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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.


Hi! And you are...?

My readership has suddenly blossomed, which is a lovely development--but I don't know who is reading the blog, how you found it, and why you find it interesting. I'd love to hear from you! Please feel free to use the "comment" box at the end of any particular post to let me know what brought you to this page--and what keeps you coming back for more (if you do).

Not you, Barry. You already told me--and thanks!






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Monday, December 22, 2014

Who ARE these people??

Advisement started with a steady stream, and when I was finishing my stint, was becoming a mob scene. Glad I got out of there when I did, but truly, it was just one student after another after another. Of course, the vast majority of the bright, conscientious students registered back in November, when registration started, so the students today were not, by and large, a great testimony to the academic and intellectual wattage of this institution. But at least they were smart enough to realize they needed some help figuring out what to take. Sometimes they're here for several semesters--even years--before they finally realize there actually are specific degree requirements and that they haven't taken them.

Ah well.

I just submitted my grades electronically and in paper format. One student who got a signed withdrawal form from me last Thursday didn't complete the process. I could, I suppose, have sent him an e-mail, letting him know that he needed to get to the Registrar with the form and have the W officially recorded--which would have meant that I would be waiting for him to do that before I could finalize my grade submissions. I just wasn't willing to do that. I had the choice of giving him an F or a UW, and I opted for the latter (he had wanted to withdraw, after all)--but I was damned if I was going to have to risk getting a slap on the wrist for being late with my grade submission because he couldn't get his butt to the Registrar in time.

But now it really is all over--perhaps even including the shouting, unless Little Miss Arrogant decides to complain about getting an F. I told her over and over that was where she was headed unless she took the withdrawal, but that doesn't mean she necessarily believed me. She may also kick up a ruckus about my comment regarding her self-evaluation. Enh. Whatever. No skin off my nose.

Now, however, I am signing off for the semester. I actually do plan to blog while I'm on the sabbatical; I have a feeling I may need the opportunity to vent and re-frame even when (especially when?) I'm working home alone. So, my Faithful Readers, despair not: I'll be back posting probably by early February. I hope you enjoy the hiatus as much as I will.

Friday, December 19, 2014

I'm glad I came

I've been here since about noon. I grant you, I spent some time chatting with Kristin (OK, bitching about students with Kristin); I wrote a letter of recommendation for my lovely student from Fiction Writing--and I wrote a few e-mails (more about those in a minute). But mostly, I've been grading papers and crunching final numbers--and it's now almost 7. If I'd tried to get it all done on Monday--even if Advisement were utterly empty--I wouldn't have had time and would have had to take papers and paperwork with me on the plane, then express mail it back. I've done that before, and it is invariably a disaster. But now, it really is all over but the shouting. The papers and stories have been read and graded. The marks have been entered on the paper sheets that (idiotically) we still have to keep and submit to the Registrar. All that remains is for me to enter final grades into Banner, which I will do on Monday.

As for Miss Attitude, I had to explain to her twice why she was failing the class, despite "all the work" she did. (As a point of comparison, I'd be very interested to see what she thinks it looks like to not do the work....) At the end of the second explanation, I said I would engage in no further discussion and reminded her that I'm actually doing her a favor to allow her to withdraw--so she knew her options. There was a pause in the rapid-fire exchange of e-mails, then she wrote to ask me where to come to get the withdrawal done. And indeed, she showed up at my office right when she said she'd be there with the form in hand. I just checked on Banner, and she is officially withdrawn from the course, as is the Young Intellectual. So, that's that.

I also had to engage in a rather annoying e-mail exchange with a student from the second 101 session. I've not talked about him: sweet kid, very quiet--but in his final paper, he was not careful about using quotation marks and citations in his work. I warned him in his first version that he was guilty of plagiarism and needed to fix it (as it clearly wasn't intentional: he'd attached the sources to the paper, so he wasn't trying to pretend he hadn't used them). Today, I looked at the Turnitin report for his final paper--and he still hadn't fixed the plagiarism. Even though it's what I call "accidental" plagiarism, it still means he got a zero on that assignment--especially as he'd had the chance to fix it. He'd fail the class anyway for plagiarism on the final paper, but even if I didn't enforce that policy, the zero for the assignment dropped his grade to a 48. Of course he e-mailed back and said that he'd fixed all the plagiarism. (Um, apparently not, as you can see if you look at the report I sent you.) And how could he fail the whole class over one paper? (Well, because that one paper is worth 30% of your final grade and you weren't exactly getting A's on everything else--and in any event, my plagiarism policy says that even one instance of plagiarism can result in failure from the course.)

I haven't heard any further argument from him, thank god. I did say that he really isn't ready to move on to the next level until he can avoid plagiarism entirely, but of course at the moment that doesn't matter to him: he's just indignant and wounded that he's not going to pass. Ah well.

And after some serious thought, I decided I did, in fact, want to respond to the self-evaluation of Little Miss Arrogant. I don't recall if I mentioned last night when I posted that she also said that she "learned a lot" from the class--despite the paragraph where she made it abundantly clear that she hadn't even tried to learn anything. Below is what I wrote to her: some of it I took verbatim from what I wrote in last night's post, but I added a bit, as you'll see:



"In response to your self-evaluation, I think if we’re honest, we’d agree that in fact you didn’t learn anything of substance in this class and that your writing did not actually improve. This is partially because you were absent or late more than half the class meetings, but it has more to do with the fact that, as you clearly state in your self-evaluation, you felt, and feel, the class offered nothing valuable for you to learn.
  "If you stay always within what is already comfortable for you, you will not, in fact, do your best writing—as you’ll never do what is necessary to advance. The only way for anyone to improve in any area is to be challenged, to try things that are new, to take risks. It might be that my methods ultimately would not be useful for you, but you can’t know whether they would work for you or not because you did not try them.
    "In fact, you don’t know what your best writing is yet. You only know what you can do using high school methods—and producing good quality high-school level papers.
   "In my experience, the resistance to change that I see in your self-evaluation indicates someone who is not ready for college and will not benefit from the experience. Of course, it is possible that you will be able to find a kind of success without ever taking a risk or trying anything new. That would be a shame, as you would be cutting yourself off from rich and rewarding possibilities, but if that is how you want to proceed, I hope it gets you what you want out of life."

