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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Surely this can't be right.

As far as I can tell, I actually have everything ready for the fall semester: class handouts, Blackboard set up, my copies of the syllabi to remind me what I need to do on what days... and it's not even August yet. Surely I am forgetting something huge, and will suddenly have a massive jolt of "Oh SHIT!!" anxiety somewhere between now and Sept. 1. Apart from the madness that I know will be going on with schedule changes when I'm back to working with Bruce, of course. Some of the classes are better (including my own, which are now at 7, 6, and 13), but some full-time faculty schedules are still in pretty dire shape. We'll see what transpires in the next two weeks, I suppose.

I do find it curious that there is only one woman registered for SF so far. Last year, there was a pretty good gender balance, but one woman to twelve men may make for a very interesting semester. I know there's still time for more students to register, so I can hope the balance evens out at least some. I'm actually thinking seriously about e-mailing my buddies in Advisement to ask them to try to chase a few women into the class....

Getting back to the fact that I think I've finished all the preliminary work (including at least four times when I had to fix something in the 102 syllabus), my ability to get so much done has a lot to do with the heat wave we've been experiencing. I can't bear to go out of the house for very long (or some days, at all), and much as I love to read or noodle around on the computer, too many days of that can  make me pretty antsy. Work, however, is an excellent narcotic: it distracts me from all sorts of things.

In fact, I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with myself for the next few days. I have some life-maintenance (and life enhancement) stuff coming up, but nothing that will fill entire days. It will be interesting to see.

And I don't suppose I'll have reason to post again until I'm working with Bruce, starting August 17--maybe not even then. But come Sept. 1 and the first day of classes, I'll be back here regularly. Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The endless tweaking of handouts...

I've spent all day at it--again, for the umpteenth time: I've been going through all the handouts I have for the fall semester, from syllabi to essay assignments, and have been tweaking, rewording, adding (rarely subtracting), clarifying... For one brief and rather frightening moment I thought I was going to have to completely tear up the schedule for the 102s--and I'll probably end up wishing I had, as I've given myself zero time to respond to papers before conferences begin. But, because of the imperatives of seminar hours, and my desire to use them productively, I really do want to do conferences. So even though I know I'll be kicking myself and complaining mightily about it when I start getting those essays to mark, I've left the schedule as is. There were a few other options for how to reschedule the process, but I was really hamstrung by the days when campus is closed for the Jewish holidays: there just is no flexibility in the schedule until after the first two essays need to be completed, so, well, I'll do the best I can with it all.

I've made conferences mandatory for the 102s, and I'll make conference times available for the SF students in the week before their revisions are due--but since the revisions are optional, so are the conferences. And we know what that means: the students who really need to conference and revise won't; the students who would do fine even without the conference will meet with me--perhaps multiple times.

But, there it is. I was talking to Ed earlier about how much work I've done over my years at NCC to make the job less stressful, less frustrating, less debilitating. It's still all those things--but not as much as it used to be. I know the conferencing will bring a bit of both into the mix: some stress and frustrations (and thus, some debilitation, in terms of depletion of my mental and physical energies), but also--or so goes the theory--some alleviation of all that, as the resulting revised essays should be markedly better.

I do have to talk to poor Lori when she's back from vacation about how to block out huge chunks of time during the conference weeks so I can schedule those appointments. But that's a worry for another day--as is the setting up of everything on Blackboard. It was enough today to proofread everything. I don't always get a chance to do that, and it felt good to find mistakes and things to improve. I didn't quadruple check the dates and days of the week--which I need to do before I decide everything is complete--but I've e-mailed versions of everything to myself so many times, it's getting ridiculous. (I e-mail to whichever computer I'm not using: if I'm home, I e-mail to work, and vice versa. I also back up on a thumb drive, but I can't count on remembering to get the most up-to-date versions off the thumb drive and onto the correct computer.)

Anyway, how else should one spend a day when the temperatures are in the 90s? Working on school stuff is a good excuse to stay inside where it's at least marginally cooler.

The latest check of enrollment in my own courses indicates no movement since--well, a long time ago. Four in one 102, six in the other, ten in SF. When I look across the department, some sections have turned around nicely; others are still in very scary territory (for some professors, every single class on their schedule is dangerously low). As I've said, I just hope to hell Bruce has a plan, because otherwise, we're fucked.

