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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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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Storm comin' up

Literally, not metaphorically. Hurricane Joaquin has us in its sights and may hit on Monday. The weather report says it's a very difficult storm to predict, but I have to admit, even the thought of it has me more than a little freaked out. I'm already thinking about whether I should prepare to leave town on Sunday, cats and all, and head out of harm's way. My particular area was not especially hard hit by Sandy, but I don't relish a repeat of even that experience--and the indications are that Joaquin will be a stronger storm...

So, part of what I had to do in class today was to prepare the students in the 101 for what to do in terms of class should the storm hit, both if classes are being held but it's dangerous for the individual student to get to campus (which is possible: depending on where students live, something that barely touches us here mid-Island to north shore can slam the hell out of them) and if classes are canceled. I told them to be ready for everything to proceed as normal on Monday, but if it doesn't, we go into a holding pattern until classes resume.

I'll have to make a similar announcement to the electives tomorrow. If we really are hit dead on, as we might be, classes could be canceled for a good long while.

Still, there was actual educating going on in the class today. I went over all the nuts and bolts stuff--starting with having them calculate where their grade stands right now. I told them the numeric range that would be passing at this point and that if they fell outside the range, as of right now, they're failing. The guinea pig said, "So, you mean I'm failing the course? I can't do anything about it?" I assured them all that no: I'm doing this now while there's still time to pull out a passing grade--but I did want to scare the shit out of them, and I think I did. Interestingly enough, Mr. Bewildered is actually doing sort of OK--though he does need to button it up and turn in all his assignments from now on. I reminded them that discussion board posts are due the day we discuss the article in class--and that in order to get full credit, they have to do an initial post plus respond to two others. Guinea Pig piped up again: "Wait, I only responded to one. I thought..." I cut him off: we went over it in class; it's on the handout about discussion boards; it's in the syllabus. No fucking excuses.

Next time, I'll say, "Don't 'think.' Know for sure: read the handouts carefully."

Both he and Mr. Bewildered also have a tendency to zone out during class, no matter what's going on. Sigh.

But I also went over the submission requirements, paper format, works cited pages, thesis statements, what the peer review on Monday (or whenever) will be, blah blah blah. At the end, I had 15 minutes in which to discuss the articles they found on their own--and of the students who were there, half didn't have anything, or only had an article but hadn't done the work on it yet.

Right now, I predict that I'm going to end up with four, maybe five students in that class. If I can get all the good ones to stay.

I'm glad to report that it was a very quiet day in Advisement today, so I not only got all the 101 homework marked to return, I got most of the homework for the SF class marked too--and finished the rest of it after class today. I have an appointment that means I have to leave in a few minutes, which is too bad: I'm kinda on a roll and would love to read the next chunk of Oryx and Crake--but I guess that will have to wait until I'm home. And I'm not sure I'll make the MDC session during Club Hour tomorrow, though I'd like to go: I suspect I'll be marking M&D homework and reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Ah well. C'est la vie.

And now, I must dash. See y'all on the flip side (a term that is meaningless in a world that no longer relies on vinyl records).

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Early warnings

Oh, I forgot: that's considered too harsh these days. We're now obligated to give "academic progress reports." But the mechanism for that hasn't geared up yet--and I already see signs of drowning among my students, so I'm letting them know they're about to go under unless they reach out for help.

And sometimes that means the attrition begins. "Wait, you mean I have to come to class? On time?? Forget it, Bitch, I'm outta here."

On the other hand, at least one student got the actual message: she came to me during class to find out when she could meet with me. I told her to send an e-mail so we could find a time that works for us both. She may still drown, but there's hope for her, if she's willing to not only come in for help but make use of the help.

The student from that class who came to me before--smart woman--apparently tried to see me yesterday, but in a fit of insanity, I'd gone down the hall to talk to the agitated colleague who has been concerned about the distribution of online courses. That colleague had sent me an e-mail over the weekend, asking me to call her. I actually did try, though I considered keeping my weekend sacrosanct, but I kept getting a "call could not be completed" message. Since neither she nor I have class at 2:00 on Mondays, I said I'd drop by--yes, I admit, rather forgetting that I have an office hour at that time. The student was a little annoyed, but I was abjectly apologetic--and she'll probably come on Thursday, or if not, then on Monday next.

And in the M&D class, I was handing back assignments, and a student right under my nose complained about how he always seemed to get the same (low) mark on his responses. Without looking up, still looking through the stack of papers in my hand, I said, "Maybe it's time to come see me to find out what you can do to make them better."

Oh. Yeah. That.

Shifting back to the SF class, the two very bright young women who talked to me about problems with their experience in groups talked to me again after class. It's a long, complicated story, which I won't get into here and now, but I do think it's about time for me to start micro-managing the groups, making sure that the good students are together--though there are times when I want the good students in groups with the not-so-good, so the shakier scholars get a sense of what is possible. That's a difficult line to walk--but now that the early warnings have gone out, I will start getting more cold-hearted about cutting the life lines.

Both classes were a little lead-balloony today, but I have hopes that on Thursday, they'll both be cooking along better. The SF students are a little overwhelmed by Oryx and Crake, the M&D students have a hard time shifting from the TV Sherlock to reading (or vice versa). We're reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and I had fun talking a little about the "manor house" mystery (a student said the book felt like a game of Clue: dingdingdingding, give the woman a cigar!) and about stock characters. Next class, I'll talk about how Christie was also in some ways inventing the genre--but about how we can see traces of other literary bloodlines in her work: I'm noticing a tendency toward Dickensian naming of characters: Major Blunt, the nosy butler Parker--or is it Palmer? I have name aphasia today. I need to do what I recommended the students do: create a character "cheat sheet" that gives a quick reminder of who's who and what they're up to, why they're potential suspects.... 

But getting back to the idea of life lines, I'm pretty annoyed with a student from the 101. I will give him credit for engaging in e-mail conversation with me, but he missed a lot of classes, including the library class, so he sent an e-mail from the library--clearly expecting an instant response--saying, "I'm at the library and typing in 'articles on education,' but I know that isn't right." Oh god, where to start? I sent him a rather lengthy e-mail in response, but I did say that I couldn't possibly re-teach the entire library class, that he's learning a painful lesson about missing class, and that the help I offered in the e-mail was as far as I was going to go in terms of helping him research for tomorrow's assignment.

I'm so afraid of where that class is going to end up. William and I were talking about it today, and he put it beautifully: when the bright students have poor attendance in a class that small, we're essentially held hostage by the smart ones. We don't dare enforce our rules because god forbid we should lose that precious student. I don't think I'm going to lose the best student(s) from the 101, but I may lose most of them.

Well, we'll see.

On a completely different front, a colleague came into the office today right before I had to go to P&B, asking if I did MDC. I said "no," not really understanding what she was asking, but after she talked to William a bit, I realized she was looking for someone to be on a round-table she's formed for the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA) conference, specifically talking about interdisciplinarity. Thinking about the panel at last November's CCHA, I said I could do it. I did ask her the dates, but she wasn't sure, and I agreed without knowing. Turns out, it's immediately before our spring break. Shit. I don't really want anything to interfere with spring break--even the run up to it--but aha! The conference is in Hartford, Connecticut, so unless our panel is frighteningly early in the morning (and possibly even if it is), I don't have to be at the whole conference, or even spend the night. I can go up for the presentation, maybe have lunch with a colleague or two, and head home again, all in one day. Despite the fact that Kristin is one of the conference organizers, and that another colleague used to be the president of NeMLA--and despite the vast horde of colleagues who go regularly--I just don't want a lot to do with that conference: it seems too big and unwieldy and formal to me. The only conference I've ever been to that I've thought "Oh, this is great! I want to come all the time!" is ASLE. I've considered going back two others--one because of the focus (fantasy and SF) and the other because it's usually held in Albuquerque (where I have family)--but generally, my innate introversion makes conference going a bit of a trial for me, so if I can get the jollies of presenting without having to do the full immersion, I'll be thrilled to bits.

