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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, March 31, 2014

I know I'll regret it

You all know the refrain: I have a ton of work to have done before tomorrow's classes; I have an 11:30 meeting followed by P&B, so I don't really  have enough time to get all the work done--but I'm feeling whiny and petulant, so I'm hanging it up for tonight. I've tried to tie up one or two little loose ends (one of which wasn't even on my triage sheet: I had to rework the final essay assignment for the 102s so I can distribute it this week)--but I still have an enormous, steaming pile of student work on my desk, and I really do need to get it back to them. I'm rather hoping for a "magic pony" moment: that I will finish this blog post--or even interrupt it part way through--and crank through another paper or two.

Hah. There's delusional thinking for you.

The problem, of course, is that because registration starts on Wednesday, we had students back-to-back-to-back today in Advisement--and that trend will pretty much continue for the remainder of the term. The students weren't lined up out the door, but there was a steady stream of them, so just when I'd think the waiting area was empty, nope, there was another student for me to see. Only one was painful--and it's a pain we're all used to: the completely unprepared, incapable student who wants to get into the nursing program. I'm suddenly reminded of a student I had years ago who took one of the comps from me (101, I think) twice, failed it twice--and thought he was going to become a surgeon. I know that surgeons don't necessarily have to be brilliant at English-type topics, but the kid couldn't read with any understanding, couldn't write at all--and was doing equally "well" in all his other courses, too. He was so sweet and friendly and charming, I had to like him, but talk about someone whose thinking was delusional. The sad thing is, he'd gotten this far with no one ever demanding of him that he actually master any of the skills needed to be an adult in the world, never mind a college student. And the young nurse wannabe today struck me as being very much of the same ilk. It breaks my heart.

Class today was rough: one of the smart whips in the class was there, but a couple on whom I rely to keep the ball bouncing were out, so there wasn't much in the way of conversation. However, I did meet with the young woman who left her papers on my office door for millennia. She sent me a rather sad e-mail last night, saying she couldn't understand the book and wondering if she should withdraw. I told her we should talk--and since I let class out very early, she and I sat there in the classroom and went over her reading.

She says she has a significant anxiety disorder, for which she has yet to find the correct medication, and she also has ADHD--but can't medicate both at the same time. However, I said she needed to set all that aside and develop a reading strategy that might work for her. When she reads paragraph by paragraph and simply focuses on each one without trying to go beyond simply what happened, she does fine: the problem is that after a few pages, her attention has wandered and she has no clue what she's been reading. I suggested that she make a brief note about each paragraph as she reads, jot down just enough so when her mind wanders, instead of having to reread the pages in the book, she can simply look at her own notes and think, "Oh, right, I remember now" and keep going.

We talked, too, about the sometimes painful calculus of time: reading that way will be very very slow--and she may find that her other courses are suffering because she's putting so much time into her English class. If that turns out to be the case, she should withdraw and put her energy into the classes where her grades can be better. She acknowledged that she barely squeezed through 101, so it's not terribly surprising she's struggling in my 102. We'll keep in touch about her progress and revisit her case after spring break.

But I found the whole thing very moving. She'd made friends with another young woman in the class--who showed up today to withdraw. I didn't try to talk her out of it (she's right; she should), but they both said I'm an "awesome" professor. I don't tend to take that kind of compliment very seriously--easy to say, doesn't necessarily mean anything--but the young woman I was working with said that she'd been at another school before coming here, and her teacher for 101 assigned even more work than I do (can you imagine?) but provided no support: she'd essentially throw the students into the deep end and leave them there. I at least will be shouting from the sidelines with instructions how to dog-paddle--and this young student was deeply grateful for that. I don't know that it will help her in the long run; this feels very much to me like too little too late. But I'm glad that she's at last coming to me for help--and realizes she'll get it.

As frustrated as I get with the students, their lack of responsibility, their cavalier attitudes, their resistance to actual learning, I also truly do love working with the ones who are willing to listen and try. I love helping them. I love the fact that I can give them something of value--not just for my class but for life in general. I truly love that feeling. it's why I do what I do.

It's still light out--ah, spring truly is coming!--and I'm going to head for the hills. I'm going to try my damndest to set an early alarm, get here molto pronto, and hit the ground running tomorrow. There's always the fall back and punt option, when all else goes awry. As it may well do--but only briefly. No matter what, there are six more weeks of class to go this semester (seven weeks total, given spring break), and then it's over--and somehow, as is always the case, it will all be finished. Till then, I just keep breathing and putting one foot in front of the other, keeping on keeping on.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Well, the Viking showed up to my office hour today, somewhat brisk but civil, reeking of cigarette smoke, mousey girlfriend in tow and two withdrawal slips in hand. First he handed me his--and handed one to her. Then she handed me hers. I looked at her rather sharply and said, "I'm losing you, too?" She nodded, tight lipped. For a fraction of a second I thought about sending him out and trying to talk her into staying, but I could all too clearly see the "I stand by my man against the forces of the Evil Empire as represented by you, you wicked witch" look on her face, so I simply said, "I'm disappointed by that. Very disappointed," and signed the form. She said something about devoting more of her time to her artwork, but all of us knew that was a face-saving sop, and that really, she's simply allowing him to bully her because she loves him. I  hope she gets that syndrome out of her system young--but I also recognize that she may not. Ever. And simply staying in my class will not strike the shackles from her wrists and free her to blossom into a woman of power and authority. Ah well.

But Paul was ever so right. The class was helped by the presence of two of the brighter lights, who'd been absent last week, but almost everyone was more willing to speak up and get into the conversation in the Viking's absence. I think the students who were in class today will pretty much be it until the end of term. It was a good dynamic, and if this is how it ends up settling out, I'll be fine with that.

But if today's student population is all I've got left, there will be one sadness: my beautiful Calyx has been conspicuously absent, and I think I may have mentioned that I received an e-mail from her mother telling me that Calyx is suffering from an eating disorder--and lots of shame, and so she won't come to me for help. I'm afraid it's getting to the point that there is little I can do. I wrote her an e-mail suggesting that she come meet with me--but I'm not sure she's even able to do that much right now. I can't help but compare what I'm seeing from Calyx and the ongoing drama from Judy Blue-Eyes last semester, and what I see in Calyx is genuine anguish--and pride, and, as I said, shame. I hope she comes to me. There's no way she can salvage the semester in the time remaining, but I have an idea about what she might do instead. I won't mention it here, yet--too many possible barriers to it--but I don't want her to vanish: I want to at least do what I can to alleviate a little of the shame.

Nature in Lit is getting fun, after the teeth-pulling of the first half of the semester--and I think when we embark on the Le Guin novella with which we finish, it will be even more fun. I'm frantically trying to keep to the tattered remains of the schedule, but that's different from the class dynamic, which is pretty nifty.

And today's 102 went surprisingly well. The period started with two students showing up to withdraw, and another reappearing in class after registering late, turning in two assignments (no papers), and then being absent for more than half the classes. I was surprised to see her back, but she's an adult, and it turns out A) her life went to hell (husband lost his job, home may be foreclosed on) and if she withdraws, she may have to return the loan money she got for the semester--as in return, not repay. Right now: $1200. I suggested she go to the Center for Educational and Retention Counseling, find out what her options are, and let me know what works best for her.

But once all that was cleared out, the students who remained (well, most of them) were doing a reasonable job of talking about the book, understanding what's going on, asking good questions, picking up on important points. They're not as scintillating as the other 102: the other one has several very bright students and they're all willing to talk; today's has two bright students, one who almost never speaks, for reasons that remain mysterious to me, and one who is utterly silent--but in her case I know why: shy, non-native speaker, and wears braces: a veritable trifecta of reasons why she won't talk in class). The rest are OK. Some will talk, some won't, but there simply isn't the same wattage in terms of intellects or personalities. But still, they're doing their best.

