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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.


Hi! And you are...?

My readership has suddenly blossomed, which is a lovely development--but I don't know who is reading the blog, how you found it, and why you find it interesting. I'd love to hear from you! Please feel free to use the "comment" box at the end of any particular post to let me know what brought you to this page--and what keeps you coming back for more (if you do).

Not you, Barry. You already told me--and thanks!






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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Where on Earth did I leave my mind?

I seem to be experiencing more than my usual moments of random stupidity, against which, as my father was wont to say, there is no defense. Today I was in the office, holding first Seminar hours then office hours, and I very confidently closed the door at 3:15 and steadfastly refused to open the door to the polite knock of a student. "My office hours are over," I thought, cranky and snotty. "Go away. Don't bother me." I ate my soup, then put on my coat and walked to class, showing up promptly at the stroke of 3:30. I started to walk confidently into the door of the class--and stopped like I'd been smacked. "These aren't my students! And there's some professor in there, talking to them!" First thought, "Am I trying to walk into the wrong room?" Check room number; check mental inventory: nope, that's where my class meets. And finally, the truth of the matter struggled up from the depths.

I was there at 3:30. My class starts at 4. Yesterday was the class that started at 3:30.

I have to say, I'm grateful that I made the error in that direction instead of the other way, but still. (Ass? Elbow? Nope, can't find either, or tell them apart.)

In any event, realizing I had some time to fritter away, I decided to fritter productively: I walked across campus to where the M/W class meets (the one that actually does meet at 3:30) and left the notice about Monday's class being in the library. I then walked back across campus, and arrived at my classroom at 3:47, just when my students were starting to populate the room and as the previous professor was still packing up her stuff. I used the time to get the computer up and running, set up the video clip I wanted to show, shoot the breeze with the students a little...

It ended up being a great class. A question about margins led to a wonderful (to me) tangent about paper formatting and fonts and all that technical malarkey. It was fun. The students were engaged. Things were learned, even if nothing tremendously profound.

One lovely moment was watching the interaction between the two fully adult students in the class: the woman I had the wonderful talk with last week and a woman who's been missing from class (because of work obligations she couldn't get out of) but who has been on top of all the assignments and in constant contact with me. Both are intelligent, motivated--and struggling with all the complexities of being adult students with children of their own. I can see them bonding over that shared experience and situation, and it's great: I will encourage them to use the buddy system to full advantage. In fact, I told them how much I love the fact that they're already taking care of each other, collaborating.

Chemistry. There is nothing to explain it, and no way to manufacture it. This group has it. The M/W class may yet develop it, but right now, any chemistry in that class leads to things dissolving and becoming inert. When I met with colleagues last night, I said working with that class is like trying to wrestle mercury: it won't cohere well enough to grapple with. I keep hoping that the magic will happen--lightening will strike, or whatever makes a class come alive and start to cook--but I know that there are times when that simply won't happen. Can't. Doesn't. Still, I hope.

Apart from the blunders around clocks and all that rot, today was relatively productive. I still have a triage list that is frighteningly long (that P&B stuff looms large), but I got caught up on the discussion board posts for both 101s, which is a relief. I dug down through a few layers of e-mails (which were sitting in my "In" box as reminders that I had to do something with/about them), and I have my roller-pack stuffed to bursting with the materials I'll need Monday morning. The plants have been watered. I kinda think it's OK for me to steal away into the night. Oof-dah.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

"Why aren't they saying anything?"

I was pretty discouraged by today's 101, and ended up launching into a hell of a lecture about how they need to step it up, get engaged, pay attention, do the work, contribute to class discussion, blah blah blah, and one young woman in the corner keeps looking alarmed and shaking her head, so I keep going ... and finally a student stopped me, very gently: "Um, professor, it's over time..."

I'd kept them ten minutes past the end of the class period. I haven't done that in ages--maybe never. Over by a minute or two, or if I'm really caught up, maybe by five minutes, yes, but ten? I apologized profusely, told them to jump on me next time. Naturally, the response was, "I didn't want to be rude!"--and I told them that I was grateful for that, but truly, even just tapping the wrist to indicate time would be fine, not rude at all... The young woman from the back of the class was, I think, pretty angry and upset: I may have made her late for her next class, or late to work, so I understand if she was. But I feel, I confess, not just embarrassed but ashamed in some way. I feel I was guilty of "bad" teaching: I may have misread their silence--which could have just been "we want the class to be over--and I certainly was too caught up in my own thing to pay attention to the progression of the class.

