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I welcome students readers to this blog. However, be aware that, although I do not use anyone's actual name, the descriptions of behaviors and conversations are not disguised. This is a space in which I may rant, vent, and otherwise express responses that I would do my best to mask or at least tone down in professional interactions with students. This is my personal, gloves off, no holds barred, direct from the gut expression of what it feels like to do my job. If you think you might be hurt or offended or upset by that, read no further. The person I'm ranting about could be you.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Not fun, but done

I'm not happy that one of the last things I had to do this semester was let two students know they were guilty of plagiarizing: not the usual copy-and-paste-from-the-internet thing, but one student used the other student's paper for his own. In fact, he plagiarized his "self" evaluation. I told them they both would fail the class--and I got a very angry, upset, "I won't accept this" e-mail from the young woman. When she left the room, the young man all but confessed his sins: he said, "Professor, don't fail her for the class. Fail me, but she didn't do anything wrong." I couldn't get him to admit that he took work from her paper--although clearly he did--so I was still going to fail them both, but when I got her e-mail, I decided to go ahead and give her the grade for her paper. I told her that her tone was more likely to make me want not to change my mind than to persuade me to change it--but I recognized that she was writing in the heat of the moment and not being very careful about what she said or how she said it. So I gave her credit for the paper, the grade I'd have given it if I hadn't later found out that she'd aided in academic dishonesty--and her grade calculates as a D+. Even if I'd given the young man credit for what he'd borrowed from her, giving him the same grade I gave her, he'd still have failed the class. And she'll still be furious about the D+. I'm fully expecting a shit storm about that. However, if she raises a stink, I'll refer her to the grade grievance policy and we'll follow procedures. She may think my grading is too harsh, but she can't win a grade grievance on that.

Still, just the fact that I'm thinking about this now is sick-making.

On the other hand, reading the self-evaluations (which were really more "now I get to bash the professor a littles"), I can rest assured that I haven't lost my inner bitchitude, that my reputation as ridiculously demanding and harsh remains intact. So that's something.

The other thing to hold on to is that the charming young woman I've been enjoying chats with after class came in after I'd had that unpleasant confrontation with the two cheaters. She gave me a perky hello, and the tone of my response made her say, "Oh, no: are you having a bad day? Can I cheer you up?" I said something that made her feel she had already improved my mood--and then she gave me a little gift. Two actually, wrapped in brown paper and a paper doily, tied with brown twine. I just now opened them: a book mark and a little sign that says, "I work hard so my cat can have a better life." The bookmark I may use. The other goes on the shelf in the office where I have other gifts from students and various other oddments. And I will think of her, and be charmed by the warmth behind the gift.

It's now after 10 p.m.--and yes, I'm still in the office, but I just finished submitting my grades to Banner and my paper grade forms are filled out (Paul will submit them to the office for me tomorrow: thank you Paul). I'm not going to worry about photocopies for the 101s: they're still too tiny to fret about. And I'm going to take lots of copied poems and a few anthologies home with me so I can continue to work on the Poetry class over the break. I'll nickle and dime at the semester prep, when and as I feel the urge.

Right now, I mostly feel the urge to have a stiff drink, or a good cry, or both. But I finished the grading, so I don't have to come back to the office until it's time to start scheduling in January. That feels incredibly bizarre right now, but I expect the relief will sink in slowly, over time. I have to do a little noodling to pack up and make sure I know what the hell I'm looking at when I come back, but then--finally--I can put a period at the end of this semester. I'll probably post to the blog from time to time over the break, but not often--so for the most part, please enjoy reruns until the season resumes in January.

And to all a good night.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Tomorrow, the big crunch (not the of the universe, just my own)

I'm not talking about the idea of expanding and contracting universes here, just what it takes to get through the end of semester. Weirdly, for reasons I can't explain, yesterday I had a whalloping case of the blues: the "I can't get off the couch; I can't do anything but read dopey mysteries" kind of day. I managed to finally lever myself out of the supine position and put in a little bitty bit of semester prep on the spring 101s, but I'd intended to have a glorious, burning, churning, productive day of semester prep. Nope. Didn't happen.

And of course, there was a constant stream of students in Advisement today (who are these people? Don't they have anything better to do, like study for finals, or write final papers, or Christmas shop or something?), so I didn't get any work done. But I have just completed all the papers for students who wanted to get their work back in the classes tomorrow, and I filled out all the final paperwork for the teeny-tiny 101.

So, tomorrow means whipping my way through the papers and unread last-minute reading responses for the lit electives, crunching the numbers, filling out the forms, and putting the grades on Banner. I would be beyond ecstatic if I can get all that done with enough time left over to also send the packet of stuff to be copied for the first few weeks of class for the 101s--though it may not be necessary, if the numbers don't suddenly increase rather astronomically. Normally, there'd be a chance for Bruce to cancel some sections and spread the students around among the remaining sections, but he's already canceled sections: in the time slots when my classes run, I've got one of two sections, the other also being taught by a full-time professor. So we really have to hope for an uptick in registration. In any event, if the classes stay small, I have enough copies of things already that I may be able to fill in what I need just by copying myself on the machines downstairs, without having to call on the Printing office. I'll keep an eye on it all and see.

The same holds true for the Poetry class. Right now, there are seven students registered (all young women so far, which is interesting). I didn't see it on the potential chopping block when I was assigning adjunct courses, but I may talk to Bruce about it tomorrow, see if there's something I could pick up if it doesn't run. There's an unassigned 102, for instance--though I may well have assigned it to a senior adjunct, in which case ... well, I won't get into the minutiae of that domino chain. We'll see what happens, I reckon. But this is the kind of think I'll be working on with Bruce the week of January 11.

