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Thursday, September 29, 2016

How to characterize the day?

I'm a bit at a loss for a title for today's blog post, as I'm not quite sure what I think about the day that has passed. It was ... a day. Nothing stands out as particularly noteworthy, workwise, which, all in all, is probably a good thing, as this blog is all too often a place for me to exercise my right to bitch and moan. So, running the day's events in order:

I met with Kristin this morning; I'm her mentor for her application for sabbatical, and she's feeling nervous about it, as it's not as fully formed as she'd like. Of course, as is often the case, she's her own harshest critic: she has an excellent project, and more to show in the way of previous work done than she thought. I did have a few suggestions for her about what she might include and where, and I loaned her my last sabbatical application--mostly just because it worked: I got the sabbatical. But I also thought it might help because I kept hearing from colleagues in other departments who had been on the sabbatical committee that mine was a particularly strong proposal. (I was pretty proud of it, I confess, and am still proud of the work I did, even if it never gets published anywhere.)

Then was the meeting of the departmental curriculum committee. The colleague who has been chairing the committee for ages was running the beginning of the meeting, as there was a lot of work that needed to be done, including providing feedback on my Distance Education Equivalency thingy. I got the input, then left the meeting to start making the changes. I got most of the changes done before class at 1; there were also some changes to be made to the course outline, which not only lives in our department files but also must accompany the DEE, but those were left on top of the computer keyboard while I went to class.

I'm not sure, but my conviction grows that I have permanently lost a few students--apart from the ones who already officially withdrew. Several have missed a few classes in a row, including today's class, when the first essay was due. In particular, there is a young couple: I thought at first they were just friends, but it turns out they're engaged, and I wonder if it may mirror the experience I had last time I taught Nature in Lit, where the man of the couple has a problem with me, the class, how I teach, whatever, and drags the (more capable, more pleasant) woman out of the class with him. The guy in this case is plenty smart--he's the one who asked in one of the first classes whether Frankenstein wasn't more about Romanticism than about science--but he's clearly disdainful of the note-writing process, as he's jotted down about three vague comments for every chunk of reading. The young woman perhaps has had less exposure to certain kinds of ideas and ways of thinking, as she's wildly enthusiastic but responding out of a purely emotional center, not bringing any real intellect to bear. Both AWOL.

On the other hand, two students who I thought were gone entirely actually showed up today--one of them with a completed essay. I think he also believes he's too good for the class, and he may well be functioning above the level of some of the other students, but I can't tell, as I've seen so little of his work.

More distressing is the e-mail I received before class from Rose in Bloom. She wrote to say that she doesn't want to withdraw from the class but she's falling behind on the work and is under enormous time pressure: two jobs and studying for the GREs. Since she already has her B.A., I asked her if she actually needed a grade for the class, or if she'd rather essentially audit: do the reading and enough in terms of notes to have something to refer to for class discussions, but not do the essays. If she does want a grade, I'll work that out with her, too: she can do her best with the work this semester, but I'll give her an incomplete and she can finish up later, doing more of an independent study. I'll do just about anything to keep her in the class; her intellect and abilities are manna to my hungry soul.

In class, I did show the beginning of Blade Runner, but I realized that students were starting to look awfully glassy-eyed and drooly, so I opted to stop it before we got very far. Yeah, I said: "director's cut," which usually means bloated and slow. But they did have some great ideas for how the film is different from the novel--and I used talking about the time period to segue into talking about Oryx and Crake. I hope that the set-up I provided will help them hold on, but I did tell them if they start getting too bogged down by the reading, we can adjust the schedule. I'm not quite sure how to adjust the schedule, unless I ditch a reading entirely, which I'm loath to do: I wish like mad I could expand the readings and resist contracting them further. I may just say, "OK, if you want to finish this novel on your own, go ahead, but the class is going to move on to the next one--which we also may not finish."

Of course, I'm hoping they'll come in on Tuesday and be happy as little clams with the reading, latched on and reading ahead, if anything. (Yeah, yeah, I know, but a woman can dream...)

After class, I came back to the office to finish up the revisions for the DEE, making sure to distribute them appropriately. I was worried about the fact that Bruce wouldn't be here on Tuesday early enough to sign the forms before I had to take them to my Tuesday meetings--but it turns out that at least one of my Tuesday meetings is being postponed until Thursday, and since I believe the signatures have to come in sequence, the other probably will be as well. Whatever: as long as I can get everything appropriately signed and copied so the course gets approved to run online for the spring, I'm happy.

Speaking of that, on Thursday I also have a meeting with my mentor from distance ed, a guy I've worked with before and like working with very much. He's smart, interesting, knows his stuff, doesn't expect everyone to look at the bells and whistles of Blackboard the same way, and speaks a language I understand. It wasn't until I took the initial Blackboard workshops from him that I understood at all how things work, and since then, my experiences with him have been wonderful. There are about a zillion things I want to know how to do, and I wish I could spend weeks doing nothing but working on getting the course set up.

Unfortunately, however, I must continue to deal with and teach the classes I have. No, I take that back: it isn't unfortunate at all. The classes haven't really jelled yet, but they all feel pretty good right now. I could wish that my own brain functioned a little more effectively: I am a walking embodiment of the absent-minded professor. I'd forget my own name if I didn't have it written down somewhere. (Wait, where did I put that piece of paper...?)

So, I head into another long weekend, carrying home with me much student work to mark, and trying to think how I'm going to remind myself to also work on that PowerPoint thing for seminar hours....

For now, a little more noodling, then homeward bound. No City jaunt for tango class for this woman, once again. Ah well. C'est la guerre.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Close, but no cigar

Well, I fucked up. I woke up at 4:54, realized I would be paralytically tired, and reset the alarm for its usual time. I tried to hustle through my morning routine to get to campus somewhat early anyway--and failed at that, too. I was extremely fortunate that I only had to advise one student (and help a colleague with another), so I did spend most of the time in Advisement marking my own student assignments, but I did not get to mark a thing during the first section of 102--and even without taking time for that, I ended up only having 5 minutes with them at the end of class to discuss the story. So I did the whole pre-paper stuff with the later section, then turned them loose to discuss--and at the last minute of the class period, I was still entering marks before returning the assignments. So that class didn't get to discuss the story with me at all, only in their groups--and I wonder how much they got wrong as a consequence.

Note to self: next time I teach 102, try to find a way to do all the pre-paper stuff either more quickly or in a class in which we're not discussing any of the literature. The latter would be better--but then I think we'd have to start drafting essays in class. That might not be altogether a bad thing, but it still means I'd have to steal a day from something somewhere else: the perennial problem of why it doesn't really work to rob Peter to pay Paul, in terms of time for discussion and work on essays.

I have to go through my backpack and sort out everything I flung in there as I was packing up to leave, including the assignments for students who weren't in class today (and therefore whose assignments I didn't have to mark, thank god).

Oh, yeah: And I forgot to have them sign up for their conferences. That's going to come back to bite me in the ass, for sure. I'm already thinking about how to make sure that students who are not in class on Wednesday to turn in an essay on time but who turn their essays in late can sign up for an appointment.

I keep thinking of the moment in G.I. Jane when, after a mission goes sideways, the Master Chief groans, "What a goat fuck." Today wasn't actually that horrible, but I do seem to smell a bit of goat...

One good thing about doing the pre-essay run-through today, though: in each class I had a student volunteer demonstrate how to log in to the Portal, access Blackboard, and access the link to submit an essay to Turnitin--and in so doing, I realized I never changed the due dates for the Turnitin links when I had to tear the schedule apart. That was the first thing I crossed off my list when I got back to the office.

No: second. The first thing I did was to put readers on the door for two students who--for whatever (stupid) reason--still didn't have their readers. I didn't quite snap heads off, but it was a near thing.

Mostly, however, I've been responding to the revised outline for Nature in Lit. I had said I'd weigh in on it, oh, about a year ago, and never did, but the colleague who created/updated the outline sent it around, and I took a look. She did an excellent job; the only thing I had to contribute was a few additional suggestions for the bibliography--and I ended up trolling through all sorts of stuff looking for the most important bits to add. Anyone who's really up to speed on ecocrit would surely point out glaring omissions from the past five years or so (or even longer), but as it was, I felt a bit bad about proposing as many additional titles as I did. Even at that, I was half tempted to suggest about a dozen more, but I had to restrain myself. Anyone who wants to teach the course will surely be exploring on his or her own--and has (I hope) enough sense to look at some of the big works about ecocriticism...

