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


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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Upsy-downsy

I had to get up extra early this morning in order to get all the papers marked for today's class--and I managed to do that, with a tiny bit of time to spare. The students were, as always, delightful. They're working hard, earnest, taking care of each other, filled with energy and enthusiasm ... it just doesn't get much better.

There are, of course, a few flies in the metaphoric ointment. One student whom I suspect of being a bullshit artist was absent both Tuesday and today--and today there was an e-mail from him saying he didn't want to be gross, but he'd had a stomach bug for more than 72 hours. Uh-huh. Perhaps true, perhaps not, but at this point, it doesn't matter. He asked what he could do, and I made the strong recommendation that he withdraw. He's reminding me more and more of the student I had several semesters ago who seemed bright enough but who had one excuse after another--and ended up A) failing the course and B) writing a self-evaluation in which she first said she'd learned a lot, followed by clear statements that she really couldn't learn anything from my class because she already knew it all. I'm getting the same vibe from this young man: I think he believes he can BS his way through and out of anything--and he's going to be in for a very rude awakening. However, I'm also quite sure that, if he does stay in the class and either gets a D or fails (which is more likely), he will be absolutely certain that the problem is that I'm a bitch.

Which I am, or can be, but that's not why he's likely to fail the class if he doesn't withdraw.

Another student who has lots of promise also ended up falling down on the paper--and has been missing the discussion board posts. He at least is adult enough to acknowledge that he has a responsibility and that he's not fulfilling it, but he's pretty much in the same boat: he has a better chance of passing than Mr. BS, but not with the kind of grade I'm sure he could earn in different circumstances.

Then there's the kid--and he is a kid--who wandered off in a waft of pot smell on Tuesday. He came to class today, but he said he probably needs to withdraw. He's beating himself up about it, that he "should" be doing better. Perhaps he should, but the self-flagellation doesn't help, generally speaking. (I should know: I beat myself up all the time and it doesn't get me much of anywhere at all.) I said I thought he was making a wise decision. Now all he has to do is follow through on the actual withdrawal process.

One young woman was there today--long saga about missed e-mail communications--but I printed her paper from Turnitin, and that printout revealed a fair amount of plagiarism. I'll let her rework the paper, and I won't give her the zero she deserves for this submission--though I'm not quite sure why I made that decision. I'm doing the same for another student, a very sweet seeming young woman who is also in trouble because of absences, in addition to the plagiarism issue.

Nevertheless, the majority of the students who are left are pure delight. Again, I express my gratitude to the gods of class chemistry that this is how I end my work week.

Of course, my desk is piled high with a lot of things I will need to tend to as soon as I can--but that "can" is a very flexible word at the moment. I could take care of some of those things tonight, but I'm not going to. Everything that's sitting there can--and will--wait until next week. That's when I'll start pushing myself to get through the big heaps of whatever.

Now, however, I think I have everything packed up that I'll need for Monday, so I can do the usual pinball thing of Advisement-Poetry-101 without touching base in the office. And that means I'm ready to roll out of here for the weekend. The plants are watered, and I've noodled just about as much as I care to for now.

So, my faithful readers, I'll be back posting on Monday. Bon weekend, y'all.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Well, not disastrous

It was a day. Not good, not bad: just a day.

I was a little worried in Advisement: there were more students than I was anticipating, so I had to struggle a little (and fend off the secretary, who was bugging me about whether I was ready to see the next person) in order to get all the 101 papers marked, but I did get them done. I didn't get the poetry responses done, so I ended up handing a bunch back, ungraded, which is always a bit risky, as the students often forget to resubmit them for the mark. But that's their too bad, I reckon.

There were seven students in the 101 today: the five who had turned in their papers on time, one who had been in class Monday without a paper but submitted late, and one who hadn't been there on Monday but who had a paper for me today (she'd uploaded to Turnitin already). The other who was in class without a paper on Monday hasn't submitted anything--and several other students didn't submit a thing. I realize that the whole mechanics review step is still a mess: I really need to budget more time for it than I want to--or leave it out entirely. What would be optimal would be to get fully revised papers--nice, clean, new printouts--and then for me to mark those for mechanics, return them to the students the next class, and then have the students go off to finalize. But that means
1 day to collect submissions, which I keep "overnight" to mark for revision
1 day to return the submissions with revision comments and for students to start thinking about revision
1 day to collect revisions, which I keep "overnight" to mark for mechanics
1 day to return submissions with mechanics comments for students to take home for a final polish
1 day to collect final polished versions.
That's two weeks plus a day of class time--and I don't want to spend more than two weeks of class time on the process. I've been trying to condense things, but it's just not working. So I have to decide how I want to do it. I could do a mechanics pass on Turnitin, I suppose, but I'm resisting that--and it creates a bit of a time crunch for me, as I'd still have to wait to get the revision submissions before I could mark mechanics.