I want so shift gears back to today, however. The 101 students were very sweet. One rather annoyed me in her self-evaluation: she said she never did the online discussion board posts because she didn't think they'd be useful (to which I wanted to reply, "How would you know, since you never tried them out?"), but mostly they seemed to have gotten out of the class exactly what I most hoped for: that writing is a process; that to write well, they need to go over their papers more than once; that finding information is interesting; that it feels good to be treated like a responsible adult. The young man with the frat boy demeanor said that the first time we went through the rather involved process I take them through, he couldn't see how it could make any difference, thought it would be just a big waste of time--but by the second time, he was sold on it: he knew it would make his writing better to do the process. The one thing they wanted was more review of sentence-level mechanics--and I can see how to make that part of the mechanics review day. It's hard for me to teach about sentence fragments and that sort of bilge without it becoming deadly dull.

(Oops. Sorry: I'm back. I just went over to see if I could find some humorous ways to teach sentence stuff, and apart from a few rather grand bits on very specific issues, I couldn't find anything on the absolute basics, like, you know, the boring stuff: sentence fragments and that sort of bilge.)

And OMIGOD I just saw what time it is. What am I still doing here? Time to go home time to go home time to go home. I have to be back here way too soon as it is.

Friday, December 18, 2015

One done (well, mostly), two to go

I graded all the papers for the 101 students--all five of them (imagine how exhausting)--and I've crunched most of the numbers: I've done a larger-scale break-down for the students, and I'll have to do a teeny bit more math for the paper rosters (and no, I don't know why we're still doing paper rosters; this place is idiotically antiquated in any number of ways). But apart from that--and reading their self-evaluations, which should be enjoyable--that course is packaged up and tied with a ribbon. Almost literally: the plastic accordion folders I use to carry course materials in are tied closed with ribbons.

And the adjunct schedules are as finished as I can get them. There are some classes I couldn't assign, because I don't know who is qualified to teach them--and I may have made a few mistakes in what I did assign (revise that: I almost certainly made mistakes in what I did assign). But at least Bruce now can work with the preliminary pass and tweak what I've done instead of having to start from nothing.

Part of me hoped I'd get a little further along a little faster than I managed, but I think it's a pretty good Friday's worth of work. I'm going to take the risk of not bringing any papers home with me to grade. I'm trusting that between whatever time I have on Monday and Tuesday before class, I can get through the ones that want comments or at least to know the grade. The rest? Well, who knows. But I'm 99.9% certain I'll be here on Wednesday, finishing up. I "should" take some of that work home with me, I know, but I have a lot of life maintenance to do over the weekend--not to mention class prep for the 101s at least (that I can do pretty easily: all the conceptualization is there, it's just a matter of changing dates and making minor adjustments--and sending the first batch of assignments off to Printing to be photocopied).

I have reached the state of exhaustion when I teeter on the line between total collapse and hyper mania: I fully understand why over-tired toddlers are so hard to put to bed, as I am exactly the same way. Unfortunately, however, I don't have parents to make me sit in my high chair and eat the nutritious dinner they've prepared, put me into my jammies, and tuck me into bed. I have to do all that for myself. (The cats are useless at this sort of thing. They don't seem to have any sense of responsibility at all. They won't help me grade papers; they don't clean the house; they never make dinner for me but always expect me to feed them. Useless. It's truly surprising that I haven't turned them into charming little hats.)

See? That's what happens when I get overly tired: I get loopy and start blathering nonsense. This is a very good indication that it's time to step away from the keyboard and drive very carefully home. I know that tomorrow is another day--and it's nice to remember that so is Sunday, and Monday. And right now, I don't have to worry about a single one of them. I'm stick-a-fork-in-me done for tonight, and that's all that matters.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Comin' in tomorrow, goin' home tonight

That sounds like a country music song, don't it. But no: it simply describes my frame of mind. It is--by my usual schedule--wildly early, the roosters have barely opened their eyes (OK, so maybe I exaggerate a bit), and yet, I'm about ready to pack it in and head off into the rainy night. I didn't get very far today in terms of working on the adjunct schedules, so that has to be my first priority tomorrow. The office is closing early, too, so I have to be sure to be here in plenty of time to get in there before they lock the doors.

As I was in there, working on the scheduling, I gave Bruce a little bit of a hard time because he was apparently going to work right through the department "meeting"/party--which ostensibly he has to be there to run. I had no intention of going to the party part--being the raging introvert that I am--but I was going to be there for the department meeting part. However, Bruce decided not to make any announcements: he felt they'd just be downers, and he didn't want to end the semester on that note. Fair enough.

So I returned to his office, went back to scheduling--and suddenly remembered that I actually had a class to meet at 1:00. It was 12:55. Bruce very kindly didn't harass me in turn for getting so involved in what I was doing that I forgot I actually had another responsibility--and the students didn't mind that I was a few minutes late.

Both classes weren't really classes, as such. I made sure they had their names and a page number in the upper right hand corner of each page of their papers; I made sure they had works cited pages; I made sure that those who wanted to know their paper grade or to receive comments made a note to that effect on the first page of their essays. I distributed the self-evaluation assignment--which is barely an assignment at all (as I went to great lengths to point out): informal, personal voice, no need to think about it very hard. But I did explain the rationale for the assignment. First, as I explained, I think it's important for them to look back to what they knew at the beginning of the semester and recognize what they've learned. It's particularly important for them to have learned something about the actual literature we've been reading (and I didn't mention this point, but this is actually a kind of test for me: if they haven't learned anything of substance about the genre in question, I need to reconsider how I approach the material). However, they can also talk about anything they've learned (like "never take a class from Prof. TLP"). The other reason for the assignment is that it helps me make adjustments, depending on what works and what doesn't--and most important, why X or Y works, or doesn't.

Most of the students were there on time, but there were a few stragglers, so as I waited for them, I started grading papers--particularly the ones for which the student had requested comments.

Between classes I didn't even try to get back into the adjunct scheduling thing. I don't quite know what I did: it was another time of shreds and patches. I know I did some photocopying of poems I may teach, and I shuffled some stacks of paper around for various reasons ... who knows. Anyway, the M&D class ran essentially the same way the SF class had earlier: same spiel, same use of the time while waiting for stragglers.