It has been nice, however, to know that I don't actually need to mark anything tonight--or indeed tomorrow morning, unless I want to. What I have in hand right now is pretty minimal and not crucial to return; the main reason to mark anything tomorrow will be to have my feet completely clear for the onslaught of essays that I'll receive tomorrow and next Wednesday.

Along those lines, nice moment this evening: a student from the SF class came to me for help with the focus of his essay. I'm not entirely sure that he soaked in what I was suggesting, but he seemed at least reassured (or maybe he simply wanted me to think he was so he could escape). Mostly, I'm just delighted he came to see me--and that I could record the appointment in my seminar hours. (Woot! Woot!)

But shifting gears to the "I want to get out of the office" gear, I need to make sure I have printouts of a few things that I need to photocopy, and at least a vague sense of a triage list for tomorrow, either before the 11:30 meeting of our departmental curriculum committee or after class. I will be taking work home over the weekend again--mostly with the intention to work on Monday--so I need to have a clear sense of what to prioritize and how.

Once I've got that done, you can take your Crayolas and color me gone.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

I'm so screwed...

(That's a little Farscape reference, for those of you who know Farscape.)

Despite the fact that I did a pretty good whack of assignment marking over the weekend (actually, more on Sunday than yesterday), I'm still woefully behind where I "should" be--especially as I've completely hit the wall and am incapable of marking another thing tonight. I haven't quite finished with the assignments from the earlier section of 102, and I haven't started at all on the assignments for the later one. I wouldn't be so concerned, but my experience in Advisement so far this semester has been that I actually do a fair amount of advising, and can't count on three hours of uninterrupted time in which to get my other work done. However, having bailed on last Wednesday, I don't feel I can bail again tomorrow--but I really, truly, honestly do have to have all the assignments ready to return to students tomorrow, as they are about to embark on their essays.

I think this means I have to set a super-early alarm (well, super-early for me), and get a good whack in before I go to Advisement--and even at that, I'm almost certainly going to be marking assignments during both classes, and returning them to students in the later section of 102 at the end of class, rather than the beginning.

I do not have any idea at all how I am this far behind this early in the semester--and that doesn't even touch on all the committee crapola that I need to tend to and have so far on back burners, I'm likely to forget all about it until I smell the smoke.

It would help if I could sleep, but this is becoming a vicious cycle: I am anxious, so I can't sleep, so I'm more anxious, and here we go 'round the prickly pear.

Ah, whatever. Somehow it all comes out in the end.

The SF class was pretty good today. I did have to start with some of the basics about essay writing: handout after handout after handout ("This one is about what your introductory paragraph should contain and where your thesis goes, as well as what a thesis is. This one is about how to properly integrate and cite sources. This one is about "static" errors. This one is about ..." and I don't even remember, but there were four of them.) I sat down at the computer to show them how to format an essay correctly. (A number of them will still get it wrong--but several of the brighter students asked good questions, which made me feel it wasn't a pointless exercise.) And the discussion about Androids was wonderful: we could have gone on a lot longer. It was one of those class sessions when I had to stop them when they were still eager to talk. That's both frustrating (I want them to have every opportunity to talk things out) and terrific (leave 'em wanting more!).

I was a bit saddened to be met at the door prior to class by two students--one of them potentially very good--with withdrawal slips. I should be happy (two fewer papers to grade: woo-hoo!!), but they're not the students I would like to lose. I suspect, however, that I've lost, or will lose about another five--some of whom I'd be glad to shed from the class.

The Truculent Plagiarist contacted me by e-mail earlier today to ask if we could meet. I was all set to set up an appointment, but after class he told me he'd gotten some help from the student in class whose number he'd collected the first day. I hope the help really did help, though I confess I'm not sure it will have been sufficient. However, it's also possible TTP will get more out of how a classmate explains things--assuming the classmate truly understands him- or herself--than out of how I would.

And they all can revise. So, well, I've done what I can, I think.

I realize that, as I think about the week, and weeks, immediately ahead of me, I feel more of that anxiety: I'm going to have all these essays to grade--getting them from the SF students on Thursday and from both 102s next Wednesday (though I have to remind myself that I'm not going to get as many as I might have feared, as students are already going AWOL--or actually withdrawing); I have to remember to set up Oryx and Crake for the SF students, while collecting their essays and showing the start of Blade Runner. I have to work on a PowerPoint presentation for seminar hours, on my online Nature in Lit (as I need to show substantial progress in order to earn the remainder of my stipend--and get the course up and running for spring, assuming all the approvals are in order), on reviewing the strategic plan (all 42 turgid pages of it), on god knows what else.

Being me, of course, I'm already feeling stressed out about the fact that, in November, I will have to observe Cathy's class at 8:30 in the morning. Normally I wouldn't volunteer for that "honor," but of those of us who can observe someone going up for full professor, two teach at that time, and one would have to schlep in from New Jersey--and he's a night owl, like me. I fell on my sword about it, but truly, the idea of having to be here at 8:30--which means being up at 5:30 at the latest, if not at 5--makes me feel sick. Even though it's almost two months from now.

So I remind myself of two things. 1) It's one morning out of my semester--and I often have to get up that early, if not earlier, to get to the airport when I'm heading out west, so it's not as if it will kill me (though the whiny little girl part of me says, "Yeah, but traveling is fun..."). 2) The planet could be hit by an asteroid between now and then, which would render the observation moot (my way of reminding myself that we do not know what the future holds, so getting anxious about anything at all in the future is ridiculous).

 All that being said, if I'm not going to get any more work done tonight and have to be up extra early tomorrow, I'd better call it a night and get home so I have at least a vague chance of getting enough sleep. I'm sure I will report on how that goes, as well as on how the assignment marking goes, in the blog post of tomorrow.

Barring the arrival of that asteroid, of course.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Who'd a thunk it.

The Truculent Plagiarist from the SF class kinda pissed me off in class today--but he sorta made up for it after class. I started class by stating that I needed to give the "don't plagiarize" speech. I explained that as faculty we can tell when someone is cheating on purpose: I may not be able to tell this B student from that B student, but if either one suddenly starts writing A++ papers or papers that sound like they came from a grad student, I'll know. He tried to argue that I couldn't possibly tell on a first assignment (which was his argument about his plagiarized statement of self-defined goal), and I said, "I've been teaching longer than most of you have been alive, and I've been a grad student. I know what even the top top top undergraduate student can produce and how it's different from what a grad student or professor produces." I also talked about "accidental" plagiarism, and how dangerous it can be. At the end of class, I returned homework, and The Truculent Plagiarist was one of three students who had plagiarized homework. (One of them wasn't in class today, but they all got--or will get--variations on the form letter.) He hung around after class, and wanted to argue with me about it.

Me: "I will not talk to you until after the weekend. What does the first sentence of the letter say?"
TTP: "'Read this letter carefully and consider what I say here over the weekend before you contact me."
Me: "Right. So I won't talk to you until after the weekend."
TTP: "But I read the letter."
Me: "And I won't talk to you about it until after the weekend."

But then...
TTP: "But I need to talk to you about the paper, 'cause I don't know what to do."
Me: "Ah! That, we can talk about."

He asked if his grade could recover from the plagiarized homework. I explained that the answer is in the letter--but I went ahead and told him yes, it can. We started to talk about the essay, but he had a class coming up, so I told him he should contact me to set up a time when we can meet.

If he really does want help with the essay, and if he actually follows through and contacts me for an appointment, I'll be happy to work with him. I'll be surprised, I have to admit, but happy. Still, the fact that he even thought to ask for help about the paper--and didn't simply blow a gasket about the plagiarism and storm off, either to complain to Bruce and Cathy or to disappear (or withdraw) is somewhat encouraging. I'm not holding my breath about his ability to do what he needs to do to pass the class, but if he will at least try his best, I will revise my judgment about him.

The rest of the class discussion was great. We got into a rabbit trail conversation that went rambling through the underbrush about how an android is different from a robot is different from a humanoid is different from a cyborg... but once I got us back on track, some pretty esoteric ideas were coming up. I brought up the idea of the singularity, for instance--and we discussed that this idea of whether something humans build can be truly considered a separate living entity. I'm blanking now on the idea brought up by one student, an idea that nailed a motif in SF generally, but it was cool to be able to say, "Yes: that's an idea we see over and over in SF."

I think the class is developing some interesting chemistry, and I'm very happy that some of the more silent students have started joining the conversation, asking good questions, raising important issues. That's always a good sign. I think this particular novel is grabbing their attention pretty well--and there are fewer confusions about it than I remember from the last time I taught the course.