Oh, it's too complicated to keep trying to explain. But I'm aware that I need to smooth out the process for the 102s next semester.

I had an idea about how to manage the preliminary essay step in the 102s: more than a draft but less than a completed paper. In the past, I've required mini-papers from my lit students, and I'm now thinking I might do that instead of reading responses for the first two papers (one on short stories, one on poetry): two stories, mini-paper, another two stories, mini-paper: decide which mini-paper is stronger and develop it into a full paper. Repeat for poetry. I'd have to consider how to work the novel reading, however, as they really can't write papers of any size until they've read the entire book, but, well, I've just barely started to think about 102s, and I don't have to get them figured out until, well, later.

And for this semester's 101s, well, the mechanics step will just have to be bumpy.

I had hoped to get more of the Thursday 101's papers graded tonight, but a student from today's 101 stopped by: she was my student in 101 last semester and withdrew (at my urging). This time, she made the decision herself--for exactly the same reasons why she had to withdraw last time. I was thinking about the fact that I might need to have "the talk" with her again, so it was a relief that she showed up with the withdrawal slip--but I ended up talking to her for a good while about what would make most sense for her third attempt at the course: whether she should take it over the summer or wait until fall. She started to realize, as I was talking with her, that she has to learn something about herself to make the decision: how she works best, where she struggles, what she needs to do to stay on top of the work. It was, in effect, a mentoring session, even though she won't be in my class any more.

And there's another young woman in that class in approximately the same boat, except I haven't had to gently shove her into withdrawing in a previous semester. But I do need to shove: she must withdraw at this point, as she's in too much trouble to make it.

The student who was there Monday without a paper and AWOL today worries me, too. She's been doing OK until now, but missing this assignment could completely bollix her chances of reasonable success.

Well, we'll see. In any event, I will have to get up super early tomorrow to make sure I have enough time to get all the papers graded before class: I have a number of students coming to see me to talk about revisions, both from the poetry class and from the 101s. (And I just remembered that one of them is a student from tomorrow's class, and I don't have her paper marked yet, so I need to be sure to mark it first thing when I get in tomorrow.) Still, I think I'll be more productive tomorrow. I know it's a risk, but I'm hoping it works.

Shifting gears, I got word from the Timid Intellectual that she was accepted into her second choice school, so she's happy again--and I'm delighted for her. I think this may be a situation in which the cosmos was looking out for her, and for whatever reason, her first choice wouldn't have been right for her and this is really what she needs. I felt relieved myself at her good news; I didn't want her to suffer any more blows to her self-esteem, which needs to be supported. Good news, good news.

But I've been rebounding off the wall for a while here (and even M&Ms didn't help), so I'm going to head off into the gloaming and call it today. And I'll call tomorrow another day.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

coming apart at the seams

Ah, Christ, they're all falling down. There were a few more students in today's class, only one without a paper, but a lot of students were AWOL--and for both classes, I'm missing important portions of their submissions. I need to decide whether to be a dragon about it and refuse to accept anything at all or whether to grant a little mercy--albeit with a whopping grade penalty.

I also realized that one of the handouts didn't make the steps clear for students. I knew what it all meant, but they're still trying to understand the whole process of revision as one step and mechanics (editing) as another. So I've just reworked the "assignment" sheet for that portion of the process--which took a lot longer than it should have.

And I have a shit-load of marking to do. I'm pretty sure I'll be OK for tomorrow's class; I'm more worried about Thursday's, as I'm now meeting with some students Thursday morning to discuss revisions. Well, I'll see where I am at the end of the day tomorrow.

