Notice about Cookies (for European readers)

I have been informed that I need to say something about how this site uses Cookies and possibly get the permission of my European readers about the use of Cookies. I'll be honest: I have no idea how the cookies on this site work. My understanding is that Google has added a boilerplate explanation. That's the best I can do.

Student Readers: A Warning

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!

Follow by Email

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The gamble paid off--so I'm rolling the dice again

The gods smiled on me in Advisement today: there were very few students, so not only was I able to get all the papers marked for today's 102, I had time to also slap grades on the miscellaneous homework I had in hand and eat a quick lunch while chatting with Paul. It was so successful, I'm going to try the same thing tomorrow. Right at the moment I have four papers in hand for tomorrow's 102, plus a very few homework assignments. I also have a few little bits and orts for Nature in Lit, but if I can't get those back to students tomorrow, no harm, no foul. I did tell them that we'd spend the period talking about papers, but mostly I expect that they'll need to be thinking about future papers or about revisions; I have two mini-papers from students who got them done according to a previous due date (I've changed their schedule so many times we're all losing track of what's due when), but since I don't have them all, I don't feel compelled to get those two back to the students. We'll get done whatever, and I can always spend a little time in class setting up the last fiction selection, Le Guin's story "May's Lion." I don't know why students tend to struggle with it, but they do--so I'm hoping a little set-up will help.

I do have a meeting tomorrow (Academic Standing, the college-wide committee to which I am the English department's elected representative), and I may see a student or two during my office hour, but I'm still gambling on being able to get marked what is absolutely necessary for tomorrow's classes. It's almost certain that I won't be able to work on summer schedules in addition to getting that marking done--but stranger things have happened.

Two items of good news.

1) The contract was ratified--and by an overwhelming majority. There are still people in our department howling about it, and long e-mail "conversations" in which everyone and their entourage seems to feel a need to weigh in on whether the contract is good, whether booing was the appropriate response to the person who stood up in the meeting to lambaste the union leadership and everyone voting for the contract, blah blah blah. What do I care. We have a contract. We don't have to teach five classes. I can go up for promotion--and if I don't get it, it won't be because there isn't a contract that allows for promotions but because the consensus is that I don't deserve it. (I can live with the latter; the former would drive me batshit.)

2) The lumpish student I've been trying to chase out of today's 102--trying since February, I think--finally realized that he really doesn't have a prayer and withdrew. There's a relief.

Tonight's observation was also fine: the teacher is gifted and doing a great job with a difficult class: students in remedial writing classes who are deemed worthy by their professors are given the chance to test out of the remedial course half-way through the semester, and she's teaching the subsequent do-a-whole-semester-of-101-in-half-a-semester class for students who were successful. We had a pleasant discussion after the class, too. Now all I have to do is write the damned thing up. And do my write-up of last week's observation--after I conference with that professor on Friday. I'll spend the entire day on campus on Friday, in fact: there's the big, annual Assessment symposium for most of the day, and then I'll hang around the office--working--until the adjunct shows up for our conference about her class.

I still have more Taskstream work to finish up (gack) and I'm metaphorically crawling around on my hands and knees, looking for those pearls that have rolled behind the furniture and fallen through the cracks--but the end gets closer each day, for which let me offer thanks and praise. By the last week in May, I'll feel like I've been run through a mangle, but sometimes it's actually quite wonderful that time just keeps rolling along (kinda like Ole Man River).

I should note, quickly, that I've become aware of a trend that I'd like to counteract: the more tired I am, the more likely I am to stay in the office noodling around instead of just getting myself home. I feel a powerful urge to noodle, but I am resisting--and will herewith end this post. Abruptly.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

and yet another calculated risk

I made the decision this morning to work on the summer adjunct schedules instead of marking student papers--largely because I felt I needed my brains as sharp as possible for that task. Even at that, I was struggling to make sure I didn't make any howling blunders (and may still have made some, despite my best efforts, given how swirly my mental state is). I also realized that, although there was a big meeting to accompany the vote on contract ratification, I didn't need to attend the meeting: all I had to do was go, receive my ballot, vote, and split.

Now we hold our breath to see if the contract gets ratified: some of our own are making noises about voting against it--which would be a fucking disaster. We may be seeing the thin edge of the wedge, the camel's nose under the tent flap, as these colleagues argue, but I think we need to be extremely careful, as if this contract is not ratified, we may be back to facing a 5/5 load--and if that happens, you can bet that the people who are ranting about the current proposed contract and the uselessness of our union will be screaming loudest while we all twist in the wind.