I will say, however, that the particular "chemistry" of that class feels pretty leaden at the moment. I don't know what's going on, but I don't like it: it's frustrating. Students are in and out, showing up late, coming unprepared... One student came to the first class about 10 minutes before it ended. I gave him the handouts, and he wasn't there on Monday. Today he showed up about 45 minutes late. I talked to him in the hall: if he doesn't button it up immediately, he's not going to make it. And I know why: although he'd obviously done what he could to mask the scent, I could smell the pot on him, and as Paul says, pot makes you stupid. This young man might have all kinds of potential, but he's more attached to a "street" identity than he is to knowledge/education, and it shows. I will lay any odds you like that he won't make it to the second paper; he'll disappear or withdraw before we get there, I can all but guarantee.

But thinking back to those first-day judgments, there's a student in the class whose photo would suggest a lunk-head of the first degree--but he's fiercely intelligent, loves to read (E. R. Eddison was just part of the list), loves English classes, wants to talk and talk and talk and talk and talk about what he's read, what he got out of it, why it's so cool.... He was judicious in his contributions to the class discussion, but I could see him almost squirm a few times, wanting to answer a question but knowing he had to leave that pocket of uncertainty for someone else to fill. I know sometimes I'll get impatient with him: I love the students who have a lot to say, but sometimes the monologues can get wearing. Still, I won't discourage him. For one thing, I suspect I was a lot the same when I was an undergrad. (OK, full confession: I still can be that way. True. That's probably why I'm not more patient with it: I don't like my own tendency to turn a conversation into a monologue.) I'll be interested to see if his writing holds up to academic rigor--and I may hold the bar a little higher for him than I would for other students in the class.

In any event, it's lovely to know there's at least one student in the class who likes how I teach and wants to do well in my class. And I will be interested to see how much attrition there is after today, and after next week. Of course, at this point, I don't know whether there really are 23 students in the class or only 18, which is how many were there today.

The poetry class went better, but even that one was heavy lifting. The students were there, which helped: only one missing (apart from a student who has yet to appear and whom, I suspect, I will never see). But they were a lot more hesitant to provide their observations or understanding--and again, perhaps because of bad teaching on my part. One student started off the class with a profound mis-read of the poem we were looking at: she thought Thomas Bailey Aldrich's "The Unguarded Gates" was about the speaker making his way through life as a "lone wolf," carving out his own path... based on the fact that the final image is of a wolf in a lair. I asked her a question or two and then said, "I don't think so"--clearly meaning "nope, you're wrong." And then they froze up. There was some good exploration once I started pointing to specific parts of the poem--and the others we'd read for class--but even so, they have preconceived notions about what poems will be about, including that every poem is just a poet's "self-expression." The idea that poems can make a social point, or a political one, or a philosophical one--or no "point" at all, just an image or thought--is apparently something they've never considered before. (Note to self: maybe I need to address this in the "how to read a poem" handout?)

It will be interesting to see what they make of Yeats' "The Second Coming." But I certainly hope they can start to relax a little--and latch on to the process better. I did stop at one point and say, "I want you to think for a minute about what we're doing. It seems obvious, but we need to pay attention to it. What are we doing?" "Breaking it down, line by line, word by word." Yes, dammit! Don't pole vault over the actual language of the poem: pay attention to the words themselves. The words, the phrases, the sentences...

Right at the moment, I feel frustrated, discouraged, and pretty down on myself, even though I know that a lot of this has nothing whatever to do with me. There's a conviviality gathering tonight, and even though I'm tired and cranky, I think I'll go: drown my sorrows with some empathetic colleagues. I usually give the gatherings a miss (my natural introversion), but tonight, it feels like the place to be, at least for a little while.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow: the T/Th 101 is proving to be a lot more fun and interesting--and consistent. (Connection? Cause and effect?) And I don't have to get up so blasted early, which is lovely to contemplate. I'll need a fair amount of time in the office to regroup after today (sort out handouts, figure out who has/needs what, that sort of thing), but I'll have the time in which to do the regrouping. Nice.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Bonding

Today's meeting about a seminar-hours advising/mentoring cohort of Honors students went well: only one of the co-coordinators was able to make the meeting, but it seems like we have their support, so now "all" we need to do is to crank through the various steps we've outlined in order to create a powerful rationale to present to the Administration. The view of the Administration was that Honors students are too smart and capable and self-motivated to need any support, but anyone who's taught Honors here (and I suspect elsewhere) will know that in fact those students do need support--partly because the expectations for them are so high.

In any event, it was a good start to the day, and the early alarm clock setting got me there on time: in fact, I was the first person to arrive (much to my amazement). I hope that tomorrow's start is as smooth, getting to Advisement. I'm already trying to work out logistics of parking/walking given the fact that under the best of circumstances, there is a decided lack of pedestrian friendly space between the main campus and the annex--and now, on top of everything, there are huge mounds of snow. The sidewalks are cleared, but there aren't sidewalks connecting the annex with the main campus: one has to trundle through a parking lot to get from one area to the next (and this ain't no Shel Silverstein "Where the Sidewalk Ends").