I feel phenomenally frazzled; that's one reason why tonight's post is going to be unusually brief. The other is that I have to leave very soon to meet Ed and Paul for dinner. But I do want to report that I ran into the Timid Intellectual today; she'd hoped to find me in my office, but I was on my way to class. She was very upset that she'd been rejected by the college she most wanted to get into--and I completely empathize. It's an awful feeling. But I told her that the other place where she applied may still accept her--and if she's absolutely set on the program that turned her down, she can meet with someone there to discuss what, if anything, she can do to make her application stronger so she can reapply next year. I wish I'd been able to talk to her longer; I truly want to help her find the intellectual home that is best for her--and I want to help her contextualize this painful rejection in a more positive light. But I couldn't do that in a 3-minute conversation on the sidewalk. I hope she can come to see me some other time so we can talk about it.

Argh, I'm out of time--as I still need to make some photocopies before I leave tonight. I guess the students aren't the only ones who are coming apart at the seams, but jesus, I do despair about the trend of this semester....

Well, more tomorrow. Hopefully more light and happiness, too.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Break's over...

It feels excessively bizarre to be back on campus--especially knowing that we now have a long push without benefit of any further breaks before the end. I also know that it won't be long before I'm wailing in blog posts about how quickly time is passing and how much I have to get done and how I don't know how I'll ever manage (plus ca change and all that), but right now, it just looks like a slog.

The poetry class was OK today; I'll be very curious to see how Wednesday's class works out, as I've given them a "student choice" day. Two students want to bring in their own poetry to have the class read and analyze; the rest want to simply review bits that we didn't cover well enough (or at all). Fine by me. I did get a few to sign up for conferences with me regarding their paper revisions; those conferences will be interesting too.

The 101 was typically rather disastrous: seven students were there, five of whom actually had papers with them. They did a little peer review, but it didn't seem very productive. I also just spent some time looking at their discussion board posts: dismal in the extreme. If I have time between now and the next class, I'm going to do the reality check thing: figure the math for where they are right now and give them a target number, so they know if the math is in their favor in terms of passing the class. Most are going to get much lower grades than they might otherwise because of the missing discussion board posts--but that may be part of their learning curve.

By contrast, of course, the discussion board posts by the other class are terrific--and actually include discussion.Thank heaven I have that class to look forward to.

In any event, I'm expecting to have eight, maybe nine papers to grade for Wednesday--but I don't dare think I'm out of the woods in terms of amounts of marking to do, as I need to have time on Wednesday to at least start the work for Thursday's 101, or I won't get those ready in time.

Fortunately, there will only be one more big push like this, right at the end of the term. Between now and then, just cranking along as usual.

I'm tired and restless and hungry now, however, and want to just get out of here and get home. Maybe I'll have more patience to post tomorrow, but probably not, especially as the plan is to have dinner with Paul and Ed tomorrow evening, which may truncate posting time. But I'll be back at it, no doubt, in full gory detail, starting next week. I do have lots I want to share, stuff I've been thinking about, but not tonight. I'm heading for the hills in 5, 4, 3...

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Saved by my 101

After a beautiful, leisurely start to the day, at 3:15 I went downstairs to have a little preliminary meeting with Bruce: he, Cathy and I had to meet with an adjunct whose syllabus was alarming. The main point of concern is that the guy is teaching from a volume on Victorian Literature in ENG101--beginning composition--and that among the required readings is a selection from Sartor Resartus. (I inaccurately told Paul they have to read the whole thing--but still: Carlyle in a freshman comp?)

The meeting started out with a lot of rancor, and with Bruce and the adjunct getting increasingly loud. The adjunct had brought a union rep with him--which is utterly fine--and mercifully the union rep stayed out of the fray, but the whole communication was going from bad to worse, and the adjunct very clearly said that he hadn't been aware of our textbook policy, but that now that he knew, he'd be happy to use one of the specified texts. I jumped in and managed to calm things down, because I started to think that perhaps we were nailing this guy for stuff he legitimately didn't know. (I still have problems with the very notion that he thought he could teach Sartor Resartus, but he was willing to give it up, so, OK.) After I talked for a while, Bruce very magnanimously said that he had to take responsibility for a lack of clear communication with the adjuncts over changes in policy--or even creation of policies--and he outlined his idea for how to make sure that all the adjuncts know exactly what's expected in each class (which was part of a chaotic and, for me, stressful P&B meeting on Tuesday).

But then Cathy intimated that the adjunct might be pretty hide-bound and unwilling to change. He denied the charge--and things fell apart all over again, with each of them demanding an apology from the other...

And I was frantically looking for an opportunity to say, "I'm sorry; I have to go teach a class." By the time I did, I was running quite late.

