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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Late post from home

Right after class, I dashed back to the office, dropped my stuff, and joined up with Kristin for a dinner out: she had to do a presentation at evening club hour (a relatively new event for students who can't do things during regular day events), so since she was going to be out here late, she asked if I'd be available. You damn betcha. Lovely dinner in the best of company--and we only spent about the first half of it bitching about work.

I put in some time on the promotion folder today: what a snorting pain in the patoot, but I'm in the phase where I just need to match up the pieces and cross check them. I spent quite a bit of time sending off e-mails asking for missing documents (always a little embarrassing, but I'm certainly not the only one in that particular situation), but it it gradually, slowly starting to take shape.

Classes were a mixed bag. The earlier class was back to being the more lively, mostly because the potential favorite student who has been AWOL was back: I got an e-mail from him this morning explaining why he hadn't responded or shown up yesterday, and he was back in good form in class today. His life situation is still a mess, so I hope he can stay on track now. He's got so much potential, I'd hate for him to get derailed. Of course, he didn't have a paper ready, but at least he has good reason; a few other students didn't have papers ready and didn't have any particular reason why not. And a few were absent. One is simply gone: this was his fourth absence in a row. I'll give him until the 6th before I draw a line through his card and stick in the file labeled "gone," but I'm damned sure I won't see him again. One is the student who sent me the "it's not fair" e-mail over the weekend: no surprise there. And one is a student who, again, seems to have tons of potential but hasn't been showing up and turning in work regularly: I already issued her with an "early warning," so I'm concerned that she vanished yet again today.

Still, with Mr. Formerly AWOL back in class, the discussion was pretty great (though two students were falling asleep in the back--and I had no qualms saying, "and so-and-so is asleep back there"; the student would wake up long enough to make eye contact and attempt to be alert and then a few minutes later, back to sleep. Ah well.). I realized that I'm having them read an article that we probably won't have a chance to discuss on Thursday, as the day will be devoted to working on their papers--but it just means they'll have all the more to talk about when Bruce observes the class next Tuesday.

The second class was a lot more quiet. Everyone was alert (and the world needs more lerts), but they didn't have quite as much to say. It wasn't a bad class, just not as much going on as the session before. I showed both classes a newer "Story of Stuff" video--this one about solutions. I hadn't seen it before myself, but they responded to it with great interest. So, off we go. They're prepared to switch between working on their papers about education and gathering information for their next papers about environmental issues: I always am impressed by how sanguine they are when I tell them they're going to have to flip back and forth. Doesn't phase them in the least--I suppose because they all are used to that kind of rapid switch. (I have more difficulty with it than they do.)

Now, in addition to the paper grading for tomorrow, I also have to remember to get some materials ready for the Fiction Writing class. I had considered canceling it--am still considering calling in "sick" to Advisement--but since I have a meeting I can't miss in the afternoon, and thus have to be on campus anyway, I'll at least teach my class. I have to decide whether to risk it with Advisement, but at the moment, I feel as if seeing even one or two students would throw my concentration and slow me down significantly, so I'm inclined to bail. But I'll decide in the morning. The alarm is already set for 6 as is.

And with that thought, I need to stop thinking about work (OK, try to think less about work) and begin the glide toward bed. I know I won't get enough sleep (is there such a thing?) but every little increment toward enough is worth fighting for. And tomorrow is ... well, we all know what tomorrow is.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Stress dreams

Over the weekend, I dreamed that I had lost my temper with my students and most of them had immediately gotten up and left the room, abandoning the class in assorted fits of pique. It's one of my classic stress dreams (that and not being able to find a class that I'm supposed to be teaching, or not being able to get the students' attention, or realizing that it's three weeks into the semester and I've forgotten all about teaching X...), but the sad truth is, this is about when it will in some small measure start to come true.

Case in point: I got a petulant e-mail from a student asking for an extension on the deadline for his paper. His reason is that it isn't fair for him to have to do the paper, because I'm still holding on to one of his homework submissions: two pieces of one of his assignments had gotten separated, part of it attached to another student's homework, and so I'd asked him to resubmit the thing all together so I could correct his mark. I had to breathe carefully through my visceral reaction to the rather snotty "it isn't fair" bit, and I wrote him what I thought was a very compassionate e-mail in which I said no, I'm sorry, I can't extend the deadline, not because I'm being mean but because I have to get the paper back to you so you can do phase two. However, I told him, I can leave the assignment for you to pick up today, and blah, blah, every way I could think of to tell him A) that he could take a little responsibility (although I have his notes--which, I must say, are pretty valueless anyway--he can still access the article, as he found it doing an online database search) but B) he shouldn't worry because there are plenty of ways he can do the assignment without the missing notes.

The notes are still sitting on my office door. I haven't heard anything further from him. Somehow I think he'll show up with a withdrawal form, sooner or later.

I know this is part of their learning curve, and that it is important for them to have to encounter limits, be told "no"--but it drives me nuts that they simply get huffy and leave. I overheard a student in Advisement today who was in a huff about one of her teachers: what the student was reporting did sound unduly harsh on the professor's part (though I don't know the professor's side of the story), but even so, getting in a snit about it does not fix the situation--and no, we're not going to make exceptions for you because you don't think you've been treated fairly. News flash: life isn't fair, kiddies. We all take our undeserved knocks. We also get undeserved rewards. But in order to get anything at all, you have to stay in the game.

And speaking of staying in the game, the student who was poised to be one of my favorites this term but who had been AWOL contacted me today, finally answering the e-mail I sent in which I said I was worried about him. He asked to meet this afternoon, and I told him I could meet after 5, but that if he couldn't get here until after 6, he should e-mail me to let me know. He hasn't shown up, and I haven't heard from him. He reports that he's been in a terrible upheaval in his life--and I see no reason to disbelieve him--but the only thing that matters is that he has to get back on track. Continuing the motif of this post, much as I like him, I can't simply make exceptions in his case: there is a certain amount of work that the student has to do, no matter what else happens. If that minimum of work isn't done, the outcome will not be good.

Today's class was a bit of a disaster, too. I'm seriously considering simply ditching the rest of the readings, finding something else we can use for that portion of their grades. They simply can't seem to talk about the stories we read. Well, the Pseudo-Brit can, in his pompous, "I'm more brilliant than anyone" way, and one of my students from last year--a young man who is eternally, chronically late--can talk about the stories, but for the rest? Pulling teeth. I think we'll do more workshop-esque stuff with the exercises I'm having them do at home: let's talk about what we've got, how we might work on it to make it into something more, do some more writing on it in class.... The readings just don't work. I'll be mulling that over between now and Wednesday.

I also feel like things are in an unholy mess in both the office and my mind, but I can't seem to pull myself together enough to get truly organized. I have some copying I have to do, which is nicely brainless, but really, one of the things I feel is most lacking organization is any sense of what I'm going to do with the students in class tomorrow--when I put the schedule together, I thought we'd start reading the next essay in class, but I don't think that's going to work--and yet I can't seem to corral my mental processes well enough to figure out what will be most beneficial to them.

Side note: I did look at the next two paper assignments for the 101 classes and found a whopping error in each one. Nice to catch it now, before making the copies to distribute to the students.

But truly, I don't feel like I can think much more, and I am starting to feel anxious about the fact that I can't seem to think much more--which probably means it's about time to pack it in for the day. I'll noodle around for a while longer, hoping maybe Mr. AWOL shows up, but I'll simply have to home that tomorrow (being another day and all) will arrive with a little more mental acumen than I have at the moment.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


I am so grateful we have tomorrow off. Even though I have to take care of some life maintenance, just the fact that I don't have to teach is a blessing: I am looking forward with keen anticipation to four mornings in a row with no alarm clock. Bliss.