After the meeting, I sat in the office and chipped away at the to do list, the endless process of organization and trying to keep that strand of pearls intact. One task that was particularly gratifying was writing letters of recommendation for a student who was in my 101 in fall 2014 and in Mystery & Detective last semester. She is extraordinarily intelligent and writes beautifully--and suffers from horrifically low self-esteem, brought about by a miserable life history. However, there are indications that her self-confidence is starting to grow, and she's made extremely intelligent choices about the kinds of programs she's looking at: they're all at women's colleges--prestigious ones--and she's applying to programs that are specifically for "non-traditional" students, i.e., those who didn't seamlessly transition from high school (advanced placement/honors) to college. I just know that, in a setting like the ones she's looking at, she'll thrive. It's an image to cherish: this young woman finding a place where all her qualities are not only recognized but valued--and shared. She had Kristin as her professor for the honors version of 102; I saw Kristin today (a nice transition from the meeting to my office), and we talked about this student--and Kristin's assessment was exactly the same as mine: brilliant young woman who needs to recognize her own sterling quality.

The time for the P&B meeting rolled around all too soon, but I did manage to eat my lunch, for a change--prior to the meeting, as I reviewed the reading for today's class (another nice change from the usual "I read this at some point and barely remember it but I'll wing it well enough given the students' responses).

P&B was relatively uneventful, though I do need that tattoo: "Why did I agree to do this?" What I agreed to do isn't onerous: I had to send an e-mail asking for a little clarification from one colleague, and I'm the official faculty mentor for our one new hire, so she and I have exchanged a few e-mails about meeting. However, the promotion folders are arriving thick and fast--literally on the thick part: a number of them are quite weighty--so I'm heading into another push of "To-Do's" on that front: review all the applications, with particularly close attention to the three I'm mentoring; visit the personnel files of the three I'm mentoring and write the letters of support. It doesn't sound like much, but it is remarkably time-consuming. But it's early enough in the semester that I can carve out the time: I just have to remember to place that work high on the triage list.

Class today was another delight. The students were deeply focused on the text: I had asked them to look for a few specific things in it, in addition to their own responses--and I realized how much that helps ground them. They aren't quite ready to have complete control of the ship: they appreciate a few concrete pointers about how to approach the reading. Note to self.

The best part, however, was how much they already are thinking of each other as collaborators. They're sharing contact information; one very shy and uncertain student eagerly helped another figure out how to get to the bookstore from our classroom; and as they looked through the reading, they were pointing to things that their group-mates had noted, that beautiful moment of putting heads and papers together and finding something together.

But I am reminded of the challenge of teaching two sections of the same course: I never remember to do the same things with both groups, so I always feel as if one section is getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop. This semester, it's the M/W group. Because we didn't get a chance to talk about the main reading yesterday, we have 10 zillion things to try to cover tomorrow: train wreck. But I hope that after the beginning of next week, when both classes have their library "information literacy" sessions, things will smooth out a bit and I'll be able to get both sections better synchronized. It will never be exact: each group of students reacts differently to the material, so what I bring to the mix is different each time. But that feeling that one class is getting short shrift bugs me. Some of it is completely out of my control: I couldn't do anything about the low attendance yesterday. But whatever I can do to get them close to level, I'd like to do--and soon.

Of course, there's also one brand new student entering the class for the first time tomorrow. (Cue sound effects: screeching brakes, smashing metal and shattering glass.) Ah well.

It will be interesting to see if there's a full house for the poetry class tomorrow. There are still a few students I haven't seen, in addition to those who were missing yesterday--unwilling or unable to handle the snow. But even if the group stays small, just like it was yesterday, I'll be happy. There's some potential for class chemistry there. I'm hoping it cooks.

And I'm cooked. Toasted. Crunchy. Have hit the wall, rebounded, and hit it again. I hope to hell I have everything I might need in my big wheelie pack: that gets stuffed into the car tonight, along with all the other stuff I schlep around with me (including my own self)--and tomorrow is that other day we keep hearing about.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Well, that was sort of useless...

Afternoon classes were held, but about half the students in both my classes were not there, so even though they weren't cancelled, we're still off to a pretty bumpy start. I hope I can get everyone up to speed--or (in the case of the 101) off the boat--soon. Good news is that the "add" period ends tonight at midnight, so after today, my rosters can only get smaller. Of course, I spent a lot of time making photocopies for the 101 in anticipation of a sudden influx of students, and there were six--of thirteen--students who either hadn't been on the roster last week or who hadn't bothered to come to the first class. Technically, there are 23 students in the class... We still managed to have a discussion of sorts, but not as lively as I'd hoped. Maybe Wednesday will be better, when there are more bodies in the room, especially more who have had a chance to prepare for class.

