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Monday, November 30, 2015

Growf, rowr, bazz-fazz

I am systemically annoyed. The person I am mentoring for sabbatical sent me an e-mail today asking whether I had her letter of support for her application. The applications go over to the college-wide committee tomorrow. I gave her that letter weeks ago, and it's been in her application folder all this time. However, thinking that, perhaps, in her flurry to make last-minute (and significant) changes, she hadn't put the correct letter in her folder, I went down to check--and I saw that there were still a number of sticky notes in the folder. That set off alarm bells--so I brought the folder up here and read through it slowly and carefully to make sure that there were no blunders that might get her application disqualified. (She'd submitted last year but it was a year early, so in a sense she's resubmitting what she sent in last year--but she did make some important changes.)

And that flurry took up a large chunk of the time I had intended to devote to grading papers. So although I had promised myself that I would have the papers for the M&D class graded before I left tonight, it's not going to happen. And tomorrow--and Thursday--I have to meet with colleagues whom I am mentoring through the promotion process, so that will take a big bite out of my time for paper grading during those precious, otherwise uncommitted hours. Looks like I might be setting that six a.m. alarm again this week.

I'm more than a little concerned about the SF class, however--or at least about one student, and borderline concerned about two others. And a few have simply dug themselves into a hole they're not going to get out of. Their papers needed to be submitted in hard copy and to Turnitin last week Tuesday. Three students did neither of those things--and still haven't, nor have they contacted me. My policy is that for each day late for either of those submissions, there is a 50 point penalty, so students who are missing both hard copy and Turnitin are accruing 100 points a day in penalties--and I won't read a paper that has accrued more than 200 points in penalties. It just gets a zero. Period. In addition to those students, two others never uploaded their papers to Turnitin, although I have the hard copies. And one student uploaded to Turnitin but didn't submit the hard copy--although she was in class on Tuesday. And she's one of my better students.

So, a few of those students I don't mind just booting: you're too deep in the hole. Withdraw or fail: only options. A few I'll talk to, find out what happened, decide whether I'll read the paper and allow them to "revise" for some kind of grade.

But that one young woman who didn't turn in the hard copy: I'm really distressed about that. I definitely want to talk with her--and I'm not making up my mind about what to do until after we talk.

Today's 101 was, um, let's go with interesting. Three students were there: the three young men who are left. We had a pretty good conversation--but I did a lot more lecturing than I normally would. They found the reading harder than I anticipated, and I realized that I needed to give them some deep background in order for them to understand the points--and for them to understand  how all the various things we're reading connect. One of the things I love about this class is one of the things that also makes it really challenging for them (and for me, in a way): the topics are big and connect to lots of other big topics. If we start following all the potential tangents, heaven knows where we could end up. But one of the things that frustrates me about a lot of the classes I teach is that we don't seem to have time to just talk about big ideas, and that's one of the great joys of college, as far as I'm concerned: it's a chance for students to be exposed to stuff that requires some long, slow, deep contemplation--including that incredibly difficult thing called self-reflection. And there's a real dearth of that in our society, but I think it's utterly crucial. For whatever reasons, 101 seems to be the place where I find it easiest to get into that kind of talk, and the students love it. It makes writing papers a snorting bitch, because finding a good, clear, laser-like focus becomes painfully difficult, but the class discussions are great.

Yet those are the students I'm losing, and I can't seem to shake the students out of the lit electives--although this latest round of papers is finally going to pare things down. Still, the fact that I actually have to grade this latest round of papers is making me pretty cranky right now.

Well, there you have it. It's a lead-pipe cinch I'm not getting any more graded today: I can't see well enough (literally). I have six more M&D papers to grade, two of which should be pretty good (which means they'll also be pretty fast to grade), and then I can embark on the SF papers. As for now, I get to go home and do the reading for tomorrow's classes. And somehow it all comes out in the end. It's a mystery.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I need a new simile

Dumb as a box of hair, dumb as a box of rocks, dumb as a bag of hammers (a personal favorite)--but I've used them all too many times. Dumb as a pile of lawn rakings? Dumb as an earthworm convention?

OK, the student isn't really that dumb. He can act it sometimes, but I think he's "dumb" on purpose: it's camouflage. It's how he tries to get away with shit. I did go to the 101 classroom today, because I said I would, but I really thought if anyone would be there, it would be one of the smart, ambitious students, there to try to hammer out some ideas. No: it was the student I thought I'd booted last class. He was back because he doesn't want to withdraw, so he was trying to find an angle. We talked about his second essay, all the parts he was missing--and I said that if he had all the parts, I'd take them, but there would be a big penalty, because now it's all so late, and that might make too big of a hole. But then it turned out he also didn't have the preliminary third essay, which was due Monday. He wanted to turn it in next Monday. I told him that would be too late and I wouldn't accept it. He actually asked me if I'd be on campus between now and then. What, like on Thanksgiving? On the Friday after Thanksgiving, when I'm not on campus on Fridays anyway? No. That's another zero--so this time, really, no kidding: that's a hole you can't get out of. You can't get a C. No way in hell. Withdraw.

He said that he'd just wasted his time, this semester was wasted because he was only going to get a grade for three classes, not four. I said, "That's like saying, I've eaten this whole meal, but I haven't been fed because I didn't get dessert. You had the meal. You learned things." He was trying to say that the point of school is to get the grades (a common belief, which makes me want to tear students' heads off), and I said no, the point of school is to learn something.

But if that's his attitude, yeah: get the fuck out of my class. And you shouldn't have been in my class this long. And I really don't want to see you ever again. Be in my class because you want to learn something.

Ok, ok. I'll calm down. Give me a minute here.

I realize that I don't think I said anything yesterday about my meeting with the colleague I observed. It went very well, actually--and after talking with her, I've changed my mind about what I observed. It was still a pretty disastrous class, but in the grand scheme of things, I think it was a bit of an anomaly. I don't think if I went on any random day, unannounced, I'd see anything wildly different, but I do think that on other days I might see something better--and certainly she was very eager to have my suggestions for how she might foster more engagement in the students. She liked my suggestions very much and says she looks forward to using them--so I take that as a good sign. I've written up the observation; I may fiddle with it a bit once I hear responses from P&B about one bit where I need a little advice, but as far as I'm concerned, the case is now closed, unless we get more intimations that something is going wrong again. I doubt it. I think she realizes that things were slipping a bit and she's pulled them back up again--which is fine. I know she feels a bit persecuted, but as long as she uses that as reason to be at her best, then everyone wins, and she won't be "persecuted" any more.

It does feel good to have that bit done, I must say.

I had some intentions--in a brief moment of self-delusion--of staying here in the office to grade papers for a while this evening, but I have to brave the grocery store, which will take about as much intestinal fortitude as I can muster, I think. So I'm simply going to load all the papers--ALL the papers--into my bag, along with my beautiful editor's desk (which I just love to bits and will continue to mention because it's so utterly perfect), water the plants, and toddle off. It will be a busy holiday weekend: plans every day but Sunday, and when I'm not engaged in some kind of social activity, there will be those papers to chunk away at. I have this fantasy of getting them all done (oh, stop laughing: I said it was a fantasy: a girl can dream) and waltzing in here on Monday with a heavy bag but a light heart.

