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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Just barely made it

One of those strokes of sheer good fortune struck today--actually two: one of the students who said she was going to submit her paper either last night or this morning didn't (one less to mark), and the student who was going to come to my office hour was unable to make it, which bought me enough time to mark the last of the papers for today's 102 just before I had to leave for class. I have an enormous stack of unmarked homework from all my classes (partly because I  just collected a huge backlog of assignments that had yet to be submitted for one reason or another), but I resolutely refuse to bring it home over the weekend. Monday will be soon enough.

I will be interested to see how many papers I get on Monday and Tuesday--including papers from students who entirely missed the first two versions. But I don't comment on final versions: I mark the rubric sheet (OK, I also stamp "bozo errors") and that's it--so they should go relatively quickly. I do still have to read them, but I'll admit that I often don't read with full attention. If I can tell pretty quickly that a paper is unrevised or otherwise significantly problematic, I merely skim to see if anything good pops up that I should point out and otherwise--a little like trying to remain as uncontaminated as possible when in the presence of a noxious substance. The papers aren't generally that horrific (some are), but I still don't want to sully my precious intellect with their turgid banalities.

But I'm not resentful or bitter or harsh. Heavens forfend.

Nature in Lit was a blast today. We hit a passage that is frankly problematic in "Walking," one in which  Thoreau seems to be advocating for "improving" landscapes through human alteration (draining swamps) and saying that it's right and good that the Native people should be moved off the land as Euro-Americans will take better care of it. I was amused that the students were so busy trying to defend Thoreau that they weren't looking closely and carefully at the actual language of the passage. I teased them about it--and then there was an eruption of comments about him being a hypocrite, which I also had to point out as perhaps not defensible as a reading of what he says. We got into some significant tangents, of course (I love them, but I do have to eventually find a thread I can use to return to the language of the text itself)--and I was delighted that I had to haul them out of the rafters. Great stuff.

Today's 102 was less lively and interesting: I think there are a few too many of them yet remaining for the "everyone in a circle" thing to work. I know they don't much like being in groups, though, and I'm not sure that the quiet ones would be any more likely to talk even if we did start out in groups. I may use the tactic of taking one point from everyone in the circle before turning it over to a free-for-all--or I may just let the lumpy ones be lumps. The Monday/Wednesday 102 works better, generally speaking, in part because there are fewer of them but also because of the mystery of class chemistry.

The chemistry of all the classes will continue to morph over the semester, depending on who stays and who disappears, but I'm hoping that Nature in Lit is pretty well set.

Returning to that class, I think I've mentioned that one of the students was in my 102 last semester. She joined the class late, and she's struggling: the readings simply are not computing for her somehow. But she came to me after class to ask about it, and I suggested that she and I sit down in my office to go over reading techniques. I reminded her that logs full of questions are great--but I can tell she's frustrated and worried, and I don't want her to be. I hope we can set something up for next week, for her own comfort--which augments mine.

And at that, my mind just came to a screeching halt. I may have enough energy left to get to dance class tonight, but more than anything, I'm looking forward to a nice dinner and sleep. If anything else of interest occurs to me later, I'll post again, but for now, good night and good luck.



Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Now I'm scrod (scrawed?)

Obviously I'm not a young cod fish, but I'm decidedly in deep water here. I made the tactical error of marking logs and other homework for today's 102 instead of setting all that aside and diving into the second versions of papers for tomorrow's 102--and today I got three more papers from the M/W class (which I'm accepting, for various reasons, which I won't go into here), so I'm drowning in papers to read and evaluate. And even if I keep the marking to a minimum (which I'm trying to do, painful though it is to fight my own compulsions), I still have a lot to crank through--and I'm officially out of gas tonight, and I have a meeting tomorrow that I cannot miss. (It's an elected position, and I've already called on my alternate to cover for me twice, so I really do have to do what I was elected to do.) That takes at least an hour and a half out of the time in which I can productively work tomorrow prior to class--and I know at least one student is coming to my office hour, which will take another bite of time out. I have thirteen papers to mark and about enough time for nine, at the usual rate. The only thing that may help is that several of the papers I have in hand were submitted without a first version, so all I need to do is read and attach rubric sheets: I won't set pen to the paper itself at all.

I truly do wish I had it in me to crank out a few more tonight, but both my eyesight and my concentration are shot.

So, it will be another early alarm day for me tomorrow. Part of me is saying, "You could set the alarm even earlier, you know, get up at five..." but I know damned well that won't happen. In the worst possible case, I'll put the student in groups in 102 and set them to work on their own while I finish grading.

I will say, I was irrationally irritated when a student withdrew from 102 today. She needed to withdraw--she's been hopelessly lost from jump street--but I had just spent a fair amount of time marking her fucking assignments. The waste of that time and energy galls me. (Couldn't she have withdrawn before I marked all her crap?) But ah well. The student who withdrew from 102 yesterday, I'll miss: she was delightful. The student who withdrew today? Good luck and good riddance.

By all rights, of course, I shouldn't be cranky at all: I should be walking about on pink, fluffy clouds of happiness. The Board of Trustees met last night, and to everyone's utter amazement, they unanimously voted to approve sabbaticals. Paul called me when the meeting adjourned, giddy with delight about it: all three of us got our sabbaticals for next year. So a year from now, I'll be working on my project--and the only way I'll deal with students is if anyone needs me in my role as evening supervisor, which is vanishingly rare. In order to keep the money coming in (and I do want the money to keep coming in), I'll have to be here on campus a few hours each week, and I'll have to do the usual scheduling stuff with Bruce, but I don't mind at all: the financial recompense is more than enough to make that light work load well worth it.

Sabbatical. My god. I can't really take it in. I'm sure it won't feel fully real until the last gasp of the fall semester. It will be odd, though: once again, I'll have the office to myself for a semester: William is taking a year, and Paul is taking the fall, so from September through December, I'll be the only, lonely person in this office. Then Paul will be in the same position in spring 2015, when I'm blissfully buried in my project.

Among other things, I do hope the sabbatical--even the prospect of the sabbatical--helps me do a deep reset in terms of my interactions with the students. I'm mostly able to remain flexible and relaxed--but it takes some conscious effort (yes, effort to relax, oxymoronic as that sounds). I hope to accomplish the same result more reflexively, with less conscious attention.

