Notice about Cookies (for European readers)

I have been informed that I need to say something about how this site uses Cookies and possibly get the permission of my European readers about the use of Cookies. I'll be honest: I have no idea how the cookies on this site work. My understanding is that Google has added a boilerplate explanation. That's the best I can do.
Student Readers: A Warning

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.


Follow by Email

Monday, February 29, 2016

Powerful need for chocolate...

I'm tired; class today was torturous; I still have one more paper to mark before tomorrow's class-and I'll have about 30 minutes of time between 10 a.m. and class at 4. Fortunately, that should be enough time to do the work I need to do on the paper: it's just a "mechanics" review, so I don't need to comment or grade, just point out problems. However, if anything at all runs longer than I anticipate, I'll be pretty screwed.

Well, sufficient to each day and all that.

Today's 101 class sucked because there were so few students there, and several of them had nothing to do, because they missed the first round on the paper. Right now, there are five or six students who actually are doing the work and staying active; the rest? AWOL or useless--or both. One of the best students may be out for the semester: I think I mentioned before that she was in an "incident" that had her hospitalized for a good while, and she's still not back in class. Another one of the potentially very good students has been pretty shaky in his attendance; he was out today, in fact.

I kinda give up on that bunch. I'll be happy just to get a few of them over the finish line--and I'll put most of my energy into the other group, who are infinitely more rewarding.

The poetry class sucked too, partly because of the perennial problem of getting them to actually speak, but also because they'd been focused on their papers, and the poems we started reading in class left them utterly stymied. (Poems about poetry: today we covered--or tried to--Marianne Moore's "Poetry" (the original version) and Archibald MacLeish's "Ars Poetica.") I told them they'd better work something up by Wednesday, or there'd be a whole lot of silence in the room, because I'm not going to jump in to help.

I do not understand why they won't just fucking ask questions.

The one good thing to come out of that class is that a student who has been doing a pretty insufficient job on her responses e-mailed me a few times about her paper--and because of what I said in answer, she now is starting to get the idea of what the responses are for and what they need to contain in order to be useful. She came to the office to talk to me about it, and she's not quite as confident as I wish she were, but I think her work is going to improve. That's a win. I suspect that, having come to my office, she may also be more willing to speak up in class: she started to respond a little more in class today, and I hope that trend continues.

In terms of the cattle-chute day I'm facing tomorrow, it starts with helping Bruce carry promotion applications over to the college-wide committee that will evaluate them, which will make me a little late for the seminar hours meeting, which leads directly to a department meeting, after which I see the Mystery Enthusiast (or whatever I've been calling him) for "mentoring." Then I have that brief break before P&B and class. I can already feel that cattle prod coming at me.

Now, however, it's tired and I'm late, or whatever. I'm going home--and I will try heroically to resist the siren lure of chocolate, though I don't have anyone around to tie me to the mast....

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Whoof! (and other sound effects denoting great relief)

The last of the people I was mentoring for promotion managed to squeak out his application in time for me to write his letter tonight. Now all I have to do is remember to sign the approval page for another applicant (not one of mine), and I'm finished with that bolus of P&B work. I feel rather as if I've been slapped around by dead flounder, but that's not entirely unusual for a Thursday.

Speaking of promotions, I didn't mention earlier that I was presented with an opportunity that would have been a stellar promotion credit: I was asked if I'd be willing to run as a member of the Delegate Assembly for MLA, representing the two-year college interest group. I have no idea how my name came up; I rather wonder if the ASLE liaison to MLA might have said something, or someone from the north-east regional division (NeMLA). Otherwise, I can't imagine why anyone in MLA would know that I even exist. I felt so honored (maybe "thunderstruck" is more apt) that I seriously considered doing it--you know, just 'cause. But really, I knew damned well from the instant I read the e-mail that I wasn't going to do it. I don't need the promotion credit any more (thank all the gods that may be), and it would be a snorting pain in the ass to be required to attend three national MLA conventions to fulfill the duties of my term. That is, of course, assuming I would be elected--and it's entirely possible I wouldn't be (because, again, who outside of NCC and ASLE knows that I exist?)--but I didn't want to take the risk. I have to confess that it's almost a point of pride with me that I have never been to an MLA convention. I'm perfectly content to go to NeMLA next month, especially as I'm going specifically to help out a colleague who was having a hard time finding people to fill the panel she'd proposed, but the national roundup? From everything I've heard, I think I'll pass--so I just wrote the e-mail graciously declining the invitation to be a candidate.

Still, I feel sorta smug and full of myself that I was asked.

But promotions and all like that aside, today was, as I suggested yesterday it would be, just a relentless slog of paper grading. I was running way behind schedule--but then I realized it was because I was simultaneously noting areas for revision and (on a separate copy of the papers) "mechanics" concerns, and I really don't need the mechanics stuff until next week. As soon as I switched to just doing the revision stuff, things moved much more quickly, and I was able to walk in to class today with all of the papers marked.

There were three students in attendance who hadn't submitted papers, so I talked to each one individually. One hadn't done any of it: didn't have a thing, though he said he'd written a bunch of paragraphs but they were all bad. I told him that, in the future, we can work from there--and I'll let him submit the final version, even though he won't have had the benefit of any of the rest of the process. The other two had hard copies of the paper with them, and one had even uploaded his to Turnitin last night. I decided to be merciful. The one who uploaded to Turnitin is in deeper trouble than just that one paper: he's missed so much work (and keeps missing deadlines, not yet realizing that they are not elastic now that he's in college) that I'm not sure he can pass. Long discussion, blah blah blah, but I told him I'd have something for him on Tuesday, so he could participate in that class as much as possible and try to do as much as he can before the last submission is due on Thursday.

The other student who missed the deadlines is potentially very good, but he's also in deep trouble--and he missed the submission because he was on vacation. That right there almost made me say, "No, then: you can't turn in any of it, period." But, well, he could be good, and it seems he really does want to learn. He could be BSing me, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt--and I offered him the same deal I offered the other student who at least had something concrete to give me. This one stayed in class today, trying to soak in as much of what I was saying to the other students as he could. And he knows where he has problems with his paper already, which is good.

We'll see what happens with them from here.

But my favorite part of all this is that the other students were very concerned about those three young men--especially the Divorcee and the Young Mother. They really do have a soft spot for all the "kids" of the class, and want to nurture and protect them. They know that sometimes what the younger students need is to swan-dive into the pavement (as I put it), to suffer the bruises and scrapes (or worse) of screwing up--but they are genuinely distressed at the thought that any of the other, younger students might not make it.

Most of them take care of each other. They share. They know that what I say to one student likely applies to the rest of them, so they listen. I start to talk, and they start taking notes (unlike my other 101). They were deeply engaged in understanding my comments--and, more important, in working to understand what they need to do in order to address those comments. And I ended up having another long chat with the Divorcee and the Young Mother after class (almost made the Young Mother late for her next class, in fact). I told them that I am truly grateful that I end my work week with them. They really do help the end of each week feel like a positive thing--even with all the unmitigated shit that's going on politically, even with all the reasons why I want to get out of this place as soon as I can. No matter what I do next, I will truly, deeply miss that interaction with students. It's manna, a gift from heaven.