But here's the weird thing: I meet with my classes seven more times. Each class, seven meetings. That's it. I'm serious: hold onto your hat and scream: we're flying down the fast side of the roller-coaster for sure now.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The excuses

"I couldn't turn the paper in on time; I was sick!"
"I didn't turn in those assignments because I needed them to write the paper!"
"I couldn't upload the paper to Turnitin because I didn't have internet access at home!"
"I couldn't upload the paper to Turnitin because I fell asleep, and when I woke up, it was after the deadline!"
"I know I'm not turning in the reading responses, but English isn't my first language, so I'm having a really hard time with the readings--but now I have the audio books..."
"I know I'm not turning in the reading responses, but I ordered the book weeks ago and I still haven't gotten it, and it isn't in the library..."
"I didn't upload the revision to Turnitin because I thought the second one I turned in really counted as the first one, since the first one really wasn't finished."
"I have the paper finished except for the last page; can I give it to you tomorrow without a late penalty? I can give you the whole thing now except the last page...."
"I have the whole paper except the works cited page; can I just upload the one with the works cited page to Turnitin and give you the hard copy without the works cited page?"
"I can't withdraw from this class: it's the last thing I need in order to get my associate's degree! I know I haven't turned in any work for two months, but I need to pass this class!"
"I can't withdraw from this class: I'll lose my financial aid!"
"I can't withdraw from this class, and I can't get anything less than a C: my parents will kill me!"
"I know I've missed a lot of classes, but my boss has had me working overtime. I just cut back on my hours, and I promise I can make up all the work I've missed for the past two months...."
"This class is the only reason I'm here this semester! If I withdraw now, I'll have just wasted all that money!"

(Deep, cleansing breath. Inhale slowly, and exhale. Breathe. Breathe.)

Today it was a student in M&D. I've been telling him since about the third week of classes that he wasn't going to make it. He has not handed in a single reading response since October 6th, I think--and he was trying to tell me that he had to keep them so he could write the revision of the first paper, and the second paper... No. Sorry. You have to turn them in to me first; then you can get them back to work on those papers. Or you can keep the one immediately before a paper is due. But you can't keep assignments for two months because you're "working on the papers" and then turn them in to me. He kept trying to find a way to bargain around it, and I kept saying, "You're out of time. The math won't work in your favor. You have to withdraw, or you will fail." He was one of the "this is the last class I need for my associate's degree; I'm only here because of this one class, and I've already applied to the school I want to transfer into for the spring" crowd. So I said, "Well, then you tell them you'll have completed everything except this one class." He didn't get angry (or not visibly, noticeably angry at any rate). He tried every bargaining chip he could think of, but finally he just accepted that I wasn't going to budge, and he'll bring me the withdrawal slip. And I signed the slip for another young woman who had given me the "I cut back on my hours at work and got the audio books" thing a few weeks ago--and hasn't been in class since. And a young woman who came to my office hour yesterday and talked with me for a long while has decided to withdraw. That's a shame: she registered late and never got caught up, missed a lot of classes and assignments, but I think if she'd been there from the start and had been more on the ball, she could have done very well. But she's gone now, regardless.

So, they're slowly getting the message, and slowly leaving, but I really do wish there would be more of a lemming-like rush for the door: I still have too damned many papers to grade. I just counted, and there are 23 papers to grade for M&D, and 21 for SF. And there are still a few that could come in late. It's unlikely--especially for M&D (as those were due last Thursday)--but it's especially possible that someone will try. Still, I should be grateful: that's better than 29 and 28.

I'm on the fence about whether to get up super early tomorrow to come in and try to grind through as many of those papers as I can before I go to Advisement, and based on this morning's experience, I think I won't. At one point, I absolutely could not keep my eyes open and had fallen asleep--I was still sitting up but my head was slumped forward--and a student rapped on the door. I practically got whiplash, I sat up so fast. I will say, talking with him gave me a nice energy boost. He's been doing a dreadful job of turning in work and getting to class on time, so even though he apparently has tons of potential, he may be in the "mercy D" category--but it's also on the outer rim of possibility that he could pull out an actual grade, which would be nice. Frustrating that he probably can't get the B+ (maybe even better) that he's worthy of, but at this point, if he doesn't fail, I'll be happy (and so will he). After he left, I didn't quite fall asleep at the desk again--but I really am idiotically exhausted, and consequently far crankier than any situation warrants.

So it behooves me to report a beautiful little miracle of today. I was at my desk, the phone rang, and it was the printing office. The job that I left with them yesterday, pleading to have for next week, was completed and ready for me to pick up. I was gobsmacked. And I'm getting them a gift basket. I know they probably get yelled at a lot, but this time, they deserve heaping helpings of thanks. I'm beyond grateful.

I'm also beyond hungry, I just realized. Tired and hungry: not a good combination. I need to roll away home. I have no idea what tomorrow will look like, and at the moment, I don't care. I just want out of here for tonight. Tomorrow will be whatever it is, and we'll take it from there.

Monday, November 23, 2015

By the numbers

The 101 class is--or will be, by Wednesday--down to five students. I really should boot one more, so we're down to the core 4 who are thinking and doing at least most of the work. Even two of those four are still missing a hell of a lot of work, but I got rid of one student who simply wasn't turning in work at all and the student who seemed incapable of understanding any kind of instructions, written or oral.

I got all the revisions for M&D marked, and I have eleven to mark for SF. I'd love to get them done before class tomorrow, though I don't know if that's possible, since I have to meet with the colleague whose class I observed last week (a conversation I am not looking forward to in the least) and I think a student is supposed to drop by, too--but it might be worth getting up at six to do my best to crank 'em out. If I can get those off my desk, then I'd be down to the preliminary essays from the 101 class, and essay 2 from M&D and SF. That's still a hell of a lot, but all I can do is keep chipping away.

Of course, part of me hopes that some of the students in the lit electives get their revisions back, see that their grades didn't change, and take that as the final straw that leads them to visit me with an Add/Drop form--emphasis on the "drop" portion of that form. That would reduce the number of papers I have to grade even for essay 2, not to mention the final essay.

Really, it's just all about the numbers: how many students, how high--or, more often, low--the marks are, how many assignments are left to crunch through, how many weeks/days I have left to crunch through everything, how many hours in each day.

Another interesting number: the cost of getting that reading done at Staples. I hadn't thought that through very carefully, had rather deluded myself about the cost per copy at an outfit like that. Just to have the copies done--never mind any kind of binding to hold it all together--would have been almost $300. I know it's an expense I can write off my taxes, but, um, no: I decided to throw myself on the mercy of the printing office here. I walked the pages over to them on my way to advisement and was abject and cringing and pleading--and the woman who manages the orders said that they're in a "lull" right now so they might even be able to get the job done for me in the next few days. Oh, god, the relief. Of course, until I actually have the copies in hand, I'm not going to celebrate for sure, and already have a plan B in mind (copy the pages for the first assignment on the day when I need to hand 'em out), but it looks like the gods have smiled on me once again--maybe. Cause for gratitude indeed. And I'll buy that department a huge gift basket from Fairway as thanks. They're doing me an enormous favor, and I do appreciate it, greatly.

