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Student Readers: A Warning

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

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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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Clean-up continues

I came in today primarily to meet with the helpful person from Distance Ed, operating under the assumption that I will be granted a stipend to create an online version of Nature in Lit--for which there are several bells and whistles I need to know about. What I found most interesting about that meeting was the ways in which I realize that I need to know why I want to create X-and-such assignment before I can choose which online tool will work best to accomplish what I'm looking for. There was one tool I didn't know about that could be very interesting: it's a function whereby I can post something (anything from a video or voice recording to a document) and students reply with voice messages, not in writing. It's not quite class discussion, but it's an intriguing alternative to discussion board posts--and a chance for students to participate without having to write all the time. Of course, my particular prejudices lead me to believe that students should write all the time--the more the better--but it is good to remember that some of them do better orally than in writing ("different learning modalities"), so as long as the overall goal is being addressed, it doesn't really matter what the "measurement" is (that is, the actual task that the students will do to show they get what they're supposed to get).

I hate it when I slip into Assessment-Speak, but like any other jargon, it is sometimes useful, as it provides specific names for the concepts or distinctions that we need to consider.

After that, I came back here to the office and have been cheerfully sorting through stacks of paper to decide what to file, what to discard--and where to file whatever is getting filed. I've started making individual folders for specific poems (unless there are two on a page), so it's easier to mix and match for future courses. Organizationally, that's great--but what's kept me from going any further tonight is that I ran out of folders (and I bought a huge box of them not too long ago). I also have started sort of looking at the old materials from 102s, deciding what I can keep and what to ditch. I'm still not all the way there in terms of the keep/ditch decisions: I'm going to have to do a lot of reconsidering, restructuring, reconstructing--and building new.

I'm actually looking forward to that process--but my first focus for the 102s needs to be deciding on the readings and getting readers out to be copied. I have no idea how many copies to get, of course (and I may end up not needing any, if my 102s don't run at all and I end up with 101s again), but I figure it doesn't hurt to have a bunch on hand.

I find that prepping a new semester is always difficult fun, if that makes sense. I find the process a grind, but it's also immensely gratifying. I have to keep reminding myself to prioritize: I still have another book to read and review before the end of June, so I might ought to take care of that first, before I get completely caught up in prep for September.

I have a doctor's appointment in the area tomorrow, as it happens, so I may well come back to the office after that appointment to do more clearing of the decks--and maybe even to embark a bit on that prep, just for giggles. Work truly is one of my narcotics, and I rather like that I'm not going cold turkey off it this semester but am rather gradually weaning myself off.

That said, if I'm in tomorrow, I'll post--perhaps briefly, but hey: I'll be in the office, and somehow it doesn't feel right to leave without posting to the blog.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Not what needed doing...

We went through the final check on scheduling today and managed to make some people's schedules less dreadful, which is a good thing--but I'm still concerned about how many problems we may have created and not caught. There's always something, but William is now the Emperor of Scheduling, so any complaints or problems go to him, and then (God help her) to Cathy, who is stuck with the whining and complaining and trying to make schedules for which the courses do not exist.

Well, we did our best. And it's done.

I have to confess, however, that in my blissed out state of being off campus yesterday, I completely, utterly forgot two things. One, I had an appointment with a very patient woman from the faculty training arm of distance ed, which I remembered about five minutes before I was supposed to meet her--as I was driving home from silly, happy stuff having nothing to do with work. Two, I was supposed to at least offer to help the office staff set up the books for the adjuncts (desk copies, for the perusal of). I didn't remember that one at all until I was here in the office today--but bless their hearts, they'd done a perfectly fine job without me. I owe them many times over for rescuing pearls before they fall through the floorboards. There is no repayment that would suffice.

After we finished with scheduling, I started to do a little organizing--and that's when I got sidetracked by a "project" that really wasn't important, but it felt good and was fun, and there will be plenty of opportunities for me to do the work that really needs doing (filing away all the stuff for 101s and the Poetry class, digging out what I have for 102 and SF so I can start thinking about those). Instead, I filed all the grade cards for my students going back to probably 2009; I started dating them in 2012, and I know I was filing stuff older than that. I've had the file boxes; I've had the cards all stacked up ready to be filed. What I haven't done, until today, is simply to do the filing itself.

I suppose I should explain what those cards are. Rather than keeping a book with grads and attendance, as I used to (and as Paul still does, very efficiently), each student in each class has an index card. The student's personal information goes on the front (address, phone number, previous courses in the English department, major/career goals if known, that sort of thing), and on the back I track attendance and record grades. Students can look at their cards at any point in the semester to see how they're doing, and they often do ask (though whether they see what they should be seeing--such as a proliferation of zeroes--is another issue). I keep the cards--far longer than I need to, I know--for two reasons. One, if I'm asked to write a letter of recommendation, I can return to the card and remind myself how well the student did. Two, if I'm ever called to give a reference, again, I can return to the card.

That happened once, but it was a cool thing: a former student who'd gone from here to the Naval Academy in Annapolis had graduated and was going into something that required a security clearance--so I got a call from an officer from the JAG bureau. I don't know why that struck me as such a nifty thing, but it did. I remembered that student very well, but in any case when my memory is more tentative, instead of having to remember what semester and class the student was in, the card is filed alphabetically and therefore easier to locate.