I am also fighting off a bit of panic, having to do with how I'll make time to mark all the 101 papers next week. I don't have a Thursday meeting, mercifully, and I will probably bail on Advisement--but I still have a meeting I must go to on Wednesday afternoon, plus the Fiction Writing class, so a fair-sized chunk of Wednesday afternoon must be subtracted from the number of hours I'll have in which to read and evaluate the papers. Fortunately, there aren't that many students--and my strong hunch is that a certain percentage will not have papers for me next week. That worries me, of course: some of them are digging themselves into pretty deep holes. But if I'm entirely selfish, the fewer papers I get, the easier it is for me to get them marked.

(Apropos of nothing: I just saw a little button at the bottom of the page I'm on. It just says, "Complain." I think every web page needs that little button.)

As for getting ready for today's class, even with my sleep-deprived mind unable to get fully in gear, I was able to focus just well enough to get all the stories read and commented upon--and still had time for a nice, leisurely lunch. I didn't see many students in Advisement (two, I think?), and although I also was noodling around with e-mails and other distractions, I still got everything read. Of course, if I were being a strict task-master, I'd have spent some of that time marking stuff for 101, or getting some committee work done, or something--but instead, I spent a lovely 20 minutes reading Bill Bryson's latest offering, One Summer. It's not as riotously funny as he can be, but I actually like it better than some of his funnier works: it's still highly entertaining but without the feeling that he's straining for laughs.

 Class was great: I really love the workshop process, and next time I teach Fiction Writing, I think we're going to do even more of it. I have more exercises this semester than I did last time, so slightly less reading, but I think I can do even less reading, and squeeze at least one more story into the semester. Maybe. It would be good to try. But all the students are giving relatively intelligent feedback. The Pseudo-Brit is more than a little pompous and full of himself: he thinks he already knows all there is to know about writing, so he's very free to offer students suggestions for exercises they should try. I haven't shut him down about it--and I'm not sure I will: I think the other students have pretty good BS detectors, and I hope they can filter out the useful bits of what he says from the bloviation. Generally, though, I very much like the way they offer each other suggestions, give feedback: they have picked up the process very quickly and are sailing with it. Good for them.

I'm already thinking about what to do with them next week, too. Wednesday their revised stories are due, so they won't have done any reading--and depending on how I'm doing with the paper grading for the 101s, I hate to say it, but I may just collect their revisions, talk for a little bit about how the revision process felt, and then turn them loose so I can stagger back here and do more grading.

We'll see.

Because I don't have to be back here tomorrow--and because the only student work I have to deal with on Monday isn't needed until Tuesday (nothing I need to return to the Fiction students, only assignments for the 101s)--I think I'm going to leave the office in a rather chaotic mess and get out of here. If I feel a wild desire to, oh, work on my promotion application over the weekend, I can always come here and get Public Safety to open the building for me. Otherwise, everything can simply wait until next week. So, I'm going to take the internal quivering chipmunk home and try to calm it down, use the next four days to try to rest, relax, sleep. (Oh, sleep. Heavenly sleep!)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Writing in a bit of a rush

Not a lot of time before I dash off for dinner with Paul, who is down here briefly to take care of various personal and professional matters, but here's the precis:

Among the ten things college professors hate: this is a corollary to the annoying e-mails that ask if the student missed anything; it's the e-mail in which the students asks what the professor covered so as not to fall behind. Although I recognize that at least the student is motivated enough to want to know what he or she missed and assumes that it's something important, the assumption that I can re-teach the entire class for one student, via e-mail, is pretty idiotic--and since I don't just teach from a text book (read chapters 3-5, here are my lecture notes), most of what happens in class comes from the students anyway. Today, I admit, was one of those days when I did a lot more "chalk and talk" than usual, but no way in hell would I be willing or even really able to get all that into an e-mail. I simply told him we'd go over everything about the forthcoming paper and talk about the articles students found if we had time, so my advice was that he read over the paper assignment very carefully and more than once--and contact me if he has questions.

Of course, this is a student who is floundering anyway. Another student was back in the earlier section of 101 today: I can't remember if I've seen him once or twice since the start of the term, but certainly no more than that. I am not sanguine about his chances, but perhaps he'll be the miraculous exception to my experience with students who miss a lot of classes early on.

More worrisome is that I haven't seen or heard anything from the student who was poised to be my favorite student in that particular class. I'm on the fence about whether to contact him, find out what's going on. I may: I really don't want to lose him.

The other class started out with very few people in the room but eventually all but three of the students were there. Of course, it didn't feel like that because there are so few of them to start with, so even if only three people are absent, that's almost a quarter of the class. One I think I'm going to lose completely; I don't know where the other two were, but I hope they're OK.

Even with the absentees (and the virtually new student), both classes went well. I didn't get a chance to review the handbook pages I'd assigned before class, so I didn't go over them: I collected the homework but we can talk about those pages next week, if I see concerns in the homework I collected. I'm interested to note that a few of the students are finally starting to clue in: "Oh! She's not going to write assignments on the board; they're in the syllabus." "Oh! She gave a handout for how to do this assignment." "Oh! I need to do all the parts of an assignment to get full credit." Better now than never, but it does occur to me to wonder if there's anything I can do to smooth that out, or if some of them are just going to have to slowly get on the ball. The latter, I think, but I'm not entirely persuaded I'm right.

One of my favorite moments in both classes was after I went through the whole overview of what their papers should look like, talked about using anecdotal evidence, talked about process, showed them formatting (went through computer hell in one of the rooms: everything had timed out, and getting it all back up again took six years--but it was great to be able to actually show them how to set up a header instead of just talking about it), answered questions, blah blah blah. I finally ran down, and seeing all their faces, I said (in pretend pouty student voice), "I don't like this class any more. This used to be fun but now it's just scary and hard." They all laughed. I don't know why I feel that was beneficial, but I do: gut-level instinct response. I addressed the fear and lightened it up. Somehow I think that works.

And I told them--and reminded myself--that they can start off by using some techniques that worked for them in high school: I want them to feel comfortable about what they're doing, and we can work together on gradually shifting over to a more college-appropriate approach. I'm really the one who needs the most reminding on this: I need to work with where they actually are, not where I think they ought to be. If I don't start with where they are, they'll get too daunted to quickly, and they'll give up in despair. I don't want them to end up in the same place, but I need to take them to the new place, step by step, not demand a huge leap all at once.

So this is my moment (and I'll need many more of them) to remind myself to show them what works and why, what works and why, what works and why--not just point out problem, problem, problem.

It's actually a good approach to use with myself, in fact: remember what works and why, and not focus on the problems. I have ten brazillian things to do, but what works is to just do them in order as they come to the top of the "urgent" stack--or, for the little quick things, clear them out from underfoot right away before they get lost through the floorboards.

On which note, I will send one e-mail, then pack up and head off for a nice meal with a dear friend. Damn, I live a good life.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The long slow crawl up

If I use my roller-coaster analogy, this is the part of the semester when the coaster-cars are moving very slowly and on rails that are slowly, gradually increasing in the steepness of incline. Clank, clank, chug, chug: feels like a whole lot of effort for very little forward progress. I know that we'll get to the "hold onto the safety bar and scream" part soon enough, but I cannot believe that today is officially only the last day of the third week of classes: it feels like I've been in this semester for a decade or two.

I got myself into several major-league anxiety attacks over the weekend, all about work stuff. One was whether I'd have time to read and comment on all the stories that we were due to workshop today. Thinking about it, I decided it would be smart to get up at 6 and get here early, and it's a good thing I did. Things weren't dreadfully busy in Advisement, but shortly after I got there, everyone else disappeared into a closed-door meeting, so I was the only person there to advise--and when their meeting let out, all but one person went to lunch. I had to interrupt the meeting at one point to get a question answered, and just as the meeting let out, I was trying to deal with a situation in which I very quickly realized I was in over my head--but I couldn't get the attention of one of the pros to help. I finally got a few questions answered by one of the pros who came back from a very quick lunch and was immediately going in with a student--I essentially grabbed her in passing and got some information--but after working with the student a little longer, I realized I still didn't know what the hell I should be doing, so I called in another of the pros (who had been on the phone): she wanted to work through the whole complicated situation in my carrel, with me just watching her do the work, but I finally asked if she could just take the student. She said, "Oh, I thought we could make this a learning experience."