I'm curious to know what things will look like in Advisement on Wednesday. I know a lot of professors have canceled classes--but it may still be very busy in there, as it has been since enrollment started. As for my own class, after we talked it over, I said I'd be there for anyone who wanted to come by and talk about a for the next paper, and if no one showed up, no problem: I'd just grade papers. I didn't get as much done over this past weekend as I'd hoped--though I did at least get some done, which was a help--and the more I can get done before the holiday, the less I'll have to carry home with me to do over next weekend. My self-discipline is not always of the best when I try to work at home, but I really do want this current batch of crap out of my hair--and the students really do need it back so they can revise if they're going to. We're right on top of final papers, so time's of the essence. (That's the most important number: the horrifyingly fast count down to the end of semester.)

And for the first time since 2001, I think I may be here the day after classes end to crunch the numbers for final grades and get all my paperwork done. I may change my mind, but at the moment, it seems less stressful to plan for that than to try to shove everything through to finish on the 22nd after the M&D class gets out. But we'll see.

I have an itchy sense that there was something else I wanted to say, but whatever it was, it's gone now. Can't have been very important--or it will come back to me and I'll write about it some other time. For now, it's time to slowly and with careful thought pack up what I need to take home tonight and, with calming breaths, gradually make my way out of the office.

Tomorrow is another day, after all, and I can think about it all then, you know, when I'm stronger.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

My poor little ones

The M&D class was pretty quick today: it was awfully clear that the vast majority of them hadn't done the reading, so they didn't have questions to ask (and if they had done the reading, they'd have had questions, as I know they don't understand about Hopi-Navajo conflict, or the cultures of those two peoples, or the landscapes of the desert southwest, or .... I could go on). I let them go way early, but just as I did, a few students showed up with papers to turn in. I ended up talking with one of the young women from class. I'm surprised I haven't talked about her before. I can always count on her to contribute to conversation: she's not super A+ material, but she's plenty bright, and she's enthusiastic and interested and willing to work hard. She told me that she'd seen one of the frankly disastrous tutors in the Writing Center, and the conversation rambled from there to revision techniques to analysis to how to convey to students earlier what is needed from them to the learning curve to I don't know what all, but finally we circled around to the fact that my favorite part of my job is working with students one-on-one (which is true)--and that I am delighted to engage in long e-mail conversations. One of my former 101 students was there--head down on her desk, clearly either miserable or falling asleep--and I said she could testify to my love of e-mail conversations. Her head came up at that, and I asked if she was OK. She started talking about the struggles she's having at home, having to take on lots of family responsibility, and the other young woman chimed in with the same thing. Listening to the two of them, I was struck all over again with the fact that many many many of our students have lives that are beyond chaotic--and it's no wonder they struggle academically. I almost feel like I should start every semester with all my students, regardless of the class, telling me what their lives look like: who do you live with, what's your home life like, what kind of responsibilities do you have to deal with, do you have enough to eat, do you have a safe place to sleep... A lot of what we see as disengagement or hostility is just survival: they're in fight or flight mode, all the time.

And I complain because I have stacks of papers to grade. Dear god, let me remember to be grateful for how unbelievably fucking easy my life is.

It was quite the day in terms of feeling like I was being chased down the cattle chute--and very much unlike my usual pattern, I actually stayed to the very end of the department meeting, despite the fact that I very nearly killed a colleague. (Long story that isn't worth going into, but she got furious about something because she pole vaulted to an incorrect conclusion and said that she thought P&B collectively had gone completely out of control--to which I responded "Thank you very much" and walked away.) But apart from that one moment, we had significantly less of the usual kind of whining and/or snotty conflict creation than we usually have, so I didn't feel I had to leave in order to preserve my adrenal glands. And I did manage to read the five chapters of the Tony Hillerman novel for M&D--because it took me all of about 20 minutes.

Since getting back to the office, I've been answering e-mails, organizing flotsam, taking care of things that have been about to burst into flames because they've been on the back burner so long--but my solution to the problem of developing a triage system for the papers I have to grade is to simply put everything, including the relevant check sheets (which do help reduce my marking time) into a bag--along with my absolutely gorgeous, useful, and supremely pragmatic folding editor's desk--and haul the whole megillah home. I'll do the triage tomorrow. My main ambition for the moment is to get out of here. I promised myself that I'd leave before 8, and it looks like I might even get out of here before 7:30. Wonders abound. Miracles never cease. I offer thanks and praise, and genuine gratitude.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

One pearl through the floor-boards

Or one plate fallen to the ground, whichever metaphor you prefer for having let something slip, goddammit. Since the start of the semester, I've been looking at the Le Guin novella that the SF students are going to read as the grand finale of the term and thinking, "No, I don't want to have that copied yet; I want to be more sure how many students will be left by that point first." Well, I suddenly realized that we start it right after Thanksgiving and--once again (and all together now)--Thanksgiving is next week.

I was in the middle of writing a long paragraph explaining all about how I needed to make sure I knew by next Wednesday whether the campus printing service could have it for me by Monday, Nov. 30, so I could hand it out on Dec. 1--and then I thought, Oh, Fuck: I have to hand it out next Tuesday, because the first section is due on the 1st. Then I thought, No, wait, that can't be right....

OK, I need to have it ready to hand out to students on Dec. 3, which is a little better than I thought, but still, I've decided I don't want to hassle with the potential slowness of our printing service: I'd rather take it to Staples or Kinkos or wherever and pay for it and know for sure that I'll have it on time.

I need to go to Staples anyway. So, well, there you have it.

So, the pearl fell through the floor boards, but I've managed to fish it back out again. Whew.

Today was a minor monster of a day. Advisement was mostly what one would expect, though there was one student who drove me nearly out of my skull. As I started to advise him, he was texting, so that started things off on just exactly the right foot, as you can imagine. But also, he really thought that I was going to make his schedule for him: not only was I going to tell him exactly which courses to take, I was going to set up the days and times. Um, no, I explained: this is college. You know your schedule, and you have a lot of possibilities to choose from. So, you get to choose which of these many courses you use to fulfill this requirement, and you get to choose the courses that meet on days and times that suit you. He wasn't very happy with that, but I tried to sound peppy and cheerful: "How fun! You get to do this all by yourself! You get to make your own choices with no grown-up person telling you what you have to do! Isn't that exciting!"

But then, just trying to explain to him the various areas I was recommending that he cover in the spring was torture. I didn't even try to explain the whole degree the way I usually do, because I could tell he'd just get hopelessly lost. I don't know if he was stoned or stupid--or both--but I would explain something very simple to him,and  he'd get it wrong. I'd explain again; he'd say what he'd just said (you know: the thing he'd gotten wrong). I'd explain again; he'd understand (hooray! progress!); we'd move on--then I'd review, and he'd get that same thing wrong again.

I came within a micron of saying, "Leave. I don't mean just leave this cubicle, or leave the Advisement Center. I mean leave this campus, this college, college anywhere. Do not go to any academic institution of any kind for at least five years. Grow a brain. Figure out why you need one. Then come back. You don't belong here."

But I didn't. My very strong hunch is that he'll flunk out very soon--and he'll end up having to go out there and try to grow a brain without my having to tell him that's what he needs to do. But ye gods, my patience--which is running thin at this point in the semester anyway--was certainly tried.

I then observed a colleague who has been the subject of some significant complaints by students. I don't feel this is the forum in which I should say much about that except to note that I can see why.