So now the cards really are all filed alphabetically, and the process was fascinating. Not because alphabetizing cards is wildly exciting (the office aides could do it just as well), but because of the memories and realizations. I came across cards from some of my favorite students from way back when. I came across cards for students I'd almost forgotten, but as soon as I saw the name, I clearly remembered the student, sometimes with a sense of pleasure, other times with remembered anger or annoyance.

But what struck me most was how many students took classes from me more than once--often the same course (repeating a 102, for instance), and often, I'm sorry to say, with the same result (usually a withdrawal). I know I've had some fans follow me from one class to another, which is always neat, but I truly didn't realize how many students bombed with me the first time and still wanted to come back for more. I'm not sure if that says more about them or about me, but I'm choosing to take it as a sign that there truly are students who are hungry for a challenge (even if many are not).

And I just did something I haven't done in a very long time: I looked at my "Rate My Professor" ratings. The most common complaint? I assign too much work and am too demanding about my grading, and my explanations are confusing. Most common praise? I'm helpful, the classes are interesting, and what the students learn will last. (I'm sort of sorry that the older comments are not readily visible. My favorite, from ages ago, when my 101s used to be based entirely on environmental issues, was "Hates people. Only likes trees." I'm thinking of getting a T-shirt.)

Having written that, my brain immediately went to trying to plan my fall classes--even though I have no mental energy left at all. I truly believe I will feel better prepared to start that work as I clean up and organize all the detritus from this semester--and since I have to be here on Monday anyway, to meet with the student who failed all three of her Poetry papers and is going to redo all three, I figure I'll do more clean-up then. And I have to be here on Wednesday, to collect the revised paper from Miss Incomprehensible--and to meet, finally, with that poor, long-suffering woman from Distance Ed. I could tell when I spoke with her yesterday that her patience was wearing thin--and quite rightly. But I'm going to stop beating myself up about that. I'm usually the good Do-Bee, so if this time I was the bad Don't-Bee, well, I figure I've earned a little credit. But I won't do it to her again--good lord willin' and the crick don't rise.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Next up: creating order from chaos

All the grades are in--at least electronically. I would turn in my paper rosters, but the office is already closed for the day, so I'll do that when I'm back on Thursday to work on full-time faculty schedules. In the "excellent news" department, Bruce said he doesn't need me any more this week--though I do need to remember to check in with Lori (the miraculous administrative assistant) to see if she needs my help setting up the book table for adjuncts to select their texts. If she does, I'll come in tomorrow for that (and copy and submit the paper rosters while I'm at it), but if not, I'm free tomorrow. We managed to come up with some kind of schedule for everyone today; Thursday we get to check them to see how many errors we can catch. (We always miss something that should be glaringly obvious: a five day schedule--or someone who only has three courses, not four.) And the office looks like a troupe of chimpanzees has been set loose on my desk area: at this point, even I don't know what's where.

I was also supposed to make three "life maintenance" phone calls today--and I completely spaced making all of them until it was too late. Ah well. Tomorrow is another day (and all that rot).

The one confession I must make is that I "cooked the books" for one student in the T/Th 101. She should by all rights have failed the class; in fact, she wasn't even close to passing, so it wasn't a case of just nudging the numbers a little. I had to lie like a rug just to get her numbers to come out to a 60 (the lowest possible passing score). The Mensch's numeric score came out slightly below a B, but it was easily within the "rounding" margin, so I don't feel quite so itchy about that one. But the young woman for whom I pretzeled the grades is rather a different issue.

I feel particularly bad about it because I did fail a student in the M/W 101 whose grade was no worse--and what makes me squirm a bit is that I'm not sure how much of my decision is based on a realistic appraisal of who is capable of going on to the next step and how much is my feeling about the class--not even the individual student as much as the whole bunch of students in each section. I was so embittered by the M/W 101 by the end, I wasn't inclined to give anyone the benefit of the doubt--and I was so delighted and touched by the T/Th 101 that I didn't want anyone to be unhappy.

This is hardly sound pedagogy. It's not even ethical. I have no excuses, except that I'm a flawed mortal and sometimes do things that I know I shouldn't.

I console myself by thinking that, in five years, the grade I gave each of those young women--both the D and the F--will have disappeared in the wash of other events in their lives and won't actually matter as much as what comes after.

The only other slight bad taste in my mouth is that I had to essentially strong arm one of our sweetest retirees to take an adjunct course she didn't want. I'd already called her once to tell her I couldn't give her two courses in the first summer session and asking if she would be willing to take one in the second. I told her at that time that in SSI, she'd have the 001 she wanted--but in the interim, Bruce had to give that to someone with more seniority, and she had a 101. She was very upset to lose the 001, very upset that she'd been prepping it, not knowing that she didn't have it any more, and very upset to suddenly have to prep a Film and Lit course, which she hasn't taught in forever--but we had no one else qualified to take it. She's a trouper, and I feel particularly bad about it because her sister died suddenly only a few weeks ago, so I know she's emotionally drained (and I know all too well how grief drains intellectual energy as well as physical and emotional energy). So she snarked at me a bit, but she said she'd do it. And that was the one thing I did to help Bruce today. He'd come upstairs to see me when we were in the midst of scheduling the full-timers to ask me if I could think of anyone who'd be willing and able. Without being able to see the list of who had put in a summer preference form, I couldn't, so on our lunch break, I went down--and that's when I saw that she was qualified, and that the course is running exactly at the same time when we'd had her other class (first the 001, then the 101) scheduled. So I'm happy to have helped Bruce, but I don't like having imposed on someone who is so willing to help us when we're painted into a corner. She deserves better.

