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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.


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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Stick a fork in me...

... I'm done.

There is, of course, a rather large stack of student assignments on my desk that I really should tend to before I leave, as a) I will need to have it all done by Tuesday and 2) I won't have much time to speak of on either Monday or Tuesday in which to deal with it. (Monday: the zoo that is Advisement these days; Tuesday, beginning adjunct scheduling for the spring semester.) I get the first versions of final papers from the 101 students on Tuesday, so--even with the drastically reduced number of students in both classes--it will be important for me to walk into those classes with the decks clear.

And yet, I cannot face them tonight. I did--praises be--find the mental energy to write up the observation for my colleague, which puts a period on that part of my P&B duties for the semester and crosses something off the "to do before it spontaneously combusts" list. And at the moment, I'm trying very hard not to look at my calendar for December and not to think about all the "shoulds" that are piling up, demanding my attention in the next three weeks. I have five days to get over the tail end of this wretched cold (which is still lingering, dammit all to hell) and to have a mental re-set so I can face the end of days with some measure of calm and clarity.

P&B was relatively fascinating today, as we got a little peek into the workings of the administration and the Board of Trustees: not a pretty sight at all, I assure you, but we still found ways to laugh about it all (because, really, what else can you do). My favorite was the term "Vice President of Turds," closely seconded by an administrator's job description being "head of looking out of windows." I don't suppose it's necessary to stand up in a BOT meeting and say, loudly, "You know, the utter disgust and disdain you feel for us is reciprocated in equal measure." I'm a person who always wants to find a way to some kind of common ground, some point at which people can at least begin to engage in that beautiful, archaic thing called "conversation" or "discussion," but with the current powers that be, I simply don't think it's possible.

I'm stating right now my own vote of no confidence--in any of them. "Them" being a proper noun that refers collectively to the entire administration and the board--and may well also include the entire governance structure of the whole state university system.

Argh. Well. Moving on.

Classes went OK. A few students were checking out in the back of the first section (and those who were tend to do that all the time anyway--and I always call attention to it: "So-and-So is so bored he's asleep"), but generally we had a reasonable discussion. I liked it when I asked them to tell me what they think the main differences are between their generation and mine, and the primary one was that they felt my generation has better interpersonal skills in terms of face-to-face (or even just voice-to-voice) communication. One student used his own family's typical Thanksgiving scenario as an illustrative case: the younger generations are in the basement playing video games or watching whatever (not even all the same thing), while the older generations are upstairs in the living room, talking and laughing. And the students said they envy us that: they wish they had more of it, and they think our culture now discourages it. Of course I agree, but I was touched by their sincerity about it. I could hear a longing in their voices for that ability--and I wish I knew how to help them acquire it. It may be awfully late in the game for them to learn it; after all, I know how to have a conversation because that's what people did around me as I was growing up. Even with my friends when I was little: perhaps we didn't actually have conversations, but we were playing together, physically: playing let's pretend, playing dress up, exploring outside, making up stories about where we were and what we were doing.

For an unusual twist on the week, the second session was less lively and engaged today. In both classes I showed them my dissertation--which always elicits reactions from the students, usually along the lines of "I could never do that." I always remind them that, when I was a first semester college student, I couldn't have done it either: they're entry level, and I had to work my way up to that, over many (many, many) years. But it also reminds them that writing is a process: I reminded them that I spent four times as long revising the thing as I did drafting it in the first place. In the second session, instead of having a free-form discussion, as I had done with the earlier session, instead we spent some time plugging search terms into the databases, seeing what might pop up, refining search terms. I told them again, like a mantra: "Research is circular, repetitive, and frustrating. You simply have to resign yourself to the fact that that's what it's like. It's like cleaning the bathroom: it is never fun, it's always the same thing, it has to be done over and over--but it does have to be done."

A favorite moment from the second session was when one of the bright lights in the class asked if I could take a sort of shaky student thesis statement and turn it into a really good one, as he still wasn't sure he knew how to do that. I said that yes, of course I could, but whether I could do it on the fly would be a different issue: I'd have to work through the entire paper, then pull out the thesis from what I see in the body of the essay. Teaching opportunity: and that's what you need to do, students. Write your paper: often what should be your thesis is actually in your conclusion. So move that to the front of your papers--but then you have to track back through the body to make sure it all lines up with that new thesis. We start with a tentative thesis, but we have to write our way into the real one--and that means we have to be willing to change the paper to reflect the real thesis, not just in the introductory paragraph but all the way through.