But speaking of conscious attention, if I'm going to be able to pay any to traffic on the way home, I'd best skedaddle. Fingers and toes crossed that I can crank through the papers tomorrow with more ease and speed than now seems likely....

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"I was busy"

I didn't tear any heads off students today in 102--but I came closer. I walked in the door, and a student started to tell me that he'd been unable to upload his paper to Turnitin. I stopped him mid-sentence and said, "Did you check your e-mail?" Stunned look, as if I'd suggested that he perform miracles. I went on, responding to the look, saying "I sent you several e-mails about that. If you'd checked your e-mails, you'd know...." and he said, "I was busy." I gave him the "oh, puh-leeze" look, and he said, "It's not an excuse...." I didn't say--but should have--"Your damned right it isn't," but I did have a mini-rant about the need for them to check e-mail. I said that I'd sent a number of e-mails to them all, and about six of them actually checked, and I said, "Don't make me be the mean bitch up here. I don't want to have to be Mommy." Several of the more adult students smiled at that (all women, all mommies). I let it go pretty quickly and simply did as I did yesterday, explaining what needs to happen next.

I am happy to report that most of those who turned in the first version of their papers had their revisions ready today--and it seems that several more are ready to submit something (even though they don't have it yet). The down side to that, of course, is that I have quite a stack of papers to grade from them. On the other hand, it seems the six papers I got from yesterday's 102 are all I'm going to get--and only three of the students from yesterday's 102 have actually uploaded anything to Turnitin. More of the students from today's class are on top of things--both submitting hard copy and uploading--which is interesting, because generally they're less wonderful when it comes to talking about the literature. Strange.

Still, the lack of responsibility across the board is threatening to become an epidemic. I hope they turn it around--and I've just been sending out the campus-mandated "early warning" messages (which have been changed to "academic progress" messages, so I can also tell students when they're doing well, which is nice). Then again, the usual Catch-22 applies: the ones who are in trouble won't check their e-mail to get the message that they're in trouble.

Blah.

Nature in Lit was interesting today. I'm concerned about several students, who have suddenly gone AWOL--including, to my dismay, the Slam Poet from last semester. Still, the ones who are there seem to be holding on. Discussion wasn't exactly lively today, but they were all participating, and listening, and making good sense, and apparently understanding the readings better. I have no idea how that class will shake out, but I'm hoping that as we get into more and more contemporary stuff, they'll respond more fully. I'd been worried about Calyx: before the break she'd sent me an e-mail saying that she was afraid she might have to withdraw but didn't want to. After class, we talked about what she should do: I told her (as I always do) that it's more important for her to keep up with where we are now than to keep trying to make up old work and remain perpetually behind, but that if she can do any make-up work, she should focus on the mini-papers first, then any logs she can do. I also said that if she keeps on top of things for the rest of the term, when it gets closer to the end we can discuss what to do about any assignments she may still be missing. She said that whatever life situation had been in her way was improving, thank God, so I'm hoping she's back in it. And the students are very happy that I'm willing to meet with them or have e-mail conversations with them about their mini-papers--and I postponed the next one, so they'd have time to talk to me before they have to do it.

I'm amused by the fact that I don't seem to get used to my new-found awareness that they respond better when I'm more relaxed and flexible. I scare them enough by being nice, apparently, so when I'm willing to work with them, help them, they're so relieved and grateful, it's very touching. Two students in today's 102 had made noises about being to overwhelmed by the class and maybe needing to withdraw--but after I sent reassuring messages to them both, they were in class today and participating. Not just participating, participating with intelligence. I'm delighted with them both, and gratified that my encouragement seems to be paying off.

I need to encourage myself a little, too. I'm missing tango tonight--simply because it took me so long to get things sorted out and mentally organized in order to be ready for tomorrow. Once again, I may regret not getting more grading done tonight, but I'm pretty sure I can get through it all in time. Logs and other homework may have to languish for a bit; all I really care about is getting papers returned to students. I won't truly know what I'm dealing with until tomorrow evening anyway--but even so, one way or another, I will be fine: if nothing else, I'll come up with a contingency plan. I always do.

And truly, I think the exhaustion factor would prevent me from doing anything productive tonight anyway. (I probably would have had a hard time at tango, come to that: it's all about balance, and I don't have much, as I'm plum tuckered.) I'll be best served by getting my little self home, fed, and in bed, the better to face tomorrow, which is, after all, another day (when I'll be stronger).

Monday, February 24, 2014

I know it'll come back to bite me

Despite the fact that I'm relatively certain I'll regret the hell out of it and will wish I'd pushed myself to mark more assignments tonight, I don't have it in me. The decision to pack it in is dangerous, as I have an assessment meeting on Wednesday morning, and even though there aren't many students in advisement these days, there are just enough that I can't count on having a significant stint in which to mark things for Wednesday's class. I grant you, at the moment only five students from the Wednesday class actually turned in papers today, so no matter what I do today or tomorrow, I may well be scrawed (as my father would have said): if I get the bulk of the papers late tomorrow--which is possible--I'll have to scramble like mad to get them back to the students on Wednesday anyway.

Of course, the "bulk" I have yet to receive may not be many. Half the class was absent today, and half the students who were there hadn't turned in the first versions. I'm allowing them to turn submit something this round, even though all they'll get is a rubric sheet about editorial issues (I won't mark anything on their papers themselves, and I may I give general ideas about revision, but nothing beyond that)--but I have a feeling a number of them won't go for even that much.

I also realized that the original schedule tells them not to come to class on Wednesday--but if they miss any more class, they're the ones who are scrawed. I just sent another (completely ineffectual) e-mail telling them to ignore what it says on the schedule and come to class, but I'm getting a strong sense that the handful who were there today are pretty much it: I think most of the rest are gone, baby, gone.

As it happened, I didn't tear their heads off; I didn't ignore the problem; I didn't even talk about my dilemma. I simply said, "OK, here's the situation," and reminded them what's due when and how. I expect there will be repercussions for some time: students who are shocked (shocked, I tell you) to find out that they've completely missed the boat and are racking up zeroes like a pinball score--but I've truly done all I can do. In fact, I had a brief discussion with a student after class: he missed the first version--writer's block--and I'm as upset about the hit to his grade as he is: he seems like potential A material, but now the best he can get is a B. I told him that we'd see how things go the rest of the semester: if the only thing keeping him from an A is that missing first version, I'll try to figure out something that can replace it (perhaps having him revise the first paper at the end of the term). And there are a few others who were pretty surprised that I wasn't taking their first version just because it was over a week late.