That said, Bruce also told me he doesn't need me to do the preliminary fall schedules for the adjuncts: he's so worried about whether we're going to be able to fill courses for the full-time faculty, he doesn't want to start fussing with adjunct schedules until we see which way the winds are blowing. We're hopeful that the fact that we finally have a president--and, by all reports, a good one--will stop some of the hemorrhaging of students who got scared off by the news about the failed presidential search and the spanking we're going to get from Middle States. But we really don't know what to expect, except it's likely to be ugly.

Still, if I don't have to deal with it until August, between now and when I leave for my annual pilgrimage west, I can work on the two book reviews I've promised to The Goose (the journal of the Canadian version of ASLE: ALECC), on straightening up the office, and on reconstructing 102, plus some tinkering with Science Fiction. I'm already starting to think ahead to next spring, even, as I've been assigned Nature in Lit again, for the first time in a while, and may be able to pick up a section of Native American Lit, too--which would be heaven.

But that's way way way down the road. Right now, this instant, I have only one thing to determine, and that's what I'm going to have for dinner. All the rest can wait.

I'll be blogging more this week, I expect, and probably next week as well, as the two students from the Poetry class work on clearing their incompletes. But that can wait, too. Today's a wrap.

Monday, May 16, 2016


Normally, I stay in the office on the last official day of the semester, for however long it takes, to get my final grades all in: everything read, graded, numbers crunched, paperwork filled out, Banner entries completed. The few semesters when I haven't done that, I've been on an airplane to Montana and have had to start my break in my mom's house finalizing my grading.

This semester, I've marked all the papers for students who want them back, and I talked to the two problematic students from the Poetry class. Miss Incomprehensible realized very quickly the problem with her essay, when I started to read it aloud to her. Getting her to understand how to fix it was a different issue, as the problem went well beyond the fact that her sentences were meaningless: she didn't have a clear idea for a thesis either (possibly because she hadn't re-read the poems before writing the paper). In any event, since I am giving the other student the opportunity to revise for better grads, I felt I should give Miss Incomprehensible the same option. So, she has until next Wednesday to "revise" her final paper and submit it to me.

The other student--Miss Late Is Better Than Never--seemed to understand what she needs to do to write papers that would meet college standards for any professor. I'm not sure whether she can do it; there is usually a gap between grasping a concept and being able to execute it. However, I'll be optimistic about what I might see from her next week. She's revising all three of her essays--probably a flagrant misuse of the Incomplete grade--but if she learns something from it, well and good.

I would be more annoyed about the fact that I have to return to campus several times to read, evaluate, and assign grades to these trailing "incomplete" assignments, but I know I can make good use of the time. I can clean my bookshelves (which are starting to look like the stacks of unfiled stuff is breeding and multiplying); I can do some class prep for next semester; eventually, I can do the preliminary scheduling for fall adjuncts.

I spoke with Bruce briefly today about the summer scheduling. Once again, he's at the point where it's all in his head, so I'd be more of a hindrance than a help--at least until Wednesday. He's not even sure he'll need me on Wednesday, so I may get a day off that I wasn't anticipating (though at the moment, I anticipate that I will be here for one reason or another). He's more worried about fall, and rightly: we can already see that enrollment is drastically down from previous years, and I don't know what we're going to do even to cover the schedules for full-time faculty, never mind the adjuncts. I'm anticipating having to spend more time than usual here in August--which puts a bit of a wrench in potential summer plans, but I'll pin Bruce down to dates before the end of this week, and then hope to hell we stick to that plan. (He's famous for forgetting what we'd agreed upon and either not being here when I show up or showing up and being surprised that I'm not here.)

In any event, tomorrow I will spend a good chunk of the day on scheduling. We're starting later than usual, because of William's bus schedule: 11, instead of 10 or 10:30. That does mean we're likely to go later than usual, too, so I'm pretty sure I need to get up extra early so I can put in some time on my grading before we start scheduling. I'm going to try to finish the M/W 101 tonight, if I can, but if not? Well, tomorrow will just have to do.

Right now, the thing I'm most looking forward to is having nothing to do with classes on my desk: nothing to mark, record, fill out. So, here's hoping it all happens tomorrow.

That's about it for now--because I do want to get one more whack in at the M/W 101's grades before I toddle off. I'll certainly post tomorrow with an update--and periodically over the next weeks, as I finalize those incompletes and do whatever else needs doing before August. You'll hear all about it, I'm sure.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

One down, mostly

I am almost completely finished with the grading--including crunching the numbers--for the Poetry class. I need to talk to two students, the two problem children: the one who is getting an incomplete and the one who has been asking for more time over and over. I started to read her final essay--and it's word salad. I truly, seriously do not think she deserves even a C in the class, if I'm honest--but certainly not more than that, if she can't write a sentence that makes sense. I offer her opening paragraph:

"Women hold a powerful strength that are taken upon them with many roles. A trace of a woman is magic that is unwritten. As it may be defined to all woman who try. Women have a powerful rage that is used to show others what they can take. There should be a woman defined like a warrior as woman hold a special touch. They can succeed anything with the strength having."