My favorite bit was the last of the stragglers. She's one of the young women with a train-wreck of a home life but who is dazzling and delightful in class. I'd gotten an e-mail from her earlier today, indicating that she was floundering in trying to find a thesis--but I didn't get her message until so late that all I could say was, essentially, "Finish it any way you can so you have something to turn in." And I told her I'd be in the room until 5:15, so she had until then to finish the paper, print it, and bring it to me. She arrived maybe a few minutes before 5, and we ended up having a great chat. One part of the conversation with her I'd had earlier with two of her classmates (a triumvirate of lovely young women): all three said that they'd had to write their way into a thesis, and two of them said that--for the first time--they'd started with the evidence instead of with a thesis-esque idea. All three of them  had the "ah-hah!" moment, when suddenly the point one is actually making reveals itself. The issue then, of course, is to have allowed oneself enough time to go back to the beginning and rework the whole essay to focus on that point, from introduction/thesis all the way through to conclusion. And that takes time.

As I was talking with the young woman at the very end of class, I realized that this is the first year I haven't given my "panic earlier" speech, nor my "college will change you" speech. Maybe I'll give those speeches at the end of the semester, instead of at the beginning, like I usually do. Maybe those set pieces of mine will make more sense to the students now.

We'll see.

I confess to feeling more than a little anxiety now. That calm, sanguine feeling of yesterday has been replaced with just enough subterranean rumblings of nonspecific worry for me to be aware of it, but not enough for me to do anything much about it. I could, I know, try to manage some of the worry by staying here longer to get more work done, but you know what? I'm coming in tomorrow. Tomorrow is soon enough. I'm with Scarlett again: I'll think about it tomorrow, when I'm stronger. (Always assuming I will be stronger, of course, but I suspect an early night might help restore some of the diminished intestinal fortitude.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


It's been one of those days when I'm not quite sure what to do, whether there is anything I can actually complete or whether I just need to make at least a little forward progress on as many different fronts as possible. I've tended rather toward the latter, though I have cleaned up a few little dust bunny type chores that have been drifting around. Among other things, I got my preliminary final paperwork all set up, so once I've actually read all the dang-blanged papers, all I'll have to do is use my trusty calculator, plug in the numbers, and that'll be that. It's fussy, noodly little idiocy, I know: I don't know that it actually saves me any time or energy, but it feels cleaner and neater somehow, so even if it actually takes more time, just the fact that I don't feel like those pearls are bouncing all over the floor is worth the futzing around.

I also noodled around with the Poetry class prep. I want nice, neat, clean copies of the poems, and I want the poems separate--not two or three all photocopied together in a clump--so I can pick and choose in a more dainty fashion. Again, fussy and futzy, but hey. I'd like to have a selection already pulled together of way more poems than I think we'll actually read, if at all possible. I don't know whether we're likely to get through five a day, five a week, what. A lot will depend on the poems, I know, but I'd rather have too much and have to cut back than have to scramble to find more ideas as the semester is getting hairy.

I'm also trying to get some mental themes going, so I can try to come up with more structured paper assignments. The last time I taught the class--five years ago--I had the students do 1-2 page papers that were close reads, and those were supposed to lead into their longer papers, but it didn't work very well. The smarter, stronger students can come up with themes/thesis ideas through in-depth exploration of the poems; the vast majority need more guidance and structure. But at the moment, I'm looking at the poems I'm pulling out and thinking, "Damned if I'd know how to pull a paper out of this." Well, I probably could now, because of that whole "I have a doctorate" thing, so I could do mountains of research until I felt like I knew enough to say something marginally intelligent. But I don't want to make students use critical sources any more: they had such a hard time with it, and honestly, I got tired of the plagiarism. Still, this class may need a little critical backup, just to give them something to hang on to. I do have some stuff already copied that I used before, and I'm sure I can find some more. I don't mind providing it (in fact, I prefer that: again, it's the plagiarism thing). But all I can think is, "Oh, Christ, that's yet one more thing I have to wrap my brain around and then actually do..."

(Would you like a little whine with that?)

I must say, considering how the day started, I'm feeling remarkably calm and collected. I had to get here early (and of course was much later than I should have been: had a hard time getting out of the house and then hit bad traffic)--because I had to meet with Bruce and Cathy and the problematic adjunct: I may or may not have mentioned this before. The meeting was uncomfortably contentious: there wasn't any good way to address the problems with the guy, and he was primed and ready to read everything we said as hostile (including "and" and "but"), but I did feel that my role was largely to act as the diplomat and mediator: to calm everyone down and get to the heart of the matter. If it weren't for the fact that I hate confrontation so profoundly, and feel so physically disturbed in the wake of it, I'd have made an excellent diplomat, I think. I freely confess that I have my moments when I put both feet squarely in it, for sure: my diplomatic sensibilities fail me utterly on occasion. But by and large, I think I'm pretty good at presenting things in a way that is honest, accurate, but emotionally neutral, so no one gets knotted knickers. So, the meeting ended with everyone's panties pretty well untwisted, I think--though I don't think it would take much at all for the parties concerned, probably including yours truly, to get wound pretty tightly again.

In any event, I came back to the office to find Paul in a hell of a state because he'd blown up at students in his class--quite rightly, I must say--and he was both angry with the students (who were being whiny, irresponsible, immature little shits) and with himself for blowing up and thereby upsetting the rest of the class. So  he and I had a nice little exchange of "This is why I'm in a snit, how about you?" He really is too hard on himself (and again, he really was quite right to blow up at those students), but I understand his frustration. We're all stretched pretty thin, and Paul even more than most, because of all the unmitigated shit he has to deal with in trying to do his job as a member of the Academic Senate Executive Committee.

I hope he's feeling better, has forgiven himself, is in his little apartment down here doing something to relax and take care of himself. I am about to try to straighten out the piles of crap so they won't come crashing down on the cleaning staff; then I'm heading out--unflustered, unruffled, surprisingly sanguine. Maybe I'm just too tired to feel anxious: I have been here almost 11 hours, and on only about six hours of sleep. Or maybe things are that good.

