needs improvement" rating. I wrote it up and e-mailed it to him, in lieu of an actual face-to-face conference. If he really wants to see me, I told him I'd be "happy" to do that (lies, lies), but I don't think he gives a rat's petite patoot, honestly. I could be wrong, but I'm trusting that the thing is out of my hair. Now there's just the matter of the one faculty member who made such a bollix of hers that I had to simply hand it right back and tell her to do it over and do it properly. I've not heard boo from her about it since, so I sent an e-mail prod, saying that it needs to be taken care of and asking her to tell me when she thinks she'll have it done.

It was nice meeting with the Native American Lit students today. The one young woman who has tried so hard was beaming. She's nervous as hell about her paper, naturally, but she said that she now feels she can write a long paper without panic. (Hooray! We win!) They all were happy to have had the chance to work on their final papers in successive drafts, which makes me think that maybe I'll do that instead of the mini-paper thing for the first two papers, too. Students don't seem to understand what mini-papers are for until it's too late.

We also talked about how I might get students to understand what I'm looking for on the idea logs--and why idea logs are beneficial to the students. They had the same thought I've had before, which is that I could sit with a computer, projecting the image on the screen for everyone to see, and type in various responses (especially to the same passage) so they can see what summary looks like, and how to engage in the process of questioning. I described the questioning process to the Native American Lit students, and Ms. Hard Worker said that she suddenly understood what I meant about it, and saw how it could be useful. I'm glad she got it, but damn, it's a shame she didn't get it 15 weeks ago.

It seems the main thing they all agreed they got out of the class was a better understanding of how to write a paper. More than anything about Native American literature or cultures, that stood out. But they did get an understanding of the Native stuff, too. In fact, one student is also taking American Short Story, and she said that class read a story by a Native author (she thought maybe Alexie, but she couldn't remember the title of the story exactly, nor who wrote it). In any event, she said that the rest of the class was just looking at it as a story like any other, but she was able to bring information about the specifically Native elements to the class discussion--and apparently impressed the hell out of her professor. Cool beans.

I've told those students that they can bring me revisions on any of their previous papers on Thursday; I'll be interested to see if anyone does. I hope so: they all could improve their grades if they were to revise some of their earlier work. However, I also know that it's the ass-end of the semester, and chances are damned good that, having finished their final papers, they don't want to do another lick of work for my class. And I don't blame them.

I'll miss them. They were great.

But now, I have a little time to whack out something for Paul's and my working dinner tomorrow. I didn't think I'd have anything done for the project (though I did read the papers from his students, for our informal "norming" session)--but I think I can take a little time now to write something up. He wants my thing about "panic earlier," so I'll see what I can do about that. And then I'll have dinner. And then I'll go dancing. And tomorrow is another day. Mercifully. Groundhog Day had it wrong: if tomorrow were not another day, then there would be no chance to change anything, to have any different kind of experience. Could be better, could be worse, could be about the same--but it will be different. It's another day.

Monday, May 13, 2013

I hate everybody. OK, not quite everybody.

Actually, after my second class--and especially after a student e-mail I just received--I don't really hate anybody, but man I was ready to lambaste anyone who came across my sights after the first class, which followed on a tremendously annoying time in Advisement, plus an annoyance from a colleague.

In terms of the colleague, I finally got the year-end evaluation from the one "absentee," and it's useless: there's essentially nothing in it. I'll talk it over with P&B, but I'm cranky enough that my inclination is to say, in essence, "Fine, if that's what you think is adequate"--and send it to the Dean marked "unsatisfactory." I doubt P&B will go along with that (we try too hard to be nice to our faculty some times), but I won't take any action until I've consulted with them.

In terms of Advisement, as Paul said, we're down to the lunkheads and idiots in Advisement. Again, that's not entirely true. I did advise one extremely bright young woman who is a non-degree students, just trying to take classes to get into a nursing program elsewhere. But that was before I advised a student who simply would not make any decisions about anything, kept changing his mind.... I think it was actually a passive-aggressive method for trying to get me to pick his schedule for him, but I wasn't falling for it. I finally said, "You're going to have to make a decision some way, even if you just put a bunch of course descriptions up on the wall and throw a dart." He finally smiled a little at that, but the sullen recalcitrance I'd had to wade through for the preceding 15 minutes with him had soured my impression to the point that I couldn't feel any relief--until he finally walked out of my cubicle.