As a final note, I have to admit, sheepishly, that I am finding it somewhat difficult to summon up the energy for a full, normal week of classes. Part of me would like very much to bail on Advisement tomorrow morning--but Paul's right: it's best to save up those days for when there's actually a grind of work in Advisement, not for days like we're having now. (OK, another annoyance: because I'm in a cubicle that's out in public, and the professional advisers are all tucked back out of sight, I end up seeing almost every student who comes in the door. Yesterday, I even said, "Am I the only one seeing anybody?" But I digress.) I'll do my best to be a good little girl tomorrow, sit in Advisement and crank through 101 homework so I can return it to the students in class.

But that will be tomorrow.... For now, I'm toast. I'm going to crunch my way off campus.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Professor's work is never done...

I slogged through the mess that was the 101 students' first essays at an essay, and now I've embarked on reading responses for the lit electives. I don't have a lot to say about today, except that, in terms of the 101 class, I've seen lead balloons with significantly more buoyancy. Everyone was tired (including me), but I also think a lot of them were not prepared to talk about the reading--and a number were missing. I think one is permanently AWOL, and I handed out my own early warnings today to four who were there, so several more may bail, though the early warning explicitly says that they have time to turn things around if they take action on it now.

Heavy sigh.

I also have doubts about how I marked their preliminary essays; I'm afraid I may have been too hard on them and will frighten them out of trying further. But I'm hoping that the fact that we work through their writing in small stages may help. They didn't have to have an actual thesis this time around, and we'll spend a reasonable portion of class on Wednesday working on their ideas to formulate theses.

Another concern is the poor student who is baffled and bewildered by everything. His homework included a thesis that patently wasn't, something along the lines of "Education is a necessity of life." My comment on his homework was that the statement is way too huge to allow for debate and impossible to prove--but, he said, bewildered, someone in the Writing Center told him it was a good thesis. That tutor also wrote a note for him to give to me that she didn't understand the handbook review assignments--but Mr. Bewildered actually does: I asked him, and he said, "We're supposed to read the pages and summarize them." Exactly. So, I don't give much of a fuck whether the WC tutor understands the handout (and the fact that she says she doesn't leads me to question at very least her ability to focus if not her intelligence). But I'm mostly livid that she's sending students off with absolute crap as a "thesis." No no no no no.

So, I took pity on the kid and sat with him for about 20 minutes after class, trying to talk him to a thesis--or at least to an understanding of why the one provided by the WC tutor wouldn't fly. Of course, he couldn't think of an idea he wants to actually write about or prove: every time I tried to frame what he'd said to me as a question to answer or an idea to pursue, he'd have a reason why that wasn't really what he was saying.

Well, I did what I could for him today, and we'll spend a lot of time in class on it all come Wednesday. And their next versions of their essays are due a week from today, god help me.

I've started marking the assignments for tomorrow's lit electives so I can hand those back: I'm frantic to stay ahead of the work tsunami--work, I confess, that I manufacture for myself. I'm getting pretty good about just quickly reviewing the responses from the lit students, slapping a mark on them, and letting it go at that. Next up: learning a quicker method for marking the 101 papers. For the next round, I need to think carefully about what I want to focus on, so I can only mark what I want them to pay attention to. That was the other mistake on the stuff I handed back today: way too much comment, way too many corrections, overwhelming. So, it will be important for me to review my own essay assignment and make a plan for myself about the focus of my feedback.

Shifting gears back to the lit electives: I read the chapters I'll cover tomorrow over the weekend--and I'd have been very happy to keep reading: I was having a blast with both books (but, I confess, especially with Oryx and Crake). That will be my dessert between tomorrow and Thursday: reading the next assigned chunk for each class. I don't want to read ahead because I want to be able to keep the conversation focused on just the chapters we're going to cover on that day, and my memory is so unreliable, I'm afraid I'll spill the beans, let cats out of bags, that sort of thing--and I want the students to have the joy of the stories unfolding in their own way. Assuming it is a joy, of course, but I think they'll have fun. I'm very much looking forward to what they have to say about the readings.

And--note to self--I have to remember to warn them about the graphic sexual violence in The Windup Girl before they start reading it. I didn't give any "explicit material" advisories about Oryx and Crake, so when I read, "'Who says a guy can't suck his own,'" I thought, "Woops, forgot that was in there." Well, they'll have to grow up a little, I guess. I also have to warn them about nudity and violence in Blade Runner. Oddly, I don't have to worry about that sort of thing in the M&D class: Agatha Christie is not noted for explicit sex scenes. Even Raymond Chandler isn't particularly racy for young people these days--and he's about as sexually explicit and grotesquely violent as things get.

Oh, I'm blathering. I'll stop. Hasta manana.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

So much better

Yesterday's discouragement has dissolved, momentarily at least. Between club hour (when I bailed on several events I really wanted to go to in order to mark assignments) and my office hour, I did get everything marked and back to the students. It was pretty dreadful, for the most part; I was wise to stay away from it yesterday, when the world looked bleak and miserable. But I've gotten much more quickly to the point where I comment minimally if at all, and pretty much I've turned over the responsibility for making improvements to responses to the students. I've told them about what they should do multiple times; either they're going to get it or they're not.

And the classes were great. Mr. Hostile wasn't: he does have that affect to a certain extent, but he was great in his group, great in the class discussion, happy that we're going to watch Blade Runner, psyched at the thought that I might squeeze another movie in there.... So, that's all good. And the discussion was lively and intelligent and could have kept going a lot longer if we hadn't run out of time. I always love it when I have to bring things to a halt and the students are disappointed that class is over.

That didn't quite happen with the M&D class, but it was still a good class. I forgot to remind them to make notes while watching "A Study in Pink," so they were a little dull at that point--and the end of A Study in Scarlet didn't exactly leave them with a lot to talk about, but I made some suggestions about a deeper thematic idea that might carry over into The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which they're going to start for next week.

The SF students get to start Oryx and Crake, and I can't wait to find out what they think about it.

I do have to mention that there is one student in the SF class who is so completely clueless and lost that I hardly know how to talk to him. He can't understand the readings at all, and on Tuesday he said he wanted to come to my office to talk about it but not during my office hour, which isn't convenient for him. I said he should send me an e-mail from his student account so we could set up a time. Today he came to class about 40 minutes late, then came up to me to say he can't figure out how to use his student e-mail.

I should explain that the college sends vital information to students through their campus e-mail addresses. Every student has a campus e-mail address automatically, immediately upon registering. He's in sophomore level classes--and he has never used his student e-mail and can't figure out how. "Lost" is inadequate to cover how completely unprepared and out of it he is. How on earth did he get this far?

I told him how to get to his e-mail and suggested he go to one of the computer labs on campus for help getting it set up. But this is one of those situations when I wish it were at all ethical to pull him aside and say, "Listen: college isn't for you. You should figure out something that you want to do for a living that doesn't require a college education and go be brilliantly successful at that."