And another favorite moment was when my most brilliant but most quiet and retiring student spoke up toward the end of class. I said, "Anything else I can do to help you out right now?"--and usually students take that as code for "pack your bags and leave," but she spoke up and wanted to discuss her two potential thesis statements. Earlier, the Young Activist had read aloud two possible thesis statements, and the class immediately identified that the second one was the better--and shy diamond went a hair further and said, "because it says why." Perfect! And when Shy Diamond read both her possible theses, they were getting at a similar underlying problem but from two different approaches--and either would be wonderful. Teaching moment: this is when you let the research guide you. If you can find good information on one topic and not so much on the other, opt for the one that offers the most support.

So--apart from that pile of student work on my desk (what pile? I don't see any pile) and apart from ll the committee work I still need to tend to (committees? Qu'est que c'est?)--I'd call it a good day. And I'll call it a good week, too. I have my work cut out for me on Monday and Tuesday--but that's then. This is now. And I, my friends, am outta here.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday is a Thursday, so... where is everyone?

In my first 101 class today, five students were in attendance. They did pretty well, given the lack of energy that's given off just by having more bodies in the room, but it was a bit of a grind. Still, I didn't have high ambitions for the day, nor do I have much in the way of expectation for tomorrow, so I'm less discouraged than I might otherwise be.

The second section was, not surprisingly, better attended: only one student was absent, and she'd sent me an e-mail saying that she would be. (She seems to have the cold I'm still getting over, poor thing.) Still, not a lot of scintillating conversation, but having low expectations truly is helpful.

I did get most of their papers graded--except for the students who didn't submit their papers to Turnitin.com, or who didn't submit the first version with the final version. Somehow, they can't seem to understand that I can't evaluate revision unless I see both versions--and that everything needs to be uploaded to Turnitin. One wouldn't think it was all that complex, but apparently it's more than their pea brains can handle.

And--quelle surprise!--which section was missing the uploads and first versions? Yep, the first section. In the second section, some students did upload after the deadline--but still, they all managed to submit everything as required. It's the perpetual mystery of class chemistry and random luck (or lack thereof) of the draw.

After class, I met with my conversation partner (I use the term "conversation" very loosely, you understand) and I cleaned up some "absolutely must be done soon" work: finalizing the preference forms for fall 2015 faculty schedules so those are ready to distribute, evaluating a few adjunct applications and setting up potential appointment times. The office staff are now responsible for actually distributing the preference forms, and Bruce's assistant is responsible for setting up the actual appointments within the times I gave as when I'm available. I wrote an e-mail asking for a document I need for my promotion folder. I wrote an e-mail thanking someone for a document I need for my promotion folder. I wrote an e-mail to the Assistant Chair (not to be confused with my position as Assistant to the Chair for Evening Supervision): in the spring, he'll add my role to his, but I need to introduce him to the adjunct scheduling process, as he'll be doing that for summer (and aren't I glad I won't be).

Tomorrow, I need to meet--at long last--with the colleague I observed some time back, then mark as much student stuff as I can before the classes meet, and generally get things nailed down before the long holiday weekend. For which I can hardly wait.

But now, I'm getting out of here later than I had promised myself, so on this rather whirlwind note, I'll close out this post and return to the fray tomorrow.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sick and tired--and home

I did have a brief battle with myself this morning about whether to go to work or not, but as soon as I realized I still have no voice and am coughing like Camille, I decided to err on the side of self-care and stay home. Consequently, I don't have anything to post, really--except to note that I am not feeling the usual guilt that I feel for "abandoning" my students, leaving them without my tender care for an entire two weeks (given the holiday and sub last week, and canceling both days this week). I'll be interested to see what, if anything, they have ready to work with on Monday--and how many of them remember that Monday follows a Tuesday schedule, meaning that our class will meet. The only real reasons I'd have had for going in today would have been to remind them about the schedule next week, and possibly to sit down with Little Miss Arrogance. Instead, I decided to treat them as if they are at least on the ball enough to get with the program on Monday.

I brought work home with me last night, but I very pointedly left it in the car all day today. It's at least indoors now, but it's still an uncertainty whether I'll be able to bring myself to look at any of it over the weekend. It would be nice to go in  on Tuesday with some--if not all--of it out of my  hair, but if I continue to feel puny, I doubt I'll force myself to exert the brain energy.

And that, sad to say, is all the brain energy I have for now. Here's hoping that a few more days of rest finally kick this bastard cold out of my body for good and all.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Still sick, still tired--but back in the office

The conference experience was quite lovely, despite the fact that I was so hoarse that people were actively wincing listening to me talk. Coughing, snuffling, croaking: oh, I was just a delight to be around. But the panel went very well, I thought, and my colleagues were absolutely delightful to work with. I hope we get more chances to work together--or just to hang out and talk. There weren't many people in the audience, so things didn't get quite as lively as I'd hoped, but still, it was good talk about an interesting idea, I thought.

