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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Well, hell.

In a spell of sleeplessness between 4 and 5 a.m., I made the executive decision to reset the alarm for 7--and then I have no idea what happened, but I was later than usual getting out of the house. And now I'm facing the rather dire consequences. Twenty-one papers to grade--and less than two days to do them in. I grant you, grading final versions generally goes much more quickly than the other stages, but still. I don't really want to bail on Advisement tomorrow (for work reasons) and Monday (for personal ones), but I'm going to do both. I bailed on P&B today, which helped me get through all the stories for tomorrow's workshop, but I ended up sitting through the entire department meeting prior to P&B--an extremely rare event for me.

About that department meeting: it was not the bloodbath it could have been, because Cathy presented things beautifully (and yes, because the committee has worked fucking hard to turn the whole seminar hours thing into something of actual value to us as faculty)--but people did, of course, raise (generally very self-serving) concerns and the usual voice of outrage, negativity, gloom and dire predictions made herself heard in her usual caustic and abrasive way. (But I don't have strong feelings about that or anything.) Still, some of the issues raised or considerations floated were well worth hearing--especially the more pragmatic ones. No one had any serious issue with the various ways we proposed for them to fulfill the seminar hours, which is a relief--but the whole thing is still an enormous hairball and will be challenging in the extreme to sort out in terms of actual logistics. Bruce did say that a lot of that work will be done in the spring, and I thought, "Hallelujah! I'll be on sabbatical, and the rest of them can work it out." The more arrogant, control-freakish aspects of my nature simultaneously worry that people will do it all wrong without me there to make sure it goes right--but I can remain in the loop electronically (can even come in for meetings if I really care about it that much), or I can just let go and trust my colleagues (and know that the thing will continue to morph over time).

The other issue was "seamless transfer," in which we've been told by SUNY that we have to reduce our degree requirements from 66 credits to 64. This has been the source of a lot of sturm und drang for some time now but--at least in the short term--the proposal for how to reduce the total number of credits doesn't affect us any. (Of course, Ms Outrage, Negativity etc. felt compelled to make the dire predictions there, too, but I'd be hard pressed to think of a situation that she couldn't find--and abrasively point out--a negative side to.) So my feeling about that whole thing is, I'll care if/when there's a reason too, but for now, I don't.

Classes were, um, interesting. The first session was pretty deadly dull: nine students, and a lot of them had not done the reading. I ended up giving them the lecture about being college students, having to suck it up and do the work, on time, and well in order to be successful. I wasn't even preaching to the choir, exactly: just about everyone in the room has been falling down in one way or another. And I had a nice talk after class with one student who has fallen particularly hard and far. I don't think I've mentioned her much if at all in the blog, but I consider her at least potentially one of the strongest students in the class, and although she's very quiet, she is charming and intelligent and capable of much better work than I've been seeing. I told her she's one of my favorite students--and she is--but she really needs to button it up if she wants to get through the class with anything like a decent grade (or, realistically, even a passing one). I love that she's working so hard--and another student, the young man I initially thought had a huge chip on his shoulder, made a point of telling me after class that for the next paper, he'll be sure to be on top of all the requirements. And probably the strongest (certainly the most intellectual) student of the bunch made a point of thanking me for the class, saying it really is helping him. Maybe he was just brown-nosing, but it felt genuine, so I'll take it as such.

The second session was better, albeit smaller. Two of the best students (in terms of intellectual wattage) were missing, but more of the students who were there had done the reading and were prepared. We sat in a circle instead of being in groups--and I think that will be the way I'll run both classes from now on, given the reduced number of students. There was some good conversation, and they're interested in the topic (for the most part).

What I love about both classes is that they're starting to recognize when they have an idea but not an argument. That's huge--and I'm not at all sure I can account for it. They're testing out possible thesis ideas in class, and we're trying to brainstorm together ways in which a topic could become an argument. I can't stress enough what an enormous intellectual step this is for them, even to start thinking that way. It almost doesn't matter whether they can actually come up with an argument; just the fact that they can recognize when they don't have one is significant, and the fact that they're grappling already with trying to find that focus--when the paper isn't due for a whole week!--is true progress.

That's a happy note to end on, I think. I don't want to think too much about that enormous stack of papers: that's a problem for tomorrow (and Thursday). I'll be happy that I'm getting through even to the limited extent that I am, and take that home with me. That's good for a day.

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