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I welcome students readers to this blog. However, be aware that, although I do not use anyone's actual name, the descriptions of behaviors and conversations are not disguised. This is a space in which I may rant, vent, and otherwise express responses that I would do my best to mask or at least tone down in professional interactions with students. This is my personal, gloves off, no holds barred, direct from the gut expression of what it feels like to do my job. If you think you might be hurt or offended or upset by that, read no further. The person I'm ranting about could be you.


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Monday, October 31, 2016

I'm so screwed (Redux)

I cannot take a breath. I felt triumphant last night, feeling like I could take a day or two to feel on top of things, planning to chunk through the last of the reading notes for the SF class tomorrow morning before class--and when I went down to the main office to schedule a room for a subcommittee meeting, I suddenly remembered: promotion applications are in and need review. And there are a number of them. And they're huge. HUUUUGE.

Bugger me sideways.

I'm also feeling more than a little pissed off about the committee I got roped into co-chairing. I was asked to take on the task because the woman who has been chairing the subcommittee wanted to step down, and the woman who'd been her vice chair is applying for full professor so didn't want to take on the chairship solo. However, I know absolutely bubkes about the politics of what's going on--and there is a lot going on in other committees that has an impact on what we do and how--so on the one hand, I'm under some pressure to keep the ball rolling, but I keep being told not to do anything because some political discussion or wrangling or whatever is going on elsewhere. I feel I'm in an impossible situation, and if I can't get a handle on things soon, I'm going to be very very very tempted to bail on the whole thing: co-chair, subcommittee, committee...

But I did just check my e-mail (I can't even remember now what it was I thought I needed to take care of right away), and there was a nice message from the previous chair of the subcommittee, offering to talk with me; I'd expressed my frustration to her, so I'm grateful she's reaching out with some support. She and I were in the Active Learning Seminar together, a million years ago when I was a lowly instructor (and when this campus supported such things), so we have a little bit of a personal relationship to lean on.

On the other hand, calling her is one more thing I have to do. I almost tore Paul's head off when he suggested that the easiest way to deal with my book orders might be to go to the bookstore and talk to the staff there. I have no time to go anywhere or talk to anyone about anything.

I'm truly feeling more overwhelmed than I can remember feeling for a long time. I don't know whether the load is really that much more than usual or if I'm just my reactive to it, but I catch myself feeling like I can't breathe. And I have to remind myself that all of this is of my own manufacture. I am not a helpless victim of circumstances here: I am in charge of what happens, when, and how I handle it. And even if I can't control all of what happens and when, I can definitely work to control how I handle it.

For instance, when I think about how today went, my mind immediately wants to project into how awful it's going to be to get hit with the next round of essays from the students in the 102s... but I was just telling Paul how important it is to stay in the present moment.

Do I have any of those essays right now?

No.

So, can I do anything about grading them right now?

No.

So why worry about them? They're in the future. The future is only something I imagine--and my imagination may be way off. I won't lose my grip on reality and think that the essays are miraculously going to be wonderful, but I'm certainly over-dramatizing how difficult it will be to grade them.

This too shall pass. If I'm screwed, it's only temporary. None of this will last--and I often get moments of respite when I least expect them. This is one of those times when it's important for me to remind myself that I can punt a lot more than I usually allow myself--and still be perfectly fine at doing my job. I don't have to be super-excellent: I can just be good enough for right now. I've already alerted P&B that I won't have the promo folders read by our meeting; I can still mark the SF reading notes before I get the essays from the 102s (I have Tuesday after P&B, and Wednesday in Advisement). And anything else will get taken care of when I can manage it.

All that matters is that I keep my priorities at least somewhat straight. I don't prioritize myself quite as much as I need to, but I can prioritize my work: classes come first. Department obligations come second. College-wide committees a distant third. Anything else is an also ran.

I will get everything done that needs to be done, which includes having the realization that some things don't need to be done.

For now, my brain is toast. (This is your brain. This is your brain on too much work. This is your brain scrambled on toast, with a nice cup of coffee.) Tomorrow will take care of itself.






Sunday, October 30, 2016

Whew

I got everything marked--before 8 p.m. tonight, which I take a victory. I'm utterly burnt to a crisp, but all the essays and piled up homework assignments for both sections of 102 have been marked.

And I don't know how to face the fact that next weekend, I'll be at it all over again, madly marking essays prior to students' conferences. Did I not look at a calendar when I made up the schedule? Or was I simply deluding myself about how many hours exist in a 24-hour day? Or both?

I really, really, really need to rethink this for the spring, or I will lose my mind.

Now, however, I will celebrate this momentary triumph over tsunamis of student work (most of it marginally to entirely crappy) and be a student for a little bit. I can't remember the last time I practiced the violin, and that particular form of challenge seems like a good shift of mental gears--assuming it does not come (as it sometimes does) with a few splashes of self-loathing and frustration.

But even if it does, I don't have to be the teacher. I can be the sucky student for a change.

Frustrated and bitter? Oh, just around the edges, now and then. I know there are many blessings to remember as well--I just don't feel like trying to play Pollyanna and dredge them up at the moment.

And we'll see how the morrow goes...


Friday, October 28, 2016

Making progress

I did nothing yesterday; I fell into a dark grey funk. It's partly the time of year--the slow diminuendo of light, the knowledge that even once I finish this semester, there will be another right of top of it--but it also stemmed from various downward tugs from my personal life. I'm glad I gave myself the day to briefly become incompetent--and although it made me somewhat sad to do it, I canceled both lessons for today so I could have the day uninterrupted for work.

