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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I (half) suck at my job

Classes today were pretty awful, I thought. Well, on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the least awful and 10 being the most, they were probably about a 7. It works not to have a very specific plan as long as I have a very specific set of outcomes I want to achieve: get them to work on their MLA citations, for instance, or have an in-depth conversation about X reading. But since they were only working on their papers for today, they hadn't read anything for us to discuss. And since these were final versions of papers, there wasn't any further writing instruction I wanted to do. I tried showing part of The End of Suburbia: in the first class that was pretty much road-kill, in part because I hadn't arranged in advance to show a DVD so I didn't have the remote handy so I couldn't fast-forward past the boring bits.

Then a student kept starting to derail the conversation--not maliciously but because he has one of those minds that makes highly tangential connections, so a conversation about fast food led him to ask when they stopped putting coke in Coca-cola, which got us into a conversation about drugs, which is not the point of the paper (which is about the environment), but then--as far as I could tell out of nowhere--he asked what I thought about the connection between the CIA and LSD, and I said, in essence, "Nope, not going there." I did keep trying to bring the conversation back around to various topics that could work for the paper--and the best and brightest of the students in the class said that an entire cultural shift seems to be necessitated. Yes indeed.

Let me hasten to add, however,  that this student is the best and the brightest in terms of intellect and ability but not so much in terms of work ethic. He's not doing badly, but if he were more diligent about doing the work the way it should be done, he'd be off the charts, and as it is, he's bumping around the B+ margin. I probably need to talk to him about that.

In the second class, less discussion but they were more interested in watching at least part of the video--and I found the remote in that room so I was able to focus what I showed them a little better. Part of why they were more engaged with the video may be because I also gave them the option of doing a read-around of one of the articles instead--and I made them vote. At first, only two students expressed a desire one way or the other, but then I explained, no: there are only two options, and everyone has to vote for one of them. The video won. Fair enough.

In both classes I did a lot more just riffing on the various things I know about environmental issues than I might otherwise do--but I was trying to show them that there are potential hooks all over this topic that they can use to get themselves excited about it. But I never feel great about it when I'm the one doing most of the talking, especially when I clearly see students checking out in the back of the room.

I'm sure that part of why the classes were a bit deadly today was because they were so beaten up by having to finish the paper. One student in the second class talked to me before class started: "Professor, I gave up on this paper." I said, "No! You mustn't give up! What about working through frustration?" We chatted about it a bit, and it turns out she hadn't given up really: she just felt that she could have made the paper better in some way but wasn't sure what else to do. "Oh, then you didn't give up," I said. "You did exactly what you needed to do: you engaged in the process and you learned enough that now you're starting to see ways you can make your writing better. That's exactly what you needed to do, so in fact, you've done very well." She brightened up significantly, ended up feeling pretty good about herself, I think. She's got a lot of potential, so I'm hoping I can give her very good grades on at least the revision part of the process.

Of course, there were also absentees--and not just the ones who've clearly bailed on the semester. Since I have to cancel class on Thursday, I'm a bit concerned about getting papers from those missing students--if, in fact, they have anything to submit. I sent them e-mails about it, but of course I don't really expect them to get those e-mails. The students who are in trouble rarely are students who check their e-mail.

But the only reason I said I half suck at my job, instead of sucking at it entirely, is that I did pretty well in terms of keeping on top of committee work today: was ready for P&B, will be ready for tomorrow's Assessment meeting, hope to be ready for tomorrow's Seminar hours meeting....

And I have the first draft of my promotion folder completed. There's a lot that's missing or in question, so the pain-in-the-ass factor is not gone entirely but is at least significantly diminished for a while. I'm putting the pages into the binder tonight and will give it to my P&B mentor tomorrow--and then I hope not to think about it until after P&B looks at it the first week in November.

I do need to get out of here--have to run some errands before stores close--and I do need to make sure I have everything ready to carry with me to Advisement, as I'll be heading from Assessment straight to Advisement straight to Seminar Hours straight to class. In class, I fully intend to distribute stories to be workshopped next week and then let them all go. I don't even want to do a free-write with them, though I may change my mind when I'm actually there with them. Even though I have to cancel class on Thursday because I have to have a dental procedure, I'm still so looking forward to a day "off" that I can barely hang on until then. Isn't that a sad comment on where I am at the moment, that I'd rather literally have a tooth pulled than metaphorically pull teeth in the classroom?

Well, it's that time of semester.The roller-coaster ride continues.

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