However, because I didn't have to stay for the meeting (and was very glad to skip the bloviation-fest), I was able to mark a few papers prior to P&B. I only got one paper late: if anyone else has a paper to submit for tomorrow's class, they've simply missed the boat and will have to take the whopping penalty to their revision grade. The upshot of that is, I don't have much to mark tomorrow--and I'm going to believe that I can get it done in the time I'll have before Advisement and after, if not during the Advisement hours.

So, I'm taking the calculated risk of not doing any more paper marking tonight. There are also logs to mark and return, but since the students have already written their papers, I don't feel any particular urgency to get those back. If I can do it before class, golden. If not, enh.

Today's class got into a briefly lively discussion about one point in the novel--lively primarily because the students were engaged in writing their papers on the topic and so wanted to share what they've been working on--but apart from those few minutes, the class was typically deadly. Five students were there. Three had papers ready. One student already has essentially told me that she won't be turning in her first version at all; in the past, that would have meant failure in the class, but now it simply means that whopping penalty, as noted above. (This, by the way, is the student who was very clear in her initial self-evaluation that she hates English classes--and she's done everything in her power to not do the work and self-sabotage all semester long.) One student was completely AWOL (the one remaining male student in the class). But at most, I'll have seven papers to mark for that class, so I'm relatively confident I can get those done before Thursday's class, even if I spend a little more time on Thursday morning working on those adjunct schedules.

On a more pleasant note, the discussion in Nature in Lit was pretty good. I asked them to tell me what had gone on with the wonderful sub on Thursday, and they got relatively excited about recapping what he'd done. For instance, he'd brought in a dandelion blossom and asked them to consider how they'd react to it if they'd never seen one before--had never seen any kind of flower before. He also had them debate the two philosophies that are in conflict in the narrative--and to consider the metaphoric levels of the text. They're thinking on a much better level; the two young women who are most shaky in terms of their grasp of how to approach the work of the class both came up with great points today, so I could offer them praise, which always feels great to be able to do.

Today's interviews were also interesting, though the process felt extremely rushed and chaotic. We still haven't figured out how to handle the interviews via Skype--but I'm simply not going to bring it up. Let someone else have the realization that we have a problem; I'm tired of being the one trying to head trouble off at the pass instead of blundering into it. Either that or there truly isn't a problem, or someone else has already come up with a solution, and I needn't worry.

And I don't need to worry for a while anyway; I don't think we have any Skype interviews until May 13, so there's plenty of other stuff to focus on without those concerns getting in my way. I'm blissfully blanking out pretty much anything other than whatever is directly under my nose. I can only do one thing at a time anyway, and if there are any "oh shit!" moments between now and the end of term, so be it. I'm not going to get my shivvies in an uproar (to steal a little lingo from Farscape).

Instead, I'm going to trail off home--and may even (glory be!) reset the alarm from 6 to 7 for tomorrow morning. I drool with desire at the thought of day after day of being able to sleep as much as I want. Soon, Prof. P, soon.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Yet another attack of the "shoulds"

I "should" be evaluating papers. I have approximately zero time between now and Wednesday's class in which to mark the first versions of final papers for today's 102, and yet, I find that I'm doing anything but marking. I have no clue where I'll squeeze in the time to do them--along with getting rolling on the summer adjunct scheduling, which I really do need to work on this week--because of the usual obligations (meeting tonight with my Chinese student "conversation partner"; P&B, in which we'll be conducting interviews for job lines that may never materialize; Advisement; another observation; other meetings...).

Speaking of meetings, the good news is that a tentative contract agreement has been reached, and tomorrow there will be a meeting about the proposed contract and a ratification vote. It seems that at the Nth hour, the cavalry--in the form of our inestimable Bruce--had to ride in and support the union in its fight to maintain the English department's work load: the threat of a 5/5 load has been averted for now. For years, the contract language has stated that we'd have three non-classroom contact hours, unscheduled but nevertheless kept, but that's never been monitored or enforced. Of course some of us--Paul, for instance--probably exceed that requirement in a week of conferencing, but the agreement that saved the day was that a process will be hammered out to ensure that we hold such hours. There's a fair amount of brouhaha in the department about what that means (and some interesting interpretations of the requirement, which I believe are completely erroneous, in particular the notion that we'd be meeting with random students rather than having additional time with students from our individual classes). Still, the financial and other contractual concessions are all reasonable, in my estimation, so although it's possible that there will be a huge uprising of faculty from other departments saying they want a better deal and demanding that we be thrown to the wolves if that's what it takes to get it, I think we're going to come through this OK.

