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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.

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