I'm hoping tomorrow will be better, as the roads gradually clear. It is a bit of a mess out there.

Even with the low attendance in the Poetry class, that went better than the 101. It's partly the nature of the beast: students in lit electives have been more thoroughly acculturated to the academic world--and my hunch is that most of the students in the class are in it by choice, not because it was the only option left that fit their schedules. They did some very good work on "The New Colossus" (Emma Lazarus) and "The Unguarded Gates" (Thomas Bailey Aldrich), though we just started on the latter. We'll finish that one--plus "Richard Cory" and "Credo" by Edwin Arlington Robbins--on Wednesday. I'm sure they'll have a lot of questions/concerns about their responses, too, but that's great.

One student in the Poetry class stood out in particular today. We started by talking about what they'd put in their self-evaluations and responses to my handout about how to read and analyze poetry--and she admitted that the fact that there can actually be incorrect interpretations of poems makes her hesitant to try, for fear of being wrong. But she said that right after another student (who also seems pretty sharp) said that what stood out to her in my handout was that it's OK to be wrong: the process of the attempt is what matters, not whether it necessarily leads to the "right" result. Yes, I told them all, make mistakes. Push past that fear. Pour your brains out onto the page, including your efforts to make sense of things, even if you never get to a satisfactory "answer."

At the end of class, I told her she doesn't have to worry: in fact, she's reading the poetry very well, with intelligence and attention to detail. She said that she'd also made the confession in her self-evaluation: she is actually already a teacher, teaching "special ed," but that she wants to get certification in English as well, and this course is part of that process for her. At some point I'd love to talk with her about how our experiences as students inform our decisions as teachers: she may find it very useful, professionally, to remember her own fear of being "wrong."

I'll also say that one of the new students in the 101 is off to a great start. He e-mailed to ask about course materials, and he's very eager to share his ideas in class. He's got a lot to learn about paying careful attention to the actual language of what he reads, instead of jumping to an assumption about what it must mean (what he expects it to mean), but he seems delighted to be faced with that learning curve: he talked to me after class to say that he feels this class is going to offer exactly what he needs. I'm always a little leery about that sort of statement: too often students will say something like that and then crash and burn--but I'll hope he follows through, and that his enthusiasm manifests itself in good work on the assignments.

Even though today was a little flat--especially in comparison with what I got out of the T/Th class last week--I still think there are some good minds in the class, very possibly enough to make it work fine. I won't know for sure until the attendance settles down and the chemistry can start to cook, but both 101s may be ... well, I was going to say "fun," but that might be an overstatement. But the discussions might be lively and energizing, not just for the students but for me.

We'll see.

I'm going to blast myself out of here early (for me) tonight: not only do I want to get home before the roads freeze up but I have to get up early the next two mornings so I can be absolutely sure to make it here a few minutes before 10. Tomorrow I have a meeting about putting together a cohort of Honors students for mentoring/advising (despite the fact that one of the two coordinators has already decided it's never going to happen and we're wasting our time); Wednesday I have to be in Advisement early to make up for the hour when I could/should have been there today. They may have missed me, as there may have been a flurry of people trying desperately to change their schedules or add courses--but it was only an hour, so I'd hardly have made a dent in the mob even if I'd been there: by the time I got there and got myself set up and seeing students, it would have been time to leave.

But I still have to make up the hour. And I'll be making it up at a time in the semester when pretty much nothing at all is going on. Suits me: I'll mark the assignments I've collected and find ways to use the time productively for my own purposes.

So, freezing roads + early alarm = I'm out of here.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Weekend Warrior ... sorta

I spent a number of hours yesterday during the blizzard coming up with the remaining course materials that I've been feeling anxious about. As far as I can tell, I now have everything I need not only for the students but for my own organizational requirements. If I didn't have such a completely disorganized brain, I wouldn't have to be so organized, but the fact that I was already worrying about the plate-spinning, pearl-strand-snapping kind of thing in the first few days of classes is an indication of just how messy my mind is (visually represented by the state of my desk and office bookshelves). I feel slightly less messy: all the snarls combed out to the best of my ability.