On my return, after a day of life maintenance, I got up on Monday and about one third of the way through my morning routine thought, "Nope, can't do it." I not only called in sick to Advisement but also canceled class--despite the fact that it was a workshop day for the fiction writing class. I sent out an e-mail with a plan B, but only two people got the e-mail, apparently (maybe three); certainly only three people showed up to exchange stories in my absence (which had been the plan). Today, I waffled around about what to do, given that SNAFU, and ultimately decided that I'd juggle the schedule for after Thanksgiving so we can workshop the stories without having to do lightening round (one minute per person max--and even then maybe not get through them all). Things will be a bit chaotic after the break, but the students are quite willing to play along with whatever scheme I come up with--as long as I don't rely on e-mail to get the information to them.

I canceled classes on Tuesday, too, partly to have another day of physical recovery but also partly to have a little more time for the mental adjustment of heading back into the 101 classes, in particular the earlier one. I got a relatively extensive report on what happened in the later section (including one snotty comment from a student to the sub that said student didn't annotate her articles because she doesn't learn that way); I have no idea what happened in the first section, but I assume it was somewhat the same deal.

And honestly, a part of me is highly tempted to cancel tomorrow, too. I'm just so certain that the students won't be prepared with anything--they're supposed to be finding articles on their own, and I'd bet even money that most of them aren't doing that without me there to remind them--and I don't know if I'm up to doing any heavy lifting in terms of trying to come up with something substantive for them to do in the absence of their having done the work I set out.

Thinking of that earlier section, the problem of Little Miss Arrogance continues. When she canceled her appointment with me last week, I told her that I'm extremely concerned about her progress in the class. Not only has she not contacted me again, she wasn't in class when the sub was there. I just checked: she's been absent four times and late at least six, maybe seven--and I think she's turned in three homework assignments all semester long. The short story is, she simply cannot pass the class, and if she doesn't withdraw, she'll either get an F or the equivalent on her transcript. I'm not sure how invested I am in trying to convey to her that she no longer will be evaluated on her perceived potential but rather on the work she actually produces. The discouraging fact is that, when she re-takes 101, she's likely to get someone who will give her a pat on the back and the A just for showing up--which, of course, makes me out to be the unreasonable bitch--and then she'll get slammed somewhere further down the line. Or maybe I should say I hope she does, and I hope it happens when she's still in school, but I fear in our society, it may be entirely possible for someone like her to skate through life doing exactly as she's doing and never suffer any negative repercussions. I like to believe that the work world is more unforgiving, but I've seen enough instances that seem evidence that, in fact, people can be rewarded for doing nothing at all except looking right and seeming capable.

Sigh.

Of course, having spent the day coughing and snuffling and now feeling very tired and dragged down is not the best time to be thinking of what I can do to enliven the 101 classes and make them not only beneficial for the students but bearable for me. This may be a good time for the Scarlett O'Hara mantra. On the plus side of the ledger, I did crank out the write-up of the first observation I conducted. The other colleague I observed and I have been playing a crazy game of trying to find a time when we're both available: finally, next Tuesday at 11:30 seems to work for us both, so I've got fingers and toes crossed that nothing comes along to bollix that up, too. I just need to meet with him briefly and go over my notes and comments before I write the thing up.

Then I get to turn my attention to my promotion folder, which is sitting on the back burner and may be about to scorch, if I don't get to it soon. Maybe I'll have a chunk of time to work on it next week--without having to take it home with me over Thanksgiving (though that may happen, too).

I know I will find time to do everything that absolutely needs to be done, and I know that some things that seem like they "need" to be done will turn out not to be so necessary after all and will get booted down the road (or palmed off on someone else). Sufficient unto today, however, is what I've done up to this point. I'm going to snuffle my way home and hope for a good, deep sleep before whatever tomorrow brings. I will also carry work home with me, just in case I decide upon waking tomorrow that one thing that's going to get booted down the road is meeting with my 101s. I hope I have more self-discipline than that, but maybe I just need a little spell of being petulant (and taking care of the snuffles). The other mantra arises now: We'll see.