Then students in the first 102 were being idiots: "I didn't know I had to attach the first versions. Did we also have to attach our sources?" This after me telling them precisely that for the last three weeks solid, not to mention that it's clearly written--multiple times--on the assignment sheet. After a full semester of saying, "Times New Roman 12 point font; anything else is a penalty," I got a paper in some other font--huge, sans serif.... I told the student to get it printed out again, correctly, right away, or it would points off the top, before I even get around to evaluating anything else. "But that's how the library prints things." "But you can change it in the library." "I didn't notice..."

I was happy--I think--to see that the plagiarist was there with a paper, and from a brief glance, it seems as if he may indeed have rewritten the whole thing to make it his own. I'm not taking that for granted however: I'm going to check it.

In the second class, the students cheerfully exchanged papers to help each other find any remaining problems. One of my favorite students, a music major, was out all last week because his grandfather died (and I believe him; one can get tired of the dead grandparent excuse, but I choose to trust this young man). We talked about an incomplete for him, but as it turns out, he won't need one--unless something unexpected happens. He turned in what I will consider his second version today; I'll get it back to him on Wednesday, and he can turn in the completed final paper on Monday. Then neither one of us has to have it hanging over our heads after the semester ends. I have given one incomplete in that class as it is, and am regretting it, although again, it's because of a life crisis situation--or so I trust. I want to give the student a chance to get some kind of decent grade, but man, I hate like hell that I'm going to have to deal with a paper after the semester is over. Fucking hell.

But oh well.

The cheering e-mail was from the student who is struggling so in Native American Lit. She sent me her new introductory paragraph--and hot damn, it works. It's good. I hope she can follow through with the rest of the paper. If she can, she may even get a B on that final paper--and that would send her soaring. I'm hoping madly that she pulls it off.

And more good news: I wrote up my P&B statements for the three year-end evaluations I had that actually passed muster. Now I'm just waiting for the faculty members to print them out, attach their documents, sign them, and return them to me for counter-signature. I'm not sure what to do with the two remaining problem children, but again, I'll consult.

And now, I'm going to cancel my office hour and head home. I'm too cranky to do more today--and I should have a nice chunk of time tomorrow to start hacking through the final papers. I really cannot believe it's almost all over. I should be dancing on air, but instead, I'm anxious as hell. But this too shall pass.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I hope this works...

One of my students in Native American Lit, the one who is working her ass off for the first time ever, was so discouraged getting her paper back today that I knew I needed to talk her off the ledge. We had time at the end of class to go over papers, but she didn't stay; she was feeling like she can't do anything right. In fact, she has good ideas; she just has a hard time getting them on paper, especially in any academic form. After I talked to another student for a while, I came back to the office and called Ms. Worker Bee. She is still pretty discouraged, but I got her to understand what she needs to do in terms of a thesis--and I told her to think of it as if she is explaining her ideas to someone who has read the book but doesn't understand it. I suggested an imagined conversation something like this:
       "The women in Tayo's life who follow the white way are the ones who are harmful to him, and the ones who follow the Native way are the ones that help him."
       "What do you mean?"
      "Well, you know Ts'eh? She follows the Native way..."
      "How do we know that?"
      "Remember when we first meet her, she's wearing the rainbird buttons on her shoes and holding a willow wand?"
      "Yeah, so...?"
      "The willow wand indicates her closeness to the land. Also, it's an old way to look for water, so it comes out of her Native heritage, not white science."
      "OK, but how do we know she helps Tayo?"
      "She catches the cattle for him....."

And so on. At this point, if her paper is riddled with informalities, I don't care: I just want her to get those ideas expressed and clear. She can work on anything else later--like in some other semester, with some other teacher. I simply want her to have a thesis and prove it. Period.