Now, however, I need to pack up everything I might need for Monday--including some kind of reminder to myself that I need to drop by the office before Advisement on Monday morning in order to sign that promotion folder and submit my own request for reassigned time (the deal by which I work those hours in Advisement rather than teaching a fourth course). (Oh, and that reminds me: I didn't mention, but my conscience got the better of me, so even though I didn't go to Advisement yesterday, I didn't utterly bail: I'll make up the hours in April.) I'm so addled at this point that I need to think slowly, carefully, and methodically through what I'll need on Monday--and then I'm heading out. I considered using the title "Whine, Wine, or Bourbon?" as the title for tonight's post, but I don't need to whine, not right now. Wine or bourbon: yes. I still have to make that decision. But for the rest, I'm just about as content with the week as a person needs to be. That's a good note on which to end.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Bailing early

I didn't quite get all the papers marked before today's 101 class--but in a merciful gift from the gods, the one student whose paper I hadn't finished was not in class today, so no harm, no foul, as they say in baseball. One student was there who had not submitted the paper, and I had a little talk with him in the hall. He's a sweet young man and seems bright enough, but he is, in his own words, "slacking"--and not just in my class. Apparently there are two classes that he really loves, and he's putting all his energy into those, and the rest of his classes are beginning to circle the drain. I suggested he might want to participate in mentoring for some guidance with balancing all his work, and he said he'd signed up--but he'd never checked his e-mail about it, so he didn't know that he had an appointment with a mentor.

Sigh.

In any event, the students who were there were diligently working on understanding my comments, trying to figure out how to revise in order to address those comments. One of the students who missed class on Monday but submitted his paper late is one I had identified as a potential source of the negative aura of the room. Today, however, he seemed relaxed and cheerful, and very glad to hear and accept my comments. Miss Confusing was as confusing as ever, but I hope she got a sense of what she needs to do. The very bright student who seemed resistant at first still seems a bit leery of me and my requirements, but I told her she was doing fine--and in fact her paper needs very little in the way of revision. She relaxed as I told her not to worry about some of the things I'd pointed out that could be improved. And one young woman has completely overturned my expectations of her from the first class. My initial thought was that she wasn't going to do well--and then she was absent three times in a row, which made me even more sure she didn't have the chops for the class. Au contraire. She's very bright and writes well, and she's working hard. Good news all around.

Nevertheless, I think  that's going to be The Amazing Shrinking Class: I'm guessing the nine or ten who have been around this week may be the only ones who'll stick. One bright and hardworking student is suffering health problems that are keeping her away from class: I need to e-mail her to reassure her that she can continue if she's able to come back before too much more time elapses. I think she'd be a safe candidate for an Incomplete, though I don't want to tell her that just yet....

As for tomorrow's class, yesterday I mentioned that I hadn't gotten a paper from one apparently bright student who just isn't in class very often--but her paper was on the office door today, and it's been dutifully uploaded to Turnitin. So I'll have eleven papers to mark tomorrow--but I think I can do that without having to come in early. Or at least not super early: probably getting here about the same time I did today will be enough.

And it's a good thing I don't have to try to grade anything tonight as I'm getting that "I'm so tired, I can't see" thing. It's very hard to read and comprehend when one can't see. So, early though it is, I'm bailing for tonight: I'm going to toddle off to do my evening routines and to try to get to sleep at something approaching a reasonable hour. Because tomorrow, as it may surprise you to hear, is actually another day. Not this one: it's a whole different day. And that's just grand.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

OK, I'm an attention junkie

After I post, I always check the stats for this blog: how many views have there been in the last week, month, all time... There's a graph showing how many page views there have been in each month, and some time back, I got close to breaking 800--but not quite. So I'm jonesing for that little hit of "success." Tell your friends. Tell your enemies. Let's get more people checking in on this blog so I can get more than 800 hits in a month! What key words do I need to use so people doing random searches end up getting directed here? I don't want to descend into sleaze, but short of that, what are the buzz words?

Ah, screw it. Either people find the blog and find it worth reading or they don't.

But it would be nice...

The wall, dammit, the wall

I really wanted to get more done tonight, but the wall has been well and truly hit. I was about to start marking another student's essay and I realized I had no idea what she was saying. None. And I think hers is a good paper.

But I don't believe I can get the rest done before class and be in Advisement tomorrow. I'd even cancel the Poetry class, except I'm getting them ready to submit papers next week.

Damn, damn, damn, damn. (And blast, and hell, and fucking shitty fuck.)

So, early alarm tomorrow, and a long grind at the desk. I have to really plow hard, too, as I also have to get all the papers ready for the Thursday class--and although my schedule is mercifully open on Thursday, I do have an office hour, and there's always a chance someone will show up.

I actually got a little reprieve today: the Mystery Fan was supposed to meet me for a mentoring appointment today, but he e-mailed to reschedule. Whew. But I realized that last night, as I was thinking I'd have tons of time to mark stuff for the poetry students and to do paper grading, I forgot about P&B.

I'm doing that a lot these days. Maybe I should consider whether to run again, if I'm this tuned out. Also, one of the people I'm mentoring through promotion didn't get his folder back in until late last night--and it still isn't complete. Bruce asked if I could look at it today or tomorrow, and I had to say no. I feel bad about it, but really: I can't do it. Maybe Thursday--but then the person wouldn't have time to make any corrections if they're needed. He's running around trying to get the last bits in by tomorrow--but if he does, I have to come up with a letter for him before Monday. In addition, another of the candidates I'm mentoring had a huge, howling error of pagination and document numbering in her application. I sent her an e-mail about it, but I've not heard boo back. I'm going to leave a message on her voice mail, too: it's not an issue of substance, but it is absolutely crucial that she fix the problem ASAP.

Paul's, on the other hand, is clean, clear, precise, done. I'll try to look at it more closely and carefully before Monday, but I know he doesn't need to worry. Still, for his peace of mind, I'll give it that last look through.

A lot of the conversation in P&B ended up being about retirement. Cathy is looking at it: she wants to retire under this contract, so she's not sure whether it makes sense to go up for full, as she'd retire before the promotion kicks in. It didn't occur to me to ask whether retiring while the next contract is in negotiations would be a problem or whether we'd still get the retirement benefits of this contract. The main thing is that this contract guarantees health care for retirees: it probably won't be fully paid for, as if working faculty have to start paying a percentage of it, retirees would too--but they can't deny the coverage to retirees. That's an added incentive for me, too. One of the members of P&B said that she didn't know what she'd do--or even really who she'd be--if she weren't teaching. I have a little of that in me, too: if I truly do retire, I have to have a very clear sense of what I want to do and who I want to be after retirement. As I keep saying, I don't want to retire from; I want to retire to. And until I've figured out what I'd be retiring to, I don't feel I can retire, even if I risk losing health care or this place goes down in flames. (Metaphoric, not literal. I don't think anyone is ready for the Molotov cocktails yet, though some may be tempted.)