I also had to spend a good chunk of time today fixing a problem with the course materials on Blackboard. I didn't realize that when I copied stuff from one semester to the next, all the release dates would copy too, so students were sending me frustrated e-mails saying they couldn't access discussion boards. I finally called the university system's help desk--and to my great pleasure, they actually called me back today (it was getting close to their close of business time, so I was worried they'd try to reach me tomorrow...). It wasn't a difficult fix, but it sure as hell was time-consuming--especially as I realized I had copied some things three times over (even after we were warned about that), so I also had to delete duplicates, and it took me a while to figure out that I didn't have to do that one at a time but could delete bunches.

The only howling error in all this is that, in trying to "clean up" a student's post, I accidentally deleted it. He'd posted twice: once with just his name and the title of his post, then a second time with the actual content of the post. I didn't realize that he'd done the second as a "reply" to the first, so in trying just to delete the first, essentially empty, post, I ended up deleting the entire thread. I posted a "response" to him, in which I explained what had happened and apologized--and I actually did respond to what I could remember of his post. I hope I didn't inadvertently erase anyone else's post in deleting the duplicate discussion boards.

Clearly I'm not ready to go fully online yet. I'm not even working with the really meaty stuff yet, and I'm making blunders like that. But I do feel I'm ready to take the more advanced workshops: I have enough experience with the stuff that I think it won't be long before I am ready to take the plunge--and propose an online version of one of my favorite courses.

I had a momentary freak-out today when the class count in the M/W 101 had gone from 18 to 25: yikes! It's back down to 23, but the "add" period doesn't end until midnight tomorrow, so heaven knows what could happen between now and then. I'd think that the two who were briefly in the class and are now gone again were dropped because they hadn't paid their tuition bills--but they have until the next business day, which is tomorrow, so that can't be it. Maybe they were warned...?

The lovely thing is that the snow has saved me from having to get up an hour earlier than usual in order to make copies of the material for those additional 101 students. Classes don't start until 12:30, so even if I do go in to Advisement for an hour (which seems sort of silly to me), I don't think I have to be in at my usual time: faculty advisers work according to faculty schedules, so if classes aren't being held, I don't have to be on campus--and that means I can go in later than usual and still have plenty of time in which to make the copies, maybe even do some other organizational work in the office, which would be heavenly.

Now, however, it's time to turn my brain off. More tomorrow, y'all.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Again: This is why I love it...

Today's class ended with a beautiful encounter with a student. When Tuesday's class ended, she'd asked me where the Admissions office was. Since she was already attending class, I wasn't clear why she needed the Admissions office, but she said she was experiencing some difficulties. Today, as she was heading out the door, I asked her if the situation had been resolved. Her answer to that question led us into a lovely conversation, in which I found out that, after at least 20 years as a stay-at-home mom (she said that her son is 20), she's just entered the work force--pretty much for the first time in her life--and has started college. The quotation I use to start the semester, the W. G. Sumner thing about the purpose of education in developing critical thinking, hit her hard: she felt it was speaking directly and powerfully to her experience and what she wants, perhaps needs, to learn for herself. One student said that he felt Sumner is saying that, when you've been educated to think critically, you have authority: you can stand your ground with assurance. She told me that all her life she's been a shy person and feels she hasn't stood up for herself--and she started to tear up, realizing that she's now doing that: she's taking hold of her own life, having authority over her own life (and, she said, in dealing with her children, who used to "run all over" her).

Listening to her, and reflecting back to her my admiration for her courage--going through a difficult, protracted divorce; entering the work force; entering college--was deeply moving. She's already found something profoundly important to her personal experience, just in reading that brief quotation. I can tell that she is suddenly confident that she has a voice--and that it will be listened to, heard.

She also was very sweet during the class, helping out a student who didn't get off to the best start. I took attendance, and he promptly fell deeply asleep, leaning against the wall. I talked for a while, and then handouts started to go around the room, and one of his classmates had to practically shake him to wake him up. I said, "If you're asleep, you're not here. I understand that sometimes you come to class exhausted, but do what you need to do to stay awake." When I put the students in groups to discuss the quotation, he started out very sullen, saying he didn't get any of it. I heard that, and I said, "I just want to address what you're experiencing right now. That frustration you feel: that's good. That's when learning happens. You're learning to work your way through something difficult, and that's real learning." I then talked to him and his group mates about how to work through a complex and dense piece of writing, taking it one little bit at a time--exactly what the woman I spoke with later had been doing with him. As they worked on it together, he started to come alive--and when the class started to discuss ideas from the quotation, he was suddenly alert, listening, nodding his head. Periodically, she'd go over something with him to be sure he understood (those mothering instincts are pretty hard to shake, I reckon). I don't have a lot of confidence in his ability to make it through the class, but I hope he surprises me--and I know that her work to help him clarified things for her, too.