For me, she meant. My actual thought was, "Fuck that: you're the professional. When something gets this sticky, it's your job to jump in"--but what I said was that I wasn't up for a learning experience right that moment, which was true enough in its way. If I hadn't asked the pro to take over without me, I'd have been trying to follow what was going on for a full hour: the half hour I'd already spent plus the additional time it took the pro to figure everything out. She did come to me when she'd finished with the student to tell me how the situation had been resolved, so I had my learning experience (thank you very much)--but I also got rid of the student and could do some of my own work around the other students I saw while I was there.

And as it happened, I got the stories read and commented upon with just enough time left over to eat my lunch and mark a few assignments for tomorrow's classes. I'm now relatively confident that I can get all of the stuff done for tomorrow's classes and get the remaining stories read for Wednesday without undue stress or strain. Whew.

But the other source of anxiety, of course, is committee stuff--and my wretched promotion folder. I did a little work on both over the weekend, from home, because I can see how little time I actually have in contrast to how much time the committee crap wants to consume, so I figured I should try to cross at least a few little bits off the "to do" list before coming in today. And at the moment, I'm studiously ignoring all the other committee crap that needs to be done, most of it sooner than later.

Class today was fun. No surprise: we were workshopping stories, and they always have a blast at that. One of my colleagues said that there is only so much workshopping students can do before the begin to burn out, but I think I could easily triple the amount I do and have the students still love it. We didn't quite get to all the stories today; I hope we can get to them all on Wednesday, but if not, the Pseudo-Brit's story will have to take a pass, as his was late. But the students made good, insightful comments--and they're enjoying each other's stories, which is great. No one has completely knocked my socks off yet, but they're all doing a fine job. I'm delighted.
And because I got up at 6, even though I got a decent amount of sleep, I feel like I've been punched and need to lie down.

Soon, soon. Now, I'm going to indulge in just a tiny bit of noodling, then I'm out of here until tomorrow. I may not even set an alarm. I know it's supposed to be bad for the body to have an erratic schedule, but I figure it's worse not to get enough sleep, so, hey.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

About to fly out the door

You can read that either way: I'm trying to get out of here in a (relative) hurry, and I'm also flying because today's classes were a blast. It was a grind of a day, with back-to-back meetings followed by back-to-back classes, but the classes were great, especially the later section. I also ended up having some relatively lengthy conversations with students after each class: this education topic has them humming. They may not know yet how they want to approach the topic, but the issues speak to them loud and clear. Of course, that's what I'd hoped would happen; I'm simply delighted that it's actually working out as planned.

I also had a pretty great conversation with one of my fellow panelists in the hallway after Academic Standing: she's the new senate rep to the committee, and our other panel participant is the vice-chair of the committee, so we get to see each other regularly, even if we don't get to engage in lengthy discussion. The only potential problem I see with the panel is that there are so many directions it could go--although that could also be a benefit. The three of us are going to meet in October to kick ideas around, but we're already sharing thoughts via e-mail. Again, it's the blessing/curse of having a number of articulate, intelligent people in the room: the possibilities are nearly infinite, and keeping to one thread can be a challenge.

I know there are other things I wanted to say today, but damned if I can remember a single one. If I remember anything really interesting that I wanted to share, I may post a P.S. I wish I had the energy (and mental acumen) left to get into more detail about why the classes were so great and what was so wonderful about the student interactions after class--but the main thing is that, at this point anyway, it all seems to be working pretty well. I could complain about students who are absent, or not doing work (or both), and I've already issued the first round of "early warnings" (well in advance of NCC's official system), but I don't want to worry about the usual student problems. I just want to work on doing more of what's working.

And to go home. And maybe sleep straight through until Monday.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Well, I'm ready for tomorrow, I think...

I told myself this morning that I'd be sure to read at least a few of the short stories from the Fiction Writing students before I called it a day today, but although I got all the assignments for my 101s marked while I was in Advisement, between starting things rolling for at least a few of the 10,000 assessment projects I'm supposed to be shepherding, the "seminar hours" committee meeting, and getting everything set for tomorrow, I find I've run out of steam. I will have a little time before my committee meeting tomorrow to read; other than that, I'll have to hope I can finish up on Monday, as I simply refuse to take anything home with me this weekend: it's too early in the semester.

It would also help if I could get a decent night's sleep: the perennial problem for me. When I start doing the plate-spinning thing with committee work, trying to keep the crockery from smashing to the floor turns me into a chipmunk on speed, and getting myself calmed down enough to sleep is a herculean task.

Right at the moment, assessment is what has me wired for sound. I'm trying to enlist help left, right and center, but I also know that I'll probably have to give each of the various tasks a good healthy shove to get things moving, so I've been sending out e-mails to various sub-committees, trying to at least get the key in the ignition. In fact, as I've been trying to write this post, I keep interrupting myself to send another e-mail (trying to do things before the "oh shit" moment)--and just now to record some of the specific work I've done in my promo folder (oh, yeah, that little thing).

Um, let me think: did I have a class today? The memory has been drowned out by all the committee stuff, plus some work getting ready for the panel for that conference in November (it's never too early), plus I don't know what the hell all else. Class was fine. A bit like pulling teeth--only one student was really "into" talking about the reading for today--but not terrible. Whatever. We workshop next week: they'll like that part.

Oh, god, I'm just too distracted by all the little niggly bits I have to nail down to say anything much. But here's the first student blooper of the semester, summarizing what the handbook suggests students should ask themselves as they approach a paper:

"Do you get the jest of the assignment?"

Wokka-wokka, very funny, that assignment.

I'm outta here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Just as evidence of how far melted my brain was/is today: when I went downstairs for the P&B meeting that wasn't happening, one of the department secretaries said, "It's Thursday." I thought she meant today is Thursday. Really--and not just for a flash, either. I honestly thought I was confused about what day of the week it was and had gone downstairs for a P&B meeting on Thursday instead of Tuesday. I made a big production out of having been confused--but it wasn't until I got upstairs and mulled it over for a minute that I realized I'd been even more confused than I thought. "Wait, no: today is Tuesday, so ... I'm confu... Oh! I get it! The MEETING is Thursday."

Quick quiz, Prof., what day is it? Um, um, no, don't tell me....

Brain melt

This has simply been a weird day, starting off with resetting the alarm, because the downstairs neighbors had been partying until midnight (at which point they got quiet only because I called the police), so I hadn't gotten enough sleep, followed by the too-early arrival of the woman who cleans my house, a very long and complicated story of "oh shit; oh, wait: no, this will work; wait, oh shit" stuff that ultimately meant that I got to campus at 11:45 instead of 10 as I had originally intended. I was feeling a little frantic, trying to clear things off my desk before P&B--but P&B had been rescheduled to Thursday, which I'd completely forgotten, so I had more time than I expected but I realized I also have been waiting to submit the request for travel funds for the conference in November and that I probably shouldn't wait any more, so I was fussing around getting everything together for that, and then suddenly it was time to go to class....

I did get all the assignments I had in hand back to the students today, but of course I collected a new set, and I'm going to be galloping at full speed the next two days: tomorrow, assessment at 9:30, Advisement--which I'll get to late, so I'll have to stay late, which means I will be late to the meeting of the "seminar hours" committee, then straight from there to class, and Thursday, the day starts with a meeting of the college-wide Academic Standing committee, then the rescheduled P&B, followed immediately by the classes that need to get work back.

Fortunately, I will be able to do work during my time in Advisement tomorrow, and I only have the one class tomorrow, so I hope I can do some work after class, and I can come in a little early on Thursday morning (because I moved a doctor's appointment, thank God), but still, I'm running down the chute being poked with committee cattle prods.