Then class. Most of the students were there, and--what a relief--the best of the brains were there, so there could be a real discussion. They'd done the reading, so we had a great conversation. I suspect they're going to struggle to find a focus for this final paper--and that's largely my fault, I confess. There are so many different angles I see as important to address regarding the ways in which our interactions with electronic communication is affecting our behaviors, our patterns of thought, our expectations, that I'm not sure where I really want students to focus. I'll talk to them about it all next week; we should start trying to come to some kind of focus earlier rather than later. These topics have a tendency to get bigger and bigger instead of more and more precise, and we need to fight against that tendency.

I then came back to the office and marked all the remaining homework for the SF class, so that's all ready to go. I have the triage list for what I'm taking home over the weekend--which looks like I need a moving van to get it all home (and will look even more daunting after I collect papers from the M&D students tomorrow)--but it's not actually as horrifying as it appears, as a lot of it is the appurtenances that attend the particular assignment (previous versions, research for the 101 papers, that sort of bilge).

But as of right now, I'm damned near cross-eyed with fatigue, so I'm going to stare at all the stuff around and on my desk for a few minutes to make sure I have everything with me that I need to take home tonight, and then, my faithful readers, I'm outta here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Practicing my plate-spinning skills

It's been one of those days--increasingly frequent at this part of the semester--when I'm running around like a plate-spinner, trying to keep the crockery from smashing to the floor. I don't think anything's gone smash just yet, but I could have missed the sound in my flurry.

So, the main focus of my energy today was on reviewing sabbatical folders and marking student assignments. The latter was of particular importance for the M&D class, not only because the stack of unmarked homework was reaching rather alarming proportions but also because their next papers are due on Thursday, so they needed their responses back to refer to in order to write those papers--at least in theory. In actual practice, few of them have written responses that will be of any use to them in writing their papers.

I also had to start the class in "evil bog monster from hell" mode. I actually was not as fierce as I've been in the past about the fact that many of them are making it pretty clear how little they actually care about the class by not following the basics of submission requirements--but I did note that most of the people who had submitted revisions had fallen down on some portion of the requirements, especially the submission to Turnitin. I checked again yesterday, and a number of them had submitted to Turnitin late--many of them quite late. I'm pretty sure that what I'm going to do is take the full penalty for everything that can earn an error, which I didn't do originally: late submission to Turnitin, incorrect paper format, whatever. I'll rack up the penalties first, and if they're over the limit, as stated on the paper assignment, I won't read the revision--and I won't read the revision if the penalties are high enough that it's virtually impossible for the grade to be an improvement over the original submission. I sort of suspect I'll end up reading maybe two or three revisions out of the eleven that were submitted.

The same will apply for the students in SF. In both classes I had to give them the lecture about formatting: it's so fucking simple, really, if you can't even be bothered to do that much, why should I think you give a rat's petite patoot about the content of the paper?

Agh. Blech.

I will say, however, that the attrition is finally kicking in. I spoke to the very intelligent young man from M&D--the one who has been taking advantage of the fact that he had been doing well. He said, "You said if we were over 500 we were OK." I said, "That was back then, but you haven't turned anything in since then." Oh. Oops. It turns out that his life is more than a bit of a train wreck on all kinds of levels, and he probably needs to withdraw from everything, take a year off, figure out what he wants to do with himself, and try again when he's got his head on straight. In any event, whatever he does in his other classes, he needs to withdraw from mine. I told him he's welcome to continue to attend, but he really does need to drop.

The attrition isn't precisely a stampede, but there's a noticeable ebb each class period. I suspect that will continue for the next few weeks. It will be very interesting indeed to see how many end up staying.

As usual, the SF class discussion was lively and interesting and fun--and M&D was a little more challenging but not actively painful. It took me longer than I thought it would after M&D to get down to the work I wanted to get done tonight, so I didn't get everything done that I'd hoped to: I'm in the same position regarding homework for the SF class that I was in terms of homework for M&D today: I have to get it back to the students on Thursday--which means I have to finish it tomorrow before I leave, because I will have zero time tomorrow before class, and zero time Thursday before class. Tomorrow, Advisement will be a mob scene; then I go directly to an observation, followed immediately by class. Thursday I have the day I thought I was going to have last week: seminar hours committee at 10, department meeting at 11:30, and class at 1. So, whatever I didn't finish tonight gets done tomorrow after class. Period.

I did get a fair whack at it, though. And I will do a chunk of the reading for Thursday's classes tonight at home. I read at home before bed anyway, so it might as well be what I'm reading for class. I find that as I'm writing this, I'm trying to figure out when I'll do other tasks (grade the final submissions of essay 2 from the 101 students, evaluate the revisions from the lit classes, some committee stuff, blah blah), but I'm going to take it one day at a time. For tonight, I'm cooked. If I'm going to get any reading done, I need to go home and start that. Tomorrow--and each day after--will have to take care of itself. The triage stack keeps shifting day by day. Some days I get more done than I anticipate. Some days, less. I may have to take work home over the weekend to feel like I'm as caught up as I want to be. C'est la vie. Pretty soon, it'll all be over but the complaining about final grades.

Monday, November 16, 2015

And this is also when it all starts to fall apart...

The other thing that happens when we get to this part of the semester roller-coaster is that everything starts to fall apart: students can't keep track of assignments (neither can I), and their assignments get progressively more sketchy and quarter-assed at best. Pearls are dropping through the floor-boards left, right and center. Everyone is staggering around looking pole-axed. It just ain't pretty, folks.

Right now, there's an interesting balance going on within my psyche, between my annoyance with the students who are falling down on the job--specifically not doing what they need to do in order to take advantage of a break they're being offered--and my delight with a few students who came to my office to get help, to talk over ideas, to make connections. One young woman probably should have been in my office about six weeks ago to have the talk we just had, but better late than never--and all I really care about is that she learns something, even if she learns it too late for it to do her any good in my class. The future marine was back today, too: we had a great talk about how to read and read well. He's reading two books at the moment: Marcus Aurelius and a biography of Elon Musk. That should explain a lot about this young man right there. Essentially I told him that there is no "right" way to read: he should read however he feels works for him, however he feels he's getting the most out of the material--and let the material tell him how he wants to read it. I think mostly he just likes that he can talk to an adult about ideas, books, reading, ambitions, without getting caught up in family dynamics or pragmatic career talk. Happy to oblige.

The 101 today was pretty much a disaster--or would have been, if I'd actually tried to teach the class. Five of the eight remaining students were there; three had done the reading all the way through and were ready to talk about it. Screw it. I collected their papers, gave them the handouts for the next few classes, and sent them home. It was a great break for me: I came back to the office and engaged in some organizational futzing that desperately needed to be done. (More is yet required.) I've been working through a stack of ancient assignments for the M&D class--and I am already planning my "I'm very annoyed" speech for tomorrow. Of the students who submitted a revision, a significant percentage left out a part of the requirement (the upload to Turnitin, the marked first version, or both)--or uploaded to Turnitin late. My current plan is to ask them what they think I should do: take the penalty as if this were the first version? Not accept the revision at all and just keep the first grade? What? My own inclination is to refuse to accept  the revision. If I really were to follow my gut, I would also refuse to accept any "revision" that is still incorrectly formatted (three papers). I mean, seriously, how hard is it to find out how to correctly format a paper? And why should I bother to read a paper from a student who can't be bothered to do even that much?