I sincerely doubt she'll "hear" what I'm saying, but I feel better for having said it. It's the last "teaching moment" I'm likely to have with her, and I wanted to take that opportunity, though it probably is futile. I have now officially done everything I can possibly do for that particular young woman, and I hereby am brushing her away like so much lint.

Or I wish I could. All these little icky interactions are going to cling to me for a while; the best I've managed over my years teaching is to get over them a little more quickly, but they still rankle. Fucking little ingrates (which, according to urbandictionary.com, means "A lower class of human being, possessing a low I.Q, with a higher ability to irritate and generally piss you the fuck off").

But, as I said, ah well.

Meanwhile, my files and bookshelves are in utter chaos, and there is a box filled with old student papers under my desk that I really should clean out (I won't even mention what's in the file cabinets: how many years do I have to hold on to this stuff?)--but I sincerely doubt I will do anything about any of it in 2014. I'm simply relieved that I am heading into my weekend knowing that I have done everything I can think of to make Monday as easy and stress-free as I can. And that's about as good as it gets right about now.
 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thursday P.S.

I checked my work e-mail one last time--which was a mistake, as it turns out. Miss Attitude cannot understand how her grade can possibly be an F, after she made up so much work. I showed her the math two ways, both the way I calculate it on the grade form she saw and the new way I'm thinking of using in the future, which subtracts points from a possible grand total as students go along. I hope it makes sense to her, but I'm sure not going to argue with her about it. Even if she had gotten top marks on every single homework assignment, she still wouldn't have passed the class because of the missing paper assignments. Not only would the numbers not work out to a passing grade, but the grade form very clearly states that, in order to pass, a student has to get better than a D (60-64) on at least two of three revision grades (two of hers are zeroes), better than a D on the final version of either paper one or paper two (paper 1 = 10, paper 2 = 53), and the final version of the final paper (F).

And yet she's shocked that she didn't pass.

I'm going out for a drink.

Deeply annoyed by one, deeply touched by another

Miss Attitude came to class today and was as sweet as she could possibly be. I'd be suspicious of brown-nosing, except I've seen this behavior from her before: she can be very earnest and demonstrate some desire to learn, so I realize that her attitude simply reflects her background, not an attitude toward me in particular, and that she simply has a hell of a lot to learn about being a student--and being a person outside the "street" environment that has formed her to this point. That realization changed my own attitude toward her. Today, she showed me that she had some assignments that I'd recorded as zeroes: she hadn't really done the work, but she'd done enough that I should have given her at least a few points. I diligently changed the marks--but, given my new compassion for her, I decided not to simply spring the F on her: I told her that even adding those points in, she was at best on a borderline. She was stunned: "Like, I might not pass?" Right--and I pointed to the missing essay assignments, explaining that those were the real concern. I then offered her the W, if I crunched the numbers and found definitively that she wouldn't pass.

The final calculation, including the missed assignments? 25. Out of 100. An F is 59.

So I sent her an e-mail (I'd told her to look for one), and I told her the very narrow time frame in which she will have to complete the withdrawal process: if she hasn't done it by the time I start entering grades, the ship will have sailed.

I also showed the Young Philosopher the page from the final essay assignment that said it could not be accepted late. I gave it to him at the start of the period, and he had to sit there, through the whole period, feeling sick to his stomach, wondering if he could possibly pass the course. Once I finished talking to Miss Attitude, and he and I were alone in the room, we talked about it. He admitted to having made a bone-headed error in not reading the entire assignment, and he asked me if I wasn't going to accept the paper. I said, "In all fairness, I shouldn't, as I didn't give other students the chance to turn it in late--including the one who just walked out the door. However, you were a better student than she was, and it would kill me for you to fail the course because of this one mistake." I told him his paper would get a hefty penalty for having been late, so although he'd pass the class, he won't pass with the kind of grade he could potentially have earned. He was relieved and grateful.

And by the way, the Young Intellectual was there--but wisely had decided to withdraw. Good.

However, I got back to my office to find the self-evaluation from Little Miss Arrogance--who had not bothered to come to class today. I feel compelled to quote the most pertinent passage, exactly as written: "I know i didn't like the essay revision process that you tried to push but i was just very confident and comfortable in my own writing and revision process because it works for me. I think thats something that is important when it comes to writing papers, you have to find a process that works for you and that you're comfortable with because thats how you do your best writing. I was fortunate enough to have been taught most of these things in high school and i came out with a process that worked for me. I'm aware that there are always knew ways to do something but i like to follow the saying 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' which is how i feel about my essay writing process."

And yet she says she learned "a lot." Bullshit. Complete, utter, unmitigated bullshit. My immediate impulse is to write a comment on her self-evaluation (since she did ask for comments on her final paper and will be picking it up next week). I'd like to point to the passage I just quoted and say, "In fact, I don't think you have learned anything--because you felt, and feel, you have nothing to learn. The fact that you are clinging to what is comfortable tells me that you are not ready to challenge yourself and improve. In my experience, the resistance to change that I see in your self-evaluation indicates someone who is not ready for college and will not benefit from the experience. Of course, it is possible that you will be able to find some measure of success without ever having to take a risk or try anything new. That would be a shame, as you would be cutting yourself off from rich and rewarding possibilities, but if that is how you want to proceed, I hope it gets you what you want out of life."

Short translation, as Kristin would say, "Good luck with that."

However, I'm not going to act on that impulse, at least not yet. I will be back on campus tomorrow to finish grading and crunching numbers and all that fun stuff, and I'll let the whole thing simmer overnight. Maybe, by morning, I'll be less completely annoyed (OK, I'll admit it: utterly pissed off), and tomorrow I will be able to put the little snot's attitude in perspective. I would like to think my comments would sting enough that she'd have to reconsider her attitude (which, right now, I find infinitely more infuriating than Miss Attitude's), but in all honesty, I suspect her arrogance provides sufficient shielding that nothing I say could penetrate. She'll either learn the lesson I want to impart the hard way--or it truly is possible that she'll live her entire life without ever having to face a challenge or take a risk, and maybe that would be just fine with her. I would find that a crying shame, really: how flat and dull and featureless that life would be--but it's her life, not mine, and it is not my job to try to "save" her.

