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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Oh thank god

Fortunately, the good papers were really good--and the bad ones bad enough that I could basically just write "nope" on them and not try to explain much. (The papers in the middle are always the ones that are hardest to grade.) I finished marking the last one just in time to pack up and get to class--and I was so fried that I gave them a handout about the change to the assignment schedule (a chance to "review"--i.e., actually read--the chapters of An Unsuitable Job for a Woman that we were supposed to have already covered), a handout and some information about revision, returned their papers to them and cut them loose. I met with about five students who are in serious trouble: I truly don't think they can turn it around at this point, but I'm not going to tell them absolutely not. I may, however, take some time next week in both lit electives to make them go through the grade calculation sheets and figure out for themselves where they are and whether the basic math indicates any chance for them to make it.

Maybe. We'll see.

The SF class was the usual treat today. I was pretty sure I was going to cut them loose early, but the discussion was pretty lively, and we were getting into some good territory, I thought.

But I am so tired at this point I literally can barely see. I did the plagiarism checks for the two students in SF whose papers turned up as problematic: one truly did plagiarize, the other didn't (though he quoted too much). I changed the revision deadline on the Turnitin platform for the first paper revision for the SF class. I handled a little e-mail regarding the grade grievance thing, which is turning out to be more complicated than I expected, but hey.

And I have a great, huge plastic accordion file in my tote bag, filled with student assignments, which I'm taking home for the weekend. Heaven knows if I'll do anything with it or if it will simply act as an interesting perch for the cats for a few days until I bring it back to the office in exactly the same shape it was when I carried it out--but if I'm smart, I'll chip away at something in there. Oh, say, the papers for the SF class. Or the reading responses for the various classes--all three of them. Something. Anything.

Now, however, I'm going to put the mess of papers swirling around the computer back into various folders, put the folders into logical places (I hope), turn out the lights and drive carefully home.

I'm incredibly grateful to whatever gods may be that I got the M&D papers done and back to the students. I am also incredibly, spectacularly tired. I gotta go home.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Make that 12

God DAMMIT. I mis-counted: one was stuck to the back of another. I just counted again. Twelve left to grade. fuckfuckfuckfuck.

But I really truly seriously cannot do any more tonight.

I'm going home. This time I mean it.

Very likely another huge mistake in the making

Well, I decided to be a good girl and to go to Advisement today, which likely was a mistake, as I'm now significantly further behind on the paper grading than I intended to be at this point: I'd hoped to have maybe 7-8 papers left to grade: I have 11.

And yet I'm going home.

I don't know when I'll get the papers graded for SF.

I don't know when I'll get the homework marked for either of the lit electives.

I have to get the papers graded for the 101 between Monday and Wednesday.

I have to look at promotion folders between now and Monday.

I'm sure I'm forgetting something crucially important.

And yet I'm going home. I'm going to read the chapters that were assigned in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, even though maybe 3 of the students will have read them; then I'm gong to bed.

I'll be up at 6. I hope to hell I'm in here by 9. I'm counting on the fact that I deliberately put the three papers that I hope will be the best at the bottom of the stack--and that not only will they actually be as good as I anticipate, but that because they will be good, they will be quick and easy to grade. I think I have three or maybe four more that may be really hard to grade yet to do. I briefly considered taking some home with me tonight, but I realized I'm simply slammed up against the wall--my nose is completely mashed out of shape, I've whacked into that wall so firmly--and I truly must stop.

Because, well, you know what Scarlett says tomorrow is. And I'm trusting that she's right.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Possibly impossible

I've just had to do a little juggling of the assignment schedule for the Mystery and Detective class, as they're struggling with the P.D. James--apparently because it's an actual novel, with the kind of rich literary detail of any real novel--and in the process, I was looking at how many papers I have yet to grade and what's coming in next week, hoping I could maybe put off marking stuff for the 101 class, and no: I can't. And I have to get the papers back to the M&D students on Thursday, even with shifting the assignment schedule a little, so they can revise before their next papers are due. I still have 15 of their first papers to grade. And I have to get the first papers back to the SF students next week, preferably on Tuesday, so the rest of the week I can work on papers for the 101 class (as I'm collecting their second submissions of their second essays on Monday), plus try to whack through the reading responses for the electives--and I have 20 papers from the SF class yet to grade, at least one of which I know is plagiarized, but that means I have to gather the sources the kid stole from, and another is probably plagiarized, but I have to evaluate the sources Turnitin is directing me to in order to see if it really is plagiarized or if the student is just using quotations that the online sources also use. Maddening--because it's time consuming, dammit.

I took papers with me on my trip and did as much grading as I could stand. And I have to be honest and say that, although there were some things about the trip I enjoyed, on the balance, I was not happy: I couldn't relax and have fun, but I couldn't settle down and grind away at the work. So, all in all, it was pretty much a colossal mistake, and I'm sorry as hell I did it. Note to self: don't do that again: what you get out of it is not worth what it costs before you go and after you return: I was frantic enough before I left to have serious doubts, but I'm really, seriously paying for it now.

I got up at 6 this morning, hoping to get in by 9 and get a good jump on the work before the seminar hours meeting at 11:30. I have no idea what happened, but I didn't get here until 9:45: I might as well have gotten up at 7, like I usually do, and arrived at 10, like I usually do. Then I got absolutely bugger all nothing done that mattered prior to the meeting, mostly because I was busy responding to the problematic colleague who absolutely refuses to understand why she doesn't get the online courses she wants the way she wants them: I arrived in the office to find two e-mails, two phone messages, and a note in my mail box. I was going to ignore the whole mess, but the voice mails and note in the box put me over the top, so I "had" to respond. I even brought it up in P&B--mostly to alert Bruce and Cathy that they might have to deal with some blow-back about the whole situation. And everyone on P&B looked at me, stunned, and said, "Why are you getting dragged into this? Everyone knows that, once the schedules come out, the scheduling committee doesn't have anything to do with them any more, and that the assistant chair handles problems." That was beautifully reassuring, I must say: I really shouldn't be getting hauled through this mess. I will say, after I explained--again--exactly who does what when, that I got a very kind and gracious e-mail from the colleague in question, so, well, I hope that's the end of that.

