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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.

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