In any event, I was late to class--again--because P&B ran a little late, and then I encountered the colleague who is frantically trying to get his application done and I needed to let him know that a document he had a question about would be OK, and then I remembered that I wanted to check with him about an e-mail I'd sent, regarding my attempts to explain the difference between socially constructed gender and gender identity, especially in light of the increasing awareness of the trans community and the struggle for recognition and rights for people who are trans. (He is; that's why I wanted his take on it.) That took longer than I expected, so I rushed in to class, breathless.

And they were great. Only one student was there without a paper; several more were AWOL (including one young woman who could be very good but who has missed more classes than she's been to, I think, and who is missing most of her work). But the best news of all is that the Divorcee (for lack of a better moniker) was there with the official notice that her immunization situation had been resolved: she has been reinstated in all her classes. That was a great relief, for both of us. I put her to work with the Young Mother (again, for lack of a better moniker): they've bonded anyway, so I decided to let them have this peer review together, though next time I'll split them up. They all worked hard together, and when I said they needed to start sharing their feedback, they did--in their usual collaborative spirit.

I just love that class. They're so great, I can hardly believe my good fortune. It's just random luck, the fluke of chemistry, but they're wonderful to work with, and even though the other class is pulling together much better, this one continues to be smoother, more clear, more focused. happier.... I'm blessed that I end my work week with them.

Of course, I have to get to the end of the work week first--and even though only a fraction of the students submitted papers, marking them still is taking time. I realize, too, that I need to add one layer to the process: I need to give them revision feedback separately from the "mechanics" feedback, so they don't get hung up on punctuation and forget to work on the ideas. However, as the process works now, I have to use the same submission for both sets of feedback. Last semester, I tried using different colored pen to indicate the mechanics problems--but they couldn't ignore what was there, even when I specifically told them to. So this time, I made copies of their papers before I started marking for revision, and I'm marking mechanics on a separate copy as I go along. That seems to work OK--but I don't want to have to make the photocopies of their papers. So, if/when I do this again, I'll need to ask for two clean copies--or figure out how to get an additional submission in there with enough time for me to mark it. I'm not sure I want to devote that much class time to working through submissions--and I'm not sure I want to have to mark their papers twice before the final. I think the two clean copies for me idea is probably the way to go.

Another thing I've realized is that I haven't made a specific provision in the submission guidelines for what happens if a student dutifully submits the hard copy on time and then doesn't submit to Turnitin at all. I have a provision for late submission to Turnitin, but not for when that step is omitted entirely--and it happens enough that I do need to figure out the penalty and codify it in writing. I try to scare them by saying that if they miss the deadlines, they get a zero for this whole submission and all the attendant work, but that really only applies if they do neither one: neither the hard copy nor the Turnitin submission.

Well, it's something to ponder. Meanwhile, I play that part by ear, kinda....

And as I'm writing this post, madly nattering away, it's getting later and later, and the time between when I leave here and when I have to be back is getting shorter and shorter, so ... well, c'est tout. C'est finis. Take your Crayolas and color me gone.

Monday, February 22, 2016

All kinda weirdness

Students in the poetry class were very nearly comatose. I finally had to say to them, "If anything is said about these poems, it has to come from you. I'm not saying anything." They sort of stepped up to the plate, but the silence was about to kill me. I asked them what was going on, and they said it was the struggle of coming back after the break.

Hence my love-hate relationship with that break.

There are, as far as I can tell, about 16 students left in the M/W 101. Seven of them showed up today with papers to work on. Seven. The best students were there, thank heaven, but all the students who are in that "struggling but still capable" category were not. Those who were there did pretty good work--though I felt bad for one of the older students: I paired her with a young man who has turned in essentially nothing, and I highly doubt she got anything beneficial from working with him--nor was she probably able to give him anything helpful, as I doubt he had anything much she could work on.

Miss Confusing was there: the young woman who baffles me (snotty? scared? both? something else?). She started out saying something about wanting to apologize about her paper in advance. I said, OK, thank you--but the apology isn't needed. Everyone is struggling, so we started off with that: what's hard? Why? And essentially I just said, "Yes, you're right. It's hard." I hope simply the confirmation that it truly is hard helps. I think often students assume that, if it's hard, they must be doing something wrong, but in fact they're doing something right.

But I asked Miss Confusing to stay and talk to me for a minute after class. Almost all the other students were gone, and she said, "What did I do?" I said, "It's more what you didn't do..." and I showed her all the zeroes on her record. Suddenly, she seemed very tremulous and afraid, much as she had the first day of class. She looked at the ground and said, in a tiny little mouse voice, "I'm sorry." I explained that I was concerned and wanted to figure out what was causing the problem. I asked a few questions: is it this? "No, Ma'am." (Eyes on the floor.) Is it this? "No, Ma'am." (Eyes on the floor.) Finally, I asked whether she was having a hard time following the assignment schedule, and--still in the tiny mouse voice and looking at the floor--she said, "Yes, Ma'am." OK, I said, let's look at it together. So we did--and I didn't perceive any problems with her understanding the schedule, so I asked if she understood the assignments. She said, "Yes, Ma'am." The only thing she didn't understand was the discussion board posts, so we talked about that a little--and she confessed that she hated them, hated posted anything, even on social media. I explained why they shouldn't be scary--but she said that didn't really help overcome her resistance. I said maybe it was just something she'd have to "white-knuckle" through: just say to herself "I hate this like poison, but I have to do it." She laughed a little at "hate this like poison," and said she'd try. (Mouse voice: "Yes, ma'am.") I said that we probably should check in when we get into the second paper, see how things are going, and I encouraged her to keep in touch with me via e-mail about any concerns, anything--and then I got a flash of the look that reads as angry/disdainful, followed by the flash of what looks like a sneering "smile," and she left.

I have not a single clue what's going on there, which of her demeanors to read. No clue. Well, whatever. I've done my part; now it's over to her.

And I don't know what to expect for Wednesday. Will there suddenly be a bunch of students in the room who think they can submit their essays late? Am I down to seven students? I know that one student--who has been working hard and doing well--was in an "incident" that left her hospitalized for a number of days, and she's not sure when she might be able to return to class: she sent an e-mail to all her professors. I hope she doesn't fall too far behind, as it would be a shame to lose her.

On the other hand, the Bullshit Artist--talks a great game but is lying to himself about just about everything--pulled a 180 today. I ran into him when I was in Advisement: he was in the Center for Students with Disabilities and he told me a story about how his computer "literally" blew up and has been in the repair shop for six days, so he wouldn't have the paper for today. I said OK, have it for me by tomorrow at 6, even if it's only a page or two, just so we have something to go on. Yes, sure, fine--and then he blew in to class with a withdrawal slip in his hand: "I need your signature on this, and then I need to know what to do with it." I told him which parts he needs to fill out; I filled out the part I needed to and signed it, and I said to take it to the Registrar--and reminded him where the Registrar's office is located. I'm now taking bets on whether he manages to complete the withdrawal or ends up with the UW.