I like that option. Let's go with that.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Bitter? Really?

Earlier today, a colleague came in to the office and said he'd heard about the blog and was interested in reading it. He'd heard that it was very forthright--but that it was also sometimes "bitter." That surprised me. I'm still taken aback. I know I express a lot of emotional states in this blog, and many of them are not particularly pretty, but I don't think of myself as bitter. If my posts are coming across as bitter, I'm not expressing myself as clearly as I'd thought I was. I am often angry, frustrated, annoyed, despairing, irritated, snide, snotty, even raging--but somehow there is a connotation to "bitter" that simply doesn't feel like it fits. I suppose it's the connotations of feeling aggrieved or resentful that don't fit how I feel. I'm sure I've resented some things on occasion and complained about them here, but those moments are transitory.

In fact, despite all the ranting that I do here, I'm actually pretty nauseatingly content with my lot in life, and with what I do for a living. No: not content. Overwhelmed with gratitude. I do something that I feel matters profoundly; I do it very well, and I get paid for it. That's a fucking trifecta, folks.

I had a realization today that also rather took me aback. I was marking the revisions for the students in the two lit courses, and on one, I actually wrote a rather lengthy comment. This particular student has been driving me mildly bonkers all semester. I think I've mentioned him before: we've had several little tussles over things like the fact that he shouldn't read in class (Student: "I thought the point of class was to read." Me: "No. Reading you do at home. The point of class is to discuss what you've read."), about the fact that his papers aren't correctly formatted (which mostly consisted of my explaining to him 1. that I wasn't going to interrupt the entire class discussion to talk to him about his paper format and 2. that he needed to look it up and not rely on me to explain it). He finally submitted a paper that was formatted correctly, and his works cited page was almost correct--but the entire tone of the paper is very informal and off-the-cuff, and I told him that he would almost certainly hit a point when that would absolutely, categorically not be acceptable, and that in years past I wouldn't have accepted it.

And that stopped me. In years past I wouldn't have accepted it. That's absolutely true. The former student who wrote to me over the weekend about how I taught her how to write got an experience from me that my students don't get any more. No wonder they don't drop in droves any more: I'm not as hard as I used to be.

I keep poking around in my psyche to see if I feel terrible about that: if I feel any sense of shame or self-loathing that I've let my standards slide. Perhaps I do, a little, in the farthest corners, but mostly I realize that I've changed because I cannot, in good conscience, demand of my students a kind of writing that they have not been taught before. The only way I would feel right about hiking my standards up where they used to be would be if I spent the first weeks of the semester working just on writing skills--a crash course in composition--and then started to work on the literature part.

When Paul and I were talking earlier, I said that I'm really thinking about having the first assignment for the spring's Poetry class have a required conference component: Students would have to submit a paper, which I would mark. They'd then have to meet with me with a carefully considered revision plan. Then the actual revision would be optional--but having to at least meet with me and consider revision would give them the experience of talking to me about their papers, give them the idea that revision is desirable, that sort of thing. That's about as close as I can come to doing what I really want to do, which is to teach the lit courses almost like I teach 101: read a little, then write a lot.

This is also probably the first time I have ever said out loud that I wish the semester were a few weeks longer. I really wanted to get a lot of semester prep done before the break--and I at least got a little bit of a start on the poetry class today--but I'm not going to have things anywhere near as nailed down as I'd hoped. Thursday I have to start work on the spring adjunct schedules for Bruce, so I'll be in here on Friday, either grading papers or working on semester prep or a little of both. I don't quite know what happened to the assignment schedule that the second papers for the lit courses came right on top of the final papers like this, but that's what's screwed me up: I'd usually have two weeks in here when I'd have nothing to do but semester prep, and instead I've spent it frantically grading papers.

Well, pretty soon it will all be over but the shouting.

And holy God I just realized that it's almost 9 p.m. Where has the day gone? I have to get out of here. Gone gone gone....

Monday, December 14, 2015

Another quickie

I'm trying to get a bunch of stuff marked to return to the lit electives tomorrow--but of course I ended up having a wonderful talk with Paul instead of just putting my head down, ignoring him, and cranking away. Still, I'm hopeful that I can get through a bunch of it in the morning--especially if I can get my fanny out of bed and here to campus without dawdling.

I had a brief moment of excitement when I walked into Advisement to find it empty--Oh, heavenly day, you mean I can get my own work done?--but by the time I sat down, there were students to be seen, and although it wasn't packed, there was a steady stream, so, well, there went that plan.

Class was fine. They're just churning through the process.

The main thing I want to record is that this weekend I got an e-mail from a former student from way back: she was in a section of Nature in Lit somewhere back between 2007 and 2009 (her years at NCC; I haven't been able to track down exactly when). She is about to graduate from Adelphi with a master's in social work, and she wanted to thank me for teaching her writing skills that she's used all the way through her academic career to this point. I wrote a rather babbling and incoherent reply, but it is hard to convey the combination of gratification, gratitude, honor, and humility one feels at receiving that kind of thanks, especially so long after the fact.

This is why I do what I do. This is why I fight the rear-guard action from the trenches. This.

And now I have to dash off--but I'm actually looking forward to tomorrow, not just because I'm hopeful about getting those assignments back to the students but also because I'm looking forward to talking with them about the end of the readings for both classes. It should be grand.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Probably ought to, ain't gonna

Lots of work piled up on the desk again: revisions from the lit students plus their latest reading responses, a few straggling assignments from the 101 students that I really should just deal with and return--or, in the case of discussion board assignments, calculate the marks for and let them know. I managed to force myself to do the "mechanics" review for the 101 students (which I'd conveniently forgotten to do when I had their papers in front of me, so I had to do it from the Turnitin submissions, which doesn't work as well: this is why I work on hard copy, dammit), and before I go, I'll look at the background for a situation with an adjunct that needs to be handled--and that requires a 9 a.m. meeting on Wednesday morning. (For those of you who don't know me well, that's tantamount to wearing shorts while walking through a field of nettles or being trapped in a small room with about 50 very hungry mosquitoes. It's not genuine torture, but it's extremely uncomfortable.) However, once I've reviewed that material, I'll be off. (I'll also leave. (A favorite joke--and an opportunity to use nested parentheses.))