But the phone call with her was good, I think. She's reassured that I care and that I'm here to help, and I'm reassured that she's going to stick with it. Clearly there is a miscommunication going on: she was so sure she'd done what I wanted, when in fact she'd done things I very expressly do not want. No wonder the poor thing felt it's hopeless. But it isn't, and if it kills me, I'm going to prove to her that she can do this. She may not get an A (OK, she won't, unless there is a miracle), but she could certainly get a C+--maybe even a B of some variety, if she can truly pull this off. She has B-quality ideas; it's the writing that's the problem.

That's true for most of them, in fact. However, I was again in the position of letting an A student know that she can pretty much just clean up some superficial stuff in her paper and be done with it. God, it's nice to read A papers! Thoughtful, well-expressed....

Which makes me think, once again, that I probably do need to make clear grading criteria that match the rubric sheets I use. I do provide students with the language from the SUNY Basic Communications learning goals, but it's too dense, and students don't get it. In fact, I wonder if I can rework the rubric sheet so the criteria are right next to the rating: so there's a box for "Exceeding Expectations" and then a few quick bullet points of what that means, and so on.

I come up with ideas like that, and invariably it turns out to either be too much work for me to actually put together--or I put it together and it doesn't work the way I hope it will. There is no magic bullet, Prof. TLP, remember that. No matter what I do, there will be problems--and unhappy students.

Well, I'll do what I can with the ones who are left. I don't think I mentioned, but yesterday, the young man in 102 that I've had to suppress all semester turned up with the second version of his paper--which was due on Monday. The syllabus and assignment sheet very clearly state that it won't be accepted late, and that if it isn't submitted on time, the student will fail the class. But he was brave enough to show up with it. He told me he'd been sick all weekend: maybe, maybe not, but I don't really care. I read the thesis, and it will fly. I told him he'd get partial credit for it and that he can do the final version. He was genuinely relieved and thanked me for allowing him to finish the class. I said, "Are you kidding? There's no way I'd keep you from making it now...."

I will be very interested to see his end-of-semester self-evaluation. All of them, really, but his in particular, along with a few others.

Meanwhile, I know I "should" stay here for a while and get some work done: it's really super early, and next week may very well be hell on a stick, so it would be highly logical to try to crank out more work today (those year-end evaluations, my book orders, something). But I just don't feel like I can stand to do one more thing. So, I'm going to water plants, put my water bottles in my bag, and head home. Please God something will happen between now and next week and I'll remember how to sleep at night again. That would certainly make this final push to the finish a hell of a lot less painful. But even with the current levels of discomfort, one way or another, by end of next week, it will all be over but the shouting--and I hope that's only a figure of speech.

And ... scene.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

God smiled

I was deeply worried as I left the office to go to Advisement this morning: I still had four papers to grade, and as things have been going, I feared I'd be facing back-to-back students with nary a moment in which to finish the grading. As it happened, I got a gift from heaven: Advisement was essentially empty. I saw one student, I think, and the rest of the time I could get ready for classes. In fact, I had time to type in a student paper that I suspected of plagiarism. If it was plagiarized, Turnitin didn't catch it--so I'm giving the student the benefit of the doubt. I did talk to him after class today, though, and told him that he needs to find a focus, and that it was problematic that he hadn't actually addressed any of the concerns I raised on the first version.

The student I caught plagiarizing yesterday received his paper back with the typical letter--and he didn't talk to me after class. However, when I signed in to my e-mail a little bit ago, there was a message from him asking if he could simply "cite" the source and still use it. No, you little twit: 89% of the words in the paper are not yours. That's not simply a matter of an error in giving credit: that's using someone else's work as your own. With Paul's help, I sent an e-mail to the kid. I was going to require that he come to talk to me, but Paul persuaded me that the e-mail was sufficient. In fact, it may be better, as it establishes a "paper" trail about the problem.

The second 102 class today was chaotic but great fun. Three young men sitting in one corner of the room are all fiercely smart, and they were not only asking great questions; they were getting into some pretty interesting and esoteric territory (about quantum reality, how readers' preconceptions color interpretations, the nature of capital-T Truth). The other students were mostly lost, but as long as I made sure they got their questions answered, I don't mind. Let them experience what it's like when the real stuff starts happening.

