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


Hi! And you are...?

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

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






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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Posting in a hurry

I don't actually have a lot to report from today. It was generally a productive day, with no sense of being prodded down the cattle chute. This is, of course, the up-side of having so few students left. The down-side is, well, I have so few students left.

It just occurred to me that there are actually two young women in the M/W 101 who have been borderline hostile and then occasionally sunny/friendly. One of them has missed the majority of the assignments and has done a crappy job on the ones she's submitted. I think I may have driven her off--albeit unintentionally--as on her preliminary essay I said that at some point she'd have to abandon high-school writing tactics. Whether she's slunk away in shame or is too angry with me to continue, she wasn't in class yesterday. The borderline hostile student I referred to yesterday is actually a very good student: she started the semester saying that everything confused her--looking for the kind of rigid structure high school provides--but now she's more synced in with the work. And the meeting with her today was great. She was pretty quiet--sometimes students really open up one-on-one, but she didn't--yet I think she got something helpful out of our conversation. It was almost exactly like the work I do in Advisement, except that she's my student, and I didn't have all my Advisement forms (which I'd have liked, actually: they're very helpful). She did smile a few times, and she seemed slightly more personable than she often is in class. I don't quite know what to make of her even yet, but that's OK. I'll either keep working with her, in which case she may eventually open up, or I won't. Either way suits me fine.

I had a good meeting with the Mystery Enthusiast, too. He has gotten permission from his professor this semester to submit yet another story for one of his papers for the class--but he's been given clear parameters. Obviously the idea is that he has to demonstrate that he understands the hallmarks of a specific subgenre (the horror mystery; the police procedural; the locked-room mystery)--and he does know some of those hallmarks, but his tendency is toward the kind of wild imagination that might potentially strain credulity. In any event, he had an enormous idea for the second story, but his professor (wisely) has given him some page limitations as well as the subgenre parameters, so we discussed how he might narrow the scope of the story he wants to tell.

And talking to him, it suddenly occurred to me that he'd probably love the Modesty Blaise books by Peter O'Donnell. (I know Sam's ears just perked up.) I'm going to get him one, maybe two (the first of the straight-up novels and one of the graphic novels, since the Enthusiast loves manga.) I'm half-tempted to read the books again--even though what made me think of them was the whole "straining credulity" thing. Last time I read them, I was snorting in derision--but they're still entertaining enough.

I got a decent run at the summer scheduling, too, but Bruce wasn't in today: one of his dogs is dying, maybe was put down today, so Bruce stayed home. I got to the point where I really need to run some ideas past Bruce to proceed, so the rest will have to wait until next week.

I'm sure I'm leaving out things I could mention, but this is enough rapid patter. Now, I have to go to that dinner for the retirees. I'd infinitely rather go home (introvert that I am), but I'll make nice with my colleagues--and since I've already packed up the Monday stuff (as well as whatever I need to mark over the weekend, and yes, I do need to mark stuff over the weekend), I can simply roll out the door....

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

AND ... I found my travel mug

So today was set to be the usual Wednesday experience: time in advisement ("it is what it is"--a phrase I detest, but I confess that there are occasions when it is apropos), Poetry class (gawd), 101 (worse than that). Those experiences were as expected. Two of the more talkative (and astute) students from the poetry class were not there today, so it was particularly painful; four--count 'em, four--students actually showed up with essays, three of them late. (The one who was on time? The guy who's seemed borderline hostile all semester but who will, occasionally, condescend to smile.) A fifth student showed up very very late, didn't have her paper printed, went to print it, and came back with (drum-roll, please) two pages (five being the required minimum for this assignment).

Sigh. Whatever. I got some assignments marked. It won't take me long to mark those five submissions. I don't have to struggle with them much longer.

The borderline hostile female student--who surprised me with the cri de coeur e-mail that I reproduced in a post a while back--is going to come see me tomorrow, but when I asked her to select a specific time, she acted as if I were imposing a ridiculously onerous restriction on our meeting. I'm going to be extremely curious to see what it's like to talk with her one on one. I have absolutely no idea who will show up: the hostile student with the sneer or the student who is turning to me for help (or some chimera of the two?).

I have to see them four more times. That's six too many. But I'll survive.

However, the real saving grace of the day was my meeting with a student from the poetry class. She arrived at 5--and we talked until almost 7. I think I may have mentioned her before. She started the semester late and was worried about whether she should withdraw. Probably she should have, as her grade is not going to be stellar (and she wants to go to law school), but she's stuck it out, and a while ago she met with me to talk about how to improve her responses. They improved briefly, then began to slip back into the old pattern of simply paraphrasing/summarizing the externals of the poem, rather than engaging in any analysis.

We talked about that for a bit, but she also wanted to talk about revising her second paper--which was pretty disastrous, I have to say. The two big problems were 1) she was focusing on what a "reader" might experience, not on analysis of the poems and 2) her interpretation of the poems completely missed the barn. (A reference to the movie Cat Ballou, when the drunken gun-fighter played by Lee Marvin is supposed to hit a target painted on the broad-side of a barn ... and hits the weather vane.)

So, we spent most of that almost two hours working through the poems she had used for her paper (poems about poetry), working--pulling impacted "wisdom" teeth--to get to an analysis that made any kind of sense. I had to keep taking her back to, "And how does that relate to the other poem we talked about?" "And how does that relate to the previous stanzas?" "So, what is the poet saying about poetry?" Over and over and over. She's mastered the art of nodding and saying "Got it," but when I'd ask her to say what she got, she didn't, in fact, have anything substantial. Bless her pea-pickin' heart. Eventually, gradually, she started to have some ideas she could hold onto.

Then the last of our meeting was spent talking about how she could manage the fact that her sentences turn into word salad. I opened her second essay and read a sentence at random--and her eyes popped. "What on earth did I even mean?" (Honey, I sure as hell don't know if you don't.) My recommendation: find an amanuensis. She said her dad could help her. Fine, but he only writes the actual words you say. He can ask you questions, like "what do you mean by that?" or "where does it say that in the poem?" or "didn't you just say ...?" But you have to explain your ideas; you have to find the words that make it make sense.

We'll see what the outcome is, but even if the outcome is not much of a payoff for the time and energy I expended, I'm still glad to have expended the time and energy. She got something out of our meeting, even if what she got doesn't bear fruit for years.

So, that made the whole day worthwhile: it's a win of a day, especially as I also found my travel mug. Yesterday, when I was getting ready to leave home, I realized I didn't have it, and I couldn't figure out where it might be. I e-mailed to see if I'd left it in my cubicle in advisement--but no. I was about ready to order a new one, when I suddenly thought, "Maybe I left it in the bathroom of the building where Advisement is?" As I walked into that building on my way to Advisement this morning, there was my mug: not in the bathroom but perched on top of one of the drinking fountains. Howdy howdy hooray! That's about as good as a Wednesday can get. I'm taking that and going home.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Feels SOOOOO good!