But that's a worry for another day (says Scarlett). Today, I say, enough done. I'll type up corrections tomorrow--and no doubt find even more things I want to fix--and then I'll take a little break from school work again. That's the "summer off" part: I don't have to work every single day.

Oh, and as a sort of P.S.: I haven't heard anything from the student who needs to fulfill the incomplete in some time, so I have no idea if her final essay is waiting for me or not. It wasn't there when I was on campus last week--and I'm damned if I'm going back just to look for it. If I have another good reason to be on campus, OK. Otherwise, she'll just have to wait until I get around to it--or she'll have to contact me (which is beginning to feel highly unlikely).

There. Done. For today,

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

"Summer off" my ass

The student who is making up her incomplete didn't show today--but to give her credit, she did try to call me many times, and we finally spoke. She's experiencing a technological melt-down--or so she says, and I choose to believe her--so I don't know quite when to expect her paper. I haven't heard from her since about noon, so ... well, we'll see.

I did, however, make good use of the time in the office. I got the reader for 102 pulled together and sent off to the printing office--several days before the deadline. I very optimistically ordered 40 copies; at this rate, if I end up with half that many students across both my sections of 102, it will be sort of miraculous.

I almost included the online discussion board posts thing for 102, but then I realized I'd have to recalculate the grade weights (which I already had recalculates several times as I remembered assignments that needed to have points assigned), so, well, never mind. I may do it some future semester, but not this time. I think what I'll do is put the kind of leading questions I'd thought of for the discussion boards up on the blackboard (or white board, as the case may be), to give students a little focus for their in-class discussions. (Note to self: this is something to include in my reminders to myself in my copy of my syllabus, which includes information about what handouts I need when.)

In addition to figuring out grade weights for everything--for the 102s as well as the SF class--I actually did type up the schedules of assignments and syllabus changes. (Woot! Woot!) I'm going to take all that mishigas home with me so I can review it at some point--after I finish the book review that I sort of conveniently was forgetting I'd promised to submit by Friday--in order to look for errors (highly likely) and so I can start constructing (or revamping) specific assignments.

There was also a moment of flurry when Lori, the only administrative assistant left to us (as the other two are--sadly--very ill and unable to continue working), found me in the copy room and told me that there might be a problem with a full-time faculty member's schedule for fall. Not the usual problem of being assigned multiple sections of courses that may not run (which is endemic): the problem was that this colleague had been assigned a "move-up" course. "Move-up" courses are designed so students who are doing very well in remedial classes can move out of the remedial course half-way through the semester and spend the second half of the semester taking a speeded up version of the first credit-bearing comp (i.e. 101). Because we can't be assured that those "move up" sections will fill enough to run, we generally don't assign them to full-time faculty--because, obviously, if the course doesn't run, the faculty member won't have a full-time schedule. However, in this instance, the faculty member in question has been having health problems and really needs a two-day on-campus week, so she really needed two online courses (the only way we can allow a two-day schedule--and even at that, they're supposed to be three-day). Bruce decided to give her the move-up section to accommodate her need for fewer days on campus--but now we have to hope like hell the thing runs.

So in that last piece, it is the same problem we're having with virtually everyone's schedule: we have to hope like hell things run. Really, truly, seriously scary shit right now. I do not know what kind of magic we might have to resort to. Our newest faculty member lost her position (her line was not one of those to be renewed), and although I feel bad for her, I wish we could persuade a few folks who've been here a long while that it's time to retire, as having fewer faculty would help us handle this ridiculous dip in enrollment.

I probably shouldn't say that out loud, though (or on a platform that I use at work). We do not not not want to lose any more of the new and as-yet untenured faculty, because they're fabulous--but if more faculty are let go, it's the ones at the bottom who'll get the axe. This is one instance in which tenure is not always a good thing: if we could ditch people based on how good they are in the classroom, it would be great--but we do need the protection for the faculty who espouse unpopular or politically incorrect points of view: that's the primary purpose of tenure, and that is why I still support tenure, despite its obvious problems.

Well, enough of that. Depressing. Erase, erase, erase.