However, tomorrow's union meeting means that the Chancellor's Award committee can't meet, and we're supposed to be collecting and beginning to evaluate the next crop of applications. I wrote a message to the chair of the committee about that--and apparently there is some confusion about whether I'm even on the committee. I should be: I was appointed in 2012 for the typical two-year term, but if I'm not, I'll happily bail on any further work. On the other hand, if I am officially part of the committee, I need to be ready to join in on the final push--and that means finding time for still more work.

In any event, all this means I can't opt to mark papers during "club hour" tomorrow, because that's when the contract meeting will be held, and I can't bail on P&B, because we'll be interviewing. So, when the hell will I mark those papers? Especially as I will get another batch of them tomorrow--not to mention at least three, possibly four, from today's students that will be submitted late. I have another meeting on Thursday that I can't miss, but there are fewer students in the Tuesday/Thursday class, so I'm less concerned about that. It's really getting through the papers for Wednesday that has me flummoxed.

Ye gods. The sudden end-of-term collision of committee obligations with student papers is causing quite the maelstrom in my already addled psyche. If nothing else, it looks like I'm setting the alarm for 6 (maybe, shudder, even earlier) the next few mornings, and praying that Advisement is as quiet on Wednesday as it was today, though the spites of life almost certainly will determine that since I had a quiet day today, when I had no work to do, I will be mobbed with students on Wednesday, when I'll be frantically looking for a few more hours. Ah well.

Today's class was pretty good. The one young woman who contributes to discussion was absent (again), but all the intelligent young men were there and in good form. We're all getting a little lumpy at this point, but they're still working on a beautifully sophisticated level. When the conversation about the end of the novel dried up, I asked the students how they felt about their papers, and most of them said they hated them and were sure I would, too. I said that what's happening is that they've lost confidence--which is appropriate, as they've let go of old, bad habits, but they're not yet sure what the new habits feel like, so they doubt everything, and are probably harder on themselves than I will be. I told them that what they're feeling is an indication that they're learning. Indeed, for the last five days, I've had a wonderful exchange of e-mails with the most quiet of the bright young men, and I had the distinct pleasure of being able to tell him that his struggle to write his way into a good idea is excellent, that he is doing exactly and precisely what real academic work entails. I couldn't be more delighted and proud of him--and I told him so. Addressing the whole class, I promised that I'll focus primarily on telling them what works best, and why. I tend to forget that focusing on what works (rather than on the vast amount of bilge that doesn't) also helps improve my mood as I read their papers. Perhaps not a lot, but some.

But not tonight. On top of everything else, last night I didn't turn the light out until almost 1 a.m. and then was wide awake at 5:30, finally gave up on trying to go back to sleep at 6:30 (utterly maddening). So, I'm hoping if I gently roll home in a minute here, I'll be able to do an efficient down shift (bringing the speeding semi to a halt) and get my little self into bed early enough that a 6:00 alarm won't be, well, alarming.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Celebrating the minor miracles

I just went trudging across campus to retrieve one of my water bottles, which in my typically absent-minded state I had left in a classroom, and I was mulling over what to put in today's post. I was feeling systemically grumpy--both classes were deadly dull, and adding to the insult, there is a ton of P&B work to be done before the end of the semester, not to mention an even larger steaming pile of work to be done for Assessment (not to mention the 600 kinds of computer hell I'm in at the moment because of various updates that simply make things stupid if not outright impossible)--but then I thought, "Well, I have all the assignments marked for all my classes." And I realized that is a rare and beautiful thing.

I have turned over every piece of paper I've received from students either to the students themselves or to the subs who will be covering my classes the next two days. So I have nothing at all in my hands from students.

Let us savor the moment.

I can also add that the subs won't be collecting much, if anything, so I won't come back to campus on Monday to face a stack of student work that needs to be tended to. There may be one or two bits that trickle in, but nothing much. And from here on, it's mainly their papers.

I can't even get my knickers in too large of a knot over the paper grading that will fill the rest of the semester for me: I have, I believe, a grand total of 22 students left--and that's all three classes together. That's less than full enrollment in one class, never mind three. I do still wince and writhe more than a little under the knowledge that I've lost so many, have so few left, but as always, the upside is that I have that much less work to do. I really can't complain too much (if at all) about the work load in terms of my classes.