I won't even get into a discussion of the student in M&D who registered late, has been absent twice, and was 40 minutes late today. Or the student in M&D who decided that he'd be better off reading the graphic novel of A Study in Scarlet as a better option than simply looking up the summary online. (Well, yes, on a scale from bad to worse, that was the marginally better choice, but still.) I won't sigh and wring my hands over the students who are going AWOL in the lit electives: I'm glad to have fewer bodies in there, truly, but I do wish they'd officially withdraw.

Instead, I'll talk about how great it was to read the discussion board posts from the 101 students. They're not all doing it, of course, and some are doing a pretty dreadful job, but the ones who are doing it well are really doing it well: they're bouncing ideas off each other, bringing up things they forgot to mention in class (or didn't have time to, or that have occurred to them since). Those discussion board posts are a treat to read, and I have a blast joining in the conversation. I like the idea of doing more of this kind of thing: it's good writing practice for them (even though the writing is pretty dreadful in a few instances), and it does let them think a little more about the readings than they might otherwise have a chance to do.

And that, I think, is a good place to end the week. I already have my little bag of work packed to carry to Advisement on Monday (and please heaven I won't have to see any students but will just be able to work on my stuff), and as the dusk builds, I will toddle off to spend three days mixing relaxation, life maintenance, and girding my loins for the first full, normal week of the semester starting Monday. Wish us all luck.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Feeling discouraged

I've done the rereading of both novels, so I'm at least that prepared for classes tomorrow, but I find I'm feeling too discouraged to face another round of reading responses, after the marathon to complete the last batches yesterday. And I'm even more discouraged about the 101. Several students have been AWOL: two of the students missed the last two classes in a row, and one of them had already missed a class before that, so she's on her third absence already, not to mention that she missed the class when I went over discussion board posts (and she hasn't done any) as well as the library day. I sent out an e-mail to all students, letting them know that the handout I'd forgotten to distribute on Monday is on my office door--and the only student to respond to that so far is the other AWOL student, and he was a week behind what's required on the syllabus: his e-mail asked if he was right that last Monday's assignments would be due this coming Monday.

The students who are showing up are great, and I think they're learning--possibly not so much about writing yet, but something about reading and thinking. But of course the ones who most need to be there are the ones who are AWOL. And I can't be supportive and encouraging if they're not there. I don't like the fact that they may be doing a metaphoric face-plant into the hard pavement of responsibility, mostly because I don't want the class to get too tiny too soon. But there is also a limit to how much I can protect them from their own actions--and how much I should protect them. I prefer it if I can let them bounce twice before they splat, but again, sometimes I can't be there to provide the trampoline. As it were.

In this kind of mood, I wonder if I'll have the needed stamina to keep on doing this for who knows how many more years or if I'll start making compromises that I don't like to contemplate just so I can get through another round of student assignments.

It's a gorgeous, sunny day, absolutely stunningly beautiful, and I feel wrapped in grey, thinking about it.

The obvious solution is, don't think about it and get out there to enjoy the rest of the glorious afternoon. I am going to put the responses aside; it will make more work for me leading into Tuesday--and I still have to do all the marking of preliminary essays for the 101 class--but I think I'm hitting the point of diminishing returns. It's better for me to face the student assignments when I'm in a calmer and more relaxed frame of mind, so, well, I'll do the Scarlett O'Hara thing.

And it really is a gorgeous day.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Group work: pretty necessary

For various reasons, in both the electives today, I opted not to go with group work--and in both cases, I saw the value of groups in terms of getting the more shaky/reticent students involved in the conversation. However, in both classes, things ended up working well enough. In the SF class, I demonstrated how to move from a simple observation ("There's a lot of stuff about animals in Androids") to a more important, thematic idea ("Looking at the evidence, what can we say the novel suggests about empathy?"). Students loved seeing the ideas on the board (diligently taking notes)--and although the class discussion was confined pretty much to 6 or 7 students, the rest not saying anything (and a few nodding off), the comments and questions connected pretty well to what was on the board.

By the way, Mr. Difficult (or whatever I've been calling him: the borderline hostile student) was there again. He mostly read during class, but he said that he actually gets a lot ideas out of group work. I am beginning to think he truly isn't hostile; he just seems that way because he's both very bright and profoundly impatient. I keep going back and forth on what's going on with him, but I'll continue to gently encourage him to play with others, as it were.

In M&D, the students were pretty silent and apparently disengaged when we were talking about the middle chunk of A Study in Scarlet--which is understandable, as the story very abruptly shifts to an omniscient narrator and an apparently completely disconnected back story. There are clues that somehow the back story will connect with the mystery of the first part, but it's easy to get lost. Still, I was very happy that a few of the students who are normally silent were willing to jump in with some questions or observations. I didn't press the discussion very hard or far; I shifted pretty quickly into showing the first chunk of the TV Sherlock's first episode, "A Study in Pink." I was delighted that it was new to all but about 3 students--and I told them to pay careful attention to the ways in which it followed the original story and the ways in which it tweaked things. They loved it (of course)--and they were infinitely more engaged when it came time to make the connections from the book to the TV version and back again. Lively, intelligent comments and observations. I think they're a little disappointed that the primary focus of Thursday's class will be on discussion of the final chunk of the book: they want to get back to the TV show. But we will watch the remainder of it, though we may need to finish up next Tuesday. (I don't remember how long it is--which means I "have to" take the DVD home tonight and time out the rest of the episode, imagine my dismay.)

I did get everything marked and returned today--in part because I've pretty much stopped commenting on their responses. There are a few students in each class who need to come talk to me; I'll be interested to see if they actually follow up on my suggestion that they make a point to spend time with me in order to improve. Some of them are simply not interested in putting in any particular effort--or don't think they can learn to do anything more than what they're already doing (the expectation of failure that's been beaten into them over the years)--but a few are anxious to improve, so I hope they make that little bit of effort and get to my office. I finally did a little bit of the talk about how to improve responses in the SF class--though I didn't spend as long as I could have on the reason why simply copying ideas from someone else's summary is a bad idea. I'm getting somewhat tired of harping on what needs to go into responses, but I think they're finally getting the idea that the responses can be beneficial when it comes time to write their papers.

And I know fully and completely that when I get their first papers, I'll be frustrated and disappointed by most of them. I hate to say that I'm hoping a few of them bail before that point, as I honestly don't know how I'll get all the papers marked if the classes stay as big as they are. The former student who was in the SF class is no longer: he officially withdrew yesterday (after my big, fierce lecture about his coming to class unprepared). The two former students in M&D are holding steady, though one of them was absent today--but another student has stopped attending, and I think she's fled. (That reminds me: we have to do the first "census" of our classes this week. Put that on the "to do" list, Prof. P.) Others are sure to flee once they get their first essays back graded.

And I realize that I'm contemplating relaxing my very high standards for their papers. I hate it, but I also am trying to find a balance between what I think they should be able to do and what they actually are able to do. The problem is, some of the students can achieve high marks even with my standards at their usual high level. It's that vast middle ground, between the obvious fails and the obvious A's that is perplexing to me. I just don't know where to set the bar for the B, C, D grades....