As I thought that, I was reminded of a student who was going to drop off the hard copy of his paper on Wednesday before the break but who told me he couldn't make it until after I had to leave campus. His paper is on Turnitin but I never got the hard copy, so I never graded it. I think my reasoning was that he'd contact me if he wanted to revise it and I'd take it from there, but I wouldn't grade it without the hard copy. I have to double check my files at home, see if maybe I did comment on it--but I truly don't think so. I'm on the fence about whether to mark it tonight and get it to him or wait until I see him in class. I think the latter, even though the hyper-responsible care-taking Mommy in me wants to rescue him by providing comments, even at this late juncture, in hope that he'll get them in time to do even a quarter-assed revision. Then again, this is the student who said he didn't want to come all the way in from Queens just to submit his paper, so he hasn't demonstrated a whole lot of giving-a-shit, in which case, why should I get frantic about it?

In any event, if I'm going to get an early start tomorrow--and I truly do need to--I'd better get myself home tonight so I can start my very long wind-down process. I will be spectacularly grateful and relieved when this semester calms down--or is simply over. I'm not very happy dealing with the feeling of things coming unglued all around me, even though I can't do bugger all about it. Ain't my job to fix everything, but sometimes I'd give a hell of a lot for a magic wand....

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Thinking about the week ahead: brief post

I am chewing on my thoughts about what to do when I see the students again tomorrow and the next day. Part of me wants to get fierce--the dragon awakened fully and breathing flames--but truly what I want is to figure out how to let go of my frustrations so that I can calmly move forward without the need for combustion. I realize that I am angry because I want the students to get it, to wake up, to snap out of it and grab responsibility with both hands--and I realize that the only way to maintain any kind of calm is to recognize that I have very little to do with whether they will step up to the plate or not.

I imagine the lecture. I imagine saying nothing unless or until individual students come to me with late papers or excuses or what have you. The latter is probably the better way to go, but the thought leaves me feeling faintly itchy. And I recognize that chances are pretty good I can't really determine in advance what I'll do: my usual improvisational style will have to lead me into whatever feels right at the moment.

As I think about it, I realize that what feels best is to do something in between: to actually talk to them about my dilemma. I don't know what it would do for them--it might be interesting to find out--but I think it may well feel best to me if I simply tell them honestly that I'm torn between wanting to rip their heads off and wanting to simply smile and watch half of them drown.

Several people I trust have told me that I am giving the students something important in terms of their development when I insist that they adhere to deadlines, that they take responsibility for themselves. I already have done much more than I should have to, sending out reminding e-mails (even though I know the students who most need the e-mails are precisely the ones who don't bother even to see if they have any communications from me).

I did get the e-mail from a student who said she was thinking about withdrawing--and who changed her mind when I reminded her about working through frustration (not to mention that it's early in the semester yet, and she may well see her grades improve).

I got another e-mail from a student who said that between her job and being a mother, she can't give "100%" to the course (she missed the first version of the paper, not to mention some other homework, so she's right: at the moment, she's giving about 80%): I told her I would fully understand if this class demands more time and effort than she has to give at this point in her life, that I'd hate to lose her but would understand if she decides that it's in her best interest to withdraw.

Another student sent his paper late with a plea for a stretch of the late deadline: I said yes, if his paper was uploaded later that day. It wasn't, so I sent an e-mail saying that the revision ship had sailed--and I got an e-mail from him this morning saying he thought the paper had been uploaded but he guessed not.... I replied that perhaps he needed to learn something about follow-through (OK, yes, I hadn't gotten myself around to the "it's better for me if I'm calm" thing, was still steaming out the ears).

Several students have been in good contact with me--including one who is desperately confused but trying her damndest to get sorted out, bless her heart. And the rest: vanished into the ether, apparently.

Sigh. My only job, my sole task, is to figure out what I can do that will be best for me: I have a great deal of myself invested in teaching, so that needs tending to, but I also need to reduce stress in my life, especially in how I approach my work, and at times those two goals feel antithetical. They aren't: I've seen that the students respond best when I'm most relaxed. But at this particular juncture, I'm finding it difficult to locate the point of equilibrium and calm.

But I can't do anything about any of it from home tonight. Once I'm back in the classroom tomorrow and onward, I'll see what develops. It will be interesting, whatever transpires, and I'll learn something, even if it's what not to do.

Jesus, I need that sabbatical. I need the six-month reset button.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

It's not the wall, it's my eyesight

I got through another five papers today, after spending most of my "productive" hours doing life maintenance, and I was about to try to crank through at least one more--but I realized that my eyesight is giving out. Oh, groan: I'm getting old, dammit. Only recently have I needed reading glasses on occasion when I'm particularly tired, or am doing a lot of close work--or to see tiny type or in bad lighting... It's starting to sound like I really always need them, but truly, most of the time, I can read just fine without them. And only recently have I found it a little challenging to drive somewhere unfamiliar (especially at night) without my distance lenses. But now I'm finding that if I work at the computer for long stints, my eyesight starts to go a little blurry--and when I look up, I find it very hard to see anything further away than about book distance: it takes a long while for my vision to readjust. I don't want bifocals, and I sure as hell don't want trifocals, but I can see that I'm heading in that direction. Dammit.

It's just as well my vision is putting a limit on my time at the computer, because my frustration levels are building again. I said last night that I thought a few in this remaining batch might be OK--and those few are at least marginally better than some of the crap I was reading yesterday, but still, only one actually starts with a sentence about the stories, their authors, and the topic; the rest all begin with big generalizations.

Which rather begs the question: when I said "The first sentence of your paper needs to introduce the stories, their authors, and to give an overview of your topic," which part of that translated as "start with a huge generalization"?

I'm always bemused by the fact that, as many years as I've been teaching, I continue to have "Oh, I get it!" moments. The latest was this: I just realized that students have been specifically taught that literature is an example of some point about life, so they believe that their job in papers is to talk about whatever that thing is--murder, coming of age, a new understanding of death--and then periodically use the stories as support for their own musings. I've called it playing with their own poop, thanks to my colleague Duane, but they truly have been taught that that's their job, that that's why and how we read literature.