But I confess, reading that passage--especially that I "tried to push" a process that she didn't need because she already learned it all in high school--makes me want to slap her into next month.

I know that part of why I am so infuriated by her attitude is because I was so much the same way at her age, I don't much like who I was then, so I hate it like poison when I see it in someone else. It's really the 18-year-old me that I'm so enraged with--but I like to believe that I'd at least have been cut deeply if a professor had responded to me as I want to respond to her, that I actually did care, and wanted to learn, underneath my arrogance. But I do wonder how many of my professors wanted to slap me silly.

Ick. Blech.

Shifting gears, I did read the other students' self-evaluations, and they were all sweet and heart-felt and truly proud of themselves. But the most amazing moment of the day was at the end of the second class. The Introverted Intellectual--who is now in the honors program and will be taking 109 from Kristin--not only wrote a beautiful, almost painful, self-evaluation, but, shy and introverted as she is, she still said that the class with me had truly changed things for her on a profound level. She said, "I truly mean it: I think you changed the direction of my life."

One of the other students teared up, hearing that. I remain too stunned to know how to respond, except to say to her, as I did, that I'm deeply honored. If I had any part in the transformation she feels she's undergone this semester, I am profoundly gratified. I'm stunned because I think she really did mean it, and that's an awe-inspiring responsibility to bear. I honestly don't know what else to say. I'm simply knocked flat--but if she goes on to the kind of academic career that I think she's capable of achieving, I will take enormous pride in knowing I had something to do with it.

To counteract the nasty taste of the self-evaluation from Little Miss Arrogant, let me close this with a quotation from the Introverted Intellectual's self-evaluation. What she says--and how she says it--will demonstrate exactly what I mean:

"It was a relief to realize that the process of writing our papers was guided, but I didn't anticipate how valuable the slow process would be. Being forced to annotate articles about a subject meant that I had to concentrate on one source at a time. And if my wallowing in feelings of inferiority was my self-destructive form of self-reflection, the process of revision and editing represented constructive ways in which to channel my natural tendency to nitpick. Redeeming is far too dramatic a word to describe the process, but the opportunity to refine and tweak and improve something that you're unhappy with is powerful. Little in life is set in stone and knowing that gives me a sense of the agency I had denied myself.
       .......
        "As much as I found that writing could be an anxiety-provoking affair, I also realized how powerful it could be. Through writing, I can express myself in ways I feel too awkward to in everyday life. The person I feel I have 'inside' of me, for lack of a better word, with more sophisticated thoughts and strong opinions, can show up on page. I can better conceptualize who I really am and I hope I can use that outside of writing. This class has been a formative experience, and I am glad I started my college career. If this essay is unfocused it is because there is just so much I got from this experience and if it is self-centered and navel-gazing, it is because it impacted me in ways that go far beyond the mechanics of my writing."

No teacher of writing, anywhere, any time, under any circumstance, could possibly ask for more.



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hard to say goodbye...

My conversation partner did show up today, but he wanted to have another of our usual non-conversation conversations (in which he simply comes up with unconnected topics and then has nothing to say about them: he can do lists; he can't do connections)--and since I wasn't "officially" in my office, I talked to him for a few minutes but then had to chase him out. He told me he passed his test but didn't pass the class (which I don't quite understand, but OK), so I told him that--if he decides to do the conversation partner thing again in the spring--he'll get to know someone new. I really don't know how much of it computed, but I was touched that he wanted to see me one more time.

Saying goodbye to the Fiction Writing students was much harder--and I think they'll miss each other (and me) too. A couple of them said they actually were disappointed that this would be the last English class they'd take, as whatever their majors are didn't have room for anything more. Most of them also agreed that they are more invested in what they read now, and get more out of what they're reading as they're more aware of what's gone into a piece of writing (or what hasn't). They really were a great group to work with, and I do feel they all learned quite a bit from the class.

They had some good ideas, too, if I were ever to teach the course again. Blog readers will know that it is extremely unlikely I will, after the upset in the Creative Writing Committee meeting. As I think I've said, before I'd teach it again, every other qualified professor would have to pass on it--and I'd want the Creative Writing Project coordinator to give me personal sanction to teach it, too. Even then, I'd feel uncomfortable about it. I don't know that my experience as a writer in a few workshops and my two semesters teaching the course really "qualify" me, particularly in light of the credentials possessed by my colleagues.

But that's nothing I need think about now. I certainly won't be teaching it next fall: I'll be teaching an MDC (Multidisciplinary) course for the first time (thank you, William!) and if I also can find a literature elective that works and isn't snagged by someone with higher seniority, that will be fantabulous. The problem is that two of the electives that I feel most qualified to teach meet when P&B is scheduled--and I'm assuming I'll be re-elected to P&B. In the past, when something I love has conflicted with P&B, Bruce has just bumped P&B to the next time slot--but that's when my MDC class is scheduled. Of course, if I'm not re-elected, no problem (though my ego would be wounded).

And again, I don't need to think about that yet. That's all in the future: ain't nothing I can do about it now.

Speaking more directly about today, my hope to get any work done in Advisement was stymied by the fact that apparently all those "We're closing the center and relocating to advise new students" days are over: today was a regular day, with a constant stream of students through my cubicle. I still don't know what things will look like on Monday, since a lot of students have already decided they're not going to be anywhere near campus that day--but I can't count on having the time to work on grading. Tomorrow morning, I'll work with Bruce on the spring scheduling; then there's the final department "meeting" (which is our holiday party), and then my final meetings with the 101 students. I may have time to grade papers in there somewhere--especially as I'm unlikely to be at the party for very long. (I pretty much hate parties as a general rule, and it will be far too early for my lunch, as I have a late start to my days: I'll likely talk to a few people, fill a plate with anything gluten-free that looks interesting enough to eat, and retreat to my office.)

Still, to ensure that I don't end up in a bind on Monday, I expect I'm going to have to come to campus on Friday to finish grading, crunch the numbers, and fill in the paperwork. Then all I'll have to do on Monday will be fulfill my hours in Advisement, enter the grades in the online platform (the infamous and much hated Banner), hand over my paperwork to the office staff--and race home to grab my suitcase and jump in a car service to the airport.