Well, that's a dilemma for another day. For now, I'm completely exhausted and need to noodle around a little, just to let go of the day, and then get out of here. I may post tomorrow, depending on how I feel about the work I get done (or don't). I'm glad I don't have to get up to an alarm; I'm glad I can mark assignments and read the books without interruptions by students wanting advisement or my class schedule. But I have to say, this whole working for a living thing is highly overrated.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Quick(ish) post

I have to get out of here pretty soon, and I feel unduly flurried: I didn't get everything marked for the 101 class today, as I ended up actually doing some advising in Advisement (who could imagine such a strange turn of events?), and I managed to forget the important handout for today, had a huge list of things I wanted to go over, didn't get very far... but it was a good enough class. I hate that I don't see them again until next week, but then we settle down for a while.

I have a lot of stuff to mark for the two electives, too, and I know there is no way I can get it all marked before the first class tomorrow--and there won't be any other time tomorrow, so this time I'll make sure I have everything for the SF class and the M&D class will have to survive without feedback until Thursday. I am definitely taking work home on Wednesday: whether marking student assignments is some kind of atonement, I won't try to ascertain, but I will spend the Day of Atonement doing precisely that. I have to get most if not all of it done, too, as Thursday starts with a Seminar Hours meeting, then there's an MDC event that I will attend if I am not too rattled and exhausted by the madness of all things seminar, then I have the SF class, and one little measly office hour in which to try to finish up anything that's still lingering for the M&D class--but I also want to be at least mostly caught up for the 101 on Monday.

And here we go 'round the prickly pear.

I had two nice one-on-one meetings with students today. They took time I might otherwise have spent on marking stuff, but meeting with students is always time well spent, in my estimation. The first was during my office hour: a student from SF e-mailed me over the weekend to say that she wasn't happy with her marks on her reading responses and wanted to talk with me about them. I am always impressed when a student wants to figure out how to do better while it's still early enough to do something different. She's actually making decent marks, but she was disappointed that her marks weren't improving. English is not her first language, and she has never read SF before, so she's struggling to make sense of things. I realize how much I take for granted about what can be deduced from very little information in SF. There's mention of "the colonies"--and even without other information about where those colonies are located, for anyone who reads SF at all, it's clear that the colonies are off world, whether on Mars or on space stations or in different solar systems doesn't matter. But she was baffled. Part of the problem, however, was that she hadn't looked up the word "colony"--and somehow, despite knowing about the 13 Colonies of the proto-U.S., she didn't know what a "colony" is. So, that's part of what she learned by sitting with me.

But she also figured out something about asking questions--"Is this character an android? Here's the evidence that would suggest yes; here's the evidence that would suggest no"--and about moving from an observation to an awareness of something significant: "I notice that animals are very important; everyone wants one and real ones are very expensive. Why might it be so important to have an animal, especially a real one? Here are all the places where people are talking about animals: what might I gather from what is said and how people in the novel behave?" Then she figured out something about the connection between reading responses and writing essays: "Oh, I want to write something about that thing about animals: where was that? What ideas did I have? What came up in class discussion? What did Prof. P say?"

So I asked her if she'd be willing for me to explain to the rest of the class what happened in our meeting so they can learn from her experience. She also mentioned that she was struggling to understand, and some of her classmates said they'd just gone online and looked up a summary; I assured her that she is doing the right thing, and her classmates are doing themselves a deep disservice by going to "cheater" sites.

That, in turn, leads me to reflect that, in the future, I will not ask for any summary: just for their questions, ideas, thoughts. Hard to have any of those about something specific in what you've read if you  haven't actually done the reading and are just relying on an online summary.

The other pleasant encounter with a student was the young woman who came to see me as a mentor. She's highly self-motivated and probably doesn't need mentoring at all, but I'm happy to help her out. And she may be the only student I see all semester, the way things are going.

But the bells just rang, telling me that it's time for me to go--so, more tomorrow... whether the sun comes out or not, whether I'm stronger or not....

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Weekly wrap-up

I'm set for Monday: things loaded into the bag I'll carry to Advisement with me, so I have plenty to do between advisees, and even a triage list created, in case I forget which end is up, or who's on first, or which class I have to teach next.

I was visited by another of those minor miracles in which I actually manage to get the work done before class. OK, well, full confession: I didn't get to reread the entire chunk of A Study in Scarlet that I'd assigned, but I reviewed my annotations and notes, so I was ready enough. I am, however, taking home the copies of both that and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? that I've been reading and annotating, so I can get that done over the weekend. All the assignment marking, however, I'll do here in the office.

I did have a Homer Simpson moment, however, when--after all the students had departed from the SF class--I realized I hadn't returned their previous assignments (which I'd beaten myself to a pulp to get marked), nor had I talked to them about the problems/errors I'm seeing in their responses to the reading. Well, on Tuesday, I'll give them the whole megillah--including what I collected today.

Mr. Hostility was absent from SF today--and strangely, no one seemed to miss him. Two young women stayed after class to say that they'd had the best time yet in their groups: they're both very intelligent and dedicated as students, and in their previous groups, they'd been with student who either couldn't or wouldn't think in any depth about the reading. Today, just by luck of the draw, they were both in groups with someone (or in one case, two someones) who could engage in bouncing ideas around. I told them that I was going to continue to scramble groups for a while, and when they're in groups with students who aren't as prepared or contemplative as they are, they should take charge and model what is possible--but that eventually I will start micro-managing the groups so the good students can have the pleasure of being with other good students. They deserve the enjoyment--and the boost to their own learning. One of them said she didn't want to name names, but I said, "Please do!" They may be aware of dynamics that I can't determine from my position. It was great to see them both lit up, so I may start micro-managing the groups sooner than I normally would--but it would be nice to get some of the lumber out of the way first.

In the Mystery class, I did give them the discussion about how to improve responses, and I did return their previous assignments--but in both classes, I had to boot some people for not coming to class prepared, and I said that today would be the last day that I'd allow students to stay who didn't have their responses and print copies of the reading. I let some stay if they had done the reading, even if they were missing one of the two components, but those who were missing both? Gone. I'm not sure what it says about the classes that the students who left SF were somewhat sullen and sulky about it, whereas the one student who had to leave M&D was completely understanding about it.

Speaking of which, I walked across campus with Kristin today, and she was relating the story of a student who sent her a nasty e-mail about how Kristin had "bullied" her and been inappropriate by asking the student where her textbook was. That's precisely what Kristin said: the student said she didn't have her book and Kristin said, "Where is it?" That was the hostile, bullying, inappropriate thing Kristin did. I swear, some of these "kids" are made of spun glass--or spun sugar: they shatter or dissolve at the least little thing. "Fragile" doesn't cover it. Of course, I want to strangle Kristin's student for her, but she wrote a very clear, rational e-mail--which the student probably will never read. They do that: they throw a bomb via e-mail and then flee any repercussions that may come through a response.

Well, at least it wasn't any of my students. I did have to talk to one student about plagiarizing her response, but I was proud of her for confessing. I hadn't been able to find anything specific online, but she admitted that her sister wrote it. She did say that her sister wrote what she told her to (um, I don't think so)--but I encouraged her to ask her questions in her responses, instead of turning to her sister or online for the answers. I hope she does; I hope she actually engages in the difficult work of learning.

The M&D class seemed to roll just fine: a couple of students are doing excellent work, and so far, what lumber there is hasn't gotten in the way quite as much as it seems to in SF. But the discussion in SF was much more animated: Androids is giving them a lot to think about, which is great. (And I am soon to be the proud owner of a DVD of Blade Runner.)

