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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 I'll need to be able to actually think about what the changes have to be: what's out of date, what needs to be added.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.

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