And indeed, we will. Stay tuned for further developments.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sick and tired

Literally. Well, not sick-sick: I may have infected the entire campus with whatever hurkey-furkey I'm carrying around, but despite a cough and serious brain-fog, I was well enough to put in the full day of work today. I was pretty much falling apart by the end (my poor Fiction Writing students), but I got through Assessment (which I essentially chaired, as Bruce was very late), Advisement (back-to-back students), Seminar Hours committee (oy gevalt), and class. I've sent off a few e-mails (to students who missed class today and need to collect the stories we'll workshop next week, following up on Assessment stuff), and now I am stick-a-fork-in-me done. Finito. Basta. I saw a think on Facebook, someone proposing slapping a sticker on his or her forehead that says "Out of Order," and leaving it at that. Good plan.

I actually spent more time with the students in Fiction Writing than I'd intended: I was planning on just handing back their homework, photocopying the stories for Monday, and letting them go. However, I started them off with a free-write prompt while I went downstairs to make the copies, and when I came back, they were talking, not writing--which was totally fine by me, but then a few of them said that they wanted to try an exercise I'd mentioned on Monday. It's the writing equivalent of an improv exercise that--in the symposium I went to on Friday--was called "Yes, and..." The idea is, one person starts something off, and no matter what it is, the next person accepts it ("yes"), then adds to it ("and").

So, in class, we all started with the same prompt: tell the story of two strangers who meet on a bus from Newark to Denver. We each wrote the first sentence, then passed the paper one person to the left--and added a sentence, then passed to the left again, and so on, until the papers had circulated all the way around the room once. We could have kept going for a second round, I suppose--except for the professor being in a brain-fog thing--but I stopped it when the pages were back where they started. Then we each read the result aloud. The Brit rightly noticed that there were a few places where someone hadn't exactly said "yes," but had instead redirected the flow in a new area. The students got into a "top this" sort of competition: how funny--or profane--can this become?  (I, of course, rose above such silliness.) One student remarked that it was actually relatively easy to keep bouncing the story along (which makes me wonder if it would get harder with more turns around the room); I noticed that sometimes people weren't paying attention to point of view, so suddenly a third-person narrator would become first person (which tends to happen in their stories, too).

I loved the laughter that the exercise elicited, but I also wanted to draw some kind of teaching moment out of it, so--picking up on one student's remark last class about getting out of writer's block by writing anything, not necessarily the thing you're "supposed" to be writing--I reminded them that they could probably take what they had on those pages and turn it into something, make it an actual, coherent story. Perhaps a little tweaking might need to be done for consistency, but anything can turn into a story. Save your free-writes.

And I sent them on their way.

As for me, I have put a folder of work in my bag to schlep to Baltimore, hoping to get some work done either in my hotel room of an evening or on the train on the way home. I'll be traveling down with one of my co-panelists (trying not to cough on her); my naturally inverted self sort of wishes I weren't, but she's great company and I know I'll have a lovely time talking with her. I'm also going to have dinner on Friday with an uncle who lives in Maryland. However, those interactions with interesting, nice people, on top of the usual conference activities, will utterly max out my social abilities, so I am very much looking forward to having a hotel room to hide in when I need to. And to week after next, when I can just hole up at home for five solid days. Oh, bliss.

I'm also looking forward to sleeping tonight, trying to get that immune system cranked up and fighting off this whateveritis. So, off I toddle.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Oh, Gawd

I'm starting this post at 8:38 p.m. I just finished writing up the sabbatical support letters, which I swore to myself  I would finish today. I'd have finished earlier, but I accidentally wrote over the first one I did (moron): it was a gorgeous letter, and I'd spent a lot of time getting it just right. Fuck. The reconstruction is not as elegant but gets the same points across--and may actually be better for not being so elegant. Whatever. They're done.

And for the first time in a very long time--certainly for the first time this semester--I have to take work home with me to finish up tomorrow. It looks like an impressive stack, but it really isn't so much: it's just the little bits and orts I've gathered from the Fiction Writing students and haven't returned to them yet. I still don't have one revision report, although I have the story, and I have bugger-all nothing from two students (including the Brit and my perennially late/lazy student from both Mystery and Nature in Lit). And their next stories are due on Wednesday, which is fine, except we've gotten to the part of the semester when I cannot count on having time during Advisement to do anything: it's mobbed, as students frantically try to figure out what they're going to take in the spring.

I was very late getting there today (and I don't know why, as I got up at the usual time and didn't do much beyond the normal getting ready), and I was in such a rush to get there that I left my reading glasses behind. There was a day, not too long ago, when that wouldn't have been a problem--and in fact, I could see things well enough to do my job, but it was not as comfortable as it is with the glasses. God, I hate that--but I steadfastly refuse to turn into an old biddy who wears her glasses on a chain around her neck (or loses them in her hair-do).