Of course, as a literature scholar, I see it very differently. In my world, the literature itself has something interesting to reveal, and our job is to look at the details in the work to see what's going on: to head deeper into the text instead of using it as auxiliary for our own philosophizing. If you can call it that.

Now that I've had this realization, I hope I can convey to students the difference between what they've been taught and what they need to learn from me. (I also hope I remember to try to convey it: this is one of those things where I'm very likely to have a V-8 moment and slap myself on the forehead after my opportunity to do the good thing has passed.) But I realize that although the difference is profound, it may be difficult to convey to those who honestly have never looked deeply at anything in their lives before.

Shifting gears, I've made a decision about how to handle the papers that were not submitted in time for comments: the students can still submit a final version--but the revision portion of their grade (10%) will be a zero, and there will be no ability to alter the grade they get on the final version (and trust me, without my guidance getting them to those final versions, they'll be slapped hard by those final version grades). I do need to re-do the late submission guidelines and penalties explanation on the paper assignments, however: I looked at them again, and they're not clear, even to me. The perpetual fine tuning of handouts.... But I feel OK about this as a compromise: I'm giving the students a shot, but I'm not allowing them to get off with a mere scolding.

Shifting gears yet again, and file under "on tenterhooks": I got a notice today from the acting president of the college that my request for a sabbatical has been approved and that he will forward the recommendation to the board of trustees. In our last P&B, we were essentially told that if we don't have a contract, we won't get sabbaticals, period--because they are a financial consideration, and all financial stuff essentially is frozen when the contract is in abeyance. But here's the president--a member of the administration--approving the sabbatical. Of course, the board of trustees can still deny the sabbatical, and under the circumstances, they may well, but it's quite a tantalizing experience to see that the application has gotten even this far. Oh, please, please, please let me have my sabbatical next spring! (Hear the crack in the voice, the desperation in the plea, like a small child begging for a treat....)

But now, my back is seizing up from sitting too long, and my eyesight isn't improving (as, yes, I'm still staring at a computer screen), and pretty soon I need to toddle off to tango (lovely alliteration in that), so I'm signing off--probably until tomorrow. Five more papers to grade: three from the M/W class, two from the T/Th class. I also have a handful of homework to mark, but I may decide I've spent enough of my break in students' minds and leave that until I'm back in the salt mine next Monday. So for now, so long, farewell, auf wiedesehen, adieu....

Monday, February 17, 2014

Hitting the wall--while on "break"

On Thursday and Friday, I graded all the papers for which I had hard copies in hand, scanned them and their accompanying rubric sheets, and sent them off to students. Then I found that my "life maintenance" days kept me from devoting time and energy to grading the papers that I only have electronically--until today. I have graded six of thirteen, not even past the halfway point, and I just hit the wall. I read four crap papers in a row, and I just can't stand it. I'm hoping wildly that there will be a few good papers in the remaining batch, but when I started on number seven, that's when I hit the wall--because it was crap, crap, crap. And I know there will be at least one more serious train wreck in the bunch, a very sweet young woman but my brain and hers do not mesh: she is very earnest and trying her heart out, but I simply confuse the hell out of her, so I can only imagine that she's lost on this paper. She may surprise me--they do, I know--but somehow I'm not counting on it.

I was ranting about it last night. I specifically state that the very first sentence should give the titles of the stories, the authors, and an overview of the topic--yet in more than half the papers, the first sentences are big, bloviating generalizations. They have been trained--carefully drilled--in using the literature as a sort of springboard into their own musings about whateverthefuck, so they barely glance in the direction of the story itself. One of my colleagues calls it playing with their own poop, which would be fine except I have to smell it, too, and tell them to clean it up.

But I'm bitching about the papers I actually have: the bigger source of frustration is the utter and complete lack of responsibility in getting the papers to me in the first place. Several students had trouble uploading their papers to Turnitin.com--and I finally figured out it's because they didn't set up their own account first, so they were trying to use the class ID and password as their own username and password. (I condensed pages of screen shots into one simple page of directions--but I also provided the screen shots--and they still couldn't figure it out). Several simply said, "I can't upload it, so I'm e-mailing it to you"--and they haven't bothered to check their e-mail for my response which says, "DO NOT E-MAIL THE PAPER TO ME. You must figure out how to upload it to Turnitin. If you don't, there's a penalty." Several were panicking about not being able to upload their papers, finally managed to log in to Turnitin--because I registered them in the class, at which point, Turnitin sent them an e-mail telling them how to log in--but they didn't upload their papers. As soon as they could log in, I guess they figured they were done.

Then there's the gentleman who sent an e-mail yesterday saying that he guessed he was pretty well screwed, because he'd waited until the last minute, couldn't upload to Turnitin, asked for me to grant him extended time--and hasn't bothered to use the time I extended. I registered him in the class-which worked for all those other students who couldn't get on to Turnitin, and I told him I'd take a 30-point penalty but I'd let him proceed if he uploaded the paper by end of day. Nothing.

And then there are those who turned in nothing at all, hard copy, electronically, e-mail: nothing. They're pretty much just gone, I'm afraid. In one assignment, the students in each class will be cut down by at least a third--and this isn't even the challenging stuff yet.

What worries me most here, however, is that this is the first paper from them. If I'm this frustrated and grouchy now, it does not bode well for the continuation of the semester. And I'm in the position of trying to figure out what's best for me in terms of the hard-ass factor. Will I feel better if I nail the irresponsible ones to the wall, tell them that they need to learn the importance of follow through--and know I'll lose them (now or later), or if they stay, they won't pass? Or will I feel better to give them the big scary warnings and grant a little mercy? (Oh, that slippery slope, that giving of an inch....)

And again, I find myself thinking that the only way to keep them in the class is to make things so easy that I can't feel comfortable with it. What am I supposed to do? I simply can't in good conscience allow them to leave my classroom still writing stuff that I wouldn't find acceptable in high school. But if they honestly have no clue what's wrong with it, or how to even approximate what I think they should be capable of doing, how are they to learn?