I'm also dealing with coordinating a grade grievance hearing--not all on my lonesome, thank heavens, but in concert with a colleague with whom I used to work when I was on Academic Standing. I'm one of the department's P&B representatives, as the faculty member against whom the grievance is being brought is from our department; the other coordinator is one of the three members of Academic Standing, he's the "co-chair" representing that committee. But there's been a lot of e-mailing going on about that, trying to contact the faculty member in question (who is an adjunct, thus hard to reach), and so on.

There are also now promotion folders to read through before next week's P&B meeting. I have no earthly clue when I'm going to do that. Really: none. I could get up at 5 every day and stay here until 10 every night and I still can't see when I'll have time to look at them. Apart from Paul and one other person, I can't even remember who my mentees are. Not that it matters: I'm supposed to read them all--and I think we have quite a few of them. Bugger bugger bugger.

Oh, yeah: and I haven't looked at the online discussion board stuff for the 101s in weeks--plus I have a lot of reading to do to be ready to talk about the books in the electives on Thursday. Christ on a bright blue bicycle.

I really wanted to cancel class tomorrow, but I can't, not when the students' next papers are due on Monday, and they need to get the preliminary versions back from me first. But I may have to call in sick to Advisement again. I hate to do it--especially as things are starting to pick up in there--but something has to give, somewhere, and I can't figure out what else can go.

I know that one way or another, by December, it will all be done--but getting through the next two weeks is going to be hell on wheels. I may not have time to post, so please don't worry if I "go dark" for a bit. I'm just working until my eyes glaze over, then staggering home to try to sleep until I stagger back to hammer away at it again.

And my eyes are glazing over, so off I go.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

This is why I teach

So, forget all my whining and complaining yesterday. Today, I got the perfect, beautiful example of why I teach: why I love it, why it's worth it.

A student in the SF class has been trying to meet with me for a while: she'd received an "early warning" because in the first few weeks, she wasn't turning in work. She e-mailed me a day on Monday, I think, saying that she'd been in Advisement, that they'd mentioned I also worked in Advisement, she didn't know whether she should meet with me there or here in my office... I told her that it wouldn't be appropriate for me to take time in Advisement to talk with her about the specifics of her concerns in my class but that I'd be glad to meet with her if we could find a time. We were both free today at 2, so that's what we set up.

When I was in Advisement, the new head of the division asked me about this student and said that she'd been crying about the class, very upset--which worried me, as since the early warning, I thought the student was doing OK.

In any event, we met in my office. And she did cry--but not just because of my class. She's taking six courses, mostly gut courses, and she needs them all because she needs to graduate in December so she can get a scholarship at the school she is transferring to in the spring: without the AA degree, she doesn't get the money. And she works. And she's always been a slow reader: she's an auditory processor, so reading is simply difficult for her--and all her courses require a lot of reading.

We talked and talked and talked. I empathized. I looked for solutions, trying to find ways for her to free up some time so she'd have more room for study. She has been listening to the books on audiotape as she reads, and I'm all for that: it's helping her stay caught up, and that's great. But the thing that really got to me was when we talked about her reading responses. Because she struggles with reading, she also has a very hard time knowing what to mark in the text--and what to say about it if she does mark it. So we looked at her latest response, and we talked about what she could have done to make it better.

Ultimately, I said, "I think what's happening is that you doubt yourself. You've been trained for years that if you take a risk, you'll be punished, so you're afraid to take a risk--and now I'm telling you that you have to take risks." I went on to say that, as we talked about what she could put in her response, she had ideas--and they were her ideas: they were in her head, and she said, "Yeah, but I'm afraid that I'll put something down and it will be wrong." I said, "Exactly: you're afraid you'll be punished for taking the risk. But go ahead and be wrong! I promise you, I will not punish you for taking risks. I will not punish you for being wrong. We have to be wrong in order to learn to be right. You're going to have to start by trusting me, by trusting that I won't punish you for trying--but I hope, by December, that you'll start trusting yourself a little bit."

She hadn't been crying, but she teared up again at that. I don't think anyone has ever offered her the assurance that it's OK to make mistakes in order to learn, but I am offering her a gold-plated guarantee: I will not punish her for trying. I will not give her bad grades for taking those leaps. In fact, I'm standing here, on the other side of a ravine she has to jump across, and I know she can jump it--and I have my arms out to catch her to make sure she does.

I am not, of course, such a starry-eyed optimist that I think she'll turn out to be a stellar student. I don't. She's going to struggle and strain in order to produce work that is OK. But she isn't even sure she can produce work that is OK--and that much, I know she can do. She has to make the effort, and the one piece of all this that's still an open question is whether she will, in fact, trust me--and herself--enough to make the necessary leap. If she doesn't, she won't make it, and there won't be a damned thing I can do to help. But if she does make the leap, she'll be fine.

I don't want to sound ridiculous here, but I truly do feel an enormous sense of power, as if I had miraculous abilities. And all I'm doing is being a teacher. That's it. But that ain't nothing, y'all. That's pretty fucking awesome, when it works.

I was prepared for today's 101 to be a debacle, but we ended up in a pretty intense conversation about the connection between food production and the environment and our health, and I loved that we could just bat ideas around, talk, think, share ideas. We don't do enough of that. It's good to do.