As far as I know, English is this young woman's native language. Certainly, she speaks with no trace of an accent and in completely grammatically and syntactically correct sentences that actually mean something. Of the sentences I quoted above, one makes sense without the reader having to strain, fill in gaps, substitute correct word forms or add necessary verbiage. A few come close to making sense--but as this is an academic essay, not horseshoes or hand-grenades....

And those aren't even the most baffling sentences in her essay. It gets worse from there.

My plan is to meet with her on Monday and read the sentences aloud, then ask her what kind of grade she honestly think the essay deserves. We'll see how that goes.

In terms of how plans work out, I will say that I took pity on the two accidental plagiarists in today's 101. We were all having such a nice celebration, I couldn't bring myself to scare them, even for a minute. I pointed out the problem to them and warned them how easy it would be to be found guilty of plagiarism, what might happen in the future if they make a similar mistake ... and that was all.

The class was delightful, of course. I truly am very sad to say goodbye to them all. One favorite moment was during "ask the professor anything you want to know." One student asked me what the best thing was about my job and what the worst thing was. She said, "And don't say the students," to which I replied, "But it is the students. The students are both the best thing and the worst thing about my job." They laughed and I explained. Students who resist everything about education? Hate with a bloody fucking passion. Students like they are? Joy. Meeting my students one on one is usually the absolute best thing about what I do, whether we're working on their writing or talking about, well, anything else. Sometimes even the difficult discussions--like the ones I anticipate on Monday--are wonderful, because a genuine connection is made.

I also met with the Mystery Enthusiast today. He has one of the most hyperactive minds I've ever encountered (and I have a half-sister and two nephews with various forms of ADD). I said to him several times that the real challenge for him as a writer will be to actually finish any idea instead of spinning off more and more and more new ones. But he mentioned a "fantasy" idea he has (in addition to his interlocking mysteries, which are proliferating like tribbles)--and it's a kind of fantasy that irritates me, as it doesn't do what "high" fantasy does and doesn't have the fully formed construct of "real" fantasy. But since he brought it up, of course I had to suggest Le Guin (specifically A Wizard of Earthsea as a start)--and since he was trying to figure out the "rules" of fantasy, of course I thought of several of Le Guin's essays about it. He said he'd be interested, so I got his address, and I'll copy the essays and mail them to him. I'll be interested to hear what, if anything, he makes of them.

And it will be a delight for me to read them again, for the umpteenth time. Her work just never gets old; the brilliance is undimmable.

Now, however, it's tired and I'm late (or something like that). I need to pack up whatever I plan to take to Advisement on Monday, in the unlikely event that I actually have time to mark anything. (The place was pretty full today, and they sort of freaked out when I left--even though I'd gone 20 minutes over my allotted time.) I'll water the plants (which I need to start taking home next week), and then, my faithful readers, I'm outta here until next week.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

How tough do I get?

Two of the students from tomorrow's 101 have plagiarized snippets of their final papers. I don't think they did so with the intention to cheat, but the fact that they're still not aware of the trouble they can get into with plagiarism--especially since one of them was already warned--worries me. If they do this kind of thing in future classes, they may get slammed very hard indeed. So, do I simply fill their hearts with fear and then grant clemency? Or do I let the hammer drop--hard?

I'm disinclined to be as brutal with them as I probably should be, largely because they're both well-intentioned and trying very hard. Neither shows terrific potential as a great mind, but they're capable of solid, average work. Also, honestly, they're members of that class I like so much, and I don't want the semester to end in tears and anger for them. But a little fear is, I think, absolutely necessary.

Am I getting soft? Probably. I did come down a little hard on a student in the Poetry class. I think I've mentioned her: she's the master of saying "Got it" when in fact she doesn't have it. She registered late, and all semester I've been cutting her a lot of slack about accepting assignments late. I mentioned, I believe, the thing about her dog dying and how traumatic that was, so she couldn't get the final paper done on time. I told her we needed to talk, and I told her  that, as I crunch the numbers, it looks like she'll get a C. But what about all those assignments I told her she could re-do for a better grade?? That ship sailed: I needed to have them already. But I never told her a deadline, which apparently means that she can get me the work any time at all. Some negotiations ensued. I told her I'll take two assignments for which she has no grade at all--as long as she e-mails them to me by Friday. (I don't usually take assignments by e-mail, but I will.) I also told her that if her paper wasn't up on Turnitin today, the axe would fall. I see it still isn't there--and I'm disinclined to remind her about it. Honestly, as badly as she writes, a C is generous, so I really don't much want to give her any more rope, as I suspect she's someone who has been able to "cute" her way out of a lot of potentially punitive situations, and I have little patience for that.

I sort of have little patience across the board right now. I have marked three of the four essays for today's 101 students, the ones who asked for comments (and in one case, I can't figure out why, as she changed her sources so she'd fulfill the "must come from a database" requirement but otherwise didn't alter so much as a misspelled word)--and the only student from the Poetry class who wants comments is the one I (perhaps stupidly) have given the chance to rewrite her papers. She signed the contract that I'd drawn up, and we talked about the parameters, which she said were fair. We'll see how this all actually shakes out--but I just took a look at her final paper: not only does it sound like a high school paper (and not even a good one), it's also four pages--including about two full pages of extended quotation. So, if she wants to pass the class, she'll need to revise all three essays. Essentially, I'm letting her take the class all over again. Stupid me.

But to be honest? I gave her the offer because I didn't want to have to be a hard-ass and fight with her about it. I just am sick to damned death of fighting with students. Sick of it.