I find it exceedingly bizarre that I've reached this point, and that what I've just described is all that remains. I feel both breathless with rush and as if I tried to take a step that wasn't there: wait, you mean that's it? That's all? I'm that close to done? I am leaving various threads dangling in terms of committee work, but either someone else will take over the weaving while I'm working on my project or the thread will still be there, waiting for me to pick it back up again (and try to remember what I was doing with it) in the fall. Weird. But this is the miracle that always occurs, and that perpetually surprises me: the semester ends. I either get the work done or realize it doesn't need to be done. And I stand around, pole-axed, for a while before I collapse and begin to do my sea-cucumber impersonation (wash with the tide, inert, maintaining bodily functions and doing nothing else whatsoever). I won't quite be able to do the sea-cucumber thing while I'm out of town, but once I'm back? You betcha.

For now, however--as I again remind myself to be here, now, instead of projecting into the future--I am tired, and hungry, and don't feel like doing anything else that even faintly resembles work. So I ... am ... outta here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

All over but the shouting (well, almost)

The 101 papers were due today. Miss Attitude was in class; I looked through what I'd been given and saw that her paper wasn't there. I asked her about it, and she said, "I'll give it to you tomorrow." I said, "No; you won't." She said (with extra lashings of attitude), "Why are you saying it like that? Didn't you just tell the class we could work on it and make changes?" Yes, I did: here, now, in class. But the assignment sheet and the syllabus both clearly state that I won't accept the final paper late. "So, if I bring it to you tomorrow, you won't accept it?" Correct. Flounce out the door.

Pause.

Flounce back in, hands me the first version--which was an ungodly, sloppy, "I don't give even half a shit" mess: "You want this?" Sure, I said: it's better than a zero. So, off she flounces again. I'll be very curious to see what is in her self-evaluation on Thursday, assuming she shows up and has done the self-evaluation at all. I'll also be interested to note if she contacts me after final grades go up to demand an explanation of why she failed the class.

I'm more concerned about three other students who were not in class today--including the Young Philosopher. The Young Intellectual was also missing, but that surprised me less; he knew he didn't really have a chance in hell of passing--but I wonder if he'll come to the final class. I hate it when students fall apart over the final paper, especially when they simply miss the deadline (and have conveniently not noticed or forgotten that I won't accept it late). But what can I do?

On a much more positive note, the young man who has been so crushed by my commentary on papers past took advantage of the opportunity to read through his paper one more time to make corrections by hand--and he saw that he had an idea in his thesis that he hadn't actually addressed in the body of the paper. I think I'd pointed that out to him in the first version, but the fact that he saw it himself made me want to jump up and cheer. It was also a wonderful moment when he said that he'd read the paper multiple times on the screen, but it wasn't until he saw it printed on paper that he saw the problem. I told him just how thrilled I was that he'd gained that knowledge and could apply it, and we ended up talking a bit about his writing. He writes as a musician, and, he said, he'd thought he was a pretty good writer until he took my class. I assured him that he no doubt is a wonderful writer--in that other genre. However, academic writing is very different, so he had to add a whole new way of writing to his body of knowledge. He finally got it, I think--and I'll take it as a triumph. Of course, I wish he could have had some of those realizations on the first paper, but that he had them at all is profoundly encouraging.

In the second session, the one young man who could have been an A student but would be struggling to pull out a C informed me today that he's decided to take my advice and withdraw--as he doesn't want even a C on his transcript. I approve; we talked about what he needs to do to get the official withdrawal (which, unfortunately, means standing on a very long line at the Registrar's Office), but I do think it's a wise choice for him. And the Young Activist mentioned that she was friends with the artistic soul who had started the semester saying she was up for a challenge and then promptly fell apart. I mentioned that the Artistic Soul hadn't officially withdrawn, so the Young Activist sent her a text immediately, letting her know that she needs to contact me.

And the young woman I talked with at length after class one day, working on developing a formality of tone, said that she will be in touch with me next semester. It was very sweet: she knows I'm going away for the holidays and that I'll be on sabbatical, so she said, "I won't expect you to answer right away." Then, she clarified, "I'll give you until the end of January, but once classes start again and I'm settled back into school, I'm going to be sending messages: 'Professor!'" Perfect, I said: I love it. She was concerned that I'd forget who she is--and I said that if I hadn't seen her in five years, it might take me a while to place her name, but if I see the name, I'll remember that she was my student.

They're always surprised that I remember them. Only once in all my years teaching have I encountered a former student I didn't recognize--and I really didn't recognize her at all: not her name, her face, nothing, and she was in one of my classes the entire semester. Very strange: I can't account for it, except to wonder if it had been a particularly rotten semester or class (apart, of course, from that particular student). Far more often I recognize faces and think, "That was one of mine." I may not remember which class or be able to come up with the name, but yes, I remember them.

At the moment, however, I don't remember much more than that. I was sitting in the second 101 class, two of the students hanging out (because they have classes later in the evening and don't really have anywhere to go), they were talking; I was trying to either read a late submission of a story from one of the Fiction Writing students or to get myself organized or do something, anything, productive--and I finally just gave it up. No can do. I have a huge stack of stuff in a folder and in my "take to Advisement" bag--and I trust that eventually, I'll have everything sorted and graded and calculated and by god finished.

The only other thing of note today was that I interviewed another potential adjunct, and he was terrific. I was supposed to see two of them, but he was the only one to show up--and he showed up late. While I was talking to him, my conversation partner showed up, and I had to ask him to come back later; I think he did, but I was still in the interview, so I'm not sure what the young man wanted, but I'm sorry not to have been able to talk to him. I hope he tries again--and that I'm able to see him if he does.

I am so frazzled now that, as my Okie relatives would say, I don't know whether to wind my ass or scratch my watch. I'm going to call it a day. (What else could I call it, after all?) Hasta manana.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Um, ah, er, um....

I have reached a state of pretty much permanent brain fry. I can't keep track of anything, neither can the students. The strand has snapped and pearls are bouncing everywhere, through the cracks, behind the furniture, god knows where.