And at the end of class, as I collected their preliminary versions of their next papers, I handed back their final versions of the first one--and one student was furious with himself for having forgotten the upload to One young woman got a note from me that--since I never got a hard copy of the paper from her--her grade for the assignment was a zero. She's now in a hole I don't think she can get out of. But we'll see how things turn out. Mostly it feels good to have a much smaller, more manageable stack of stuff in my hands from that class.

I also managed to mark all the homework for the lit electives that I've been collecting--several classes worth for M&D in particular--and I've given it to the subs to return to students tomorrow. Of course, that still leaves the big papers to grade. There are a shit-load of them, and I do need to get them back to the students ASAP so there's time for revisions before the next paper is due. I keep going back and forth on what to do, but I'm going to pull the trigger here and say, OK, yes: I've decided to take about five papers from each class with me when I leave tonight, along with the rubric sheets and all the info about various penalties. I will carry all that with me on my trip. If I'm smart--and disciplined and all those things that the judgmental voice in my head tells me I'm not--I'll get them marked while I'm away so I have fewer staring me in the face when I get back. If I don't do them, well, I'll just have one hell of a rough week ahead of me next week, and will have to adjust due dates as necessary. There are always ways to sorta-kinda make things work. Or work well enough.

Now, however, I do need to get home and get ready to go. Part of me still very much wants to cancel the whole thing, but no: I'll go. And I'll do my best to enjoy being away and not to feel as if having some work with me is any sort of taint on the experience of looking out over a lake while I do ... whatever.

No blog posts in the meanwhile, however, so signing off until Tuesday, I remain, yours etc.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Well, fuck

The evil voice inside my head that tells me how lazy and undisciplined and useless I am is having a field day right now. I didn't get up early this morning; instead, I stayed up late last night, doing the reading for the SF class today--and I'd completely forgotten that we were going to watch the end of Blade Runner, which used up most of the period, so I probably didn't need to do the reading anyway. And I spent a lot of the morning marking assignments to return to that class--and forgot to return them. I hadn't quite finished reading The Big Sleep for M&D, but I was hoping P&B would end early--so of course it ran late, and I was trying to teach the class without remembering the details of the end of the book. I tried to read the last few pages, but the guy from AV services came in to see if the computer had been turned off from the previous class--and then, since I wasn't actively talking with students, he figured he could just chat with me about the equipment... Fuck fuck fuck.

So, I came back to the office, all set to get some more of the water weeds cleared out: write a memo to a full-time faculty member about whom we have serious concerns and whom we've decided we need to observe--and I'll be one of the people observing her; answer a stack of e-mails about seminar hours stuff; I can't even remember what all--but Paul was here, and he and I haven't talked in forever, so of course we got talking....

I'd sworn to myself that I'd either be out of here early--like by 7--or I'd be working on getting the papers for 101 graded so at least that much would be done before I come in tomorrow, but now it's after 8 and I'm too fucking tired to grade a single thing and I haven't graded any more of the 101 papers and the stack of shit I have to grade is enormous--and I haven't even added to it all the stuff I collected today, not to mention what I'm going to collect tomorrow.

I'm at the stage when I really feel like this whole taking two days off and taking a trip for my birthday was a desperately bad idea, that it's causing a great deal more stress than could possibly be balanced by any pleasure it could produce. I feel like I need to take work up there with me, which makes me feel sick to my stomach and wonder why even go, if this wretched mess is going to cling to me all the way up there and contaminate that scene.

As I said: fuck. Just, well, fuck.

I have no idea--absolutely zero--what I'll manage to do tomorrow. I don't know if I'll be able to get myself wound down and into bed early enough to get up at 6--and even that doesn't feel early enough--or if I'll be able to stay late enough to leave here without dragging an enormous weight of work with me or feeling like I'll be facing unmitigated hell when I get back (neither of which is conducive to an enjoyable weekend). I also have to pack.

Really: why did I think this trip was a good idea? Or why didn't I look more carefully at the schedule and make sure the papers were going to come in on different weeks? Part of the problem, of course, is that I'm not used to having such huge lit electives: I still have 30 students in each one--even though I don't necessarily have papers from everyone. I keep looking over at my desk, and the huge, chaotic stacks of work to be done just make me want to shrivel up. I can't think of any way to reframe this to make the day feel OK. That's the point of the blog, usually: it's my way of shifting my focus onto something that is positive. The only positive I can come up with is that Paul and I really, truly, deeply understand education, and what's at stake, and where the problems lie--and even have some ideas about how to fix them, if anyone in power would pay any attention.

God, I'm just depressing myself more. I'm going home. Maybe a miracle will occur tomorrow. They do, sometimes. Minor miracle, but they do occur. Here's hoping (which is a variation on "We'll see").

Monday, October 19, 2015

Really, truly drowning...

I've been trying to get rid of at least some of the water weeds that have been pulling me under today--responding to e-mails about seminar hours stuff, writing up observations, getting information to the people who will be subbing my classes for me, getting handouts ready for my classes (so I don't forget to have them). In Advisement, I got a few papers marked for 101, but then it occurred to me that I have to do a lot of reading to be ready for tomorrow's classes, so I stopped marking assignments and started reading--but then I had to meet with two students after class: one was my one, lonely mentee from seminar hours; the other was a student from M&D who is struggling but who will, I think, do OK now that we've talked. Once again, it was one of those instances in which I suddenly saw a whole new person when I talked with him in my office. In class, he almost isn't there--but in my office, he was charming, bright eyed, vivid. I don't know what happens to some of them when they get into the classroom, but some pall falls over them, and they suddenly become droopy eyed and dull. It's a mystery.

