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Monday, January 27, 2014

It flew

After much thought about various approaches to today's class, I finally opted for a plan that actually worked surprisingly well. I put all the students who were up to speed on one side of the room, and all those who needed to start from zero on the other--and then we started with an exercise we could all do together, even the students who missed the first class and were unprepared to discuss the reading: I went over factors that can lead to a charge of plagiarism, even when the student intends to be honest (leaving out quotation marks, paraphrasing too close to the original, that sort of thing)--and then had them evaluate several samples of student writing to determine whether they were plagiarized or not. They asked some very good questions, too, as well as getting fully engaged in the task. I then put the prepared students into groups to discuss the reading while I went over the first day handouts with the newbies. I told the newbies they'd pretty much have to just sit quietly and listen this time out, but that they should get an idea of what the process looks like from hearing their classmates discuss the reading.

And the prepared students did a great job. They were very smart about their responses, immediately got the idea that we need to find evidence to support any assertions we make--got their first "cocktail party" words (penultimate, tangible, and intangible). I told them I was very happy with the work they'd done, and it's true. If classes continue like this, they're going to do fine. I know it's early days, and classes do have a tendency to shift and change in affect over time, but we're at least off to a good start, which makes me happy.

Some of them are still unduly confused about the fact that they have a schedule of assignments to follow--but after enough iterations of my responding to their questions about due dates with "what does it say in your schedule of assignments?" they'll eventually get it. This is also the first semester in which students have been confused about picking up the class reader. Perhaps they simply can't wrap their heads around the fact that 1) they need to actually pick it up (I won't bring it to them) and/or 2) that it's free: they just have to go get it.

My only quarrels with how I conducted the class are 1) I'm not happy about I still forgot to give the "college will change you/work through frustration" speeches--and 2) I forgot to tell them about some errors on the syllabus (incorrect office hours, for one thing). Ah well.

Of course, my experience tomorrow will be entirely different, even though I'll try to do essentially the same thing. There is no way to duplicate what happened, and there's no way to anticipate whether I'll feel, "Wow, that sucked" or "Wow, that was even better." Or even just, "Well, that was different."

Advisement was busy as hell: today is the last day of drop/add, so a lot of students were frantically trying to swap out classes, or fill in a schedule that had been dropped because of lack of payment. My favorite was the guy who turned up and said he hadn't known he was supposed to do anything to register because he hadn't bothered to check his college e-mail account: it's his first semester, and I guess he thought we'd send him a nice little text message to his phone telling him where to report and what he was taking. He wasn't belligerent or testy, but he was clearly not willing to take the time to listen carefully or read anything. I pretty much handed him a bunch of pieces of paper, patted him on the head, and said, "You're on your own, Buddy. Have fun." I must say, however, that he rather epitomizes an inauspicious start to the semester.

On the level of committee work, I am about ready to tear the head off the colleague whose tenure application I am mentoring. He finally brought it in at the end of last week--and it's still a mess, and missing absolutely crucial pieces of information. Bruce about hit the ceiling when I told him about it--but it's not just a scare tactic to tell the guy that if he doesn't pull it together, he won't get tenure. The thing has to be done, completed, beautiful and submitted next Monday. Jesus, what a space cadet. He's a brilliant guy and an amazing teacher, but he is clearly one of those people who lives his life oblivious to bureaucratic bullshit. A delightful way to live in some ways, I grant, buy in this kind of instance, seriously problematic.

I also have joined--or semi-joined--the Creative Writing Committee. Not that I need another committee (dear god) but I have made myself a member of the creative writing faculty, having taught Fiction last semester and having selected it for myself again for the fall. And there was some harrumphing about how creative writing faculty are not getting the creative writing classes--which I think I bitched about a little at the end of last semester. (The ones who have not gotten a creative writing class have not put said class as their first choice--and they've gotten their first choice of class. So, bite me.) But I also do have a teeny tiny guilty conscience about not being a "writer" writer and teaching the class, and I figured this would be a way to solidify my bona fides, as it were. And there actually are two potential projects that I'm very interested in: the creation of a Creative Nonfiction course--which I've wanted for donkey's years--and the question of what to do with the Creative Writing Project's "library" or "office"--or, at the moment, sort of scruffy space. That thwanged right into the heart of a dream of mine, to have a space in which students and faculty can simply hang out and talk about ideas, writing, reading--and in the case of creative writing students, publishing, careers.... I'm referring to them as "salons," and others are very enthusiastic about them--including a student who turned up for the committee meeting, thinking somehow it was a club meeting. (Imagine her surprise to be surrounded by faculty--but what a cool experience for her, as we made her entirely welcome, and she got to hear us do what we do behind the scenes.) We'll see if the salon idea takes off. If it does, I'd love to expand it beyond just creative writing students--and beyond just English department faculty. These dreams and visions, these ambitions: if only I had the energy and focus to match.

I'm going to take off in just a minute here. The desk is covered in chaos, but I'm not even going to try to organize. I gave myself an extra hour of sleep this morning to make up at least a little for a sleepless bout in the wee hours--and it paid off in terms of my ability to think (which is still compromised these days), but it did not help in terms of my feeling organized and on top of things. I got through today's class fine, but there's a lot I want to nail down before tomorrow's two. So, early to bed and all that.

And the Scarlett O'Hara mantra, as always.


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