I don't mind losing him: all the better. But I am truly saddened that the student in the T/Th class whom I've been so moved by, the divorcing mother who is trying so hard to create a whole new life for herself, is being officially disenrolled--because she didn't provide proof of her immunizations. I don't think there's any recourse there: it used to be that, if the student could present the documentation to the Health Office, he or she could be reinstated, but the information that I got along with the notice that she was being disenrolled seemed to suggest that she's just gone, period, and can't return this semester. I'm not sure how to find out whether it truly is irrevocable: I hope she can produce the needed documentation and return to class, but if she can't, I cannot allow her back. It just seems cosmically unjust to me--but there also isn't a thing I can do about it.

The only other thing to report is that I had a long, long, long conversation with a student in Advisement--really more of a mentoring session than academic advisement. I could--and perhaps should--have cut it short and hustled her out, since I wasn't actually advising her (and I did have a large clump of poetry responses to mark--a clump that is even larger now). But I opted to talk with her, taking the risk that I might have to stay very late tonight to get the poetry stuff marked so I'd still have time to respond to the 101 papers before Wednesday. And since I only have seven 101 papers, even if more arrive tomorrow, I should have plenty of time to mark everything without having to stay late tonight. And that's good.

Tomorrow I have a meeting with the Mystery Enthusiast for my seminar hours, but I think the rest of the day is clear until class at 4. I'll have plenty to do--but I don't need to feel any anxiety now. Which is nice, so I think I'll close on that note for tonight.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Posting on the break

I find I'm checking e-mail sort of obsessively. Two students--one from the problematic 101, one from the poetry class--are "talking" with me about their paper ideas. The poetry paper isn't due until the second Monday after the break, so the fact that that student is already working on ideas is particularly delightful. She wrote initially to find out about the Writing Center, but now she's lobbing thesis ideas in my direction and getting my usual long-winded, question-filled replies.

I need to come up with a name for the student in the 101, as I have a feeling I'm going to be talking about her a lot. She started the semester with a lot of resistance: every time I'd put the students in groups she'd call me over and ask me what they were supposed to do. (It felt a little like the scene in Big when the adult toy developer keeps maliciously saying "I don't get it" as the boy-adult pitches a toy idea.) However, something in one of the articles we read hit a chord for her, and she relaxed: her body language changed, and she seemed much more comfortable talking in the whole-class discussion. Then she sent an e-mail that was filled with questions about the second submission of the essay they're working on--and her questions suggested to me that the problem had been that she was facing a kind of insecurity that she'd never felt before. In class discussion, she said high school was "too easy" (a lot of her classmates had a "What? You're kidding me!" reaction: clearly it wasn't easy for them)--and in her e-mail she said that she heard what I was saying but couldn't quite grasp it, or figure out how to apply what I said to the work she needed to do. She also said--rightly--that the topic "Education" is huge and amorphous and that she was having a hard time figuring out how to approach it.

I wrote a long e-mail back, interlining my responses with her questions--and I immediately started to worry that I'd overwhelmed her with information, so I wrote again and asked her if what I'd said had helped. She said it had, but that she knew she'd have more questions once she started writing. In fact, that's what's happened: although she's getting closer to having a specific focus, she's struggling to nail down her ideas into a debatable thesis. Yes, I told her: that's what happens. That struggle is absolutely right.

So, I've sent another long-winded e-mail, and now I'm waiting to hear back from her with more questions. But I love that she's working on it--and asking the questions. Most of her classmates won't even start to think about it until Saturday or Sunday, and then they'll have no time to go through the struggle she's talking about. I'm proud of her. She's doing great.

But her struggle and the struggle of the student in the poetry class reminds me again of how important it is to explain one particular truth about a thesis. Students invariably think that the way to have enough to say is to have a huge, general idea--and it's the opposite. The tighter and more focused the thesis, the more there is to say, because that precision allows for depth. I use the analogy of a laser beam as opposed to a floodlight: the laser beam can cut through to deeper levels; the floodlight has no particular focus. But I want to come up with a new analogy, one that will make more immediate and intuitive sense.

In any event, these two students are making me very happy right now. I hope I can find a way to use their experience to inspire their classmates. I gave the two 101s my "panic earlier" lecture, but they don't believe it yet. Well, that's part of the learning curve for them. But these two young women are doing precisely that; they're able to panic productively because they're panicking earlier. Good.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Nice, long session in the office

I sort of love Thursdays. I get in between 10 and 11 (closer to 10 if I can manage it), and then I have my seminar hour at 1, office hour at 2:30, but no class until 4. Today, I did have a student for my seminar hour: he's actually in Honors, so smart and articulate and interested and interesting. We started off with a conversation about creating a resume, then about making a transfer application, but then we just started talking about campuses and travel and reading... It was great. It felt like real mentoring: not psychological counseling, not training someone how to be a student, but just getting that ongoing, open, free-form relationship going. It was great.

Then a student from the poetry class showed up at the beginning of the office hour. She already has a degree; she's taking the class because she wants to get additional teacher certification. She's smart and lovely and educated--and again, it was a great conversation. Then, at the very end of my office hour, the student I've been mentoring for a while, unofficially--the one who started in my 101 and is now applying to prestigious women's colleges--showed up: she's revised her personal statement and wanted to know if I could look at it. Again, a lovely interaction with an intelligent, articulate, charming young person.

Absolute gold, all of it.

Class went well--and at the end, one young man came up to confess that he had come to class ready to withdraw, but his classmates talked him into staying. He confessed that he was scared: deeply intimidated by the requirements of the class and unsure whether he could do what's required. I assured him that he was making the right move by trying. I had been less encouraging with another student who wanted to turn in his preliminary essay incredibly late--more to the point, too late for it to do any good, as I wouldn't be able to respond and give him feedback for the next submission, and I flatly refused to take it. But the young man who confessed his fears has real potential, and I want to encourage him.

The last thing was harder but also lovely: I got a rather panic-stricken e-mail from a young woman in the M/W 101, very confused and concerned about how to move from the preliminary essay--which is essentially the kind of thing they are used to producing in high school--to the next step, which moves them closer to an academic argument. She is one of those students who is very "ego-involved" in being a "good" student and is therefore terrified of making any mistakes--and if she does make mistakes, she wants to know exactly how to correct them immediately. Writing the e-mail was very challenging, because I wanted to simultaneously explain the process and my expectations and reassure her that she is doing well. She is: she's a great student. But all semester she's been responding to the class work by saying, "I don't understand what you want us to do." I realize that what's really going on is that she's used to having much more clear, concrete, limited--and easy--tasks, but I'm giving assignments that are a great deal more flexible, open-ended, and for which there is no one correct answer or result. That lack of definition is scary to her, and I understand why. That's why the reassurance was important: I had to let her know that she's supposed to make mistakes. It's part of her job: it's how we all learn. I don't know if she can relax and allow herself to exist in that place of uncertainty, but that's what she'll need to do. I can only hope that my e-mail made sense--and that I was reassuring. Sometimes I say something I think is reassuring and students are either offended or more concerned.