The young woman with whom I had the charming conversation on Tuesday was back in the office today. I was--as my father would have said--loaded for bear: she didn't have her revision finished in time for class today, and I was set to tear her to ribbons over it. However, she showed up to the office with the completed revision, so that strange virus "compassion" that I seem to have been infected with took over, and I accepted the revision. We did have a talk about her grade, which won't be what she wants but should--if her revision and her final paper turn out OK--be tolerable. If it turns out that the numbers are against her, I'll let her know and I'll let her withdraw, but she should be able to squeeze out a C, maybe a C+.

While I was talking with her, another student from the same class dropped by: he had turned in his revision but had forgotten to include the marked first version, so he was just dropping that off. However, he stayed for a while just to chat: what Paul calls "looking under the hood." A lot of our students are infinitely curious about us as human beings--when they can think of us as human beings at all. I told the student a little about myself, but I also told him that on the last day, I always let students ask me about myself, my life, my work, although I may not answer all their questions (I don't let them know too much about my personal life: I am fierce about the importance of boundaries in professional relationships, especially between an authority figure and the people over whom one has authority). And I'll drag in my dissertation for them to look at: they always get a charge out of that. The young man in my office tonight also asked if I ever wrote any SF myself, and I said no: I've written some fiction, mainstream, as yet unpublished, and have had one lonely poem published. He asked about it, so I told him the title, and the title of the journal in which it was published--and I told him I'd be utterly shocked if he could find it online. He's taken that as a challenge. I'll be fascinated to see what he turns up--or to have my strong hunch confirmed that he won't be able to find it.

I do like the way my weeks end. It's nice that I have both my lit electives on Thursdays, and that they're both enjoyable classes. The SF students continue to be more lively: there's just enough more intellectual wattage in the room to lift the discussions slightly above what we can get to in the M&D class. But the M&D is still lots of fun, and there are enough students who are thinking and willing to talk that I'm having a good time. And, best of all, I think they're learning something. (What exactly they're learning, I'm not entirely sure, but certainly learning.)

And that's all I've got for tonight. I'll look over that stuff for the Wednesday meeting--just to have a sense of what's coming--and then I'm outta here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Taking a deep breath and practicing compassion

This morning there was an e-mail from one of the two 101 students who had fucked up. He apologized for giving me the impression that he was making assumptions--but he still didn't ask what he could to about the situation, which to me sounded like he was still making an assumption. However, after firing off another angry salvo, I arrived at the office to find him hovering outside my office door: he'd just dropped off the hard copy of the paper, and since I had a few minutes before I had to be at Advisement, I brought him into the office and talked rather sternly to him. I won't get into the entire content of the conversation, but at the end of it, I told him I was still angry and didn't want to make any decisions about how to handle his paper until I'd cooled down--so I'd talk to him in class, by which time I'd have had a chance to get over being angry.

When I got to class, the other student was there--and I said, "You haven't checked your e-mail." She said she hadn't, and said that she thought I'd said something sometime about how I would work from the Turnitin copy or something... Um, no. She had the hard copy with her--along with a prescription pad note that she'd been in the doctor's office on Monday. I don't accept doctor's notes, and I had believed her in any case, but that wasn't the point. I took the paper from her, returned the doctor's note, and said I'd talk to her later. I returned the papers to the three students who had submitted theirs on time. Then I talked to the young man who'd had his with him on Monday but just hadn't remembered to give it to me at the end of class: I told him I'd mark it in class, provide feedback--but I'd take a late penalty.

Then I talked to the young woman. I explained that the assignment should be a zero, and she should have to proceed with no feedback or guidance from me. However, I would give her feedback--she can pick it up tomorrow--but I'll take a large late penalty, as that's only fair to those who did turn the assignment in on time. I've decided that I'll either divide her score in half or take 50 points off, whichever leaves her with the higher total. That's no doubt more generous than she deserves, but her grade will still suffer one hell of a big hit. I strongly suspect that, numerically speaking, she won't have the points to pass--so, in her case, I'm going to be stuck with the decision of whether to give her the mercy D or whether to give her the F she's "earned." It's a really tough call.

There was a time when it wouldn't have been. I'd have given the F with no compunction. I think I need to be honest about her writing on her final paper. If I think she can write well enough to have a chance of success in 102, I'll feel more inclined to give her the D. If I don't, then I'll give her the choice to withdraw or fail. The real point is whether she can survive the next level. If she can't, she shouldn't move up. I'm choosing to believe her hard-luck-life story about this semester and to trust that she can pull her act together in the spring and not screw up as badly as she has for me this term: that would be the other reason to block her forward progress, if I don't think she's ready to handle the responsibility of moving forward. And I'm on the fence about that.

We'll see.

I had another pleasant encounter with a student in my office today, a young woman from M&D who came to see me both about revising her second essay and about her final paper. As with the other students I've seen this week, I do wish she'd come to see me earlier--it would have made a big difference--but I'm glad she came to see me at all. I think she gained a lot of confidence from our talk, which is lovely to see. What strikes me, however, is the surprised gratitude the students tend to express. I don't know what they expect when they come to my office, but it seems they don't actually expect to get any help or encouragement--and they're almost stunned when they do.

Thinking about it, just now, I'm reminded of the value of individual conferences on the first paper. I've never done that with lit electives--though Paul does (he has a "draft day," when students do peer review, then he conferences with the students, then they submit their papers). But I wonder if I should reconsider how I structure that first big essay assignment so the students from the lit electives have to come see me at least once, early in the semester, just so they know how much help they can get from the experience. After that, I'd leave it optional--but it certainly would negate this refrain of the last week: "it would have been better if the student had come months ago."

