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Monday, May 12, 2014

It's not the kids, it's the committees

I am not in the least concerned about getting all the papers marked and the final grades crunched for my students--if I can only find the time around all the committee stuff that's piling up around me. Even as I cross things off the list, it seems more gets added to the bottom. In addition to everything else, I'm trying to ensure that I have documentation of my college-wide committee service for my application for promotion, and in a few instances, that's proving a bit of a challenge. Also, of the nine year-end evaluations I'm supposed to handle, writing the P&B evaluative statements, I have finished one (the one that was messed up but which I decided to submit as is); four are in a holding pattern as I clear other stuff off the triage list; two that should be fine--as they're from members of P&B--are still AWOL; I should get another one soon but it's being done by a recalcitrant old fossil who doesn't know how to use a computer so I'll get some mess of a hard copy (and I'll have to talk to Bruce about what to do with it); and the final one I wonder if I'll get at all. It would surprise me if I did. I feel a definite log-jam forming here.

On the other hand, I finally wrote the last observation of the semester--and wrote the letter of recommendation for a former student--so that's two things off the list for today.

I collected papers from today's 102, and we ended up in the kind of conversation we usually have on the day their self-evaluations are due--but we'll simply get into it in more detail on Wednesday. I'll try to remember to take my dissertation with me, too; I rather love blowing their minds with that. Even the little reduced-size paper-back version is impressively thick, at least for students who struggle to write a five-page paper. I'll be sorry to say goodbye to them, and I think the feeling is mutual.

I'm actually rather surprised that none of them have signed up for the fiction writing course. They may not need a Fine and Performing Arts credit for the specific degree programs they're in, but if they're in general liberal arts, they do, and it qualifies. I am, however, delighted to see that the student who was in last semester's 102 and is now in Nature in Lit has signed up for it: that will be fun.

She's been blossoming beautifully this term. She's still shy about talking in class, but she's talking to me more than she did last semester--by several orders of magnitude--and I feel like I know her a great deal better as a consequence. She's a lovely young woman; I think she's heading into some kind of medical profession (she almost certainly told me what but, with my swiss cheeze brains, I've forgotten), so I know that the humanities stuff does not come readily to her, and yet she does a fine job. I have no complaints on that score.

I'll be interested to see which students from the Nature in Lit show up to the office tomorrow to talk about papers. Several have said they will, but one never knows: when it comes right down to it, they may decide it's more important to study for a chem final or something--which I fully understand. I will say that suddenly, for many of them, their last few logs have shown a sudden shift of gears into something much closer to what I consider appropriate. I wonder how much of that came out of our discussion about papers and what they need to include: note to self, to repeatedly point out not only the connection between logs and papers but also remind students what papers are meant to do.

I had a sudden realization on that front this weekend, in fact. The poor beleaguered student who's struggled all semester wrote me an e-mail asking how she could approach the idea of war in her paper and told me she was thinking about whether it requires physical strength--and suddenly I realized that she was still trying to write about an idea she has about something, using the book to illustrate her ideas, instead of writing about what the book has to say. The way I explained it to her is, "There are times when the focus can be on your own idea, and you can use anything you like to help you talk about your idea. But you also need to learn to clearly understand and explain someone else's ideas." I don't thing students have been taught that that is something important to do, never mind how to do it--which gives me a good sense of how I'll need to set things up for 101 in the fall.

I'm coming up with all sorts of ideas for 101 in the fall--and I'm trying to remember to write them down as they occur to me so I don't lose them. In the end, I probably won't use the vast majority (I usually come up with way more ideas than I can squeeze into the semester)--and I'm still trying to figure out how I want to work through various versions of papers: the current system works better than what I did in the past, but it still is in need of vast improvement. But I got a great idea from one of the adjuncts I observed: she kept reinforcing that students needed to make a claim first, then provide a quotation or paraphrase to support the claim, and I came up with a new acronym to use to describe the process. Paul and I have used "ICE" for a long while now: it stands for "Introduce, Cite, Explicate" (Paul may use "Explain" instead of "Explicate," but I find "explain" leads to paraphrasing, and although students have a very hard time holding on to the term "explicate," at least I can keep pointing back to it). But instead of that, I'm now thinking I might use CLICC: CLaim, Introduce, Cite, Connect. For some reason, Paul doesn't have the experience of students starting a paragraph with a quotation, which I encounter far too frequently, nor does he seem to struggle with getting students to understand that quotations need to actually follow and elaborate upon an idea.

Well, we'll see (that mantra again). I have a lot of thinking to do about it, and although I have starry-eyed fantasies about how much preparatory work I'll get done over the summer, in sober fact, after next week, I'm probably not going to want to think about teaching again for a long while--and then will suddenly find myself in a flat panic about the fact that the new semester is about to start and I have no clue what I'm doing with the 101s yet.

So now the mantra is "Ah well." (The two do seem to go together.)

For P&B, we have interviews 11:30 to 2:15 tomorrow, but around that, I'm hoping to get a few of those year-end evaluations knocked off. The actual write-up doesn't take very long; what takes time is reading over the document to decide what to highlight. Still, I know it will get done, and soon. Not much choice in that. I'm already getting primed for Wednesday morning's Assessment meeting, too--but I'm palming off as much of that work as I possible can. I feel I've done my share for this semester.

Now, however, it's time to toddle away and begin the wind down process. And not only is tomorrow another day, it also brings me one closer to the end of this madness.

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