After class, a student came in to withdraw--and that was a hard one to see go. She started out the semester being late to virtually every class because of her job; then just as it seemed like she was going to be able to be there regularly and get on top of everything, she disappeared. But she was not only very bright, she also was good at participating in the class discussions, and I really had wanted her to make it. Turns out, she was offered a full-time job that she really couldn't say no to, but the job makes it impossible for her to get to class on time. She really wanted to take 102 with me again--she even said that she's reading the novel on her own, knowing she wouldn't be able to make it to class--and I felt a real pang that this is the first time in ages that I haven't been able to say "sure, take it from me again in the fall." I couldn't even say, "well, you can't take it from me in the fall, but you will be able to in the spring." But she may well sign up for Fiction Writing--assuming she can schedule it (which, actually, I rather doubt, given her job)--simply because she likes the way I teach and wants to work with me. (I was rather gratified to hear that my Rate My Professor ratings are now largely positive: students acknowledge that I'm very challenging but they say I'm a "real" college professor, which is nice.) I said that if she ever wants to come see me at an evening office hour or set up a time to meet with me, just to talk about the book, I'd be delighted. I hope she takes me up on it. Even if she's never my student again, she's one I want to keep an eye on, because she's set to do extremely well indeed.

And as a very sweet coda, as I was packing up to leave, the next class was filing in--and one noticed that on the board was a discussion of sex versus gender. She asked what the class was, and when I said it was 102, she clearly wondered why, then, all the stuff about sex/gender--so I told her that it's from the book we're reading. She immediately wanted to know about the book and took down the title and author, said she'd read it. I hope she does. It really is simply a terrific read.

And I really am simply terrifically tired. Stick-a-fork-in-me done. There's more I could say (there always is: it's sort of endless, if in some ways very repetitive), but I'm fresh out of the desire to say any of it. Mum's the word, until Monday.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lovely end to a day

Today was less flurried than I thought it might be; fortunately, I'm at the stage in semester when less is flying about--although the assessment meeting did bring to my attention places in which I have once again over-extended myself, because I get interested in stuff, dammit. I have to stop that, apparently. In any event, I finally have realized that I must make peace with the fact that I am simply going to have to find a day, soon, to devote almost exclusively to Taskstream mania. The thing was constructed by people with Information Technology brains for people with corporate brains and I'm a person with a humanities brain trying to use it for humanities purposes--so every time I'm away from it for more than about 35 seconds, I cannot remember what's where or how it works or what's possible. And we have a shit load of stuff to input--and one of the members of the subcommittee is heavily pregnant and so exhausted she can't do much and the other is out recovering from a very difficult and troublesome surgery. So it's all mine. Which in a way makes it easier: I'm going to just make a plethora of executive decisions and inform the committee as a whole what I've done. Anyone dislikes it, they can tell me what to do instead--if what they suggest is easy and makes sense--or they can do something a great deal more physically challenging.

I'm relatively sure I have the triage correctly sorted in terms of the pile of student assignments on my desk, and I did initiate scheduling two adjunct observations plus tagged a very helpful and kind colleague to undertake a third, so that's in the works and, for the nonce, off my list. I have an important committee meeting tomorrow--the one I've turned over to my alternate twice already, so I just am not missing that one again if I can help it (or until I'm on sabbatical)--but I still think I can get enough work done for tomorrow's classes and then just be in regular work rhythm next week. I have to check my calendar and see when else I have meetings and so on in the next two weeks, and then it will be spring break. And then we will be deeply into the "hang onto the safety bar and scream" end of the semester. That's such a funny and abrupt tipping point, and it's almost instantaneous: from "Will this semester never end?" to "Oh My God, it's almost over and I have so much to do!!"

I had a little mini freak-out earlier, because the next mini-paper from the Nature in Lit students is due tomorrow--and I'm not sure I ever handed out the assignment. I'm ready with the ten zillionth schedule change if I did not hand it out, but God I hope I did.

I had a lovely discussion after class with Mr. Dad: a lot of Le Guin's philosophy as revealed in the novel is speaking loudly to him, specifically the emphasis of presence over progress, the idea of being fully immersed in the moment and otherwise trying to maintain a positive kind of ignorance--not as in ignoring anything but as in not bringing any expectations or baggage into each new moment but allowing it to arrive as fresh and pure as possible. We got into a brief discussion of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Taoism and Eckhard Tolle's The Power of Now.... I love having student conversations like that. This is why I want to establish "salon" hours in the creative writing "library," so student can simply drop by, hang out, and talk with people who are intellectually awake and aware. I hate to say it, but it's not an experience they often get here. For a community college, this place has a magnificently large proportion of superior brains that are alert and active, but still, there is quite a bit on the other side of the bright to dim spectrum as well. So it was cool to have a chance to toss some sparks around with a young man who is looking for that kind of experience.

I came back to the office intending to crank through a few more assignments, but instead I ended up in a conversation with Paul, which was one of our usual fun and fascinating and wide-ranging mental smorgasbords. And then I decided to check e-mail before blogging and found a reply from Le Guin about my questions as raised by the student. I was both relieved that my assumptions were correct and delighted that she, too, was fascinated by what the student found. Very cool beans.

Oh, and one other piece of good news today: the guy I was helping through the promotion to tenure and assistant professor process, the brilliant teacher who couldn't jump through a hoop to save his life, the one whose application was, in my estimation, far weaker than it should have been by rights: that guy told me today that his tenure has been confirmed. I'm so glad. I'm not actually surprised: tenure isn't competitive here (thank god, or he probably wouldn't have gotten it). But I'm definitely very glad and relieved that it's fait accompli. Any other outcome would have been truly a miscarriage of any kind of justice.

But now the fact that I woke up at 4:30 this morning is starting to catch up with me. (My body clearly is confused about sleep/wake cycles, after the last three days of illness and recovery.) And I do want to try to get in as early as I can stand in order to get through as much student work as possible before that meeting. So, I'm off for tonight. I'm also leaving. (Oh hah hah.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sick day #2

It's interesting how the body will give us what we want, whether we really want it to or not. Despite the snow days, and Presidents' Week, and the upcoming spring break, I've been moaning and whining about needing a day off--so on Sunday, I got well and truly ill. Yesterday I still was not well enough to teach. Today, I probably could have done it--and indeed, I got myself all the way to campus and sat at my desk for about ten minutes before I thought, "Nope, not gonna," told the office to cancel my classes and came home. So I got my days off. I know the consequent pile-up of more things on the to-do list will be a bit frantic-making, but I have to say, it's been good to be home, answer e-mails, think about some committee work, and otherwise rest.

Having been to the office today, however, I am reminded that I am currently somewhere between livid and hopelessly resigned over one student in 102. I believe I've bitched about her before: this is the one who gave me a series of excuses for why she couldn't pick up the final version of her first paper and just wanted to know the grade--then was astounded by the grade when she'd worked so hard. She tried it again: She was late submitting the second version, so I told her I'd leave the comments on my office door (two other students were in the same boat). Then I got an e-mail from her, saying couldn't I just send her the comments? I wrote a blistering e-mail in return, pointing out that 1) I didn't have her paper to refer to; I'd left it on my office door, and strangely enough, I don't remember her paper individually well enough to give her comments without the actual paper to refer to and 2) I'd already done my job writing the comments on her paper; I wasn't going to do it again because it's inconvenient for her to get to campus to pick up her paper and 3) she says she's "working hard" but I note that her first paper--which presumably has comments that might have helped her with the second one--is still sitting on my office door, and if she can't take that much responsibility, then how hard is she really working?