So, let me instead look at the much brighter side of today--and there was some metaphoric as well as actual sunshine in the day. The poetry students were delightful: happy to share some thoughts--and in fact, they gave me an excellent idea in terms of how to help students understand what I'm looking for in their writing. I told them that I've given model papers in the past--papers that earned an A--but many students were intimidated by those, so I thought maybe I should instead find a model C+ or B- paper. Their brilliant suggestion was to provide the solid, average, middle-of-the-road model prior to the students writing their first paper--and then, when they got the first paper back, to provide the A example, for a sense of what to strive toward in revision. I really do think that's brilliant--and as I was going through old papers to toss, I found a great paper to use as an example. It's a solid B, but it's not overwhelmingly brilliant--and it does all the things I want a paper to do.

They were also pretty cute about looking at my undergrad poetry paper, which I shared with them--and then about my dissertation, which I also showed them. They were very curious about the whole Ph.D. process and what it takes to get one--and they were impressed that one of my short stories is being published. I should have shown them my CV: that would get their attention, too (even though it looks pretty lean to me, knowing what "real" scholars produce). It's fun to sort of dazzle them a little (and it's pretty easy to do).

Two other bits of sunshine came from today's 101, oddly enough. The actual class meeting was as torturous as usual--and ended with me letting Miss Confusing know that she was going to fail. She actually already knew that, and said that she doesn't really care, as she's going to trade school to become a phlebotomist. I said if she ever decides she wants to return to college, NCC does have a "Fresh Start" program for students who've been away for a few years, which can wipe an old, disastrous transcript clean after a probationary year back with good grades--and I said that if she does go for that, I'd be happy to talk with her about ways she could be more successful. She was delighted with the offer, and it was the most clearly personable and open I'd ever seen her be. So that was nice--but then I also read their self-evaluations (while waiting for a student who never did show up), and the other confusing young woman wrote a very sweet self-evaluation that said how much she valued the class and the fact that she could e-mail me and get a response--and get the response quickly. I was surprised by what she said about why she valued the course, and I don't think she was brown-nosing: I think it was sincere. I'll take it that way, in any event.

And then the last, best bit of sunshine: the Timid Intellectual came to my office--we actually met on the sidewalk as I was on my way to the office after 101--and we talked for over an hour. She may cat-sit for me this summer, if my regular sitter can't do it, but even if she doesn't, I like developing a real relationship with her. She's infinitely more confident than she was when I first met her, but she's still nowhere near as confident as she should be, given her mind and, I believe, her heart. I look forward to keeping in touch with her over the years: I want to continue to watch her bloom, and to provide whatever support I can as she does.

And that's probably enough to go home with for tonight. Tomorrow, I have a doctor's appointment, then some make-up time in Advisement, then a meeting with the Mystery Enthusiast, whatever grading I can get done before I meet with tomorrow's 101, and then the fond farewell with them--which I anticipate will be a lovely experience. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Very strange emotional state

I can't quite put my finger on what's going on with me, but my emotional state is clearly all ahoo. I think it's a combination of the usual post-partum feelings (relief mingled with "well, now what do I do with myself")--although with an earlier onset than usual, plus a sense that something is looming: more work, more crises, more ... something un-fun.

After a great deal of debate with myself, I did decide to ask for appointment to the Strategic Planning committee. I feel more than a little sick with anxiety about how much work I may have just created for myself (part of that sense of something unpleasant looming), but what I hear coming out of that committee is pretty alarming, and the one person from our department who is on the committee is fiercely smart and can fight with intelligence and clarity--but she could use some back-up, and I think we'd make a good team.

The Seminar Hours meeting was good, productive, but it also contributed in its own way to the sense of what is looming. Purely personally, I have a fair bit of logistical figuring out to do: we have gotten approval to see our own students (hooray!), and although we're still supposed to be mentoring them, not tutoring them--because the administration cannot seem to understand how tutoring is different from what we do in our office hours--everyone knows that the meetings with our students will contain components of both: the tutoring on a specific assignment will organically contain a mentoring component ("here's how to be a successful student; here's how to communicate with a professor; here's how to look at time management..."). But, I want to do most of my hours in three big chunks: a week of individual appointments with my own students working on a paper assignment. That can be done--Scott explained how it would work, and it's not terribly difficult--but then I need to figure out how to fulfill the rest of my hours, and I guess I just make myself available to mentor/tutor anyone else's students.

This is all a work in progress--but Cathy is already, and probably quite rightly, concerned that we're not going to be able to demonstrate enough "value added" to satisfy the administration that we're doing the equivalent of a fifth course, and that's the really big threat that's looming: that in the next contract, we may very well be moved to a 5/5 load, which is--as anyone who teaches writing can attest (and as all the studies demonstrate) is insane, and completely counterproductive, if we're worried about "persistence and retention."

Yet another source for a sense of darkness gathering is the ever-decreasing enrollment. I was going to try to find some time to work on summer schedules before next week, but Bruce said there's no point in doing any more work until we see what enrollment looks like. Not good, is the short answer, but we won't know just how disastrous it's really going to be until next week. And we'll be facing a really fierce crunch in the fall: he and I are going to be putting in a lot more time than usual just trying to make sure full-time faculty have schedules, never mind the adjuncts.

Not fun.