Well, I won't know until I hear back from her--and I hope I do. She's an asset to the class--and come to think of it, a lot of the mood of the class has improved as she's started to relax. She began the semester with a demeanor that suggested doubt and resistance, but in the last few classes, she's been smiling and cheerfully participating the the discussions. I'm still gun-shy about that class, so I'm doubting myself all over the place when I review how I handled that e-mail. But it's done. I can only hope for the best.

I hadn't intended to be here this late, but our new faculty member, whom I am mentoring, wanted to drop by to ask some questions about the politics here and what she could safely engage in, given her very tentative position on the faculty (temporary line, not even on tenure track yet, never mind tenured). I did what I could to reassure her, but we ended up getting into a more wide-ranging conversation--and then Paul turned up: he'd been in the Senate office crafting a response to that document I quoted from the other day, though usually at this time he'd be home in Massachusetts. Then he got involved in the conversation, and it was very hard to drag myself away from that to focus on getting everything nailed down so I can leave.

But I think I'm there. I hope I have everything in my wheelie pack that I need for the Monday after the break: I'll check at some point, so if need be I can make a quick trip here over the break to get whatever I may have left behind. Right now, I wouldn't know whether I have the right bits and orts with me or not: I can't see straight.

I don't know if I'll post over the break: it's possible but not likely. But fear not, o faithful readers! I will be back in the trenches come Feb. 22, barring blizzard or other natural disasters. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Posting late

It's after 8:30 already, and I should be home, but I do want to post--though I'll try to keep it (relatively) brief, just so I can get home.

The debacle here continues. Apparently, at last night's BOT meeting, there was very nearly a brawl--not about the insanity of the "PIP" report that I quoted at length last night, not about the fact that the administration was making insane demands of the degrees (reducing both the Associate in Arts and the Associate in Sciences degrees to only one math and one science (if you did a double take: yeah, you read it right: a degree in math and science that includes only one math and one science)), but about allegations that the presidential search has been tainted. As reported by various sources whom I know and trust, it was either highly entertaining--the way watching "epic fail" videos is entertaining, I guess--or painfully demonstrative of how utterly fucked up this institution has become. Today, the brouhaha continues via the campus e-mail circuits. One desperate soul put out a plea for an end to the finger pointing and vendettas and a call for us all--ALL--to start over in a spirit of collaboration and amity. Normally I'd be firmly in the "can't we all just get along" camp (because I'm either a wuss or a diplomat by nature--or, really, a combination of both). However, what's happening here has gone beyond that point. One cannot speak reason to the unreasonable.

For my own sanity, I will have to write letters to, well, whoever I think will listen. I don't much want to devote the time and energy to it, but if I don't, I won't be able to live with myself.

And for my own sanity, I have to hope that things are so irretrievably broken that somehow there's going to be a demand from an authority that we clear all the slates and start all over.

Finally, for my own sanity, I have to stop running it over and over in my mind for tonight.

So, students. And yes, there's good news.

In today's 101, both the students I'd been worried about as the bad apples spoiling the whole bunch were present. But the class still ran well. I joked--and they laughed. There was a perceptible unclenching in the atmosphere of the class. It started with me being a little more lecture-focused than I like, but I had to get them through the requirements of the essay (and even at that, I decided to hold off on one handout: I'll give it to them when we get to the mechanics review: that will be soon enough). I almost bailed on the little plagiarism exercise that I do with them, but I decided to go ahead with it--and I'm glad I did. They diligently did the work--and they were awake and responsive, in their groups and when we turned to discuss it with the class as a whole. I didn't, as I had planned, go over paper formatting with the whole class: we had 15 minutes left, and I asked them if they could take it in or if their brains were already on overload. Most voted for overload, so I said those who wanted to stay could and the rest could leave. About seven students stayed. I'll run the demonstration again--with the mechanics review.

The only downer was the very smart student who has wanted to bend my ear a lot but who has done zero work so far. He came in to my office hour on Monday, and I gave him advice for what to do to approach the work. He stayed after class to talk to me for "just five minutes"--which turned into twenty-five--because he'd managed to produce one paragraph, "and that was working all night until I just froze up and getting help from two people and" and and and and. He kept making excuses and saying he knew they weren't excuses. I offered advice: everything I suggested either he'd already thought about or couldn't do for some reason--but the upshot was he was telling me that he literally is incapable of doing the work yet that he cannot withdraw from the class. The longer we talked, the more tense and angry he seemed to become--I think because he was hoping I'd have some magic pill that would release him from having to actually come through on the assignments (or that I'd specifically tell him to withdraw so that he wouldn't have to take responsibility for making that decision). I told him that, as far as I'm concerned, he can sit in the class all semester: whether he does any work or not is up to him entirely.

I think it was mostly maddening because he kept saying he already knew what I was going to tell him (in which case, why are we having this conversation?) and because he was saying he wasn't making excuses when all he was doing was making excuses. As Paul pointed out, the student's problem is not how he's reacting to me but that he's lying to himself. But I'm very proud of myself that I didn't lose my cool. I just got more quiet, spoke more slowly and deliberately, and said less. But I did have to come back to the office and rant at Paul for a little while before I could calm down.

Despite that pea under the mattress, the student interactions have been great. I had a lovely interaction with a student in yesterday's 101 that I didn't record. She's not been handing in much work--and after class, she finally stayed for a bit to talk to me about what she's been struggling with. At the end of our conversation, she admitted that she'd been unwilling to talk to me about the problems but had finally decided that she really needed to. I said, "So, you just learned something! When you have a problem, talk to the professor right away." We both were smiling, almost laughing at that point: she was relieved, and I was glad to reinforce that I am there to help. I'm having a hard time conveying how charming a moment it was, but it was the best part of the day yesterday--and went a long way toward making today tolerable.

Tomorrow, I have a mountain of assignments to mark before class. I actually do have a student scheduled for my seminar hour (miracle!) and one or two may show up for my office hour, so I'll need to get here toot sweet and get cracking on the marking if I'm to have any chance at getting it all done. Which means that I really do have to get out of here.

(And that's brief? Ye gods and little fishes. This is what happens when I get my hands on a keyboard.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Not about my students this time

I had some nice moments in class: this T/Th 101 is terrific, and I'm loving working with them, for all sorts of reasons. That part of the day was good.

However, the political situation on campus is going from bad to worse to catastrophically, unbelievably awful. The latest is a document, mandated by the state university system, that was prepared by someone in the Administration, with zero input from the Academic Senate--this despite a very clear statement from the state that the document be produced through the procedures of shared governance. (This is just the latest in a long and increasingly blatant number of times the administration and/or board of trustees have flagrantly ignored--even disdained--the principles and workings of shared governance.)

There is no way I can do justice to the document in paraphrase. I've cut and pasted statements taken directly from the document--our "SUNY Excels Performance Improvement Plan." Bear in mind that the report that contains the following statements has already been officially submitted to the state board and is on the SUNY web site.

 "Faculty positions have long been attractive to females at NCC. Low-cost, high quality childcare is available on campus – although there is currently a wait-list. Vacations are generous as are benefits. The standard commitment of 15-hours of instruction over 30 weeks yields a teaching load of 450 hours per academic year. Working hours are relatively flexible with teaching schedules assigned on the basis of seniority for both full-time and part-time faculty. And the burdens associated with the development of a competitive scholarly publications record are for the most part absent. Perhaps in consequence, females continue to outnumber males throughout the College community. This is not expected to change in the near- to mid-term."