Committee work is a different matter--and is driving me relatively bats. Today's P&B was mercifully very brief (which allowed me to grade one paper I wasn't sure I was going to get to)--but our next meetings, and the Tuesday after the semester ends, we'll be interviewing job candidates. We still haven't figured out how to conduct Skype interviews, or when those will be scheduled, and the whole process may be entirely moot anyway, as Bruce suddenly is a lot less confident than he's been that he'll be able to secure any lines in which to hire anyone.

On the other hand, he did suggest that we'll have a contract soon--and he didn't seem miserable about what the contract might contain. I don't know that I'm prepared to hold my breath on that one, as he is often overly confident that all will turn out well and soon, but if he is right, well, that would be a relief to say the least.

Right now, however, all I really want to do is tidy up the little stacks of whatever that are swirling around my various work spaces and go away until next Monday. It would be nice if I could also do that without having an anxiety attack, but apparently my body has decided that it hasn't felt anxious enough today, so it's taking this opportunity to stir up a nice jolt of adrenaline. But no matter what I do tonight, or what happens between now and the end of the term, I will not cause the end of the world. As the Cockneys would say, it will all be the same in a thousand years. So really, who gives a rat's petite patoot? I am out of here for five days. Huge sigh of relief.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Another quickie

This will be fast, partly because I don't have much to report (another dud of a class) and partly because I have a date tonight and need to get the hell out of here. Let this be about class chemistry, and the need for a certain critical mass of alert and vocal intelligence in the room. Despite the presence of several bright students, we were missing some of the more vocally intelligent, so even the young woman who can add significantly to the class dynamic was unable to lift the discussion, as she was pretty much trying to do so alone.

And one lump finally got the message that he is not doing what he needs to do and asked if he could withdraw. It was all I could do not to say, "God, yes!!! I've been waiting for you to do this for months now...."

I cannot wait for this term to finish. The whole thing feels snake bit. But I am taking two more days off this week (for fun, dammit), and then there are simply three weeks to go--and surely I can survive that.

There's probably more I could talk about, but I'm so grouchy about the whole things that I'm not even going to try to find a silver lining or a happy thought with which to reframe the day. I could, but it would take more time than I want to devote to it.

I'm outta here.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ultra-fast post

I want to get out of here, but I also want to make a point of recording a wonderful moment today. One of my students in Nature in Lit has struggled all semester, having a very difficult time letting go of the only way she knew how to approach literature and learn something new--but she refused to give up, and not only did she come to me more than once for help, she also has been taking advantage of the Writing Center. She came to the office today with her paper--and she's got it, by George she's got it. I haven't read the entire paper, so there may be problematic areas, but her entire approach has shifted and she's now doing exactly the right stuff. I'm so proud of her, and I told her she should be very proud of herself. It's a hell of a big break-through, and I couldn't be more happy. And she deserves the credit: she persevered, and that was the key. She listened; she learned. She worked her ass off.

This, my friends, is why I teach.

There's more to report, so I may do a rare Friday post tomorrow--but now, the highway calls, and I must go.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Call it a day

That's about the best that can be said for it: it was a day. Nothing bad happened--I don't have anything to bitch about, really--but nothing noteworthy happened either. It just was ... a day. I got here later than usual, allowing myself a little extra sleep, as I didn't have a ton of work to try to shove through before class, so I pretty much went straight to Advisement. It was quiet enough when I first got there that I did get a few assignments marked, which ended up being a good thing, as otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to pay as careful attention to what I was reading, would have had to grade at a glance, as it were. But it picked up, and then there was a steady stream of students--which is fine by me, if I'm not frantic with grading to do, as it certainly makes the time go faster. The students I saw today were all reasonably intelligent, reasonably able to understand what I told them, reasonably prepared to do their own part in determining their educational course. So, good.

Class was a bit flat, simply because of the lack of bodies in the room: it's interesting to me how, even when the intelligent bunch are there, the mere fact that there is less human presence reduces the energy level. Still, we were getting into some good philosophical discussion, working on the ideas in the novel, not just who did what, when and where.

I have the assignments marked for tomorrow's 102--and I was about to embark on the assignments for Nature in Lit when I realized that I had read a sentence several times and had no clue whether it made sense or not. As I have special company coming in to town tonight--a guest who may come to campus with me tomorrow and who will be with me through the break and beyond--there's a good chance I won't get those assignments marked until after the break, but I don't think the students will suffer any by not having the material returned to them. I'll just have a bigger stack of stuff to deal with when I get back.