I love that class, but they can be really exhausting. They all get along well enough that there is a lot of side talk, which gets distracting--for the other students and for me. Several times I had to stop mid-sentence and say, rather pointedly looking at a few students, "Are you with me?" Oh, yeah, embarrassed shuffle....

Another moment I particularly liked was with the A student from that class. The second version of his paper is better than what I usually get as a final version. I took him aside after class and said, "As far as I'm concerned, if you just clean this up a little and submit it, you're done." He was thrilled. I don't see any reason to make him struggle to continue to revise when he's truly completed the assignment and done excellent work on it. He can put his energy into other classes: he's done all he needs to for me.

As for now, I have a shitload of work still to be done (of course), but I'm going to assume that one way or another I can get the papers marked for Native American Lit before class tomorrow--despite the fact that I have to spend the entire morning in Advisement, making up for missed time because of departmental assessment meetings. There are only four of the papers, after all; surely I can knock those out. And if I'm truly lucky, completely blessed with manna from the gods, I'll also be able to knock out the year-end evaluations tomorrow and get those the hell off my desk. Two were so problematic that I immediately kicked them back to the faculty members: one needs to re-do hers entirely and submit it to me this year; the other gets a pass until next year--because he needs a chance to actually fulfill his contractual obligation to attend two "professional development" events for each academic year. One faculty member hasn't submitted anything at all (his problem, not mine), so that leave three write-ups. The write-ups are mercifully brief, shouldn't take me very long at all, but the one-more-thingness of the task is still grinding on me.

I'm not going to look at my desk now. I'm not going to even pretend that I'm going to do another damned thing. I'm making sure I have what I need to take home and I'm out of here. Ok, everyone, what is tomorrow? Right: it's another day.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Wall: Redux

I'm hitting the wall pretty early tonight. I still have eight papers to evaluate before tomorrow's classes; I'm doing the most cursory possible feedback, but since they've not finalized the papers yet, I can't blow off the job entirely, much as I'd like to. And I have another four to evaluate for the Native American Lit class; I collected them today. The young man didn't have his second version, so he's just going to put it all on the final version. OK, I guess. I just don't have it in me to lecture him about not following the process, not being fair to the other students, yada-yada-yada. Do it; don't do it. I can't give a shit.

I did, however, feel stressed almost to the point of tears heading to class. Part of the distress and anxiety arose from talking over the problem faculty we're facing (the one full-time train-wreck I observed, plus three adjuncts who really need to be dismissed, if we can just get sufficient evidence against them in line). Part of it arose from just seeing all the fucking P&B shit facing me--and knowing I have a week, essentially, in which to get it done and out of my hair, all the while trying to find time to grade papers and actually teach, of all things.

I was deeply tempted to offer to my students that we not watch the movie today (the beginning of Skins), that we just ditch the next two classes--but I opted to show them part of the movie, and they decided they'd like to see the rest of it. More, if they weren't going to watch the movie, they wanted to conference with me about final papers, while I was hoping I could have the class time to work on other stuff, not hold their dainty little hands. But really, there are only five of them; even if I do some conferencing, it won't be terrible. It's just that doing any evaluation of student work takes a hell of a lot of brain, and my brain energy is running on fumes.

A great disappointment today: A student in the earlier 102, the one I tried very hard to keep as his work had been improving, turned in his second version yesterday, smiling and telling me he'd managed to write more pages this time around. Actually, he hadn't: he'd plagiarized more pages. I've been bending over backward to give him breaks, and he does this. Well, he may just have blown his chances for passing: I need to talk to him, and among other things, I need to remind him that he still has not submitted his second paper--and it may now simply be too late. I don't want to get in the position of doing anything he can take to Bruce as a legitimate grievance, but I also don't want to cut him even a hair of slack any more--and I'll tell him so.

But what I'm happy about--and it is odd that there is anything to be happy about in this situation--is that I'm not angry, my nose is not in the least out of joint; I'm not sitting here gritting my teeth and thinking he's a fucking little ingrate. I'm just sorry that he's fucked himself over like this, and I'm not going to try to rescue him. Truly: ah well. Too bad, but there you go.