Of course, there are still far too many bodies in the room: I'm rather dreading collecting that first essay. One student officially withdrew today; he'd enrolled late, missed a few classes, came in already behind and instantly became overwhelmed, not surprisingly. He was smart to withdraw. Another three or four students should withdraw, as they've missed some classes and are falling behind. But that still leaves me with about 27 students, which is about 7 too many. I suppose it's a good thing, though, that I wouldn't want to have to pick who else "should" go: most of them are hanging on well enough that I'd feel bad if they gave up. What would be best for me versus what would be best for the students....

After class, rather than marking student assignments, I worked on the Distance Education Equivalency form for Nature in Lit and sent a revised version to the VP for distance ed. I'm hoping to get her seal of approval on it ASAP, so I can take it through the rest of the steps knowing she'll append her signature with no quibbles. I haven't started working on the development course: the Blackboard space set aside for me to start actually creating the class the way I'll teach it. I will need to do that at some point in the not too distant future (in part because doing so is required for me to get the remainder of my stipend). I'd like to hold off until I know whether it's going to get approved in time for spring, but I really can't: not only do I have to have a good start on it to show the VP before we get much further down the road, if it does get approved for spring, I am going to want to have as much pulled together as possible, as soon as possible, so I'm not frantically trying to get it all up and ready over the winter break.

Now, however, I intend to engage in some noodling: something that feels like (at least marginally productive) work but that doesn't require too much thought nor become too absorbing, as I am meeting Scott for dinner and Atwood tonight. I'm looking forward to hearing his take on Oryx and Crake, and why he initially found it difficult to apprehend/comprehend. If a colleague whose smarts I trust and admire found the book challenging, I need to know why so I can help my students over the initial hurdles. I was stunned when he said that he was struggling with it, but that's informative: it reminds me that the reading I take for granted as super-easy, someone else may find a slog, and vice versa. Someone highly intelligent, too: I can't just dismiss the difficulty as "our students can't read."

Well, a lot of them can't, but that's a different issue.

In fact, continuing my reread of Oryx and Crake may be the perfect noodling activity. That or alphabetizing 102 assignments prior to marking them. Whatever. It's lovely to know that I'll be able to sleep as late as I like the next four mornings in a row. I will have to hunker down and do some serious marking in order to return assignments to all the classes next week--because all have essays due the class after I return their assignments--but I may also take some time this weekend to play around with a PowerPoint presentation about mentoring, which--maybe--we can get up on the campus website...?

That's something else to talk with Scott about. It'll be a fun dinner.

I am blessed beyond belief with magnificent colleagues: smart, fun, real... I may bitch about this place, and with good reason, but many of my colleagues are the bee's knees.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Is it over yet?

Lord love a duck, I am so tired and so far behind on work, I've already reached the point in the semester when I want to say, "OK, give me a few months' break and then let's start all over again." Or just, "I quit." I did not go to either the Assessment meeting or Advisement today: I was feeling physically pretty ragged, so I let myself sleep a little late and then just came to the office to try to chunk through some work.

I have no idea what I did with the time between when I arrived and when I had to leave for class. I know I was actively engaged in getting things done, but damned if I can remember what any of it was. Some was tying up the last of those raveled bits from the torn-apart schedule (getting a new conference sign up sheet ready--though I ended up having to reprint it something like four times, as I kept making mistakes; blocking off the seminar hours on the regular mentoring grid for the times when I'll be holding conferences; things like that), but somehow it seems like I must have fallen briefly into a worm-hole or something and lost an hour somewhere.

Despite how exhausted and whiny I feel (like a tired toddler), I have to say there were some bright moments today. Both 102s did a pretty good job with "Ile Forest"--and I was happy to get any discussion of it at all, as I felt that this was the time to talk about plagiarism. They got the plagiarism idea pretty well (which may or may not keep them from doing it), and they had lots to say about "Ile Forest," a lot of it very smart. I hope we have time next Wednesday to touch on it again, but I also have to show them how to access the Turnitin submissions through Blackboard and how to set up an essay in MSWord. (They can do all sorts of magic tricks with their phones, but they can't figure out how to change margins or spacing in a Word document.) We also have to talk about "Dance Me Outside," the last of the stories we'll discuss before they write their first essays.

And then we're really off to the races--despite three weeks in a row when those classes meet only once. I'll be very happy to get past the last of the scheduling weirdnesses and just clunk through the routine.

I'm also pretty pleasantly surprised, so far, with the notes from the SF class. Some are just as crappy as they've been, but some are turning around, getting much better. I did use the language I discovered for the SF class with one of the 102s; I forgot with the other, but I have to remember to harp on it. I don't remember what I said about that last night, but here's what I came up with:

Art exists to make us feel or think more deeply, to raise questions or issues. Non-verbal art more often works with feelings, instead of ideas/issues, but verbal art--literature in particular--exists to raise questions, to make us think about concerns in our lives, as well as to feel something. The work of literature probably won't answer the question in any clear way (or even at all), but you can use evidence in the work to make a case for what the author wanted us to consider about the question or concern. The role of notes is to help us uncover the question or concern being raised by the work--and to help us figure out how the work addresses that question or concern.

(I just copied that into the Reading Notes instructions handout. Next semester, I'll have to figure out where to put it, or how to word it more succinctly, or both.)

I did expound on that some yesterday with the SF students, and I told them that I would only mark improvements: if they're doing the same thing, they won't get feedback (except the comment I'll put on their notes that says their marks will continue to go down unless their work improves: what's getting the equivalent now of a C-/D+ will eventually slip to an F...). But given the ways the notes I've seen so far have improved (mostly), I think they're starting to get the hang of them.

Of course, the Truculent Cheater did plagiarize his second homework, as well as his first. I fully expect he'll try to argue with me about it (which I won't do)--and he may go to Bruce or Cathy to complain about me. Whatever: I've got him dead to rights--and I hope to hell he decides I am prejudiced against him and drops the class.

Meanwhile, the student who was in my fiction writing class a while back is knocking everything out of the park. It turns out she earned her B.A. and wants to become a professor. I'm not sure why she's taking the class, whether perhaps it fulfills a requirement she may need to apply to a grad program, or whether she just wanted to take it for her own edification, but I'm thrilled to bits to have her in the class. I'm going to call her Rose in Bloom, because she's gone from being a sweet rosebud to full blossom.

One weird little frustration about that class, though: on the roster are two Vincents, two Michaels, and two Ryans--and I'm having a hell of a hard time getting which one is who sorted out. (I also tend to confuse one of the Vincents with one of the Ryans.) An advantage to when the attrition starts is that I'll have fewer names to remember (not to mention fewer assignments to mark).

Speaking of assignments to mark: I "should" keep marking tonight, but I know when I've hit the wall, and I've slammed into it so hard I'm almost literally reeling. I'm going to trundle off to my car--and hope that I get here on the dot of 10, and that doing so gives me sufficient time to mark all the remaining assignments so I can return them tomorrow. I have an enormous bolus of assignments to mark for the 102s, which is what I'll be doing over the weekend. I have to get my feet clear of all this, because I'm going to be hit with the first round of essays soon--and god alone knows how I'll get all those marked in time for the conferences, even with the additional time I've allowed myself.

I'm hoping I have enough conference times for everyone. Unfortunately, not only do I have a meeting of the Strategic Planning committee during my conference week, I now have a subcommittee meeting prior to that overall committee meeting. There's a huge swath of unavailable time slots as a consequence--so I may end up having to get pretty creative about when I can meet with students. One way or another, I'll figure out a way to meet with them all, even if it's on the phone.

But that's all a worry for another time. Tonight, I'm stick-a-fork-in-me done.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Barely a post at all

I'm just doing a quick check in, to keep all my readers enthralled. I have to fly out of here with William in about five minutes, so we can meet Paul and get on the train for our dinner in the city.

Quick notes:

1) The student who was shocked at the fact that there was an assignment the second day of the SF class submitted a plagiarized self-evaluation (I know, boggles the mind) as well as plagiarized homework. I didn't find enough specific material to "prove" he plagiarized the "statement of self-defined goal," but I did find enough to prove he plagiarized his first homework. I forgot to copy it, however, so I didn't return it to him today, with the letter I've adapted from Paul. I'll see if the homework I collected today was plagiarized.

2) My desk is littered with things to do to keep tying up the raveled edges from the schedule change. To be continued.