Meanwhile, my brains are decidedly switching off work mode; I'm experiencing the mental equivalent of white noise and honestly can't think of another thing to report or record. I may not post tomorrow--so there probably will be a hiatus in the postings until, again, after the break. Once we're back, it will definitely be "hold on to the safety bar and scream" time, so the staggering lassitude I feel right now is bound to be replaced with manic energy. Tonight, however, I'm going to slouch on out of here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Pretty pitiful...

There are seven students left in today's 102. I almost lost another one today, but I refused to let her go. I'm relaxing deadlines until they fall limp to the floor, but if that's what I need to do to keep people hanging on, I'll do it.

The discussion in both classes today was OK: not bouncing off the rafters but not dragging through sludge, either. I cling to the enjoyment of discussion in the M/W 102: if it weren't for them, this semester would be almost intolerable. As it is, I can tolerate it well enough, even find those moments of pleasure.

I did, however, almost snap the head off a student in today's 102. I think she's just profoundly lazy--I mean beyond all reason lazy--but she's "submitted" one assignment incorrectly three times. I keep telling her to take it back and do it right. I could just give her a crap grade for it, but I think she'll learn more by being forced to do the damned thing and to actually follow the directions. One part of it that was important to convey is that I cannot read her mind. If she isn't putting things on paper--or bringing them up in discussion--I have no way of knowing what she does or does not understand and at what level. She tried to give me the "I'm trying very hard" thing, to which my standard response is "I can't grade effort," even though what I usually want to say is, "Really? Then I'd hate to see what happens when you're being half-assed."

It occurs to me to wonder what they think "effort" feels like, looks like. Perhaps they genuinely don't know what hard work is; if they've never experienced it, how would they? Perhaps, compared to what she usually does, she is putting in "a lot" of effort. I have a great deal more respect for the student who missed class today but came to my office to explain that she's keeping up with the reading but simply can't find time to do the written assignments--because she's demonstrating that she knows it takes real time to do those assignments. And she's the one I was afraid I was going to lose, but so far, she's hanging on--by the thinnest of threads, but still not letting go. Good for her.

All in all, I simply need for this semester to be over. It will be, very soon, I know--and I still have some moments of high-octane push yet to get through--but picture an old, latex balloon that has been leaking air for months and now is lying, flabby and pathetic, on the floor: that's what the semester feels like. I need a new bouquet of balloons.

I also need to get home. There's a conviviality event tonight: first I thought I might go to that spot for dinner (it's one of my regulars), but when I remembered that many colleagues will be there, I had to stop and consider whether I feel that sociable. I don't. There's tango class tonight: same problem. Truly, what I want is to be somewhere very quiet and try to forget all about work and everything about it until I have to get up and face the day tomorrow. On my way to 102 this afternoon, I was thinking it was Thursday: the deflation when I realized it's only Tuesday was profound. But still, there's only tomorrow (Advisement and class) and Thursday (department meeting/open P&B meeting, class, class)--and then it's spring break. Surely I can hang on to my sanity and at least a modicum of energy long enough to stagger into that oasis.

Must. Go. Home. Now.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Losing more of 'em all the time

There are still some students hanging on in 102 who should admit defeat and leave. There are some students in Nature in Lit whom I should point to the exits, but I'm trying to hang on to them, just to keep a certain number of students in the room--but honestly, they are still deeply and profoundly lost and probably it is in their best interests to bail. This may be the most discouraging semester I've had at Nassau. I've had some individual classes that were disastrous in the past, but this one is falling apart left, right and center.

Indeed, if it weren't for the M/W 102 class, I'd be completely mired in despair. Fortunately, despite the students who really should be gone, there are enough remaining who have something really going on intellectually that the discussions are pretty cool. And, OK, I admit, if I take a step back from the whining and complaining, we did have a pretty cool discussion in Nature in Lit last week, even if it wasn't actually about the book, much. But that's OK. Part of what makes the books fascinating is that they do make us think about things, important things, interesting things, make us think about them in whole new ways.