My god, it's a minor miracle. I have almost completely cleared the decks. This won't last long--only until tomorrow--but for right now, it's a little slice of heaven. Not only did I easily get everything marked for today's class, I marked everything to return to the Poetry students tomorrow, and I got all my P&B business done (for now). I even took a moment to order the books for the Science Fiction course for the fall--making up my mind on the fly (Frankenstein, yes, though I'll probably have them skip portions; Windup Girl, no, though I wish I could still do it; still the first two of the Maddaddam trilogy--despite the struggle (and the possible overdose on Atwood); keeping The Word for World Is Forest, despite, well, everything). Although I'm only going to order two books for the 102s--The Left Hand of Darkness and a handbook--I haven't made up my mind about the handbook: I've become disenchanted with the one I've been using for the 101s, though I'm not entirely sure that a better alternative exists. Still, this is a benefit to my Evening Supervisor position: I have access to the texts ordered for the adjuncts, so I can take a look at those to see if any of them seem worthy.

In terms of fall, I do still need to make up my mind what I'm going to put into the photocopied readers for 102: I want to make some changes from what I've used in the past, as I've mentioned before--especially to the poetry selections--but right now I'm still trying to stay on top of this semester, not worry too much about the fall. I do have to make some decisions relatively soon, however, so the copy center has time to make the packets for me. And I need to get more copies made of Le Guin's Paradises Lost for the SF class (yeah; I'm keeping that one, too). But later for all that.

When I went down for P&B today, I was reminded of a pearl that wasn't going to fall through the floorboards--it's far too big--but that I had certainly conveniently forgotten about: I need to do the preliminary scheduling for summer classes. The request forms were sitting on the table in Bruce's office, prominently front and center. That's what I'll be doing on Thursday, around any visitations from students.

Speaking of such visitations, the Mystery Enthusiast missed his "mentoring" appointment today--but, thinking he might arrive, I did read the story he wrote for his professor this semester. It's quite charming. I could pick nits with it, of course, and if he were in a Fiction Writing class of mine, I would--but I'm happy just to praise him and stoke his (already rather large) ego a bit. Why not? There will be plenty of times when people work to cut him down to size, and he'll face plenty of rejections; I don't need to play that role right now. And it is truly charming. Logical? Holds up to serious scrutiny? Probably not--but he certainly understands the genre, which is good enough for now.

And class today was, of course, delightful. Students were willing to share their sources, what they've found, why they think it will be valuable--and after we talked a bit about their forthcoming papers, I followed up on a promise I had made last class, that I would share a "mindfulness" exercise with them. I'd brought in a portable player and a CD of "coherence breathing" that I own (which I should use more regularly for my own stress management). I coached them into correct posture, what to do when the mind wanders, visualizing something as a method to maintain focus--and then I played part of the CD: a track that is just a tone and a ticking sound to control the length of inhale and exhale. One student was a little anxious--she opened her eyes a few times, as if to make sure she was still doing the right thing--but the rest simply settled into it. I did a little of the breathing myself, but I kept my eyes open, and it was beautiful to see their faces relax, the expression of deep inward focus. I only let it run for five minutes, and they loved it, would have loved to have it go on longer (and were, in fact, surprised that it had been five minutes: it seemed shorter to them).

I truly love working with them. I'm going to be sorry to have that class end. But in another nice development, one of the best students from the stinky M/W 101 has also signed up for one of my 102s in the fall--in the same section as the Mensch from the T/Th class. How I'd love to cherry-pick my students! Instead, I can only hope that both 102s in the fall are at least reasonably OK--nothing as disastrous as that one class this semester. (I also looked at the enrollment for the SF class: five students so far, not one of whom I recognize, though one name looks very faintly familiar, and I wonder if he's a student who was in the class but withdrew last semester.)

And yes, I notice how hard it is for me to stay focused on now, despite what I said above about the focus on this term being sufficient.

So, all in all, a good day. And I won't mind if Advisement tomorrow is a continual parade of students. Paul said that today he dealt with a discouraging number of lunk-heads, the type who want us to do all the thinking and all the work for them, and I grant that there are days when we have to gasp our way through a lot of bozone. But whatever. I hope tonight's feeling of chipper calm lasts through tomorrow.

And on that note, I want to get out of here. I won't feel quite so calmly chipper when I practice the violin (ow ow ow ow), but perhaps the fact that I have this mood to take into practice with me will help the process be slightly less painful. Whatever practice is like, whatever the next days are like, the semester is all but done, thank god. That's reason to be chipper right there.


Monday, April 25, 2016

P&B-ing

I have a few more papers to mark for tomorrow's class, plus some homework for the Poetry class that I want to return on Wednesday, but tonight, after I let the students go (insanely early, as they had nothing to say), I ended up trying to get some P&B stuff out from under my feet. I have several reports to write--they're brief, but they do require a little thought--and that observation to write up, plus it seems there were several things I wanted to bring up to the committee, and I need to spend a little time tomorrow trying to figure out what they all were and writing them down so I'll remember once I'm actually in the meeting.

I was so exhausted leaving class that I thought I'd leave here before 5:30--but I realized that I'd forgotten I have an office hour from 5 to 6:15. And as I was sitting here getting a last thing or two done, a student from the Poetry class showed up for an appointment that I'd forgotten.

(Um, my name is, um, um, um ... what was the question?)

I do enjoy meeting with this particular student, though, so it's a treat when she comes to the office. She was pretty shaky at the start of the semester, her responses marginal at best, but now she's got a good handle on things and is doing a great job. She wanted to talk about the revision for her second essay--which was a bit of a disaster, clearly not her best work--and then I think she just wanted to chat a little, but I didn't have the energy to propose topics of conversation. One nice moment was when she said that she loved the grade calculation sheet: it's nice to know at least one person likes one of the tools I provided.

But mostly, I am ridiculously tired and for absolutely no reason that I can determine. I can't come up with anything tremendously scintillating to share today--except that the best I can come up with for a cheering thought for the day is that I only have to meet today's 101 class five more times. That's six too many, but we're ticking them off....

I probably "should" hang out a while longer to get some more P&B stuff crossed off the list, but I'm truly out of oomph. Early as it is--not quite 7 yet--I'm going to fold my tents ("tense," in the parlance of Le Guin's novella Paradises Lost--and when I leave, I do try to fold my tension away). Maybe I'll have more to say tomorrow.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Not even close

This was a "Let's go to Plan C" sort of day. I set the alarm for 6. When it went off, I promptly reset it for 6:45 (my usual wake-up time). No "early to campus" for me. I got here at about 10, which gave me 50 minutes in which to mark assignments before I had to go to advisement. I don't know why I got so little accomplished in that 50 minutes, but I shoved everything into the bag that I schlepped across campus--and although I took everything out of the bag, I didn't do anything else with it. There were two students waiting to be seen when I came in, and as I was talking to the second, there was a deluge of students. I don't know what accounts for the sporadic nature of the crowds, but if I time it just wrong...

The last student I saw in Advisement ran me past my quitting time, so I was later than I'd expected getting to the office. I sat down, and Paul arrived, breathless from his ASEC duties. We talked for a while (because, well, really, how can we not?)--and I had just turned back to work when the Timid Intellectual showed up, mostly just to check in. We'd not talked in person since she'd been devastated by being rejected by Smith--not since she'd had the elation of then being accepted by Mt. Holyoke. And it turns out, that same week of being whipsawed by the rejection/acceptance, she'd also gotten the news that a therapist she'd had a very close bond with had suddenly and (to my student at least) unexpectedly died. I could have hustled her out of the office, or asked her to wait until my official office hour, but I enjoy talking to her too much to deny myself the pleasure.