I'm sure there is something else I was going to record that's fun or interesting--or at least more positive--but my mind has gone blank. I'm simply going to put all the stuff I've been working on the past two days into my tote bag and tote myself on out of here. As I continue to dip back into work mode, I'll post--sporadically, but there will be at least a few communications from me between now and September 1, when classes start. (On a Thursday. I'm already taking bets on what percentage of the students who have registered for the course by then will actually show up on that first day--and yes, they have an assignment due the next Tuesday. Nothing like shooting them out of a cannon to get the semester off to a good start.)

Until whenever, y'all. And let's give a big cheer for air conditioning (for those of us in climates that need it).

Monday, July 11, 2016


Oh, yes, and I did get that stipend to produce the online version of Nature in Lit. So that's something else I'll be working on this summer and into the fall....

July post

I came in today to meet with the Mystery Enthusiast, an interesting and typically unfocused meeting: he has a gazillion ideas and finds it very difficult to focus on anything long enough to finish it (a feeling with which I empathize, especially when it comes to creative writing). But after he left, I thought I'd take advantage of the work time--in part because Friday is the last day on which we can submit print orders and be assured that we'll have them on the first day of classes. At this point, the only thing I'll need to print will be the readers for my 102s--but I have sincere doubts about whether I'll be teaching 102. One section has six students in it; the other still has zero. Zero. And it's mid-July.

I don't know what Bruce is going to do. I imagine he's in a low-level state of ongoing panic about it: there just aren't a lot of the options we've used in the past. In the past, we've been able to "level" classes (take students out of a highly enrolled section and move them into another that meets at the same time) or cancel classes with low enrollment and move the students into another section that meets at the same time--but so many sections are running very low we can't do much leveling, and there just aren't that many sections, so there are almost none to cancel, as the only sections we can cancel are those not already assigned to a full-time faculty member.

I really feel for our adjuncts; a lot of them are going to be without work. If we can't fill full-time faculty schedules, we sure aren't going to have classes left over for adjuncts. As it is, full-time faculty may have to teach evening and/or weekend sessions of comp--which are usually reserved for adjuncts--just so they have full loads.

We've seen this slow-rolling disaster coming: as enrollment slips overall, there are fewer new students enrolling, so fewer taking 101, which means a smaller pool of students eligible to take 102--and some of our discrete degrees don't require 102 any more, as it adds credits that are not directly applicable to licensing requirements, for example. Many of SUNY's four-year schools and universities don't require a second semester of comp (even though I can't imagine that their students don't need it almost as much as ours do--and our students can take two semesters of comp and still not know how to write a real college paper).

But all that aside, the other thing I was working on today was trying to figure out the reading schedule for the SF class--and I'm still making them read a hell of a lot. I know, I know, I know: I should ditch Atwood's Year of the Flood--but it fits so perfectly with the ecocrit focus of the last readings that I can't bring myself to do it.

And I can't count how many times I started working through the schedule--chapters Y-Z on X date, that sort of thing--only to realize I was running out of semester. I finally did a rough estimate of how many "reading" days the students have and added up how many pages total I'm asking them to read, then divided the latter by the former--and the total was approximately 23 pages of reading per day, counting weekends but not counting class days. But that had to be pretty flexible, not only because chapters didn't neatly fit that structure but also because, as I looked at the pages, I realized that sometimes pushing a little further would help--and other times, slowing down a little would probably be wise.

The slower readers will struggle. Those who read more quickly--and well (both are required, not just speed)--will do fine. And of course I'm making myself all sorts of promises about setting books up to make them easier to read, but I'll forget, or won't have time: nothing ever works like I think it's going to.

In any event, I'll be back tomorrow. I'm meeting the student from the poetry class who has one more paper to submit to fulfill her incomplete--and I plan to get a bunch more figured out in terms of schedule tomorrow. It would be really nice to have the class schedules worked out soon so I can figure out whether it's realistic to have required online discussions for the 102s, for example. If I do, this time I'm going to pose very leading questions geared to the paper topics and have the discussions stem from my prompts, instead of having the students just post whatever. (Note to self: do that for future 101s as well.)

Well, it will all be whatever it will be, and will work out however it works out. I do find it interesting, however, that since I've been in the office working, I almost couldn't leave without writing a blog post. It's like the way I have to hear a musical phrase all the way through to a resolve if I'm going to learn to play it: without that resolve, everything turns to mush in my head.

But speaking about learning music, I want to get home in time to practice the violin before it's late enough to drive the neighbors bats, so off I toddle.

I'll probably write more tomorrow. Compulsive blogger, that's me.