I got back an abject reply that I'm right (yeah, I know) and thanking me for my comments.

Which she still hasn't gotten--because now two of her papers are sitting on my office door.

Of the three students who needed to pick up comments in order to do their final versions, only one did. I think maybe eight students actually showed up for class yesterday: Paul kindly agreed to go there to collect papers and to remind them that they need to follow the schedule of assignments for Wednesday. I almost asked him to do it again today, but then I thought "Fuck it." Maybe three students got the e-mail saying they should leave their papers on my office door. Maybe one actually will.

I'm so sick of their lack of responsibility, it's hardly surprising I've got a stomach virus. But I must say, it makes me look forward to teaching 101 in the fall--because I'll have absolutely no illusions about it. I'll expect them to be utterly irresponsible, to have to be taught everything--and I do mean everything--about how to behave as college students. I expect 102 students to be at least a little better, and in my experience lately, they're not. So, note to self: when I next teach 102, make no such assumptions.

On a much more positive front, however, Mr. Dad from 102 did some work that prompted me to check in with Le Guin on something regarding the book. I'd always dismissed the similarity between a character's name in her novel--Ennoch--and the biblical character Enoch, but my student did some research that made me wonder if I should be so quick with my assumptions. I've sent her an e-mail with the question and await her reply; whatever she says will be interesting to take back to the class.

Tomorrow will be a long day--and I'm sure I'll be feeling well enough for it. I'll start with a 9:30 departmental assessment meeting (always a fun-fest), then Advisement, then class--and if I have any energy left (please god), I'll write up the two observations I've done and think about scheduling a few more observations of new adjuncts. And check my triage lists. And on we go.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Some times, it's the little things

There were good things about today, which I want to focus on, as sometimes those small things are actually more important than the bigger stuff.

In terms of the bigger stuff, today was not fun. One of my students from Nature in Lit showed up today to talk to me. First he and his girlfriend showed up 20 minutes before my office hour started; I shooed them away until the official start of the office hour (as I was madly grading papers). He came back--and was (and remains) furious with me, because the class is too hard. At one point I said, "Whoa, you're being very defensive here" and he started in about yeah, he was, because he'd trashed his step-father's car... I cut in and said that, although I could understand that he had a lot to deal with, the situation with the car is not part of what he and I needed to discuss. Although he kept telling me he needed help with his papers, when I'd actually offer the help, he batted it away with increasing hostility--because what he really wanted wasn't help with the papers but for me to make the class easier. I tried to calm him down, but he didn't want to be calm (probably because then he'd have to feel scared and humiliated--and oh, angry is so much more powerful a feeling). When he started "accusing" me of having lied when I spoke to him in Advisement, how I'd said we'd go over things in class but I was assigning too much work and rushing through it too fast, I stopped it: I said, "Then you need to withdraw." He stormed out of the office, bellowing for his girlfriend, enraged--and not to my surprise, she wasn't in class today. She registered because of him, and my concern is that he'll bully her into dropping, too, even though she actually could get something out of the class.

I am a little sorry to lose him because, even though he's a bit out of control--an autodidact who needs to be right always (and a young man who really wants to be a Viking at heart)--at least he could be counted on to bring up ideas in class. Of course, after his outburst, I feel a great deal less sorry to see him go--but the class is dwindling significantly, and today there was no discussion to speak of. Discouraging, but I'm hoping that when a few more bodies are back in class--and when the students have done the reading (which many had not today), it will go better, even without him.

And I have to say, I'm hoping that the Viking's mousy but intelligent girlfriend returns despite him.

The discussion in 102 was a bit better today. I was thrilled that most of the students had done all of the reading and were ready to discuss it, and the brief conversations with them at the end of class, regarding their papers, were also very productive. Of course, one of the students with the most potential seems to have vanished, which breaks my heart, but the others do seem to be picking up the slack. Both the women who came close to withdrawing early on are very lively participants in the group discussion: one of them doesn't get the reading very well but is working hard; the other is getting better with each reading and each draft of a paper. Nice. Of course, there was the moment when a student walked in after class had started and wanted me to drop everything to sign his withdrawal form (I told him to come back later; he didn't), and there's another student who waited to see his second version of his paper but then presented me with the withdrawal form at the end of class. But slowly, the dead wood is being pruned away, and what's left is at least showing signs of life.

Oh, and I should mention that I did get all the papers graded before class. Whew.

But the final "little thing" that put a lovely cap on the day had nothing whatever to do with class. I was walking back to the office after 102, and I saw the "Geese Away" car come by--but then it stopped, and the driver released the very happy and beautiful border collie, who gleefully chased the geese off the quad. It didn't take anywhere near long enough (for the dog or me: we both wanted a longer chase), but it was lovely to see.

And now, even though my stuff is in a chaotic mess strewn across all my work spaces, I'm going to pack it in for the week. I'll figure out what I have that needs to be marked when I return on Monday. I feel like I've been run through a mangle, which tends to suggest that I should at least mentally act like a goose being chased by a border collie and get the flock out of here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sit on your hands, Prof. TLP

Our department is begging for someone to run as alternate for representative to the union, and I just came within a hair's breadth of agreeing to go for it--but then I mentally slapped myself, and I've returned to my senses. I know how deeply important the union is, and how much it matters that we have someone with some modicum of intelligence and clarity in the position (which can't be said with full confidence about the one person running for representative), but I already feel more than maxed out, and although part of me thinks "yes, but it's good for possible promotion to full professor," I'd rather take my chances on not getting the promotion. I know this means I can't complain if the union lets us down (which may happen)--but I'll still complain. Still, I must say, the lack of candidates for various positions is largely because many of the people in the department who routinely do all the work will be on sabbaticals next year (and yes, the fact that I'm one of them is part of why I'm not jumping into the ring for union rep). It's a universal phenomenon: one can see it in operation in any situation that requires a number of people to work together on a variety of tasks: the same minority of people will always be the ones doing all the work. Maddening, but there it is.

The other disappointing realization, looking at the candidate statements, is that there are two openings on scheduling and only two people running: me, and a colleague I've worked with before but whose demeanor and general approach I find moderately annoying. When I was first elected to committees with him, I swore I'd step down rather than work with him; now that I've actually worked with him on the committees, I know that he's more tolerable than I thought--but I'm still not thrilled. Ah well. The main thing is, this means I'll still be on scheduling, which I like.

In terms of student interactions today, I seem to have re-found a soupcon of patience somewhere. I had one student in Advisement who might well have driven me barking mad but for whatever reason--conjunction of the stars?--I was able to work with him and not get testy. He started with a "yeah, yeah, I know all about that" attitude (which rather begs the question, "Then what are you doing here?"), but when I suggested that he could take the materials I'd given him and go work on figuring out the rest on his own, he suddenly became very young and vulnerable and insecure--at which point, I realized the initial affect was pure bluster and bravado. After sitting with him for ages (my only sense of impatience arising from my need to grade papers), I finally pointed out that I wasn't actually doing anything: he was doing all the work; I just handed him chunks of information he needed to then play around with, doing various "if-then" scenarios on his own. I think the main thing that settled him down was when I pointed out that he wanted to have two priorities that were in conflict, and that ultimately he needed to pick one of those priorities and let the other go. He didn't like it, but he saw the truth in it, and things got easier from there.