End result? I managed to get all the preliminary versions of the final essay marked, plus the attendant homework, but their final versions of the second essay--or seven of those anyway (out of ten)--remain ungraded.

Guess what I'll be doing with at least part of the weekend?

Class was great--as usual, with this group. The conversation followed a number of rabbit trails through the underbrush, getting far from the ostensible track of the class, but it was fun. After class, I gave one student a hard time: she had e-mailed her preliminary essay to me, but I didn't get it (which she should have known, if she'd checked for a response). I had to do the "scare the student" thing, reminding her that my late paper policy is in the syllabus, that it says I do not accept e-mailed assignments, that it specifies how late a paper can be and still be accepted (and that she's past that deadline)--and that, no, the fact that you were sick doesn't mean you can simply submit the assignment the next time you're in class. ("Are you still in high school?" "No..." "OK then.") I agreed to accept it--mostly because I want her to have a chance at doing well with the final paper overall--and she was aware that I was giving her a gift, and she was grateful.

And the Mensch--the young man who did a mitzvah (and does them regularly, it seems, specifically in terms of providing help and support to other young people in emotional crisis)--stayed after class to talk. He didn't have anything in particular to say; he just wanted to connect, I think. I'm happy with that.

Back in the office, I decided to respond to discussion board posts--in part because the Mensch is now participating in them, after struggling to keep on top of them for most of the semester. I wanted to reward that--and I wanted to see the video he'd posted about multitasking (fun, interesting). That took a good while, and not much to my surprise, there were almost no posts from the M/W class, but many--from everyone in the class in most cases--from today's class. (And that encapsulates the difference.)

After that, I checked e-mail--and received two delightful surprises. The first was contact from a young man who was my student back in 2007, in a section of Nature in Literature, I'm pretty sure. (I remember him vividly--he was quietly brilliant--but I'm less sure which class he was in.) In any event, he kept in touch for a while, then dropped off the radar. He's now getting his doctorate at St. Johns; he's enrolled in a course on teaching World Literature, and he wanted to see my syllabus for Native American Lit so he could use it as a model for what he hopes to do, as he plans to include Native American texts from both the U.S. and Canada (so I suppose that would be Native American and First Nations texts, if we use the parlance of the U.S. and Canada for indigenous people). I'm honored to be asked, and delighted to have him crop up again. One of my little fledglings, all grown up (though he seemed quite grown up even when he was my student).

The other surprise was an e-mail from the young woman in the M/W 101 who has often seemed so hostile to me. She contacted me because she wants some academic advisement as well as some career advice. I'm astonished that she'd reach out to me for that kind of help, but I'm delighted to provide it.

I feel compelled to quote her e-mail, as a number of things strike me about it. She wrote:

"This doesn't have anything to do with the class but I am kind of lost and new to everything and I am not getting much help from the school, so I don't know who else to ask. I remember you mentioning that you work in advisement and I was wondering how that all works because the adviser i met with when i applied wasn't much help so what would i have to do if i wanted to meet with you, because i would rather peak with someone i somewhat know and would feel more comfortable speaking to but my friends told me that it works randomly by appointment. Also, if I want to get help with career advise is there someone i can speak to. Sorry I know this isn't relevant at all and if you could just tell me where I need to go or who i need to speak with for more information id appreciate that."

I do notice the lack of capitalization and punctuation (and the misspellings), which I would normally find irritating in the extreme, but the fact that she says she feels lost touches me; that confession, coming at the start of her message, says to me that she's writing from the heart, and for a young person, that means all the formalities of written texts are immaterial. Also, the fact that she'd rather speak with someone she knows points directly to what we've been saying all along about seminar hours: our students want to work with us. Her apology at the end strikes me, too, as if the only reason I'd talk with her is if it directly relates to class--and this despite everything I said about what mentoring is for.

I'm glad we're looking at a whole new model for seminar hours for fall--even though putting together the new model will be a challenge and sure to be filled with unexpected domino-chains or matryoshka of problems.

But now, o my foes and o my friends, today's candle is just about burned to a puddle, so I'm going to pack up and head for the hills.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Another torturous Wednesday crossed off...

I cannot, cannot, cannot wait until I am finished with the M/W 101 and don't have to deal with them ever again. There are a few I'd be happy to have in any of my classes in the future, but for the most part, I'll be thrilled to bits to see the back of them--and I'd lay any odds you like that they feel the same way about me.

The Poetry class was also somewhat torturous, but I just shoved interpretations at them: "Read it this way." I am simply baffled that they still struggle over poems that I think are (at least relatively) easy. Even the best students were stumped by poems that I expected to be a cake-walk.

I see them all six more times (plus the final Monday, which is "see me in my office if you want to discuss your grade" day). Two of those times don't really "count": the Monday of the last full week, they'll hand me their final papers and collect the end-of-semester self-evaluation. The Wednesday, we'll do the semester debriefing--and given how little they've had to say about almost everything, I'm rather suspecting they won't have much to say about how the semester worked for them either. Of course, there's a chance the students in the 101 will suddenly feel they can rip into me--the hostility in the room is back to near toxic levels--but whatever. I may rip into them. I shouldn't, for all sorts of reasons, but I will be tempted to finally and at long last tell them exactly what the semester has been like for me.

Yeah, I'm feeling a little pissed off at the moment. But it will pass--perhaps like a kidney stone, but it will pass.

Meanwhile, just for amusement's sake, I checked to see if anyone has signed up for any of my classes in the fall. One of the students in the T/Th 101 has already signed up for 102. I don't remember if I mentioned before, but he's the one who not only felt comfortable enough to open up about his social anxiety, he also shared with me his work to help a friend--a cyber friend--who was contemplating suicide. I told him what he'd done was a mitzvah, and he knew the term. He's struggling to stay on top of the discussion boards, but his work is otherwise very good. I'll be happy to have him in 102.

I am thinking about 102 quite a bit, even as I'm still working on this semester. I want to change the readings a bit, especially the poetry selections (especially based on my experience with the poetry class), and I think I want to change handbooks. I'm not sure whether I'll dive into the whole "web enhanced" bit or not: it's met with such mixed success with the 101s, I'm not sure I want to bother.

But I really don't have to fuss about that just now. I still have most of the assignments for tomorrow's class yet to grade, and there is some P&B business I need to tend to (writing up that observation, and other paperwork that is too boring to go into here). I don't know how the next few weeks are going to shake out, in terms of my work flow--but whatever happens, by May 17, I'll have everything having to do with classes tied with a bow, and anything beyond that will work itself out however it works out.