And I did work. I sorted everything out, organized all the stacks I have to mark, carefully divided the total by three--and almost got all of today's allotted work done (one student's worth of work short of the quota).

Having only gotten about a third of the way through everything, it's too early to say for sure, but so far, everyone has actually revised. Maybe not very much or very well--but there hasn't been a single essay so far that has just focused on mechanics without revising, or that has done neither. That is a good sign in terms of the effectiveness of the pedagogy.

I am more than a little concerned about what I can expect for the next essays, however, given the quality (or lack of quality) of their responses to the poems. Even the work that we do in class doesn't seem to penetrate very well, so I'm afraid I may be facing a hell of a lot of bilge when I see those essays come in.

Ah well. But this second essay is when I will know whether the conferencing helps reduce attrition, as this is usually when there's a bit of a fall off. It's not as extreme as the fall-off when we start reading Left Hand of Darkness, but still: if most of the students who are there now are still there when we head into final versions of essay 2, that will be a significant difference.

It will also be a significant pain in my ass, in terms of getting the work done, but, well, there you have it.

So, that's the news for this week. I still may post briefly tomorrow or Sunday--especially if I make my daily quotas early enough that I can do a little prep for Nature in Lit over this weekend (the FTF version I'm slated to teach in the spring, if it runs, not to mention the online version).

I wrote that and immediately thought, "It's not too late; I could do some of that today..." but no. No. I need to let go of today and try to have a peaceful evening, so I'm refreshed and ready for that other day that will come around when the sun comes up again.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"If it kills me ... and it may"

That was my "joke" with the 102s today: that I will have everything--everything--returned to them on Monday. It won't actually kill me, of course, but it will require a hell of a hard grind, including the "day off" tomorrow. I probably shouldn't do my fun things on Friday (violin lesson, horseback riding lesson), but I will allow myself that day for life maintenance--including the maintenance to my psychic well-being that is provided by music and horse time. But tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday: grind.

I'm posting in a bit of a hurry here, as I'm going to meet Paul to ride the train into the City for my dinner date with him, William, and Kristin. The rapid post is actually OK, however, as I don't have much to report on the day. I called in sick to Advisement (or e-mailed in sick, I should say), so I could have a more leisurely morning at home (still metaphorically in bunny slippers at 10:30, which was bliss), and then I came to the office. I did a little noodling, marked some homework for the SF classes--but the enormous, steaming piles of stuff for the 102s is already at home, ready to spontaneously combust on my living room table. I have a little more to add, as I have the latest round of reading notes in my bag for today, but I schlepped the enormous stacks home last night, along with my beautiful editor's desk, for which I am eternally grateful to the magnificent Ed Sampson III.

And there it will all sit until tomorrow. It's an open question whether I'll get to it before I have to take a cat to the vet, but once cat and I are again home (cat literally hiding under the sofa, me wishing I could join him), I'll embark on that adventure.

As for today, both classes went well. I started off talking about their next essay--due in a week, god help us all--and the particulars of how to quote poetry, but when we turned our attention to the poems for today, the students did pretty well. The first two were "easy": Charles Bukowski's "Me Against the World" and David Budbill's "What I Heard at the Discount Department Store." One student asked why some poems are so straight-forward--like a story only written out weird--and others are so weird, so we talked a bit about the fact that poetry is intended to make us feel as well as think (or maybe feel more than think)--but somehow, starting with those two poems made it easier for the students to understand the more "poetic" poems by Sharon Olds: "Saturn" and "The Guild." The first class could easily have run long; the second ended a little early--but the discussion was equally good in both.

And now, I'm going to make sure I have everything I need to put in the car with me; I'll check e-mail one more time ... then off I go. I may post tomorrow and/or over the weekend, as my brain will be deeply into dealing with students, but if not, certainly I'll be back online on Monday.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A different kind of triage

I've been pushing so hard at marking essays that the latest form of triage isn't what needs to be done but what can I stand to do without losing the tiny, drifting remainders of my mind. I "should" return the essays to the 102s tomorrow, as their next essays are due next week, for fuck's sake. At least it's not due on my birthday, as was originally the case, but still, realizing how soon it's coming up was more than a bit of a shock (a whole stack of spinning plates hitting the floor at once). I had contemplated taking tomorrow off as well as Thursday, simply to mark assignments--but I realize I have to meet with the 102s tomorrow so I can distribute the essay assignment, go over the poems with them, generally work to get them set up for the essay. But there is no way in hell that between now and 2:00 tomorrow I can get all the first essays marked--even though I really am not commenting on them at all. I still have to check all the steps and compare the final version to the first, to see whether any revising has, in fact, been done--and that all takes time.

So, the students will just have to thole it (a lovely Scottish term I ran across in some Brit mystery or other). They'll get their essays back on Monday, and that will have to be good enough. I'll apologize, of course, but they're just going to have to deal.

But, once again, that's tomorrow--which is another day. Let me give a review of today.

First, I had an experience that I've had before, and that I should remember more readily: when I met with the Truculent Plagiarist, he did a little of the "but I said that" thing--but not much. His exact words were, "I thought I sorta did that," and I said, "'Sorta' being the operative word: you may have tried, but 'sorta' isn't good enough."