I will say, it was easy to find the plagiarism, which is good. I have a feeling that at least two other students got some ideas from the web that they're not acknowledging, but I spent a little too much time trying to track it down, and I finally gave up. I just didn't want to put any more time into the quest. As it was, I didn't get much done this morning, not only because I let myself sleep in (which I knew I'd regret) but also because I spent some time going over P&B business in advance of today's meeting. That meant I was better prepared for the meeting than I usually am, but it also meant that many fewer papers got marked today.

And now that the wall is upon me, I need to be realistic about what I can get graded tomorrow--and when. I'm not sure yet whether I'll get up at 5 a.m. in order to try to get everything marked before Advisement, or whether to be late to Advisement, knowing I'd have to make up the time. I'm already going to have to make up a bunch of time on Thursday (because of conflicts with departmental assessment meetings), which means I also have to figure out when I'm going to read and comment on the papers for Native American Lit.

I also thought of the thing I've been leaving off my to-do list: I have to place my book orders. This is difficult, as I have absolutely no clue what books to order for Mystery and Detective Fiction. Well, I may be working on that after the semester ends, around all the scheduling stuff. Or I may not order books for that class at all: I may just have students check them out of libraries or buy el-cheapo copies at whatever bookstore. I'll have to look into prices for the books, in any event....

Ach, whatever. I'm tired and I am insanely hungry (how can this be? I ate lunch...). So I need to begin the mental segue from work mode into wind-down. I postponed the dinner/work session with Paul that was supposed to be tomorrow: I just can't do it this week (and certainly can't be ready for any work with him at the moment). I have to de-knot myself somehow, pretty quickly, but I can't decompress so rapidly that I get the mental equivalent of the bends. It all starts with food (and often ends with food, too, in my universe).

Monday, May 6, 2013


I just whacked out the two observation reports. The good one I've signed and just need to give to the office so they can process it. The bad one I need to run past P&B tomorrow; I've e-mailed it to them all and hope they have a chance to review it before the meeting.

I opted to get those out of my hair partly because the good one has been going unwritten for too long but mostly because that was something I could do with minimal brain--unlike commenting on second round student papers, which is the other pressing thing. More pressing, actually: I truly do have to get the student papers back to them on Wednesday. However, the brain-o-meter is running pretty low right now: too many nights without enough sleep (because of increased levels of anxiety, mostly). So reading student papers and being able to say anything remotely meaningful seemed a dubious proposition at best.

I'm looking at those year-end evaluations, too, dammit, and even though they shouldn't be hard or time consuming, once I actually sit down at them, they are just one more thing.

And that's the problem, has been all semester. I'm holding my own, but my grasp is pretty shaky, and so every one more thing that comes along is more weight on my back, threatening to drag my finger- and toe-holds loose from this precipice I'm clinging to, trying to scramble up (or down: which way does that feeling of relaxation and ease lie?) I hope desperately that I'm not forgetting anything else: I'm waiting for the  grade grievance meeting to come down the pike--and there is very little time left in the semester for that to happen. Two weeks from today, I'll be crunching final grades and getting ready for the scheduling kerfuffle. Three weeks from today, I'll be flying to Kansas for the conference. Actually, by this time, I'll be sitting down in the Executive Council meeting.... And no, I still haven't written the paper. I'm rereading the novels I'll be talking about, as a way of deluding myself into thinking I'm doing something productive along those lines. (OK, it's not really delusional: it will help to have the novels fresh in my head. But it isn't writing.)

I did almost nothing with the students today; I said I'd answer questions or help those who wanted it, but everyone else could simply hand over the paper and split. Interestingly enough, at the end of each class, I ended up having an information conversation with an A student about the state of education. (And yes, I have an A student in each class--possibly two in the earlier one.) I love when I can just sort of hang out with them and talk. In fact, I'm looking forward to our last class day together, when that's pretty much what we do.

And that day is rushing at me like a bullet train, and I'm in this little hand-car, trying to move that handle up and down fast enough to keep from being run over. But the best thing I can do right now is get some food into this body and try to get it into bed ASAP. And adopt the Scarlett O'Hara mantra, which I haven't trotted out in some time. But tomorrow truly is another day. Nice how one can depend on that.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Time to panic?