And in the event, I still got the papers graded before class--barely, but "done" is beautiful. Of course, most of the students hadn't done all the reading (and there sure aren't many of them left), but we got the basics covered well enough--and I then returned version two of papers to those who'd done them and answered questions while the other students left. I had to have the "you can't pass" conversation with another student today (and I could have predicted that one from the first day: he's one of the student who did not, in fact, surprise me with his progress, or lack thereof), but one of the two I had the conversation with on Monday has opted to stay. He's the one who is highly articulate and sophisticated in class participation but simply is not turning in work--and today I had to point out to him that he's putting his energy into making up log assignments and not turning in actual essays, which is the reverse of what he should be doing.

They don't understand the consequences of a zero. They don't understand the concept of triage. I admit that I, too, have a bit of a problem with magical thinking (if I tell myself I'm doing fine on X and such, surely it must be true), but they barely recognize reality when it's lapping around their nostrils, about to drown them.

Some of them. Not all. A few get it. But this semester for some reason I'm having a particularly difficult time getting them to understand that for each version of each paper, they need to submit a hard copy and upload to Turnitin--and do so on time. I got three papers today that theoretically I shouldn't accept (my rules say that the version 2 deadline has come and gone)--but I took them. However, I did tell the students that they won't get them back until I've graded the papers I have for tomorrow's class (which at the moment stands at ten--yikes--and I may get a few more yet, left on the office door tonight). I'm going to have a hell of a day tomorrow, getting it all done, that's for sure. But once again, I'm taking that calculated risk.

Apropos of nothing and raiding from Paul (why can't he and I do a Vulcan mind meld?), I just had another thought for 101 in the fall: I don't simply want to tell students "You need to develop a literal as well as a metaphoric tool kit," I actually want to have them create one, write it down, add to it as the semester progresses.

Which just led to the thought, "Maybe I will have them actually keep journals--as in one of those bound 'composition books': not for their responses to the reading, but for their thinking about being college students, what they're learning and what they're struggling with." I'm actually  having a blast coming up with ideas for that course: this is the benefit to having been away from it for a good while.

Abrupt shift of gears, but I thought I'd mention that as I was walking to Advisement today, I crossed paths with the colleague with whom I've had the bizarre e-mail exchange I mentioned. I smiled and said "Hello"--but she'd been all set to pretend she didn't see me, so when I met her gaze and was civil, she "had" to respond, but the best she could manage was curt and decidedly frosty nod. It reminded me of my own childish behavior with another colleague, my pretending not to see him when we'd pass each other on the way to or from classes--and how glad I am that I took the moral high road in that circumstance and re-opened civil communication. The "I'm mad at you so I'm going to pretend you're not there" game is simply tedious--and honestly, I have no idea what this woman is so pissed off about. But I also have no intention of finding out. I'll smile and say hello and treat her like the coworker she is; anything beyond is in her court now.

God, we're all such babies. And we get annoyed (I get annoyed) with our students for being immature. Perhaps we need to pay a bit more attention to our own behavior, especially as, whether the students admit it, whether we like it, we are serving as role models for the students. It's good, periodically, to be reminded of that--and to carefully consider what behaviors we want to model.

I'm meeting Paul for dinner in a bit; I wanted to have time to write this post, and as it happens, I allowed myself more time than I strictly need, so now I have a bit of time in which to noodle around before I leave to meet him. I'm far too tired to mark any assignments (not even homework), but I can review the reading for Nature in Lit tomorrow: chapters from Linda Hogan's Dwellings. That's an enjoyable task indeed.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

OK, so not so quick, but another calculated risk.

I have some time to make up in Advisement tomorrow, since I had to leave early on Monday to observe a colleague, but I'm hoping that it will be quiet enough that I can get all my paper grading done. Not that there's a lot: I have eight in hand and another two only submitted electronically. I'm pretty annoyed about the two submitted electronically, not in hard copy: one of the students did this last time around and the other has been barely dragging along all semester. The first of those two is a young man who seemed at first as if he'd do well, be responsible, even though he made it clear in his self-evaluation that he'd manage the work despite detesting it. The second is the one who begged me to just let her know her grade and then whined about how she was surprised because, after all, she'd worked so hard....

Cleansing breath. I'll decide what to do about them tomorrow. My impulse is to chuck 'em out the door, but then, I'm tired and have a headache and am hungry and am consequently cranky as all hell. I originally intended to make this a quick post, but I find it's getting away from me--but even so, I'm taking the risk of leaving all further work undone. I'll finish this post and flee.

Both classes today were not precisely scintillating: no energy in the room, including from yours truly. Ah well. Thursday more of the students in Nature in Lit should be percolating: they'll have done the reading (I hope) instead of putting all their energy into trying to hatch a paper. I don't quite know what to expect of the 102: I suspect it may be deadly for the remainder of the semester, as too many of the students are not reading the book and the ones who are reading it are doing a crap job of it (can't pick out a salient detail to save their lives) or aren't talking. I may have to growl and snap and breathe some more smoke, if not actual flames: the "I've read the book. This isn't for me; it's for you, because you're going to have to write your final papers on this, so you'd better be damned sure you get it."

However, I did just finish going through the job applicants and rating the applications, from zero (unqualified) to 5 (excellent combination of qualifications). So that's something to cross off the to-do list. On the other hand, I have to add an adjunct observation to the list. And--since I just checked e-mail and was reminded of the stinking mess--I'm trying to gracefully get out of a truly idiotic e-mail exchange with a faculty member who is hysterical over nothing of any substance. She raised an issue about how scheduling is done, so William told me about it (since I'll still be on scheduling, assuming I'm re-elected, and he'll be on sabbatical), and together we decided to bring it to P&B. After discussing it with P&B, I wrote to her and said if she was concerned, she needed to find other faculty who share her concern and draft something up in writing to submit to P&B. You'd think I'd put her in public stocks and accused her of foul and heinous deeds, and no matter how I try to explain to her what happened and why, she's simply getting more wild and bizarre and throwing all sorts of idiocy into the mix. I finally simply replied, "Thanks for clarifying," though in fact she's muddied the waters completely--but this isn't a tempest in a teacup: it's a hurricane in her own mind, and there is not even a teacup's worth of matter from which to create all the sturm und drang. Mostly I simply want her to shut the fuck up and leave me alone. If she doesn't drop it, I may simply stop replying: I feel like I'm feeding a tantrum, when we all know that the best way to handle a tantrum is to ignore it utterly. I've been treating her with respect as a colleague, but I'm about out of patience (and have long since run out of even the most rudimentary collegial respect).

That's not particularly a note I like to end on, but as I noted above, this was supposed to be a quick post, and it's grown into something a great deal more substantive than I anticipated. And I really do want to do rudimentary self-care sorts of things like, oh, eat (another "missed lunch" day), get to bed as early as I possibly can (though it's unlikely to be as early as would be optimal). And take those cleansing breaths until tomorrow, which is that other day we're continually promised. Thank god.

Monday, March 17, 2014

On the fly

I'm posting now because I won't have a moment later: I'm observing a faculty member at 6:25; his class gets out at 8, and I know I'm not going to want to come back here to write at that point; I'll need to just head home. My "conversation partner" is due in about 20 minutes. I have a ton of stuff to have done before P&B tomorrow, plus papers to grade--and that's just what's immediately in my face, not getting into all the other "I have to" flotsam on my triage list.

There were ten students in class today--and at least two of them really need to withdraw, as they've not turned in any work, or too little to count for much. I hate to lose either one: one makes truly brilliant contributions to class discussion (often talking way over the heads of the other students) but he says he "can't" translate what's in his head into writing. The other is a bit snarky--I've not been able to tell if the apparent chip on his shoulder is generic or specific to my class--but I like him anyway, and when he does contribute to class discussion, it's smart. But as I told them both, without work, they can't pass. My strong guess is that both will withdraw--which will be a shame, but ah well.