"In short, there are no readily available untapped revenue sources. This is made no easier by the deeply held and profoundly entrenched view among faculty leaders that the College was, is and must remain a 'liberal arts' institution providing but an introduction to a 'world of ideas' sufficient to serve as a foundation for continued study. This was once referred to as the 'junior college' model. Its measure of success would appear to be the rate at which students transfer to 4-year institutions before or after successfully graduating from NCC although in practice little attention has been paid to this this outcome measure."

“However, recent trends give some reason for optimism. Firstly, a significant number of faculty retirements are anticipated - 106 full-time employees have retired this year. While the College’s fiscal situation will not permit all these positions to be replaced with new full-time faculty, some new full-time hiring will occur. Perhaps more importantly, there is likely to be a substantial increase in the availability of new adjunct positions. The College therefore plans to seek increased diversity hiring in its adjunct pool and has developed ways by which its 'interview exchange' database can better support this goal and the academic area deans can assist academic departments to realize the College’s commitment to greater racial and ethnic diversity.”
 
"Increasing program diversity (or mix) to better meet local and regional needs and possibly attract non-traditional and international students will require the support of faculty and union leadership which has proved somewhat elusive to date. In this connection, and regrettably, the College envisions reducing the number of full-time faculty and non-faculty positions in the coming years in order to balance its operating budgets."
I don't think I need to parse that language for you, my readers, to see the affront to faculty generally and to women in particular--as well as to the ideals of a liberal arts education. I simply feel sick. All I can think is, "How soon will I be able to retire?" I'm not kidding. I intend to set up an appointment with my financial planner to see when I can get out. I wasn't planning to retire until I saw the early retirement benefits that might come with the next contract--if then--but I'm reminded of the line my father used at his retirement party, when he was catching some flak for retiring early: "I always thought it was a good idea for rats to leave a sinking ship."

This ship is going down fast, and this particular rat is starting to look pretty frantically for the exits.

No matter what good news each individual day may bring, there is absolutely no way to reframe that so I can feel OK. None.

I'm going home.

Monday, February 8, 2016

I'm gonna regret it...

I didn't get anything done on Friday because of the snow. Tomorrow, I have to review an application for promotion and write the letter, revise the letter I  just wrote for Paul, and talk to one of my mentees about her application, which still needs some moderately significant work, despite the fact that they're supposed to be 99.9% complete.

And I have quite a few student assignments to mark, which I absolutely must return to students this week--because we're off next week, just in time to throw a wrench into an already bumpy start to the semester, especially for my M/W 101.

Speaking of that class, there were about seven of them there today: snow, again. But I will say that the class felt more relaxed and friendlier--perhaps because it was more intimate, given how few of us were there, but also perhaps because the two students I have (perhaps erroneously) identified as sources of negativity were not there. We'll see what Wednesday brings.

This week is just going to be a mad, frantic push, largely because of the promotion applications. Once those are truly complete, life will simmer down significantly, which will be good.

But the collision of the promotion applications needing significant attention with the need to mark student assignments, which are starting to pile up, is a source of some stress.

I should, therefore, stay and work tonight, try to mark some of those assignments. But I'm not going to. I'll just get up early again tomorrow and work my little fanny off to get as much accomplished before P&B and after class as I possibly can. If it comes to it, I'll bail on Advisement on Wednesday. I don't want to do that (I bailed more often than I'd like last semester), but something's gotta give.

The short version is, for tonight, I'm cooked. I've hit the wall. I'm stick-a-fork-in-me done. Please heaven tomorrow will be more productive than today was, and please heaven classes will run more smoothly in the rest of the week than they did today--even though we're supposed to get some snow tomorrow and Wednesday. If the absenteeism continues because of the fact that it's winter, I will have to make some hard decisions about whether to reboot on the assignment schedule or just push on forward and let students fall by the wayside. But my absence or presence is all I care about right now. I can't manage any more presence, so I'm about to absent myself.

Hasta manana.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Students' lives...

I had another long talk with the woman I spoke with earlier in the semester, one of the two "adult" women in today's 101. She's going through a terrible divorce, and she revealed more of the circumstances to me today: it's the kind of situation that would be unbelievable if it weren't actually happening. I've stepped out of my role as her professor in my desire to help her: I have sent a message about her to a lawyer I dated briefly ages ago. I don't know what, if anything, will come of that--and I feel abashed for having transgressed on a couple of boundaries here (the teacher-student boundary, the ex-date boundary, even the lawyer/private person boundary)--but I just can't bear that this woman who is so tremulous and yet so tenacious is going through the hell she's in, and trying to be a student on top of it all.

This happens a lot here. I suppose it happens a lot at every campus, but there's something about the population at a community college that I believe brings with it a lot more serious life difficulties. I've had students who were living in cars, in rehab, shifting from couch to couch among their friends' families, disowned by parents, trying to stay out of jail, returning to life after having been in jail ... I could go on. And they're worried about getting their assignments in on time, or figuring out my zillions of over-written, over-explained handouts.

I have a hard time articulating how I feel about all this. What hits me most powerfully at the moment is that school matters so profoundly to so many of them. I tend to lose sight of that because of the numbers of students who don't seem to give even the tiniest of shits about the educational process, those who flaunt their truculent, arrogant ignorance and resent us for trying to break through it to actually activate their minds. But there are many, many students here who hold on to school as the only lifeline they have, as Ariadne's thread, the only way to escape the maze and the monster--all the hell in their lives--at the center of that maze. I am humbled, and I am reminded, repeatedly, of how privileged I am, how privileged I have been. This education, even just these two years, is, for them, almost literally the difference between life and death. I am speechless in the face of that significance. It almost frightens me, to know that I have a part in how their lives turn out. A small part, I grant you, but to them it seems like all the money is on this one roll of the dice. It is daunting.

Class was OK today. A number of the students hadn't done the reading, so I did what I did with yesterday's class--and they responded about like yesterday's students did. In fact, I'd say yesterday's class went better--I think partly because the students yesterday were so relieved to have the chance to loosen up, whereas the students in today's class are used to it, and felt a little shy not having worked through ideas in their groups first. But it still ended up being a great conversation.

I am, however, very worried about the lack of work. I'm missing lots of key assignments from lots of students, and it worries me. I'm trying to convey that without scaring them into silence and freezing up the chemistry, but it's getting to the point where I am going to have to let them know, in no uncertain terms, how deep a hole they're digging for themselves.

Sigh.

Shifting gears, one of the plagiarists from the poetry class--the one who confessed to having cheated because she was overwhelmed with her course load--has decided to drop my class. I told her that she had probably taken on too much and might have to consider her priorities, and--she reports--after consultation with her parents, she's decided to focus on the science classes that she needs in order to apply to the nursing program at one of the nearby colleges. Fair enough.