Despite two days of rest at home, I'm still idiotically tired, so I'm going to head for the hills before it gets any later. It is truly lovely to leave the office when it's still full light out, to know I'll be home before dusk. Natural light is just a good thing. Let us take a moment to celebrate the increasing daylight of spring.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Playin' hooky

Today I really did play hooky: I'm pretty exhausted (despite a beautiful nap), but I'd have been perfectly capable of holding class. However, the chance to take that nap and to otherwise engage in a little battery-recharging (metaphorically speaking) was heaven. I had hoped to get some of the assignments marked for the T/Th 101--and stopped by campus specifically to pick them up--but as it happened, I ran out of steam before I could. Instead, I finished up the essays for the Poetry class. And my plaint of yesterday was reinforced: I have mercifully forgotten the train wrecks that I already marked, but one of the remaining papers--actually two, a new submission and a revision--were ungodly disasters.

I truly, simply do not understand how anyone can write sentences that are utterly incomprehensible and think somehow they make sense. I understand the occasional lack of clarity (and am guilty of my share and then some), but really: completely incomprehensible. My experience is that, when I read a sentence aloud to a student in conference, often the student will say, "I have no idea what I meant." Clearly. This is the problem with the aliterate: because they don't read, they don't recognize their own lack of ability to use language to clearly present an idea--at least not in writing.

What's particularly discouraging is that, even given the opportunity to revise, the student couldn't tend to the problems of the paper: neither in terms of the substance, nor in terms of the problematic language.

That in itself is a complicated issue. The inability to revise may indicate an inability to see the problems, but it may also indicate a lack of awareness of what genuine revision requires: that to revise effectively, the writer must examine every individual sentence as well as the larger issues of idea structure, organization, logic and so on. Students seem to think that paying attention to one or two things will be enough. Periodically, I trot out examples of my own revision process--but I sincerely doubt the value of my work as example. Paul and I both say, repeatedly, that students don't apply anything that is said generally to their own work: they only can see that a comment applies to them when we point to it. "Look: this is what you wrote. This is why it isn't a thesis." Or what have you.

Despair. No wonder many of my colleagues give up the fight after a while. Nothing, absolutely nothing that I do seems to work--except for the students who would do fine even without what I do. OK, that's not entirely true: there is always a small percentage of students who are on a borderline and who can be tipped toward understanding by what I offer. But the percentage is very small, vanishingly small.

So, how to reframe? Part of why the reframe is difficult is that I worry about what will happen when these students get out into the adult world. Either they'll suddenly be slammed with their own failures--which is actually the best possible outcome, as they'd then have to do something to change, to finally learn--or, my worst fear, the adult world will gradually come to accept that utter incompetence as perfect competence.

And then where will we be? (Pretty much where we are, I guess. I mean, look at American politics--which I try not to do, as it's bad for my equanimity.)

But for my own sanity, it is important to reframe. And the only way I can do that now is to think about the students who are good, the ones who can benefit from what I offer. I'm half tempted to list their names. There are four in the poetry class who are doing work that is in the "good to excellent" range, and another two who are on that borderline who may be tipped in the right direction. In the M/W 101, there are two in the first category and maybe two in the second. In the T/Th 101, there are three in the first category--and I think everyone else who remains, all seven of them, fall in the second. That class is clearly the triumph of the semester--and it has nothing at all to do with me, only with the miracle of class chemistry. But I'll take it. Right now, I'll take any crumbs of solace.

And tomorrow, I'm back in the trenches. I don't expect that I'll have any time to do any paper grading during Advisement, but it's marginally possible (given the strange tides of students through the Center), so I'll have to do at least a little after classes--and maybe get up early on Thursday so I'm sure to have enough time to get them all done. (I have to make up a little time in Advisement on Thursday, so that will truncate the time I have in the office before class.) And of course I'll be collecting homework--two days' worth--from the classes tomorrow, so all that will need to be attended to, and soon, given how little of the semester remains.

But all that's for tomorrow. Right now, I can relax into the knowledge that I have cleared the M/W decks in preparation for tomorrow, so, as they say, "It's all good."

Monday, April 18, 2016

Well, I needed a Plan B...

Despite all my firm intentions to grind through student assignments all weekend if need be, I kept hitting the wall, so I headed for bed last night with a reasonably large stack still to do and the knowledge that I wouldn't have time today to get everything marked. I didn't have a Plan B, but I figured something would come to me.

It did--but not by conscious decision. My body decided to manufacture a cast-iron reason for me to stay home today and woke me at 4 a.m. with a monster headache. I kept hoping to sleep it off, but at 6:30, fifteen minutes before the alarm would go off, I realized it was settled in for a good ride. I took one of my magic headache pills, turned off the alarm, and went back to sleep. I could have just "called in sick" to the time in Advisement, but I decided to take the whole day. I've spent the last several weeks trying to decide when I could play hooky on a Monday: I guess this was it. The headache receded significantly by noon; I got a good nap--and then I got back to the grading.

I haven't quite finished what I brought home; I have two students' worth of stuff still to mark for the Poetry class, but I did wade through everything I'd collected from the M/W 101. (More on that in a minute.) I have an early a.m. doctors' appointment tomorrow--and at that point I'll decide whether I think I can get everything marked for the T/Th class between the end of the appointment and P&B or whether I'm going to swing past campus, pick up the work, cancel class, and come home again. Right at the moment, I'm leaning toward the latter--in part because I'll be more sure to have time to get everything (including those last Poetry class bits) marked if I bail on everything on campus but also because I simply don't want to hold class. I know we're almost over the finish line, but this chunk of the semester was a long stretch with no break (both our breaks coming early in the term), and, well, I feel like I'm due.

And yes, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I have a job that allows me this luxury: paid breaks and the ability to take "sick" time whenever I need it. (And I still have quite a few days of untaken sick leave that I will be able to cash out when I retire.)

Getting to the actual teaching content part of this blog, however, I have to say that my despair over the M/W 101 simply increases with every new assignment. One student clearly doesn't give even the smallest of shits about the work: his demeanor was pretty hostile (albeit quietly) at first, and although he has smiled once or twice and occasionally made a comment, what he's turning in is either an indication of a lack of comprehension about how much it matters that he engage (if I'm generous) or evidence how little he cares (which is what I honestly think). Of course, eventually he'll learn that no matter how little he wants to do something, if it has to be done, he still has to do it, and do it well. The same goes for Miss Confusing: she seems to want my approval sometimes, but her work is so slap-dash that I can't believe she cares about doing well or learning anything. I was finally reduced to making a rather harsh comment about how eventually she'd have to give up high school tactics--and that I'm happy to help her but she's running out of chances.

I don't usually fail students who make it to the end of the semester, but honestly, they both should flunk. And I know that Miss Confusing has taken the class once before--and I just looked at her transcript, which indicates that she came out of the BEP program, which is the program for students who test as needing more than two remedial classes (among math, writing, and reading). I have a student in the T/Th 101 who also came out of BEP, and she's struggling but doing much better than Miss Confusing. Well, Miss Confusing may well get another F on ENG101.

Two other students truly do seem to care--but they both have fallen apart as the semester has progressed, either not submitting work at all or submitting it so late they might as well not have. One of them seems highly intelligent and capable--at least in theory--but he's also been talking about health problems all semester. The other? Let me provide an example.