I can't even remember what happened today: it's all a blur. I got up early, to be sure to have time to get all the stories read for today's workshop session. (OK, it's starting to come back to me now....) I also got all but one of the needed signatures on my promotion application (not that I needed many--mostly needed Bruce to sign a bunch of things); I made a photocopy that I needed. I do have to report that after I so smugly reported that I had nailed the application on Friday, as soon as I turned off the computer and was packing up to leave, I thought of two more things I needed to include--and found a third on a sheet of notes that's been sitting in front of me for over a month, being ignored. Advisement was modestly busy until noon, but then the professionals decanted themselves into another building again to deal with new students, so I was left in solitude for the last hour of my stint: nice. I don't remember if they're doing that again on Wednesday: I don't think so, and it may be busy, as now is when it suddenly dawns on some students that they don't have long to get themselves registered for spring: classes are already filling up. I keep trying to anticipate what Wednesday will be like--and even more what Monday will be like--and it's a futile exercise. It will be whatever it is, and I'll do whatever I have to do to make sure I'm off campus by 3 p.m. the latest on Monday afternoon. And if that means I drive myself into the ground over the weekend and end up twiddling my thumbs on Monday, so be it.

One nice event today was that I had a visit from the young man whose life fell apart earlier in the semester. I was expecting mostly to sign his withdrawal form and maybe talk a bit about what I'll be teaching when, but he wanted to actually chat a little--and although he didn't tell me a lot about what his situation was, it's clear that he's still dealing with a lot of stress. I truly hope he does well in the spring and that he gets into an upward spiral of success leading to more success. He also came out to me; he'd said before that he had been taken in by a "friend," but this time he referred to the "friend" specifically as his partner; I don't think his telling me was so much that he was honoring me with a confidence as it was that he's more comfortable being forthright about his sexuality. At the end of our chat, he said, "Give me a hug; I like hugs"--so I did. I don't generally initiate physical contact with students (the stupid specter of lawsuits ever above our heads), but if the student initiates, I'll reciprocate--and he gave me a real bear hug: it was very sweet.

Class was good, too--and to my relief, we got through all five stories. In order for the class to end on time, I did have to skip my own critique to allow the last student his chance to speak on the last story--but I knew the young woman who wrote the story could hang out for a bit after the end of class: she's the one who asked for a letter of recommendation last week. And Young Not-a-Brit stayed, too: he'd had a thought he wanted to convey, but after I said my bit, he said that I'd covered it--but he hadn't wanted to get up and leave, as he thought it would be rude. Very sweet of him to have that consideration, not just for me but for his classmate.

One student was missing today; he's the other "real" writer in the pack, and I know he takes his writing very seriously, as one of my colleagues told me that this young man goes to all the readings and workshops that he can. I found an e-mail from him when I got back to the office: his car had been towed, and he had to go to the impound lot in Manhattan and pay an insanely huge fine to get it back. (I've been there and it ain't pretty, folks.) What I appreciated, though, was that he was concerned to have missed giving feedback to his classmates and wanted to know if there was some way he could reach out to them via e-mail so he could be sure to give them his comments. I told him not to trouble himself about it, just to give the commentaries to me (as they are part of his grade)--but that if he had particular feedback he really wanted to pass along, he could send it to me and I'd forward it to his classmates.

Oh, yes, and the young man who honored me with some of his life story last week asked if I'd be kind enough to look at a paper he'd written for his literature class. His professor had told him he needed to either go to the professor's office hour or go to the Writing Center--and he couldn't do either of those things, so he asked if it would be OK to talk to me about it instead. His professor, my colleague, said that would be fine--and I was ready to give him a lot more guidance, in a lot more depth, than the student really wanted (or had time to receive, at any rate).

But I like that they have formed a real group, and that they seem to also look to me as someone they can trust, someone they can be honest and direct with. I wish I could find a way to get that into my application for promotion. I may be something of a scholar and a reasonably good colleague, but despite the doubts that frequently show up in this blog, I know I'm a good teacher. I don't really have anything to do with it, even; it seems to be just how I'm made. (Brown eyes, short in stature, is a compulsive teacher....)

That's not to say that there aren't times when I'm happy to duck a chance to teach. My conversation partner apparently got word that the program had ended; I didn't realize that it was officially over last week until I got the exit survey, but I had been prepared to meet him today anyway. However, when I got out of class, the book that I had loaned him was in the box on my office door, and he has not been seen since. And I'm relieved. I'd have been fine with giving him more of a, what, triumphant send off? But I was spared one more difficult "conversation," and right now, that's lovely.

And just before I sat down to write this post, I went back through my promotion application and added the three things I needed to add, reprinted the pages (reprinted more pages than I needed to: I'm sorry for the trees I slaughter), and renumbered the documents. I need one more signature, which I'll get tomorrow--but I am aware that I may have to do the whole reprint/renumber thing yet again: there are two documents I'm counting on that I may not actually get, and if I don't, I have to delete mention of those claims from the application and reprint/renumber accordingly. However, I'm going to operate in the belief that I will, in fact, get both, in which case I can simply initial them (we have to initial every single piece of paper in our applications--even the cover page) and slide them into the designated clear plastic sleeves. And that, my dears, will be that.

And for tonight, that, my dears, will be that. I'm sure there is something I intended to do tonight, but I have no earthly clue what it might have been, so unless it leaps out at me when I walk over to my desk to pack up my bags, it'll have to just lurk wherever it is until I remember it--or it goes away entirely.

Tomorrow, after all, is another day. And I'll think about that tomorrow, when I'm stronger.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Posting on--of all things--Friday

I didn't get a chance to post last night as I had to dash off the minute my last class ended to meet a colleague for dinner and conversation. Until very recently, I would have said that I'd seen her face around campus but I wouldn't have had a name to attach to the face. However, when I sent out my call for potential panelists for the "paper jam" I wanted to put together for ASLE, she responded with a lovely e-mail saying that, although she didn't feel she could contribute to the panel, she would love to engage in any pre-panel discussions. I wrote back to say there probably wouldn't be any (at the time I thought there wouldn't be because I'd have panelists from all over; as it turns out, there won't be any because the panel never came together). I did, however, offer to meet with her just to bounce ideas around, and that was what we did last night.