Well, all I can do is feel my way forward, working always to find any solution that alleviates stress in my life, so that working where I do works for me, not against me. The students will get what they get, good, bad, or indifferent. I can't cure everything that's wrong with the American educational system in sixteen weeks.

Tomorrow will be another day in which life maintenance--and life joy (tango class!)--will make it a little uncomfortable to find a good chunk of work time, but I'll keep chugging along. I just sent an e-mail to the students whose papers I've not graded yet, telling them that there's a delay and they'll get their papers either tomorrow or Wednesday. I told them to contact me if they wanted their papers ASAP but otherwise I'd assume they don't mind the delay. I have noticed that most of the students who got their scanned papers back haven't checked in to tell me that the e-mail has arrived, which suggests to me that they're waiting until, oh, Sunday night to start thinking about revising. Ah well. I'm not going to beat myself up to return papers that are just going to sit there, ignored, for days on end. I do want the damned things out of my hair, but I also don't want to spend days feeling like I'm being poked with a cattle prod.

The wall having been hit, now is my time to think what will best gratify me for this evening--and to practice the Scarlett O'Hara mantra over and over again.



Wednesday, February 12, 2014

And again with the snow

Before 2:30 p.m. today, the administration had declared that tomorrow will be another day of cancelled classes. Fortunately, I had my contingency plan in effect for the 102, and had told the students in 281 to just keep on with reading and logs as if we were having class, so that's all set.

Today's 102 was, um, interesting. Three students seem to be completely AWOL--including Judy Blue Eyes' boyfriend, who made a point of registering for my class and has vanished into the ether. One student was there today and at the end of class asked me where he could pick up the class reader. I didn't even have to lie: I actually have, for the first time ever, completely run out. This is because students sign up for the class, get the reader, then decide not to keep coming--but they keep the reader. I was very nice about it, but I said I can't do anything to get him a new reader until after the break, by which time this paper will have come and gone. I said he could throw himself on the mercy of a classmate, see if anyone would be kind enough to copy the pages we've already covered for him, but that there was nothing else I could do. He asked if the stories are available on line; I said no. As it turns out, one of them is (I guess it's now in the public domain), and there's a (badly done) film of another, but the other two have not been pirated--and are still covered by copyright. So he's pretty much scrawed, as my father would say. I'll be interested to see what he does under this circumstance.

A couple of students didn't have their readers with them; I didn't boot them because, well, at least they were there. But in the future I won't be so forgiving. But speaking of being forgiving, or not, I find I had very mixed feelings simply handing a huge packet of handouts to the people who missed three classes (two to snow days and one to Monday's absence). Part of me felt very confident in my determination to simply turn it over to them: "Here's the information; I'm not going to explain it. It's your job to read this over carefully and figure it out--though of course you can ask questions via e-mail." But there's also, always, that part of me that wants to send them life vests and otherwise do all I can to keep them from sinking. Still, it truly is their responsibility, so, well, there you go.

I was blissfully unpestered in Advisement today: I saw two students the entire three hours. But I didn't get as many papers graded as I'd hoped--which is no surprise. I always have a wildly inflated and optimistic idea of how much time anything will take me, and paper grading is no exception. Still, the first six I graded remind me that I need to mark less. I'm compulsive about it when I have a pen in my hand--but really, what I do is just overwhelming. I've been marking sentence-level stuff, and I must stop--even though that means the first six students are going to have a lot more feedback (or confusion) than the rest of the class.

Of course, it's also possible that the twelve essays I had in hand at the end of the class yesterday will be all I'll get. I did say that hard copy needed to be on the office door by 6 p.m. tonight--and although it's almost 5:30, that box on the door is remarkably empty. So, the next question is, do I give them a break and comment on their papers electronically, if they've at least uploaded them to Turnitin? I don't know. I'll see how things look tomorrow. I did send an e-mail saying that I have to leave before 6 tonight (I do: I'm going out for steak and booze with Paul--and William this time), so anything that is submitted after 5:30 will not be graded until later; some students may take that as carte blanche to submit after 6. I reckon I'll swing past campus either Friday or Monday, see what, if anything, is on the door, and take it from there, case-by-case decisions.

But again, as I noted yesterday, the first essay is always a significant sorting tool: a lot of students bail as soon as they're faced with this first big assignment. And as I repeatedly note, I hate losing students (well, most of them I hate losing), but on the other hand, the attrition does make my job easier as the semester progresses.

I'll be curious to see what it's like to be grading papers tomorrow at home, metaphorically wearing pink bunny slippers. It is harder for me to focus at home, generally speaking, but being able to sleep and not set an alarm is a godsend. With any luck, the sleep factor will provide extra energy and ability to focus and burn through whatever I've got to grade.

I may post tomorrow--it will be a work day, even though it won't be a class day. And I may post when I start grading the papers for today's class; I don't really need to start on those until Saturday, but I may try to keep the impetus going, knowing that I'll have time to breathe deeply after all the marking is done.

So, a bag full of papers and rubric sheets comes home with me. And now, I'm grabbing William and heading out for an evening of gustatory decadence.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The dragon awakes

I had to breathe a little fire at a student in 102 today. He came to me after class to say he hadn't had a chance to write his paper over the weekend, and since he doesn't have classes tomorrow, was it OK if he turned it in to me on Thursday. I said no. He asked what would happen if he didn't, and I told him he'd get a zero. His response was, essentially, "But I'd have to come all the way in from Queens to turn in one paper." Well, yes, if you want to get credit for it. Or you could not come in from Queens and take the zero. He tried to argue with me, and I said, "Did you hear me?" (Flames curling around him.) I could tell he was pissed as hell about it--because he said, "Have a nice day"--or some other pabulum. I know that sounds friendly and cheerful, but when it comes at the end of a confrontation with the dragon, it generally means "I have to take what you say, because you're the professor, but you're also a bitch and being utterly unreasonable." Too right.

I haven't counted up how many papers I actually got, but several people were absent (I've heard from one of them), and several acknowledged that they didn't have their papers with them--so I'm braced for a last-minute deluge tomorrow. I have no idea how this will shake out over the next days--and we're also braced for the possibility of yet another snow day, this one affecting the T/Th classes. I have a contingency plan in place for getting marked papers back to students so they can revise over the break--but I'm also going out to dinner with the boys tomorrow, so I'll be leaving the office before the deadline for late submission of hard copies. If there's a snow day on Thursday, I'll have to decide whether to come to campus anyway, just to check for late papers--or, if not, what to do instead.