The class discussion was pretty great, once we got the ice broken and people started feeling brave enough to speak up. There are a couple of young men in particular who were surprisingly on top of it: understanding, bringing up good points, stating the meat of certain parts of the quotation in very clear ways. A couple of other students--mostly young women--had terrific questions that led to further understanding.

And after all that, we went back to the syllabus and carefully, slowly worked through the order of assignments: a lot of the students were lost--which is largely my fault, as I cannot seem to put anything in simple, clear, uncomplicated language. Ever. But I showed them how to look at each little piece, one thing at a time--and miracle! Suddenly it's clear what's due when.

The only thing I'm worried about now is that I may be setting up the problem I bitched about all last semester: that I won't be able to drive them out of the class and I'll have 700 zillion papers to read and evaluate. They're interested now, dammit. They're starting to get the idea that maybe they'll get something they can value out of the class. Be careful what you wish for, right? All my career, I've wanted students to come into my classes and get engaged and excited and eager to learn--and now that it's happening, I'm complaining because it means more work for me. True. But it also makes the experience in the classroom much more enjoyable--for them and for me.

I'll be curious to see what happens with the Monday group. They got a lot more thrown at them all at once, and had one less day with me to gently lead them into the deeper waters. But I need the classes in lock-step ASAP, or I fall apart, so the T/Th group had it easier this week, and the M/W group had it harder. I reckon it will all average out eventually.

Further to student exchanges: the student who was confused about her "online" class (which isn't) wrote today to thank me for clearing things up for her. She isn't in either of my 101 sections any more, so I'm not sure how she resolved her problem, but she did. I also have fielded several other e-mailed requests for clarification from 101 students--and I'm delighted. They're taking advantage of me, as I ask them to. Good. Smart.

My only concern for the day is the "where did I put my ass?" thing. I was working away at something--don't remember now what--and needed a bathroom break. On my way across the office to the bathroom, I thought of two things I needed to take care of. By the time I was washing my hands, I'd forgotten both of them. Utterly. Gone. One finally came back to me a little bit ago--at least I think it was one of the two things I wanted to remember. At any rate, it was something I wanted to remember, and I did. But the other thing? Nope. Still not there. So either I'll be doing something and it will whack me again--and I'll write it down instantly--or it will whack me even harder when I realize it was something I was supposed to do and didn't accomplish in time.

Jesus, did that even make sense?

Anyway ... The seminar hours meeting went well, I think--and I agreed to take the minutes in the absence of our usual secretary. (I think Paul and I may get matching tattoos that say "Why did I agree to take this on?") I cranked those out immediately after the meeting, and did some other follow-up stemming from the meeting, largely about the creation (maybe) of a cohort of Honors students for mentoring--but there's some disturbance within the Honors program, so the whole thing may turn into such a hairball that we abandon it entirely. (Meanwhile, yes, I'm thinking, "Why did I agree to take this on?") And I know I was a busy little bee, but talk about fleet-footed time and all that rot: I looked up and it was after 2 p.m.: our meeting adjourned at about 11:15, and I have no idea what filled that interstice. Something productive, I hope--but I still have a lot of course management stuff to nail down, and I want it done this weekend so I can stop futzing about it.

And I hope the forecast blizzard doesn't throw a wrench into the works--but at least I have a paragraph about what to do in case of a weather cancellation right at the top of the schedule of assignments in all my syllabi. So, well, whatever.

I could keep rattling on for ages: I'm in one of those hyper-manic adrenalized states that I get in when I'm tired and wired at the same time, so I need to forcibly remove my hands from the keyboard.

Good-bi-eeeee...

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Plate spinning? Trying to keep the strand of pearls together? Pick your metaphor...

It's only the second day of the term, and already I feel like I'm about to hear smashing crockery or watch those pearls go bouncing behind the furniture and through cracks in the floorboards. I spent an age and a half just trying to figure out what I have and what I need and by when in terms of handouts for my classes--and I still haven't done some pretty basic mental organizing for myself: creating the color-coded syllabi I use to remind myself what I'm supposed to hand out when, creating index cards (my attendance and grade keeping system), creating a "Calculating Your Grade" sheet for the poetry class... And there's still some conceptualizing to do: figuring out some kind of assignment sheet for the essays for the poetry class, and, and, um, something else. (Smash! Clatter!) I'm writing things down as they occur to me--thank God, or I'd truly be lost.