I guess I'm feeling weary tonight in particular because I met with a student from Nature in Lit in my office hour, and it was not a good meeting. I think she really wanted me to tell her she should withdraw--and I won't. It's her decision to make, and she needs to make it, hard though it is. She is making things very difficult for herself, however: she's falling way behind in the reading--and she wanted me to tell her that it's OK because she doesn't necessarily have to do her paper about the last reading. But it isn't OK to simply skip it: she must do the reading and submit the logs for it or she won't pass in any event. I tried to make it as easy as possible for her: I told her she could wait until after spring break to decide, see if she could get caught up with the reading over the break, submit all her logs then, submit something for her papers, even just as a place-holder, and then decide if she feels able to continue. But I also told her that she needs to be more focused in class, not just stare off into space (which is her wont), but take extensive notes of the class discussion, even if she hasn't done the reading. I have my doubts, but I want her to at least try.

And the other truly lost soul from that class wants to see me tomorrow. She wanted to meet at 1 (can't: P&B), so we'll see if she can meet earlier. I mentioned that she'd sent an e-mail about her struggles and that I'd told her we needed to talk. I know she went to the Writing Center, but she was absent on Thursday, so I'm not sure what to expect. But somehow I don't think I'll meet with a happy student who's just experienced a breakthrough and is suddenly gung-ho and ready to try something completely new, different--and better--than what she's been doing.

I also keep getting little anxiety jolts, even though I don't truly have anything to be anxious about. I know part of it is just habituated response: surely I must be anxious about something, my body thinks, so it must be time for a little adrenaline flash, as I haven't had one in a while. I have a fair amount of stuff in hand to mark for tomorrow's classes, but I don't have a committee meeting tomorrow, so I believe I can get it done prior to the P&B meeting. And any "big" projects have been pushed to after the break: the observations I already conducted have been written up; the P&B job stuff has been reviewed and prepared; I've done my work for Academic Standing (the college-wide committee I was elected to). There is a little work I could do for the Creative Writing committee, but it needn't be done before the break, unless an opening presents itself. And the two remaining observations--plus Taskstream (pthewy)--will have to wait until I'm well and truly back. The week after the break I'm taking another two days off (enjoying myself), but then--in the last wild dash of the term--I'll be working on tying everything else down. I know it's going to go by in a flash, and although i can't wait to be clear of the emotional sludge of this term, I am not entirely looking forward to the sprint for the finish. I hope I haven't left all my oomph behind on the back stretch but still have some reserves for the final lengths of the race.

I don't have any more in me for today, though, that's for sure. I'll come in tomorrow morning with my enormous mug of coffee and start chipping through the student assignments. Although I'd love to get things sorted out with the worried student who wants to see me tomorrow, a big part of me hopes she can't make it, so I can just chunk, chunk, chunk my way through. But that's tomorrow. Tomorrow is not today: tomorrow is another day. And that's when I'll think about all that.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Perhaps a root canal instead?

I know yesterday I said I was keeping my expectations low, but today's 102 was only marginally less painful to endure than painful dentistry. One of the only students to respond to anything kept asking why parts of the book were "necessary." Like, oh, character development, or anything that has to do with the actual thought-provoking portions of the text. She is a self-confessed "hater" of English as a field of study--and clearly she has the kind of mind that wants everything to be linear, simple, and fast. However annoyed and almost confrontational her tone, her questions were, however, beneficial in terms of giving us something to talk about at least. And one student who had been entirely silent prior to Tuesday's class was participating again: she's the shy one who is not a native speaker of the language and who wears braces. But Ms Shy is relatively bright and certainly works very very hard, so I'm delighted that she is starting to join in. I did have to point out that there was quite a noticeable lack of sound from one whole side of the room (ahem), but even so, those students never spoke up. I think there are eight students left in the class--assuming two who were not there today are still going to stick with it. I'm pretty sure they will, but one never knows at this point. But I did give the students who were there the "this is for you, not for me" speech--and I said that in the future, if they show up and have nothing to ask and nothing to say, I'll simply say, "OK, see you next class" and send them on their way. I have no intention of perpetually having to drag things out of them: if they're not getting the book, it's their job to ask questions until they understand. It's also their job to understand more than just the who is doing what to whom for how many Oreos part of the novel: thoughts are being provoked, which the students in my other 102 completely get, and these students apparently completely don't.

It's just a hard way to end a week, is what I'm saying.