But I'll burn that bridge as I cross it. This is when we separate the sheep from the goats, the strong from the weak, the dross from the gold.... I probably "should" embark on a little grading tonight. We'll see how I feel when I finish this blog post, but I think it's unlikely. I may not even dig into my pack to organize, figure out what I've got in hand.

Nature in Lit was odd today: five students were missing (including the two students from last semester's Fiction Writing class), so the dynamic was a bit strange. And we didn't have a lot to say about Darwin, apparently. I grant you, I assigned pretty short extracts--but even so, class was over half an hour early. The students don't mind in the least, of course, but I do wonder about the reactions of the senior observers. Not that their opinions matter, but I do think about it (my usual self-judgments getting activated, projected onto any handy target). I did feel good about the fact that we agreed to give the Thoreau essay a whirl. The reading for Thursday is very light--just a few Wordsworth poems--so my plan is to discuss the poetry, then begin reading "Walking" in class, work through it a little until I send them off on their own.

One student--whom I like very much, actually--has been relatively vocal about the difficulty of the readings, and when I read the first little paragraph of "Walking" aloud, he said that he could understand it but that there were a lot of "unnecessary" words in it. I said, no, they're all necessary--because literature isn't just about conveying information: it's also about mood, feeling.... So, our task as scholars is to figure out what the words are doing, why they're there, how they work on us. I'm not sure he entirely buys the argument, but I'll do what I can to demonstrate it in class.

Which brings me back to the 102 class: we started reading the Mary Oliver poems today, and they did a great job with the first one. I had to keep reminding them to pay attention to their own process--not just the end result but how they got there. As always, getting past the superficial understanding--"It's just a poem about a hawk hunting"--is easier for some students than others. I continually asked, "What words stand out? Where did you think, 'That's odd: why that word or phrase?'" With each example (why describe the hawk as an "admiral"? why "heaven's fistful / of death and destruction"?) they actually had great ideas. As they first started to work, there were the usual handful of students who said "I never get poetry; it confuses me" or "I hate poetry." And I said love it or hate it, doesn't matter. What matters is that you get it, and getting it is a process: don't try to jump immediately to a conclusion, but look at the entire sentence or thought and specific word choices, and work from there. It will take them a fair amount of practice to begin to trust the process--for many of them, more time for practice than the semester will accommodate. But if they at least can see that there is a process, watch it in operation, I'm hoping that helps.

There is other stuff, I know. In P&B today, I was reminded that I actually have to schedule three observations (ah, hell), and as I sat down to write this post, I remembered that I need to do some looking at Taskstream (ook)--and god alone knows what other pearls have rolled behind the furniture or fallen through the floorboards. I'll either get smacked in the face with another "oh shit!" moment, or I'm actually in better shape than I can perceive at the moment.

But getting the student papers done is the primary priority. I will do everything I can to get to the office relatively early tomorrow--and will pray for no students in Advisement. Thursday will have to take care of itself. One bonus: the only committee meeting I have this week is an online meeting, asynchronous, so I can join in whenever. (I just have to remember to join in.)

Now, the main decision to be made is, tango class or no tango class? I'm truly on the fence: I'm waiting for some little breath, a half a nudge, to push me one way or the other. Meanwhile, a little noodling, and we'll see where that goes.

And--all together now--tomorrow is another day.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Oy, gevalt

Thirteen of twenty-four students in class today. This is the class that was cancelled both sessions last week. This is the class that now is in a frantic scramble to get papers written and submitted so we can be back on track soon after the break. I did hear from one student who was absent today, asking when the new deadline is--but I didn't take the time to write out all the information for him: I told him there's a packet of handouts and that, if he needs any or all of them, he should let me know, so I can leave them on my office door for him to pick up before Wednesday's class.

So, that leaves ten students who have no fucking clue what's going on and haven't bothered to check. Oy gevalt.

On the other hand, the thirteen who were there seemed to be taking it in, willing to buckle down and push through--except for one poor young woman, who is simply utterly confused. She's trying her best, but ... I can't even think of a telling example (or one brief enough) to illustrate the profundity of her bewilderment. I'll lay any money you like that she won't make it through the semester. I hate betting against a student so early on--and, as I always say, I've been surprised in the past--but I don't have great confidence in her chances, given where she stands right now.

By the way, I decided to ditch the hard copy requirement and give them until 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to upload their papers to Turnitin.com. I will download their papers and use the "track changes" function in Word to provide comments and feedback. (Turnitin has a comments function but it utterly sucks.) I'll e-mail the papers back to them; they then will have to A) print out the version with my feedback, so we have it as a point of comparison, and B) revise prior to the Monday after the break. They'll be up to their antlers in work over the break--not only revising papers but also doing logs on three poems and answering a set of study questions on a critical essay--but by the end of the week after the break, we should be back on track with the Tuesday/Thursday class.

Unless there are more snow days. I repeat: Oy gevalt.

I also have two-thirds of a decision made about Nature in Lit. I'm ditching the critical material requirement entirely, and I'm allowing revision of mini-papers; I think I mentioned in my Thursday post that I was at least contemplating those changes. The one thing I'm not sure about yet is whether to ditch the Thoreau essay. I'll talk to them about it tomorrow in class. If I cut it out of the schedule, the next question is whether I replace it--or whether I leave the hole in the schedule. If I do replace it, I only have about 400 ideas for what I might replace it with. I do need to keep the paper topic in mind and be sure that anything I slot in place of "Walking" can be seen to suggest something about what nature's "purpose" is. I'd love to give them a chapter from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, but I'm not sure they'd find that any more readable than they would Thoreau.

I can't express how much it disturbs me that their reading skills are so deficient. I think I need to say so. I also need to give them the "work through frustration" speech, which I've not yet given. (I have to the 102s but not to Nature in Lit.)