I also was rather dreading the 101 class today. So many of the students have fallen so far behind--despite being warned that they need to turn things around--that I was really fretting about it. I decided the only thing to do was to talk to them about it, and I very bluntly said that if the class were larger, I'd let the ones who are falling behind just fail or withdraw and not worry about it--but in a class as small as ours is, not only do I not want to lose them, I think I might be able to help them. Interestingly enough, pretty much across the board, the main concern--even among the students who are doing well--was the discussion board posts: the deadline felt too soon after the reading is due in class. I laid out several options, but the consensus was that I'd make two changes: I'd extend the deadline for the initial post--they now have 24 hours after class to submit that post--and I'd make any further posts beyond the initial one optional/extra credit. Only one person seemed less than relieved--but she still hasn't even turned in her paper, so, well, I don't quite know what might save her at this point. But the students who are doing well can now earn some extra extra credit, and the ones who have been struggling have the option to pick up some additional points.

And eventually, I have to go onto our Blackboard site and look at the damned discussion board posts to gather marks for the last few rounds. I think I already did one round once but I've lost track of where I left off, so I'll probably have to go back. Oh well.

I'm really more concerned about A) getting the reading done for tomorrow and B) getting the 101 papers marked to return on Wednesday--because that's when I collect the preliminary version of their next papers.

Last night I really, seriously considered setting the alarm for six this morning so I could squeeze some extra work out of the day. I didn't--and as a consequence, I'm still here at 8 p.m. Even so, I may have to get up at 6 tomorrow--and even that may not be anywhere near enough to get me ready for tomorrow's classes.

But if I'm going to have any chance at all of getting anything like sleep tonight, I'd better get home ASAP. Off I go.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Not really a post

Since I have to dash out of here right after M&D, I figured I'd give a brief, mid-day report.

The observation went well. I'd observed this colleague once before and had been less satisfied, but this time it was a pretty good job on her part--especially as she was working with a classroom full of students who clearly are disengaged or frightened of being wrong or both.

Most of the SF students had their papers with them. I am now officially drowning in work to mark. I couldn't tell from their demeanor watching Blade Runner whether they were bored out of their skulls, though I'd have bet that they were. However, the prevailing opinion was they wanted to see the rest of the movie. OK by me.

Next week is going to be hell on skates as I try to get as much work done as humanly possible so the decks are as clear as possible before I take off--because I have absolutely no intention of taking any school work with me when I go. I have a fantasy of working on the last bit of the sabbatical project while I look out the deck windows onto Owasco Lake, but I rather doubt it will happen--unless the books I take to read end up being unsatisfying in some way.

But that's later. Today: office hour now (scrambling to read the assigned pages of The Big Sleep) then M&D, then Hamlet. Life's good.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

P.S.: Talking to a fucking wall

Today I sent out a parcel of e-mails to students in the M&D class about the fact that they hadn't uploaded their essays to I have repeatedly said--and have written in the syllabus and on the assignment sheets--that the submission has to go through our class Blackboard page, not directly through Turnitin, but two students said variations on "I went to Turnitin but I can't get it to work." That's because you can't do it directly through Turnitin, goddammit: you have to go through Blackboard.

But, looking for the positive side: at least they read their e-mails and contacted me. That's actually progress, especially for one of them, who has been sullen and uncommunicative (he's the one who was complaining about always getting the same marks on his assignments--and who, by the way, still has not changed the content of his assignments, though he said he had a better understanding of what I want).

I shouldn't be doing this just before bed, but before I left work today, in my personal e-mail was a message from a former student, asking for some advice about her personal life. I didn't have a chance to respond to that when I was in the office, but I didn't want her message to languish in my in-box, so I went online to answer it and, well, one thing led to another. I wish it wouldn't. I wish one thing would just be one thing and not lead anywhere at all sometimes.

Six a.m. alarm tomorrow, so I can be sure to be on campus and at least marginally awake to conduct another observation at 10, And if I post to the blog at all tomorrow, it will have to be between classes and thus leave out anything that happens in M&D, as once that class is over, I plan to get stuck in rush-hour traffic on my way to Queens to see Hamlet.

Oh, and speaking of being a very, very bad girl because I keep doing things for fun: I'd not yet set up an opportunity to do one of the tasks I'd said I'd do for Seminar Hours, so I sent an e-mail to the two colleagues involved suggesting we pick a Thursday. One of them proposed a Thursday, the other said it would work for him--and it's next Thursday, when I'll be driving up to the Finger Lakes for my extended birthday weekend celebration.

Bad bad bad me. There's just no getting around it: I'm a bad girl. They're going to revoke my full professorship and put me in a corner with a sign around my neck that says "irresponsible: has fun instead of doing work."

Or, for tonight, "Goes to bed instead of blogging any more."


As the huge mounds of papers come in, I'm working out rubric sheets that I hope will help me grade more rapidly and efficiently. I can't guarantee that will happen, of course, but I'm going to try. I also revised the revision guidelines for the lit electives--and I emphasize the need to focus on what is right, what works. I need that as a reminder myself: I must, must, must point out things that are good in every essay--even the crappiest of them. The students need to know what to keep as well as what to ditch.

In addition, I've made a point of saying in the guidelines that they must not start all over from scratch: that's not a revision; that's a new paper--and if they start all over from scratch, I guarantee that they'll make the same mistakes, just differently. If that makes sense.

I have to say, the stack of student work on my desk looks pretty frightening right about now--but I hope it won't actually be so dreadful.