There's other stuff popping (an issue with an adjunct that came up in P&B yesterday, when I wasn't there, and I'll have to meet with Cathy and Bruce--and I guess the adjunct; Cathy proposed an 8:30 a.m. meeting and I said absolutely not; I want to chime in on the changes being made to the mission statement, which essentially are moving toward turning us into a trade school; other annoying bits and orts), but the main thing is taking care of students. I have the one 101 paper to mark, and homework for the lit electives to wade through--and a pretty sizeable wodge of reading to do before tomorrow. There's a conviviality event tonight (when faculty from the department get together at a local watering hole and have adult beverages and mostly talk about our students or the state of the campus), and I'd planned to go. I'd still rather like to, but I also need to get that reading done, so, well, I'm not sure. It is early, but I also want to be home early for a change. Oh, decisions and decisions.

I'll figure it out on my way down to the parking lot. All I really want to do is to hide under the sofa until it's all over--but tomorrow should be (god willing) a relatively easy day, which is a gift from the gods, and one for which I am profoundly grateful.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Systemically pissed off--but mitigated by a pleasant encounter

I am currently beyond furious with two of my 101 students. Both wrote e-mails about not having the hard copy of their essays on Monday; I replied to both that they absolutely must submit the hard copy to me today. I've seen nothing from either one: no e-mailed response, no paper. So, I e-mailed them both this evening. Here's what I said:

"Both of you seem to believe that when you send an e-mail, you have no responsibility to check for a response. That further suggests that you are confident your assumptions about what will be acceptable are correct: because you think it will be fine for you to bring the paper on Wednesday, it will be, and there is no need to check that assumption with the person who actually decides what is and is not acceptable."

I went on to state that I'm unhappy to be put in the position of having to decide whether to accept their papers--and even more unhappy that, despite several discussions, warning, and second (even third) chances, they apparently haven't learned some basic lessons about being college students. And I really am extremely unhappy about that. I'll be interested to see if I get panic-stricken e-mails from either or both of them tomorrow. And I honestly have absolutely no clue how I will handle the situation. None.

I know I shouldn't be so angry: I'm taking this personally, and it isn't about me--but I think I'm actually upset because it feels as if they've just demonstrated that I'm ineffectual as a teacher: for two of the students from that tiny little class to be so irresponsible at this stage in the semester shocks me and makes me wonder if I've missed some crucial step in clarifying how communication works. As Le Guin notes in one of her stories, being responsible means you have to answer: you have to respond. They didn't, and it makes me want to dress them down in front of their classmates--but even with that, I don't know what to do about providing feedback on their papers. I guess they don't get any, but that really blows their chances for doing any decent revision--and it's their final paper, worth significantly more than the others.

However, the pleasant encounter that helps me shake off my deep anger with the 101 students was a meeting with a student from the SF class. She and I were trying to meet all day today, and finally managed to see each other at about 6:30. We talked about her paper; she's getting ready to revise her second essay, which was disastrous. She admitted that she threw it together in a hurry, to which I replied, "Yeah, I could tell." She's one of the students whose paper read like something for a high school class--but I was very happy to have her come in to meet with me to talk it over. I think she has an idea that will work now. Whether she has the time to do a substantive revision is another matter, but whatever she does, it has to be better than what she turned in for the first version.

I was in such a flying hurry yesterday that I didn't make note of the fact that two students from the Mystery class came to my office hour yesterday to talk about their papers--two who had never met with me before. I do, of course, wish they had decided to see me in October, perhaps, when it might have done more good, but I'm glad they came to see me at all. I will be interested to see what their revisions look like, whether our talk actually makes much difference in the results I collect on Thursday. I'll meet with another student tomorrow, too: for all of them, better late than never.

But going back to the student from SF with whom I met tonight: after we talked about her paper, we ended up just chatting about heaven knows what for a good while. Nothing serious--nothing like the wonderful conversations I've had with the young man who is soon off to join the Marines--but fun chat nonetheless. She's a perky, chatty, friendly type, the kind of young woman who can easily make conversation with just about anyone about just about anything--but she's also genuinely interested in hearing what the other person has to say, not just in talking about herself, which is charming. I did have to chase her out of my office eventually, but it was enjoyable.

It did mean, however, that I didn't finish marking the three papers I do have for the 101 class--but I think I can get them done before class tomorrow anyway--especially if I pack it in soon here so I'm not too ragged in the morning. Advisement was pretty busy on Monday but not quite as packed as it's been. I still don't think I can count on having any down time in which to do my own work, but if I can manage to get in to the office just early enough to finish one paper, and then finish the other in the break between Advisement and class, I'll be OK. If, however, those two students who haven't submitted their papers suddenly have them for me before class, I'll have to think about what I want to do...

But that's a worry for tomorrow. For tonight, I'm stick-a-fork-in-me done. On my desk are one and a half unmarked papers for 101 and the reading responses I collected from the lit courses today: I haven't been this caught up in forever. I'll take that feeling of accomplishment home with me.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Super fast post

I need to be out of here in mere moments--and there isn't anything much to report today.

I did have a lovely encounter with a student in Advisement. She was concerned about the fact that she'd had a personal crisis that had ruined her GPA one semester and how that would affect her chances to transfer. I told her just to explain it in her personal statement--and gave her some examples from what former students (and members of my own family) have had to say to explain similar anomalies in their grades. She started to cry: she didn't know she could do that, and was infinitely relieved that she would be seen as a person, someone with a complicated and difficult life. It was very sweet. I'm glad I could offer her that reassurance, and some comfort.

I still have a hell of a lot of homework to mark before tomorrow's classes, so I  need to hit the ground running tomorrow. A student from the SF class is going to come by as well: her paper was an absolute disaster, so I'll be curious to see how that goes.