And it was a lovely evening. She is in interior design, and "green" design is becoming an enormous part of the field (which is gratifying to hear, I must say). She also has a degree in environmental science, so she was stunned to find out that people in the humanities are also engaged in issues connected to sustainability. Among other topics of our discussion was the fact that she's begun thinking about how to create a "Sustainability Council" for this campus. Her idea is, if we gather together all the various entities and individuals on campus who are concerned with environmental issues--and further, if we give that entity a clear and obvious presence on campus (through an addition to the campus web page, for instance, and through campus-wide initiatives of all sorts)--people who are not yet clued in to issues of sustainability might begin to see that it is, in fact, important. We might even find ways to reach out to the surrounding community, which would be tremendous. I hope she does it. I'd certainly get on board if she does.

I don't remember much about yesterday's classes, I have to say. I don't suppose that's altogether a bad thing. Pretty much I'm at the stage when I've wound them up and now I just let them run with whatever they've got. I was running from pillar to post yesterday, so I missed an e-mail from Miss Street Attitude: she sent two yesterday, one asking whether we were "just" going over papers and the other asking if missing class would count as an absence, since she'd rather work on her paper at home. I wrote back, "Class was held, and you weren't there, so yes, it's an absence." I can out 'tude her 'tude, any day.

I did have a long conversation with a young man in the second session: he's missed class seven times--and that should fail him right there. I told him that, at very least, I would have to take a full letter grade off whatever he earns--and I'm not sure he's turned in enough that he'd end up with a C after that deduction. His first paper was one of the A papers, too. Across both classes, I have at least three, possibly five, students who are capable of achieving an A--and at this point, only one of them is definitely going to make it (unless something utterly disastrous happens--but even then, I'd give her an incomplete rather than give her a crap grade: she should be in the honors program, truly). At least two are set up not just to get worse grades than they should but to fail. As they would say, WTF?

I have thought a lot about how to restructure the progress from first version of first paper through to the end, however. I realize I need to carefully lead them from the kind of paper they're used to from high school to what college requires. One student yesterday said that in high school, he was taught that his papers should be mostly quotation and that if he put too much of his own thinking in there, he'd get points off. As he was saying that, I was doing full-body wince gestures, so he concluded by saying, "...and I guess, from your reactions, that that's the opposite of what you want." I'm sorry the moment came so late in the semester, but he did give me the perfect opening to talk about what critical thinking is--and to bring them back to the quotation that I used for their first papers, about education, and what critical thinking really is. I think it makes a hell of a lot more sense to them now than it did at the start of the semester--but they had to go through the hard work of the semester to fully comprehend the significance of that quotation. It's so great, I'm compelled to quote it again here. (I think I may have duplicated it in a post from the start of the semester, but it's worth repeating.)


“Education is good just so far as it produces well-developed critical faculty. . . . A teacher of any subject, who insists on accuracy and a rational control of all processes and methods, and who holds everything open to unlimited verification and revision, is cultivating that method as a habit in the pupils. Men educated in it cannot be stampeded. . . . They are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain. They can wait for evidence and weigh evidence. . . . They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices. Education in the critical faculty is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens.” (W. G. Sumner. Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals, New York: Ginn and Co., 1940. 632-633. From The Critical Thinking Community, “Sumner’s Definition of Critical Thinking. July 23, 2014. Web.)

In re-reading it for the students, I put emphasis on "unlimited verification and revision." They're afraid they can't write five-page papers (I know, it shocks the shit out of me, too, that five pages feels impossibly long to them)--or that they'll end up repeating themselves, or writing fluffy filler. I keep telling them they must A) have ideas, B) explain those ideas--in detail, showing each individual component of the idea, C) demonstrate the logical connections among those ideas, and D) support those ideas. How could you not get to five pages, at a minimum? (Even as an undergrad, I'd have had a harder time keeping my papers under the maximum length than meeting the minimum.)

Ah well.

Looking at the quotation again, I'm reminded how impressed I was with how one student responded to it--and he's the young man who said he'd dropped 101 several times before but was sure he'd stay through the semester with me, and who then disappeared. I was very moved to get an e-mail from him stating that he'd just been released from in-patient treatment and that he wanted to see me--in part to get the paperwork for the W, I hope, but also, I suspect, to get some reassurance about his ability to make it next time around. He wanted to take the class from me, but I had to tell him that, unfortunately, I won't be teaching it again until next fall. Assuming he actually does make it to my office hours sometime next week (and I hope he does), I can talk to him about how to get back on track, pros and cons of various choices--the kind of thing I do in Advisement. But mostly, I hope his situation has stabilized and that he can keep it stable and make the most of all the potential I see in him.

Indeed, I hope that of all the students I have this semester who are filled with potential that remains merely potential. I guess they all need a few of those very painful lessons to grow them up a bit, but I hope they don't need to swan-dive into the pavement too many times.


Again, ah well.

It's almost 8 p.m. and I'm in the office. I certainly didn't anticipate being here this late, but I came in because I was absolutely hell-bent on getting my promotion application as close to finished as humanly possible. And it is. I need (I think) five more documents and six signatures, and I'm pretty sure that will do it. Of course, there's always the chance that P&B will spot something and kick it back to me after they review all the applications in the end of January (and I'll be systemically annoyed if I have to do anything more than a minor tweak that doesn't change pagination or require that I get signatures again). But from my perspective, I have everything in there that I can possibly include, as clearly as I can possibly express it, and in as neat and precise a presentation as can be done.

I had intended to get here hours before I actually managed to arrive; life maintenance stuff got in my way. And I had intended to finish up with enough left-over brain juice that I could maybe read and respond to some of the work I need to have ready for Monday's class. Nah. Ain't gonna happen. It's stick a fork in me time. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lovely moment

At the end of class today, the student I've been calling The Brit stayed to talk to me. He hesitated, unsure how to say what he wanted to say, and then finally said, "You don't like me very much, do you." Turns out, he'd read some of my blog posts. I can certainly understand why both the content and the tenor of my remarks about him would have led him to think I don't like him, but in fact I actually do like him. And he isn't British, nor is he trying to adopt a British persona: he said that he's often been told that he sounds like he has a British accent and the only reason for it he can imagine is that he has a lot of British friends. I have to say, that would make complete sense to me: I start talking with an Ozark twang when I'm around my father's family, and I'm about as Yankee as a person can get. In any event, I'm very glad he was brave enough to talk to me about it: confronting a personal issue with any authority figure takes real guts, and he did it charmingly. I did tell him that, of all the students in the class, he's the most obvious A student--or would be, if he had the time and energy to devote to the class that would be required for him to produce his best work. I want to go on record here as stating, very clearly, that he learns. That would seem like an obvious statement to make about a student, but in fact, seeing demonstrable evidence of learning from any student in a semester is relatively rare. In his case, the main evidence is in both how he phrases his critiques to his classmates and his sensitivity to how much time he takes over what he has to say. Both are much improved from where he started. And I'm looking forward to seeing his "portfolio" story in its final incarnation: he made a good choice for which story to revise further, so it will be fun to see what he can do with it.