I'm quite concerned--still, again, more--about the 101 class. I had a good talk with one young woman from the class today: she was trying to handle a full-time job and a full course load at the same time, and she finally told her job that she was going to have to cut back one day a week. (I think even that's probably not enough, but I don't know how badly she may need the work.) She's pretty far behind the 8-ball right now, but I'm not as worried about her. There are two other students--both shaky to start with--who missed both classes this week. That worries me. And there's the student who is showing up but who doesn't seem to be doing any work other than the paper.

And Mr. Irrepressible was irrepressible in class discussion--he has a compulsion to throw in an "intelligent" remark whenever I'm explaining anything (sometimes the remarks are intelligent, but often he's just stretching to find anything that he can contribute as evidence of how much more he knows than the other students). However, he was deeply embarrassed about his paper--but he said so, loudly, in front of the whole class, so I'm not sure how embarrassed he truly is. I told him to focus on this as a learning experience: that his job was to see what he could learn from it rather than using it as an opportunity to beat himself up. But he did say it was only 3 pages (minimum is four)--and until I read the thing, I won't know what happened that made him dry up. One would think he'd have the opposite problem: too much to say and no organization. But at the moment, he's in danger of failing--and his work on this first paper isn't going to help.

I have a strong suspicion that I'm going to have to mentally reweight the grades at the end of the semester to give credit for improvement; if I don't, just about everyone will get painfully low grades, no matter how hard they work from here on.

Of course, that makes me wonder if I need to do something different at the start of the semester to gear them up more slowly--but Christ, I just can't think about yet another revamp of my comp courses right now.

In any event, I need to get out of here. I can't even think of a decent sign off...

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Life versus work

On my way back to my office after the M&D class today, I encountered the very bright young woman from my 101 class: she'd just picked up the mechanics rubric I'd left for her--and she was very upset about having missed another class. We stood on the stairs for some time until I finally suggested we head into my office. She felt it was important to tell me about the health problems she's been encountering--which sound pretty upsetting--but she also wanted to talk to me about whether she could use an article she'd found, even though it didn't provide conclusive proof about her point.

We ended up talking for almost an hour. Part of the time was figuring out how to correctly place and format a header using the word-processing software on a Mac, but we did also talk about her paper, about her ideas, about her health--and about the need for her to prioritize her health and not add worries about school as a stressor to an already stressed system.

And suddenly I find myself in somewhat the same position. My health concern is minor, but I found myself thinking, "I can't see the doctor at this time because of Advisement, and I can't see her at that time because of class..." when what I really need to do is just see the doctor as soon as I can so I can stop worrying about it. Everything else can be figured out: I should know by now that I'm infinitely capable of improvisation, figuring out how to make various kinds of purses out of all sorts of ears (silk/sow, mesh/moose, whatever).

My guess yesterday about how the classes would go today was correct: the students had tons to say about the ending of Oryx and Crake, and we didn't start with Blade Runner. As planned, I'll show them the beginning of it on Thursday, and we'll finish it--or not, their choice--next Tuesday. M&D was occupied almost entirely with watching Gossford Park. I'd forgotten how long it takes to get to the actual murder: well over an hour into the film. In fact, that's where I stopped--to a universal sound of protest from the students. (Cliff-hanger: gotta love it.) So of course they want to see the rest of the movie: now they want to find out who did it and why. We may or may not get around to talking about The Big Sleep--but that's OK. We can talk about it next week.

I do keep forgetting that I'm going to be away: not only do I forget to tell the students, I've forgotten as I've scheduled other things in my life. (This seems to be a motif: forgetting what's on my calendar.) I was going to spend tonight after class writing up the one observation I already conducted and getting all the materials ready for the subs--but meeting with my student, then talking with Paul, then taking care of a little P&B business has made it late enough that I need to decamp: I have to go to the grocery store, for one thing, and I want to get home before too late. I have absolutely no idea what tomorrow will be like. I had a blissful hour or so today in which I had absolutely nothing in my hands that required marking, but now that the papers are rolling in, I know part of tomorrow will be spent trying to stay ahead of a potential tsunami of work. But that's tomorrow, which is another day. And today is stick-a-fork-in-it done, as far as work is concerned.

Monday, October 12, 2015

And a new week begins

Pretty easy day, all things considered. I only had a few little things to mark for the 101--and mostly they had to do the heavy lifting: their task for today was to work on the mechanical bits of their essays: sentence structures, punctuation, documentation. It was a bit odd to have a class full of young men: the three women in the class weren't there today (one of the men was missing as well). So, six young men sat there, calling me over with questions, working on whatever. The young man I've been calling the Guinea Pig but whom I will now call Mr. Irrepressible actually was somewhat repressed today: the essay he submitted had significant problems--mostly insofar as he went for sweeping, and unsupported, pronouncements instead of a sound and reasoned argument about a debatable thesis. He told me he was embarrassed, which I reassured him wasn't necessary, and clearly he was overwhelmed. And as is usually the case, being faced with the task of significant revision, he chose instead to work on rewording some sentences. No, I explained: you need to work on the big stuff. Put together a revision plan. "This is hard," he said. Yes. Clearly I'm going to have to repeat myself numerous times: Writing is hard; revision is much harder.

One of the other students said that he hadn't wanted to revise until he'd also done the mechanics stuff--and I explained that there is actually a real benefit to revising first, then doing mechanics stuff on the newly revised piece. I realize that I should have shown them my process--the multiple versions of a book review that I've been using as a sample for some time--way back when we started. I'm not sure how much good it does, but they truly need to see revision as one process, mechanics review as something separate. With that particular young man, I simply said that maybe he should try it the other way--two separate passes (possibly more)--on the next essay.

When I told them I was giving them a handout explaining the submission requirements for the final submission, due Wednesday, the young preppy type expressed astonishment and dismay. I reminded him, all of them, that they'd had the papers since last week to work on--but this is part of the learning curve for them. Revision takes time. Don't put it off.