He also tried the "it's hard to stretch one novel to fit five pages of essay" thing, but I gave him no quarter on that one: no, analysis of a short story or even a poem can fill five pages; a novel gives you more than enough. And I did make him squirm a bit about an idea that is not his own--"So, tell me exactly what you mean when you say that one of the ways humanity is defined in the novel is through sublime nature? What does 'sublime nature' mean?"

But he let go of all the defensiveness pretty quickly and really wanted to understand what to do. I made him just talk to me: not looking at his essay, but looking at me to answer the questions I was asking. As he did, he identified an idea that he wanted to argue. When I pointed out to him that what he'd just said could be a thesis, he got out paper so he could take notes: he very diligently wrote down each point I made. I don't know how well he understood the points I made, but he sure was trying to get them. When he'd tried to say that he couldn't find enough to say about a novel to fill five pages, I'd said, "The problem is that you're worrying about filling the pages, not about what you want to prove--and that's tangling you up." At the end, after we talked out what he needed to do to write something approaching an argument, I suggested he e-mail me for more guidance but that he take advantage of the Writing Center, as they could help him with idea development. He looked like I'd just switched on all the lights: "I think that's my problem with the whole class: I don't know how to develop my ideas."

Ah, the dawning of light. I suggested we meet again in a mentoring appointment to talk about developing ideas. He was happy to do that; in fact, he looked close to tears at the opportunity. Which of course touched me.

I am still enough of a cynic to wonder whether I'll still have reason to feel kindly toward him in another week or two--but I certainly don't feel as annoyed or dismissive as I did, and those are good feelings to let go of and to replace with something much more positive. Never mind whether it does anything for him: it's better for me.

All the meetings with students today went well. One student I'd thought was resistant to the class was very open and warm and honest in our meeting; most of the students seemed to understand what they needed to do to produce better work. Two of them asked not only about their essays but about their notes, and they seemed to get a better grasp of what was required in talking with me. How much any of this pays off in the long run remains an open question. I don't really get my hopes up; I just appreciate the diminution of immediate existential malaise.

Class went pretty well, too--including a few smiles from a student who has seemed somewhat truculent all semester. The ones that are still there are looking good to hold on for at least a while longer, though there are a few that probably should go.

I feel a little guilty about the fact that I'm about to pack up and leave. I take a step outside that feeling of guilt and realize that it's an indication that I am expecting far too much of myself--and that the impulse to lighten up for a bit is actually a very healthy one. I will be taking a huge bolus of work home for Thursday--all the way through the weekend, in fact. But there is a tiny, outside chance that I'll get most of it done and have the decks close to clear heading into Monday. I won't expect too too much of myself, but I think I can take the rest of tonight off.

Tomorrow should be relatively easy: Advisement as usual (the stream of students increasing as we get closer to the start of registration), then my classes--then that train to Manhattan for dinner with my good friends. It's lovely to have that to look forward to.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Saved by the shitty ones

The only reason I am finished with grading essays for the SF class is that several of them were so shitty--or so woefully incomplete--that I didn't really have to grade them at all. Paul reminded me that we can refuse to engage with the drama over bad work: we can simply fail the assignment and let it go. I realize that part of what's been leading to my feeling of frustration and being overwhelmed is the desire to save too many of the students from themselves. I need to reconnect with that adult calm that says, "If you want to learn how to cook, I will teach you: I'm here in the kitchen, with all the tools. You bring the ingredients and come into the heat, and I'll show you how to put the ingredients together. But you can't do it without bringing the ingredients, and you can't do it if you don't come into the kitchen."

That said, I look across the room to the radiator, and I see the fucking enormous stack of stuff I have to wade through for the 102s--even though a lot of it is apparatus and doesn't need to be read, per se--and I want to vomit.

It seems entirely likely that I will spend October 26 and 27 at home, grading assignments--just so I don't have to collect anything else until I have all this handed back. (I'll also take a cat to the vet on the 27th, which is another source of stress, but that's the personal life impinging on the professional.)

I will, however, go out the evening of the 26th with William, Paul, and Kristin. That will be good for the soul, no matter what the essays do to me.

And all of that is in the future--which is merely a concept: it does not actually exist. So, no sense getting my tummy in a twist.

The classes today were not quite leaden, but definitely trending in a downward direction. I thought the poems were pretty clear and easy--but ye gods, some of the misreads. Li-Young Li's poem "The Gift," for instance, which I need to duplicate here, so the student responses make sense:

The Gift

To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he'd removed
the iron sliver I thought I'd die from.

I can't remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,
the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.

Had you entered that afternoon
you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy's palm,
a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy
you would have arrived here,
where I bend over my wife's right hand.

Look how I shave her thumbnail down
so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out.
I was seven when my father
took my hand like this,
and I did not hold that shard
between my fingers and think,
Metal that will bury me,
christen it Little Assassin,
Ore Going Deep for My Heart.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
Death visited here!
I did what a child does
when he's given something to keep.
I kissed my father.
 
One group said, "Who died? Two people died, right? But who?" Um, no one? "But it has the word 'death' in it!" The speaker also says he did not say anything about death... did you miss that little word: "not"? Or the student who thought the boy was being trained to be an assassin--or the multiple students who thought the boy was being beaten...

Oh, I despair.

But they did get Billy Collins's "The Lanyard"--though they didn't realize it's funny until I read it aloud (and they'll find it even funnier if they watch and listen to him read it: he does it far better than I could).

Well, anyway.

It's another very late night here in the office, so I'd better get my little self home. Tomorrow is that other day we keep hearing about....