I must say, however, that Nature in Lit went pretty well today. We got pretty far away from the actual language of the text, but the ideas we were talking about were coming out of the thought-provoking set-up of the story, so I was OK with it. But I'm also trying to get them to focus in on specific language, not continually leap away from the words of the text into their own stuff. It's hard to keep them pinned to the writings because they're genuinely curious about a lot of the environmental and social implications; many of them are woefully ignorant about anything having to do with the negative impact of our affluence on the world. It was funny to watch several of them suddenly get the analogy: "Oh! The spaceship is like our planet! The same issues apply to us as apply to them in terms of population control, use of resources...." One of them couldn't even understand the concept of recycling: "You mean they hand down the same toothbrush from generation to generation?"


But they are getting pretty jazzed about the ideas, and that's really the point, especially as their final papers focus on how the readings suggest an alternative or more appropriate way to look at the natural world. I think they're already well on their way to being ready for that topic.

So, in terms of classes, today was a wash: one good, one crappy. In terms of getting work done, today was also a wash: observation written, not all papers graded and returned. C'est la vie.

But now it's time for me to eat something before I go to dance class. I may be stumbling and dim, but by god, I'm going to dance anyway.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Eye to eye with the beast

I just spent about an hour, a little more, with a colleague who is also on the Assessment committee, showing him how Taskstream works (or doesn't). I've said it before, but my meeting with him simply confirms my hunch: I'm going to have to find a Friday in May when I can sit down and work methodically and laboriously through the monster. The inputting of data isn't really hard or time consuming: the difficulty is wading through all the bits and orts to figure out what goes where and how, and how to connect all the dots. Tab B goes into slot A, but our tab B is a dowel, not a tab, and the slot is actually a box.... There's also the issue of translating IT/corporate speak into educator/humanities speak. I've been re-watching Farscape lately, and I feel like I need an infusion of translator microbes.

For now, however, I'm simply setting the whole magillah aside. I won't worry my pretty little head about it until whatever Friday in May. But I need to pick one and actually write it in my calendar, or somehow I'll wake up and it will be June and I still won't have disappeared down the wormhole of Taskstream.

In a stroke of amazing good fortune today, there were almost no students in Advisement: weird, as spring registration began today, but I'll not evaluate the teeth and tongue of that gift horse. I'm simply very relieved that I got all the papers graded for today's 102 before class. I didn't have time to do that and eat lunch, but hey.

And today's 102 students are simply wonderful. We had almost a full house today, so the three I can count on for real discussion were all there and all in top form. They're getting into the novel on a really terrific level, and finding things I've missed (in all the times I've read the book, yes, there are still things I've missed: nothing major, but still, I love it when the students see something new to me). They're also starting to get into responding to each other without raising hands for me to call on them--and I need to encourage them in that, encourage them to just talk to each other, not even looking at me. They're still looking at me to sort of moderate, but I didn't have to say anything or call on anyone: they were just rolling. Man, I love when that happens.

I'm not hopeful that I'll have anything close to the same experience tomorrow--not even in Nature in Lit. I just got a pitiful e-mail from a student who's been struggling all semester: she can't seem to let go of an old "personal response" kind of approach and dive into actual analysis, and she's profoundly frustrated that she can't understand what I want. (Something else would be a start.) I sent her an e-mail trying to explain, but we've already met once, and it clearly didn't do the trick. She's going to the Writing Center tomorrow, and I'm praying like mad she gets one of the good tutors instead of one of the old bats who are more detrimental than anything. I also told her she and I probably need to meet again: I hope we can find a time, and soon. We're running out of semester.

But still, I'm glad she's not giving up, and I'm glad she's looking for help. These are good signs. And I'm prepared to give her not a mercy D but a mercy C--if she hangs in there and keeps trying. She says she always tries for an A but would be happy with a C at this point, so ... we'll see.

On the other hand, my beautiful Calyx seems to have disappeared. I know it's her personal life getting in the way, but it still hurts to lose her. I hope she comes to talk to me, but her own feelings of shame may keep her from it--and if they do, there isn't anything I can do to help.