During my office hour today, I met with one of my former students who is in the M&D class: she's getting ready to graduate and wants to transfer to a small, private, liberal arts college--specifically those that have programs for people who are a little older and who are getting a new start. I think she came to see me just for some reassurance, which I was happy to offer. She was terrific in 101, and she's doing fine in M&D; I recommended that she join the honors program, and I think she has. I'll be happy to write her a glowing letter of recommendation. I also met with a student who was in my fiction class last year: she wants a letter of recommendation, and I wasn't sure whether I could, in good conscience, provide one: she wasn't a great writer back then, but her e-mail was clear, precise, error-free... and after talking with her, I can, in fact, give her a good recommendation without feeling like I'm spinning a line of bullshit. She's not quite sure what direction she wants to take from here: I think she's rather hoping the cosmos gives her a clear indication of where she should go, as she's applying to two prelaw programs and one in educational psych. These are undergrad programs, so she'll have to make it through those before she goes on to the real deal for either career path--but I won't be surprised if she ends up doing something else entirely: neither feels like the right fit for her to me. Not that I'm an expert in her capability or interests, but still.

Shifting gears entirely, I happened to glance at what I got in the way of preliminary essays from the 101 students, and one of them is A) in pencil and 2) more of an outline than an actual essay. This is from the student who cannot make sense of assignment sheets. Two other students were absent, and I've heard nothing from them about submission of their essays. I'll lay any odds that they show up on Monday with their essays and expect that I'll take them.

But this leads me to remember that, for 101s at least, I really do need to go over the syllabus in detail--and the assignment sheets, too. After they've been around the block a few times, I can expect them to pay attention to handouts--but not at first. So, my main question is, should I accept those late papers or not? My inclination right now is to accept them but with a whopping huge grade penalty. Whatever I decide, I will definitely go over the rules and regs in class, in part because we can use that as a spring board into the discussion of whether high school adequately prepares students for college. (In these instances, the answer is "no.") I don't particularly want to lose the two students who missed class yesterday--but the poor benighted soul who cannot decipher an assignment sheet? I'm going to have a very hard time keeping any kind of patience with him. And the Irrepressible Student is driving me batshit in his own lovely way, being surprised about everything (like, oh, that I actually want students to think).

But I need to end the week on a positive note, so I'll note that I have my first seminar hours appointment on Monday, and the student not only responded to my e-mail confirming our appointment, she wants to ask about the honors program. I could not possibly be more thrilled. Ironic that I wanted to mentor honors students and we were told we couldn't (and the colleague who was going to lead that cohort tried to poach this student from me when I told her and Scott about the interest in honors mentoring). I actually would enjoy mentoring students, so I'm hoping we start to get more of them, and soon.

On that note, however, I'm going to tie a bow around this work week and put it aside for the present....

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


My first late night of the semester--and it's not as late as they're going to get, I'm sure.

I finished marking the assignments I've collected from Mystery & Detective, and I finished rereading the assigned chapters for SF. Before classes tomorrow, I need to do the flip of that: mark assignments for SF and reread for M&D.

I need to start chasing students out of those classes, or I'll never get caught up.

Yesterday, I didn't note that the potentially hostile student was still somewhat abrasive but not actively hostile (and he was in a group with a slightly older man who was not cowed in the least by the abrasive behavior). That class's Irrepressible Student was snotty to his group mates, accusing them of gossiping instead of focusing on the reading (an accusation they hotly denied); I said I needed to talk with him after class, and he was outraged that he might be in trouble for their behavior, but I assured him that he wasn't in trouble: we just needed to talk. By the time class was over, he realized what I wanted to talk to him about and apologized for his behavior. Fair enough. And my former student was there with a hard copy of the novel--but without having read it or written up his response. He tried to argue with me about whether what he'd done was enough (no, it wasn't), but he ended up stopping his own attempts to weasel out of the requirements before I could: he knew he was being a jackass. I let him stay, but I told him I was very disappointed in him and that I thought I'd taught him better. He was abashed. Whether he was sufficiently abashed to adjust his behavior remains to be seen.

Today, the Irrepressible Student in 101 was astonished that some of the discussion board posts were required--even though it clearly says so in the syllabus and in the grade calculation sheet. He also was confused about how the preliminary paper would connect with the final version. I said we'd be working to shift from one to the other in incremental stages, but he and the absolute dolt (the guy who cannot to save his life read an assignment handout) were both unwilling to work through the process: they want to know what the end result is supposed to look like right now--and they were so concerned about that, they didn't make good use of the library session. I realize I may have scheduled that too early in the semester, in terms of the logical progression of their ideas, but I wanted them to know that they can keep looking for ideas, articles, focus/direction as we go along. Two students were missing--a second absence for both of them. The dolt made me crazy, of course: I gave them the handout of the reading for next class, and he said, "What's this?" I had said what it was when I handed it out, so I said, "Look at your schedule of assignments and you tell me." Ultimately, I had to say to explain that it is his job to read the assignment handouts carefully, more than once, and only then ask me questions. It's OK if he has questions--but he has to have read the handouts first. I also said, "I've explained this in class--twice"--and he said, "It's just, sometimes you talk so fast..." I grant you, English is not his first language, so maybe I am going too fast for him, but he needs to ask me to slow down and repeat--or improve his listening skills so he can follow.

On the other hand, the best and brightest student was there and asking absolutely fucking brilliant questions about the education topic. She and another student--not as bright but earnest and dedicated--were sharing ideas, and I loved where they were going. The frat-boy type student had a good clear focus for his research--possibly a bit boring, but hey: I'll take some dullness if it leads to focus. A couple of the students were kind of floundering, but that's OK. I'm not happy that I only see them once next week (Wednesday being yet another holiday), but I'll cover as much ground as possible in that one class and we'll see what happens next.

On a purely technical front, I went by the Printing office today, and my order hadn't been started. I canceled it. What I print on the printer at home will bleed if it gets wet, but at least I can print the cards--and they really are the easiest way to keep track of things. As an addition to what I usually do, I think I'm going to cut out the little photos from the photo rosters and put them on the cards, too. It's too late to do an ice-breaker type exercise for me to learn people's names, so I'm relying on those photos to help me learn who's who in the big electives. In the 101, I knew everyone after the second class anyway.

I started out the day tired, and I still have miles to go before I sleep (literally, since I'm still in the office, and metaphorically)--and I'm going to be grinding away at the work like mad tomorrow, hoping to get everything done. Wish me luck: I'm sure going to need something.

And Friday, I believe a collapse will be in order.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Already falling behind

The semester has barely started, and I already am so far behind the curve in terms of keeping up with student work that I don't know whether to scratch my watch or wind my ass (as my aunt would have said). I am hoping for a very quiet stint in Advisement tomorrow, but even with that, I'm not at all sure how I can possibly mark all the assignments I have in hand plus reread the assignments for the two electives--which I really do need to do, as I don't remember either one well enough to feel confident teaching it without a review.

I should stay here and work for a while, but I've opted to meet Paul for dinner instead. I realize I'm feeling a vague and formless psychological malaise about the semester: I'm not sure how much of it comes from the herky-jerky schedule, all these interrupted weeks, and how much comes from the adjustment from being on sabbatical back to being in the classroom--and how much comes from the fact that the students in the electives seem even more deficient in their reading skills than I was prepared for.

