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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Rattled

On my way to class today, I encountered a colleague who is also a very close friend; as she was walking to her class, she had gotten word that her husband has a large mass on his thyroid gland that needs to be biopsied. She was, of course, in shock; I asked her if she could cancel her class and leave. She was worried about stranding a colleague without a ride, but I assured her that her colleague would understand. I offered to talk to her students for her, but she said they were a very sweet bunch, so she felt she could tell them that she had a family emergency she had to handle. She was still struggling against tears when we parted ways, so I walked into my class also on the verge of tears. Work is a wonderful "meaningful distraction," as Bruce would say, but I am very concerned for my friend.

However, if I can distract myself again by talking about the rest of my day....

It was another shoved down a chute with cattle-prods sort of day. Despite the early alarm, I did not, in fact, get all the papers marked for the second class--in large measure because the Tangential Philosopher showed up very late to class and then, after all the other students had gone, wanted to talk about his paper, his ideas. Because his mind is always on hyper-drive, he talks somewhat slowly, longish gaps between replies as he sifts the words out of all the ideas that are zinging around in his head. Usually, that's OK by me, but today, I was frantic to get him squared away so I could finish up those papers--and it just didn't work. I couldn't, in good conscience, shoo him away before the official end of our class period, and he wanted to keep talking even beyond that.

Still, I think the talk with him was productive--and I am his teacher, too, so he deserves the time and attention. And I spent a fair amount of time talking with the young man who has always been so completely crushed by my feedback on his papers--and was again this time. He is a musician, so I asked him whether he feels crushed when people give him feedback on what he can do to improve his voice. No, he said, so I tried to make him see the parallel. Then--duh--it dawned on me that he needs to handle revision in smaller chunks, one little piece at a time. I asked him--again--to point out what I say is good about his papers, and I reminded him--again--to focus on that, build from there. It's very human--especially when we are "ego involved"--to see the negative to the exclusion of the positive, but by the time I finished talking to him, I think he felt a lot better about both my feedback and his ability to handle it.

All my discussions with the earlier section felt good, productive, useful. I didn't talk to Miss Not-So-Arrogant-Any-More or to the Young Intellectual (whose paper is conspicuously missing--still), but I feel I've done all I can possibly do to help them, and I just can't keep trying to hold them up if they insist on falling down.

I also had the "withdraw or fail" discussion with another student in the class; he said he figured that was probably the case (in which case, I thought, why the fuck are you still here without a withdrawal form?)--and he left. I'll be interested to see if he shows up with the withdrawal form or just lets the F fall where it may.

I felt pretty awful heading into the second session, as there were three papers that I had not touched. I got about half-way through one of them before class (being pretty slip-shod in the depth of my comments, I must say), then I did my little discussion--which I did with both classes, actually: I reminded them about how to contextualize source material, about the difference between opinion and informed opinion (and that they actually need to provide the latter), and a few other little nuts and bolts stuff. Then, I showed them a few pages from one of my dissertation chapters in progress. I've saved those pages all these years, but I finally scanned them, so I could project the pages on the screen and show all the students at once what I wanted them to observe about my own process: that I question where ideas belong, that I have to make notes about which ideas go together and which need to be separated, that I have to remind myself--repeatedly--what my focus needs to be and ask whether I'm maintaining that focus. And I showed them that I will also mark things for a "cut file": ideas that I love too much to lose entirely but that do not fit with the point of the piece I'm working on. I literally cut them out and paste them into a separate file: that way, I keep the idea, but it isn't getting in the way of what I'm saying at that point.

I don't know whether they actually got anything out of that (I'll check in with them about it at some point), but I sure hope the visual aids were useful.

One last thing to unload out of my brain and into this post is the upshot of today's committee meeting. We're dealing with some very important policy: the committee is Academic Standing, so anything that has any impact on students' academic standing or progress in some way or another is deliberated by that committee. It's torturous sometimes: ideas are kicked back and forth for years, literally. I hope I helped at least a little in clarifying where two threads of an issue needed to be teased apart and addressed somewhat separately (specifically, what can and cannot be enforced, given the "plain vanilla" version of Banner that the school has adopted, as opposed to the policy itself, which is a whole different conversation).

The main thing, however, was at the end, I talked to two colleagues who provided very helpful thoughts and information of benefit to the Seminar Hours committee: I carried that stuff around in the back of my brain until I could get back to my desk, winnow through my e-mail, and compose a little report on those points for the rest of the Seminar Hours committee, as I probably won't meet with them again before I'm back in the fall. (There is a meeting scheduled for January, but I think I'm going to bail on that: I have to be around for scheduling, which is bad enough, but I really don't want to also devote several hours to the Seminar Hours thing when I'm technically not around.)

And the really scary part of all this? There's probably more I could report that I've forgotten. It was one of those days. Judas Priest, what an end to the week. However, I did manage to off-load some of the tasks on my "to do" list onto others--and, o joy, o rapture, Bruce has canceled P&B meetings for the rest of the semester. Party streamers and confetti!

Now, I have just heard the campus bells toll 7:00, and the only question that remains is, will I have scotch or bourbon with my dinner tonight? Anything, everything, else can damned well wait until Monday.

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