I frequently express my worry about our students' ability to read, and this young woman provides case in point. In one of the articles that students read for their second essay is the following sentence: "Whereas communities before the emergence of agriculture were generally small in size, nomadic and relied primarily on hunting and gathering, the ability to grow food and raise animals made it possible to become sedentary." I understand that a student might have to look up the word "sedentary"--even (worrisome though it may be) the word "nomadic"--and, in fact, many students did have to look up those words. However, this young woman circled the first two words of the sentence, and her annotation read, "What's that?"

She thought that there was some kind of entity called a "whereas community." (I'm reminded of the student who thought Annie Dillard was crazy and thought she was male because she wrote that she returned to a place "as a man returns to a field of battle" (or words to that effect).)

This isn't exactly aliteracy--which is the ability to read without the desire to (or without understanding any value to reading). It's worse. It's more frightening. These students know what individual words mean but can't read an entire sentence and make sense of it.

It's true that the student who wondered what "whereas communities" are also should fail, based purely on the numbers, I find it harder to contemplate flunking her--because she clearly is trying and does care. But am I doing her any favors to pass her, even with a D?

And I confess, the other thing that weighs on my mind is my awareness that I could potentially be flunking half the students who have managed to hold on this far. There were eighteen students at the start; what does it say if only four pass? So far, no one on the administration has started calling us on the carpet about our "success" rates, but they don't need to in cases like this. This kind of experience gives me serious doubts about my pedagogy.

I've been through this periodically as long as I've been teaching, these moments when I wonder if my standards are too high, if I truly am being too demanding. But I have already let go of so many expectations, I just can't feel right about going any further in that direction. This whole process was devised in order to help students see the creation of an argument essay step by step--and it still seems to be more than they can handle. And I think about the class I just observed, and how much simpler the process is as that colleague conveys is--but also how much simpler the project is: comparison contrast, and he provides the examples they use?

I don't know.

I don't know, but I begin to feel I'm running out of the energy--and the will--to keep trying to reach down to students who are further and further below where I believe they should be, where they need to be in order to be well-informed citizens of a participatory democracy (or just capable of informing themselves, period). This is why I spend almost as much time trying to come up with retirement scenarios that work as I do trying to come up with assignments that work.

I usually try to reframe the blog post of the day in such a way that I can leave it with something positive, but today, I don't have the energy to do the Pollyanna cheerful in the face of everything deal. I can barely do the Scarlet O'Hara kicking the can down the road. In the words of a little boy (as reported by a friend), I am motionally and fizzily zausted.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

I need a pack mule, or at least a little burro....

I'm carrying home an enormous wodge of papers, plus my absolutely gorgeous, nearly indispensable editor's desk, plus the wheelie pack of the usual class stuff and nonsense, plus the almost suitcase that doubles as my purse, plus my lunch bag. Fortunately, I have this nice peasant build, so I can tote that barge, lift that bale, plow that field, schlep all this teaching mishigas without too much strain. (If I can get it on my shoulder, I can carry it.) And although it is relatively daunting, in terms of how much I need to chunk through this weekend, it isn't nearly as petrifying as it looks, as a lot of the mass is made up of all the previous stages of the essay-writing process from the 101s.

Still, I truly do have to turn the crank, as my father would have said: just churn through the work, will-I, nill-I.

But that's for the future. Today was a good day. I had a great time observing my colleague's class, and a great time talking with him about it after my stint in Advisement. I did see students back-to-back in Advisement--though they come in waves; if I'd stayed any longer, I'd have been glad to have my own work with me to do, as when I left, there was not a single student waiting.

In the Seminar Hours meeting yesterday, we were talking about how we need to try to distinguish office hours from what we're doing in our seminar hours, as the administration seems to be rather willfully dense about it. For example, tutoring is one of the contractually sanctioned options--but if we say, "OK, I'm tutoring my students in my office," they say, "How is that different from office hours?" It doesn't seem to matter how often we explain the difference: if we're talking about what we're doing in our offices, it seems we have to use the word "mentoring"--but, even as I'm writing this, I realize that what I do in office hours is an awful lot more like mentoring than it is like tutoring. Someone on the committee pointed out that most of our colleagues do use their office hours for something like tutoring, since they have no other time in which to do that kind of work. Nevertheless, I'm continually frustrated by my desire to wrench the seminar hours structure to suit my purposes, a desire thwarted by the administration's narrow way of seeing ... well, just about anything.

But I launch into that apparent non-sequitur because I was aware today (again) how much of what I do in Advisement is more like mentoring than just academic advisement. Yesterday, for instance, I was working with a student who ended up confessing to me that she has not only ADD but also severe anxiety. She was clearly a very intelligent and highly motivated student, and we ended up talking about where there is help available to her on campus, ways for her to conceptualize her academic progress to alleviate some of that stress--and as we talked, she revealed more and more, about her mother's resistance to the student getting help (especially from a psychiatrist--because the student isn't "crazy"), her concerns about her future....

It was very moving, and I was honored that the student felt she could open up to me that way--and that it seemed what I said was beneficial to her. And saying that, I realize I'm actually somewhat torn. If I really could fulfill my seminar  hours time with active mentoring: if I had enough students that I could meet with regularly in order to meet the contractually mandated number of hours, I'd be more than contented: it would be immensely gratifying. The problem is that we can't seem to get enough "buy in" from the students about the concept. If we did it long enough, and word of mouth had enough time to spread, it might eventually gain some momentum, but we're under a contractual gun here: the negotiations (sure to be rancorous) for the next contract will begin this summer, though this contract doesn't end until August 2017. So we need to find a model that works and works now.

Sigh.

Getting back to today: my 101 students were, as anticipated, a delight. When they sat in the circle to talk about how to focus their ideas, they were talking to each other, offering suggestions, sharing ideas, listening and taking notes.... I suppose some kind of cosmic balance needs to be maintained, but I do wonder why they all can't be like that. It would make life in general infinitely more pleasant.

Having enjoyed class with them (which went right up to the dot of the end of the period and easily could have gone on longer), I came back intending to sort through and organize the aforementioned wodge of assignments to mark--but I got caught up in a few other things that gobbled more time than I anticipated, so I ended up just shoving the whole mess into a bag to be figured out later. (You know, tomorrow, when I'm stronger.) And now, I'm going to take myself out for my usual Thursday night solo dinner and drink (bliss)--at which I will give a silent toast to Paul, who received word today that the recommendation that he be promoted to full professor has been signed by our acting president and will be forwarded to the Board of Trustees for approval. Happy happy joy joy for my office-husband, my dear buddy!



Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Work versus, well, everything else

On my way back to the office after class, I realized that there is absolutely no way I can get all the paper grading done in the time frame I'd like unless I grade over the weekend. I usually resist that ferociously, as you probably all remember, but if I grid my lions and just get it done (with or without whining), I will face a much more peaceful few weeks heading into the final sprint.

Having had that realization, I decided not to even attempt to do any paper grading tonight. I intended to be out of here much earlier--to have finished posting to the blog and be in the car by 7 p.m.--but I got trapped in a little weed whacking (and yes, they're weeds of my own creation). In part because I keep stumbling across timely articles for the final paper for the 101s, and in part because a number of the students are having a relatively belated rude awakening about how many points they're missing, I have decided to allow them to earn "extra credit" (much as I loathe the concept) by giving them three additional articles that they may respond to if they choose.