I'm feeling a little edgy right now because I haven't done my usual organize and sort prior to leaving the office--but I have to come in tomorrow anyway, so I figure I might as well leave everything where it is until I finish up. I got one promotion application read and the letter drafted; Paul's is next up (I started on it before class but didn't get very far), and then one more. I should also review all the others if I can, just to provide additional feedback to the P&B mentors, but the main thing is to get to the ones I am "responsible" for. I'm worried about one of them: there are still some important changes that need to be made, and they'll require her to renumber everything, which is a snorting pain in the ass, especially when we have so little time left in which to get them nailed down. I hope I meet with her tomorrow, but I'm still waiting to get her response to my e-mail about that.

And since I do have to be here tomorrow and am not sure how long I'll have to stay, I'm going to wrap this up. I might post tomorrow, if anything interesting pops into my head to relate. Otherwise, o my faithful readers, look for a post on Monday--and bon weekend to y'all.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The teaching teeter-totter

So, today I had a harder time with the Poetry class than with the 101. One side goes up, the other goes down?

I was happily marking student responses to the poetry as I sat in Advisement, which was blissfully empty of students for the most part--and suddenly a red flag went up: uh-oh, this student wouldn't use that kind of language. Google search, and there it was: plagiarized. I checked another response by the same student: plagiarized. I checked all the responses by that student: plagiarized. And as I was finding the sources this one student had stolen from, I was starting to see phrases and ideas that I'd found in other students' responses.

At least three students had plagiarized their homework. More may have, but I caught three for sure. God dammit.

I was deeply disappointed--and I told them so. I told them that the plagiarism says to me that they're insecure and afraid to be wrong--when I've been telling them, over and over, from the first day, that being wrong is good, is fine, is wonderful. I told them that--not trying to sound dramatic about it--I actually was personally hurt that they plagiarized: I felt like I've done something wrong as a teacher that, despite my reassurances, they still felt that they needed to resort to cheating. I had planned to go over the plagiarism handouts with them today anyway, but the need was all the more compelling after that.

Of course, I now have serious doubts about their first responses--but one came up to me after class and confessed that she'd been in a time crunch and cheated because she didn't have time to do the work. Fair enough--but maybe then you need to reconsider your course load. She wanted to avoid the penalty of the zero for the assignment, but I told her no: that was going to just be a painful lesson learned--and if she does well with everything else, she won't suffer from it. Another of the plagiarists came to me and said, "Maybe I need to re-do the ones I'd done for today and submit them next class?" Um, yeah, that would be a good idea, unless you want another zero. The third didn't say anything at all. Fair enough.

One of the problems I'm having is that those students want to stay and talk to me after class--and that makes me late to the 101. I had to cut one student off; she's desperately trying to get caught up after missing the first two classes, but she wanted to talk about whether she should withdraw--and that's complicated, requires a whole discussion at this stage in the game. I hope I see her tomorrow during my office hour (the real one, not the "I'm supposed to be in P&B" one)--but I did have to dash.

And I knew I was going to be late to the 101, which got me more agitated than I'd been before. However, I think--maybe, possibly--the reboot worked. They were a lot more responsive today--and were responding to each other. That one young woman has me so tense and jumpy that I'm making things worse: I have to stop trying to figure her out, trying to "reach" her, and just leave her alone unless she wants to participate. Which she did today, and she did a fine job--and I did start to relax a bit with her.

I find my whole visceral reaction to this young woman fascinating. I want to figure out why she has gotten under my skin the way she has, and why I am so compelled to win her over. She's just a kid, really, and doesn't know squat yet, but something about her turns me into the awkward, insecure social pariah I was from 5th grade through 9th. Bizarre, but I realize that's what's going on. Dealing with her feels like trying to deal with the "popular" girls when I was a kid myself. Prof. P, remember that you are in your 6th decade of life, are highly intelligent and well-educated to boot, and have absolute authority in that room.

The other student who has, I feel, contributed to the somewhat toxic feeling in that class was sitting back in the corner of the room texting. Paul would have thrown him out. I should have. I may, next time it happens (because it will happen again). But today, I just thought, "Fine. He's in his own little bubble, and he isn't bothering anyone else, and if he's not learning anything, that's his problem. I don't care if he learns or doesn't, as long as he doesn't screw things up for anyone else."

That should be evidence that--although the whole atmosphere of the class was better than it's been--it wasn't yet a complete and smashing success. There were still a lot of absentees--I have no idea who's really in the class and who isn't--but there's starting to be a core group, and that will work fine.

I think, some time ago, I mentioned the young man who had been either absent or so late he might as well have not come at all, the one I talked to in the hall, the one who had tried to cover over the pot smell on his clothes and breath. He's been e-mailing, as if he's a student who's on top of things, but he wrote to say he couldn't make it to class on a Thursday (he's in the M/W class, remember); he's written to say he has all the work ready--and then follows with an e-mail saying he can't find any of the handouts, which is followed by an e-mail saying he's going to look in the Essay 3 folder (when we're working on essay 1).... He's so completely lost and fucked up that I finally told him that he has to withdraw. He has absolutely zero chance of making it, none, zip. I doubt he's going to want to believe that, but I delivered the news as gently and compassionately as I could. I also said that if there's a situation in his life that is damaging his chances in all his classes, he should look into getting an "Excused" (or administrative) withdrawal from the entire semester, and try again when his life has calmed down. I hate to say it, but he's probably in a gang of some kind--and he's probably facing enormous pressure not to succeed, because then he'd be acting like he's "better than" the people around him.

One of my former students had that problem--and the intensity of it shocked me. She had done beautiful work on an assignment, and I was using her work as an example the next semester. I hadn't removed her name from it--thinking she'd be proud to own the work and to have it held up as a shining model. She was in another class of mine at that point, and she told me that word had gotten out among her circle of friends about it, and they were very upset with her: "What are you trying to do, be white?"

How on earth can I, a middle-aged white woman, counteract that? She absolutely knew what was wrong with what her friends were saying--but they were her friends. More than friends: they were her people, her community, the only support network she felt she had, and if they turned on her, she'd be completely outcast and alone in a world she didn't feel she had any ability--or right--to enter.

A little touch of that came up in today's 101, the way that what our parents expect of us can help or hinder where we go. I told them about my father, who came from a working class background. He was the first person in his family to go to college at all, and he went on to get a Ph.D.--but I think he felt he'd educated himself out of his family. Looking back on it now, I think he may have been partly (and secretly) ashamed of his background. He did deliberately get rid of his Okie accent when he went to college (which worked until he was talking to his family), and I know that he was petrified when he met my mother's family: her professor father and concert pianist mother. But, I said to students, I've just explained why I'm standing up here. It may not have been expected that we'd get Ph.D.s, but it was absolutely unquestioned that we'd go to college. I came to New York originally to be an actor; my mother supported that (it had been her dream, which she'd not fulfilled, so she wanted me to succeed at it for her), but my father had nothing but disdain for it: not practical, a waste of my intellect.

