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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The doctor is in.

The day began with a good omen: just as I was pulling into the parking lot behind the building, someone was leaving a legal parking spot, so for a change I parked without risking a ticket. The next good thing: although I did bail on the department meeting, I got everything marked to return to both of today's classes--so for a full hour and 45 minutes, I was caught up on two of my three classes. True, I have three stories to read for the beginning of the workshop process tomorrow, but I'm sure I can do that after my time in Advisement. And of course, I collected more work from both classes today--but ye gods, it felt good to return those enormous stacks of assignments that had been building up for eons (or at least days).

There was a full house for 102: everyone who is left in the class was there. We went over the final paper--and did some review of general knowledge about writing academic papers. No one had any burning questions on the final paper, so I'm assuming they're ready to dive in. They're a little uncertain about the critical essay bit, but I'm hoping all that will be clarified (at least mostly) in the library session on Thursday. Nice news for them--and for me--is that they don't have any work due for me the day we're in the library. They'll finish the novel for next Tuesday--and they'll be the first of my students ever to read the entire novel before embarking on the paper. I know that a lot of what I said today, both about the paper and about the novel, has slipped through their grasp, but they're hanging on--some by a thread, but they're still with me. Hooray.

The Mystery class was especially wild today. Sometimes I'm as bad as the students are in flinging out tangents and random silliness--but I do manage (most of the time) to bring the discussion back to the work at hand. I collected their second papers today. I'd love to think I might see some improvement from the first papers, but I doubt it. (Wake up, Pollyanna: you fell out of the tree and you're never going to walk again.) Still, they can revise--and a few of them will. Much to my delight, at least three of the students in that class are signing up for Nature in Lit. I've warned them that it tends not to run, so I'm encouraging them to drag passing strangers in to register. I haven't publicized it yet to my other two classes (I keep forgetting); I need to do that--and to ask the colleague I subbed for a while back if she'd mind handing out my flier to her students (who liked me a lot). Anything to get the puppy to run.

On a much sadder note, I made two of my students cry after class. Both are young women I like very much--and both are in serious danger because of missing or substandard work. One is my depressed student, whom I'm going to call Judy Blue-Eyes. The other is a student I may or may not have mentioned: she's just gotten a big promotion at work and it's eating up all her time. She's truly lovely--but I look at her info card and I see zero, zero, zero, zero.... I told them both that I'll do whatever I can to help them--but ultimately, they need to do the work, because that's all I can grade them on.

The Worker Bee left, still shaky, and told me she'd think over what she can realistically do to remain in the class. I then ended up talking to Judy Blue-Eyes for almost an hour: essentially, I was conducting an unlicensed therapy session. It took a lot of work just to get her to come up with a realistic goal for herself, instead of going around and around on the wheel of how hard it all is. Ultimately, she decided that she wants to finish the semester and get the best grades she can--knowing that the "best" this semester may be pretty lousy. Just finishing will be a triumph; I told her to make that her anchor, and to write it down, so she owns it. Her anchor is, "I will finish the semester; I won't withdraw, and I will do as much work as I can, knowing that my best this semester is not the best best I am capable of--but it's what I can do right now." I said that whenever she feels her thoughts get caught up in that wheel of misery, she needs to turn to her anchor: "At least I have this. At least there is this one thing I can do, this one thing where I have a plan I can execute, this one thing I can focus on that is not part of that wheel."

I truly hope it helps. Worker Bee also suffers from terrible anxiety (Jesus, what is it about our world and these poor young people?). My heart aches for these young women--but I also have to gently help them understand that this is adult life. We have to do what we can in dreadful situations and get through them in whatever way possible, even if we're not happy about how we get through them, or where we get. It's just now; it's just this moment in a life. There will be more. Things change.

Continuing in the vein of difficult moments, I also talked to P&B about last night's observation. I have a lot of questions to ask the adjunct when he comes to conference with me tomorrow--and based on his answers, I'll determine the ultimate rating--but P&B reminded me that there is a lot more to the observation and evaluation than just the classroom interactions. My concerns about the content of his courses--and yes, about his pedagogy--are sufficient for an "unsatisfactory" rating, unless he allays them in our conference. Somehow I don't think he will. William put it beautifully: this adjunct seems to think that he is the sole defender of some crucial standard that none of the rest of us can uphold--that what he is doing is brilliantly innovative and provides students with precisely the tools they most need. What I saw in class is that he's teaching them how to follow his byzantine procedures--and very little about actually writing essays with any kind of substantial content. Certainly no content was discussed in class: it was all about his rules.

I am not, emphasize not, looking forward to the meeting tomorrow. I may need to recover over a very stiff drink after.

On the other hand, I feel I am on some kind of moral high ground, defending our students and their educational needs against at least one instance of potentially fucking gawd-awful pedagogy. There's a bitter taste to it, but something gratifying, too.

I must say, the P&B work is now piling up. I have to get the last revisions to my sabbatical application done and the whole thing returned to P&B by Monday. In the next two weeks, I need to visit the personnel files for the people I'm mentoring and write the cover letter for the colleague going up for tenure. I'll leave a note in his mailbox tomorrow with some serious warnings (he dislikes electronic communications, despite being of the electronic generation): he's screwed up the dates for his observation twice, so he hasn't yet picked up the ball that he dropped. In addition to those tasks, of course I have four observations to write up. I reckon I'll devote Thursday to that--once again putting on hold the assignment marking for my classes. I won't have to put it off for long (please heaven), but I have to get the P&B work done or the first week of December, I'll be running around like my hair is on fire. I don't want to be racing about in an abject panic by then: by that time, I want the students to be rolling along on their own, with only the occasional nudge from me, so I can take a small breather and gather my resources for the end of semester deluge.

But that's later. That's not tonight. I'll think of that tomorrow, when I'm stronger. Tomorrow is another day. (I think I need to get myself a huge hoop skirt and start talking in a Southern accent....)

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