I did give both the elective classes an alternative way to approach their reading responses, returning to the old log forms I used to use. I realize two things that I must adjust for next semester, both for whatever literature elective I assigned myself (I think American Short Story, but I can't remember) and for 102, which is what I'll be returning to after a good break. I need to rework the handout "The Reading Experience: How to Construct the Reading Response," to ensure that it includes a lot more about the content of the responses--and I need to decide whether to include the two-column log format as a way for students to structure their responses.

I think I'll learn a lot from what students in the two electives opt to do now. I've told them they can do what they've been doing, which are more like mini-papers, or they can switch entirely over to the two-column log format--or they can do a combination of both: whatever is most beneficial and user-friendly for them. Their choices will help me understand what works for them.

Both classes went fine today--and it was the first day that I had the experience of class-P&B-class, running one right into the other. I'm very happy that I'm not on any committees that meet during club hour, as I can usually count on that time to get some work done before class--but I will have students showing up during my office hour on Thursday, which means I won't have that time to count on for work.

It's starting to look like this may be a semester in which I end up having to stay here on campus very, very late--or take work home, or both. I'm also getting increasingly frustrated not to have the index cards for my record keeping. If I get a chance to call Printing tomorrow, I may tell them that if they can't get to the job tomorrow so I have the cards before my classes on Thursday, they should just cancel the job entirely. I can either print the index cards at home or figure out a different system for record keeping.

For now, however, I'm going to hang it up and head off to meet Paul. I may opt to do some work reading once I'm home, in hope that reading won't get me too jazzed up. I reckon I'll have a better sense of what is going to be most beneficial once I'm home and in my slobby clothes, beginning the real wind-down for the evening.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

E natural...

...the note on which I'm ending the week.

Ha ha ha.

My initial impression of the intellectual wattage in the Mystery class, in comparison with the SF class, was proven incorrect today--but I still like the class, generally, and the class ended with me in conversation with two of the more insecure students, who nevertheless are working their little butts off and consequently doing as well as, if not better than, some of the more confident students.

The discussion in both classes was a little bumpy, but in both classes, I said I would allow students to rework their first real reading responses (to the first half of Frankenstein for SF, to "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" for Mystery), now that they've tried them out and we've had a class discussion. Almost everyone in both groups took me up on it. Almost everyone who hadn't turned in their initial self-evaluation/responses last week did so today.

It was raining, so several students were absent (two with flat tires: coincidence?)

In each class, a student who was not registered for the first two class meetings missed today's class--and is now woefully, frighteningly behind. Weirdly, one of them started out in the Mystery class and is now in SF. I'm not sure why he switched, but he does know I'm his professor, as he e-mailed about whether to come to class since he didn't have a print copy of the book. (I didn't get his e-mail until after class, so of course, it's my fault he wasn't there....) I've told both of them that it's more important for them to be working with the rest of the class than to risk falling even further behind by trying to make up old assignments. I'm not sanguine about the chances of success for either student, but I could be surprised.

And Mr. Hostility was initially hostile again today. I put the students in groups, and he was reading Frankenstein, ignoring his group mates. I asked him to stop reading and interact with his group mates, and he said, "Isn't the whole point of this class to read?" I said, "No, the point of this class is to discuss what you've read; you read on your own." A few minutes later, he was going on again about how unbearably boring the beginning of the work was. I was ready to tell him to see me after class--but then, in class discussion, he woke up, was smiling, participating....

I've been duped by this kind of thing before, thinking I could salvage a hostile student by being nonconfrontational, so again, I'm not sanguine that he'll last--because I may well boot him: if he continues to be hostile, he's gone, as he creates an atmosphere that is not conducive to learning for the other students. But I haven't given up on him just yet, and he doesn't seem to be disturbing the other students entirely (though I will be sure not to put him in a group with two relatively reticent young women again).

I also booted two students from SF, three from M&D, for not coming to class prepared. One of the students in the SF class was in one of my 101s last fall. I was rather charmed by him back then; I'm not so charmed now. His self-evaluation was unfocused ramble; he admitted that he had not read the syllabus. I'm done babying him: he either pulls his shit together or he's out.

It's interesting that I have less patience with him than with Mr. Hostility. I think it's because I feel I taught him better, so his behavior reflects badly on me. Of course, he had the entire spring semester, plus the summer, to unlearn any good habits he may have (slowly and painfully) acquired from being in my class, but still: it pisses me off when my own students fuck up.

But we'll see. If he comes to class prepared from now on, I'll be very happy.

And once again, I'm taking work home with me, even though as a general rule, I try not to do that. Because Monday is yet another holiday, I won't have time on campus to prep for Tuesday's classes--so, I'll be doing it Monday at home. (Happy New Year! Welcome to 5775!)

I should also make note of a minor miracle: in fact, I was able to read today's story for M&D and get the assignments I'd collected marked and returned. So the only work I have hanging over from earlier this week is the online discussion board stuff from the 101 students, which I need to read over and quickly evaluate. At some point, I should put the grading for those online, so students can check their marks electronically, but right now, enh. I'll do it on paper. It's a little clumsy, but hey.

I can't wait to get the index cards from Printing, however. Having those will make my life much easier.

But speaking of easy life, I'm astonished to see that it's only a little after 6, and I'm stick-a-fork-in-me done. Hallelujah and pass the parsnips.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

burning the 8 p.m. oil

I'm pretty well set for the SF class tomorrow, not so much for Mystery, but it's nearly 8 p.m. as I start this, and I am still here at the office. It's time to boogie on out of here, as soon as I post a bit to the blog.

I am going to need a large supply of burlap bags to suppress the guinea pig in the 101 class. I talked to him after class about the fact that I would need to periodically halt him mid-stream--or not call on him at all--but talking to Paul about it, I've decided that I'll start saying, "OK, you have 25 seconds in which to make your point. If you need to think through what you want to say first, so you know what the point is and that you can do it in 25 seconds, I'll come back to you. Otherwise, I stop you at the 25 second mark. Period." I like the idea of letting him know that he needs to come to a point--and to do so expeditiously.

Paul pointed out--rightly--that relatively soon, the kid is going to start driving me bats, which will make me feel a great deal more negatively about him than I now do. However, if he can learn to sift actual points out of the effluvia, that will be a good lesson for him and for the rest of the class. Another student agreed to have his incomprehensible language examined by the rest of the class: I'm very proud of his courage--and his writing was a great example of good points obfuscated by turgid prose.

I suspect that I will be much more bothered--angered even--by the student who is simply incapable of understanding directions, reading instructions ... reading anything, actually. He keeps asking me to go over what's due for homework the next day, and I keep saying, "Read the schedule of assignments." He wanted me to explain about the submission requirements for the preliminary essay--and I pointed to where the handout (one page, thank you very much, which for me is a miracle of concision) specifically spells out the length and submission requirements. Yes, but he wanted me to explain it. That's going to get very old in a very big hurry. However, generally, the class is pulling together: even the two students who were new to the class yesterday were prepared today, contributing to the conversation, definitely part of the group. I let them go way early--which turned out to be a good thing, as several of them had questions (beyond the Guinea Pig and Mr. Lost).