A. Nnoy. Ing.

Well, whatever. Tomorrow, when I come in, first on my agenda is to review sabbatical applications. Next is to take care of some seminar hours business. Then, more marking of assignments until it's time to go to class. I do have to remember that there will be absolutely zero time to do any work in Advisement for the rest of the semester: it's a mob scene in there now that registration has started, so I have to plan accordingly. And my plan for now is to get a little more work done today before I fold my tents (tense?) and steal away. It is both lovely and petrifying to realize that there are essentially only four more weeks before this semester is a thing of the past. Man we run out of time in an all-fired hurry. Like I've been saying: hold on to your hat and scream!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Huge relief

For once, I misread my calendar to my benefit. I was absolutely certain that I had a 10:00 seminar hours meeting followed immediately by a department meeting, followed immediately by class, followed immediately by P&B, followed immediately by class--and despite my best efforts yesterday, I didn't get all the student assignments marked and all the reading done for today's classes. I was more concerned about the enormous stack of stuff for the SF class, which for some reason was piled much higher than the stuff for M&D--and I did at least get all of that marked yesterday, and the requisite chapters of Windup Girl read, but at about midnight, as I was trying to force myself through just a few more chapters of Track of the Cat, I realized I wasn't going to make it: I was going to fall asleep, no matter what I did. I set the alarm for six--and when it went off, I said, "Nope," and reset it for seven. I didn't have a plan for what I would do in order to at least get the reading done--but the heavens smiled upon me: the back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back day is next Thursday.

O frabjous day!

I recorded grades for SF. I read chapters for M&D. I didn't get the assignments read for M&D, but enh, whatever. They'll be on top of the stack for next week. I'm so close to caught up I can almost taste it.

Or as caught up as I get. As for today's P&B, I was furious at first, because I'd killed myself--and not marked student assignments--in order to read all the promo folders, and we ended up barely talking about them today. But it turned out there were more important things on the agenda, so, I guess I'm just ahead of the game for next week's meeting, when we really will talk about the promo folders, when everyone has had a chance to read them all.

I honestly have no idea what I do with a good percentage of the time I spend working. I know I actually am working: I'm not watching funny cat videos or playing computer games, but what I am doing escapes me. I know that one thing I'll be doing over the next five days will be answering student e-mails: the SF students are going to be working on their revisions, and they don't have a lot of options for times to sit down and work with me.

I did run the "reality check" with them today: I had them get out the grade calculation sheet (and brought extras, for those who didn't have one with them); I gave them their cards, so they could record their grades (as most of them haven't been, and the few who have need to check that what they have matches what I have); and I put on the board both what they need to have to pass and what they need to have to get a grade that transfers. Unlike what I did with M&D, I also figured out what they need to earn on the rest of their assignments in order to keep that grade: in order just to pass, they need to have at least 560 points right now, and they need to earn at least 22 points on all the remaining reading responses plus the final self evaluation, and earn at least a 220 on all three papers (revised essay 1, essay 2--either the first time out or revised--and essay 3, which can't be revised). All the numbers for a C are slightly higher, obviously. I told them that if they're not really close to those numbers, if they don't have a realistic chance of catching up, they'd do better to withdraw. They don't need to hurry (I probably shouldn't have said that), but they should consider whether their time and energy would be better spent toward classes where they have a better shot at a grade that will pay off better for them.

I sort of have the feeling I'm going to be handing out a lot of "mercy D's" in those electives. A lot of students just need to pass: they want the grade so they can get their associate's degree and get the hell out of here. Fair enough. Turn in the work--all the work--and take your best shot at it, and I'll give you the D, even if you didn't really earn it.

But the poor sweet thing who couldn't make head nor tail out of the reading did withdraw today. I'm relieved. I think she's relieved. I'm happy to help her find an elective in which she can do well and have fun. I wish we offered basket-weaving. I'm not kidding: it's actually not easy, and it would be very therapeutic for a lot of the students. Meditative. Calming. Producing a thing of beauty, having a tangible result of one's work--like ceramics class. Ah well.

M&D was sort of a bust today. A lot of the students hadn't done the reading, or had barely skimmed it--and it's ridiculously easy, so they're just being fucking lazy. But I did tell them that their revisions had to be in my hands in hard copy now, uploaded to Turnitin tonight, no late papers accepted, end of story. I did allow one student to finish up tonight, leave the hard copy on the office door tomorrow--but the rest? Nope. Ship sailed. I'll be the same way with the SF students on Tuesday. The opportunity to revise is enough of a gift; don't look for extensions on that. And the super-bright student who's read everything in Portuguese was conspicuously absent today--and if I recall, he submitted a "place holder" essay, so he's now got 50 points for that 400 point assignment. I need to talk with him. I feel he's taking advantage of the fact that he's smart and knows a lot, and it's starting to really piss me off. He's going to fail the class at this rate, because he feels none of the rules should apply to him. Au contraire. I was like that as an undergrad, and I needed to get a few swift kicks to the backside to persuade me that I had to follow the rules, just like all the boring, average kids. I'm now passing along the fine tradition of knocking arrogant little brats down a peg or three. It's good for us brats to get knocked down some.

Not that that's an entirely pleasant note to end on, but honestly, I don't feel terrible about it. I hate to admit it, but part of me almost looks forward to it--not because I want to hurt the young man, but because I know what he needs and why, and that I'm actually doing something beneficial for him. Ouchy, but beneficial. And now I'm going to do something beneficial for myself and start to slowly gather myself together to roll out of here for the weekend. I am beyond tired (no wonder I misread my calendar: it's a wonder I can read anything at all), so I'm going to decant myself into my car before I end up in a little sloppy mess on the carpet here in the office.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Another lovely student mentoring moment

After the 101 class today, I met with a student who is in Mystery and Detective Fiction and who was in my 101 last fall. She's very shy, very insecure--and extremely intelligent. This is the second time she's been in to see me about her thoughts regarding where she might go after Nassau; she's thinking about going to a small, private women's college, which I think is a great idea for her. I only spent one year at Chatham College, in Pittsburgh, but it was the best year of my undergraduate education, infinitely better than the rest of the years put together: I didn't have another educational experience anywhere close until grad school, and now, in hindsight, I wish I'd stayed there for the full four years. (If they hadn't decided to go co-ed and become a university, I'd suggest she go there, in fact. The place had--and surely still has--its problems, but it was still wonderful.) Paul was deeply involved in the craziness of his role on the Academic Senate Executive Committee--that's a topic for another day, I think--but he couldn't help but overhear part of our conversation, and he popped up from what he was writing to suggest a book for her: something about liberal arts schools people don't know about that can transform your life. I'm delighted he did: she's the kind of person, and student, who doesn't need to be focused on a career track just yet. She needs to be in an environment where her mind and soul will be valued and nurtured, and that means some nontraditional, off-kilter, groovy liberal arts school where people talk about deep philosophical ideas and dress like hippies and don't give a crap what anyone else thinks.