I still need to create discussion boards for those three essays--which won't take long (so part of me wants to get it done tonight, but I'm not going there, or I'll end up in another patch of weeds). But I do have to remember to do it (and memory is not my strong suit under the best of circumstances. Holding on to a safety bar and screaming is not the best of circumstances.)

The poetry class was about as successful as it gets today. The 101 was infinitesimally better--because I forced the students to sit in a circle, and because one of the two adult mothers in the class brought up the fact that she knows, via her smart phone, exactly what's happening with her children at school, pretty much at any given moment. I asked the younger students, who are not long out of high school, how they'd have felt about knowing their parents could keep such close tabs on them, and the universal response was "Nuh-uh, no way." Debate (not very vigorous, but still, debate) ensued.

I have to say, I also was proud of them. I gave them three options. 1. We talk about how to start to find a focus within the very broad topic I've given them. 2. We read the article that's due Monday, paragraph at a time, and talk about it. 3. I let you go early. The majority of the students chose option 1. Good for them: they want to learn something--and they know the challenge they're facing.

Of course, I'm anticipating that things will be more lively, run better, tomorrow, but one never knows. Yesterday, one of the young women in the class asked if we could postpone the preliminary essay. I looked at the schedule with them, and when they realized how that would crunch everything else, they realized why they had to turn it around so quickly. It's preliminary, I kept saying: it will be rough. I'll go easy on it, because I know you have to crank it out fast. They were not happy, but they understood. But I do wonder how many of them will actually have the preliminary essay for me tomorrow, and how many will be late with it.

We'll see.

For now, however, if I keep blathering in this post, I'm going to be set up for another night of rush and fuss and not enough sleep. I need to get on the road. Toodle-oo.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Swamped

Tonight I'm realizing how much I rely on the time in Advisement to get work done. Now that it's busy there--not frantic, but still, back-to-back meetings with students, no time to grade--I'm feeling like I'm trudging through some pretty deep muck, trying to get through all the marking of student assignments. None of it is particularly difficult (well, some of the poetry papers may be ouchy), but it all takes time and some organization: the triage stacks keep moving, shifting (sinking below sight, only to bob to the surface again).

Feeling as I do, I'm going to try to reschedule my one-on-one session with one of the folks from Distance Ed who's there to help train faculty. I'd been (rather blissfully) forgetting that I'm supposed to meet her tomorrow after my classes--and if I do, no matter what she shows me, it won't compute. (Cue sound effect: computerized tone and mechanical voice: "[Ding!] Brain already full." I get that "error message" a lot, it seems.) Of course, I only just now sent the e-mail asking for the reschedule, so it may be too late to beg off, but I'm hoping.

We're also officially into the "hang onto the safety bar and scream" part of the semester roller-coaster ride. I see each of my classes 9 more times (not counting the final Monday, when I'll be available for grade conferences but not in the classroom). Yikes and likewise zoiks.

As for the report on today in particular, it was rather nice (apart from the frantic "I have to get this marked tonight" bit). I saw both my official mentees. One is the Mystery Enthusiast, who mostly wants my feedback on his writing (and who was very glad to accept a suggestion for how he might go about developing the "voice" for two of his characters). The other I'm not sure I've said much about, but he's lovely. He's in Honors classes, very smart, planning to get a degree in engineering--and I found out today that both his parents went to college but didn't graduate, so there's a lot of pressure on both him and on his older brother. Add to that the expectations that come with being an Honors student, and he's feeling some significant weight.

And that weight is part of why we met. He e-mailed last week, sounding rather frantic, wanting to set up an appointment to see me. The problem is that he realized he was not doing well in his calculus class--the first of a whole series that he needs to take for the engineering degree here, never mind when he enters the four-year program of his choice (Stony Brook, if he gets accepted). He talked to the professor, who agreed to let the student continue in the class to learn as much as possible before withdrawing--the withdrawal to happen right before the final. I think he wanted to see me primarily for reassurance: he'd already made an excellent decision, but my impression was that he was afraid--as an Honors student--it was a problem that he is struggling.

I relayed again the story of Ed's son Adrian, who struggled mightily to pass chemistry and threw a party when he got a C in the class. Sometimes even the brightest of students will hit something seriously difficult--by my young mentee knows how important it is that he truly, completely nail calculus, as everything from then on will rely on having a strong foundation there. We looked at the courses he might take over the summer, talked about how much to load onto himself in any one summer term (especially when he knows he's facing a daunting challenge), that sort of thing. And I praised him to the moon and back. He's got the chops; I can tell. He may change his mind about whether engineering is really for him, but if he wants to go in that direction, he'll do it, and he'll do it extremely well.

I'm interested to notice that I am as deeply invested in this young man as I would be if he were one of my students--and I've only talked with him four times or so. He's just one of those gems that NCC throws across our paths from time to time. He won't need anything I'll be teaching to finish his A.S. degree, which is disappointing, of course, but I'm happy to keep on mentoring him--and to keep in touch no matter how far he goes. He's one of those.

My 101 students today were in their usual beautiful form: lovely, animated discussion, lots of openness with each other, laughing, getting excited--even the most shy, retiring (and, frankly, struggling) student in the class was willing to start the conversation. That's a triumph right there.

But my favorite moment was when we were talking about how difficult it is for many people to unplug from their devices for any length of time. One young woman said that, on Good Friday, her mother is very strict: no TV, no music, no computers, no smart phones. "We have to just sit there and enjoy each other's company," she said, in an aggrieved tone. One of the brightest students in the class immediately responded, "Oh, man, hate when that happens." The whole class broke up, and I laughed so hard I almost couldn't stop. I actually may not have his wording exactly right, but the timing and tone were perfect. Imagine how awful, having to enjoy each other! The class got a kick out of seeing me laugh; the bright student was very gratified at how well his wit had been received; the young woman who'd been complaining laughed along with everyone else.

The M/W class is torture in comparison. It's sort of torture anyway, but especially in comparison to how brilliant the T/Th class is. But the great thing is, I end my week with the brilliant class. How wonderful is that?

Now, however, it's late--again, dammit--and I have to be back here in 13 hours (ugh), and I still have a lot I need to do just for my actual life, you know, the part that doesn't happen on campus. So, off I toddle.

Monday, April 11, 2016

[insert profanity of choice here]

It's been one of those days.

I couldn't get to sleep until the wee hours, so I allowed myself to turn off the alarm and crawl back into bed to sleep a while longer. I waffled about whether to call in "sick" to Advisement, whether to cancel the entire day, and ended up going late to Advisement, agreeing to make up the 1-1/2 hours I missed (when I'll do that has yet to be determined), and meeting both classes. Both were difficult. Nothing new.

After class, I scuttled around trying to clear some of the tangle from around my feet. Among other things, I wanted to be sure I have all the handouts I'll need for the 101s for the rest of the semester, as I live in fear that I'll be in class without the crucial handout for the very convoluted writing/revision process I demand--but I was trying to sort them into stacks, seven of each in one stack, for the M/W class, eleven in the other stack, for the T/Th class, and all the while I was trying to have a conversation with Paul, which I truly wanted/needed--but I kept getting confused about what was in which stack where...