I started to mark some of the papers that students wanted to see back--and I decided I need to shake off the sense of gathering storm before I do. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to do that, but I know it's important to feel at least relatively positive when I'm facing the usual mixed bag of final papers: some good, some better than anticipated, many worse than anticipated.

So, as a bit of a reframe, I just want to celebrate again how great the students are in today's 101. I told them what we'll be doing on Thursday and said they could bring in pizza if they wanted (though I can't indulge with them)--and The Mensch said he'd bring in an ice-cream cake for everyone. Delightful. The Divorcee is almost all the way divorced: she wasn't sure she'd make it to class today, because she had to meet with the lawyers and the judge, but she and her soon-to-be ex-husband have signed an agreement over the terms of the settlement, which is a huge step forward. And she still managed to write her essay (how well remains to be seen) and to make it to class on time. Kudos.

That will be my good news for today. Tomorrow I'll be in Advisement--maybe I'll be able to get some marking done, though probably not--and then brief meetings with each of my classes. At that point, I'll get serious about the grading and start crunching the final numbers.

I can't believe it's really almost all over, but it really is. Breathe, Prof. P, breathe. We're almost over the finish line.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The shouting begins

The "it's all over but the shouting" thing is sort of in effect: not actual shouting, but now is when students who have been deluding themselves all semester get the bad news.

One student from the poetry class was stunned to get the news she wouldn't pass, couldn't believe that her "revision" only gained her 50 points (out of 400), that what she had submitted still wasn't a passing effort, didn't understand why her work wasn't getting good grades... We went around the prickly pear a few times--and I lost my temper a tiny bit for a moment: she wasn't hearing what I was saying and kept arguing about points that I'd explained, so I said, "We're not going to argue about this" very snappishly, and she said something about we're not arguing, we're having a discussion... I said (more calmly), "If you're not arguing with me, tell me what you believe you're doing. It sounds to me like you're questioning my grading; if that's not what you're doing, then what is the point you want to make?"

Eventually, I made an offer that is far more generous than she deserves, but it allows me to try to teach her something. I made the offer because she was right to say that the feedback I'd given her wasn't enough to help her understand what she'd done wrong. I did point out that she'd made two appointments with me, neither of which she'd kept--but moving on, I said that I would meet with her to discuss what she'd need to do to write a college-level paper. I pointed out all the things on the rubric that either said "almost" or "partly" meeting requirements--or (far more of them) simply "no"--and told her those were the things she needed to address.

Long story somewhat shorter, I've told her she can revise both her first essays--if she meets with me first to talk about what she needs to do. Once she started listening to me, she said she was worried about her last paper (rightly, from a quick glance at it), so I said that, depending on how she did on her revisions on the first two, I might also grant her the right to revise the final paper.

All this means more work for me, dragging on into the summer, the prospect of which does not delight me, but I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt and hope that she genuinely does want to learn. My fear, however, is that somehow this is going to bite me in the ass. Far too many times I've been in a situation when I've twined myself into pretzels to try to help a student, only to have the student blow up at me at the end. I wouldn't be surprised if this student tries to grieve her grade--because (for instance) I didn't tell her in advance that padding a paper with extensive quotations wouldn't mean that she'd reached the page count.

Whatever. I'm choosing to think of this as a teaching opportunity--and I just hope it pays off in some way.

In the 101 today, the young man (slightly hostile, but occasionally smiling) didn't have a paper to turn in. I talked to him a little about it, but I told him he should withdraw rather than take the F. He said he was very confused, didn't even know if he needed the class--so I brought him back to the office with me and we looked at his degree evaluation. He does need 101 (and 102, and a lit); he thought he'd taken English before, but if he did, it doesn't show up on his transcript anywhere. But I did a quick Advisement session with him, suggesting what he should take over the summer, what he should take in the fall. But there's another student who won't complete the semester with a grade.

And when I meet the class on Wednesday, I have to have a conversation with Miss Confusing--who was there today, with a paper (of sorts) to turn in, but none of the preliminary steps. On Wednesday, I'll show her the grade calculation sheet: without the self-evaluation mark and without the grade for her final essay (which will be abysmally low, judging from the glance at it that I've had), she has about 550 points--out of a possible 2000. She needs at least 1200 to pass (with the lowest possible D), and there aren't enough points in those two remaining assignments to get her anywhere near close. I don't know whether to let her withdraw or whether to make her take the F--for the second time in 101.

You'd think they'd learn, but some of them are able to delude themselves for a very very very long time before reality kicks them sufficiently that they have to wake up.

It's all painfully discouraging. I know I'll agonize some over the students in the 101 in particular, and some students in the Poetry class, who were capable of getting much higher grades than they will, but I also know I'll feel at least a tiny bit encouraged by the papers from tomorrow's 101.

Oh, I have to share with you the opening sentence of a discussion-board post from one of the students in today's 101: "Pickert really shows how people really aren't where they really are."

I think that may be a zen koan of some sort. But that's about as clear as they get sometimes.


Ah well. I'm going to pry my little bulldog teeth out of what happened today, and set my sights on tomorrow. I have a Seminar Hours meeting first thing, then make-up time in Advisement, then a little bit of time before P&B. I know one of the topics in P&B is going to be a sad one: Bruce's administrative assistant has lung cancer. Last year she had breast cancer, but was told she was clear--and now this. She's one of the mainstays of the department--and one of our other key administrative assistants is also struggling with her health (severe, advanced rheumatoid arthritis) and probably will leave us at the end of this year, if not before. Of course the administration has said they're not hiring anyone at all, so we're all going to have to be very patient--and try to figure out how to pick up some of the tasks that are usually handled by the office staff.