The traveling adventures of the day went fine, I must say. It seems to work well to park at the annex and walk to and from Advisement, then drive to my second class. Of course, the poetry class let out way early today--typical for a first day--but I was a fraction late getting there, not because I didn't have time but because I'd made the fundamental error of stopping to say hello to a co-worker in Advisement, and she has some struggles going on in her personal life that she started to tell me about, so I couldn't very easily cut her short and rush out the door. Ah well. The students didn't seem to mind. And most of them were there, so that's a good thing. They were awfully quiet: Paul's barometer of whether they laugh at our jokes would indicate that the class might be a problem (some smiles, but nary a chuckle)--but I think they were somewhat tentative because it's a large, very open and spacious room, in which they formed a rather small puddle relatively far from me, so the environment didn't feel very cozy and conducive to sharing. I did mention that I hated having the teacher's desk so far from the front row of student desks--but starting next class, I'm going to institute the "we work in a circle" thing, get them used to putting the desks in a circle before I even walk in the door. The class size keeps changing: I was surprised that I had 15 on the roster as of this morning, and now it's back down to 14... but in any event, I don't think it's going to get much bigger, and although I could put them in small groups (there are just enough of them for that to work), I like the circle idea better.

Interestingly enough, after I met with today's 101, it has suddenly shot up to 22 students: I need to make sure I have enough handouts, in case everyone actually shows up. (Had to get up there, walk over to the desk, make a note ... because I won't have time to adjust on Monday, so I have to be sure I'm set on that one before I leave here tomorrow.)

Another curious little thing: a student was in the T/Th 101, then was suddenly in the M/W 101--and I got an e-mail from her saying "I've never been in an online course before, but it looks like we have to meet...?" The section she's in is immediately below a huge thing that says "NOTE FOR SECTION ABOVE:" and then states that the section--and it gives the section number (OLA, OLB, whatever)--is an online course. Apparently neither the word "Above" nor the section number computed for the student, so I had to inform her that she is not, in fact, in an online class at all, and in fact all the online sections are filled to capacity and can't be overloaded. I'll be most interested to see what she does: whether she stays in the section she's in now, switches back to the other, or goes for option C (whatever that might be).

And another student from the T/Th 101 sent an e-mail today that she can't be in class this week because her grandfather died and she's out of the country. She wanted to get the assignments via e-mail, but instead, I e-mailed her a long, long, long e-mail explaining each little step for how to get what she needs from Blackboard--and what to do with it when she has it.

I realize more and more that the students who miss even the first half hour of the first class are often pretty well screwed for the rest of the term, unless they are highly motivated and relatively intelligent. Otherwise, they're just overwhelmed: dropped into the deep end, where they sink, never to get their nostrils above the surface. A student came into today's class just as I was about to wrap everything up: he's earnest and was trying to take notes, but what didn't seem to compute was that all the things he was writing down are already in the syllabus. Paul's absolutely right that, especially with students in 101 and even 102, it's important to repeatedly go back to the syllabus in the first weeks, remind them what's there....

But now, dear God in heaven, it's almost 9 p.m., and I have a meeting tomorrow at 10 a.m. I need to get the hell out of here. I did achieve a little bit of organization, but ... oh, hell. I'll think of that tomorrow. When I'm stronger.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

First day judgments

I find it interesting that I can't seem to help making those first day judgments when I look out at a whole new set of student faces. I'm immediately making bets with myself about who will succeed, who won't, who might but will be shaky--and my experience is that I'm often wrong. I met the first group of 101 students today (well, all but three of them, apparently--according to the latest roster I have), and one told me she has to miss the next two classes because she couldn't change her work schedule (ouch); one told me he has a very hard time staying on top of his homework (e-mail mentoring@ncc.edu and ask for a mentor); one was very worried about what's due when and the discussion boards and submitting papers online (one step at a time; I'll give you all that information when you need it, so all you need to do is read what you're supposed to read for Thursday).

I went over the syllabus more than I usually do. I'm hoping I've scared a few off. Last semester I was fussing because I didn't have enough students; now I'm fussing because I have too many. Ah well.

Getting all the handouts organized and in class folders and basically sorted for the next week or so took me an inordinate amount of time. I grant you, I wasn't here at 10--more like 11 (life maintenance being done before I left home)--but I worked pretty much straight through until I left to teach at 3:50. The one unexpected hitch was that my monitor was going wonky: I kept getting a message that said something about the power button being locked out--which would sit smack in the center of the screen, so I couldn't see what the hell I was doing--and then the monitor would shut off. After a while, not only would it shut off, I couldn't use the power button to turn it back on: I had to unplug it and plug it back in again--and this was happening about every minute or less. No exaggeration: I couldn't write a two line e-mail without the problem getting in my way--several times--and I type fast. But our wonderful departmental tech assistant decided to hell with the work order: she just brought me a new monitor. It's wide-screen, which is nice, but I think I have to put a book under it, as I can't get it quite as high as I want it. The main thing, though, is that it works, which is a wonderful relief. It's one of those instances of realizing how much I take something for granted, how much I rely on it without even thinking about it--and feeling wildly grateful when it's back to normal.