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Forget the lit elective?

As I'm slogging through the morass of student essays for the SF class, I am beginning to see more and more sense in Paul's decision to just teach 102 and forget about teaching an elective. What the students think will be acceptable is just so unbelievably gawd-awful, it's making me almost ill. Actually, the majority of them are capable of writing something identifiable as an actual sentence in the English language--but in terms of having an argument and following through on it, even in the most basic sense? No; not this one; nope; not even close; no; no; God no; well maybe but ... no, and on it goes.

Even some of the students I thought would be pretty good: no. I won't know for sure until I've finished them off, but from a preliminary glance, I think there are maybe four that are pretty good--out of twenty-four submitted.

And I don't have time to teach them how to write: they should know by now. It's not necessarily their fault if they don't, but ... oh, God, it's just draining. And dispiriting.

I'm thinking a little about Nature in Lit for the spring--and I have to confess, I almost won't mind if it doesn't run. However, if it does run, I'm going to ditch the reading notes entirely and go straight for the mini-papers thing: that way they get a chance to see what won't fly before they have to do something of substance. I'm also considering completely re-doing what I teach. I know all the important pedagogical reasons for historic sweep, but I think instead I'm going to work on some of the questions in the fliers I'll be distributing (as soon as I get copies made). I don't know exactly when I'll have time to go back to the drawing board and dig through my bookshelves to find stuff that will work, but I really want to teach things that students will have an easier time writing essays about--and that still do what I want them to do from an ecocritical perspective.

As for this weekend, however, I have to take a break from the essay grading, or I'll stop being able to provide any kind of constructive feedback. I still have about eight to grade, I think--but one I already know I'm not going to mark at all. It's the paper submitted by the very perky, cheerful young woman who missed the first three classes, told me she did that deliberately, so she'd have to buckle down and work hard the rest of the semester--and has since missed at least three more classes, so she's officially in "withdraw or fail" territory. I've never done this before, but I'm going to have a withdrawal slip ready, in case she does return to class. I'll just hand her the slip and wish her well.

I'll need to have a confrontation with two students in the early 102 as well. Both of them begged to be allowed to stay in the class; I granted them the ability to do that on the condition that they show up for every class and have their homework ready--and they missed class again. Nope. Bye.

Back to the SF class: the one good thing about the essays is that a lot of the students will withdraw when they see their marks. I don't like actively hoping for attrition, but I'm ready to have fewer of the crap essays to mark.

I can't think of a reframe for today--except that I'm going to spend a little time playing around with the PowerPoint for seminar hours. That will feel like "work" but be fun--and I need a little fun right now.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

I WANNA PLAY!!!

I met with my distance education mentor earlier, and I have so many ideas for how I want to do the online version of Nature in Lit, and so much I want to do, I'm jazzed. Constructing the online course is--at the moment--pure play, especially working with my particular mentor, who is super smart in ways that make sense to my brain: we get each other, enjoy each others' ideas. But I also need to get a certain amount of stuff set up so I can get the final seal of approval from the VP in charge of such things and move on to the next steps in getting the course signed, sealed, approved, offered--and delivered. Both for the pragmatic reason of wanting to get the approvals, and for the sheer fun of creating something new like this, I want to do that instead of grading stinky ol' essays, which isn't nearly as much fun and is made even less fun by the fact that I have to do it, over and over and over. Not quite like Sisyphus--he had to keep rolling the same damned rock, and at least the essays are not exactly identical (though the problems are perennial). But it would just be so much more rewarding to play with the class! I wanna play!

Well, I can't just yet: that's something that goes into the "as soon as I have even a tiny squeak of breath between bouts of essay grading" part of the triage list (along with the PowerPoint I'm supposed to be working on for Seminar Hours).

Meanwhile, I have essays to grade. I didn't try to get to them at all today--except one, which I wanted the student to have a chance to read before our conference Monday at 10; instead, I focused on their reading notes, and in a minor miracle, had them done and the marks recorded before class.

Class went pretty well, but the Truculent Plagiarist was annoying me again. I had told him when he submitted his last homework that it was not anywhere near passing, that I could tell at a glance. When he got it back, he asked what the top score would be--and realized how catastrophically low his scores are. He left his group to come up to me to complain: "Other people do work like this and they're getting 22 points..." Um, no: they are doing better work. That's why they ... oh, never mind: step out into the hall.

In the hall, I said, "This has been a problem all semester." "What has???" I explained that he kept asking questions when I don't have time to explain, that he compares his work against that of other people, but the only work that should matter to him is his own. Instead of focusing on whether he's being treated fairly, he needs to focus on making his own work better--and to do that, he needs to make an appointment to see me, when we can sit down and talk. (How many times have I said to him, "You need to make an appointment so we can sit down and talk"????) Ok, yeah, yeah, but he can't make my office hours. I pointed out to him that I have two--different days and times--plus the seminar hours. "When are those?" They're on the first page of the syllabus (for the 784th time). If you can't make any of those times, e-mail me, let me know when you can meet, and I'll try to find a time in my schedule that works for both of us.

All the while, I'm picking up on subtext: "Wait, you think I'm going to look at the syllabus to find out when your hours are?" "Wait, I have to make an appointment?" "Wait, you aren't just going to tell me in three seconds how to fix this?"