Thinking about that class in general, I have to say that most of them show significant improvement in their ability to critique writing in progress. The substance of their comments is now aimed at a deeper and more significant level: I haven't emphasized terminologies, but in fact they're noticing things like character arc and character consistency/internal logic. I love teaching the class, and it breaks my heart that I don't feel I can ever in good conscience teach it again--unless every faculty member with an MFA has already turned it down. Including adjuncts. It's such a delight to teach, and I feel I do a good job of it--and would continue to do better at it, if I had more opportunities to teach it. It sucks having a sense of what is right that is strong enough that I actually feel compelled to act on it.

Today had such an inauspicious start that the class stands out even more than usual as a delightful experience. I won't tell the whole, long, detailed version, but the basics are that, on my way to the 9:30 Assessment Committee meeting, I stopped at Dunkin Donuts for a "box of joe" for the committee, and when I went back out to my car, it wouldn't start. After two good Samaritans, one guy with a portable battery dispatched by roadside assistance, a tow truck and a visit to Enterprise Rent-a-Car, I made it to campus--at 1:30, which is when my time in Advisement usually ends. That comes out of my sick leave: I cannot possibly make up the three hours between now and end of the semester.

But the good news--and yes, even in all that, there is good news--is that I had more time than I thought I would to read and comment on the stories for today's workshop, so I was able to get them all done and eat lunch: a rare and beautiful thing.

And now, I'm about to call the mechanics to find out if they know anything about my car (no call on the cell-phone as yet). I won't know how long I'm keeping the rental car until I know what's happening with mine, and that may throw a wrench into my plans to meet tomorrow evening with a colleague to talk about ecocriticism (as I may have to dash home to retrieve my car before the shop closes). I'm facing a ridiculously complex skein of if-then variables, but the main thing is, I want to get the hell out of here for tonight. Everything else can wait until tomorrow. You know: tomorrow, when I'm stronger.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Omens and absences

This morning, as I was trying to get all my bags and my coffee out of the car, while holding my umbrella against the howling monsoon, I thought, "I need to be careful not to spill my coffee"--and not 15 seconds later, managed to knock the mug off the roof of the car, promptly spilling every single drop of coffee into the lake of rainwater in the parking lot. I swore, I ranted ... I went upstairs, dropped off all my other crapola, and drove back to the place where I like to get my coffee and bought another cup, dammit.

I wondered if that might be some kind of omen or forecast for what kind of day I had in store, but it didn't turn out that way. Allen and I did as much scheduling as we could without tearing everything apart trying to cover the remaining classes--and that includes a number of electives (one of them, "my" Nature in Lit). I'm going to interview four adjunct candidates in the next week: if they're all OK, that will help us cover the classes that need an instructor. A few people wanted a class but didn't get one because they didn't give us days and times that would work; if any of them can add more days/times, that will help, too. And there's always the chance that Bruce will have to cancel classes because of low enrollment. Taking all those factors together, we may have everything covered--but we may still end up short a few faculty members, in which case either Allen or I will have to dip into the "B" category of applicants to see if any of them might do.

Allen and I ended up gossiping a bit, too--mostly just talking about the ratio of assholes to decent people folks and that it's pretty much the same ratio whether one is looking at the full-time faculty or the adjuncts. The same is true of those who aren't assholes but who simply are so decrepit they really shouldn't be teaching any more. When full-time faculty try to put all of that on the adjuncts, I'm always quick to jump in with a correction: nope, we've got 'em in the full-timers, too. And we have a pretty powerful bunch of adjuncts, to counter-balance the negatives.

I got a little bit of work done in the time when I'd usually have had to be in P&B, and then I went to my classes. I actually ended up doing my comma lesson (or an abbreviated version thereof), because the Young Intellectual said that his brilliant friend said you use a comma where you would pause. Nope, I said: that's a fallacy. He then amended it to where you'd take a mental pause, not necessarily a physical one. That's closer to right, but no: there are actually specific instances in which a comma is required and others in which a comma is, in fact, incorrect. One student was very clearly paying zero attention--which is pretty much how she's been all semester. he's clearly blowing off the class--and clearly is still in the high school mindset that it won't matter a damn what she does as long as she's there breathing. She doesn't have a chance in hell of passing, and I can't bring myself to give any more of a shit about it than she does. I've been bending over backward for the Young Intellectual and for Little Miss Arrogance, but for Miss Attitude? Nah. I'll give her the F and metaphorically tell her not to let the door hit her on the ass on her way out.

The second session was easier, in a lot of ways: a lot of students were absent, and those who were there either stayed and got some help from me or split. Fine by me: whatever is going to get that paper written is what they should do.

But one student in that second session--potentially at least a high B student, if not an A (I think he got an A- on his first paper)--has now missed class seven times. My policy states that at six, the only options are withdraw or fail. He also--much like the Young Intellectual and Little Miss Arrogance--has not been turning in much work since that first paper. Today, I got an e-mail (with a letter as documentary evidence) explaining that he couldn't get to class because the streets were flooded. I wrote back and said first, I trust my students when they tell me they have a reason not to be in class (I didn't add that I often know it's bullshit, but I'll still give them the benefit of the doubt where I can), but second, that number of absences puts him in real danger. Honestly, I don't think he has a  chance in hell of passing either. What is it with these very bright students who simply do not show up, do not do the work?

And then there's someone like the Introverted Intellectual, who is constantly petrified that she's not doing enough when, in fact, she's doing way more than she needs to and could essentially sleep for the rest of the semester and still get an A.

Of course, there's also the usual pool of students who are simply AWOL: they've stopped attending and haven't withdrawn, so the only thing I have to do is decide whether each individual has turned in enough work to merit an F or whether the appropriate "grade" is an unofficial withdrawal (UW). I probably need to simply resign myself to the fact that, as long as I have the standards I do, and as long as I demand the amount of work I do, I'm always going to be faced with a large number of students who bail--because nothing else I do or say will outweigh the students' resistance to and/or fear of what I require.