What I love about talking with her is that when we first start talking, she tends to be very hesitant and shy, has a hard time making eye contact: her voice and hands are on the verge of shaking. Then, as we talk, she relaxes, she starts to make more eye contact; she starts to laugh a little; her hands are calmer. I don't know much about her history, but I think it's been pretty brutal--and from what she said today, I think it's included serious misdiagnoses of her psychological states. She said she's been told she has Asperger's syndrome, and it seems quite clear to me that she is nowhere on the autism spectrum. She may have severe social anxieties--but I have a hunch they were induced by something in her background, not something in her brain chemistry. We talked about creating our own narrative of who we are--and I said yes, that's what we do. All of us: we make up a story of who we are. Sometimes there's an external narrative that is imposed on us; sometimes we incorporate that narrative--but we can also choose to change it, to create another narrative and work to adjust our internal sense of who we are to match the new external narrative that we want to make real. It isn't easy (and there's only so much we can truly change)--but it's all still a story. And in terms of the narrative she tells the schools she wants to transfer to, it's up to her how she wants to frame that narrative, how much of her past she wants to relate, and the way she chooses to relate it.

Conversations like that one, however, do make me think about that career change I keep mulling over, the one that means I'd have to go back to earn another degree so I could hang out my shingle as a therapist. I'm not qualified to do the kind of work with that young woman that I'd really like to do, but I want her to do that kind of work with someone--someone really good. Not that I necessarily would be, but that's sure what she deserves.

Radical shift of gears here: I whipped through the last four promotion folders I needed to look at before Thursday's P&B meeting. My evaluation is much more sketchy than I'd like, but I'm not letting myself feel guilty. This is a first submission of the damned things: we'll see them several more times before the final versions head over to college wide P&T (promotion and tenure). And the only ones I really need to pay close attention to, I did: the three I'm responsible for mentoring. The rest, I did a good enough job on. Next week. I have to look at the sabbatical folders again: there is some rush on those, as they have to go over to the college-wide committee at the end of the month, but there also aren't many of them, so, well, whew on that.

The 101 class went OK. The most hard-working young woman wasn't there--she's now missed two classes in a row, and I know she's freaking out about it, but she's been having serious health problems, so she and I need to talk about what to do. Another young woman was there, but she hasn't been turning in 90% of the work, despite multiple warnings. I thought about warning her again--or even telling her, flat out, that she's going to fail--but for now I've decided to let it ride. She's been warned. Maybe she needs the harsh lesson of getting the F at the end. The young man who has been unable to grasp some of the basics all along--who didn't understand that he plagiarized, why what he did was plagiarism, that he couldn't do it again without it being considered plagiarism again, that plagiarism would earn him a zero (I could go on with all the various ways I tried to convey the problem to him)--stayed after class to see if he's going to pass or not. I probably should have simply said, "No, you're not." The honest truth is that he's managed to pull out low-pass grades just enough that he might be able to squeeze out a D. Can he get a C? Highly unlikely. I don't know why I wasn't more fierce with him: I've known pretty much since the first week that his chances of doing well were slim at best, and he doesn't add anything at all to the class discussion or dynamics, so it won't hurt the class any to have him gone--but I'm not just cutting him loose. I'll let him finish this paper--but after that, I really should tell him he can't get a C, even if mathematically it's possible, and I should get him out. If I were to keep only the students I think are honestly capable of doing the work and getting something real out of the class, I'd end up with five. Five.

I've also decided that I am not going to allow more time for the revisions for the SF class. As I said yesterday, the axe really does need to fall, and truly, the sooner the better, for them as well as for me. I'm going to take the huge stack of homework home with me (homework in more than one sense, I guess), and I'm going to do the same calculation I did for the M&D students so when I see them in class on Thursday, I can have them figure their grades and see where they stand. That way, the ones who do the revision will know as soon as they see their revision grades whether the new mark is enough to pull them into passing territory or not. Unlike what I did with M&D, I may also give them two bench marks: this is enough to pass; this is enough to transfer. (A D passes; a C transfers.)

Maybe that will chase some of them out.

I also was thinking about sending actual "snail mail" letters to the students who have simply stopped coming to class to remind them that if they don't actually officially withdraw, they'll get an Unofficial Withdrawal, which calculates in their GPA as an F--but no. Again, they may need the harsh lesson. Grow up, kiddies. Take a little responsibility for your own lives here. I'm not chasing you around to be sure you're taking care of your own education.

There are other little niggly bits of flotsam that I've been trying to sweep off my desk: getting some information pulled together to support the decision to offer advising/mentoring to honors students (who may be great students but whose lives outside of school are often train wrecks), starting--already--to think about getting ready to teach Modern American Poetry in the spring, including getting a little booklet of the poems copied in advance instead of (as I've done in the past) copying the poems as I go along; getting copies made of the rest of the readings for the 101 class this semester, plus the final reading for the SF class--though I want to wait a bit for that, as I'm not sure how many will be left by then; getting a copy of my Nature in Lit reader and syllabus to Virginia so it can be considered as a potential Honors course (another way to potentially get it to run); contacting the Distance Ed VP about getting a stipend to develop either Native American Lit or Nature in Lit as online courses ... oh, there's always more to do.

But for now, I'm just going to decant all the student assignments into a shoulder bag to schlep home and get out of here. I was sort of hoping the BOT meeting, where Paul is being held hostage, would miraculously end early and he'd be back here so we could go out for a drink together, but I have a sinking feeling he'll be there until some ungodly hour after midnight. That's a whole circle of hell Dante didn't know about: BOT meetings. I love my friend, and I'm sorry he has to suffer through that, especially as he's done nothing to deserve the damnation: he's a good man, and he does excellent work at a horrifically difficult job. I wish I could do more than remind him from time to time how great he is, and how much he needs to let roll off his back. But much as I love him, I'm not waiting around for him. I'm going home.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The weirdness continues

It's understandable that the work in Advisement is starting to heat up, so I can't count on having time there to get student assignments marked--but it was tremendously bizarre to have a parade of students through my office during my office hour today. That really never happens. I even had a student waiting while I had someone talking with me--and I don't think that's happened since I stopped doing formal, scheduled conferences with students about papers.

One student came because he needs a good grade in the SF class in order to stay on the football team--and he never handed in the hard copy of his paper. I'm giving him a big break on that (he should get a zero), but what he wrote is pretty much a train wreck, and I didn't give him much in the way of advice, as I wasn't going to actually read and comment on his paper at this point. I do think I'm going to give the whole class a little longer to complete their revisions, however. I'm half tempted to just make the final date for revisions the same for both the first essays--except that just prolongs the agony for so many students who need to know that they're not going to make it. The need to allow the axe to fall is the best reason I can think of for not moving the date for revisions. I don't know. I'm still thinking about it. I'll look at the assignment schedule between now and Thursday and see what makes sense.

But because of the parade of students through Advisement and then through my office hour, I didn't get all the mechanics stuff marked for the 101 students prior to class. It turned out OK: I gave them the reading they'll need to have done for next week so they could get started on that, and we still had time to do some work on mechanics anyway. Tomorrow's going to be a little weird and bumpy, as they're finishing up essay 2 and starting essay 3 at the same time--concrete proof that multitasking is a myth, y'all--but they only have to manage that through next Monday, and then it's all about their final essays.

And if that isn't evidence that we're on the "hold onto your hat and scream" part of the semester, I don't know what is.