Advisement was a bit of a chore, not having to do with the students, but the fire alarm went off at about 1 p.m., and although we were cleared to re-enter the building by 1:15, the alarm continued to sound--one of the old-fashioned clanging bells--and apparently no one could figure out how to turn it off. Eventually, we were issued ear plugs, but trying to advise students over that clangor was grating to say the least: I swear, the pain in my ears was starting to make my throat hurt.

On the positive end of the spectrum, I met with three students from Nature in Lit today about their papers, and I think all three have a better sense of what's required. One is a young man I thought for sure wouldn't stick it out--but he's turning out to be a great student, working hard, learning a lot. It took a long while for the suspicious look to leave his face ("Who is this woman and what the hell is she doing??"), but now he's started to smile frequently--and it's a lovely smile. Nice.

It will be interesting to see  how tomorrow goes. Today's 102 was a bit of a bust: I started with having them work on correcting (or creating) works cited pages--but since several didn't have their papers, they were making things up out of whole cloth--and when we started to talk about the novel, only two had read any further than we went in class. Ah well. Tomorrow will go however it goes--including getting however much work accomplished--and now I have to get to that P&B business.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ending with a little plagiarism...

I spent a fair amount of time with William today, going back and forth about what to do with a student whose paper turned up clean in but who had very clearly not done her own work. He suggested a vocabulary quiz, but the problem was more profound than just whether she knew certain words; I wanted to challenge whether she knew the ideas. So, after running it through my own brain and his several times, I compromised: I wrote up a little quiz:

"Before I talk to you about revision, I’m going to ask you to write out the ideas that you expressed in your paper, and especially to explain your thoughts on the following:

"What is a metaphysical construct, and which constructs do you see in these poems? According to the poems, how can the metaphysical be obtained?

"How do you see the poems addressing tangible versus intangible concepts of love?

"When you say an idea remains static, what does that suggest?

"What are the ideas about temporality that you see in the poems?

"When you say that Marvell demonstrates love’s 'individuation from reality,' what do you mean and how does that connect to your overall thesis?

"Of course I understand that what you write in class will be more rough and less well developed than what you can write at home. I simply want to see your core-level thinking about these points."

To no one's surprise, she bombed the quiz--even though she was looking at her paper for at least part of it (on her phone, while I was talking to students who need to withdraw from the class). After class I said, "Yeah, this is what I thought: this isn't your paper." She told me that her boyfriend "helped" her, that the ideas were hers but he helped her with the wording. I didn't bother to challenge her on that, but I did say that what she'd turned in was more his work than hers (which is technically true, as it was entirely his)--and therefore, she'd plagiarized, and she'd get a zero on the paper. I was pretty forgiving about it: I did tell her that many would simply fail her for the class on the spot, but I told her I'd accept the next version, as long as it's really hers. I also said that if she submits any more of her boyfriend's work, he may get an A+, but she'll fail. She laughed--but I think she also gets it.

This is the student I was concerned about with the first paper, but I had told her she could rewrite the final version of that one--but I've now rescinded that offer. The final version of that paper stays as it was (I didn't record a grade--because I couldn't read it--but my guess is she won't pass the class in any event. She failed 102 once before, and I think this is because she's about reached as high as she can go for now. I don't know what her brain might ultimately be able to do, but at this moment, she doesn't have what it takes to think or write at this level. We'll see how she does.

I almost got out of the day clean, too: I very nearly got everything marked and back to students so all I'd have for Monday would be the logs from Nature in Lit (and I knew I wouldn't get logs from everyone--so I told them they could hang on to the logs until Tuesday). But no, there are still some random bits flopping about on the floor that I need to clean up. And I have to read a bunch of applications for full-time positions, in the wild hope that we'll actually have lines to replace faculty who are retiring, plus write up this week's observation, do another observation on Monday, and the usual work tribbles. (I hope everyone gets the reference. If not, the problem is frame of cultural reference, not generation: even my youngest nephew knows what tribbles are.)

I've reached the time of day and week when I am torn between the desire to keep running on fumes long enough to make it to dance class and the urge to simply strap on the feedbag before lolling on the couch with all higher functioning mental systems off line. I hope to put work pretty much entirely out of my head until Monday, no matter what I do. So, until then....

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What a way to end the day...

I just spent over an hour with a colleague, trying to wrap my poor muddled brains around some specific Assessment concepts, specifically so we can be sure that we're doing what we're supposed to be doing. The jargon drives me bats (construct definition, construct validity, content definition, content validity--and yes, they're different things), but getting even a minimal understanding of the thinking behind the jargon does help me better ensure that what we do when we run an assessment makes sense and fits in with the kind of reporting and explanations demanded by those who live and breathe the jargon. For instance, what we've called a learning outcome is actually a learning goal, and what we've called rubric elements are actually outcome objectives.

Perfectly clear, right?

Jargonese is part of why I have a hard time with a lot of literary theory, too. As soon as any field of thought gets too jargon heavy (or too intensely abstract), my mind shuts down. No: let me rephrase that. My mind runs screaming out of the room, tearing its hair and clawing as if battened upon by leeches. I feel the life and intelligence being sucked out of me.

Fortunately, the rest of the day was relatively tolerable: I got all the papers graded for today's 102, with enough time left over to mark a little bit more of the stuff I need to return to Nature in Lit tomorrow--and to eat lunch (miracle of miracles). I have a number of papers to grade for tomorrow's 102--but fortunately, I only got one more hard copy, so I think I have nine or ten, which today's experience demonstrates is do-able. I do have to be in class an hour earlier tomorrow than I was today, which is cause for a little concern, but I think I can do it. I'm on the fence about whether to set an early alarm; a lot will depend on how quickly I get to bed tonight.

In class, I helped the students who had actually submitted papers--and of course, to no one's surprise, the students who asked for the most help are the students who needed it least. One student is within a hair's breadth of an A: the student who had asked me what he needed to do in order to get an A. Let me point out that he asked the correct question: not whether anyone ever gets them but specifically what he needed to do. I said, "Be brilliant"--and lo! His paper truly is extremely good: I'm thrilled.

I was also thrilled that students started helping each other--two in particular. One student needed to see an example of how to write a good opening sentence, so I borrowed the paper from one of the good writers--and one of my favorite students this term--to show her. When I turned my attention to other students, she periodically took her questions to the other student instead of to me, and he was delighted to help her, particularly as she was making a lot of the mistakes he'd made on his first paper--and is no longer making.

He's one of two slightly older students in that class, young men who are fathers and have decided to turn their lives around largely for the sake of their children. He's good, and he certainly works very hard, is right on top of everything; I'm not sure if he can get himself to an A this term, but he sure would have to experience a significant crisis in order to get anything less than a B+. I'm interested to note that in that particular class, it's the young men who are carrying the intellectual load, for the most part: in my other 102, I depend more on a number of young women--and in Nature in Lit, it's a pretty even split. This says nothing about gender differences, merely the specifics of each class's chemistry.

After class, I ended up talking with Mr. Dad #1 and the young woman--I'll come up with a nickname for her later: she's very intelligent but she's facing a hell of a learning curve. Another student was listening in while she waited to talk with me individually--but all three of them were filled with enthusiasm about the challenges of the class. I honestly do not think they were brown nosing--and they were very clear in saying that the class is important, matters to them, is making them work very hard and that's why they love it.... And Mr. Dad told me that his professor for 101 told him that I am very tough but worth it as my students genuinely learn something of value. William reassured me of the same thing today, in fact: he said that his approach may keep more students in the room, but that he knows if we were to institute an exit exam, any student who'd passed my class would pass the exit exam, whereas he wasn't sure he could say the same for his own students.