But now, truly, I'm outta here. Hasta manana.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

17 tons

That's how much stuff I'm lugging home with me tonight. Some of it is "fun" stuff--and I'm not being sarcastic. I'm very much looking forward to pulling together a real syllabus and a photocopied reader for the Modern American Poetry class for next semester. I've only taught the class twice before, and both times I was winging it: photocopying poems as we went along, improvising all semester. I'm not sure if I've gotten more hide-bound in my ways, or less trusting of my ability to stay nimble, or what, but I want things more clearly codified this time, from the moment I walk in the door.

I also want clearer, more structured essay assignments. I don't want them too narrow and rigid--I will always encourage the "student choice" option--but for the more insecure students, trying to write a paper without some kind of specific target is too overwhelming: they need some direction, a little bit of a road map, pick your metaphor.

That makes me think, though, about a meeting I had today with one of the more fragile students from the SF class. She's one of the ones that I've given the guaranteed pass to--contingent, of course, on her actually doing the work. Her second paper was only three pages (barely three pages) instead of the mandated five, and it was more about society in general than about the novels. But in our discussion today, she hit on a terrific idea. I don't imagine her paper will be equally terrific, but I'm delighted that she caught on to a real paper topic. And I made an agreement with her: if the mark would be anything from a C or lower, I'll just either put a check (for a homework assignment) or I'll write "pass" (for a paper). Anything that would be a C+ or higher, I want her to feel the sense of triumph, so I'll write the actual mark on there. That suits us both.

And I did allow the student I was debating booting to stay--and made the same arrangement with him that I made with the much better student who didn't give me the hard copy of her paper until today: I'll read their papers; I won't mark them; they can't revise; the mark will be half what they'd have earned if they'd turned them in on time. It's better than a zero, but it's at least marginally fair to the students who turned everything in on time.

Of course, there are still a few students in both classes with whom I'm going to have to have difficult conversations because they've screwed up in one way or another--but that's down the pike. I don't have to deal with that tonight.

But over the weekend--and constituting some of the tons of stuff I'm hauling home--I want to mark as much of the homework I've been collecting as possible so I can get it back to the students next week and get back on top of things before the final paper onslaught. That will be less fun than starting to play with the Poetry syllabus (for which I am lugging home several huge anthologies plus folders of poems I've already copied, just so I can remember what I've used before, what I've got), but the relief of getting it done and out of my hair will be enormous.

And then there's the usual flotsam, which at this point in the semester begins to feel very much like that Texas-sized swirl of plastic in the middle of the Pacific Ocean--just as diffuse and amorphous and hard to clean up. Possibly less toxic, but still disturbing, to me at any rate.

Shifting gears: three completely unconnected things I want to note.

1. The call for a meeting from the colleague I observed was simply a miscommunication. She'd uncovered an old note from me in her mailbox and thought I was asking for a meeting. I think it's sorted out now, but in any event, no need for the alarms to go off.

2. The grade grievance hearing tonight was relatively quick and painless. We all agreed that, much as we hated to do it, we upheld the student's grievance: the instructor's syllabus was a complete mess, and the student had reason to believe he'd fulfilled the requirements. The meeting went on longer than it needed to because, well, we're academics, and we all always have to say things our own way, but it's essentially done. I have to make sure I get the paperwork processed to change the grade for the student, but otherwise, cross it off the to-do list.

3. My students are hilarious. In both classes, they were deliberately winding me up. In SF, they were looking for pictures of the humanoids from the planet in The Word for World Is Forest, who are described as being one meter tall and covered with green fur. Last class, one of the students said he was picturing Ewoks, and I was mock-fierce about how completely wrong that was, so of course, the first picture they showed me was of an Ewok. Then they were finding all sorts of ridiculous artist renditions of these humanoids--all of which I'm sure Le Guin would detest--and laughing at my reactions. In M&D, they were starting to talk about the final book of the semester, Tana French's In The Woods, and one of them said--just loud enough for me to hear it--"There are too many characters." I said, "Do not start with me. Just don't start." They all laughed.

I like it when they get to the point when they joke with me, tease me, when I can tease them: humor is wonderful. But in M&D, there was a different kind of moment, unlike anything I think I've ever shared with my students before. One student asked why a character, whose two best friends had been abducted and presumably murdered, would pretend that one of them was his twin brother and still alive. Another pointed to a passage in which the character says that he'd liked the idea that at least in the minds of the people he'd told the story to, his friend had still been alive. I don't know why, but I decided to tell them that, when my eldest nephew was killed in a car crash, I was going to write to some cousins who had known him well but with whom we'd lost touch, to let them know. My sister asked me not to--because, to them, he's still alive. My voice cracked. I had to fight back tears. And to keep from crying, I had to say, "OK, so more from you. Please." I think they heard the real plea in that: I needed them to take me out of that moment. And they did. It was a sweet and lovely moment of them taking care of me, and I'm grateful to them for it. I don't know if I can ever tell them that, but I truly am. That will live in me for a long while, that moment.

And now, I want to take that, like a tiny, delicate treasure, and carry it gently home with me. I am beyond tired, so tired it hurts, but I feel like I can breathe after the pressure of the week--all papers graded and back in the students' hands--and it's time to turn off the professorial mind for the rest of the night, and be very quiet and still.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

OK, Paul, I lied.

I didn't mean to lie, but it turns out I am incapable of doing what I said I was going to do. When Paul left, he asked me how much longer I would be here. I said, "Until I grade five more papers, however long that takes." I graded maybe two more, started a third--and I didn't just hit the wall, the wall fell on me. I was already having trouble making any sense in my comments, had several times written a comment and then realized that the student hadn't done or said what I was responding to--and I finally have to acknowledge that the point of diminishing returns was passed, oh, a good long while ago.

I'm very concerned about one student from the SF class. She's been one of my best students in a lot of ways, so I cut her an enormous amount of slack about the late submission of her paper, told her she could drop it off for me today--and it isn't here. I don't know what I'm going to do now. I really don't have even the faintest hint of an idea what to do.