I don't often share that with students, but it absolutely fit into the conversation we were having. I did connect that back to what the students had shared (one who wants to be a graphic arts major but who has been pressured by his family into becoming a nursing major), but I also should talk about how to use personal experience as background for what we study--but to avoid using it as "evidence," unless the writing calls for personal experience (as in the case of the Mike Rose essay, "I Just Wanna Be Average").

In any event, I am almost looking forward to next Monday, to see whether today's dose of antivenin has done the trick or whether I need to keep trying. I won't try much longer, if the toxicity continues: it becomes a losing game pretty quickly. But I do hope the turn-around will work.

I need to bring this post to a close. I "should" have marked more assignments for tomorrow's 101, or started looking at a promotion application for one of my mentees, or done something besides going for the world record in lengthy blog posts, but I needed this time to vent, to reframe, to contemplate. I feel like I can breathe better now than I could when I walked in here after my classes. And that's the purpose of the blog, really: it helps me breathe.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

And I was ready!

I actually was ready for today's P&B: such a good girl, reviewed what we needed to review, wrote the charge I needed to write, all set. And then I spaced the meeting. I was sitting up here, "holding office hours" and working on marking student assignments--but today is Tuesday, not Thursday: I don't have an office hour; I have P&B. I don't know what made the penny suddenly drop, but by the time it did, I'd missed 40 minutes of the meeting--and the continuation of an important discussion of a personnel problem that I'd missed last meeting because I had to leave to go to class. Damn and blast and hell.

And tomorrow I have to meet with the truculent, resistant, borderline hostile (or so it seems to me) section of 101--and confess to them that I've lost whatever I used to record their marks on their first annotations/expanded notes assignment.

Shit shit shit.

I'm trying to breathe through this and remind myself that "I am small, and make many mistakes" (in the words of a Mohawk prayer, as related by Joseph Bruchac): I'm a screwed up mortal like everyone else, and sometimes I just screw up more than other times. I am not a bad person. I am not a bad teacher. I can stop with the hair shirts and self-flagellation.

Full confession, though: that work I did when I should have been in P&B? Man, it feels good to have gotten that done. I didn't do anything huge, but I feel like I've emerged from a cloud of gnats.

Prior to that, we had our "Meet and Greet" for seminar hours, and it went surprisingly well. I was afraid we wouldn't have enough students to make it worth the effort, but the "ballroom" actually pretty much filled up. There were some students who had already signed up, more who were there because they wanted to know more about it; there were a fair number of helpful, friendly faculty, too, putting a welcoming face on the program. The overall net gain wasn't significant, in terms of the number of students we're trying to reach, but it's sure more than we had, and every little bit helps. I'm truly hoping the "tell a friend" network starts to kick in.

I also hope to get some of my own students to sign up: I'm going to make a bigger pitch when the perfect opportunity seems to present itself and hope that some of them realize the benefits of the program. But I do have a lot of other specifically course-related stuff I need to do, so I'm not sure where it will fit in. When I do what is--as usual--a highly improvisational dance, and will be even more so as I try to level out the two sections of 101 in terms of what they understand and their confidence levels.

The mystery of class chemistry made itself manifest again today. The library information session got off to a very bumpy start, as a number of the students couldn't log on to the computers to participate hands-on in the session--and the particular librarian was going way the hell over their heads (and leading them to sites I don't particularly like), so I'm not sure how much they got out of the session. But they were working together, helping each other, bonding like crazy. They're more relaxed and open, so I'm more relaxed and funny, and it's a positive-reinforcement cycle.

So, the big question is, can I somehow manufacture a little more of that, just enough to get the chain reaction growing, in the M/W section? Probably unfairly, and certainly without any justification except a gut reaction, I have identified two students as the source of the primary negativity: one is the maybe timid maybe bitchy student I mentioned yesterday; the other is a young man who has been looking at me with an utterly blank expression, as if he's built a wall against anything I might possibly have to offer. I know not to trust those feelings: too often I've had a student who seemed to me to be rejecting everything coming out of my mouth who not only stays the whole semester but ends up telling me that mine is his (or, less often, her) favorite class and that he's enjoyed every minute.

I keep saying that class is like wrestling mercury: I can't get a handle on it at all, as it slips and shifts and splits off in all directions. But I'm still trying. I wish I didn't have to also be the bearer of bad tidings tomorrow, but I do: a lot of them have not been turning in assignments, so they're already behind the curve and doing irreparable damage to their grades. Time for those early warnings--except the "Academic Progress" function of Banner, which was supposed to go "live" today, isn't functioning yet: it takes me to my classes for last semester (and I'm pretty sure their progress in my classes has ended...).

Well, we'll see what tomorrow brings. I'm hoping I can get the poetry students to loosen up and get more brave and daring; I'm hoping I can begin to turn the M/W 101 around. I'm hoping I win the lottery--which is less likely, as I don't play the lottery.

But, you know, tomorrow is another day. Sufficient unto the day, and all that. Tomorrow is as tomorrow does. Tomorrow isn't now. Now, I'm bundling all my baggage into the car and heading off into the night.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Posting on the fly

I had about four different potential titles for this post, but time got away from me--ain't that always the way?--and now I have to hustle or I won't get to the pharmacy before it closes. So, here's the Cliffs Notes version:

Advisement: uneventful. I got assignments marked. Whew.

Poetry: earnest, hard working--not volunteering a lot. They're still nervous. I need to praise them more for being wrong. I also need to talk to them further about their responses, remind them that the responses are a tool for them to use in pre-writing their papers.

101: Thank god we were in the Library. I don't know what I'm going to do with them. I think the attrition has started already: in some ways that's great (fewer papers to grade); in other ways, it's discouraging (they're so unprepared to work or think). I don't know what I'm going to do with them. I keep "rehearsing" what I might say to them on Wednesday, about rebooting the semester. They were working hard today, but they were still confused. I think they can't believe that they actually get to "drive the bus" as I put it today--and they're afraid they're not ready. (I remember my first time driving at highway speed. White-knuckle scary. It's kinda like that.) I don't want to rant at them, though: I want to reach them. There are some very bright students in the group, and I don't want to lose them. There is one student--the young woman who kept trying to let me know that I was way over time last class--and at first she seemed very timid; now she seems like a nasty little bitch. I'm fully prepared to find out she's neither of the above, but right now, she has me on the alert: I'm not sure whether she's going to become a full-blown problem or whether she'll settle down and be OK.

Miscellaneous: I got some preliminary whacks at a few committee tasks taken care of, just enough so I feel I caught the strand of pearls before it broke, kept the plates spinning just as they were about to crash. The few assignments I have from students for tomorrow's class have been marked. I have more to do to be caught up with assignments (more discussion boards have fallen due), but I also realized that I forgot to record marks for the students from the M/W 101 who already submitted the first real homework assignment. Fuck. I cannot get it together for that class. It's just snake bit. Someone call the doctor, get some antivenin. (Oh, right: I'm the doctor. Fuck again.)

Tomorrow I need to get as much done on promotion folders as I can between/around/before-and-after the Mentoring program "meet and greet," a meeting with the Mystery Enthusiast from last semester (he's now officially on my roster of students to mentor), P&B and class.

The fun just never stops.