Apart from class, I've finished rereading Oryx and Crake and have marked most of the assignments that I need to return to the SF students tomorrow. I get the feeling we won't start Blade Runner: I suspect they'll have way too much they want to talk about regarding the novel. Which is OK: if we have to finish up Blade Runner next week, fine. Or we may just not finish it. I'm actually thinking about that in terms of M&D tomorrow. The period will essentially be used showing Gossford Park, but since we didn't get very far into it last week, we probably won't finish tomorrow--so I'll let them vote: we can finish watching it the next class, then talk about The Big Sleep (quite a shift of gears), or we can just leave the rest unwatched and anyone who is interested can watch it on his/her own.

In any event, I expect tomorrow to be another relatively easy day: in SF, the students will do the heavy lifting; in M&D, we'll watch a movie. I don't have anything in the morning before SF, so I can easily get the rest of the assignments marked to return.

I'm trying to have a plan for marking papers, however. It does help that I'm not collecting them all at once, but that is rather complicated by the fact that I'll also be collecting the 101 papers this week. (Poor planning on my part, that, though it is easier to mark the final submissions of comp papers, since I don't have to say much.) But we'll see how things play out.

One thing I feel more than a little guilty about: I completely forgot that we'd decided to have a seminar hours committee meeting on Thursday evening, and I bought tickets to the simulcast of the National Theater's production of Hamlet. To hell with the committee meeting; I'm going to the play--but I do feel ginchy about it: I don't like being the bad girl who misses something important "just" to do something fun. But hey.

On a rather different note, I've gotten involved in the planning for the next ASLE conference--or at least a proposal to have it held at Stony Brook. I have a strong feeling the proposal will be approved, and I'm not entirely sure just how far my involvement will extend. Since I'm not on their campus, there is a lot I really can't help with--but I may well be drafted into helping organize field trips or some such. And as I looked over the proposal (as part of the potential organizing team), I realized that this would have been a wonderful thing to include in my application for promotion--and now I don't need it. But it still will be cool to be involved (she says, with some trepidation, imagining a year from now being absolutely crazed trying to find time to handle who-knows-what). And it will definitely be cool not to have to travel to be part of an ASLE conference--or not to travel more than the hour drive from my place to Stony Brook.

I'm sure there's other stuff I could talk about, but I want to make the most of an easy day and try for a relatively easy night, too. More tomorrow...

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Caught noodling...

I've been sitting here for I don't know how long, futzing around with a handout for the M&D students on the characters in Gosford Park, which I started showing today. I know the film well, but I realized that the beginning is pretty bewildering: everyone is talking very fast in British accents and there are a gazillion characters and the scene shifts back and forth very quickly. But it's a great movie, so, well, I'm going to show it anyway. I'm not sure I showed enough today that we can finish it on Tuesday, but we'll see.

In the SF class today, Mr. Hostile (who isn't) actually beamed at me: he was (annoyingly enough) reading during much of class--but he'd gotten through a very important chapter in which, as he said, "The shit really hits the fan." Yup. I'm glad he's psyched about what's to come.

I met with a student from that class earlier today, too: she's been consistently getting failing marks on her responses--because she's not understanding much yet not trying very hard to understand. Again, I saw her book: nary a mark in it. I gave her the exact same spiel I've been giving over and over and over: annotate your text, go back to reread the parts that confuse you to see if they make more sense when you pay closer attention, respond to specific details, dig in to what confuses you--or what you're noticing and why you think it's important. But--in what seems to be some kind of trend--in my office I saw a completely different person than I've seen in class: alert, bright eyed, eager. She confessed that she was afraid of looking stupid, so I gave her my usual spiel about that: first, if you have the question, chances are that other students do, too, but more important, it's your education, so don't worry about what other students get or don't: you have the question, so get the answer. And just coincidentally, she ended up in the group with Mr. Not-Hostile, and he was smiling at her while the two of them had what looked like an engaged conversation. I don't know what will happen with her, but maybe she can turn it around. That will be quite a breakthrough if she does. I hope so.

During my office hour, one of the students from M&D came to talk to me about a project that he's working on: he's put together an idea for a series of manga that center on solving interconnected mysteries, but he wants to put his ideas into novel form and he wasn't sure how to go about it. I don't think I've said much about this student before, but he's brilliant--and a huge fan of mysteries. He's read almost all the mysteries I've assigned this semester--but in Portuguese, as he's Brazilian. We had a great talk, which wandered from ideas for his books to how to publish to whether he should continue to pursue a career in forensics, even though he's hating his bio and chem classes, or what he should do. I wanted to get the whole think on film so I could take it to the administration and say, "Look: this is what real mentoring is. Maybe this student won't stay at Nassau, but he'll never forget it as an important experience in his life. He's learning what really matters here." I loved it: that kind of exchange is the absolute best part of teaching--that, and the moments when students like Little Miss Lost (the student I was talking about above) suddenly click in and get it.

But my brains just went on the fritz. I have to pack it in for today--for the week, in fact. Oof-dah.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The heavy lifting

The 101 students today got a taste of the real heavy lifting that comes with revision. I gave them back their papers--which I barely got marked in time before class--and I had them sit there to work on a revision plan. They started to see their papers in a whole new way, often seeing things that they'd not noticed but that now seem glaringly obvious. The idea of the revision plan is to break the revision process down in to manageable chunks, as otherwise it's overwhelming--and I told them several times that the first step could very well be something to do with the body of the paper rather than the introduction: that often the introduction will suddenly become clear and almost write itself, once the ideas in the body are clear. Several students needed to reconsider their research as they'd relied almost entirely on personal response, not on ideas that they could substantiate with facts. Big sweeping generalizations? Get rid of them: give me your ideas instead.