But after P&B, I meet with the students I love, so that will be fun. And I think Wednesday will be fun with the Poetry students. We won't be talking about poetry, after all, so they should relax and have a good time talking. I've promised them that I'd share one of my undergrad poetry papers--and they want to see the dissertation, so, fair enough.

Now, however, I'm going to fly the coop a bit earlier than usual. It would be great if I could get just a teeny bit more sleep than I have of late....

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Squeeked it through

My doctor was, miraculously, running on time, so I not only got to campus in time to attend the department meeting and represent P&B in the "open P&B meeting" few minutes, I got the mechanics review copies of the papers marked for my students in today's class--with time to spare for lunch. Then I marked their articles and returned all the work I had in hand, periodically answering questions as they worked on mechanics review.

I showed them the Taylor Mali "poem," "The the Impotence of Proofreading," and at least a few of them were amused. They all started out working, but pretty quickly they shifted over to just hanging out chatting while I finished up the work I had to return to them. I love that about them: they truly enjoy each other. I'll miss them.

I still have a little work that needs to be marked and returned, but so little I hardly even notice it. Now it's all about waiting for the final papers to come in and doing the final number crunch.

It felt like we'd never get to this point. I feel like one of those agonized marathon "runners" who barely staggers over the finish line, agony etched in every liniment. But I am going to get over the finish line--and I'm not really in that much agony: I'm just ridiculously tired.

I'm also once again searching among students, former and current, for a cat sitter. It's always worked out well for me when I can find a student who wants to get away from her home life for a while and have a little taste of solo living. I've approached the Timid Intellectual, and the very charismatic, energetic young woman from Mystery and Detective last year (who refers to herself--jokingly--as my favorite student). If I don't get a yes from either of them, I'll open the field to the students in the Poetry class. I don't think there's anyone in either of the 101s that I'd feel comfortable offering the gig to: it's a fair amount of responsibility. But I'm glad to have a relatively large pool of young women who might jump at the chance. (I prefer to tap the female students, too. I've used young men in the past with great success, but the cats are more comfortable with women, generally speaking.)

All of which has nothing whatever to do with teaching: it's just on my mind.

In fact, there isn't anything having to do with teaching that's on my mind right now. My brain is doing the intellectual equivalent of producing white noise--and that's just fine for a Thursday evening.

So, until Monday, oh my faithful readers.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Almost certainly a mistake

It's ridiculously early, by my standards, but I'm calling it a day. I still have quite a bit of material to mark for tomorrow's class, but I have been so painfully tired all day, I can't begin to make sense of what I'm reading, not even to decide if there are punctuation or spelling problems. I actually was very nervous driving to work this morning: every time I'd blink, I'd nearly fall asleep. I'm slightly more awake now: I'm not sure if that's due to my natural circadian rhythm or the fact that I've gotten a little energy jolt from working, but I can tell that it's going to slip away from me very soon--and I'd rather drive while I still have some of it left.

I split the difference about Advisement today: I didn't go in, but I said I'd make up the time next week. And sitting here in the office, I did get the mechanics reviews marked for the 101 students and all the reading responses marked for the Poetry students (except one student who submitted such a chaotic mess, I couldn't tell what I was supposed to look at), and I finished up the last of the trailing homework for the 101 students in class as they worked on their mechanics reviews.

The borderline hostile male student was not there today--perhaps because I said that his second submission of his final paper was not a passing effort. Whenever I get a little fierce with a student and then don't see the student in the next class, I always assume the student has fled. However, Miss Confusing was back today, despite having missed to classes--and a huge chunk of her final grade because of missed submissions.

Whatever. Twice more with them and I'm done.

The Poetry class was briefly a little more fun today. We read Anne Sexton's "The Farmer's Wife," and after a little confusion--arising mostly from the fact that the students expected to be confused--they realized they actually did get the poem, and then they got a little hilarious about the kind of relationship that leaves a person (in this case a woman) thinking, "Is this all I get?" and dreaming of more while burying the resentment, not admitting to it.

If only they could have been like that all semester--but I'm glad we got at least a brief blip of it.

I don't have anything else to note today: I'm too tired to think. Tomorrow's post may be very brief, too: it turns out Kristin has to be on campus until about 6, so she and I are going to grab the chance to have an impromptu dinner together. (It usually takes us months to find a time to get together.) So, we're meeting right after she finishes up--early dinner for me, and early out of here. But I hope to get a blog post in of some kind, even if it is a brief one.

One more week with the students, then one week dealing with schedules (for full and part time faculty), and then, it's time to start those sea-cucumber impersonations.

But I have to get there first. So, until tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

An attack of the "shoulds"

I should work on marking the last paper for today's 101 class. I had an excuse not to have it ready for class today--the student has yet to upload it to Turnitin--but I did tell her she can collect it tomorrow.

Even more than that, I should mark the mechanics review for tomorrow's 101, as well as marking the Poetry assignments I have in hand.

I should do as much of that as possible tonight so I can go to Advisement and be there when I'm supposed to be.

Instead, I will bail on Advisement: the only question is whether I take the time as sick leave or whether I agree to make it up next week (the last chance before the semester is over).