Well, whatever.

Class was OK today. We didn't do a whole lot, but they seemed engaged enough. I did ask them what they got out of working on my stories with me, and their answers reveal that the work is of some benefit to them but not so much that I think "Oh, perfect: this is what I'll do from here on." Not that I'll have so many days in which I have to figure out how to keep them amused: we basically have workshops, then a week, then more workshops, then a week--and that's it, since we don't meet at all Thanksgiving week.

Hang on to the safety bar and scream indeed. In fact, even the "holiday" tomorrow doesn't feel like much of a holiday, as I have a fair amount of life maintenance to do plus the assignment marking: I feel very much as if I'm being chased down a chute with a cattle prod. But a lot of what electrifies the prod is work that I'll have to turn my attention to on Wednesday or later, as it isn't anything I can take home with me. Thank god.

There is probably more that I could say about today, but I'm too tired and addled (and hungry) to figure out what. I'll leave it at that for tonight. No post tomorrow, but I'll be back on Wednesday.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Coin toss

The question was: do I head back to my office after my classes and force myself to write a sabbatical support letter (or two), or do I meet with Kristin for a chat.

Kristin wins. Work loses. Ah well.

Academic Standing was interesting: I presented what my little subcommittee had discussed on the charge we were exploring--and, not much to my surprise, there actually were objections, caveats, concerns (not to mention bizarre tangents and completely unconnected weirdnesses), so what I'd thought would be a simple, easy task is turning into something more complicated--and necessitates a meeting with a member of the administration simply to do some fact-finding (nothing at all rancorous: we just need some info that we don't have before we submit our refined report).

During my office I got student work marked so I could return it in classes today, but before I could have lunch, a student came by to get the reading that she'd missed because of her absence from class on Tuesday--and we ended up having a rather extended conversation. She's a free spirit, an artistic soul, one of those who has true difficulty dealing with the exigencies of life. She also has missed class seven times and has turned in almost no work. The conversation ended up being about a lot more than the fact that she cannot, cannot, pass the class (and talking to her, I am reminded that students have a mistaken hope that they can do the academic equivalent of a Hail Mary pass and somehow pull out a grade). Among other things, she said she didn't understand why she didn't seem able to get through a semester without falling through a hole of some kind, and I suggested that maybe that's where she needed to start: figuring out what it is that leads her to fail repeatedly. It could be anything from difficulty dealing with the material and how to organize and prioritize to a deeper resistance that makes her sabotage herself. But unless or until she can figure that out, she'll just continue to fail. I told her where she could find help, but she seemed comforted simply by the notion that there might be a reason that she could figure out and address. I suspect she's felt that she's just fundamentally flawed, on some genetic level, instead of seeing that other factors--manageable factors--could be the issue.

The classes were fine: reasonable discussion--even though the energy in both rooms was pretty flat. My favorite classroom moment today was an echo of the conversation I had with a student on Tuesday: when I pointed out that he had a report without an argument, he said, "But then I have to rewrite my whole paper." Well, kinda, yeah. But today's student actually had a lot of very focused information. We started in the same place: this is a report, not an argument, so what do you want to get your readers to agree with you about, that we don't already agree with? At first she said she didn't know, and was resisting the idea, but one of her subheadings was "Are we to blame?" So I said, "OK, how would you answer that question?" "We are." "Why?" And she poured out the facts. "Good: so what can we do about all that?" That was a little harder, but she finally got there. That, I said, is your argument. "But I'll have to rewrite my whole paper." No, I said, you'll use all this wonderful fact that you have in order to make that point--just like you did talking to me. In fact, you'll add an argument to what you have (and since her paper was under the required length anyway, she has plenty of room to do that). She left feeling like she had a challenge ahead of her but one she had a sense of how to tackle--and that's a great place to be. I love when they leave on an "Excelsior!" note.

Not exactly arising out of today's classes but sort of, I can predict that my post on Monday may be very interesting indeed. If all goes as planned, I will meet with two students from the earlier section of 101 for a serious talk about what's going on with them in the class. One is the buddy who was AWOL for some time, the one with the real intellect who has not been turning in much in the way of work. The other is Little Miss Arrogance--who was late to class again today, and again didn't have her work done. In addition, I will probably meet with the Young Activist, who is struggling with her second paper, seems unable to find a clear focus and support for what she wants to argue.