3) I had a great idea for how to convey what analysis is--or I thought it was great, until I ran it past the head of Advisement and then Paul: both were positive but revealed flaws in the idea. Back to the drawing board.

4) I hate it when I finally find the language that may convey what I'm trying to get at after about six assignments have gone by--but I think I finally figured out how to explain what notes need to contain. Stay tuned.

I have no fucking clue how I'm going to manage tomorrow. I'm supposed to go to an Assessment meeting, which I'll have to leave early to get to Advisement, and I have a shit-load of assignments to mark, none of which I'll be able to get done before tomorrow's classes... and god only knows what else is lurking on my desk.

But that's tomorrow. Now, I'm going out for steak and booze with the boys.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Learning to say "no"

I fucked myself over by not saying "no" to people I love this weekend. I ended up spending way, way, way too long on the phone on Sunday--with people I love--and consequently missed several hours' worth of work getting done, and today those missed hours were sorely missed. I barely got the 102 assignments marked to get back to them, which means I did not--as I intended--get started on the SF assignments until after I got back from class. I just finished, and it's almost 8:30 p.m.

I also have a shitload of little messy bits that I have to get tucked away for the 102s tomorrow morning, so I have them ready to roll before I head to Advisement on Wednesday morning, all stemming from the spanner that got thrown into my assignment schedule by the presidential debates.

OK, not entirely from that: I also realized today that I was creating assignments out of the old handbook, which of course made no sense in terms of the pagination and information in the new one. That one I can't blame on the debates, as that's been in the schedule from the beginning: I just didn't realize it until I started to review the assignment for today and thought, "Wait, that's not right..."

Absent-minded professor creates own problems, wants to shake herself silly....

There are still a few little bits I need to take care of tonight before I go, and if I were smart, I'd say "no" to Paul and William, or at least "no, for right now." We're having dinner in the City tomorrow evening, which means I have to blast out of here way earlier than usual--and we'll be riding the train in together, so I won't be getting any work done on the train. When will I get the assignments marked for the 102s? Maybe not until Monday, when class has been canceled. If they don't get those assignments back right away, no harm, no foul--but it would be awfully nice to feel like I'm at least on the curve instead of trailing miles behind it.

But sitting here bitching about how overwhelmed I am and how tired I am and how little I'm getting done addresses none of those problems in any substantial way, so this is going to be a short post, folks. I need to get out of here so I can hit the ground at a full gallop tomorrow, the minute I arrive on campus.

Ah, Christ, I hope this calms down soon.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Great, huge, honking spanner in the works...

So, I was checking e-mail before starting to draft the various e-mails I had to write today--and suddenly I see a message from on high letting us know that, because of the security in the area surrounding the presidential debates that will be held at Hofstra on Sept. 26, any classes that meet Monday and some other day of the week would be canceled; the only classes that will meet are those that meet one day a week only, on Monday.

So, in addition to the cancellations because of the Jewish holidays, which was already making my schedule difficult, now I have another class canceled--and it was the class just before the students have to write their first essays, the class in which we'd discuss the last of the possible readings to use for the essay.

There could be a case made that it's permissible to let them flounder around with the story on their own and write about it without having discussed it--but I just don't feel I can do that with a 102 class. A lit elective, maybe, but not a 102.

Therefore, with my stomach doing more flips than a Simone Biles floor routine, I ripped apart the schedule and reconstructed it.

The down sides: 1) The students will be starting to read and discuss the poetry while they're still finishing their papers on the short stories. 2) The reading schedule for The Left Hand of Darkness has been severely truncated, ferociously truncated, and a lot of the students who are still hanging on at that point will lose their grip on the speeding train and fall by the wayside. 3) I have less time to conference with them for their final papers. 4) Rescheduling the time I miss in Advisement will be a lot tougher and require more days--because for all but one of the conferencing periods, I'll have more days dedicated to conferencing.

The up sides: 1) For all but one of the conferencing periods, I'll have more days dedicated to conferencing. 2) For all the conference periods except the last, the conferences are being held Monday through Thursday, instead of (confusingly for the students) starting on a Thursday and carrying over into the next week. 3) I have more time between when I receive their essays and when I have to have them ready to return--for all but the last essay, when I'm counting on the fact that I'll have a lot fewer essays to mark.

So, the schedule has been revised--and I'm praying like mad that I haven't done something inutterably bone-headed in the process, as I did it on a Thursday evening, which is not, generally speaking, when I'm at my intellectual peak. But it's done and copied and ready to hand out to students. So, well, whew. My stomach can stop the gymnastics routines.

Prior to all that furor, I helped out with another seminar hours workshop (no probs), then I had a meeting with the VP in charge of distance education. As I suspected would be the case, she mostly told me things I already know--or things I may ignore. But there was some interesting information, and some sense of what the current buzz is about. Apparently, the big deal this semester is to try to get faculty to include more videos: not just things already existing (YouTube videos, movies, whatever), but videos created by the professor and the students. I actually don't mind in the least figuring out how to make a little video of myself as a welcome to the students; I may even take her suggestion and create a video of myself showing them how I have the class organized on Blackboard. (Even if they can use Blackboard, they may need a little guidance in figuring out where to find each little widget for my particular course.) And I don't mind at all asking them to make little videos--if I can think of something pedagogically worthwhile for them to use videos to accomplish.

But the real meat of the meeting was to light fire under me about getting the paperwork rolling. I don't have very much time to get all the signatures collected and the thing approved for presentation to the College-Wide Curriculum Committee. Yikes and likewise zoiks! I josh, but I'm seriously in a bit of a flop sweat about this.

And I was so busy with revamping the schedule for the 102s (which necessitated some e-mails to let others know about the change in my schedule), and with writing all the e-mails that arose out of the meeting about the distance ed thing, and with I don't know what the fuck all else, I did not mark a single assignment for the 102s--and I have quite a handful to mark.

So, here we are: end of the first full week of classes, and I already have to take work home to do over the weekend. This does not bode well for how the rest of the semester is going to shake out.

Today's SF class was a little bumpy, too. The student who indicated his disengagement from the first class showed up today but then I caught him on his cell phone. "But it's work-related!" he said. I ended up wrestling with him about that, the missing work, the rules--trying to just get him to accept that he'd fucked up and should leave--but I realized he had a point, which is that a lot of the other students had their phones out. Two of them had the book on their phones. (Note to self: absolutely, categorically forbid this in the future. It gets too confusing trying to sort out who is legitimately on the phone and who isn't.) I finally agreed to let the kid stay this time, but Judas Priest, I wish he'd go. He had the work, at least, so maybe he'll turn out to be OK, but we ended up with 10 minutes to talk with the class as a whole about the end of Frankenstein: nowhere near enough time. I had wanted to introduce them to Androids, too, but didn't have time.

I did, however, ask them to think about whether they'd have what they'd need for an essay from the notes they have. A bunch of them very confidently--and erroneously--said yes, and I said, "I think a bunch of you are fooling yourselves, because I have to tell you, all I see in your notes is summary." So then--given the lack of time--I just went right to the heart of it. "What are the deep questions or issues that Shelley addresses in the novel? She never answers a question or resolves an issue, but we need to figure out what she might be asking." Virtually every face in the room looked like I'd just hit it with a brick. They finally came up with some things, but I need to remind them--again, and again, and again--that 1) they are working to find those deeper questions and ideas and 2) summarizing will not get them there.

 A bit discouraging--but the discussion in their groups was lively.

Essentially, right at this particular moment, it feels like every careful plan I've made has turned to unmitigated chaos. I don't know why I'm surprised: since all the things that blew up in my life from October 2012 through January 2013, I've been saying that the main lesson I learned is that we have virtually no control over anything. None. Zero. Zip. Here I am, experiencing how completely impossible it is to maintain control over almost anything. I don't like feeling this level of chaos, especially this early in the semester, but all I can do is figure out what I can let go of and run like crazy not to fall any further behind (like the White Queen in Alice through the Looking Glass).

On which note, I'm going to stagger off campus and try to figure out how to let go of today so I can spend tomorrow taking a nice, big, deep breath--and then try to take a clear look at all the pearls all over the floor to see if I can get at least some of them threaded back up again.

I can't even think about it tomorrow--or I'll try not to. I'll think about it in another tomorrow after that.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Ah, hell...

I'm very glad I happened to look at my calendar today, because I was on the verge of missing an important meeting tomorrow, having to do with getting the online version (the DEE) of Nature in Lit approved. But that meeting means that the time I was so sure I'd have to finish marking the assignments for the SF class will be truncated if not altogether obliterated. Dammit.