God give me patience. I do not know why I don't just say to the kid, "You know what? This isn't working. Go. Don't come back. I don't care if you need the class to graduate. I don't care anything about you at all. I don't care if you're truly a sweet young man with lots of troubles who just doesn't know how to navigate the social rules of higher education. The only thing I care about is never, ever, ever seeing you again. Ever. Anywhere. GO AWAY."

OK, I can't say all of that, but man am I ever looking for the one thing that I can use as a legitimate last straw to justify booting him out of my class. I am often a real softy (despite the enormous brass balls), but sometimes a student just hits me the wrong way, and there is nothing I can do to salvage the relationship except interact as little as possible and look for the excuse to call in the hook.

And there is another student I've mentioned before, who is seriously out of his depth--trying so hard but simply without the mental ability to make it--and I read his career ambition: he wants to be a bus driver. He'd be so happy doing that, and here he is in my SF class, torturing himself without a chance in hell of succeeding. Why why why are people like him told they need to go to college? He'll make a great life for himself, and he does not need my class to do it....

By way of radical contrast, after I met with my distance ed mentor, I met with the anxious student from 102. We talked a long time--I wish the structure of seminar hours would account for that kind of meeting.

...

I got distracted there: suddenly decided I wanted to let everyone on the committee know about that meeting, then decided I should make contact with the three students who want to sign up for mentoring (one of them the Imaginary Invalid), then I realized I actually have been doing something we're not supposed to do, and mentoring my students outside the "day grid" (we're not supposed to mentor when evening classes are taking place, as it's part of our contract, which only covers day).

...

Hi. I'm back.

So, about this student: She's very smart, very sweet, but she's struggling with problems at home as well as her own perfectionism and heavy pressure from her mother. After talking about a lot of things (including why the word "essay" freaks her out), I asked her whether she might talk to her mom about her stress and ask for some help, as she'd said she doesn't tell her mom about it. I could see her trying not to cry, but I went ahead: I asked her, if you could ask your mother for one thing that would help you right now, what would it be? And she said, if only her mother wouldn't give her a hard time and tell her she's messing up when she has a hard time getting out of bed, or is running late, or... and the tears started rolling down her face.

It was very clear to me that what she really wanted, needed, was to ask her mother to love her more tenderly. It nearly broke my heart.

I talked to her a little about how she might approach her mom, but then I backed off from that and said, "OK, as far as this class goes, there is no past and no future. There's just right now. You and I are going to live in the present, for this class. All you need to do is the work that's right in front of you: nothing more." I did explain that if she does everything well for the rest of the semester, I can offer her an incomplete--but only if she keeps up with everything and does a good job on it. However, I said, we don't need to worry about all that: just now. And I had already talked to her about "essay" meaning "try," and showed her the kind of comments she'd get from me. Her fear was that she would write well and get low marks--and she never knew why. So when I showed her comments, she could see that she won't have that problem with my class: I'll tell her what she can do to improve.

And I have faith in her. She even ended our meeting saying that she had been using a church project as a distraction but that she was going to let the members of her group know that she needs more time to focus on school, that she would insist on carving out time for herself. Suddenly, after that moment of complete vulnerability, she found some real strength. If the rest of the world will let her alone, she'll do fine.

I'm already mentally contrasting her with students who won't, don't do the work--even when I'm giving them multiple chances--but I realize I simply am going to let them drown now. They're not doing what I told them needed to happen for them to have any chance at passing. But let me not think about them now. I had the lovely interaction with the student yesterday, and this lovely interaction today. And a fair number of the SF students signed up for conferences about revising their essays--which I'll take as a good sign.

And I'll take that as a good week.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Holding on...

I don't have a lot to report about today--and it's getting later than I was aiming for, so I'll try to make this brief.

The good news is that, after I sent out the second round of academic progress reports, three students have reappeared in class. I mentioned at least one in a previous post: the one I'll meet with tomorrow, who is dealing with terrible anxiety. And I think I may have mentioned another; she's in the later 102, and although I don't think she's a brilliant student, she at least is bright enough to deserve more of a chance.

And yet one more showed up today: this young man seemed very bright and suddenly was missing for two weeks. Talking with him this evening, I found out that he works a midnight shift in order to get financial help with his college expenses--but he also is often called upon to handle child care for his six-month old niece, and as a result, he often goes without sleep. Not terribly surprisingly, he got sick--he reports that his mother is giving him a hard time about that, and now insists that he take Vitamin C, as if that will counteract fatigue--and equally without surprise, he found it very difficult to formulate his thoughts today in class. I think he's going to try to get his family to take the child-care responsibility off his plate, so he has time to sleep at least a little--but I almost cried when he was talking about his niece. He pulled out a photo of her (and she is completely adorable); I said something about how much he must love her, and he said, very simply and quietly, "Nothing is more important to me right now than that little girl."

I didn't offer him a full rescue: he does have to do the work. But I said we should keep in touch about his progress through the next essay. If he's unable to do his assignments and do them well, I'll suggest that he withdraw. As far as the college is concerned, he's made an attempt at the semester with full-time status, so if he withdraws later, he doesn't lose that status. I hope his job won't give him a hassle about it.

Those three students, so earnest and ready to do well--and another who came to the office today to talk about what he hasn't done, what he wants to do (and, honestly, said he wants a grade that is out of his reach at this point in his academic development, no matter how hard he tries)--make up, at least momentarily, for the idiots who cannot seem to follow the instructions, no matter how many times I go over them in class. That starts with the older student with all the health problems but extends to several other students, one of whom noted that he was missing one of the required steps of the essay because he didn't know about it--even though I went over it repeatedly in class. (Asshole.) But let me focus on the students who are re-emerging, who truly care, who want to do well.