I had a total conniption fit earlier: I came back to the office after class (which was actually lovely, thank you very much), filled with anxiety about all those papers yet to grade, and was smacked in the face with the fact that we need to interview candidates for adjunct positions--and we need to do it next week. Plus the faculty member I observed left a voice mail, saying she'll call me at 1:00 tomorrow to talk about when we're going to meet.

So, in terms of the adjunct interviews, I feel like, fuck this: no. I have no time to do this now. Absolutely not. But if I don't do it now, I'll have to do it over the break, and I really don't want to do that. So, well, OK. I've given Joan the times when I'm available--but I truly had a full-fledged anxiety attack about it.

And I tried to call the colleague back, but her voice mail isn't set up. I sent her an e-mail, explaining that I'll be teaching at 1, so I won't be able to talk to her. And I was practically yelling at Paul: I wrote up the observation; I said exactly what I had told her I was going to say. She can write a rebuttal if she wants to. There is nothing for us to discuss--and that she made the assumption that we would meet, not saying that she'd like to, or would I mind if we did, or anything along those lines, but as if she's issuing orders to me, that rather set me off. In my e-mail, I asked her to give me a preview of the topic for discussion. If it's anything about the observation, I'm going to Bruce about it before I meet with her--because I am not going to defend my observation, and I am not going to be raked over the coals by her. If I did, in fact, write something that I shouldn't have for some reason, then he can tell me so and I'll change it, but I'm not going to argue with  her about it. No fucking way.

I know I wouldn't be so het up about this if I weren't already tired and stressed about the papers to grade and about the screaming rush to the end of the semester and the sudden influx of additional work for which I was not prepared. I'm sure that once I get these papers returned to the students I will start to calm down. But I did get up at six, and I did sit here and do nothing but grade papers, non-stop, from 9 to 2, at which point I had to take a brain break, and I read the book I'm teaching in M&D for a while, then graded one more paper before I went to class. There are seven more papers to grade--eight if that one from the student who hasn't turned hers in yet magically appears. That's cutting it awfully close for tomorrow, even with getting up at 6 and getting myself here by 9 at the latest--in part because I also have to meet with a colleague about her promotion folder, and that may take longer than I want it to. But worst case scenario, I put the students in groups, they talk while I grade the last paper (or--god I hope not--two), and then I can shake that off.

Right now, I need to shake the day off. I am tired, I'm still pretty stressed and cranky--and anticipating unpleasantness, which is never a good way to feel. What I need is to go home, take care of a little life maintenance, read the pages of the novel for M&D tomorrow (I already finished the book for SF), and try to get to sleep as early as possible so that 6 a.m. alarm isn't quite so painful tomorrow.

Which won't happen if I stay here working on blog posts. So, off I toddle.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

An appropriate title eludes me

I was going to entitle this post "6 a.m. alarm--not." At the start of the day, that was certainly appropriate. The alarm went off at six, and I promptly reset it for seven. I'm paying for it now: it's 9:30, and I'm still here--and I'm going to have to bail on Advisement one more time tomorrow and work like a madwoman until god knows when, and get up god knows when on Thursday, in order to get everything graded for the SF students. I didn't get all the papers graded for M&D today: I have no earthly clue what happened to this morning, but it wasn't paper grading, that's for sure.

I thought about titling this post "Because I said so": I had to get into that particular argument with a student from SF today after class. For the second time, he didn't submit his essay to Turnitin, and when I pointed that out to him, he said it was because he didn't know how. I said that the time to talk to me about that would have been with the first paper, not after the second one, and after spending some time trying to get me to explain to him how to submit to Turnitin (moot point now, buddy), he then started to ask me why he needed to. I said, "Because it's one of my requirements." "But why? I've never had to do this for any of my other classes." "It's one of my requirements." "But why?" "I don't have to justify my requirements to you. It's one of my requirements. If you don't know how to do it, it's your job to learn how to do it." "But why do I have to do it? I've never had to do it for any of my other classes." "Because I said so." "But Why?" "Because I said so. That's it. Because I said so. So at this point, both your essays are zeroes. So get a withdrawal slip and withdraw."

I'll bet you even money that he doesn't do it, that he just vanishes.

But then I had to talk with four other students who also either hadn't submitted the essay to Turnitin, hadn't submitted the hard copy, or both. Consequently, I was 15 minutes late to P&B.

Yech. Whatever. I'm being merciful with three of the other students (and yet another who was just monstrously late with everything, but I've already told her that as long as she turns in the work she'll pass, so, well, there you go)--and one of them, I'm on the fence with. I wrote a whole e-mail to him about why I wasn't going to accept the paper at all--mostly because he pays lip service to the "I take responsibility" thing but then clearly doesn't, as I still don't have either the hard copy or the upload to Turnitin, despite the fact that he says he had the paper finished on Wednesday of last week--but I'm not sure yet what I think the kid needs. Sometimes I think the student needs the swan-dive into the pavement--like Mr. "But Why?" Sometimes, I think a little mercy doesn't hurt--and since the mercy D gets them the associate's degree but doesn't transfer anyway, why not. But I really don't like feeling jerked around. And I do feel jerked around, by two of these students. I'm giving one of them the mercy D because honestly, if he'd been on top of the work from jump street, he could have done extremely well. This "I take responsibility but I don't really" student is walking the edge of a C anyway, and I've been pretty kind to him about that.

Oh, I don't know. I'm tired and cranky. And being here is probably exactly the last place I should be if I don't want to be even more tired and cranky tomorrow.

But the final possible title for today's post could have been "Perfection is unattainable--but excellence is within reach." The former 101 student, now in M&D, who has been in to see me a few times for mentoring about where to go to continue her academic career, just turned in another absolutely brilliant, beautiful paper. The top mark for those papers is 400 points: this was her second 400 point paper. Just for fun, I broke out the gold stars. Really: literally. I have a pack of little foil stars in various colors, including gold. Instead of writing "good" or "excellent" or something in the margins, I just put a gold star.

And that's the note I want to end the day on. A beautifully written, intelligent, sensitive, insightful paper. Gold star.