And its the third week of the semester. Judas Priest.

However, next week is a short week: we have Thursday off for Rosh Hashanah. I have two doctor's appointments, but I do not have to be on campus--and I can do as much life maintenance as possible on Thursday so Friday is more of a real day off. And there can't be too many weeks that are quite this packed with meetings: most committees only meet once a month, so the sudden perfect storm of meetings in a two-day period can only happen three more times, maximum. And then I'll be on sabbatical.

Today's classes were fine. I admit I rather tuned out during the second one: we were in the library, so the sessions were actually being run by librarians, though I was there to chime in from time to time and to help students once they were turned loose to research on their own. I used the second session to finish marking assignments, check and respond to e-mails, that sort of thing--and the students were generally doing OK with heading into their own explorations. A few don't have a clear idea yet what they want to focus on (no problem: let the research start to lead you in a direction); a few didn't know what their supposed to do with the research when it comes time to write their papers (talked about it a little, will talk about it more on Thursday), a few thought it would be OK to use their cell-phones to chat because we weren't in class having a discussion ("Next time, I will embarrass you in front of the whole class and make  you leave")--but generally, they were getting into the swing of it. And when they were having a hard time coming up with useful search terms, I brought the librarians over: they're better at that than I am (and in fact, one of the librarians is great: he loves finding stuff and always test-drives the assignment before he talks to the students about it, so he can lead them right away to some cool stuff). The students still aren't quite on top of the homework, so on Thursday, I also have to raid from Paul's "How to Be an Excellent Teacher" bag and have the students drag out their syllabuses again, look at the schedule of assignments....

Right now, however, I'm so tired I hurt. I need to let go of today and hope to hell I can wind down early enough to get a decent night's sleep before the 6 a.m. alarm tomorrow. (Gack.) I may even be too tired to read tonight, and that's saying something.

Monday, September 15, 2014


I just looked at what I think is the first post ever in this blog. In it, I talk about putting together my promotion folder for associate and my championship-level skills at noodling. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Pretensions revealed!

Oh, too funny. Two of the students were not in class with their stories today. Because I know they don't check e-mail, I called them to let them know what to do. One of the students was the Brit, and when I got his voice mail, it was all I could do not to laugh through my message to him: on his voice message, the young man is very clearly a New Yorker, if not born then certainly bred. Not a shred of British accent anywhere. He also seems to be working to make his voice deeper (he's too old for the voice-drop thing to still be going on, and as far as I know, that only takes a few months anyway). Oh, bless his little heart, but his pretensions have just been painfully revealed. I suppose I could find it obnoxious--and if he keeps it up for very long, it will become insufferable in every sense--but right now, I find it amusing, with perhaps a little whiff of sadness: what a shame that he feels he has to pretend to be something so very other than what he is.

I'm more concerned about the other student: his voice was shaking when he got on the phone, and not with nerves. Apparently, he's been ill--and I'm concerned he may not make it through the semester. I told him to keep in touch with me over the next few days so we can figure out strategies. I hope he does.

Otherwise, class went pretty well. The students--all but one--did not want to do a free-write, but most of them did want to talk about their experience writing their stories. Class was pretty short. Rather than starting off the story they are to read for Wednesday's class, I decided to do a "read around" of an extract from Douglas Adams's Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. Most of them found it funny (one didn't), and I told them to hang on to the handout, as we'd use it again when we need to read something in class because they've been busy writing. I should find something else to read, too--or maybe instead (I have a feeling Adams is going to get old in a hurry). Maybe I can find an online trove of short-short stories.

There weren't a lot of students in Advisement today, so I got a good whack at marking homework for the various classes. And--in consultation with my support team over the weekend--I've decided not to rejoin the Curriculum Committee at this point, even though I was all set to do it. Reasons to rejoin: there is important work to be done; they're having a hard time getting enough members to do the work; I want to bolster my promotion folder. Reasons not to: one semester on a committee isn't going to make that much difference to my folder and, more to the point, I feel I have enough on my plate right now--especially with the addition of the promotion folder into the mix. Having bailed on that committee means that I have another good chunk of time tomorrow before P&B in which to finish off the homework. Good thing, too, as I don't think I could mark another thing tonight.

One other modestly interesting event from today, and instance of "faculty behaving badly." I went into the mail room to photocopy the students' stories so I have them to distribute on Wednesday--and one of my colleagues (a full-timer) was bitching heartily at another (an adjunct) about how he was wasting paper because he'd made a mistake of some kind in setting up the copier. Meanwhile, a student aide was trying to add paper to the machines, and was getting conflicting "instructions" from the adjunct: "Go get her set up first" and then when the student went to put paper in the other machine, the adjunct said, "But what about my stuff? Nothing's happening!" Meanwhile, the other copier starts up--and it's spitting out more copies of the adjunct's mistake, sending the full-timer even more ballistic: "You're wasting all these copies!" "I don't know what I've got, where it left off!" "Can't you just count them?" and the student aide is muttering, "You said to help her, right? Isn't that what you said?" while he's back trying to put paper in the first machine....

And these are adult professionals. Ye gods. I just waited and had a nice little chat with another colleague until the dust settled, the combatants had finished their copying and left the room, and the student aide had ensured that both copiers were properly filled with paper. Then I quietly went about making the copies of the student stories. Ridiculous.

Now, however, I'm going to toddle back over to my desk and at least put things in some kind of organized stacks. I think I have enough brain left for that, though I may not for anything else. The queen of noodling: that's me.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wait, it's Thursday already?

The one advantage to being swept toward the white water is that things certainly do clip right along. I was packing up after the second section of 101 today, thinking, "OK, so before tomorrow's classes I need to..." and then I remembered: no classes tomorrow. It's Friday. Ohthankgod.

The department meeting was interesting--and Bruce strategically left the seminar hours issue until the last three minutes, so we could escape without spending the entire meeting brawling about them. The next meeting of the ad hoc committee will be interesting--and will pose a significant challenge, as we need to begin drafting up a specific, pragmatic proposal to present to the faculty at the next department meeting in October. Yikes and likewise zoiks. On occasion, it is not beneficial to have too many highly intelligent people in the room, as the focus can become very theoretical and arcane, but I choose to remain hopeful that the specific congeries of minds on the committee will actually yield clear and implementable results.

And for the record, I stayed for the entire department meeting. Usually I get fed up with people yammering and split, but today's was unusually focused and civil.

I just barely managed to get all the student assignments marked and handed back: I had to mark a few between classes and finish up the last one while students in the second class were working, but back they went, so my folders were cleared for the new batch coming in. (I also should note that, indeed, overall, the quality of writing is much more evenly decent than I'm used to in 101s. Thank God for ENG100.) Being able to get through marking assignments relatively quickly is one main advantage of fewer students, and it gives me some hope that I can crank through their papers in the very brief amount of time I've given myself for the task. Both classes seemed to be a little stunned at first, but in both, once again, the conversation quickly turned very lively. I did have to start with a bunch of handouts--including, I decided at the last minute, a revised version of what used to be called the "bozo errors." I now call it all "static," and since I no longer take specific points off, I'm hoping the whole thing isn't quite as scary and off-putting. However, it did occur to me that there is some value in giving the students a broader view of the kinds of static: not only the things we're covering in the "Daily 25" but also, for instance, avoiding any form of the word "you" to refer to people or readers in general, and the problem of misused/missing apostrophes. So, now they have the handout.

I also went over some of my correction marks--and instead of going into vast detail about any of them, I simply referred students to the pages in the handbook that cover various problem areas. In the first class, I was going over them, and after a minute or so, I said, "I find it interesting that no one is taking any notes." Instantly, notebooks are open and pens are out. Uh-huh. They just read a section in the handbook about being a good student, which included the recommendation to take notes about things even when the professor doesn't write them on the board or specifically say "take notes," but it's a clear reminder that just because they've read and understood something, it doesn't mean that they understand how it applies to them personally.