Now all that is praise that does make me feel supported, validated, valued. And it does make me feel both proud and humbled. Genuinely. No snarkiness involved.

There's more I could say, I'm sure, but on top of the gritty eyes and hunger and mental fatigue, I'm starting to develop a headache, so I'd better drag my tired little self out to the car and head for the hills. It's nice that there's still a little light in the sky: this is the up-side to daylight savings time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Same old same old

Different day, same basic post: work to be done, know it may bite me in the ass, leaving it unfinished anyway.

My eyes are burning. I almost literally can't see, and I certainly can't think coherently. Ten students submitted papers in time to be marked for tomorrow's class. Seven of them uploaded their papers to Sigh. What's to be done? Let 'em swan-dive into the pavement, I reckon, and watch the attrition rate soar.

I don't know if I can congratulate myself about today's 102 or if my (relative) sangfroid was merely a function of being too pooped to pop, but a student started the passive-aggressive questioning of grades: "Does anyone ever get an A? Did anyone get an A on this paper? How many people got B's?" I told him--and the rest of the class-that he was asking the wrong question. The real question is, "How can I improve my own work?" He's worried that the semester is passing by and his grades are, if anything, getting worse--yet I notice he's been conspicuously absent in terms of coming to me for help or advice. I explained that some students truly don't give a shit: they get the D; it passes: good enough, they figure. If any student is concerned about grades, that student needs to demonstrate concern by talking to me individually. Everyone may be unhappy about log grades--but the reason for the low grades may well differ from student to student. (In his case, it's because he's turning in one sentence as his entire log--and no class notes. That doesn't indicate too much concern on his part to me.) Then another student started asking about late penalties on the papers: yes, you get a late penalty if any portion of any submission is late. "This is Being an Adult 001," I said: you do what you need to, the way you need to, in the time frame you need to--or there's a penalty.

We spent more of the class than I wanted on that little game, but I did acknowledge that of course they're concerned about grades--but ultimately, the grades aren't the real point. And then I moved to talking about the novel. They did OK, or perhaps OK-ish, OK-esque--and now we move on.

By the way, ostensibly a larger class, but I got fewer papers (or on time papers at any rate; I won't know how many I really have until after 6 tomorrow). Fine by me: fewer to grade.

Speaking of late papers, however: I was in the middle of teaching Nature in Lit when a student from today's 102 was suddenly peering in the door, gesticulating wildly at me, wanting me to talk to him. I signaled, "No"--and then had to signal it again, more emphatically (as he continued to signal his desperate need to talk to me right that second) and finally simply turned back to teaching my class, at which point he went away. As I approached the 102 classroom, he came up to me, panting and breathless and said, "I didn't mean to interrupt you..." (hmmmm, let's think about the logic of that statement, in light of your behavior) and then launched into a story about how he'd lost his hard drive (??), which of course contained his paper, so could he submit it late--and I patiently explained that the late submission deadline is tomorrow at 6 p.m. If he has it to me by then, I can comment and get it back to him for class on Thursday. If not, then that ship has sailed. Same as for anyone else.

Oh, and that reminds me: as I was responding to Mr. "Did anyone get an A," I asked them to recollect that at the start of the semester I had said that I am a notoriously harsh grader but that I also believe that if they stick with the class, they'll learn more than they will in most classes--and that I'm not just patting myself on the back saying that: I know it's true. He said, "You're good at giving comments." Be still my heart: such praise, and from such a source!You can imagine how profoundly gratified I was by receiving a compliment of that magnitude, how humble I felt.... (Yeah. Imagine that.)

On a more positive note, I met with another student from Nature in Lit this morning, and this young woman is blossoming. She started out virtually silent in class discussions, but now she's speaking--I may have written about the fact that she did a particularly laudable job with the poetry we'd read--and she's taking the initiative to talk to me about how to improve her papers. They're not bad: she's getting C's, but that's not what she wants, and I think our conversation today helped clarify for her what she needs to do in order to improve.

Well, enough. I wish I had the energy to go to tango tonight--I hate missing it yet again--but I know the best thing for me is to work to get my body shifted over to daylight savings time. The process usually takes about five to ten days (like getting over jet lag), but I'd like to nudge that toward the "sooner" end of the spectrum. And I do need to hit the ground running tomorrow to get the first versions of papers ready for class. Early to bed and early to rise, and all that rot.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Broken record

I know that I keep saying "tomorrow is another day," but part of me feels trapped in a sort of emotional Groundhog Day, in that I find I could practically copy and paste certain posts. Today, for instance, I could simply duplicate the "I know I'm going to regret it but I'm not doing any more work tonight despite blah blah blah" post that I've written far too many times. It is, in fact, true, all of the above (especially, perhaps, the "blah blah blah" part), but I get tired of saying it.

Instead, I'll detail a few specific interactions with students.

1) A student from Nature in Lit came to see me this morning to talk about how to work on her papers. She thought the problem was that English is not her first language, but the real problem is that she's never been called upon to think deeply before. Talking about the mini-paper I was returning to her, I was trying to get her to explain what William Bartram wants his readers to take away from his Travels, and all she could say was that he wants us to "appreciate" nature. OK, but appreciate it for what? For what it is. Ok, what is it? Blank stare. When he talks about what nature is, what we should value in it, what does he want us to see? Blank stare. It was difficult--and I handed her more than ideally I'd like ("So what you really mean is that his ability to see the details in his surroundings, because he's a scientist, gives him an ability to express to us the variety and beauty of the natural world, right?" when she hadn't meant anything at all). But she is getting better, and I don't want to discourage her. And she did say that she keeps thinking about what I said about frustration and not giving up.... She may never get all the way there, but I think she may be surprised at how much she learns, if she continues to try.

2) Many of us in Advisement have expressed our bewilderment and dismay at the fact that so many students with dust bunnies for brains think they're going to become nurses. Today I had a student who was a particularly vivid example of that syndrome. She began by asking why she wasn't in the nursing program. I asked her if she'd applied: no, what, she has to apply? Yes, but first... and before I could even get the next words out of my mouth she was asking what program she was in, and why was she taking these classes if they weren't going to help her.... When I could stem her twittering long enough to complete a sentence, I explained that she needs to take specific courses before she can even apply for the program, and--fending off repeated eruptions of further twittering--that until she can get into the program, she is best off in the general AA degree. I absolutely know that she has no clue what to sign up for when it comes time to register for fall courses--she couldn't even understand that she needs to have at least a B in the courses that are prerequisites for application--but she said she guessed she'd figure it out. I'm guessing she won't, but I also wasn't about to force her to get information she patently didn't want. I said, "If you find you want more guidance when you start to register, come back to see us any time" and metaphorically patted her on the head and sent her on her way. My real advice for her is to find someone with a lot of money who wants to adopt her or something, as I don't think she is capable of handling any job that would pay a living wage.

Bless her heart.

3) The class discussion was great: I think this may be the only time I've ever embarked on a close read of the first paragraphs of the book and had pretty much every student in the room engaged, interested, following along. The ones who spoke up were making excellent sense of the details--and one was picking up on some beautifully sophisticated and subtle understandings. Nice stuff.