So, as I say, I'm not expecting to have a blast tomorrow--though I'm quite willing to be surprised by a sudden up-tick in responsiveness from both classes. I'm keeping my expectations focused simply on task completion: not only do I intend to get all the papers and logs graded before classes, I intend to write up the second of the observations--and maybe even see what else is still lingering on my to-do list. Speaking of which, my eye was just snagged by the old final essay assignment for Nature in Lit, which I need to revise--and which I need to distribute to students toot sweet: the first of that assignment's preparatory mini-papers is due very soon, so students rather need to know what they're meant to write about. I'll take care of that before I take off tonight; it shouldn't be too onerous, and it will feel good to have it done. But then, I will call it a day, dear readers, and steal off into the gloaming.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Huge, heavy sigh, trying to get some oxygen back in the system after an intellectual race today. I did set that early alarm; I also blew off the committee meeting I was supposed to go to. Because of those two decisions, I just got all the assignments/papers/hoo-hah marked before the P&B meeting, which of course ran late, so I sprinted from there to class. After my back-to-back classes, I came back to the office and have been trying to clear at least some P&B business off my list. We have a pool of job applicants in case we get any new lines (Bruce is pretty confident he can finagle something). That has meant first reading the applications--which is generally pretty easy, as a lot of them can be knocked out of the running before even looking at their resumes: if the cover letter sucks or has stupid mistakes, you're out, kid. Still, we did our review of the applicants two weeks ago, and now we're in the process of preparing for the interviews. We've selected a new writing sample to ask interviewees to mark up, as if they were grading a paper for their own classes, and I wrote the instructions and provided some needed context so they'd know what they're looking at. We had to do some negotiating about two candidates who are currently teaching for us but who didn't get high enough ratings to automatically qualify for an interview (we're interviewing them anyway, for a lot of reasons I won't get into now). Then we had to struggle to find times when all seven of us are available to conduct the interviews. And I said I'd prepare the list of the applicants who should be offered an interview and all the available times, so Bruce's assistant can contact them and set things up.

Then I wrote up one of the two observations I've conducted in recent weeks.

And I made sure the final essay assignment for my 102s is posted on my faculty home page.

Pant, pant, pant.

Both classes today required extraordinary effort, too. There were only three students in Nature in Lit (plus one senior observer), and only five students in 102. The advantage to the low attendance in 102 is that it forced a lot of the usually silent students to talk: one of the students who usually contributes was there, but the rest are mostly or entirely silent--and I told them all that we weren't going to make the usual suspect do all the talking. I hope they all keep talking, even when some of the other students return--although there also were three withdrawals today. Two I was expecting (they've been AWOL a while); the third had sent me an e-mail asking me whether I thought she could get at least a C+. I honestly wouldn't be able to tell yet, as I a lot would be riding on her second paper, but she decided to simply bail. I'm sorry to lose her: she's one of the ones who was going to drop right away and decided to try to work through frustration--but I guess the frustration just got too much.

The young man who dropped, however, is an interesting case. First, he tried to walk in to class to have me sign his withdrawal slip during the middle of class. I told him I wouldn't do it then--and he tried to argue with me, so I simply repeated that I wouldn't do it then and turned back to the discussion with the rest of the students as if he weren't there. I'm actually somewhat surprised that he did come back at the end of class. When I saw him there after class was over, I apologized for being rude, but he said it was understandable. He also made a point of saying that his withdrawal meant no disrespect to me, that he knew if he'd stayed, he'd have learned a lot, but it just was too much work on top of his job; he made a point of telling me that he respects me as a teacher and said maybe he could take the class from me next year. All semester, he's seemed to have a big chip on his shoulder, and to resist my authority--but I think he is one of those who simply needed to push a bit to see if he'd get a push back, and that when he did (to put it mildly), that prompted some respect.

There's another tricky situation with a young man in that same class. He seemed potentially very smart, but he wasn't doing the work, clearly wasn't focused, and has been AWOL. I got an e-mail from his concerned father, and I had to explain to the father that I cannot talk about his son's progress (or in this case, lack thereof). The father understood that, but asked me to let him know when the final paper assignment will be distributed, so he can track his son's progress--but the problem is, the student is now in the position where he must withdraw or he will fail: he has seven absences, so whenever I handout the final essay assignment, the point is moot for him. I can't tell his father that, of course, but I did send the student an individual e-mail saying he needs to withdraw or he will fail (actually, he'll get a UW, but the effect on his GPA will be the same)--and I sent an e-mail to all the students in both 102 classes, reminding them that if they do not officially withdraw, they will effectively get an F in their GPA.

But all three classes are becoming ridiculously tiny--and may shrink further. Fewer papers to grade: that's the up-side--but my concern is, of course, that there won't be enough critical mass of intellect among the remaining students to keep conversations afloat. If today's 102 was any indication of how the rest of the semester is going to shape up, I'm not going to be ending my weeks on a happy note.

I do want to end the blog on a positive note, however, so ... did I mention that I got one of the observations written? Hey, I'll take my triumphs where I can.