Despite that, however, I'm taking the calculated risk of leaving the last few assignments unmarked tonight. I'm hoping that tomorrow morning's workshop doesn't run the full 75 minutes, or that the meeting about the DEE doesn't take very long, or both. Worst case scenario, I will have to mark the last assignments while students are in their discussion groups.

It did occur to me today that I didn't need to write much on this batch of assignments: they did them without having my comments on their first set of notes, so repeating myself when they hadn't had a chance to even try to improve is just a waste of time. When I get the next batch, I may write more--or not. I do get tired of saying the same things a thousand times to no discernible effect. However, I may give them a thought experiment after I return the final notes on Frankenstein: "Tonight, take out all your notes on the novel and imagine that you have to write a paper about it for Thursday's class. Read over the paper assignment, and the information about how to write a good literature paper. Could you do it, from the notes you have?"

My bet is, even if I give that thought experiment assignment, they won't do it--not unless I make them write something and offer extra credit for it (and even then, only the students who need the credit least will do the work). But ah well.

Further to what tomorrow is going to look like, once again I will have to give tango a pass. I didn't get the assignments marked for the 102s (and collected a new bunch of assignments today), so now I have three things to mark for everyone. The good news is that the attrition seems to already be starting, so I don't have the full 55 students' worth of work to mark--but I do still have a fair amount of marking to do, and I'm now realizing that if I ever do have time in Advisement to mark stuff, I'll have to focus on the SF classes; my T/Th blocks of time--whether they're before or after class--will have to be used for the 102s.

And if I look at how fast I have to turn around the essays for the 102s, I'll fall into a flat panic. I have given myself zero time for that--even if I mark only the essays for the next day's conferences, I'll still be here until god knows when each night, marking madly for the next day...

Stupid scheduling, but I've looked at the calendar multiple times and I just don't see how else I could have timed things, unless I ditched the conferences entirely--but I want to use the conferences for part of my seminar hour obligation, at least as a test drive. Also, I opted not to have the revision/edition process on one paper overlap with the start of the readings for the next paper: that meant I had to find as many days as possible when all we were doing was working on essays, so something had to give. I either couldn't assign as much reading (which would severely limit students' options for paper topics), or I had to give up some grading time. And because of how the Jewish holidays fall this year, I couldn't give myself a weekend to mark: the timing just didn't work. As it is, I'm holding conferences over just three days (instead of the usual four), or starting at the end of one week and continuing into the beginning of the next.

It's just going to be a very bumpy process, like riding over a washboard road in a car with no shocks (or brakes).

C'est la vie.

As for today's classes, however, both went well. I did start with some review of terms and a reminder about what notes are for (and how they are different from annotation), but most of each class was spent talking about the story for today. In each class, a number of students had not done the reading: I let them stay today but told them that starting Monday, I will stick to the policy in the syllabus and make them leave if they come to class unprepared.

Even with some of the students unprepared, the discussions were damned good--especially in the second section. There seems to be a larger critical mass of intellectual brain in that section, which means the discussion got good very quickly--and I had to stop the discussion before the students were out of ideas, which is cool. I'd be very gratified at the fact that in both classes, someone came up with the idea that the story is about the narrator wanting to become a man--but I just discovered, not to my surprise but to my dismay, that there is an online "cheater guide" for the story, and although one cannot access the whole exploration of the themes of the story without paying, there's enough available free to hand students that information. (Note to self: remind students not to use online study guides--though I think I may be standing at an open barn door, looking at the ass-end of a horse disappearing over the horizon. Further note to self: find new stories, ones that do not have cheater guides readily available, if possible.)

Well, onward and awkward, as my buddy Jane and I used to say. Today was passably good. I never ate lunch, so I'm very ready for dinner--but first I have to practice (I've taken to calling it "violence" practice, given my frustration levels). And in order to practice, I have to actually leave the office and go home.

All right, all right! I'm going! No need to shove!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Brain log jam

There is so much going on, I don't know whether to scratch my watch or wind my ass. I'll try to provide a complete precis of the day, as illustrative.

Late last night I sent an e-mail saying that I wouldn't make the 10 a.m. seminar hours workshop. I got home so late, and it took so long to wind down, I opted to set the alarm for an hour later than I would normally. However, by some miracle, I still managed to get to the workshop only about 15 minutes late, was still able to help Tom--and had time to address my own particular concern about how I can handle the intensive conferencing I'd like to do. We're not opening that option up to the full faculty until we've had a little test-drive of it first, but if what I do works (and it also works for another colleague, who is also on the seminar hours committee), the committee can discuss how to make the option available. I would worry if there were a sudden stampede of people wanting to do the conferencing--that could blow the system up in several ways--so I think we might want to start simply by finding out how many faculty regularly did conferencing and have had to give it up because of the seminar hours requirement. The numbers who respond with a "yes" will probably determine how we want to handle it.

But that conversation necessitated an e-mail--which sounds like it ought to take seconds but actually takes longer, most of the time (in the interest of clarity and an attempt at brevity, which is never my best thing). However, I postponed writing the e-mail in order to try to mark those last few assignments before the department meeting started.

I actually stayed for the entire meeting. There were a lot of important announcements; I was on tap to explain that there is a problem with Banner, which will allow students who have passed ENG100 to take ENG101--which is simply a waste of time: they don't get more graduation credits for it, because the two courses fulfill the same function, and they can't improve their GPA: all that's happening is they're missing a chance to move forward into ENG102, which is the next step from either 100 or 101. Lots of questions from my colleagues, some of them very pragmatic, some more philosophical. I also was asked by a colleague to make some kind of official notation about his classroom preference for the spring, since he's next in seniority to Bruce and is also going to retire. (Noted.) Several other little bits came up in the meeting that engendered "to do" notes for myself on my pad.

Then came the big announcement, about Bruce's retirement. Despite the active grapevine around here, some people where caught completely unaware--and left the meeting stunned.

I came back up to the office to finish marking the last teeny bit of student work for today's class--but both William and another colleague came up to bat around ideas for who would be interested in becoming the new chair. I also was button-holed after the meeting by a good friend and colleague, who joined the vast flock of people who think I'd be good at the job, while I know very well I would suck at it. I truly would, but no one believes me. They do, however, understand when I say I'd hate it--which I would--and that the last thing I want to do is to spend the last years of my career doing something I loathe.

But the conversation with the colleagues interfered with my getting the last assignment marked. They left for their respective classes, and I finished the marking--only to be a few minutes late to class.

Class went well: lively conversation. However, I had to pause in writing this post just there, because writing that reminded me that even with eight students absent, there were no empty desks: if everyone had shown up, we'd have had to go up and down the hall, looking for empty classrooms from which to raid desks--so I paused to write an e-mail to that effect. (Interesting that, since I wrote an e-mail after the first day asking for more desks, the problem has gotten worse, not better....) I did toss one student: the one I was sure would withdraw after the first day, because he was so outraged that there was an assignment due the next class. As I suspected he might, he came to class today with nothing: neither of his earlier assignments nor his homework for today. Buh-bayee. And I did tell them that the gloves would be coming off: that next class, I'll be patrolling the classroom looking for evidence that the homework has been done. There were a few students who had missed last Thursday's class--and one who showed up today for the first time, in addition to two whose first day in class had been Thursday--so I was giving everyone a chance to get on the ball. But starting Thursday: no homework? Thanks for playing.

About that student who missed the first three classes. She contacted me by e-mail last night, and I told her I was very concerned about her trying to get up to speed, having already missed so much. She swears she can do it. She's very effusive, pretty, bubbly--and I hope somewhat capable, or I'll be bursting the bubble. We'll see.

After class, P&B. The meeting ran long, but I could stay, as I don't have a 4:00 class this semester. But then I had to clear my feet of the e-mails and other little bits and orts that were collecting throughout the day on that "to do list"--plus a few e-mails that came in while I was sending the ones I needed to send, one in particular hitting an "orange" alert in my psyche, as it was from a colleague who wondered if I still wanted to put together a panel that I'd considered back in the spring, when I was young and full of dewy-eyed optimism. (Actually, I would still like to do the panel, but it does mean I have to do some serious thinking, which makes me want to whine and complain about how overloaded I am.) In any event, weed-whacking all those little brambles and ivy tendrils around my ankles meant I didn't turn my attention to marking assignments for the 102s until about 5:30. And since I'm determined to get out of here in time to practice the violin, eat a reasonable dinner, and get to bed at a reasonable hour, I had to stop by 6:30, long before I finished everything--because heaven forfend that I should end a day without a blog post.