Tomorrow is going to be a jam-packed day. I have a doctor's appointment, then the department meeting (I'd conveniently forgotten to record those on my calendar, but ah well), then SF, then I'm supposed to assist with a faculty scheduling training workshop, but I think I may have to beg off, so I can spend the time doing at least some prep for the Mystery class before I meet with them. I won't have their first assignments marked--or, rather, I can either mark their first assignments or reread "Murders in the Rue Morgue," and I think the latter is probably more important at this juncture. It's a lead-pipe cinch that I'm not going to do any more work tonight, and highly unlikely that I'll get anything done in the doctor's waiting room, or during the department meeting. I'd bail on the meeting--and I may miss part of it, will I or nill I, depending on how long I'm at the doc's--but the main agenda item is seminar hours, and I feel I should be there, as moral support for Scott, if nothing else. He's really a marvel of calm competence, so whatever I can do to help him in that (except assist in that training session)...

That's it for now. My mind needs to try to find a much faster method for getting off the work hamster-wheel than usual if I'm going to have any shot at a decent night's sleep, so, off I go, into the wild blue whatever.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

bump bump bump

It's just bumpy, the start to the semester.

We're still trying to figure out how to get the Seminar Hours thing off the ground given the fact that the administration has been idiotically slow in letting students even know that the mentoring option exists. I was all set to advertise to my own 101 class today, but as I helped Scott with a faculty workshop on how to use the scheduling software, he asked that we hold off until he can find out from the dean whether there is actually a reason for us not to extend outreach to our own classes--including (possibly) continuing students, in addition to new freshmen. It's really difficult to determine how paranoid to be about the administrations apparent raging incompetence on this: are we being set up to fail, or is this just lack of foresight? As Scott keeps pointing out, more than 80 faculty at 45 hours each means more than 3600 hours of contact with students--and that means a hell of a lot of students, even taking into consideration repeat visits. And the first mass e-mailing, which went out to 400 students, netted 30 students who are interested in the program.

Clearly there is a problem of scale here.

But, well, we knew it would be bumpy. We were expecting various system failures. So, we're holding on to our collective, metaphoric hats.

Shifting gears to interactions with students, today is the last day that students can add a class. I was expecting things to be pretty frantic in Advisement because of that last-minute panic, but it was relatively relaxed. I didn't have a lot of time to work on my own stuff--and spent a fair amount of what time I did have sorting out a doctor's appointment--but I'm hopeful that tomorrow I will be able to crank through both assignments I've collected (trying to stay ahead of that curve as long as I can) as well as finish rereading the stuff for the elective classes, so it's fresh in my mind when I meat them on Thursday.

In any event, after today, my rosters will be set--or at least, no one will be added to the rosters. Weirdly, one student dropped the Mystery class--but signed up for SF. I don't know if he did it because he's more interested in the material or if he didn't realize he'd have the same monster of an instructor. I reckon I'll find out on Thursday.

There were two students in the 101 today who weren't there for the first class (and who are already in awfully deep water as a consequence), and one absentee--but not the student who told me that he was going to be absent: he actually made it. And I was pretty happy with the discussion. What I liked is they're already starting to look at each other, not necessarily at me. As we get dialed in even further, I'm going to encourage more of that. There is at least one very smart young woman in the room: intelligent and apparently with a solid work ethic to go along with the basic mental capacity. I think she's going to raise the bar for everyone, without my having to do much of anything. Cool beans, that.

I do realize, however, that I probably don't have quite as much planned for tomorrow as I should. We'll see how things go, but I may end up letting them out super early--or they may end up starting to work on their preliminary versions of their papers in class. I'm trusting to the inspiration of the moment.

I probably should try to get some more work done, but "should" is a dirty word. There is always tomorrow. When the sun will come out. When I'll be stronger. When ... well, whatever. Tomorrow.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

...some days, it rains.

Little Bull Durham reference there. Some days you win, some days you lose....

And today was a mix. If I'd written this post after the SF class, I would have been sure the day was a dead loss. Now, I see wins and losses--and I have no idea what accounts for the difference.

Back story: I gave the literature electives a detailed explanation of how to read literature, both in terms of what to look for but also in terms of how to look: specific techniques for reading with analytical attention. I put the SF students into groups, with the directive to share with each other what they had gotten out of what they'd read and to come up with a few things they wanted to share with the class as a whole. They seemed to be engaged in relatively task-oriented conversation, and when I got the sense that their attention was starting to flag, I got everyone's attention and asked someone to start off the whole-class conversation. A young man raised his hand: "I thought that 'talk to the text' thing was weird. Do mean, like, literally talk to the text? 'Cause I don't think I've ever been reading something and said out loud, 'wow, I wonder what's gonna happen next."

You will understand my despair when I say it rather went downhill from there.

Apparently, the students had absolutely zero clue what I was trying to convey through what I'd written--and they are still completely, totally lost about what they're supposed to put in their written responses to the readings. "You mean, like, whether we can relate?"

Oh gawd. So, lots of explaining on my part, lots of whacked-upside-the-head-with-a-two-by-four looks on student faces, and I finally thought, OK, maybe they need the paper topics to help them have a clue what kinds of things to look for. Reminded them that they may find things that are not in any of the topics--which is great, as there is always a "student choice" option. "How am I supposed to get 5-7 pages out of what I see in the reading?" Well, not right away: that's what the responses are for. You write responses and they build into a paper over time.

I honestly think I've completely lost them. And one young man is unbelievably, unbearably hostile. At the end of class, he came up to me and--almost as if he were slapping me in the face--spat out, "I got Frankenstein, and I've read the first four chapters, and it's boring." He wanted to just walk out on that, but I called him back to talk about it a little, and he said, "I mean, like, it made me want to go to sleep: boring. All he's doing is talking about how his parents met, we don't even know anything about him yet." I explained that yes, unfortunately, sometimes we do have to read something that is boring, but the job as academics is to keep our minds engaged by trying to figure out why all that stuff is there: what's its purpose? He kept glaring at me; I think maybe he took a tiny bit of that in, but the waves of "I hate everyone" were all but palpable. He was followed by the guy who asked about the 5-7 pages thing--and who, by the way, had walked out of the room when I was about to let the class go, even though I was trying to call him back: seriously, dude, you can leave in 20 seconds.... But I did wonder what planet he'd been on during the entire class discussion. And the awful thing is, I don't think he's alone.

So, for that class, I may need to reboot. Apparently, the vast majority of them are dim enough that they need more concrete instructions--which is sad, but OK, if that's where they are. I'll see what they come in with on Thursday next week, but I did tell them they'd learn partly by doing. I am, however, extremely apprehensive. If Thursday is enough of a train-wreck, I'll ditch the second half of Frankenstein and spend one day on the beginning of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, talking them through what kinds of things would go in a reading response.

The one piece of excellent news is that I asked for a classroom change--and got it, fast. So the class is now in a room with enough desks to hold all the students without some breathing room around the desks--and an air conditioner that works. I'll take whatever I can get on that one.

I then went to a workshop on the scheduling software for seminar hours, for those of us who are fulfilling all or part of our hours doing advising/mentoring in our offices. Two of the faculty there were clearly completely unable to navigate even the most basic steps of this computerized scheduling software--and it's incredibly user-friendly and easy to figure out. Poor William was sitting between them and had to keep helping them, and they were just glacially slow. Both of them were older faculty--both in terms of having been in the department for decades and in terms of their chronological age--but there are plenty of other faculty in the same basic demographic who could certainly grasp this very simple stuff with no problem at all. Maddening, but there you are. William also brought up the problem of contact hours versus clock hours--which the committee got twitterpated about over the summer: these are the questions Scott is going to have to field over and over and over again. I am beyond grateful that he's chairing the committee: he's very good at looking at the whole mess from a purely pragmatic, problem-solving point of view, and it's keeping us focused and even marginally sane.

