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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...

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