I have to be here at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow to make up time in Advisement--and no, I probably won't even have all the reading notes ready to return to the SF students; I gave up on trying to get the essays marked yesterday. But I have to get home and try for sleep so I'm at least marginally functional tomorrow.

Maybe if I get some sleep, I'll remember where I put my brain...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Another bite in the ass sure to follow...

I didn't accomplish much today. I did mark two of twenty-four essays for the SF students--and I spent a fair amount of time checking them against Turnitin, making sure the formats were correct, making sure I know what the various penalties are ... but at this rate, there isn't any chance at all that I will have them marked for Thursday's class. I'd need almost 12 hours, and I just don't have that many hours to work in between now and 1:00 on Thursday.

So, I've essentially given myself the rest of today off--witness the fact that it's still light out and I'm already composing tonight's blog post. I have a plan for how to manage grading the rest of the essays, and that's the part that's sure to come back around and bite me in the ass. I know I will have to spend the weekend grading--again, goddammit. However, since time is of the essence now, I will hold conferences starting next Monday anyway; I'm simply going to tell students that anyone who wants to meet with me on Monday afternoon or on Tuesday before our class can collect his or her essay on Monday morning. The rest of the students--those who don't care about a conference or those who want to conference but in a later session--will get their essays back on Tuesday in class.

It's the "I'll have essays ready for you on Monday at 10" part that's liable to bite me. But we'll see.

The 102s were a bit bumpy today. We started with poetry, and as usual, they're trying so hard to see symbols and to leap to interpretations that they go off piste (a term I particularly love and may have to start using more often). It was hard to get them to focus on exact words--but not to see the words in isolation: to connect them in ways that might make sense. But we'll keep working tomorrow and see if they can gain a little confidence in the process.

I am getting a little sick of the attempts to dodge specifics and to avoid having to follow the "rules." Even when we were doing my ridiculous exercise on "connotation"--come up with as many synonyms as possible for the word "underpants"--they were trying to get around the specificity of "underpants" so their not-really-a-synonym would pass muster. (Particularly annoying in this regard, the student who has found it so impossible to follow directions--and who has been highly resistant to correction. I don't have a moniker for him just yet; the only possibilities that occur to me are pretty cruel. But he tried to get me to accept that "socks" would be acceptable because we wear them under our pants...)

The most annoying example today, however, was from a student in the later 102: she's smarter than she wants to admit to or show, having more than a bit of the "too cool for school" attitude. She tends to ask confrontational questions, to say she "doesn't get" things (such as why it is incorrect in formal writing to use "such" or "so" as a synonym for "very"). Today, I was going over where to find the information for works cited pages, and she said, "I did that, but you said it was wrong." I tried to explain that there were a lot of ways what she had done could have gone wrong, but she was blustering about it, so finally I said, "You know what? If I say it's wrong, you can be sure it is wrong. I do, in fact, know what I'm doing here."

She had the good grace to look a bit sheepish, particularly as other students laughed at my riposte. But really: you're going to tell me that what you did is correct? Set aside the fact that I've been writing longer than you've been alive, and that I was in grad school probably before you were born, but--vide the "grad school" thing--which of us has the doctorate here?

Ach, enough grousing. They are starting to grow up a little, and more of the barbed responses to their weaseling will aid that process.

The nice thing is that two students who I thought had vanished are back in class today--both of them at least decent if not actively good students. One I think is very capable, but she's suffering dreadful anxiety, and she says it's affecting all her classes. Even in the few minutes we talked today about setting up an appointment, she was shaky, almost hyperventilating, and on the verge of tears. I'll meet with her Thursday at 4--or at least that's the plan right now. I can tell already that she's imposing some arbitrary deadlines on herself as if they are matters of life and death; I'm hoping I can get her to see that there are always alternatives. The other student does want to take advantage of mentoring; I hope she's not alone. It will be interesting to see how many students have sufficient interest to either fill out the form and return it to me or to e-mail asking for a meeting.

I feel as if I should have more to report today--more to bitch about?--but I'm pretty well out of steam, in a rather nicely relaxed way. It will be nice to be home before 8 for a change...

Monday, October 17, 2016

Neither horseshoes nor hand-grenades

So, "close" doesn't really count. There was a fire drill that slightly delayed the start of my 3:30 102 class--but not enough. I had three essays still to mark, and I was very fortunate that only two of the three students in question was present--and one of those writes beautifully, so I didn't have much to mark (and I didn't feel bad about returning the essay to her without combing through it). But those two students did have to twiddle their thumbs while I marked their essays.

I also was "close" on keeping to my intention about marking. I didn't comment much, I grant, and I did mark only mechanics problems--but I had also intended to only mark the first half of each essay and send them hunting for the rest, and--except for that one student in the 3:30 class--I marked every page of every essay.

Mistake. But ah well.