Now, however, I can cross "post to blog" off the list and stagger home. It's getting dark earlier these days, so I want to have at least a little light still in the sky as I drive home. I hope to hell I'm not here insanely late again tomorrow night. I have a little more time on Thursday than I did today (have a seminar hours workshop but no meeting during club hour), but I still have what my ex-brother-in-law would have called a "pant-load" of marking to do.

But not tonight, says Scarlett. I'll think about that tomorrow.

Monday, September 12, 2016

First late night of the semester

It's well after 8 as I start this blog post, and I still have three assignments to mark for tomorrow's SF class. I am trusting that either I'll leave the department meeting early (which I tend to do when people start annoying me--as often happens) or that I can mark the last bits while students are in their groups discussing the reading.

I have become resigned: it seems no matter what I do, students cannot or will not understand the point and value of the reading notes I assign. I can say--hell, their classmates can say--that summary is not useful, and yet I get one set of notes after another that is nothing but summary. They can say, in response to my questions, that they need to include details and their own ideas about those details. Three chapters of Frankenstein, and apparently the prevailing wisdom is that one generalization per chapter is a "detail"--and the "idea" is just "I'll write this down."

I'll be interested to see if the 102s do better, now that they've read a bit from their little writing manual (a very small and inexpensive but highly beneficial book called What Every College Student Should Know About Writing About Literature, part of a whole series of What Every College Student Should Know... books, all by the same author I think). In class today, they seemed to understand what is being asked of them--but I won't know whether they really get it until I get their first set of reading notes on Wednesday.

I also created one unpleasant little SNAFU with the very first assignments for my 102 students--largely because the assignments have some overlap, so I confused myself into thinking they were one assignment, but I'd broken them down into two for the grade calculation. They had to read the first three chapters of that little book, which are all about how to approach reading literature, and they had to use those chapters for two things: one, they had to reflect on how that approach is similar to or different than their own experiences reading literature, as part of their self-evaluations; and two, they had to simply review what they learned from those chapters, "just the facts." They're also confusing the handbook review--simply conveying the facts from a handbook assignment--with reading notes, which require actual analysis of literature.

After this many years of teaching, you'd think I'd remember that for many students, maybe most, there is no distinction among kinds of reading or writing. Everything they read or write is "literature." That misconception seems so deeply entrenched that I don't think I'll ever get them out of it.

Sigh, sigh, sigh.

But the classes went OK today. A few students were missing from each class, so part of me is hoping that they've already fallen by the wayside and will disappear. The first class seemed a little more quiet and repressed; the second a little more lively--but neither was lying inert on the floor nor swinging from the rafters. It's early days yet. We'll see how they do when they read the first story.

Now, however, I'm so tired I can hardly see--and I have to get up early again tomorrow (every day this week, in fact) in order to be here to aid and assist with another seminar hours workshop. Then the department meeting. Then class. Then, no matter how tired out I feel, I have to embark on the marking for the 102s, or I won't be able to get it all done before class on Wednesday. It was mercifully quiet in Advisement today, and should be the same on Wednesday, but I still want to be absolutely sure I'm set before I walk in the door.

And at that, I'm about to walk out the door.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Too Tired to Tango

I was a very good girl and got to bed at a reasonable hour last night, only to be awakened in the early morning by an incipient migraine. I took my pills, fell back to sleep for an hour--at which point the caffeine in the meds kicked in and woke me up: it was 5 a.m., and the alarm was set for 6:30. I think I drifted off to sleep again at 6:25... or at least that's how it felt. So I've been pretty crunchy today.

Fortunately, it was not only a short and relatively easy day but a good one. The seminar hours workshop on electronic record keeping actually turned out to be very important--not only because there were some specifics that had not been sufficiently pointed to as crucial in the process but also because people had a lot of very good questions, from the pragmatic to the political, about how the new process of working with our own students--or sending them to someone we know and trust--would play out. So my apologies for any snarkiness I evidenced in yesterday's post about how unnecessary the workshops were.

Further, Scott suggested a solution to a problem I am facing, about how to adequately track hours in the weeks when I'm engaged in mandatory conferencing with my students. Another faculty member wants to do the same thing, and Scott had a suggestion that seems a lot more useful than the solution my colleagues in the Writing Center and I worked out--as long as it doesn't require a ridiculous amount of work on the part of the people who have administrative access to the grids. I've sent an e-mail about that to the WC colleagues; I'm trying very hard not to involve our one remaining administrative assistant in the office. She's wonderful, but she's trying to do the work of three people (the other two have retired because they were experiencing such profound health problems; it's very sad to see them go, but I'm glad they are able to take care of themselves). Her work load is so ridiculous that Bruce has closed the office for any important business in the middle of the day. The office aides will be there to clear paper jams and that sort of thing, but Lori will be buried in work--and I really do not want to add to her burden because I want to do my thing my way.

So, we'll see what happens with all that.

Class was great. The students were very actively engaged in their group discussions--and as far as I could tell, they were right on task. The class discussion was also good, though there's one over-eager student whom I will have to squelch. (Quick! Someone get the burlap bag!) They're already focusing on good points, good issues to explore, and the starry-eyed romantic in me is telling the cynic that they really have found those points on their own, not by using online study guides. (Full disclosure: one of the reasons why I teach the Le Guin texts is that there are fewer cheat sites available, or at least they're harder to find.) One student is already headed for a crash: he's come to class twice without his work. I let it go on Tuesday, and I didn't catch it today--but if he's there next Tuesday without his work, he will be cordially invited to leave. Ditto students on cell phones: I didn't interrupt myself to toss anyone today (and there was only one obvious offender--and he'd made some good contributions, so I kinda let it slide), but Tuesday, the gloves come off.

In fact, I'll start the class with an announcement to that effect. That's a buzz-kill, I know, but it needs to be done. Wheat from the chaff, and all that.

The best part of class, however, was after class. One student who had said in the groups that he'd gotten absolutely nothing from the reading stayed after; he made one wonderful contribution to the class discussion--he's plenty bright--but he frankly admitted that, as a person with a strong right-brain, scientific bent, he tended to read fiction and simply think, "It's the way it is because that's what the author decided; the protagonist does as he/she does because otherwise there wouldn't be a story." So we talked for a good while after class about how he can adjust his thinking so it works. It took a little while--me lobbing questions at him, which he would first answer in the sort of "it is what it is" way but then answer much more insightfully--but finally he came up with some analogies between literary analysis and scientific experimentation that worked for him, and I thought they were actually pretty brilliant. I told him the kind of work that literature requires may never come naturally to him, but he can learn it--and he showed me that he can just in our 20 minute talk after class.

Part of what he got to was that the "why" questions--why does Victor do X, why does X happen--are not the question that we're trying to identify: they're the questions that lead to the question posed by the work itself. He got there because he said something about how science isn't unnatural--as humans are "natural," our brains are organic/natural organs, so whatever we do is "natural" (a point made by Neil Evernden, in The Social Creation of Nature, a work I relied on heavily in doing my dissertation)--and I said, "Right. So the question is, if science itself isn't the problem, what is? Is it how people use science? Are people the problem?" And he started arguing both sides of the question, thinking through how he could create an argument, which led him to the kinds of questions he'd need to ask of the "data set" of the text....

I was truly excited by what he was coming up with. He found a way to understand not only what he has to do but how to do it, and what he was saying was really super smart. If he can translate all that into written language, he's going to be a treat to work with. He's very articulate, clearly firing on all cylinders, so I'm jazzed about the prospect of him in the class.

Happy, contented sigh.

So, I came back to the office to organize and cross some little bits off the "to do" list, such as putting in my AV requests. However, in that process, I had to issue two "oops! my bad" e-mails, one saying I did not need to show a DVD on the day in question (though that's what I'd requested), one saying oh, wait, yes I DO, in fact, need to show a DVD on that particular date. At about that time, I figured it was time to put down my pen (metaphorically speaking) and walk away from the work--or at least that kind of work. I did find out about a few references in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (notably that the phrase "the tyranny of objects" is not just the name of a band--a band I'd never heard of until I did the Google search and turned up mostly references to it--but in fact comes from Adventures in Immediate Irreality, by Max Blecher--something Paul certainly knew when he wrote his grad paper about Blade Runner), but that pretty much wrapped up the work for today.