I still have stacks and piles of filing to do (where's that damned TA?), but the main thing I'm thinking about is what it's going to be like to navigate from building to building tomorrow. I'll be teaching in a new annex building for the first time. I understand it's a lovely building, but it's one of those "you can't get there from here" kind of things--at least not on foot--but I don't intend to drive if I can possibly walk it. My current plan is to have my wheeled pack, already filled with what I need for tomorrow, in the car tonight. Then tomorrow, I'll park by the annex and walk to Advisement, then walk back to the annex to teach my class--and then drive to the second class: that's the only time when there's a very small window of time and a fair amount of territory to cover. I may spend a few weeks figuring out what makes most sense in terms of parking, but I do think it's going to be crucial to have my pack set up the night before (or Thursdays before I leave campus) and already in the car; if I have to drop by the office, I can, but I'll still have to park near the annex, or I don't think I'll make the transition from class to class.

I also realized that some students might not understand that NA is different from N in designating the building where class meets, so I sent a class e-mail. To my delight, I got an almost immediate response from two students--but Paul wisely suggested that I put a sign outside the room in N to direct students to the correct place. I'll do that before I split tonight--despite the arctic wind out there. (Yes, I'll walk from here to N and back: I am a strong woman--and it takes all of about 5 minutes to get from here to N.)

Before I go, I'll do one more check of Banner to see if my rosters have changed. We get updated photo rosters from time to time, but Banner reflects the changes more quickly. Students can add classes through next Monday--and will--so I won't know for sure who's really in any of my classes for a while yet. And so it goes here. C'est la vie.

I don't think there's much more from the day to relate, so I'll leave it at that. More tomorrow, my faithful followers.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Already up to my neck in it

Well, first, after wondering if my classes would have enough students to run at all, I'm now realizing that--in terms of my 101s--I'm instead utterly fucked: suddenly I've got more than 15 in two sections of 101, and I'm wondering how in hell I can possibly get all those papers marked in the amount of time I've given myself to turn them around. The obvious answer is "Don't mark so much, or write such extensive comments," but that's rather like saying "Don't be who you are." Still, I'm going to have to learn how to do it somehow, or I'm going to drown.

The poetry class was allowed to run even though--at the time--it only had nine students in it. It's since bounced up to 12, now back down to 11 ... and heaven knows where it will be by the time the drop-add period is over.

I spent a great deal of time over the break trying to pull that bastard together, too, and figure out exactly what to teach and in what order. I still don't have a clear idea for paper topics, which is a worry--but either I'll come up with something in the next few days or I'll simply work with the students on identifying topics that could lead to thesis ideas. I did end up printing out/photocopying more poems than I needed for some areas and not having nearly as many as I wanted in others--and the segues from one loosely thematically organized bunch to the next are sometimes pretty bumpy or, honestly, non-existent--but I'm hitting walls all over the place at this point. I know I have to have some kind of paper assignments set up--even if they're just the basic parameters (length, format, deadlines, don't use anything other than the poems, don't plagiarize, that sort of thing). And even though I spent hours at it both yesterday and today, part of me wants to keep going, trying to blast through those walls, just because I want it done as in done as in I don't want to have to conceptualize any more: I just want to get into the classroom and start teaching.

Either that or crawl under the sofa and not come out until summer. Personally, the latter option has a lot of appeal right now--but I also know that once I'm in the teaching groove, I'll have the "meaningful distraction" of work, which is, I freely confess, one of my favorite narcotics.

I have some things lined up in the mental queue to work on tomorrow--if I can, around a trip to the vet (one of the sources of potential need for distraction) and a little life maintenance--and I know once I'm in the office on Tuesday, I'll be busy trying to tame the beast of chaos I left in there. I would give quite a bit to have a nice young assistant or two to assign some of those organizational tasks to: "I want one poem per folder, not two or three. If separate copies need to be made, do that, just make sure the bibliographic information is on each copy. File them alphabetically in that drawer by poet and poem title. If there are duplicates, pick the cleanest, neatest looking one."

Well, there's a lovely fantasy. I actually have no clue how Tuesday is going to play out. I don't have anything official until class at 4, but I intend to get in as close to 10 a.m. as possible, so I can sort and file and organize and tidy and clear out like a madwoman.

As for now, I'm going to try very hard to turn off the work part of my brain and vegetate until tomorrow at least. It's hard to let go once I've got my little bulldog teeth sunk into ideas of what I "need" to accomplish, but I'd rather back off early tonight and try to clear my heart and soul, as well as my mind. It's all a work in progress, all the time--which is what makes it all so frustrating and fascinating, simultaneously.