My brains are feeling relatively scrambled. I'm pretty sure it's a result of rapid-fire transitions from one task to another, trying to keep all the plates spinning--or remove some from circulation.

I have crossed some things off the list today. I didn't mention--took for granted--that I got everything marked to return to the 102 students yesterday, and I did the same for the Native American Lit students today, all except the one young man, who didn't turn in his paper until today. I told him I'd try to get comments to him via e-mail before Monday, but looking at my weekend, it's highly unlikely. I will try--but it's not my top priority for the next three days. After all, he was late with the damned thing; I'm not going to knock myself silly making up for his fuck-up.

I had, however, forgotten something I need to have on the to-do list. I've probably mentioned it in some post at some point, but I'd carefully ignored it when I wrote up the list last night: although I finished my year-end evaluation report, I am the P&B contact for a number of people, two of whom have actually submitted their reports to me. So I need to review their reports, let them know if there are any problems--and write up a few paragraphs to summarize and sign off on the report. (Great God in the Morning, but I detest this kind of bureaucratic bullshit.)

I also attended my first meeting as an elected member of the college-wide Academic Standing committee. I'm already on a panel to review a grade grievance: those only get to the college-wide level if there is a real possibility of a violation of college policy or the professor's stated policies (or if the professor's policy is in genuine conflict with a college policy). It won't require much: when the time comes, I'll review the documentation, then there will be one meeting with the panel, the student, possibly the faculty member, and presumably a representative from the faculty member's department (Bruce goes whenever a grievance gets that far for one of us). So, that will look good in terms of college service without being onerous. I did, however, just spend quite a bit of time writing a memo to all my colleagues in the department, explaining the ramifications of "errors" in using a new grading policy. Apparently, since a number of faculty either innocently or deliberately did not follow the new policy, Academic Standing is dealing with a hairball of epic proportions. It was rather fascinating to hear the bruhaha about it today--and it will be continually fascinating to see how the saga unfolds. Despite the stop-gap measure taken today, the situation has not been fixed by any stretch of the imagination, so the hairball will, well, snowball, I guess, to mix a metaphor (and create a rather bizarre mental image).

Of course, the maddening thing is that the people most likely cause the problem are those least likely to read the memo I carefully crafted. But ah well. I also may face a barrage of irate commentary about the policy itself ("I'll make a note of that and discuss it in the committee") and/or of inane questions about implementing it. Well, this is what it means to be on an academic senate committee that actually does something.

Also on my "to-do" list are write-ups of the two observations I've conducted, including last night's. The professor was there when I walked in--so he was on time, at least, but everything got worse from there. First, he started by saying to me, "You're late. Just kidding." (It was the stroke of on-time, by the way. And he wasn't really kidding: he was pissed off.) Then he spent a great deal of time justifying what he had done and what he was going to do--all for my benefit, and all wasting the students' time, if not flat-out baffling the bejesus out of them. Then the "lesson" itself was a rolling train-wreck: babbling stream of consciousness from him in the guise of "workshopping" a student's paper, calling for student reactions and then running over them before they could say anything, asking rapid-fire streams of questions that kept the students from figuring out where to focus, contradicting himself, jumping around (not literally--he sat behind his desk the entire time--but in what he was looking at in the paper under discussion), not listening to or understanding what the students did manage to squeeze in by way of response.... And he was stunned, utterly shocked, when I told him that the class had been problematic to say the least. As I tried to explain to him where the problems lay, he ran over me, too, justifying, explaining--not listening.

As I think I've mentioned, I actually like this colleague on some levels. He is beyond manic and has no sense of boundaries or what is appropriate, but he exhibits an underlying sweetness that I find oddly charming. I do not want to hurt him personally. Indeed, I didn't tell him everything I had problems with about the class--the pedagogic value of the entire assignment, for example. But whatever his students have learned, it's pretty much by accident, as far as I can tell, and I worry that if any of them end up in a 102 like, oh, mine, or Paul's, or Kristin's, they'll be completely and utterly unprepared and out of their depth.