For this week, in fact. I'm trusting (I hope not in vain) that I will have time on Monday to mark what I've collected from the SF students, so I have it ready to return to them on Tuesday. I'm a little nervous about that: I have quite a bit to get through (big class, two assignments, though not everyone has turned everything in). But I really do have to get it done on Monday--or get up insanely early on Tuesday (or skip the first department meeting of the year, which I can't really do, as I have to act as Bruce's memory for part of it). Otherwise, once I collect first assignments from the 102s, I'll be beyond swamped. As it is, I'm  not sure how I'll mark everything for all three classes and get it back in a timely fashion--but this is the fun stuff I get to figure out as the semester progresses. And if I can chase a few students out in these first few weeks--before their first essays are due--that will be great.

One way or another, it will all get done. It always does.

And now I truly am stick-a-fork-in-me done. Poor Paul is still in meetings--normally he'd be getting home to Massachusetts by now--and I'd love to see him, but I'm going to take myself out for a nice dinner and a stiff drink. It's not the first full week yet--that's next week--but I'm getting into the swing of it now, and that's worth celebrating. I suppose.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

An attack of the "shoulds," combined with a serious case of the stupids

This is a recipe for potential disaster (day three of the semester, mind you). Both Paul and I are aware that our brains are approximately like oatmeal and that very little is penetrating--or making its way back through the synapses as intelligent output. I did OK when I had to be "on"--advising students, meeting with my 102 classes--but getting ready for the first student in Advisement, I had to keep saying, "Wait one minute, I need to get X" or "I need to ask Y" or "I need to figure out where Q is." There is also a new automated system for logging students, part of the move to the big, new, snazzy Student Services Center. It actually wasn't terribly difficult to learn--or at least the parts of it that I was introduced to were easy enough--but it was one more thing to process.

The "shoulds" have to do with the "Statement of Self-Defined Goal" write-ups that I got from the SF students. I feel I "should" take a whack at getting them marked tonight; I started on them, but I've barely gotten to the C's in the alphabetical order of the class. I'm collecting more homework tomorrow, so I'll have a big stack of stuff to mark on Monday--or I'll be behind the curve for the whole damned semester. Fortunately, by Monday the drop/add period will have ended, so Advisement should be very quiet (god, I hope), and I'll have that nice chunk of time to crank through stuff. I'd usually have a big chunk of time tomorrow before class, and Tuesday before class, but both days, I'm helping run workshops for the new wrinkle to the seminar hours process, that allows us to register and work with our own students.

But that's why I am not making myself grind through more marking. One, I'm already pretty tired out (I've been having a hard time sleeping for over a week now), and B, I have to get up a little earlier than usual to be here before that workshop starts at 10.

Speaking of the workshops, I just looked through the procedure we're going to show faculty tomorrow--and I realized that the workshops are really not necessary at all for a good 80 percent of the department. I read through a little handout of instructions, and it was absolutely simple: crystal clear. I know that some people will need a refresher on the basics of logging appointments, as well as an introduction to the new process, but I'd venture that the majority of us would do just fine on our own. I'm more than a bit annoyed that such a big whoopie was made about the necessity of the workshops, but ah well. I'm the good girl, and I'll help out, as I said I would. But if we'd seen the instructions before our seminar hours committee meeting last week, I'd have really questioned whether we needed to subject everyone to them.

Shifting gears.

I met with both 102s, and all signs are OK so far: I don't have any radiant glow of anticipating a magnificent, transcendent experience with either one, but nor do I have a sense of dread and impending doom. I did, however, give them some of the stock speeches I used to do at the start of each semester and haven't done for a while: "the class will be challenging: it's a lot of work, and I have high standards"; "the single characteristic most important for success in academics and in life is the ability to work through frustration"; and the perennial favorite, "college will change you." Some of them were soaking it in; some of them were tuning it out. I'm really hoping some of them withdraw--like, today. Tomorrow. Soon. I haven't tried to scare students out of the SF class--apart from giving a writing assignment for the second day of class--but I sure hope they start disappearing. There are several upsides to full classes: good chances for class chemistry to start cooking, a confident expectation that there will be a critical mass of working brains in the room--and, if I'm truly honest, a reasonable chance that the chemistry and critical mass won't be profoundly damaged by attrition. The downside is obvious: more for me to mark. Well, also more names and faces to try to put together in my mind (especially now that I've stopped doing the ice-breaker thing--I'm not sure why I've stopped, but I think it's because I've begun to feel the pay off isn't worth the time invested). But really, it's about the time spent marking stuff.

I know. I know. If I didn't assign it, I wouldn't have to mark it. If I didn't mark so obsessively, it wouldn't take so long. I complain about stress that I create for myself. I know. This is me. I have to just accept that this is me.

And right now, I'm going to accept that--in a few minutes--this will be me walking out the door. I want to get home while I still have enough brain to practice the violin (well, sort of), and in time to do my evening wind-down and get into bed early. It's getting harder for me to push my body into the discomfort zone as I get older: it's starting to tell me, "No, we're sleeping now, whether you're 'ready' or not." Fair enough; it's good for me to listen to my cellular wisdom--and that wisdom is telling me to get the hell out of here.

I'll post tomorrow, if I have time before rushing off to practice and then hop the train to the City for tango--or if I decide to bail on tango and don't have to rush anywhere...

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The curse of caring

I've said it repeatedly, and I'll say it again: my job would be infinitely easier if I could just stop giving a shit. I get caught up in caring about things, which leads me to join committees, and next thing you know, I'm up to my antlers in things to do right now before they burst into flames--and strands of pearls are breaking left, right, and center, and plates have stopped spinning and are crashing to the floor...

I went to the first meeting of the Strategic Planning committee today. It's loaded with administrators--not surprisingly, of course, but that will be interesting for me, as I know the names (kinda) but don't have faces or personalities attached to most of them. And most of the committee has been there for a while: I was one of maybe three new faces. But the work of the committee is astronomically significant and specific and complex, and although I'm on a subcommittee on addressing our mission statement, there are about three other subcommittees I am half tempted to join, because they seem so important.

The worst of that is that I'm in serious danger of getting sucked into the black hole of assessment again. I'm already e-mailing the few, hardy members of our departmental assessment committee about a potential problem I noticed in the spring, which turned out to be one end of an enormously tangled and very long chain of concerns. I have said I will attend at least the first meeting of the departmental assessment committee--which has fallen on hard times since Bruce stopped running it and thus stopped requiring that the chairs of all departmental committees be members. Those few souls who remain, fighting the good fight, are generally terrific people and hard workers (obviously, or they'd be long gone)--but they don't have quite the institutional memory I do, nor the same bulldog/bulldozer tendencies I can evidence on occasion. I don't want to turn into one of those people who says, "Here's a problem you need to fix": that's bullshit, and I won't do it any more than I'll take it. If I identify a problem, I need to be involved in figuring out the fix--and although I didn't necessarily identify the specific problems we're facing, I sure can see them clearly, and I'm ready to engage in slash-and-burn techniques to clear the ground for a solution.

But that means more work for me. Once again, I see the ass-end of that whole "once you're full professor you can relax" thing running away from me at full speed.

Gah (or however you'd like to spell an expression of exasperation). As long as I'm going to care about what's getting done, I wish at least I didn't care about how it gets done. It would be so nice to be one of those "it's broken, so you have to fix it because I'm not going to--but I'll complain about it until you fix it" people.

The Strategic Planning meeting ended early (miraculous, I understand), though I stayed after talking to a colleague from this department who is also on the committee. She's great, and I'm glad we've got the buddy system going on there. And I talked briefly with the VP in charge of distance ed about the DEE ("distance education equivalency") for Nature in Lit. She was slightly terse with me, as I'd apparently jumped the gun by drafting a DEE without meeting with her first and being assigned a mentor. It seems a certain amount of hand-holding is not simply recommended but required--whether I feel I need it or not. I understand the importance of making sure academic rigor is upheld while ensuring that the faculty member actually knows how to operate all the bells and whistles of Blackboard, but I feel like someone is insisting on carefully explaining things I either already know or need to just stumble my way through until I understand my own way. Whatever. We learn it in grad school: the hoop is held out for one to jump through, and the only appropriate response is "Sure; in what attitude and wearing what costume?" Then one jumps through the hoop as required. (If you're really lucky, you even get a little kibble treat once you do.)

I just want the thing to be approved and for the conversion to an online course to be the magic solution to under-enrollment so the thing runs without my having to trap unwary students into registering by promising them all-expenses paid trips to Disney Universe or a time-share on the island of Koochi-kaboola.

