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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....

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