Then a student from the Poetry class came to talk to me about whether her work has improved. She's the one who admitted to having been in an abusive relationship. (If I've invented a moniker for her yet, I've forgotten.) (Who am I again?) She wanted to get some feedback on her work, but I hadn't had time to look at any of it yet. We talked for a while--a nice, albeit unofficial "mentoring" session--and when she left I started marking responses, which meant sorting them out, and by the time I had that all done, it was already after 7, and I was running low on mental fuel.

I don't know how things are going to play out tomorrow. I have a doctor's appointment at 11:30, and I'm seeing official mentees during my "seminar" hours, so a lot of the time when I'd usually be able to sit at my desk and simply grind will be lost--but I have an absolutely staggering load of stuff I have to mark and return ASAP. I'd bail on everything on Wednesday, but the day starts at 9:30 with a meeting of the Seminar Hours committee. Thursday I have to conduct an observation--which should be good, actually, as I truly like the person I'll be observing; immediately after that I have to make up time in Advisement. I will have a decent chunk of time between the end of the time in Advisement and class on Thursday--but that doesn't help me get ready to return stuff on Wednesday, which is what I'd really like to do. (I also said I'd attend a professional development thing on Friday. The topic sounds interesting, but I don't know if I'll want to deal with another early a.m. alarm to get there on time--or at all.)

Grouse, whine, bitch, moan. All of this is manageable--and all of these are the complaints of a woman who has an excellent life, an excellent career, and really no reason to complain about anything at all. Period.

And, in fact, I'll end on that note. It's getting very late, and I'm clearly not going to accomplish any further work this evening, so I'll walk out of here, reminding myself how tremendously good my life is, and how much gratitude I owe to the cosmos.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Quit noodling!

Clearly I am not going to accomplish anything of any value work-wise this evening. The usual litany of things to do could be recited (probably by all of you as well as by me), but I just don't wanna. We'll see at the end of the day on Monday whether this is Bad Decision #4287, but I'm rather hoping that it won't matter.

I am aware, however, that I cannot count on time in Advisement to do any marking of anything: registration starts on Monday, and when I was in today, making up some time, there were sudden floods of students at various points. At the end of the fall semester, when students absolutely know they have no time in which to register (and when the "I couldn't get any of the courses I wanted" experience is more fresh in their minds), the flood just goes on and on and on. It's generally less packed and anxious feeling at this time of year, because students (unwisely) think, "Oh, I have the whole summer in which to register; I don't have to do it now." Granted, their foolishness does make life a little easier for us--but even without the deluge of students we tend to see in the fall, there's just enough activity to make it very difficult to get any work done.

So, of course, all the "shoulds" set in: I should at least mark all the responses for the Poetry class; I  should update the discussion board post marks for the comp students; I  should spin a few more plates and try to pick up a few pearls.

But I'm just kinda, well, done. I'm very aware of the fact that next week I have to be in early two mornings in a row--Wednesday for a seminar hours committee meeting, Thursday to observe one of our untenured colleagues (they get observed every year; the rest of us only when we have a promotion pending). Wednesday, I also have an appointment with someone in Distance Ed (faculty development division) so I can learn some of the features of Blackboard that I don't know how to use yet. This is prep for applying for a stipend to develop an online version of Nature in Lit, which I'd love to do, for any number of reasons--among them a hunch that the class might actually run if it's offered as an online course. There's a whole application for the stipend; then there's the whole process of putting together the Distance Education Equivalency form (hereafter the DEE)--which needs to simultaneously be precise enough to indicate that the online version of the course would accomplish what the face-to-face version is meant to accomplish while remaining general enough that any professor could adapt it to his or her own teaching methods and course content.

As I write all that, I'm thinking, "Now, why did I think this was a good idea?" But first, it would be great if I could actually teach the course from time to time, with enough students of high enough quality that it would actually be interesting, and second, well, some extra cash is always a good thing.

And if I can get Nature in Lit to fly, I'll try for Native American Lit. The other great thing about developing the online edition of a course is that whoever created it then "owns" it for the next two times it is successfully offered. I admit that I do have a little bit of a feeling that those classes belong to me, and that I only grudgingly share them with other faculty--especially Nature in Lit, though honestly, more of my colleagues are genuinely qualified to teach that than is true of Native American Lit.

Wow, and just like that, I started to get a headache. Clearly my body is telling me that it's time to go, so I'm going to listen to it for a change. I'll be back here, posting, on Monday, good Lord willin' and all that.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Fleet-footed time, goddammit

I have no idea how class could end so early, I could do so little, and it still could end up being so late. I truly thought I'd be home and cozy by now--and I've been fighting the desire to play hooky all week. I know we just had a break, but still: I'm feeling whiny and petulant, and there's nothing better for that state than a day of doing absotively nothing useful on what should be a work day.

However, the 101 students are turning in their final versions of essay 2, so, well, I have to be here. But class today was astoundingly brief. I collected papers; I read the "quotation for consideration" for the final paper; we talked about it a little; I sent everyone home. Total class time, about 30 minutes. The very bright young woman was late, and I was just sitting down at the computer in the classroom to see if there was an e-mail from her stating that she wouldn't make it to class when she came in. She has to take three buses to get to school, and she'd missed one of them. But her paper was there, on time, so ... all good.

On the way back to the office I stopped to talk to Cathy. She'd rather lectured us all in P&B about attending the party she's trying to put together for the retirees--and it pissed me off. I wanted to simply let it go, but I found it was rankling--just the teeniest bit, but there, and since she and I are friends, I didn't want to let that fester. As soon as I brought it up--before I could even explain how I'd felt--she apologized, and of course there was a rather complicated back-story to what she'd said and the way she'd said it. She couldn't tell me the whole story (for reasons of confidentiality that I can respect, though I don't quite know what I wouldn't be able to know, as one of Bruce's assistants and a member of P&B), but she told me enough that I completely understand why she'd have behaved as she did. She was grateful I'd not let it fester, and I was grateful that she was so clear in offering both an apology and as much explanation as she could.

I then talked to Paul for a while, though not as long as we might normally, as he has a huge pile of papers that he has to finish for his class tomorrow morning. (We all empathize with that.)

Then--best part of the day by far--a student from the poetry class came by for her appointment with me. We ended up talking for more than an hour, and it was great. She's wanted to do well all semester but hasn't been doing as well as she'd like; she registered late and has sort of been behind the curve since. She said that she was sorry she hadn't come to talk to me earlier in the semester, but truly, better now than later or not at all. Perhaps the most lovely moment of that entire discussion came early on: she wanted to know what to do to make her responses better, so I pulled out the ones I had in my "To Be Graded" folder. Looking at them, she could see that she was doing little more than summarizing the poems, but I found one remark that was closer to analysis/interpretation: I asked her to say more about it, then asked another question--and her answer was brilliant. I'm not exaggerating: it was great. I was gobsmacked. I truly had no idea she was capable of that kind of thinking, so most of the rest of the meeting was about how she could convey  more of that terrific thinking in her writing, both her responses and her papers.