Since I've been back in the office, I've been doing clean-up of a lot of little fiddly bits. I e-mailed the students who were absent today to say that they can pick up their essays from my office door--and that they need to, as they'll need those marks to do their own mechanics review and have to submit their marked revisions with my marked first versions when they submit the final version on Wednesday. I resubmitted academic progress (or lack of progress) reports, as a number of students have slipped since I first filled out the reports. I cleaned up my calendar--and realized I need to reconfigure the conference times and days for the SF class in particular. So I e-mailed the administrative assistant of the Writing Center and asked her to adjust the grids on the reporting software. (I feel sheepish about that, as I've already asked her for a number of adjustments, and if I were in her shoes, I'd be getting very annoyed with the idiot professor who can't be clear right away about what she wants.) I reworked the sign-up sheets for the SF classes: among other things, adjusting the grids and looking at my calendar made it abundantly clear that I cannot make myself available during my advisement hours for more than a few sessions or I won't have time to make up the hours I would miss. That truncates the hours when I can meet with SF students--but I went through my calendar and assigned myself a make-up time for every session when I'm going to hold conference hours for the 102s. (I had missed a few when I did that before.)

Of course, I don't really know what kind of time I'm going to need by the time we get to the next essay, never mind the end of the semester: it may be I won't need to make up any time, as I might be able to ask students not to sign up during my Advisement hours and still have plenty of appointment slots--depending on how many students I lose.

Oh, but speaking of that, in doing the academic progress reports, I realized that several very good students have gone AWOL--so I made a pitch to get them back. I don't think it will work, but I tried. And I assured Rose in Bloom that she can withdraw from the class but still see me as a mentor--officially or not, I don't care.

What I did not do, of the things I was hoping to accomplish, was to get any SF essays marked. Tomorrow follows a Monday schedule, but if I count on having any time for that tomorrow in Advisement, it's almost a sure thing that I'll see students back-to-back--and that all of them will require lots of time. (That was certainly the case with a young man--who came in with his mother, who was pushing his little sister in a stroller. I ended up having to talk as much to the mother as to the student, even though the student was plenty smart--but neither student nor mother was very good at actually hearing what I had to say, or understanding that the requirements are the requirements, whether the requirements make sense to student and mother or not. Maddening.)

I'm quite certain there was something else I did this evening, but damned if I can remember what--and damned if I'm going to try, as what I need more than anything right now is to get out of here. My monster cold is trying to come back, and if I'm going to fight it off, I need to get some food in me and get to bed ASAP.

But at least I don't have to set the alarm for 6 a.m. tomorrow. God smiles.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Hitting the wall early = pre-dawn alarm

I really wish I had more oomph in me tonight, as I still have eleven 102 essays to mark for mechanics review. I will get up early tomorrow--and pray like mad that things are absolutely dead in Advisement--so I have at least a fighting chance of getting everything done in time: I absolutely must be able to return the essays to students tomorrow.

Of course, when I started on the work yesterday, I thought I might not only get all the 102 essays marked but embark on the grading for the SF class. Not. But I'm not really surprised.

Part of the problem--not only why I ran out of time but also why I hit the wall--is that I had to tend to a certain amount of life maintenance this weekend. I don't mind tending to my life, but it does get in the way of getting student work marked. I need a personal assistant, or a 1950s wife.

I keep trying to tell myself that "next" weekend will be better, but every Sunday night I realize that the next weekend is going to be a replay of this one and the ones before. I don't know when I'll get a real weekend again--maybe not until after the semester is over?

Again, I tell myself that I have to seriously rethink the process, especially for the 102s, for spring, or I will lose my tiny mind. I have no idea how to change things, but I'll have to mess around with it--and relatively soon. I also want to reconfigure the readings for Nature in Lit (assuming it will run), and that means time and energy, as does setting up enough online that I can potentially run the course online in the fall.

It's all just endless--and when I spoke to my financial planner on Friday, she helped me figure out what I'd be facing if I were to retire this year, or next, but ultimately she said, "The subtext here is, keep working." Yeah, yeah, I know. The more years I have to sock away retirement money and to increase my savings, the better off I'll be--but the prospect just makes me so very tired, I have a hard time facing it.

The answer to that is not to face it: A) There is nothing but the present; all else is just in the mind and 2) No one knows what the future holds, not even the next 10 seconds, and the further away one looks, the less one can begin to guess. I could win the lottery. I could end up in Bellevue. No telling.

So, I'm stopping for tonight, and I'm trusting that tomorrow will work itself out, as will the days beyond tomorrow. I have to keep reminding myself that I have never ended a semester without getting everything done that needed to be done (though sometimes I've realized that things I thought needed to be done really didn't). That's the only attitude to have right now.

And I may not be any stronger tomorrow, but it is another day.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

38 conferences, 1 no-show = success (and a distinct lessening of malaise)

I just finished entering all the appointment data from this week's conference sessions, and it was immensely gratifying to see all the "in-person completed" boxes, with only one "no show." It was also gratifying to have filled so much productive time this week toward my obligatory seminar hours.

My only concern--a minor one--is that my "client report" forms may not contain the kind of data that will best serve our purposes in contract negotiations, though I was honestly able to say that often the conversation started off as assignment-specific but morphed into a discussion of larger academic concerns.

I have to say, too, that my last two appointments were the best. The second to last was a young man--a computer science major--who is intellectually gifted and sophisticated in his reading and writing skills, in addition to having had five years of living experience between high school and now. He understands that, although he may not "like" an assignment or its parameters, his task is to do what is asked. I hastened to assure him that I agree with him: he expressed a distaste for literary criticism, as it feels to him too prescriptive--"this is what the story IS about"--rather than focusing on appreciation of the artistry of a work of literature. But I'm just thrilled to bits that he reads literature for the joy of it, and is aware of the artistry. (It does disappoint me a bit that he took a strong personal distaste to the Le Guin short story "Ile Forest," but its entirely his right not to like it and not to go along with the conclusions Le Guin wants to lead readers to follow.) It was simply refreshing to talk to a student who "gets it."