After class, I went to the meeting with the presidential candidate search team. It took me a while to find it, but I did. Along with me was the student who was so excited about the paper topic last class: she's a young activist, and I was thrilled that she was willing to come to the meeting. She spoke up, too, with articulate intelligence. I am very proud of her--and if she isn't running the student government association in two years, I'll wonder why. The search team themselves seemed to be listening very carefully and asking insightful questions. In fact, the whole event was a great deal more informal and relaxed than I was anticipating. Of course, we mostly were repeating what they've already heard, but the two questions that I remember most vividly were, "We hear lots of passion coming from everyone who's been to these sessions: across the board, everyone here seems very passionate about Nassau. What do you think accounts for that passion?" and "How much support do you get for professional development?" The first was more complicated to answer, but essentially it boiled down to the fact that our focus is on the students, and it's vividly clear to us just how much this education means to them, how much they need it, and what they deserve: we're not focused on our own research as much as we are on our teaching (although we are active scholars too, which led to the second question they asked), and because our focus is on that, what happens educationally is of prime importance to us. The answer to the second was easier: virtually none. I used the example of my trip to present a paper at the inaugural conference of the European Association for the Study of Literature, Culture and the Environment--a rather huge deal, and the conference was four days in Germany--and I got $200 to defray my expenses. And that's just one example. We do get sabbaticals: I should have remembered to give thanks and praise for that. But in the grand scheme of things, we sure could use a lot more support.

Anyway, it was a very interesting and busy day, as a capper to a very interesting and busy week. Fourteen more to go.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

White-water ahead

I'm not quite in the rapids yet, but I can sure see the ripples that show they're coming. I "should" stay and do some more work tonight: revamping the committee description for departmental assessment (yeah, Bruce gave that to me, sort of in exchange for the honor of being considered the committee vice-chair this semester), marking student assignments, setting up the observation I have to do for P&B... something. I may do that last one: it doesn't take long, and it would be good to cross it off the list of potential "Oh shit" moments. The committee description thing is going to be a snorting pain, unless someone on the committee happens to have the original description stored electronically somewhere. If not, I have to type it up. I'll need to be able to show the committee the old version and the new. I'll need to be able to actually think about what the changes have to be: what's out of date, what needs to be added. Fortunately, I think I still have somewhere the language Kristin and I were working on regarding Taskstream, so I can raid from that to include, but still. Argh. Fuck. Oh well.

I took a moment away from the blog there to send an e-mail to the assessment committee, asking if anyone has the document--and I nearly got lost in other conversation streams about ASLE issues and blah blah blah. It's been that kind of day. Among other things, I was trying to initiate a panel idea for next summer's ASLE (the CFP has gone out): oh, God, there's a whole long story there that probably isn't worth getting into, but one thing leads to another to another to another...

Like I said, I feel I'm being swept down river toward white water.

Of course, part of what's going on is that I'm feeling more than a little wild-eyed about my application for promotion. That's why I asked Bruce if it would be OK for me to call myself vice-chair of assessment--and chair of the Taskstream subcommittee: I feel like I need all the heft in that application that I can get. Of course, Bruce thinks I'm nuts to worry, but he forgets that I've seen other people with far more substantial applications than mine get turned down for precisely the kinds of things I'm missing (no leadership positions on committees, particularly on college-wide committees, that sort of thing). I've noted before the things I think weigh in my favor, but I truly do not want to have to go through this process again, ever, as long as I live. And I want to be able to let go of things, which I will be able to do once I've been fully promoted. I know I won't let go of all that I could, because of that awful "I care" factor, but even if I could let go of a few committees (like, oh, say, assessment)....


There were very few students in Advisement today, so I started reading homework from the 101 students--and generally speaking, so far, the self-evaluations demonstrate a decent level of writing skill. We talked about this a bit in P&B: the implementation of the new ENG100--essentially an enhanced version of 101 for students whose placement scores live right on that boundary between remediation and not--means that there should be fewer truly weak students in 101. Conversely, it means that there probably will be far more truly weak students in 001 (all the more reason why I don't ever want to teach it). We did talk about the fact that it's likely that more of us will be called on to teach 100--but if that's the case, Bruce and Cathy (the Placement Coordinator) may have to decide to change the need for teachers of 100 to have taught several semesters of both 101 and 001, because there are a number of us who either won't or (as in my case) feel we honestly can't teach 001.

All that aside, however, right now, the news for my 101 classes is good: so far, I haven't seen any writing that makes me truly worry. And I know there's a certain amount of a kind of "honeymoon effect" in place right now, as well as a certain amount of brown-nosing that goes on, but the students do seem genuinely excited by the class, or at least are becoming persuaded that it might be useful. That's a lot of the battle right there. As I'm marking their self-evaluations, however, I'm seeing the floods of ink and starting to worry that they'll see those floods--even though it's blue ink, not red--and begin to panic. I'm already trying to think of ways to stem the panic. I'm also trying to figure out how to do that, talk to them about some "static" that we haven't covered in "Daily 25" lists (and one we can't without reinforcing a problem: the use of "you" to refer to people in general), and still have plenty of time to go over everything else we need to do.

But that's for tomorrow. Today was great. The students in Fiction Writing suddenly loosened up--almost completely. We all read our free-writes (including me) and then we started talking about "Hills Like White Elephants" and they started to catch fire, lots of sparks. The Brit was holding forth, condescendingly sharing the range of his knowledge (oh, so not)--and my sweet student from 102 and Nature in Lit started to laugh at how pretentious he is. I don't think he caught that she was laughing at him, but she was--and his bombast is pretty funny. I may have to do the "suppress the guinea pig" thing with him, but at the moment, he's not riding roughshod over the conversation, and there are plenty of students who are willing to jump in there with ideas, too, so he can't dominate too much. I may have to bring an egg-timer to the workshops, however: I don't need to say that it's particularly for him, but it's not a bad idea to keep an eye on how long people talk so everyone gets a chance to critique. (I need to do the math to see how long I can allow....)

In any event, after we talked about the story, I talked to them about what they're going to write and about the workshop process. I asked them to talk about what their fears are, and their responses were great. First, one young man said that his biggest worry is that the assignment is so wide open, it's hard for him to narrow it down to one choice. Yep: that's both the cool thing and the difficulty of being creative: no limits. I said it's healthy to never feel completely satisfied, to always feel you could do more, do better--but the lovely thing about the class is that it's all exercise, all experimentation. If selecting which idea to run with is the problem, throw a dart, or have a friend do the blind pin-drop thing (where the pin sticks, that's the one you do). Play! The Brit said he was worried about time. Yeah, welcome to college. Another young man said his biggest fear is that he'll write something that sucks. Oh, yeah: we're always our own worst critics. But no one in the class will humiliate you, inside or outside of class. (My sweet student said "Are you sure?" I said, "We won't because we're going to take the kind of care of each other that we'd want taken of ourselves. Do I need to make you take a blood oath?") Part of our job is to help you see what works in what you've written--and how to make it better.

And one young woman was very worried that she wouldn't know how to critique a class-mate's work. OK: what would you say to Hemingway about his story? "I hated it." OK, but you have to say something positive about it, can't hurt his feelings, so what could you say about it that was good? "I liked that it was like a mystery, and you had to figure out what was going on." Perfect! So that's how you'd start your critique. And what would you ask Ernest to do in revising the story? "I got confused about who was talking." Perfect! So you'd say that you thought it would improve the story if he provided some more pointers about who is saying what. And then someone said, "Of course, if Hemingway were here, he probably would be pretty mean." Yep: he was an asshole. (I may be slandering Papa here: I never met the man, but that's sure as hell the impression I get of him.) However, in this class, we're all here to help each other. The one opportunity I missed was to say, "Of course, Ernest wouldn't have to take any of our suggestions--and neither do you." But I'll do that next week, when I go over the critique process in more detail--and when I talk to them about their revision requirements.