But I want to bounce back to talking about those students who came to see me during the office hour. One was a lovely young woman who was in one of my 102s back in 2013: she's applying for transfer into music schools (she's a music major here) and she needs a letter of recommendation--and we got into a great conversation. I was enjoying it so much I almost forgot that I actually had a class to go teach. Just before I saw here, I was talking to a student from the Mystery class; he came to see me once before, worried about his grade--but he's not just worried about his grade: he's worried on a much deeper, more philosophical level. He realizes that his grades are making him think less of himself as a person, that he's comparing himself to his sister and feeling diminished by comparison, that school feels like a prison to him but when he can read the way he wants to, he feels free and happy and excited about what he's learning. He wants to be a Marine, but that's a means to an end for him. That plan frightens me, of course: I don't want him to be damaged in all the ways that being in combat can damage a person, physically and psychologically, spiritually. But I do want him to do what his soul calls on him to do--and right now, I don't think that includes being in the classroom. Because my former student was waiting, I had to cut my conversation with him short, but I encouraged him to come back to talk to me next week, and I very much hope he does. This is the kind of "mentoring" that matters: it may not keep him at this campus--which is what our administrators see as the whole point of mentoring--but it will help him find his way as a young adult, and that will make him think of this place as a place he values, his experience here as one that mattered to him, all of which is far more important in the long run. Or that's what I think, anyway.

I'm on the fence about whether to get up extra early tomorrow to try to get a jump on marking assignments tomorrow. I don't officially have an office hour, but I will be meeting with a student from the SF class who plagiarized--much to my surprise and great disappointment, as he's a diligent, hard-working student and doesn't seem the type to cheat, so I really want to understand what happened. That conversation will no doubt take a while, and there's bound to be quite the crowd in Advisement again, so my time to work on assignments will be minimal unless I do get up early--but, well, I just kinda don't want to. Still, I do have Wednesday off: I won't have to set an alarm at all, though I will have to take work home with me. Hmmm. Well, we'll see.

For now, I'm calling it a day. (What else should I call it; a banana?)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

I must be doing something wrong

I don't know, maybe over the sabbatical I had a personality transplant that I wasn't aware of or something, but I cannot seem to get rid of students from my literature electives. I was sure that, once I gave the papers back to them, they'd leave in droves--but they're not: they're still there. I think I persuaded the student who can't read the books in the SF class that she really needs to withdraw, but it was a hell of a battle. There are a number of students I was certain would respond to their grades with the usual, "Fuck you, you bitch" attitude and leave--and instead, they're coming up to me with trembling earnestness, asking what they can do to improve.

Where did I put my bitchitude? Where's my monster outfit? Who kept the dragon in her cave? What in the sam-hill is going on here? If they continue to hang on, I'm going to be stuck grading all those papers all semester. That just cannot be cosmically right. It really can't.

But both classes did go well today, which is nice. They're really generally pretty great classes, in terms of what happens in the course of the 75 minutes when we meet. The SF students are a step or two better than M&D in terms of carrying the discussion out of their small groups and into the class as a whole, but they're both fine--and fun. I like that they're how I end my weeks.

Shifting back to the attrition issue, however, it is indeed ironic that the one class where I'm losing students is the 101, where I didn't have enough to lose. (Oh, and I just remembered, Mr. Over-Enthusiastic "But I was sick"? On the day when the paper was due, the other students told me they'd seen him, just before class started, downstairs in the food court. Must have been an awfully sudden illness.)

In any event, I did get the papers graded for the SF class, barely squeaked the last one out before my meeting at 11:30--but the meeting didn't fill the entire time before class at 1, so I had a little time to manage some e-mail correspondence and manage a few other things. There's still an awful lot of chaos and confusion swirling around my desk, which I'd hoped to get a handle on before I left tonight--and I'd hoped to be out of here early tonight--but a colleague/friend nabbed me before the SF class and asked if she could talk to me when we were both done with our classes tonight: she'd had a difficult experience and needed to talk to someone sympathetic. So, after class, I ended up providing her with comfort and support--which I was more than happy to do, as she's done the same for me in times past, and I'm honored that she sees me as someone she can turn to when she's in some distress. But as a consequence, it's 8 p.m. and I can either be here even later but leave things somewhat more organized, or I can leave sooner but come in to more chaos on Monday.

I think I'll opt for the latter. Next week will be an odd week: Tuesday follows a Wednesday schedule; then we have Wednesday off for Veteran's day. I strongly suspect I'll take a huge stack of homework for the lit electives home with me to mark on Wednesday, even though every fiber of my being will be saying, "No!!!! Stay in sloppy clothes, eat bon-bons and read mindless fluff all day!!" But it's just a perfect chance to get all the stuff cleared out of my office, and that would feel so very very very good to do that I think I have to do it--and look forward to a real break for Thanksgiving (and I will decidedly be giving thanks for the break, believe me). I'm going to have a helluva lotta work to do on Monday, not just for the 101 but some committee stuff that I have to take care of before I forget all about it--both for the seminar hours committee and the reading of promotion folders for P&B (which must be done before we have a make-up meeting on Thursday).

Now, however, I will at least pick the stacks of paper up off the floor, and pull the pages I printed out of the printer to add to the stacks of paper I'm picking up off the floor, and I'll consider that as organized as I need to get for now. I'm heading home. I have no idea what tomorrow is, but it sure as hell ain't today, and that's a good thing.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


I'm damned near blind, I know I'm getting loopy, I have to be back here in about 12 hours, I have four more papers to grade before my 11:30 meeting, I need to be something approaching competent and intelligible at 11:30 (not to mention prior to that, when I'm grading those last four papers), and at this point, I want someone to wave a magic wand so I'm already home, fed (the cats too), and asleep in bed.

I still have one more chapter of Windup Girl to read before class tomorrow, too.

And I meant to get cat food on the way home today, but the pet store will close before I can get there. Ye gods and little fishes.

The main interaction of the day that I want to record, however, is that I booted Mr. Over-Enthusiastic from 101 today. I felt bad about the way I did it: I was too abrupt and fierce at first, but I was also pissed off, because he tried exactly the same routine he did with the last paper: "I have it!" Me: "It's too late." Him: "But I was sick!!" Me: "You didn't contact me..." Him (slight change of the routine: last time he said he didn't know how to contact me): "I tried to contact you, I really tried!" Me: "I have a phone: no message. I have e-mail: no message. You didn't upload it to Turnitin. Nothing."

I won't continue the play-by-play of the interaction, but he vacillated between being angry and starting to cry--and the part that hurt me was when, after I'd told him he needed to withdraw and had no other options in terms of this class, in all sincerity and with real regret, he said, "But then I won't see you again!" I told him he could take 101 in the Winterim--and he wanted to take it from me. I told him I don't teach in the Winterim. I said he could, if he wanted, wait until spring and take 101 from me again in the spring--but that I don't want him to delay his progress; what I really want, I told him, was for him to take 101 in the Winterim, take 102 from someone else in the spring, and then take whatever literature elective I'm teaching next fall--that I'd love to have him in one of my classes when he's gotten his feet under him and is really up and running as a student.

And that's true. I wouldn't be completely unhappy to have him in one of my 101s in the spring, but honestly, I'd prefer to have him as a student again after he's done a little more growing up.

The other thing that bothered me is that the other students were upset to know that he was leaving the class. I know they were driven somewhat nuts by him, but they also liked him--they're such a small group, they're really bonded--and I think they felt hurt on his behalf. I said that he was having health issues that were keeping him from getting his work done (well, he did tell me he'd been sick both times he'd had to submit the first "real" version of papers)--and after a little awkwardness, the rest of the students settled down and got to work.