I will say that after the demonstration of annoying incapacity on the part of several of my colleagues (not William but others--at least one of whom shouldn't have been having the problems he was having), I was not entirely looking forward to the Mystery class--but they were great. I mean, seriously, wonderful. They got into their groups and the talk was energetic, focused, engaged--loud--and I didn't really want to interrupt them but I wanted to allow plenty of time to try to sort out the kinds of confusions I'd encountered with the SF class. Turns out, I didn't need it. They got it. There was one young woman who has been seated in the corner both classes, hidden behind classmates, and she has a rather expressionless demeanor, so I was a bit worried about her. To my surprise, she came up to check in with me at the end of class--and then surprised me even more when she showed me what her process had been and it was absolutely fucking perfect. Awesome. I really was rocked back on my heels. Just goes to show that the whole book/cover cliche has basis in reality (as do most cliches). The Bright Young Activist from last fall's 101 also hung out to talk with me about responses: she said she really liked the way we'd done things in 101 (the two-column approach, which I'm not insisting on this time out) and asked if she could continue with that. Hooray! Of course, yes. Then the other student who'd hung out to talk after class last time wanted to hang around a bit again this time: I guess I'll call him the Brazilian Intellectual (he is from Brazil, and he is clearly intellectual). He wanted to ask if there is a clear boundary between horror and mystery--so we got into a chat about how genre lines are blurry at best, and are really created more for academics and booksellers than for writers. A couple other students also had quick--and intelligent--questions after class. All I could think, walking back to the office, is that I'm glad that's the note my week is ending on.

But it got even better: I got a very polite, formal, apologetic e-mail from a student who was absent from SF, sending me her assignment (unnecessary but nice to know she's on top of things) and wanting to meet with me to explain why she'd missed class (also unnecessary, but I'll listen if she wants to explain): she's clearly very concerned to stay on top of her school work and to do well, and I have a good feeling about her.

If I can encourage her to step forward, keep the guinea pig under control, and either placate the hostile student or chase him out of class, the class chemistry there may start to shift. There are a few obviously bright and diligent students in the class, so I'm baffled to explain why the class as a whole comes across as such a mess--but that's the mystery of class chemistry. I'd guess that, in terms of raw intellectual chops, the two classes don't have much difference, but somehow the one is already falling apart and the other is pulling together like a drill team.

Go figure.

And now for a long weekend. I don't want to get into the habit of taking work home with me, but I think I will, just to stay a little bit in front of the curve for a bit.

So, now I'll spent a little time figuring out what to take home (and I'm sure it will be more than I'll actually accomplish, but that's OK), and then I'll figure out whether I want to take myself out for dinner or would just as soon be home and, metaphorically speaking, in bunny slippers. And I'll be back in the trenches on Tuesday. Stay tuned for more exciting developments.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Teeny-tiny, itty-bitty 101...

Officially, there are 12 students on the 101 roster, down from the initial 15. Two weren't in class today--which means they're going to be at least one assignment behind everyone else, assuming they come to class on Tuesday. Looking again at the assignment schedule, I realize that the first four weeks of classes are screwy: Next week, no classes Monday; Tuesday follows a Monday schedule--so I see the 101 students twice and the students in the lit electives once. The following week, again, no classes on Monday--so I see the 101 students once and the elective students twice. The week after that, no classes on Wednesday--so I see the 101 students once and the elective students twice. That eventually evens out in November, when a Tuesday follows a Wednesday schedule and we have Wednesday off (for Veterans' Day). I'm hugely relieved that all the electives are on the T/Th schedule and the one comp is on the M/W schedule: it's very hard for me to keep things sorted out in my own mind when I've got one comp following the M/W track and another following the T/Th track: my brain needs them in sync, even when they're not. If that makes sense.

In any event, the 101 was great--so far. There is one student with guinea pig tendencies (that sounds so rude, but I just mean he may need to be suppressed periodically), and one who has the "too cool for school frat boy" kind of demeanor, but who was, in fact, very willing to participate in discussion.

And the "Backwards Brain Bicycle" was a huge hit. They got it.

Favorite moment: when the Frat Boy said he thought it was an interesting coincidence that the video and the quotation for consideration (by W. G. Sumner, about critical thinking) were addressing the same basic idea. Really? A coincidence? You think?

He rather sheepishly admitted that maybe it wasn't a coincidence. I wanted to say, "Darlin', I do know what I'm doing here." But he'll figure that out, after about a dozen more such coincidences.

They seem on board with the annotations and expanded reading notes--and not too freaked out about the online discussion board posts. I am expecting a very bumpy start, and I told them it was OK if they felt a little unsure what they were doing at first, but we'd get it sorted out.

Backing up a bit to the discussion over the quotation for consideration (which I'll provide below): it was interesting to see how they misread, what they see and what they don't. One student pointed out what she thought was a contradiction (between having a clear, codified method but keeping ideas open)--and after I'd sorted out the thinking so she could see there is not, in fact, a contradiction, I told the students that the kind of question she'd had would be great in expanded notes.

I don't want to get too optimistic about what I'm going to get in terms of actual intellectual content: I'll just be happy if they take a stab at the assignment.

But even this first day does make me think that maybe the whole process is too complex. I'll know more as the semester goes along--and the one really good thing about the small class size is that I can work with students individually, and the collaboration can be class-wide, not just within small groups. Of course, I wouldn't mind if a bunch more students register between now and Tuesday: I am still very nervous about attrition, even though I've done everything I can to stage them slowly and carefully through the papers. It's still a lot of work, and it still isn't easy, and they're still unused to working through frustration in their academic lives. But the first reading--Mike Rose's lovely little essay "I Just Wanna Be Average" (an extract from a book, actually)--is intended to help them see that it's possible to suddenly be introduced to a life of the mind and to find it exciting and wonderful.

We'll see. We'll see.

Anyway, here's the "Quotation for Consideration" that is the initial prompt for their first papers (including the footnote I provide for them--but which, of course, most of them didn't read):

“Education is good just so far as it produces well-developed critical faculty.[1] . . . A teacher of any subject, who insists on accuracy and a rational control of all processes and methods, and who holds everything open to unlimited verification and revision, is cultivating that method as a habit in the pupils. Men educated in it cannot be stampeded. . . . They are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain. They can wait for evidence and weigh evidence. . . . They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices. Education in the critical faculty is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens.”

W. G. Sumner. Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals, New York: Ginn and Co., 1940. 632-633. From The Critical Thinking Community, “Sumner’s Definition of Critical Thinking. July 23, 2014. Web.

And in case I didn't already post it, here's the Backwards Brain Bicycle:

I didn't point it out to them, but I hope they stumble across this, too:

Right now, I am going to force myself to pull together what I need for my classes tomorrow, so all I have to do is grab the correct folder and go: it's going to be a mad dash of a day, though I may have a break between the seminar hours meeting at 10 and whenever the unhappy colleague shows up to talk about scheduling. But then I have class, training in the scheduling software for seminar hours, class: no breaks, just dashing from one to the next. Of course, the classes themselves may not run the full period; I really don't know what to expect in terms of conversation. But I can't count on getting out early and having time to organize between events, so I'd better do it now, even though all I really want to do is get off campus. But those steaming piles of class stuff aren't going to sort themselves, so off I go, to try to tame the chaos before it gets too out of hand.

[1] As Sumner uses the word here, it does not mean “faculty” in the sense of teachers: it means an ability or power to do something.