I know I "should" stay and get some more work done tonight--I'd love mark and return everything I have in hand for tomorrow's classes, so my feet are clear for the 102 papers--but no can do: the wall has been hit. I have to get up pearly early tomorrow for an early doctor's appointment, and that will put a crimp in my time for marking assignments--but I'll do what I can between arrival at the office and P&B. Whatever I don't get done, ah well. I have high hopes that I'll be able to get a lot of work done in Advisement on Wednesday--but much to my annoyance, the woman at the front desk sent me every student who came in; I grant you, I was the only faculty adviser there, but at least four of the professional advisers also were there--and yet I saw all the advisees. It's not like students were lined up out the door, but there was a steady stream of them. I still got everything marked for today's class, but if the same thing happens again on Wednesday, I'll have to say something along the lines of, "Could you share the wealth, send students to other advisers, too?" I need that time for grading: since I'm going out with the boys on Wednesday evening, that time on Wednesday and Thursday before classes is all I'll have in which to get all the Thursday 102 papers graded. Then, the first  days of the break, I'll be grading papers for the other 102--though I must say, if there are only fourteen of them, that will make life much easier.

I will be curious to see how it all goes. It's just a bowl of cherries, ain't it.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

One balloon of lead, one somewhat floaty, with a dash of Peyton Place

I'm becoming increasingly worried about Nature in Literature. The students are simply unable to deal with the readings--and as much as I think they should be able to read at the level I've assigned, if they can't, they can't. I need to figure out how to give them a challenge they feel they can master, and right now, all they feel is screaming frustration. Today I tried going over some of the critical material in class--and they'd have been more comfortable on a rack with thumb screws.

So, first idea: I'm going to ditch the critical material requirement entirely. Fuck it. They can learn how to use secondary sources somewhere else, from someone else.

Second idea: once I see how they're doing with Darwin (which we started in class and which was a slog and a half), I may ditch a good bit of what's in their readers--although it hurts me to see some of the stuff go (Thoreau's essay "Walking," for instance, which I can tell already would be far too painful). I will instead troll through my bookshelves to find more approachable stuff--all contemporary. This probably will mean re-doing the paper topics entirely--but I'm willing to go there, too. Whatever it takes, short of saying "Let's just read Dr. Seuss." I've told them that I don't want to lose them, and so far most of them are hanging in there, but I really do not like torturing students, and clearly they feel they're being tortured.

I took it as a good sign that a few of them wanted to talk to me after class--mostly about their works cited pages for their mini-papers, which they submitted today--but also my student from last semester's 102 needed to talk to me about the fact that she's pretty lost. I told her that if her mini-paper is a disaster, I'd let her re-do it--and then I thought (yet another adjustment), although I hadn't planned to allow revisions of the mini-papers, I always have in the past, so, why not? I'm just desperate to find the alchemy that will turn that lead balloon into something more buoyant.

More like the 102, in fact--though it took a little jostling to get that one airborne. They were, as usual, doing terrific work in their groups, and when I called a halt to that part of the process, I teased them about being lively in groups and then slumping lifeless as soon as I turned discussion over to the class as a whole. Then I said, "So, who wants to start us out with something?" Silence, and I said, "SEE???" They laughed, and immediately one of the better students jumped in--and then things started rolling. At the end, I put some of their ideas on the board (still their ideas, although I acknowledged that I'd been steering the conversation). I pointed out, "I'm essentially giving you your thesis here"--but I had to ask, "Am I seeing a lot of thinking going on, or all you all Bambi in headlights?" Some laughing, but mostly that look that says I just turned into Charlie Brown's teacher: "Wah-wah-wah...." But it's on them: I gave them the chance to ask questions, to go over things with me. I probably will get floods of e-mails over the weekend, but generally, I love that. Bring it on.

No matter what, I know perfectly well that the papers will be the usual mess, despite what I said and their nods indicating comprehension. Still, this is a learning process, after all, and even though I've been through it a gazillion times, they haven't, so I need to be patient.

On a completely different front, before my first class there was a small Peyton Place moment. Ms Enthusiastic, who was in Mystery last semester and is in Nature this one, showed up at my office door, paper in hand, and said she was too upset to come to class. I know she has a young son, and I know he had health problems last semester, so I immediately asked what was wrong, fearing he might be ill. No. Turns out, her boyfriend has been hitting on Judy Blue Eyes, and Ms Enthusiastic feels that Judy has been encouraging the flirtation while denying having done anything wrong, and Ms Enthusiastic says Judy is her best friend (even though they only met last semester, in my class), so she doesn't know which of the two deserves more of her anger or outrage.... Oh, the drama. In any event, I told her I understood and she fled. Shortly after, as I was approaching our classroom, I saw Judy in the hall with Calyx and a few other students, and Judy snappishly said she wouldn't be in class today. Fine by me, as she's not on my roster anyway. When I got back to the office, there was a terse little e-mail from her that she won't be coming to the class at all any more. Again fine by me; I'm just as happy, as when she was there, she and Ms Enthusiastic were pretty disruptive--and as I said, she's not on my roster, so--well, go wherever you like and go in health: no skin off my nose.

But I will admit that this situation raises even more red flags that I may have been manipulated into false sympathy for her--or at very least I think I am seeing that she is not as sweet and fragile as she projects. Between the two young women, I'm afraid I'm more likely to believe Ms Enthusiastic's version of the story (not that I've heard Judy's)--just because she has never been a problem, other than being a little too Tiggerish on occasion. Judy, on the other hand? Neediness incarnate.

As I said, oh, the drama. It reminds me again--as if I needed reminding--how young they are, and how limited their coping skills are at this stage in their lives. (Most of them, anyway.) I'm not going to get involved in this--not my business at all--but I hope whatever happens doesn't derail Ms Enthusiastic. She's an asset to the class--largely because she is so like Tigger, even though that very trait also can become problematic.

Well, whatever. What more can I say.

Looking forward, it seems that there may not be a snowstorm on Sunday/Monday: the forecast is getting progressively less dire. If I can meet with the class on Monday, I have a plan for forcing things back on track, even though it would mean a relatively frantic Presidents' Week break for me (and the whole plan was that they'd have to work over the break and I would not--which I admit may seem unfair, but I am the empress of this domain after all). If class is canceled again on Monday, back to head scratching and mental juggling.

Now, once again, I'm going to flee the office without sorting things out of my wheelie-pack and into stacks on my desk. I had to spend time after class going through another mentee's promo folder--which is, I'm glad to report, in much better shape than the last one I helped with, though there is still work to be done--and that used up what few fumes I had to keep going. I'm now officially out of fuel and am heading home to restore the supply.