I really love that class. I do. There are still two students in there, possibly three, who are teetering on the brink of not being able to make it, but the rest are really good: they're learning, they're working hard, they care. One of them--the one with the frat boy outside and the genuine sweetness inside--is struggling to find a clear focus and has sort of slacked off on the work from time to time. At one point, when they were supposed to have come in to class with articles they'd found doing their own research, he didn't have anything with him, and I said, "So, you didn't have a chance to do the research?" He said, "I probably had chances, but I didn't do it." I admire the honesty, and I told him so. He was the first to come to the desk where I was working to talk to me about my comments on his paper--and I think he's catching on now to what he has to do. I think most of them are.

I could probably natter on for a while here--I'm sort of in Energizer Bunny mode (when I'm running on fumes, it's particularly hard for me to let go and wind down because I'm so afraid I'll crash completely and not be able to get going again--and I have another big day in front of me tomorrow)--but really, I do need to get home. And I really can't see very well, so it's time to stop looking at letters and to look at things further away from my face...

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

And just like that, whack, I hit the wall

I was so sure I was going to get all the 101 papers graded tonight. Nope. That dang-blanged wall came up all of a sudden and I feel more than a bit like a crash-test dummy. Or some kind of dummy.

I'm hoping madly that the fact that a minor miracle occurred and tomorrow's scheduled observation was, in fact, postponed (hallelujah and pass the coffee!) will balance out the fact that I still have three 101 papers to grade before I can dive back into the SF mess.

I was about to blithely say, "Well, worst case scenario, I return the papers to the SF students next Tuesday"--but I keep forgetting that next Tuesday follows a Wednesday schedule, so if I don't get their papers back to them on Thursday, I'll have to move the date when the revisions are due again, and I don't feel like farting around with that assignment schedule any more thank you very much.

I'm also realizing we've definitely gotten to the peak of the semester roller-coaster: it's about time to hold onto our collective hats and scream.

SF went OK today. I didn't put them in groups (always a mistake)--but I wanted to be sure to give them some set-up of the social and environmental issues behind Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl, so I ended up doing more "chalk and talk" than I normally do. Of course, I also forgot to give them the "explicit material" advisory that I'd planned. I thought, "Well, maybe I can wait until next class"--but I looked, and nope: the extremely explicit scene of sexual violence is in chapter 2. So I dutifully called everyone, or e-mailed the few I couldn't call for one reason or another, and told them (or left messages) with the warning. Most of the students I actually spoke to were pretty amused that I felt the need to give them the warning--but really, when they get to the scene, they may be glad I did. They were thrown by some of the stuff in Oryx and Crake, and it's tame by comparison.

As Paul noted, however, for many of them, this may make them more likely to actually read the book--especially when I tell them that there is another, similarly explicit scene later.

Um, um, what else.

Oh, part of why I didn't get more grading done is because I was trying to juggle getting things set up for the grade grievance which I think I've mentioned as being among my P&B duties. In today's meeting, we sorted out what has to happen when--including the fact that, because of the "Tuesday is a Wednesday" thing next week, we have to meet on Thursday (which reminds me that I have to tell all my students that my office hour will be canceled next Thursday). But I was going bonkers yesterday because I wasn't going to have time to review the promotion applications by today--and I sure wasn't the only one. But now I have until next Thursday to do that, and until the following Tuesday to look over the finalized sabbatical applications. There's more work coming down the pipeline--including interviewing potential new adjuncts--but I'm relatively certain (knock wood knock wood) that after this week, I won't be in the pressure cooker any more, just at the usual rolling boil.

As for the pressure cooker, I confess I probably could have kept grading a while longer tonight, but part of why the wall suddenly appeared is that I remembered I have to go to the store on my way home tonight--and since I'm doing the "alarm at six to be on campus by 9" thing for the rest of this week, I'd like to be out of here before 9 p.m. tonight. There is a swirl of chaos around my desk that I'd like to bring to some kind of slightly more organized chaos, and then, faithful readers, I'm outta here.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Can't be done

I walked in to the office today, saw Paul sitting there, and instead of my heart lifting at the sight of my dear friend and office husband, it sank: oh fuck, I thought, I have to read promotion folders--and there's a shitload of them.

Well, it simply cannot be done. I just sent an e-mail to P&B saying that I won't have them read--in fact, honestly, I may not even have all the folders for my three mentees read (though I have done Paul's, which was a pleasure). I made a tactical error in terms of the triage with student assignments: since the M&D students are reviewing the first four chapters of An Unsuitable Job for a Woman for class tomorrow, I thought it might help them to have their previous responses back, so I've been working on those--but at the expense of getting the papers marked for the SF class, and I had blissfully forgotten that I have a meeting having to do with an aspect of seminar hours scheduled on Thursday, right smack in the middle of a period of time I was planning on having free. I've asked the other two people involved if we can reschedule, but if we can't, I really do have to do it: I've already been negligent about following through on the issue (dammit), so I can't blow it off.

But this really, truly, no kidding around, means I have to call in "sick" to Advisement on Wednesday. Not only do I have to get the papers marked for the 101 class--and I have an observation on Wednesday (unless something happens to postpone that, which would be wonderful but which I can't count on)--but I absolutely positively must have the papers back to the SF class. I did grade a few (a very few) on Friday, but nowhere near enough to take the pressure off this week.

So, it's going to be another week of getting up at 6 a.m. and being here until between 8 and 9 p.m., grinding away like a fiend--and taking reading home to stay on top of the SF class (as we're starting The Windup Girl for Thursday's class--and I'm very apprehensive about how the students will do with that).

Speaking of the few papers I graded for the SF class, and my concerns about their ability to handle Bacigalupi (author of Windup Girl), I marked the paper written by one of the students who came to my office because she was struggling in the class--and even though her responses had given me cause for concern, I had no clue how profoundly lost she was until I read her paper. I couldn't even mark it. I could weep for the poor thing: she can't understand the books on even the most basic, fundamental, simplistic level--and they're really not hard reading. I just started grading the paper for another student who was also in here, worried about the class, and although it has some problems, at least she understands the reading well enough to say something about it. The other one? I don't know what to say to her. I honestly don't. I spent a lot of time this weekend trying to figure out how to talk to her about the depths of the problem.

Whoof. It's depressing to contemplate.

On the other hand, the students in the 101 today were doing great. It was "peer review" day, and even though one student arrived late, which made the peer review process a little bumpy, they did a great job--and at the end of class, they were asking questions to make sure they understood the process. Something about the way they were asking questions, their concern to get it right, made me feel great about being a teacher: they're getting it. They are starting to grasp the concepts and gain some confidence, and I'm very proud of them.

Except Mr. Super-Enthusiastic. Who wasn't there--despite his whole big speech a while back about how he was going to turn everything around, how he'd made mistakes but he now understands the process and he's going to do everything absolutely right. The other students had even seen him downstairs in the dining area earlier--and he was conspicuously absent.

But the young woman who showed up late was ecstatic because I told her she could change her paper before I evaluated it: she can add to it, upload the new and improved version tonight, and drop off the new and improved for me tomorrow morning--because I won't be grading any papers tonight anyway: I'm going out for steak and scotch with Paul and William, goddammit, even if I have to get up at 6 tomorrow morning and will no doubt feel like 17 kinds of hell because of tonight's overindulgence.

I have about five more minutes to pull things together here in the office before I load William into my car and drive him gently to the lovely steak house where we will meet Paul, and then, well, we'll see what the morrow brings.