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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Truly, unbelievably fucking awful day

It started with a meeting with the retirement fund representative. If I want to get even 2/3 of my current salary when I retire, if everything continues as it has been (no sudden influxes of wealth, no stock-market crashes), I can't retire until I'm 71.

Fuck.

Of course, there are other options (reduce my living expenses so I can live on half my current salary and/or develop other sources of income to supplement what I've got in retirement funds), but since I got started late getting serious about all this, even adding to what I'm putting into the accounts isn't going to make a hell of a lot of difference.

Then, I went to a meeting of the Creative Writing committee. One of the topics was the need to establish necessary faculty credentials so that information is in the proposal for a new discrete AA degree in Creative Writing. I agreed with the importance to do that, noting that I only got to teach Fiction Writing because a section was going unassigned--and a colleague nearly tore my head off: she specifically asked for that particular class and section both last fall and this, and she had given courses as her first priority, and she has an MFA with an extensive publication history as a fiction writer, and she's absolutely right: she should have gotten the course. Both times. She and I have the same seniority, and she has the credentials, and she asked for it following all the procedures that should guarantee that she got it. The only reason I can think why she didn't is because the time didn't work with the rest of her schedule, but we truly should have built her schedule around that course. On top of feeling true guilt about having been very self-serving in taking the class--and violating my own sense of what is fair and right in doing so (as I know damned well I'm not really qualified to teach creative writing, or Mystery and Detective Fiction, for that matter)--I also felt professionally culpable, as a member of scheduling. I was so upset about the whole thing that I started to cry in the meeting. I didn't cry much (though my voice broke and there were tears on my face), but after the meeting was over, I did: I really cried hard.

I could cry now, thinking about it.

I did something I knew was not really right, and in doing so, I took something away from a colleague I respect and admire, one who deserved the thing I took. I didn't do it with any malice (and I didn't, in fact, know that she'd put the course as her number one choice), but I've gotten plenty righteously indignant when someone unqualified, or even underqualified, teaches one of my favorite courses (Native American Lit, Nature in Lit), so my own hypocrisy disturbs me. All I can say is, I won't do it again. Ever. Even if it means I teach four comps, I will not betray my own sense of what is correct, certainly not for my own selfish interests.

I carried the conversation about qualifications into P&B, too. From the day I joined scheduling, it's bothered me that there isn't anything specific for us to refer to that clearly delineates who is qualified to teach what. When new faculty request a course they've never taught before, they provide an explanation of their qualifications--but that ends up going with their course request forms and in effect has vanished. When senior faculty request a course they've never taught before, we've pretty much just said, "The person has seniority and therefore gets the course." So my request of P&B was that we devise a way to get everyone's qualifications, regardless of their seniority (we already have very clear parameters for what constitutes qualifications)--and then have a central repository for that information, so every time we do scheduling, we can simply refer to it. Turns out, Bruce does have a spread sheet with exactly that--but it's out of date and incomplete, so we need to get it up to date and keep it up to date.

Of course, that's one more task that "someone" has to do--and often "someone" is me. I hope this doesn't end up being my job, but I have a sneaking suspicion that either I will do it or it won't get done.

There was a lot of other sense of unpleasantness in P&B, just because of the screwed up politics of this place, but next week I'll have an easy meeting of it, as the main agenda item will be review of promotion folders, and I am recused from that discussion.

So, OK, P&B wasn't so bad (though I was still vibrating with the upset in Creative Writing). I went to the first class. Officially there are still 16 students in the class, but really there are only eleven, and of the eleven, eight eventually showed up. Three had papers. No one had done the reading. I said, "OK, see you Thursday." They sat there. "Seriously: bye! Go away. See you Thursday." They sat there, clearly utterly stunned. Finally I got them to believe that I was serious, and they rather sheepishly got up and left (all but one, who wanted to talk to me about his paper). Two poked their heads back in to ask if this counted as an absence. I explained that yes: showing up to class unprepared is a "no books" absence. If you're not prepared for class, you're not really there. On the other hand, I said, I am taking into consideration that at least you two had your papers with you, so whether I decide to "count" the absence at the end of the semester is yet to be determined. I'm glad you had your papers. Good for you. But come to class prepared.

I then actually had a lovely conversation with the student who stayed to talk about his paper. Turns out he's the younger brother of a student who was in the Fiction Writing class last year (and who was also briefly in Nature in Lit)--and he has a wonderfully wide-ranging curiosity and a fly-paper intellect (rather like my own): all kinds of stuff gets stuck to it. He's the kind of student who has so many ideas and sees so many connections that getting focused is his biggest problem--but I told him I love his process: reading, exploring, looking for connections. Perfect. I'm not thrilled that his paper is going to be late, but I am delighted with the way he's going about it.

He finally left, and I noodled around with paperwork for a little bit. I went to buy a yogurt (as I didn't have time for lunch between all my meetings): I had about $2.50 on me, and the yogurt cost almost $3. For a cup of yogurt. Judas priest.

So, hungry, I went to the second class. Eight students were there, five had papers. Three had done the reading. "OK, see you Thursday." Same problem persuading them that I was serious--but in that group, the three who had done the reading were actually very disappointed that they wouldn't be able to discuss it. I was more cheerful dismissing that lot, as at least some of them had done the reading, but I did say there weren't enough who had to sustain a conversation, so as they were leaving, one asked if it would have made the difference if she'd done the reading. I didn't say one way or the other, but she felt bad that she was at least in part responsible for the fact that they were being "thrown out." Another said, "Professor, you're throwing us out." Well, I'm sure not going to stand up here and stare at you--or make three people carry the weight of the entire conversation....

And one of my best and brightest didn't have her paper done. Deeply disappointing.

The only good news in all this is that I'm not worried about getting everything marked before Thursday's classes. No, it's the same worry I've had all term: there won't be enough of them left, with sufficient intellectual wattage, for any kind of interesting discussion.

I'm now wondering if I should bother having subs for the classes the day I'm going to be gone, or if I should just cancel the classes and let the students submit the final versions of their papers even later. I may check in with the office staff tomorrow to see how that would work, to change my mind at this point. I really don't want a sub to have to go through this torture.

I'm not kidding: perhaps I wouldn't actually rather have an actual tooth pulled, but there sure isn't a significant difference.

OK, so working to do at least a little reframing before I go: I spent some time finishing up the handout for the final paper assignment and in the process clarified (even more clearly, I hope) the submission requirements--which I transferred back to the other paper assignments, so I have it there when I update materials for the next time I teach 101.

And I do intend to teach 101 again in the fall. I feel like there are things I've learned this semester that I want to put into practice, see if they help. One is that grading thing I talked about last week. Another is more careful staging through the steps of the papers--with a lot more from me about the importance of hanging on and persevering through each step. Maybe I need to simplify the steps, too--maybe only do two papers but break them down even further: process, process, process. I'll probably reconsider the environmental topic--at least in terms of how I frame it (it's too important to leave out entirely). I'll ditch the daily 25 (they're still making the mistakes), but I don't know if I'll go back to taking points off for "static" (AKA bozo errors): more thinking to do on that.

And not incidentally, I already have good news for the fall: I will be teaching a course in the Multidisciplinary Studies program (which is run by our very own William): MDC120: Issues in Science, Technology and Society. The first times William approached me about possibly teaching the course, I was very reluctant, as I wasn't sure how to frame it, but now I think it could be extremely very cool.

And I guess that's good enough to go home on.

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