It's interesting to note that after yesterday's happy post about how well the 101s are going, I started to experience significant anxiety--which is still struggling to rear its ugly head. Part of the problem, of course, is that I'm afraid I'm celebrating prematurely: my experience has taught me that everything can be beer and skittles until we get into the real battle of revision, and then students flip out left, right and center. I don't want to get too happy only to have my joys brought crashing down by a hefty dose of reality. But the true truth is that I don't know what the reality will be: I have no clue. All I can do is continue to take each moment and try to make it work to set up another successful moment, and another, and another. Still, I am--as my father would have said--highly ego-involved in the success of these 101s, and although I see all kinds of ways in which they could be utterly terrific, I've been burned before, so I'm more than twice shy.

The moment is what matters. Both classes yesterday were good moments. Today's class was a good moment. Right now is a good moment--because in just a minute or two, I'm out the door, reciting the Scarlett O'Hara mantra as I go.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The enrollment shuffle ends--at last

Although withdrawals will still go on, yesterday was the close of the "add" period, so I won't have any new bodies in my classes--except, perhaps, the appearance of some who have been AWOL. Over the weekend, I noted on Facebook that a student had sent me an e-mail: he was newly registered in the earlier section of 101 and wanted to know what he'd missed. I sent him all the needed information, got very polite replies--and today, he'd withdrawn from the class. A completely different new student has taken his place on the roster, but that student was conspicuously absent from class today and has not contacted me at all. Somehow, I don't think this new young man is primed for success. One other late registrant who was in class on Thursday has also withdrawn. Fair enough.

There's been less shifting around in the later section. One student was absent the first day. She showed up on Thursday, filled with energy and verve--and wanted to chat with me after class. She told me she loves a challenge, that she spent the summer soul-searching and has returned to college with renewed energy, determination and drive, oh, so very perky and ready to be the star, teacher's pet. And today? Absent again. Uh-huh. I had my suspicions, and they've been confirmed. If she does return to class, I'll have to tell her she's already in a hole and had better stop digging.

One student also withdrew from Fiction Writing--the one I thought I saw in the Bradley Hall lobby yesterday. I don't know why she withdrew, especially since she said she wants to pursue something in the English field, already has a B.A. in art.... Of course I want to speculate, but I'll just have to resign myself to the mystery. Who knows.

Before I get to talking about today's classes, however, I want to say that I'm already feeling frazzled about committee work. One of the new (actually returning) members of P&B mentioned that the committee description for the departmental assessment committee might need updating--and that we probably also needed to have on file descriptions of the various ad hoc committees, most of which I've been on. This is paperwork that is largely used for promotion folders: rather than each individual reinventing the wheel in describing what the committee does overall, we simply include the blanket description and then write up our own unique contributions to that overall work. I was reminded that I need to be sure I have the description for each committee I've been on for my own promotion folder, but more exasperating, albeit necessary, is the revision and/or creation of committee descriptions. Please god let me not be the one who has to do that, for any of them.

The fires are already being lit under the Tasksteam subcommittee of assessment, too, and man, I want to run screaming from the room every time someone even says the word "Taskstream." I do not not not want to have to grapple with all the things we still need to do in order to be in compliance (a word I particularly detest) with Taskstream requirements. Fuck. Ah well.

I'm interested to note that for at least part of the P&B meeting, my knickers were in a knot because I was not nominated to be the secretary. Note that this position is separate from recording secretary--the person who actually takes the minutes: the "secretary" is really more of a vice-chair, runs meetings if/when Bruce is unable to--which actually and quite unusually will happen twice this semester. I've been secretary for the last few years, which seems logical, given my position as Bruce's assistant, and the person nominated actually might as well be Bruce's assistant or co-chair or something. She is, I grant you, far more energetic, motivated, and productive than I will ever be, and she deserves to be treated as indispensable to the running of the department--because she is. My pouting fit was simply my vanity kicking in, my desire to be formally acclaimed princess. Not only is Cathy completely appropriate as the person to run P&B meetings in Bruce's absence, as I will be on sabbatical in the spring, it doesn't make sense for me to have the position only to have to turn it over to someone else in December. I'm amused to see just how much my ego gets attached to these things that I profess to find little more than a pain in the patoot.

Classes, I'm delighted to report, were not at all a pain in the patoot. In fact, I think they went tremendously well. Fortunately, I've requested that I have access to a laptop with a projector attached, so I can show students things on the computer during class. I could type in the "Daily 25"--faster and neater than writing it on the board. I also realized that I wanted students to start thinking about their first papers--but hadn't planned to hand out the paper assignment until next class. Oops. But, aha! I went to my own faculty home page, downloaded the paper assignment, and was able to project exactly the part I wanted them to focus on.

For each paper topic, I've given a huge overall topic--this first paper, it's "The Problem with Education in America Today"--and instead of providing more of a prompt, I've followed that big, vague topic with a quotation that I hope will spark conversation. So, first I had students write down their notes about what they saw in the quotation; then I asked them to use the quotation and their own experience to start making notes about what they think the problem (or some problems) with education might be. The quotation in question follows:

“Education is good just so far as it produces well-developed critical faculty . . . A teacher of any subject, who insists on accuracy and a rational control of all processes and methods, and who holds everything open to unlimited verification and revision, is cultivating that method as a habit in the pupils. Men educated in it cannot be stampeded . . . They are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain. They can wait for evidence and weigh evidence . . . They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices. Education in the critical faculty is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens.” (W. G. Sumner. Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals, New York: Ginn and Co., 1940. 632-633. From The Critical Thinking Community, “Sumner’s Definition of Critical Thinking. July 23, 2014. Web.)

I followed classic "Active Learning" strategy. First, they wrote down their own ideas; then I put them in small groups to share ideas; then we talked about their ideas with the class as a whole. The other thing that I think worked well about the task is that we'd just been talking about annotation and notes, which had been the subject of their reading in the handbook for today and which they will apply to the first article I provided as their homework for Thursday. So they were doing a little mini-practice in class of what they will do in more detail as homework--and they already have a sense that their annotations and the expanded notes from their annotations will help them formulate ideas for their papers.

And they got into it. They were very interested in the ideas in the quotation. Again, the students in the later section understood the language better than those in the earlier section, but both classes were deeply interested in the ideas, and both classes loved having a chance to talk about what they think about problems with education. Clearly, the topic is of concern to them, and the fact that I'm not ramming my ideas at them but am asking for theirs is getting them jazzed. One student in the later section has been involved in her community, fighting for school budgets, and she's practically jet-propelled with excitement about the fact that she gets to write a paper in which she can air her (very strong) views. One student in the earlier section, who I'd have sworn was far from a fan of me or my methods, said today, as he was leaving, "I love this class."

O hallelujah! I can't say for sure, but I'm getting the feeling that this approach may actually work. Wouldn't that be a thrill? I'm serious: I'm as jazzed as they are. I grant you, they have yet to encounter my insistence "on accuracy and a rational control of all processes and methods," and some no doubt will balk--both classes mentioned the fact that some students do not want to learn, are content to coast, don't want to be challenged (oh, how true)---but they really are getting the sense that they can own the material, that it matters, that they have a voice, something to say. Glory be.

I'm so ecstatic about this I don't know how I'll manage to wind down, but this is a terrific high to take with me as I leave campus. May it sling-shot me into an equally wondrous day tomorrow.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Monday report

Advisement was just busy enough to keep me occupied, without being so busy that I felt frantic. I was prepared to do some committee work there if need be: at this time of the semester, I don't have enough student work to evaluate to need the time in Advisement for that purpose, but by the time I'm there again on Wednesday, I'll have collected homework from my 101s, so with luck, I'll have plenty to keep me busy, even if the spate of students has dried up, now that adding classes is no longer an option.