My conversation with Frick (the previously AWOL partner of Frack) is difficult for me to predict. Up until recently, I've believed him to be sincere; now I wonder if he's been blowing smoke up my skirt all along. The main thing is that I want to ask him what he expects from the remainder of the semester, what he foresees as the most likely outcome. I honestly have no idea what he thinks can happen from where he is now, or what he wants to get out of coming back to class. After I hear what he has to say, I'll know what I need to say to him, but it's all just a big mystery at the moment.

I'll ask the same questions of Miss Arrogance: what does she expect, what does she foresee as the most likely outcome. However, I am anticipating a certain amount of flouncing from her, perhaps with a strong flavor of snottiness. She's mostly been very respectful and civil, but she did get just the teeniest bit snooty during the conversation about her Harvard high school teachers and how she already knows how to revise and all that rot. Perhaps I'm doing her a disservice--I really don't think I can judge how my students will behave at all under any given circumstance, as I'm so frequently set up for one response and get something entirely different. So I'm also prepared for the meeting to be entirely smooth sailing. I'll handle either situation pretty much the same way, but I know that if she's snippy, I'll have to sit on my temper (like a guinea pig in a canvas bag). Never doubt but what my training as an actress comes in handy.

I'm interested to note that, since I have to be back here tomorrow for the symposium, I'm having a hard time believing that it's Thursday--despite having been to a committee meeting and taught my Tuesday/Thursday classes. Weird the way the mind works.

And in a complete and utter shift of gears: I realized a week or so ago that I used to go back over my posts after I had written them and edit--and I haven't done that in several centuries. It started as a matter of time, but now it's the default setting. I will adjust as I'm writing, but once I reach the end? I'm done; no more refining, rephrasing, adding or subtracting. Not only does it save me a hell of a lot of time (though the posts may be longer as a consequence), what you get, my dear readers, is less mediated, more raw.

And that's the way (uh-huh uh-huh) I like it (uh-huh uh-huh).

Remember that thing about not getting a chance to eat lunch? It's 8 p.m., and I know where my dinner is--and it ain't here, so in about three minutes, I won't be either.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

I flit, I float, I fleetly flee, I fly...

It's been a hell of a day, advisement to observation to class, toting my lunch around with me and no time to eat it (typical). I should have had a break between Advisement and the observation, but of course the last student I saw had a zillion questions and a complex situation to deal with. It wasn't even like on Monday, when I was an idiot and took a student when I was about five minutes away from the end of my stint: I had about 20 minutes left when the student walked into my cubicle, and still I had to trek straight to the observation. I was there a few minutes early (I was late to the last one, so that was a good thing), but the class I was observing ran a minute or two long, and then I had a very brief conversation with the faculty member I was observing, but even that was enough that I got to the building just as my class was supposed to start--and I didn't have the class folder with me, hadn't copied the stuff we were going to work on today, hadn't entered the marks for the assignments I had graded (hadn't finished grading). Oy.

Fortunately, the students are so easy about the class, what's going on, that they don't mind chatting amongst themselves while I put my head on straight (or as straight as it gets). We postponed the next story until Wednesday, since I'm an idiot and hadn't gotten them the assignment until today. And I told them to go ahead and start all over with the character they're working on, use the setting they'd developed--or not--whatever. Oh, hell, just write a story.

Then, I distributed one of my own stories. It's the shortest one I have, and it's the one I showed the Fiction Writing students last fall. We worked through it paragraph at a time, and the main thing I was working on was determining whether I was "showing" or "telling." A favorite moment came when a student pointed out how a particular paragraph didn't just tell the character's background but showed it (even as it's just being told, if that makes sense)--and another favorite when my sweet student from former semesters pointed out an area where I was, in fact, telling rather than showing. Another student also pointed out an area where I could tighten up (I'd made the point--and was sort of telling what I'd already shown); and the Brit said that an exchange between two characters seemed like a scene from a TV show. None of us knew how to take that at first: was that a criticism or simply a comment. Essentially, what I understood after questioning him about it is that he meant he could visualize it very clearly. I wonder now if he also meant there is something almost script-like about that particular passage: mostly dialog, not much else, like a scene being played out, rather than a scene being described (if the distinction makes sense).