I did mark much less than usual. I used a purple pen to point out a few examples of sentence-level stuff, but the main comments were in blue ink--and were primarily overall, global comments along the lines of "There seem to be ideas that contradict here: look back at your thesis, and look at your research to determine what your stand really is--and whether you can back it up." I have no concrete proof, but my gut sense is that the fact that most of their writing was left unmarked, that my comments were in the margins and nowhere else, made it a lot easier for them to focus on the big, structural concerns and not get lost in minutiae.

And I had a serious talk with the Guinea Pig, who was very suppressed by the fear of failure. As I was handing back everyone's papers, I gave him the essay assignment sheet with a bracket indicating the submission requirements and told him to read it over carefully. Then I took him out in the hall to talk to him. My decision is to take 20 points right off the top of his paper--two days late--plus another ten for the late upload to, and then give a mark from there. He'll get a painfully low score, but it's better than a zero, and now he can proceed with the paper. He will have a much harder task in front of him, as he'll have to accomplish in two days what his classmates will have more than a week to work on, but I'm giving him a hell of a gift. And I did say that the main lesson I wanted him to take away from the experience is that he needs to pay rigorously careful attention to assignment sheets, read them with keen attention and understand exactly what is required. I said, "Don't think you know; know you know." He did try the "I was sick" routine: "Do you have a computer at home?" "Yes." "Do you have internet access at home?" "Yes." "Then why didn't you e-mail me to make an arrangement about submitting the paper?" "I didn't know what to do." "It's in the syllabus and on the assignment sheet...."


I don't know if he'll be able to pull off a passing grade--and several of the other students are doing serious damage to their grades because they're not doing the online discussion board posts. I'll lay down the law about that one more time on Wednesday, along with warning them not to neglect the upload to Turnitin of their final versions of the first essay--but that's the last warning. If they haven't gotten the message by now, they're simply not going to, until that final grade hits and they see just how much of a difference those missed assignments make.

After class, I spent some time just getting my desk slightly organized: things were getting lost in the shuffle--the Best and Brightest student from 101 told me that she hadn't gotten two assignments back; I knew she'd done them, as I'd recorded marks, but I had no clue where they were--and I needed to get a little triage going. Then I read the two sections of Oryx and Crake that we'll go over in class tomorrow. Still to do, read the final bits of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and mark the assignments for the two lit electives. And I know two students want to see me tomorrow, one just before club hour, another during club hour, so that will put a dent in the amount of time I have in which to do the prep for classes. I had thought about taking the Christie mystery home with me, but I honestly think I'll do better to let it go until tomorrow--I can't imagine it will take all that long to read--and instead try to get myself relaxed as early as possible tonight. I'm reading a wonderful mystery--The Child Garden, by Catriona McPherson--and I can't wait to dive into it again.

So, off I go to do precisely that.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Hungry. Tired. Done.

I know tomorrow will be somewhat harder than it might otherwise be as a consequence, but I have no intention of doing any further work today. I'm not even going to empty out the bag that I carry to classes or pull student assignments out of the respective class folders. I have all the 101 papers to mark prior to tomorrow's class--but one way or another (probably another), I'll get them marked tomorrow. I know I'd be unable to do it today.

I didn't rant at either class about plagiarism. I did, however, go over the purely mechanical details of how to format a paper, what introductory paragraphs should look like, what a thesis is and where it goes, how to incorporate quotations and paraphrases. It's mind-numbing, of course--and of course the students who were nodding off are the ones who are most in need of the information--but I felt it needed to be done.

Once I finished all that, the SF students really got rolling on the discussion of the book. I was sorry we didn't have time to discuss with the class--and sorry I had to stop them when they were in full spate--but I'm hoping this bodes well for Thursday. The M&D students were more flat and dull today. I tried joking with one student about whether he'd been cheating, and it fell absolutely flat. But he asked me about a mark on his response, and when I said he'd done good work, then turned my back on his group, they started laughing. I'm sure I'm paranoid, but I got the sense they were laughing because I'd praised him for thinking and he hadn't been. So I whispered in his ear, "And if you cheated, we'll pretend you didn't." He said aloud, "I didn't cheat!" I said, "I know; that's why I'm not taking you aside to talk to you about it." I turned my back again: more laughter.

Fuck. Whatever.

However, the student I talked to last week about his responses--the one I suspect of plagiarism--showed me his latest response, which does include quotations from the novel, but he was concerned because he hadn't reviewed the first 8 sections and had only written about the 9th, so he was afraid I might not accept it. I said I would. And today in class he spoke up with some good ideas, so maybe I was unreasonably suspicious. But it's like the old joke about being paranoid not meaning that they're not out to get you: just because I may be overly suspicious doesn't mean students aren't plagiarizing.

Speaking of which, I looked at the reports, and Mr. Bewildered plagiarized 17% of his paper. It's the kind of thing where a student as lost as he is probably didn't know he was doing it: the plagiarism is all short phrases--but there are enough of them, separated only by a few words of his or a fact that he's formatted slightly differently from his source, that he's potentially in huge trouble. I feel bad for the kid, but he's really not at all ready for college material--at least not what I consider college material. He's smart enough to know he's struggling but not smart enough to get himself sorted out.

And nothing from the Guinea Pig. I'm going to have to figure out what to do when he shows up to class tomorrow with his paper and thinks he'll be able to turn it in. Part of me wants to get rid of him, because he's making such a hash of things--but part of me thinks he's salvageable, and he's said my class is his favorite (not brown-nosing either: it's clearly genuine appreciation), so I'm inclined to try to figure out how to work with him in a way that is still fair to the other students.