Fortunately, Ed is here, so I could unburden myself to him all the way across campus--and Cathy just now called to apologize to me for upsetting the apple cart in that meeting, but it was one of those situations when a person just can't sit silently and not make disdain known. The union rep and Bruce got things calmed down and apparently all is now well.

In any event, when I got to class, I told the students I'd just been in an upsetting meeting and might need a minute to shake it off. They were curious about the meeting, so I told them just enough so they'd understand that it had to do with a completely different part of my job--and then we started talking about documentation and MLA versus APA.

And that's when it got good. As soon as I started talking, they were taking notes, writing down what I was putting on the board--asking questions for heaven's sake, can you imagine? It was great. Then I put them in groups to talk about the article--and as I was mixing up the groups, I booted the pot smoker who had come to class and promptly fell asleep. I'd even asked the student sitting next to him to elbow him awake at one point, and he promptly fell asleep again. I simply said that I'd see him after the break; he tried to do the "no, no, I'll stay awake" thing but I insisted: I'll see you after the break. (And Mr. Maybe Snarky said, "That was cold blooded; that was really cold-blooded." Ah, well, I have to maintain my reputation as the evil bog monster from hell.)

They did great with the article, animated discussion, conversation--Ed eavesdropping on one group, three of the best students in the class, loving what they had to say--and I could probably have stretched the discussion out a little longer, but instead, Ed and I did a little tango demonstration for them. I prefaced it with the fact that we're both students, so we would make mistakes (which we did)--and they absolutely loved it.

Nice. No, better than nice. Utterly, totally beautiful. And it completely changed my mood: I left the classroom happy and energized and loving what I do.

Which is a good note on which to end. I won't be posting over the break--unless something highly unexpected arises--and posts in the week after the break (when Ed will still be here) may be shorter than usual, but I'll be back at it on March 28. I'll check in with you all then.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Soooo much better!

I rolled the dice twice this morning: I did not get up extra early, and I did go to Advisement. I still got all the papers marked before the Poetry class--but only because I was granted a reprieve by a student who e-mailed to say she was unwell and wouldn't be in class. I'm sorry she's not well--not only out of pure human sympathy but also because she's one of the best in the class in terms of having something to say--but I did heave a sigh of relief about the time I was given. I needed every second of the time, too, but done is beautiful.

I also have to say that my threat worked. After I got all my record-keeping sorted out, I told them that the deadly silence we suffered on Monday wasn't going to happen any more. I gave them two options: work in small groups first, then talk with the class as a whole, or we stay in the circle but after I read the poem aloud, the students have one minute--timed--in which to begin responding. If the silence goes on for more than one minute, I just move to the next poem. None of them wanted to work in groups, so, OK. I read the first poem and looked at my watch. After a little time passed, I glanced at my watch again. It hadn't even been 30 seconds yet, but one student was sort of stampeded by the idea that the minute might be up and she leaped into the silence. Aces. Beautiful. Reasonably good discussion. I read poem 2. Glanced at my watch--this time not even 15 seconds had gone by, and someone else jumped in. Better and better. After that, I didn't have to wait: someone was ready to talk.

And we were reading some fierce poems today: the theme is "Finding Women's Rage: Second Wave Feminism"--and since the class is predominantly women, hoo-boy did that scratch where we all itch. They loved the poems. Love them. The one young man who was there today said he was OK with being around a bunch of women who were grooving on the piss-off, and indeed, he seemed fine with it. In fact, reading Margaret Atwood's poem "A Women's Issue," which details ways in which women's sexuality has been turned into a locus of torture and masculine control, he said, "Who came up with this shit??" Good question, but it all started so far back, there's almost no way to know for sure. But the female students started to get lit up by the poems. Nice.

The 101 wasn't as torturous as I was afraid it might be, or as it sometimes is. I did go over documentation with them, pointing out how MLA and APA have similar requirements but then how APA is different. No one fell asleep, and several asked good questions. Then we talked some about the article they'd read--which is quite short and more simple to follow than the last (but also, I thought, a bit long on the "yeah, yeah, we know" factor). But they had read it, were willing to point out specific details that struck them in one way or another. Nothing exactly scintillating went on, but it wasn't deadly. I'll take it.

