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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.

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