Most of the students today were intelligent and pretty much on the ball. The only weird event was that a mother had come steaming in with her son in tow and was kicking up one hell of a fuss in the carrel next to mine: she kept saying "This is absolutely not acceptable" and "I need to speak to a supervisor or someone in charge." The poor woman who was trying to help her was at a total loss, as the mother apparently believed everything that had happened with her son's registration was NCC's fault--and, in the "educational institution = store at the mall" frame of mind, believed that any rule need not apply because "the customer is always right." Fortunately, the adviser who was trying to help finally managed to turn the woman over to one of the higher-ups--though the mother (and her son) had to wait until the higher-up finished what she was doing (and was huffing and stamping around the waiting area, irate that she wasn't being tended to immediately)--and once the person with more knowledge and authority was in charge, the noise level decreased. But Jezus it was hard to advise the student I was sitting with: rather mousy student, and I could barely hear her over the opera going on next door.

I hate parents like that. I couldn't get any kind of read on her son, but ye gods, what an example she's setting for him of how to be an adult in the world.

Fiction Writing went well. One student is still AWOL: I haven't met him yet (and wonder if I'm going to). Another was absent. I don't know their faces for certain yet, but I'm pretty sure I saw the absentee in the lobby of Bradley Hall on my way to my office prior to class. I wonder if that really was my student, and if so, why she wasn't in class. Ah well.

In any event, in order to start breaking the ice a little, I started us off with a free-write, then we went around the room: each student said his or her name ("Hi, I'm Betty") and we'd all chorus a hello ("Hi, Betty!). Then the student would read what he or she wrote, no apologies allowed. After the student finished, we'd give a chorus of thanks (Thanks, Betty!")--though I confess we sort of fell apart on that a bit (I think some memory lapses: "What was her name again?")--and then gave a round of applause. They're warming up, but I can tell it's going to be a little while before they're fully into the swing of things. I did make everyone share something from the little conflict exercise they did at home (which I just realized I forgot to collect), and then I just sort of yacked at them for a bit about basic story elements, set them up to do the homework for Wednesday (reading Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" and writing up some notes about the literary elements), and sent them on their way.

But, getting to the fun stuff: the student with the British-esque accent is poised to be a hoot and a holler. Bear in mind that the story assignment is to think of ordinary conflict: nothing too dramatic, but the kind of conflict that anyone could experience. No serial killers, no mafia hits, no alien invasions (or not yet anyway). But when Mr. Brit shared the conflict he's working on, it's about high nobility plotting to overthrow the Crown Prince of a sort of parallel-universe Britain circa 1547. He was very specific about the date, but when I questioned him about why that date, he said that he was interested in the medieval period: he quickly corrected what he said to include the Renaissance (which started approximately 1450, as usually dated, so 1547 is hardly medieval), but simultaneously was proclaiming himself a history buff, so the error was amusing. Then I pressed him a little further about the date: not just the 1500s, or even early 1500s, but specifically 1547: did something in particular happen that year in actual British history? He said he couldn't remember if it was the end of the reign of King Henry the Second or King Henry the Third--and the "nope, wrong" buzzer was going off in my head: off by five Henrys. I confess, I had to check to be sure, but that's when Henry VIII died. (The blunder also makes me doubt that accent even more. Really, could a Brit get to college age and not have at least a vague sense of when the various dynasties were, especially the Tudors? I know far too many American students couldn't get within 50 years of when Lincoln was president--remember those students who seemed genuinely to believe that he was the first president of the United States--but I expect Brits to know their own history a little better, though I'll exempt the Wars of the Roses.)

OK, so the young man is a little too full of himself, but for now, at least, I'm more charmed by his bluster than otherwise. I didn't call him on his grasp of history, but I did mention that perhaps the scenario wouldn't quite qualify as "ordinary" conflict. After class he told me that he's been working on that story for years. I said that, although I do want him to write where his passion lies, I also want him to challenge himself to take on things that might be very different, just to stretch his abilities. He said he has a couple other story ideas he's working on, and perhaps he'll use one of those instead--but I can tell that the challenge with him will be to rein him in, rather than spur him on. Which is fine by me.

But it does remind me that I need to reinforce that their stories should be short: the requirement is 4-5 pages, and although they're free to write more, their classmates don't have to read or critique more than the first four pages--and I won't read or critique more than ten. If Mr. Brit is working on a novel (or even possibly an epic fantasy series, for all I know), he needs to give us just 4-5 pages of the start of a chapter: no more.

Between Advisement and class, I did some organizing of handouts for the 101s (including clearing the folders of old handouts), so I think I'm pretty well set for tomorrow's classes. We do have a P&B meeting, for which I should review the minutes and find my notes about things to remember to bring up, but otherwise, I'll need to take advantage of the time in my office for other tasks. Front and center is the promotion application: I decided to bring all the various folders and scraps back to the office, so I can work on it here, rather than at home. It was useful to have  it at home over the summer, so I could get a start on it, but now, I don't want work at home if I can keep it away. I've already typed up thoughts I've been working on in the wake of the seminar-hours committee--in an attempt to clarify the issues for myself, if nothing else, though I hope what I wrote out will be helpful to other committee members as well. And the rest of the committee work hasn't geared up yet. I need to keep reminding myself of that: I don't need to be frantic; the strand of pearls is, at the moment, intact. Saying that, I just remembered two little things I want to take care of, both of which will have to wait for tomorrow, when the regular office staff are in (the evening office person is OK for what she's usually called on to do, but she can't handle the "real" stuff that the day folks manage). But I can at least get things set up so I can take care of those two little bits first thing in the morning--and then I can do a leisurely pack up and toddle off.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Oh yeah, and...

...I knew I'd forget! As I was waiting to go into the classroom for my second 101 of the day, the class before was letting out--and lo, there was the Viking from last semester's Nature in Lit. I smiled and said, "Hi!" and first he looked startled, then he gave me a rather brusque "I still hate you" type hello in return. I mentioned to the professor that he'd been my student last semester, and she said she already had a sense that he is "edgy." I said he and I hadn't gotten along, and she said, "What should I do?" I said, "Nothing. He's very smart, it's just that his edges and mine didn't work well together. Just enjoy him: I'm sure you'll have a great time with him." But if she's already picking up on "edge," I'll be very interested to see if he lasts in her class before he blames her for his problems, blows up, and leaves--or if he does eventually explode, how long it takes for him to get there.

I did notice that little mousy girlfriend was not in tow. This could mean nothing: she could simply not have been in class today. But I confess I rather hope that she got sick of being bullied and got out of the relationship. I realize I'm assuming she was being bullied: maybe not; maybe she was perfectly capable of holding her own despite what I observed. I'll probably never know--unless at some point in the future, I see them exiting class together.

In any event, I'm always amused when I encounter students who have decided to hold a grudge and watch them when they're faced with my cheerful, "Hey, nice to see you!" demeanor. I truly do not hold a grudge against the Viking. (I'd be hard pressed to think of any student I hold a grudge against; I'm far more likely to remain upset with myself for something I think I've mishandled than to feel I need to keep snarling at a former student.) I think he has a lot of potential, and I truly do hope my colleague can enjoy him and that he has a great experience in her class. I don't know why I felt so snakebit by the nasty remarks on Rate My Professor yet not at all by encountering a student who is clearly utterly pissed off with me. Maybe it's the anonymous versus the actual.

Anyway, I just wanted to make note. I'll try to remember to make note of any future sightings, especially if there is any change in their overall tenor.

Week one: complete. Fifteen to go.

Very interesting that the two sections of 101 almost did a complete role reversal today. Both classes actually went pretty well, but in the first section, a good 80% of the students completely missed the point of the essay they'd read, a piece of old gold entitled "How to Say Nothing in 500 Words," by Paul Roberts--but we got into a pretty good discussion about how errors in reading happen, and what "too much information" means (it actually means, "I got distracted and bored"), and why we were reading the piece in the first place. The second section was much better: everyone who'd been there on Tuesday and who had done the reading absolutely got it--and got some excellent points within the overall argument Roberts makes. Terrific discussion again.