When I left last night, I was in a flat panic about what I needed to get done--but now I'm much more relaxed. The biggest burden of "must do right now" I finished; the rest can wait and will get done in due time. I'm still figuring logistics/scheduling of conferences with the students, but I realize that doesn't have to happen immediately either--neither the conferences themselves nor, as a consequence, my figuring out the logistics. So, I'm remembering how to breathe, which is always a nice thing.

The last piece of relief is the result of the Middle States review board visit to campus. Of 14 areas for evaluation, our campus was found to be deficient in 7--all of them having to do with the administration and board. I just heard, in fact, that the Middle States chairman specifically said that the board is a problem: they need to be trained so they understand the purpose of educational institutions, their role in shared governance, the "culture" of an educational institution.... Slap, slap, slap, slam. I feel a sense not only of relief but triumph about it: vindication, that's the word.

Of course, we don't know what the ultimate outcome will be: there's a whole reporting/response process that has to go on, so what happens to our accreditation won't be known until June, but still, it's absolute manna to feel we've been heard and understood and are being supported in our positions. What will come of all of it remains to be seen, and it's an open question what the university system and chancellor will decide to do about the fact that the board is seen as a central part of the problem (since god knows the board will not change their behavior one iota; they don't give the tiniest little shit what the Middle States team had to say), but things are looking up. (I hope the image from the Sandra Boynton cartoon shows up... )

And with that, much to my amazement, I think I'm done for the day. I'll do a little more noodling organizational whateverthehell and then you can take your Crayolas and color me gone.

Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Just systemically cranky

The other day I was kvetching in Advisement, and one of the professional advisers said, "Well, you don't have cancer!" True. And she does. So I keep trying to remember to keep things in perspective.

Nevertheless, I was just in a cranky-ass mood all day, and the events of the day didn't help. I was slogging away at papers--and still have too many to mark tomorrow, but I simply can't do any more tonight. I'm on the fence about whether to go for that early alarm again or pray like mad that it's completely deserted in Advisement and I can work without interruption. Or take another "sick" day (as in, "I'm sick of having to grade these papers"). Earlier this evening, right after class, when Paul and I checked in with each other, we both were so agitated we were feeling sick to our stomachs: maybe that's enough justification for a sick day. Fuck, I don't know. I'll decide in the morning.

The main thing is that I'm trying like mad to clear the decks so I can walk into the break with nothing tangling around my ankles--and I'm trying even harder to keep Thursday free of encumbrances, but the encumbrances keep cropping up. I am bailing on a meeting of the Seminar Hours committee--with the gracious permission and understanding of the chair of the committee (whom I respect and admire, and like very much as a person)--but I got a call today from one of the office staff asking if I could join Bruce on Thursday when he meets with a problematic adjunct. It's my job, and it is important that I be there; the only wrinkle is that the meeting is at 3:30 and my class starts at 4, so I won't be able to be there for the whole thing. Bruce knows that, and it's important that I'm there for at least part of the meeting, but it does mean I'll very likely be heading into class agitated.

That's what happened today--and the class was completely leaden and flat. These are the "good" 101 students, mind you; I was truly counting on them to lift me out of my doldrums, but they were all so beaten up themselves, we simply went down the tubes together. I really do need to put them into groups: that particular class still has enough students in it to justify groups, and neither working in a circle nor working just with the students scattered throughout the rows of desks is conducive to the kind of work these students can do. So, Thursday? Groups. I do have to start with a thing on APA style and documentation (BOR-ing), but then, groups.

Shifting gears, I'm slogging through the poetry papers now, and they're the usual mixed bag. A few are very good indeed. A few are a mess. One is the maddening kind of paper where grandiloquent verbosity substitutes for actual thought--and those are particularly difficult to address, as the student really believes that there is an idea in all that murk. I have purposely saved the two I hope will be the best for last, but there's still a bunch in the middle to slog through. There may be some happy surprises there (one can certainly hope), but I'm not expecting much.

Sad, but true.

Oh, yeah, and then there's the fact that I'm supposed to be a participant in a round-table discussion on Friday at a conference and I haven't so much as peeped at the abstract I wrote. I do think I can get by without writing up anything formal (gawd, I sure hope so), but it might not be a bad idea to have some sense of what I actually want to say. Too bad I'm subject to car-sickness, or I'd try to scribble something on the way up to Connecticut.

Well, c'est la guerre, I suppose. "Strangely enough it all turns out well." "How?" "I don't know; it's a mystery."