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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.

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