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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.

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