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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.

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