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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.

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