I truly love those one-on-one moments with students, especially those that contain that kind of very happy surprise. I don't know how much of what we discussed she'll be able to demonstrate: there's often a significant time gap between when a student grasps a concept and when that person is able to actualize the concept, put it to use. (This applies to me as a student, too: I frequently grasp the concept of something I'm supposed to do in dance, or riding, or music, long before I can actually do it--especially do it anywhere near well.) But just that she has the concept now is glorious. Watching her have realization after realization as we talked was beautiful.

Again and again and again: this is why I do it. This is why I teach. This is why I put so much energy and intensive thought into how I do what I do: because when it works--those few, gorgeous moments when it works--are so exhilarating.

Of course, I have an enormous bolus of work to be done--student assignments to mark, P&B whatever to take care of, god alone knows what other pearls to retrieve or plates to spin--but I'm going to toddle off. I have to put in some make-up time in Advisement tomorrow (and again next Thursday); I know it will probably be just busy enough to make it difficult to accomplish much in the way of work, which means I will still have a lot to get through--tomorrow, Monday, whenever (not over the weekend, I don't think). But I'm ready for tomorrow: I read over the creative samples that I got from the Mystery Enthusiast, so I'm ready to meet with him, and I have work packed in a shoulder bag to carry to Advisement, and for tonight, that's enough.

So ... oh, shoot. What's tomorrow again? It's not the same day; it's, it's .... well, I'll think about that later. When I'm stronger.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Thank God for no-shows

Most of the students I was supposed to see today didn't show up, so I was able to mark all the student assignments, as well as attending the department meeting and P&B. Whew.

However, the Registrar must wonder what the hell is going on with my classes: three students withdrew from today's 101. All of them needed to go--one I thought was already (albeit unofficially) gone, as I hadn't seen him in so long--but the sudden stampede must have been, well, interesting.

What I was interested by was the reaction of the young man I've been calling the B.S. artist. He was there, but he came up to me with his withdrawal slip and said, "We might as well get this out of the way right away; then I'll be out of your hair." I said I was sorry to lose him from the class, and he said, "Dude! I know!" He proceeded to tell me more about how sick he'd been but that he'd truly loved the class, the topics, found it all very interesting--and as he was leaving, he talked to a few of the other students saying he hoped he'd see them around campus. Perhaps I have become overly cynical; perhaps he truly did enjoy the class. (I did find it rather funny to be addressed as "Dude," I have to say--though I think he really meant it more like "Boy!" or "Man!"--that is, a generalize exclamation of emphasis, not direct address and not intentionally gendered.)

I've been trying to get some more of the briars and brambles cleared out from around my feet this evening, with limited success--though the success has been limited because I was interrupted by a phone call from one of my nephews, which is always a good reason to stop working and do something else.

One thing I did accomplish, however, is to continue an e-mail conversation about an assessment protocol that's being conducted. A number of sections of 100, 101, and 102 have been selected, but in my estimation, the "learning outcome" (actually a goal, but I'm not going to get into the specifics of assessment speak) has nothing whatever to do with 100 or 101. According to the e-mail I got, "We will be assessing our students’ Textual Literacy: the ability to analyze, interpret, and respond critically to texts of various genresWe will be assessing two learning outcomes: how well students identify recurring themes and how well students understand how a writer’s options such as characterization, setting, and diction are employed in any given piece of writing."

However, 101 (and, by extension, 100) deal exclusively with nonfiction, so as far as I'm concerned, themes, characterization, and setting are at best of minimal importance--and I don't address any of those things at all, not in the least bit, in 101. In 102, yes; in my lit electives, yes. But not 101. I said that to the person from the assessment committee who had let the selected faculty know about their being tapped to participate in the assessment; she took it to Bruce, and I was removed from the sample--but my concern about the disconnect remained, so I contacted her again, twice now: first to say that I was worried about whether I was not doing my job correctly in how I approach 101, then to quote the course description to her. According to the official course description, the following are the goals of 101:


1. To respond orally and in writing to texts, primarily nonfiction.
2. To write as a way of exploring, developing, and confirming ideas in a process of communicating them.
3. To compose essays that support and develop a point of view, using a variety of composing strategies.
4. To self-evaluate using a vocabulary specific to the discipline in order to discuss, revise, and edit one's own writing and the writing of others.
5. To revise in order to substantially improve the focus, organization, and development of ideas.
6. To locate, evaluate and cull information from archival and/or electronic sources.
7. To summarize, paraphrase, quote, and use MLA-style citations to document course readings and materials found through research in the construction and expression of a point of view.
8. To edit and proofread for usage and correctness of grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
9. To produce approximately 4,000-6,000 words across a series of written assignments and essays subject to evaluation, at least one of which is an essay of 1,000-1,500 words.
 
Nothing in there about recurring themes, characterization, setting, diction...
 
She's said she'll take at least my initial e-mail, explaining my concerns, to the committee; I suspect she'll take this latest communique as well. I'll be very interested to hear how assessment manages to fix the disconnect between how we define "textual literacy" (a bizarre term in any case) and the fact that the texts and methods for demonstrating appropriate "literacy" in managing those texts varies greatly across our courses.
 
I had about a million other things in mind to do, too, but it's 8 already, and I need to get my fanny home for any number of reasons, not least of which the fact that I'm so wired, if I don't start unwinding soon, I'll be up until the wee hours and then staggeringly exhausted tomorrow.
 
So, till then...
 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Possibly a huge mistake

I have a stack of papers that I have to mark before tomorrow's class, and I came back to the office determined to get them all done tonight before leaving, as I have a bunch of meetings with students tomorrow, plus a department meeting that I really can't miss (Bruce sent out one of his rare but significant "everyone is expected to attend" e-mails), plus P&B...

But I had to get a lot of flotsam cleared away before I could dive in and focus (instead of being distracted and worrying about those pearls falling through the floorboards), and then a student came to a meeting and we ended up talking for almost an hour--part of it about her revision and her responses (she's in the poetry class), but much of it just talk. It was great, and I absolutely love that connection with students. She started out seeming disengaged, but as the semester has gone along, she's relaxed and started to contribute more to the class conversation--and her first paper was pretty good; it just was late. She's had difficulty with some of the poems, because they hit too close to the bone: she did tell me that she was a victim of abuse and attempted rape, so some of the poems that deal very starkly with those issues recall too much trauma for her to handle well. We talked about it a bit, and I told her that she can avoid the poems if need be--but I hope she can find a way to use them for catharsis instead.

In any event, after that great conversation, I managed to finish one student paper and start another--and then I found myself making acquaintance with The Wall again. I didn't get lunch today (finishing the essays for today's 101), so I'm hungry and tired and cranky. None of which are states conducive to concentration or clarity in responding to student writing. Even though all I'm doing is mechanics review, it still requires some thought. It's a lot faster than dealing with comments on substance, but nevertheless, time gets gobbled up astonishingly rapidly.

Nevertheless, I know I can't do more tonight. I'll have to get up extra early tomorrow to try to squeeze out enough time to get all the work done before class (and I may have to skip P&B, if nothing crucial is going on), but for now, I'm "stick a fork in me" done for the day.