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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.

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