Onward and awkward.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

We're so screwed

The post title is a tag-line from the TV series Farscape, and it's apropos. Notice has already gone out that Wednesday classes are canceled all day (partly in response to the screaming that's been going on about how long it took the announcement to go out about Monday's cancellations). This means that I won't meet with the students in the M/W 102 at all this week--and that means there is no way in hell they can be ready with papers on Monday. On top of which, depending on which weather site one checks, there could be a "snow shower" on Sunday--or "a chance for heavy snow." If the snow is heavy enough and hits late enough, there goes Monday.

So, I can't do anything at all except wait, and reconfigure the schedule when I know what the hell is happening. It isn't as bad as when Hurricane Sandy hit and the entire Island ground to a halt for a week, but I am nearly at the same point, ready to just say "ah, fuck it" and call the semester a wash.

I want to come up with contingency plans--a stacked series of "if/then" scenarios--but I don't know if it actually benefits me in any real way. I will say that the Presidents' week break is turning out to be particularly disruptive, given all this. I also know that if we get too many of these days of cancellations, we'll have to either give up part of spring break or tack days on to the end of the semester. I don't want to go there yet--no sense in getting my knickers in a knot over something that hasn't happened and may not--but I am aware of the possibility.

Well, once again, the cosmos intends to remind me that it's good to make plans--but it's also good not to count on them, as one never knows what is going to happen next.

I can, however, talk about what already happened. I bailed on a meeting I'd forgotten about in order to be prepared for P&B (got that cover letter drafted: whew) and I managed also to get everything marked for today's classes (which, I confess, I could easily have done at home yesterday, if I'd made more than a vague gesture in that direction). I was interested to note that Nature in Lit went much better today--more interaction, more understanding, more alert faces--but, almost as if to compensate, the 102 did not fly. The students seemed to do well enough in their groups, but once I turned it over to discussion with the class as a whole, silence ensued. Just enough students had something to say to keep the class from dying entirely, but I had to do a lot more of the question-question-question-recap-question-question process than I like. Well, so it goes. Perhaps Thursday's class will be more lively. I hope so.

And speaking of lively classes, I was planning on going to tango class tonight--trying to get in the Tuesday night habit--but now I'm wondering if I've got it in me. Given the trauma of my beautiful, tight schedule getting kicked to shit, I'm very tempted to indulge in "I need a treat" behavior: take myself out for a nice dinner--with a drink--and read fluff. I will have to take work home, so I can be ready for Thursday's classes; not that that has anything to do with whether I dance tonight, except it makes me feel all the more like I need a treat. Even though it's a day when I'd be marking student work in any event, my psyche sees it as grossly unfair when I have to do that at home instead of in the office. ("So, why don't you stay in the office tonight and get it done?" "Oh, shut up.")

We'll see how I feel after I do the organizational noodling that always ends the day: getting the triage piles sorted out. (I suppose we could read "piles" in the sense of "hemorrhoids," too. OK, one can't "sort out" that kind of piles, but sometimes the pain in the ass factor of the triage process makes the reading metaphorically apt.)

All I can say right now is that the storm better be pretty damned bad tomorrow. If not--well, I'll have to develop an appropriately sanguine attitude, I suppose. Calm yourself, Prof. TLP, calm yourself. Ain't nothing you can do about it but wait and see.

Monday, February 3, 2014

All dressed up and nowhere to go

Another snow day. This one caught me off guard: I've been checking the weather, but somehow I missed the fact that this was going to be a major snowstorm. Of course, the official decision to cancel classes was made sometime between my morning e-mail check and my arrival on campus--but as I was driving in, I knew classes would be canceled; the only question was whether I'd have to put in any time in Advisement (my scheduled stint is 11:30-2:30). Nope. All classes and non-essential services closed as of 11.

When I woke up and saw that it was snowing, I thought, "Please just let it hold off long enough for me to meet with my class." On the drive, I started the improvisational dance: how to accommodate everything I had slated for today?

The main concern is the first paper assignment, which I had planned to go over in detail today, as it's due next Monday. And of course, because I can't figure out how to not overwhelm students with information, there are about 45 handouts that go with the paper assignment: Bozo errors, ICE (introduce, cite, explicate: how to handle quotations and paraphrase), SUNY grading criteria, how to sign up for and log in to Turnitin.com, Do's and Don'ts of writing introductory paragraphs and thesis statements....

Obviously, we can't cover all that plus discuss two stories in one class session. And it is important that we discuss the stories. And it is important that the students have read both stories and come to class with their logs. Hmmmm.

So, solution: I e-mailed, with the paper assignment pages attached--and I left packets of everything except the intros/theses handouts outside my office door. The e-mailed instructions are, essentially, at very least, go over the paper assignment before class, so you come in on Wednesday, prepared with any questions or requests for clarification. Then, pick up the whole packet and go over it, before class if possible but certainly before the paper is due.

Of course, we know the problem with this: the more shaky students are the ones who will not check e-mail, will not get the packet, will come to class knowing doodely-squat about the whole deal. The good students will be on top of things. But at least I have covered my own ass: I can say, "Well, I sent you an e-mail, and I left the packets." On you, boys and girls.

What I'm hoping is that a few of the good students will have questions, and when I answer those in class, the shaky students will catch on: Oh, this is sort of a big deal. And kinda complicated. Maybe I should pay attention. Worst case scenario: the discussion of the stories is truncated and I don't have a chance to do the exercise I hope to do in which students have to evaluate sample introductory paragraphs. We can always revisit the stories on Monday, before switching to reading the poetry, if there are any points that need clarification; students can incorporate anything new/helpful in their revisions, and I can always do the theses/intros exercise later--or not at all, just leave it with the handout.

I am assuming that campus will be open tomorrow--though I'm betting there will be a late start. I need to get in early-ish, as I have a cover letter to draft for another mentee going up for promotion (and I really should look at her folder again), but I brought student work home with me, so I can be productive if the spirit moves me. Right now, I'm so sore from shoveling that all I want is to have lunch and collapse on the couch--but it would be good to get some marking of assignments done, get it out of my hair before classes tomorrow. We'll see how it all goes.

Meanwhile, I'm cozy at home, making a big vat of soup, and watching the snow come down. Nice.