Well, that's a problem to resolve tomorrow.

I'm sure there is more I could go on about today, but I am hungry, and I am tired, and I do want to put a button on today. There are many things to be grateful for; I know that. I just don't feel like hauling them to the surface as a reframe for the day. Suffice it to say that I'm pretty sure I can turn the week in general into something like OK by Thursday.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Fast post

It's after 8; I'm still in the office, and I need to be back early tomorrow, partly to get work done, partly to do a 10 a.m. observation.

I still need to re-read the assigned pages for both electives tomorrow and to mark all the homework for the M&D class--and I need to get the papers marked for the 101 for Wednesday.

As for the 101, disastrous. The best and brightest student was not there. The Guinea Pig was not there. Mr. Bewildered showed up 35 minutes late--too late to engage in the peer review. One student was there who has turned in 2 assignments all semester to date, neither being an article we'd read to discuss. He did have his paper, but I can only imagine that it's, shall we say, inadequate, as I have no evidence that he read anything he was required to include. So the whole peer review thing was sort of deadly.

I had them read the information from SUNY about what a good revision should demonstrate; then I asked them what they could actually do in order to, say, foreground relevant material, or create a clear logic. As Cathy would say, all I heard was crickets. No clue. What might you have to add? Might you have to delete anything? Would you maybe have to move things around? ("Uh... Uh ... Uh...") They finally had a few ideas, but holy god.

And I am even more certain than I was before that several students in the SF class are plagiarizing: simply reading summaries of the works online and not actually reading the books at all. I don't know whether to go in and rant at them tomorrow or not. I reckon I'll play it by ear--but man, I was pretty fierce in telling Paul what I'd like to say to them.

I told Paul I felt frantic today--and then I remembered what he's dealing with. In comparison, my little bit of fluffed feathers is absolutely insignificant. Still, I probably will have to bail on either the department meeting or P&B--or both--in order to be fully ready for tomorrow's classes. I don't know how much reading I can do tonight, or at least how much I can do with any real attention and intelligence.

I'm completely manic, wired, feeling wild-eyed and like my hair is on fire--but the alarm is going to go off pretty fucking early tomorrow (for me anyway), so I need to get home and get wound down somehow. Anyone have a big cast-iron frying pan handy, so you could just knock me upside the head?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Lots to say...

...and I may end up having to say less than I might normally, as I have to get out of here pretty soon to meet a colleague for dinner. It's a good reason to be blasting off campus, but I do feel a little itchy when I feel pressured to blog in a hurry.

But here goes.

Two students withdrew today, one from the 101 and one from M&D. The student from 101 had been mostly silent and uncommunicative, and I'd gotten the impression he was floundering--but when he came to my office, he was bright, articulate, talkative... I teased him about it a bit, saying, "This is the most I've heard you speak!" He said he loved the class, but he had to get more hours at work in order to stay financially solvent: I fully understand. The student from M&D also was in pretty deep water--and he also said he had to withdraw because he didn't have time for all the work on top of a full-time job. Fair enough. But I'm sorry to lose the young man from 101. I hope he turns up on one of my rosters sometime in the future.

A student from the SF class dropped by today during club hour: I wasn't technically available, but she wanted to talk and, well, I was there, so I said I'd meet with her. She was struggling with the book--but as I talked to her, I realized that she has annotated essentially nothing. Everything I say about digging in to details apparently just feels like too much work--but then the students are upset when their cursory reads leave them confused.

But as I entered the SF classroom today, even some of the best and brightest said they were struggling with the reading. Part of the struggle is the multiple time-frames of the narrative structure, but another part is that they are deeply disturbed by the content. (And I'm thinking: if you hate this, you're really going to hate Windup Girl.) But because so many of them are having trouble, I said we'd slow down the reading pace a bit--and for Tuesday, they have to read one more section (a brief one), but their main task is to review the first eight, trying to apply what they've learned to what they already read. My hope is that they'll discover they actually understand a lot more than they think they do. But that means I've had to bump some other stuff, so I'm going to have to produce a revised assignment schedule--and a revised grade calculation sheet. Obviously I won't get that done today, but I may get it done over the weekend.

And what's the mantra? "We'll see."

I was pretty happy that--despite the meeting with the student--I was able to go to the M&D class having reviewed the pertinent chapters of Roger Ackroyd (and actually, I read too far: oops, my bad) as well as having marked all the homework I'd collected last class. I did have to skip the MDC event (sorry William!) but it does lighten the load for next week--which will be important, as I am going to get the next submission of papers from the 101 on Monday, and I'll need to be sharp to stay on top of the marking for those. I have to remind myself not to mark too much, and to focus on the positive--and that, in fact, will require some mental acumen, or I'll slide right back into my old patterns of marking every little jot and tittle.

In the M&D class, we spent some time going over the paper requirements and the topics: I wanted to give them more structure in terms of the topics, but now I feel that I may have flown a little too high and provided topics that they don't understand or know how to approach. Well, it's that perpetual struggle to find the mythical magic assignment that works for everyone.

But I probably should do the same thing with the SF students--though they've been a lot more likely to pull out the paper assignment handout during their group discussions to talk about what they have to do. I also am seeing real signs of them trying to make connections among the readings, which is uber-cool. The M&D students may not be doing that so well, but several of them finally are starting to grasp the purpose of the reading responses and what they should include. Sigh of relief.

As for the hurricane, we continue to monitor the situation, but it looks like we're going to get some rain but nothing significant. Now, I just hope the 101 students didn't count on having the extra time for their papers and come to class prepared.

And I have to dash to meet Mary. Bon weekend, y'all.