And at the end of class, they said they wished we could do this more. Do what more, I asked: this process with their work? No: this process with mine. Well, golly. I'm vain and egocentric enough that I'm happy to share my work with them and let them pick it over. I think they don't feel they can pick over the work of a published author (who, moreover, isn't actually there to respond), but my work, they can look at from a remove--and somehow it's a different remove than they bring to each others' work. I told them a little about the genesis of the story, that it arose from the exercise I have them do, of taking a minor character from one story to make into the primary focus of another. I also told them that the story is part of what Le Guin calls a "story suite": not a novel, but an interconnected series of stories, with overlapping characters. They're now curious about the story in which the main character of this one--Lucas--is only seen as a background character, so, OK, I'll share it with them. But since we're talking about style, I may see if there's something in the comedic novel I started (and will probably never finish) that would show me trying a different voice (with probably limited success, but the failure might be instructive). And since we didn't finish reading my little story, a number said, "I want to know how it ends." Great, I said: finish it up and bring me your comments; I'd be grateful.

Fun. And I think they're getting something useful out of it, so it isn't just massaging my ego. But I'll check in with them if we do any more working through my stuff, ask them to tell me what they're learning from the process, and why and how it's different from workshopping their own stuff.

Returning, however, to the title of this post: although it's early, and although I have tons of stuff to do (see last night's post), and despite my overly optimistic sense that I might have enough oomph left after class to get some of that work done, I'm going to flit, float, flee and fly out of here. I'll try to get in as early as possible tomorrow to clear things out before my meeting, and I'll use the office hour to as good effect as I can. I'll be on campus on Friday for a symposium, but I know damned well I won't do anything after that's over except change my clothes and maybe eat something before I rush off to  my riding lesson, so, well, there may be a "day off" when I actually have to get to campus and do some work to get caught up. Especially with the sabbatical letters: those have to move to the top of the triage list, right under "finish marking student assignments."

But we've definitely come over the top of the roller-coaster hill now, so I'm holding on to the safety bar as I throw things into my bag and head home.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nitzing away...

Nitzing is slightly different from noodling, as it has merit and purpose, even though the tasks undertaken are quite small and often relatively insignificant. Case in point:

I photocopied the form I use to record marks for students' critiques of each others' work in the Fiction Writing Class.

I photocopied the third story assignment. (A bit of a wince there: the story is due on Monday, and they don't have the assignment yet. Oops.)

I made changes to and printed the final story assignment so it's ready to print.

I made sure I revised the final paper assignment for 101, so it no longer includes mention of version 2; I uploaded it to my faculty home page and made copies for the subs to distribute.

I wrote a detailed e-mail to the subs about what to do and what materials I would leave for them.

I showed Bruce the revisions I've made to the scheduling preference form to incorporate something about seminar hours. Based on what he said, I revised what I'd done and distributed the relevant portions of the preference form to the Seminar Hours committee.

I went through the rest of the preference form and updated it to reflect the classes and sections for fall. I printed that part out and left it for Bruce's assistant, so she can check to make sure I didn't screw anything up.

I organized the bag I carry to Advisement so it contains the student stuff I want to mark (and just realized I need a rubric form in case I get around to marking the few second versions I got from students, so I've printed that out, ready for copying).

I sent quite a few e-mails about one thing or another.

I went to P&B and got my promotion folder back with comments, ready for revision.

I taught my classes. Well, sort of. I did let students know they could split once I'd gone over APA documentation with them, and I talked with the ones who stayed, helping them think about how to work through their revisions. Most of those conversations went pretty well. Most of the students are pretty well on board with the process (finally, at last).

I'm thinking about everything I need to get done in the next few weeks, and the ways that the holiday next week plus my travel to the conference will interfere with the time I'll have in which to get that work done. Some of it will just have to be later than I'd ideally like--but we'll see how much I can get done after class tomorrow (writing letters in support of sabbatical applications, writing up the observations--yesterday's and the one I'll conduct tomorrow: probably not all of that, but if I can do any of it, that'll be great). No clue when I'll have a chance to get to my promotion folder again, but if I can get to it before Thanksgiving, that would be marvelous.

And I realize that I really do need to hand off more and more responsibility to people, as I simply am going to run out of semester, and when I'm away in the spring, others will have to pick up those particular torches (Taskstream and everything else assessment oriented, anything I've been working on for the Seminar Hours...). Those triage lists are becoming very important--mostly so I know what to delegate elsewhere and what I can reasonably hope to accomplish.

I wish I had some juicy interactions with students to report, but the classes were nothing more than what I reported above. It was a nitzy sort of day, and tomorrow may be as well. A nitzy week, in fact. Into each life, some nitz must fall.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Sucked into YouTube

I  just spent way more time than I intended, trying to find good videos on YouTube for the subs to show to my classes next week while I'm at the conference. I'm not entirely thrilled with anything I found; interestingly enough, I was specifically looking for something short, pithy, and well-produced about the positive side of social media--and I couldn't find anything, which I find ironic, considering that I was searching YouTube, for heaven's sake. And yes, I'm aware of the reverse irony of videos condemning social media on YouTube--which isn't "social" media like FB, Twitter, Instagram (and so on) but still relies on cyber communication.