C'est la vie.

I did a teeny bit of work on the promotion application today: I'm really starting to itch with the desire to dig into it, but I perpetually encounter other things I truly must do first. Still, doing even that little bit felt good. And I'm taking the risk that I'll have enough time in Advisement and after to read and respond to the stories slated to be workshopped tomorrow: I started on one before class, decided I'd do better to eat lunch at that juncture, and now have officially hit the wall: nothing more than bilge is coming out of this little brain tonight.

Up early for the last Assessment meeting of the semester tomorrow--and at that point, I'll be handing off all my responsibilities for that committee until I'm back next fall. (Wheeee!) Then Advisement, mini-break, and workshop. If I still have a brain left in my head at that point, maybe I'll be able to turn it to the promotion application. Now, however, the rain has let up, and though I may still have to traverse a few lakes along the way, very soon, I'll be home. (Whew!)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Not bad

That's actually one of the few things I know how to say in Russian. I have no idea how to spell it (even transliterated from the Cyrillic), but I can say it. (I can also say "It's snowing out," which, mercifully, it isn't--or not enough to count for anything.)

The fact that I start this blog post being somewhat daffy indicates how utterly fritzed my brain cells are at this point. Fortunately, some of the pressure is lifting, just in time to keep all the fuses from blowing at once.

One reason for diminished pressure is a new twist in Advisement procedures. Starting last week, the Advisement Center stops signing students in at noon, and all the full-timers go to a different building specifically to advise new students. I, however, am exempt from that: all I have to do is mop up whatever students signed in before noon and have not yet been seen. Since my stint ends at 1:30, that usually means I actually am advising until about 12:45, and then I am able to do, well, whatever.

Today, I could have marked some assignments for 101, but I chose instead to pretend I was actually going to write something intelligent and ask to be on the list of speakers at tomorrow's BOT meeting. Right now, I've let go of the fantasy that I'll speak, but I'm still pretending that I'll actually go. I should go--even if just to be a body in the room (the more bodies there, the more seriously the BOT takes whatever is being discussed)--because the Board is now trying to make a unilateral decision to eliminate, or at very least significantly reduce, remediation for our students. As far as we can tell, their reasoning for this decision is essentially 1) we can't "prove" that students who take remedial courses actually benefit from the courses and 2) students get pissed off when they're placed in remedial courses and may decide to go to Suffolk instead--and we can't prove that our quality of education is any better than Suffolk's.

From our side, the counter argument goes something like this: 1) Actually, we do have concrete data, at least for students in English remediation, that those who get take the remedial course do better in credit bearing comp than the students who place directly into the credit-bearing course. Further, if students who receive remediation tend not to stay in their classes and tend not to stay at Nassau, it may be because they receive too little remediation. True, we don't have specific data to support that, but I'd be willing to lay any odds that if we could put more students in remedial classes and keep them there until we really think they're ready for college-level work, they'd do a hell of a lot better across the board. As for point 2, that's based on the idea of academic institutions as businesses and students as customers, and I can't explain the fallacies of that premise better than to share with you all the editorial by Joel Thomas Tierno from the blog "Academe" on the AAUP web site: http://academeblog.org/2014/11/18/how-many-ways-must-we-say-it/.

I care about this very deeply, and I can get pretty fierce about the ideas--but I find it inutterably painful to wait around until the private session of the Board is finished and they troupe in to the public session, which is likely to be maddening. This is why I frequently leave department meetings before they conclude: when people start pontificating and bloviating and taking extreme stances, I can either leave or explode. Not even productively, just explode. (Standing up and yelling "Will you fucking quit???" isn't terribly conducive to civil discourse.) So, I like to at least pretend I'll go to the meetings--and try to find ways to legitimize my ultimate decision not to go. (My body will sometimes cooperate very nicely and provide a pounding headache.)

But that's tomorrow night. Today was fine. Class went well enough--but the best part of the day was when one of the students left, then came back and very nervously asked me if I'd write a letter of recommendation for her. I immediately said, "Sure!" and she was quite taken aback at how easy it was. I don't know what she'd been expecting, but she even said, "That was easier than I thought it would be. I've never asked before, and I was really nervous about it." We ended up coming back to the office to talk a bit about letters of recommendation, applying for transfer, academic goals, career ideas... In our future seminar hours, that conversation would have fallen under the heading "mentoring/advisement." And I truly do love doing it. Any time I get to spend with the students individually is always the best part of the job. I can get pretty jazzed about exciting classroom discussion, too, but nothing beats working on that one-on-one level. I love it any way I can get it: e-mail conversations, face-to-face meetings, whatever.

I also, again, conveniently "forgot" about my meeting with my "conversation partner," until I heard him pawing at the door. We had another torturous "conversation"--but I'll only see him one more time, and then I'll wish him good luck and a pleasant journey.

I was hoping I'd get some time to work on my promotion folder today. It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I carried it home with me over the weekend and carried it back without even opening the bag it's in. Yet another of those ways in which I delude myself: "Oh, sure, I'll get that work done at home." Hah. But I do want to look at my calendar and figure out when I can set aside a good chunk of time this week to grind through it and get as much of it done as possible. It's not due back to P&B until January 20, and not due to the college-wide P&T (promotion and tenure) committee until March, but I want it out of my hair yesterday.

For now, however, I'll do a quick sort through of the triage pile, make sure the most urgent bits are on top. I will spend a chunk of tomorrow working on adjunct schedules with Allen, and I sincerely hope we finish everything as much as we can so I can turn it over to Bruce and say, "Your turn." Then I'm out of that loop: it's over to Allen from then until I take over again, either next summer or next fall. Realizing how little I can realistically expect to get done in the little time remaining of the term, I'm in "delegation" mode: figuring out what I can palm off on whom. I don't want to leave anything flapping in the breeze, but if I do, well, someone will figure it out and deal with it--or it will still be there, tattered and torn, for me to find again in the fall.

And whatever I forget tonight will be there for me tomorrow--or will be forgotten until it slaps me in the face at some future point. Here endeth this post.