There were four students in the earlier group who hadn't been there on Tuesday: two were newly registered, two had been AWOL. Three new faces in the second section: one AWOL, two newly registered. In each class, I was delighted that one of the new faces belongs to a student who seems very intelligent and right on the ball. And in both classes, today revealed some pretty good potential for intellectual wattage in the room.

All in all, the week is ending on a very positive note.

I'll get back to the positive note in a minute, but I also want to think a bit about the meeting that started the day. It was a bit of a bumpy meeting: we'd confidently chosen the date believing no one would have any meetings that day--and it turns out several key members had meetings they couldn't miss; one is home ill (my dear Kristin: she's having a rough time); one was dealing with a rather epic crisis involving one of his students (a long and truly horrific story: the student is in a situation in which she's afraid she may become a victim of an "honor" killing and who turned to my colleague in terror and desperation); two could only be there for half the meeting.... And on top of all that, we didn't really accomplish much, except to realize that we have a lot of "meta" thinking to do before we can get into the nuts and bolts. One particularly unhappy moment was when the chair of the committee reported on her meetings with some of the powers-that-be over the summer. Essentially we were told that, despite the ostensible pedagogic purpose of the seminar hours, which is to help our own students become better writers, in fact, we have to "serve a larger cohort." In other words, Paul's hours in conference with his own students, for example, will not be considered appropriate for seminar hours. Word was, we can do that if we want--we can fight the demand that we "serve a larger cohort--but if we do, in our next contract, we'll be teaching a 5/5 load, period. I imagine the only way around that is to stage a complete and total coup, eliminate the entire Board of Trustees, half the administration, and a good number of people on the state level, and replace them with people who actually give a rat's ass about education. As long as we're dealing with the current gang of idiots, nothing, nothing, nothing matters but numbers.

But that raised the question of what defines success. The contract language doesn't say anything about assessing our results, or what we're actually being held accountable to do (other than put in time in the particular areas stipulated). The one piece of good news was that we can spread the hours out evenly over the semester or do them in several more intensive chunks, but to accomplish what is still utterly unclear. If we're not helping our students succeed in our individual classes, what the fuck are we doing?

In working to recast this so we didn't all get out the torches and pitchforks and go on a rampage, one of the committee members suggested that we ourselves determine what our specific goals are. I suggested that we consider what we, as professionals in our particular field, have to offer, what our particular strengths are, and use those to determine our goals. In a way, it seems we are being held solely accountable for "retention and persistence" among students who are general liberal arts majors--the vast majority of the students at NCC, in fact. The subtext seemed to be that, if enrollment numbers go down, it's the English department's fault because we're not teaching a 5/5 load--though how that logic works is beyond me. (What the "logic" really is, is that the college would save money through making us work 5/5--more students to fewer faculty--and that would make up for the financial shortfall we experience when students drop out or don't enroll in the first place.)

Jesus, what a goat fuck. Those of us on the committee are working like mad to try to turn our being press-ganged into this kind of "service" into something we can find useful and feel good about, but right at the moment, it's just a horrific morass of conflicting goals, agendas, requirements, and desires.

I do, however, love some of my colleagues: these people are wicked smart and articulate as all hell. (Oh, side note: fascinating little piece of gossip. My buddy Sara, who runs Women's Studies, has a mole in the Honors office, and the new Honors coordinator apparently was bitching that English faculty feel compelled to "use their vocabulary." It seems we are facile with language that he finds daunting, and he thinks we're showing off or trying to make him feel stupid. No, Honey, that's just how we talk: we're word people.)

I had to take a quick break there and jot down some notes: that comment started a train of thought that I realized might be useful for the upcoming intellectual jam-session with my colleagues from Bio and Psych. That is, I know, a radical shift of gears, but maybe that will lead me back to a truly positive frame on the day. We have a hell of a challenge in front of us in terms of the seminar hours thing, but we've got some damned fine minds on the task, and I bet we can figure out a way to make it work--or at least work well enough that we can live with it and, please god, satisfy the administration so they don't shove a fifth course at us. And no matter what happens, I work with amazingly cool people and get to spend my time thinking about stuff that I truly, deeply care about and find fascinating. It can get incredibly messy and frequently is brutally stressful, but I am beyond grateful that this is how I make my living. Beats hell out of 9-5 doing scut work.

And on that happy note--no really, it is happy--I will leave here and turn my attention to the rest of my life, which is also rewarding and by which I am truly blessed.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


...Fiction Writing was fine. One student was AWOL; otherwise everyone was there and seemed to be cheerful enough. I suspect it will take a while for everyone to loosen up and get comfy with each other and with me. I don't want to do my usual "ice breaker" exercise; it does help me remember names, but I never like doing it with a very small class--and I'm getting a little bored with it anyway. I'll try to simply use their names as often as I can, and I've asked them to remind me of their names when I call on them, unless I use the name without prompting. We did a little free-writing, and some of the students were brave enough to share their stuff; only one felt the need to apologize.

That student has me curious. He has an interesting accent: it mostly sounds British, but there are some sounds that are more American to my ear. Maybe at some point I'll find something out about his background, but I also have an eye on him because something is up: he may feel he's "too cool for school," or he may be easily distracted, or he may have an unusual mental process learning difficulty, but he seemed to labor over the simple information on the attendance cards I keep, and he didn't seem to want to make eye contact with anyone. There are a million possibilities for what could have been going on, but I'm curious to see how he settles in.

And my two former students were lovely. The quiet young woman who was in both my 102 last fall and in Nature in Lit in the spring is with me, as is the highly intelligent young man with self-discipline problems who was in Mystery & Detective last fall, and, again, Nature in Lit in the spring. She is very much the scientist, so she's being very brave to take creative writing. I grant you, she probably needs a "fine and performing arts" credit, and our creative writing classes count for that requirement, but there are a lot of other choices she could have made--and I think she was the first student to sign up for the class. I'm proud of her for stretching herself, and I truly, sincerely, hope she has some fun with it.

That's my main concern right now. I want them to have fun. Everyone is very serious at the moment, and if we don't loosen up, it'll be deadly. The one thing I can say for last year's obnoxious cheerleader type was at least she was bouncy and loud and unintimidated--and very ready to party--so she helped set a relaxed, playful tone for the room, which I liked. Which I want again. I'll be mulling that over between now and Monday.

As for tomorrow, I just checked, and the enrollment on my 101s has not budged. Ah well. We'll see how things go when I meet those students again (and, I hope, meet a few who were AWOL).

Shifting gears, but very much on my mind: in the break between Advisement and class, I spent some time on my application for promotion. Eventually I will need to start matching up "claims" with "documents" to be sure I have everything I need--and I have the sneaking suspicion I don't: I may not have gotten the requisite forms for some of my college-wide committee service. If I don't have the form, I can't make the claim--and although I can do a little of what I've already been doing, asking people to send me stuff I forgot to ask for or (I blush) have simply lost, there are some things for which I've simply missed the boat. And I feel I need every teeny tiny thing I can find: I did a lot more scholarship that counted toward my promotion to associate than I've done since. I just have to pray like mad that what I have looks more impressive to other people than it does to me.

Tomorrow I start with a meeting of the ad hoc committee that has formed to work out the logistics of what we're calling "seminar hours." I know I mentioned in a summer post that I'd done some work on that; what I'd forgotten is that each of us had volunteered to take on one particular area stipulated in the contract language: I did something for everything (and nothing much for the one I was assigned). Oh well, idiot me. At least I did something.

And committee work is going to gear up right quick here. Let the bitching begin. What I'm taking on will help my application for promotion a little, but idling along and then suddenly doing a spate of work doesn't help: I hope that won't be the impression I convey. More to the point, however, I'm doing the committee stuff I'm doing because I care about the committees in question. I say it repeatedly: this job would be infinitely easier if I didn't give a shit.

Now, however, the only thing I do give a shit about is getting myself out of here while it's still early. Off I go, into the tame, overcast yonder.