However, speaking of courses and enrollment: a few students were absent today; three of them weren't there on Thursday, either. One student was on my roster the last time I taught SF--I think. I'm not sure which class it was, but he's definitely been on my roster before, and was a "never attended." He hasn't attended yet, which makes me wonder if he's going to end up in that category again. And if so, I wonder what's up with that?

No one has officially withdrawn, though, and the student who was outraged by the fact that there was a writing assignment due today was in class, albeit without the assignment--which, he assured me, was on his laptop but which he couldn't bring me until Thursday. Oh, sure, fine: whatever. But I did let him know that I will not allow him to come in without the work on days when the work actually is important for what's being done--as in, when the assignment is to have done the reading and have reading notes ready. I did the thing of "How many of you have been in a group when someone hasn't done the work?" and then asking how they felt about it. One student said that even if there wasn't a written component, as long as the group mate has at least made an attempt at the reading, that works--so I reminded them that their notes can be entirely about their confusions, questions, concerns. They seem to be with the program so far, but I'll get a more accurate read of it starting Thursday.

Well, most of them seem to be with the program. One student came up to me after class, and in a slightly miffed tone asked, "So what's this thing about notes?" I reminded him that there was a handout explaining them. I showed him a copy of the handout, and said, "Read this over..." He started reading right then, so I said, "Not now: read it carefully on your own. Then, if you still have questions, by all means, e-mail me and ask away." It was very clear he doesn't want to do even the work of finding out what the work is. His funeral.

I started looking at their first writing assignment: a statement of self-defined goal for the course. There's the usual fluffy crapola they're used to dishing out for teachers, but some of them actually have clear goals, such as making schedule adjustments in order to get enough sleep, or making a clear plan of times in which to study so as to not procrastinate. And my former student, the lovely young woman from the Fiction Writing course a few years ago, wrote a beautifully intelligent, thoughtful, insightful little essay. If she keeps on like this, and keeps up with the work, she's got the A in a bag--and I don't say that because I have a soft spot for her. I say that because she has the goods, intellectually speaking. Whether she can maintain the work pace is a different question, but she's already thinking several levels above most of the other students.

The best part is, a lot of them are already getting jazzed about the ideas--and challenging me a little. (One student asked whether Frankenstein really addresses a moral/ethical issue or whether it isn't more about the ideals of Romanticism. Great question, and the answer isn't that more this than that: it's both.) There are a few students who are going to struggle; not just the one who had carefully ignored everything I've said about the notes (and the handout)--he's just a pill, but as far as I can tell he may have the intellectual chops to handle the work--but also at least one who is apparently struggling to understand what "Reading Due" means, or that the handout that's referred to in the syllabus is the handout I gave them.... That kind of case is always very sad to me. For all I know, that particular student is brilliant in some other area, but his brain just doesn't seem to compute language very well, especially not written language. But I'll give him credit for trying hard: he has volunteered to read aloud, when I've asked for students to read pieces of handouts, and he's wanted to answer questions. He may do better than I anticipate. I hope so.

Because, dammit, I can't help caring, at least for the students who are earnest and willing to try.

Now, however, it's suddenly past 7 p.m.--and I've been out of class since 2. Five hours spent organizing, answering e-mails, talking with Paul, talking with the new faculty member I'm mentoring--and having to tell her that there are some areas of her experience that are really out of my purview: I can't tell her how to navigate the political waters here; I can only help her with things like how to locate information, fill out forms, processes and procedures, that sort of thing. But that makes me think that perhaps P&B should actually delineate what the responsibilities of a P&B mentor are...? I already have several agenda items for P&B, in part because some colleagues would rather come through me than take other avenues to solve departmental problems. Fair enough. In fact, I'm more flattered than anything. But again, file under "more things for me to do."

Tomorrow will be my first day in Advisement in the new digs as part of the Student Services Center. I'm not sure how I feel about the concept of the Center (it's in the "one stop shopping" line of thinking, and I have an ideological distaste for that particular analogy), and neither Paul nor I are sure how we feel about the fact that everything is electronic: no paper. Better in terms of trees and waste (and budgets), I know, but having things in print--and all in one place--is often incredibly useful. Well, we'll see. (Ah, that old mantra.) That's tomorrow. Tonight, I go home and see what's been blown around my apartment by the post-tropical-storm winds of the day. And I will forth again tomorrow, no doubt carrying a banner with a strange device...

Thursday, September 1, 2016

And so it begins--again

I had an absolutely full house for the first day of the SF class--which I find rather miraculous, as it's this strange one day before a holiday weekend. This is what tends to happen with sophomore students, however: they know the drill, and are ready.

Well, most of them, anyway. Three students were missing (but out of 32, that's barely a blip on the radar)--and it actually is a good thing, as there weren't enough desks for everyone, if they'd shown up. I could boot the two senior observers, but I won't. I'm sure that students will withdraw pretty quickly, and meanwhile, I've asked for a few more desks for the room.

In terms of the withdrawals, I don't know names/faces well enough yet to know for sure who the student was, but as I was talking about their first assignment--a statement of self-defined goal for the class, based on what they understand about what the class will require--I saw one young man lean over to another to check that he'd heard correctly: this is due next class? On having that confirmed, he did one of those whole-body expressions of outrage: "This is ridiculous! She expects us to do homework already??" Yep, I do. I sincerely hope he looks at the syllabus, sees how much is required, and drops before Tuesday.

Using Paul's barometer for positive signs of good class chemistry, I'll say that there were a few chuckles and smiles at my jokes--and at the end of class, a student said that he wanted to get contact information from a classmate (excellent!). I said, "Great idea. Look for a friendly face." He did precisely that, and found a friendly face very quickly, cheerfully exchanged numbers, which I take as a good sign.

However, I need to keep in mind William's wisdom about how quickly a class can flip, and how frequently the classes we identify as great at the start of the semester end up going south, while those we start off thinking are going to be disastrous can turn around (though that's far more rare, if my memory is correct). I'm not taking anything to the bank just yet.

Meanwhile, for reasons that remain mysterious to me, although the number of students in one section of 102 stays the same, the actual students keep shifting. Between yesterday and today, at least three have dropped and their places taken by three new students. This is the section that was slow to fill, so it's interesting that it's the least stable of my three classes in terms of population. The others haven't changed since they filled. This one seems to change daily. I'm holding off printing the photo roster until next week; it's silly to print it if everything is going to change again. But I also will have to remember to re-send the e-mail that promises extra credit to anyone who checks e-mail, responds, and writes "swordfish" on the bottom of their first assignment. I want all the students to have the opportunity to respond, and since the composition of the class keeps changing, there are students who won't have gotten the initial e-mail.

That's another difference between the freshmen and sophomores: those who have been students a little longer are more habituated to checking e-mail.

I do, however, use the terms "freshmen" and "sophomores" pretty loosely. A student could have spent many a semester at NCC before taking ENG102--and a student need not have completed more than 30 credits to be eligible to take a literature elective. But it is true that as a general rule, students in 102 have less experience (or have learned less from the experience they've had), while--as I said above--students in lit electives tend to have been around the block a time or two, and know what's what. (Though apparently not all of them are yet familiar with the fact that professors frequently assign work that is due the second day of class.)

It will be interesting to see what happens to my roster for the SF class after today. And I had a lovely talk with an adjunct in the Basic Education Program who simply needed a place to put her heavy bags down while waiting for her classroom to clear. (I'd let my students go early--as usual--so my room was empty, except for me and one or two students slowly gathering up their stuff to leave.) I should note that the Basic Education Program (or BEP) is for students who really should never have graduated middle school, never mind high school. The first test this adjunct has been told to administer tests simple addition and subtraction.

And if that isn't a very sorry comment on the state of American education, I don't know what is.

For my own part, the only question remaining for today is whether I'll have enough energy to go to tango class, as planned. I haven't slept well the last three or four nights, so I'm pretty crunchy, but I did arrange my schedule very specifically so I'd have time to finish class, do my end of day/end of week organizing, post to the blog, and still catch the train into the City, so it would be good to give it a little test drive today. We'll see. I have to do a little noodling before I take off anyway; I'll make the decision when I get close to home.

(Was just about to wrap up when The Mystery Enthusiast knocked at the door. I didn't know who it was, but it was a "shave and a haircut" knock, so figured it was someone actually looking for a specific individual in this office. I'll be mentoring him again this semester, it seems. He also may sign up for Play and Screenwriting, which has low enrollment right now: win/win, for him and my pal Mary, who is teaching the class.)

In any event, I'll post again on Tuesday, unless something exciting happens.