4) I met with a student after class: his contributions to class discussion are always wonderful, but he clearly has no idea what college-level writing forms look like. We started out talking about his first paper--he'd missed the first version so he was essentially utterly screwed for the final version--but then we switched to talking about the poetry paper. He had already submitted the first version (I have it on my desk in that stack of things I should be marking tonight), but based on our conversation, he already has ideas for how to revise. For one thing, he started with some pat phrases that I had to take away from him--they sounded neat and tidy but bore little relationship to the poems themselves--but more to the point, in the process of our conversation, he hit on at least one truly wonderful interpretation of some lines in Sharon Olds's "Sex without Love." I just about set off fireworks, I was so thrilled: it really is a cool interpretation, one I've never thought of before, brand new to me--and it can truly work in a paper. I told him that ideas like that are where A's come from.

Speaking of A's and the students' desire for them: after class, a student asked me what he needed to do to get an A on a paper and I said, "Be brilliant." He looked poleaxed, so I reiterated that A's are for excellence, which is not common--but I also said that I'd be happy to talk to him about how he might work to achieve brilliance. I don't know if he's got an A brain--or if he can get his brain to A quality thinking in the time we have left in the semester--but I need to show them what an A looks like, so they get the idea. Back to the model student papers file....

Today was an addled sort of day: I was almost out of the building on my way to Advisement when I suddenly remembered that I was going to have to leave there early to observe a colleague, which would mean I wouldn't be able to return to my office before class, so I carefully put all my class stuff in my bag--but forgot that I'd need to have the log form that we use for the novel and the glossary assignment, plus the first few pages of the book (as I can't count on them to either have checked the assignment schedule or to have received my e-mail reminding them that they need it).... I copied the first pages of the novel in Advisement and I told them to download the form and assignment sheet from the home page--and just now, as I'm typing this, I realized I didn't really need to have those things today anyway, as their first logs and glossaries aren't due until next week. (They get a little break from writing for me this week, just a tiny but much deserved breather.)

But speaking of breathers, not only did I not have a chance to eat my lunch (it's sitting, rather squashed and pathetic, on the floor next to my wheelie-pack), I hardly had a chance to pee. And now it's 8 p.m. and I'm still here, which is not at all what I intended. Well, OK, Paul showed up in there, and we talked for almost an hour--which was great, as always, but now I really need to just get out of here.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Dialing down the wailing and gnashing of teeth

I still want to force-feed knowledge and responsibility into my students, like a first step in making mental foie gras, but a friend once said "You can only be hysterical for so long," and apparently I passed that limit and have moved on to resignation. Still not exactly where I'd like to be: I'd rather move from there to forbearance and beyond, to patience and even--glory day--serenity. That's a life goal, in fact, not merely a professional one.

Three things of note:

1) Once again, students did not show up to my office hour, thereby making it possible for me to get all the papers graded while still attending the department meeting and even (!!) eating lunch.

By the way, and not so parenthetically, apparently the office mates have decided that I miss more department meetings than I ought. Paul teased me last time, something along the lines of why should I worry about missing that meeting as I never go anyway--and today, William saw me getting ready to go to the meeting and asked me why I was going. OK, boys, I get it. I'll try to get better about going.

2) When we first were going to read some poetry, a student in Nature in Lit made loud noises about hating poetry. Last class, she was frustrated and flummoxed by the Robinson Jeffers poems we were reading. Today, she had an excellent interpretation, based on intelligent reading of the text. I praised her input and then said, "See, and you thought you couldn't do this stuff." Again not so parenthetically, she also was notably silent in the first weeks, but now not a class goes by without her adding to the conversation.

3) I was reading the second to last of the papers for today's 102 and I had to stop: The obfuscation and turgidity made it simply impenetrable. Instead of clarifying her ideas, she'd just added wild proliferations of verbiage--and truly, I could not bring myself to read past the second paragraph. I wasn't sure at all what to do; I just knew I couldn't grade it. So I met with her after class, and I told her precisely that--and told her that she needed to rewrite the final version, but either she needed to find evidence to support her points or she needed to recast her thesis. My own feeling, reading all three versions, is that she's trying frantically to prove a thesis that does not, in fact, hold up--when it would be much simpler to simply ditching the thesis and go where the evidence leads. I also think she's getting a lot of help from someone, but I'm letting that go. I told her to write simple, clear, declarative sentences and let the complexity of her ideas carry the paper. But I need both that and her new paper on Tuesday. We'll see how she does.

And we'll see how my mood does. I'm taking work home with me, not because I actually believe I'm going to do any (though if I do, it would certainly make next week easier) but because, in order to write their papers, a few 102 students needed to have logs that are currently in my hands, so I said I'd scan them and send them via e-mail. I don't have the mental energy left tonight even to sort out who needs what, so I'm taking the whole megillah home to sort out when my brains return from wherever they've absconded to.

And yeah, I know that ends with a preposition. You fix it. I'm taking my brainless shell out for a meal and a drink. Please heaven, some sleep and down time over the weekend will help me get through the next batch of papers with all my faculties intact.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cry? Scream? Throw Things? Other options?

Earlier today, when I was in Advisement, I got so upset about student irresponsibility and the unmitigated crap that is most of their papers that I literally felt nauseated. I cannot stand reading one more paper of the kind of slop that students have been dishing out--and yet many of them missed steps in which I might have been able to give feedback that might persuade them to try something else. I fretted and stewed; I started to revise the syllabus, to consider simply tossing out the first paper, all sorts of possibilities running through my brain. And in the event, I simply told them how miserable I was about where they are and what's been going on, gave them some overall comments (like "Really: I'm quite serious. Your first sentence--not the second, not the third, but the first sentence--should include the authors, the titles of the works, and an overview of your topic"). And I did tell them that the process has been falling apart, not because of me but because they haven't been doing their part. I don't know if they genuinely felt the onus falling on them, but that is squarely where it belongs.

Of course I was preaching mostly to the students who don't need to hear it--and to a few who did need to hear it but don't know they are the intended audience. In the process of talking to them, however, the decision rather made itself: I decided to continue with the schedule and let the chips fall where they may in terms of that first paper. I may revisit the grading at the end of the semester, but I neither want to make things easy for the ones who've been fucking off, nor do I want to penalize the ones who've been working. Working at all, never mind working hard, or working well.

I have a lot of papers to read for tomorrow's class, and there's a department meeting, and I have students coming to my office hour--but once again I'm making the decision to leave the papers here, unmarked, tonight, and hope like hell I can come at them refreshed and with an improved sense of calm and compassion tomorrow and get them evaluated before class.

Right now, I'm too tired--and too wrung out from the internal struggles of earlier in the day--to do more. Even to write more. I feel like my mind has been worked over with a meat tenderizer. I don't know what I need in order to feel sufficiently rebalanced and reenergized, but I'm going to try to find something, starting now.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A little depressing

I just looked at the first few final versions of papers, and I am more than a bit discouraged. I feel like the tree falling in the forest: I can make all the sound I want, but no one seems to be around to hear, so the point is moot. I grant you, I haven't looked at anything by the best students--and I found out only yesterday that several students didn't get my comments on the first versions: they got the returned electronic file, but they didn't see any of the comments I'd made, which understandably put a crimp in their ability to revise. And at least one student didn't actually get any feedback from me, as he didn't submit the first version. That particular instance is actually painful, as I think he's potentially a terrific student, but he has absolutely no idea how to write the kind of paper I require, and since he didn't get any comments on the first one, he still doesn't. I had to stop, even though I'll pay for it tomorrow, because it was simply getting too depressing to continue.

My two reactions to stacks of dreadful papers seem to always be the same: I get frustrated and angry, or I despair. Neither of which is very helpful to the students nor very beneficial to me. A third reaction is called for, obviously, but it will have to develop organically, I think. I can't even figure out what would be more productive for all parties....