So I am not looking forward to writing it up. And I think I need to consult with P&B before I do, as I'm not sure whether I can include things that I didn't mention in the "conference" with him: he had to go to his next class--and was late anyway, as he kept trying to justify, explain, talk me out of the unsatisfactory rating, invite me to observe him again (in his next class, on Friday, anytime...)--so I didn't have time to say as much as I might have. I do hesitate to "call" other professors on specific kinds of assignment. For instance, I don't think personal narratives have much pedagogic value, but colleagues I respect have made a reasonable argument for how they get that kind of writing to segue into academic writing. But the whole assignment I observed--in fact, just about everything on his syllabus? Sorry, but I'm not buying it. Still, I don't know whether that truly belongs in my observation report, and I need to get a consensus from P&B.

I could--probably should--write up the other observation tonight (contractually, I may already be late with it). Right this second, however, I don't think I've got the mental energy or acumen to do it. Acumen: isn't that a spice used in curry and chili?

OK, when I start making jokes that stupid, it's a pretty good signal that I'm getting daffy and should stop, turn the brains off, and boot up again another time. No matter what, I'll be taking student assignments home to mark over the weekend--working around a flurry of personal stuff on my schedule (all of which I actively want to do). Even though it's relatively early, so I feel I "should" stay here and get more done, part of what keeps me from wanting to gut through more is the knowledge that I have to be back bright and early tomorrow morning (gack) and be here for hours (double gack), hearing about assessment for fuck's sake (quadruple gack). Well, I am a strong woman: I can handle it. Bring it on. I'll panic later.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Not done yet

I think of the bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "I'm not dead yet; I think I'll take a walk."

But I'm not done yet; I have to try again to do the observation I was unable to do last week because the faculty member was 20 minutes late. I'm trying to maintain as much objectivity as I can muster, heading in to his class tonight, but I know that I'm not likely to be quite as forgiving as I might normally be--not because of last week but because this person has an established track record of problematic behavior. His personal life is hell--which he tells us, in excruciating detail, all the time--and I understand that under the circumstances, his professional life also will suffer some, but it's getting to the point that I fear he may be downright detrimental to our students, and much as I feel for the man as an individual, part of my job is to do what I can to ensure that we are providing an educational experience for our students that we, as a department, can feel good about.

I can't spend much time on this post, in fact. Not only do I need to be sure I get to his class a little early, I also need to spend some time putting together my triage list. I'm having a difficult time mentally prioritizing, and even though I know the priorities will likely shift a couple of times before I get everything done, it will help me to have it all written down so I can at least keep track of what I'm juggling.

I'm concerned about two of my students in the second 102. One is the young man who was my student last semester, the one who was not in class on Monday, didn't have a paper.... He came to class today, but there is a personal situation that requires his attention, so he still didn't have his paper, and he couldn't stay in class. I have asked him to come to my office hour tomorrow so we can discuss options. He hasn't really done good enough work to deserve the offer of an Incomplete, but on the other hand, I don't want to make him take the class a third time, particularly as this end-of-semester implosion is not anything over which he has control.

The other is a wonderful student in some ways: he's terrific in the class discussions, energetic, intelligent, enthusiastic--irreverent. However, he has missed class quite a a bit, and his work hasn't been anywhere near what I think it could be, or should be. He wasn't in class today, so he didn't get his in-progress paper back with my comments, which are intended to guide the next version. I sent him an e-mail so he'd know where/when he can retrieve the paper and comments, and I've asked him to come to my office hour, too--but I have no assurance that he'll get the e-mail, or respond. Sigh.

But the class discussions were OK. This was one of those days when the earlier section was the better. It's interesting to me how they've flip-flopped all semester.

Nothing else stands out from the day. Tomorrow is going to be hell on a stick, I have so much to do--and I have a big symposium to go to on Friday (which starts at 8-fucking-30 in the morning, thank you very much), so that's going to put a kink in my recuperative time. On the plus side, however, if the symposium ends early enough (or if I bail before the end), I might get a little work done on Friday before my riding lesson, since I'm going to be on campus anyway.

But now, off I go. I'll at least put together the triage list. Maybe I can even cross something off it before I have to head to the observation.