OK, that's not the only question: the other question is, how early do I have to be here in the office tomorrow to get everything ready for tomorrow's classes?

I got up at 6 this morning--and got to campus at the usual time, around 10. I sort of know what happened to the extra time I had allowed myself, but I'm still somewhat astonished what I did (life-maintenance stuff) took as much time as it did. I really did think I could get here at least a little early, but apparently not today.

So, do I want to try again tomorrow? I will have a similar amount of time between arrival on campus and when I have to be somewhere: today was P&B at 2:30; tomorrow will be the Poetry class at 2. What I have to mark isn't quite as time consuming (mechanics don't require a lot of substantial commentary, after all), but still, since I have six papers to mark and god knows how much homework, I rather think I'll have to set the early alarm again tomorrow.

All of that planning is just for how to get myself ready for tomorrow's classes. It doesn't address the fact that I have to do the mechanics review on the papers for the T/Th class as well--and I have a batch of articles to mark for them, which they'll need to work on the final versions of their papers.

It's very strange to me that the last few weeks should have felt more like the down-side of a roller-coaster ride but instead have felt agonizingly slow to pass. I can't believe we're still slogging through the morass of student papers.

Of course, today's class was easy and wonderful. One of the best bits was a conversation I had with a lovely young man from the class. I've not talked about him before, but he's charming, personable, and very dedicated to his studies. He had questions about how to focus his essay, and I was rattling off some ideas--and after a bit, he said, "You can do that. You can just roll it out: sentence, sentence, paragraph, new paragraph...." So we talked a little about what it takes to be able to do that--and I admitted, as well, that not everyone can. I used Paul as an example: he's much more intelligent than I and an infinitely better scholar, but he finds writing a grind. I simply have the gift of the gab: I can be readily glib--and too readily verbose. But writing well is a skill that almost anyone can acquire, given enough time, attention, practice, and labor. Still, it was very sweet for him to express his admiration for my abilities, and it was sweet to hear him think through his own process and what he might do to improve.

And then another student--even better as a writer, more earnest, utterly unsmiling--came back after having left to ask more about his essay. His is too long--an enviable position to be in--and he needed to focus. I suggested a way he could marry two of his ideas and ditch a third, and he said, "It's so simple and clear when you do it." Thank you. But a great deal of my facility with an argument is simply that I've been doing this a long time--both writing and teaching.

Most of the students got my comments very quickly and checked in with me briefly but didn't need a lot of guidance. Even those two young men didn't really need much from me: just a nudge in the right direction.

I really will miss these students. I really won't miss the students from the other 101--though the young woman who sent the sad e-mail was smiling a lot more yesterday, nowhere near as much apparent hostility and resistance, so if she were to end up in one of my classes in the future, I'd be pleased.

It seems like there's something else I wanted to mention today, but heaven only knows what it might have been. I think my mind is so focused on tonight's scotch and steak blowout with Paul that I can't think productively about much of anything else. I can noodle around a little more, but then I'm off to meet with him. I'll try to leave my cranky pants here in the office. (I know they're not visible in this e-mail, but don't get me going on last week's "party.") It's always good to hang out with Paul. That will be good.

Monday, May 2, 2016

If I only had a brain...

Today I had some time to do my own work in Advisement, so I marked a late paper for today's 101. Then I lost it. I mean, completely, utterly, no clue where it might be, lost the paper. I didn't feel too awful about not having anything to give to the student for the classwork on revision plans today--especially once I found that she hadn't dropped off a hard copy for me. (I'd printed the one I marked from her submission.) She won't get my comments for revision until Wednesday, which puts her behind the curve in terms of getting any revising done, but if I'd had the hard copy from her on time, she'd have had my comments on time.

The borderline hostile young man (the only young man left in the class, apparently) hasn't submitted his paper to I told him I wouldn't give him the copy with my comments until he does.

At this point, I'm pretty sure three students will pass. The other three? Not so sure. And everyone else has disappeared one way or another. From eighteen to six. Sad, sad, sad.

I was also interested to note that the two students from the T/Th class who begged me for extra time on the extra credit assignments have not submitted their essays to Turnitin either. (Nor has one young man in the class, but he's not asking for special favors.) As far as I'm concerned, they blew their chance at my mercy over the extra credit.

What is it with the Turnitin submissions?? Why why why can't students seem to remember to do them--especially as the direction to do so is on every freaking assignment sheet, not to mention having been discussed over and over and over in class? It's something about the freshman mentality, I think. Students in the lit electives seem to be better about crossing the I's and dotting the T's--not always, but usually.

I need this semester to be over. I really, truly, deeply need this semester to be over. My patience is gone.

However, I do have to summon up a little more patience, as I have all the papers for the T/Th class yet to mark. That means an early alarm (urgh), but I'm out of gas for today. And once I have those submissions marked, I need to do the mechanics stuff for both classes, plus mark assignments for the Poetry students--and they really do need those assignments back by Wednesday so they have them for their final papers.

I'm interested to note that, generally speaking, I'd rather turn my mental attention to next semester than deal with the dregs of this one. I keep thinking what I'll do for 102, how I'll change things--because that's still a shiny idealization of a class, not the disappointing reality.

So, this week looks like it's going to be a bit of a frantic push--and then I'll be collecting final papers and self-evaluations, and it's off to the races, sprinting toward the submission of final grades. I see the M/W students three more times. Perhaps I can survive.