The poor students in Nature in Lit are flipping out, too: their second mini-papers were due today, and they're so lost they were thronged around me after class, begging for help. I'm happy to provide it, but we need time. I've already ditched a lot of the deeper level academic requirements for their papers because I realize simply asking them to have a thesis and an argument is a challenge they are not at all certain they can master. But all I can do is work with them--and keep adjusting the schedule for submitting papers, over and over and over and over until they get it or we run out of semester.

I tried something with the 102s which may backfire: I'm a bit concerned that I've taken a step into a kind of pedagogic territory that I disapprove of intensely. I have colleagues who will say flat out to the students that they don't belong in college and otherwise will tell the students in no uncertain terms that their treasured writing is so much shit. I didn't go that far, but I did write a list of words on the board and told them to look up those words and consider why I might be suggesting they know the meaning of them. The list comprises both nouns and adjectives:


Well, faithful readers, I need not tell you the relationship between those words and the writing I see--but the students may well suspect I'm being mean. I don't want to be: I want to steer them away from that ground and into richer fields--but getting them out of the shallow swamps and into fertile ground requires a kind of thinking that they simply have never encountered before.

That came up in Nature in Lit today, in fact. At one point I said "I get the feeling that our working through this has you more confused rather than less," and Miss Enthusiastic said, "Well, you're making us look at it line by line." "Yeah..." (inflection implying "of course, so what's the problem?"). "You're making us think about what it really means." "Um, yeah..." (inflection implying "what did you expect?"). "You're making us look at it intellectually." "Well, yeah...." (inflection implying "exactly right--and that's my job"). They laughed, but it was decidedly uncomfortable laughter. Yes, my little chickens, you need to learn to actually think. With your brains. Intellectually. Specifically. With intelligence.

Oh. That.

I don't know if it's a measure of my levels of burn out or an accurate assessment of reality, but it definitely feels to me as if the students are less well prepared, less willing to work hard, more stunted, more recalcitrant, as the years go by. Yesterday, as I was parking the car and getting my various bags and coffee mug and so on ready to come into the office, I was doing the math: If I could get an early retirement, how many more years would I have to be here? Could I maybe get another sabbatical? Is there any way I could afford to work half time for half pay for a few years and get that masters in clinical psych, start working toward my next career as a therapist...? I also find myself each morning thinking "I need a day off"--and we just had a week, plus a handful of snow days. I know that my mental fatigue contributes to the despair over student papers. But all I can think right now is "and I have to go through this whole process twice more with them all. Fuuuuuuck."

But to reframe, to find that something positive to hold onto at the end of the day: the students in Nature in Lit are coming to me for help. They're not simply abandoning the class: they're looking for help, and they're clinging to what I have to offer. That is gratifying, and will be especially gratifying if I can actually get them to change and adjust and refocus and learn. I reckon all I can do is meet with them and see.

I find myself leaning toward negative thinking again--all the other problems and concerns I could wail about here--but since I'm missing tango class (again), I might as well get myself home and try for an early lights out tonight. Maybe a little more sleep will help tomorrow. Which is, yet again, another day. Remarkable how that keeps happening. Tomorrow always is another day. That in itself may be reason to celebrate.

Monday, March 3, 2014

olla podrida--metaphorically speaking

No, I'm not making stew (though the idea is appealing): I use "olla podrida" in its metaphoric sense as a hodgepodge, miscellany, ragbag of whatevers to include in this post. I'm not entirely sure why everything feels scattered and amorphous at the moment, but I know it's a reflection of my mental state, not an accurate reflection of the actual state of events.

I just spent about half an hour or so that I probably should have spent on marking student assignments working instead on preparation for my sabbatical: I've been needing to construct a one-page version of my (long-winded and overly detailed) publication proposal, and today--for reasons I can't explain--I felt I needed to do that NOW. I was just about to shovel it off to the agent in question and a voice of caution suggested that perhaps it would be a good idea for me to let it sit a while, return to it later, look at it a bit more carefully before I send it out there into the world. It's not as if my entire project is riding on this one page--but what happens as a result of that one page can make a world of difference to the scope of my project. I don't often listen to that voice of reason; I'm far more likely to hit "send" and then think "Oh, oops, wait..." when it's too late to call it back. But this time the voice of reason made itself heard in time.

Still, it was a lot more fun to spend that time futzing around with that than with marking student assignments. I think I'm going to bail on P&B tomorrow: I know I don't have it in me to get any more student stuff taken care of tonight, but I need to have the ground clear right quick so I can turn my attention to evaluating final versions of papers, which I began collecting in class today. I'm being very strict with myself: no comments unless to praise, mark rubric sheets only, done. But I still need a fair amount of time, and I do have a committee meeting tomorrow that I really shouldn't bail on. (Honestly, I would without a second thought, if I weren't beginning to seriously think about applying for promotion to full professor.) Of course, tomorrow is another day, so tomorrow I may make a different decision, but I'm going to do all I can to be good about meetings. If I'm on the damned committee, I should go. If I'm not going to go, I should resign. (Which is a thought, actually, at least for this particular committee....)

Shifting gears, class was pretty deadly today--but I had three lovely interactions with students after class. Two were students from 102 who needed help with their logs: one young woman asked in an e-mail what she could do to improve her logs; one young man should be getting high B's if not A's, but he's getting D's and I wanted to know why. Then I also met with a student from Nature in Lit: she was pretty lost with her first mini-paper, and rather than giving her a dreadful grade, I asked her to come see me so we could go over what to do. What I liked is that I think all three of them are closer to understanding what's required--and all three of them seem willing to hang in there and be challenged, learn, improve. All three got a little misty eyed toward the end of my conversation with them--each one because of my assurance that things would improve. They are so sweet, so earnest, so grateful for positive reinforcement, it gets right to the cockles of my heart. Great stuff, that.

(In the latest of my occasional searches into the etymology of phrases I use, I found the following:

And I saw the young man who is my English Conversation partner. I don't remember if I mentioned this, but I've wanted to answer the call for some time now and finally decided that I'd give it a whirl: each semester, the LINCC (Language Immersion at NCC) program pairs students who are just beginning to learn English with native speakers of the language so the ESL students can hone their skills through simple conversation. I don't know if any of my students are participating (though I sent them the information about it), but I signed up, and now once a week I meet with a very charming young man just to talk. However, because he knows I'm an English professor, today he came in with questions about writing essays--so that was the basis of our conversation. He's Chinese, but his family lives in Japan, so today I also asked him to tell me a little more about Japan, which he did, before turning the conversation to what he wanted to know. I felt a wee bit guilty that he had to wait while I met my students--I probably should have scheduled our meeting times sometime when I'm not holding office hours--but we still had plenty of time to talk.

Still, between my three students and my conversation partner, any brain energy I had for marking student work was long gone by the time I could close the door and turn my attention to that part of my job.

Earlier today, in Advisement, I got sucked into a dreadful vortex of problems with web pages and passwords, and would have been ready to tear my hair out except I decided I simply didn't want to get knotted up about it. I ranted a bit to Paul about it, ignored it--and then here in the office, just before starting on this post, I checked one portion of the problem only to find it had solved itself in the interim. I have no clue what happened; I'm just glad it did.

Oh, blah. Blather blather. And more than enough. I'm going to sweep all the detritus into a heap (literally and metaphorically, the detritus inside my mind), toss things into my bag and go home. I'm not sure yet whether I'll go for an early alarm (probably should), but I know for sure that for tonight, I'm done.