Mostly, however, I need to just pull the trigger, give the subs something to work with, and let them take it from there. I hate that when I'm subbing, so my apologies to my colleagues--but maybe they can make something fly.

Interesting day today. I started with an observation (a good class taught by a fine colleague--and I envy her the particular batch of students, who seemed to be predominantly pretty smart and prepared), then went to Advisement--and should have explained that I only had five minutes left of my shift but ended up with a student who, of course, needed more time and hand-holding than I could expend. I offered to take her to someone else so she could get the rest of her questions answered, but she said she was OK. I have my doubts, given the questions she was asking, but as it was, I was late to meet with the observed colleague and even later to get to my office hour.

And I knew I had a student waiting: she'd written to me last night to say she was coming--and she actually was there, waiting. We had a great talk, and she left feeling much more confident, not only about what to do with her paper but also why she was struggling in the first place. I got it out of her, instead of handing it to her. She said she's done research papers before, but I explained that research can be used all kinds of ways: it can be used simply to provide information or it can be used to support an argument. I asked her, "Have you ever done an argument essay like this before?" No. OK, so why are you struggling?

I hope I remember this when I get ready to teach 101 again: I need to clarify to the students that what they're going to do isn't just a "research paper": it's something more challenging. I do say that in the little blurb at the beginning of the syllabus, but they need to be reminded, often, that the point isn't the research: the point is to have something to say that you can defend with evidence.

That makes me think about the paper I got from the rather arrogant young woman who doesn't believe that I can possibly teach her anything about writing that she doesn't know. I was very diplomatic in my comments, along the lines of "I know this isn't at a stage you would normally show a professor, and you may already have a very clear sense of what's needed," blah blah blah, but honestly, the paper is unmitigated dreck. No thesis, huge generalizations, talking out her ass in a manifest absence of any actual knowledge, no organization--and absolutely no support from anything anywhere. Even as a "draft," I think it's substandard. But no, she already knows how to write a college-level paper, because her high school teachers had been professors at Harvard. (Uh, sure; I'll buy that. But even if that's so, that speaks to their education, not what they were teaching you.)

I have some sympathy for Little Miss Arrogance--because if I had been required to take a freshman comp course, I would have been equally arrogant and certain of my abilities. Even completely untaught, I was a better writer than LMA, but still, I could certainly have learned something from a good course taught by a quality instructor, though I would never have believed it at the time. Well, she'll either learn something or she won't--but if she thinks she's going to get a decent grade from the class, she'd better think again, because right now, she'll be lucky to make a C, if I'm very forgiving about missed work.

I probably need to ask her to meet with me. And to leave the door open when she does, so there are witnesses. I'm not sure I can get through to her, but I want to try--mostly because I do sympathize, having been an arrogant little shit myself. (Some might argue that I still am: perhaps not so little any more, but the arrogant shit part.)

But I'd prefer to think about the young woman who came to see me. I think I mentioned her last week: I've not written much about her, because she's mostly pretty quiet, but she's earnest, she cares, she's intelligent, and I'd be ecstatic to have classrooms full of students just like her. She said she'd write something about today's epiphany. I told her it would surely benefit other students to hear her talk about what she figured out, how it's changed her way of looking at the work, and even though she's very quiet in class, generally, she said that as small as the class is now, she'd feel comfortable sharing her experience. She mentioned that she might write something up--and I pounced on that. Do, I said, and I'll send it to my office mate, Prof. Rosa, for possible inclusion in his book. I hope she does.

The Fiction Writing class was great today. I'm not sure quite what made it work so well--partly that we started out talking about the disappointing "master class" of last week, I think, but mostly that they have completely bought into the process of the class, what we're doing, and the value of it all. We had a discussion about what "show, don't tell" actually means. The Brit said that he felt that often "tell" is a good strategy, as having a character tell something in dialog is beneficial--and I said, "Ah, but that's actually 'show.'" We're all--myself included--going to look through our work to find passages where we feel we engage in too much tell, not enough show, or, conversely, where we feel we do a particularly good job of show rather than tell. It will be interesting to see how that flies on Wednesday.

Now, however, I truly need to just get out of here. Since I spent so long on YouTube, I didn't get anything else of value done. (Had another difficult "conversation" with my autism-spectrum conversation partner, but that's about it.) So, I'm calling up the Scarlett O'Hara mantra yet again. I'm so glad that tomorrow is another day, not just more of today.