The last appointment was even better. The student--a young woman--isn't as intellectually gifted, though she's plenty intelligent, but I loved the appointment because we ended up talking about life in general. She's working to overcome some trouble that she got herself into a while back, and she talked about how her therapist has told her she should quit all forms of social media and concentrate on getting to know herself. So we talked about differences in my generation (that I grew up before even answering machines existed) and hers (with the demand for immediate response to every "How R U?"). It was easy and comfortable, and she clearly liked the experience enough to want to repeat it. Golden. I'll sign her up; in fact, I'll work to see her whenever, not just during my specifically designated seminar hours.

Today was, all in all, a reminder of why I actually do love what I do. I came to work expecting to be miserable, in part because I only got about four hours of sleep last night, but also because I had yet another dream about threatening young male students. However, I started the day with two student conferences and a little tidying up of bits on my desk, after which I went to a meeting of the Strategic Planning committee and met with the subcommittee I'm on (and of which I am now a co-chair with a woman who's been on the committee good while, knows the ropes--but whose time is maxed out by putting together her application for promotion to full professor). I feel tremendously behind the curve--it's going to take me a while to understand what the hell is going on--but it's nice to be reminded that I'm working with smart and capable people.

The only stink bomb of the day was during that meeting, when one of our deans presented us with a chart of all the areas on which we need to create action plans or reports of progress--a chart that said that certain things had been "due" in June, when today was the first time the people in charge of those areas were seeing what they were supposed to be responsible for. One of our colleagues respectfully asked for more time to review the document and asked that the report be changed to reflect a later due date for the task assigned to her purview. The administrator who presented the chart kept telling her that everything was from documents from her area, deliberately ignoring her repeated statements that she understood that, but since she hadn't seen the document saying when things were "due" until today, her area should not be accused of missing a deadline. He essentially said, "You don't need time because I said you don't need time," and when pressed to suggest a reasonable due date said she'd have to talk to another administrator who wasn't at the meeting. Fortunately, not only did the secretary of the committee jump in to request that people actually engage in respectful and collaborative conversation that did not include kicking the football off the field, but several other people--some higher up in the administrative chain than he--spoke up with the same concern about charges under their mandates.

Not at all coincidentally, the majority of the leaders of areas whose reports were being categorized as past due are women. This particular administrator has a track record of demeaning, derogatory, and sexist assertions in the documents he produces not only for our campus but for the entire system (including one now notorious report that suggested there are so many women faculty here because this campus doesn't require scholarship or academic expertise: essentially, we can knit and bake cookies--which of course is what we really want to do--to our heart's content because nothing further is demanded of us). This was the first time I'd seen the man in action, and it was one of those cases when I had to stand on my tongue, because I was sure if I'd said anything, it would be incendiary.

The smug, self-satisfied, sexist weasel. (Something along those lines.)

However, the stink of that particular part of the meeting was dissipated by our subcommittee meeting (all women, I hasten to point out, and in charge of a particularly important task, having to do with the college's vision statement and mission statement--a distinction I now understand).

It was wafted away virtually entirely by the SF class, which was in great form (although one particularly good student did, at one point, roll his eyes when another student wanted to hold forth at great length about ... well something at least ostensibly to the purpose but really involving a lot of aimless but energetic ego polishing). The students are largely picking up on the important stuff and talking about it pretty intelligently. There are a few duds in the room (including the Truculent Plagiarist--who did have all his missing homework today but whose missing homework only required one glance from me to be proven wanting), but they're slowly washing out. Most of the gold is starting to truly shine, even some students who were originally pretty resistant to the whole thing.

And then those conferences.

Given the glow I'm maintaining from those meetings, I don't want to think too much about the huge wodges of work I have to take home to complete over the weekend--so I'll just tuck it all into one of my many tote bags and look at it ... tomorrow, if I'm stronger by then. Or Saturday. I have set an intention for how I will deal with it, and I am going to fiercely adhere to that intention, making it a reality.

Now, I need to water the plants and go home to feed all the mammals in my household. I may be posting over the weekend, but if not, certainly on Monday.

Bon Weekend, y'all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The need for significant restructuring

First, I should report that the student I was so angry with last night sent a very contrite and sad e-mail: he wasn't being manipulative, it just made me sad. He asked if he could come to class anyway, even if he had to fail at the end, because he wants to do well when he retakes the class--and he said if I wouldn't let him attend, he'd just withdraw.

Of course, that hit me right in the teacher spot: if he wants to learn, I want to teach him. But I didn't melt entirely. I did tell him that, if he wants to remain in the class, he needs to do all the work to the best of his ability and on time; he cannot be absent, and he cannot be late. He agreed.

In my experience, that never works: without the knowledge that a grade is possible, most students end up falling by the wayside before the semester ends--but at least he has a chance.

Today, however, I felt so battered by the work--and the knowledge that even though I finished everything I brought home for today, there is even more waiting for me in my office--that I almost fell completely apart. I even had a bad dream last night about being confronted by large, angry male students. The job is getting to me in ways that I find alarming, and I have to figure out how to change the whole structure of what I'm doing so I don't feel so flattened.

I also feel on the edge of becoming bitter and systemically angry with the students, and I've always sworn that if I ever got to that point, I'd quit and do something else.

I don't think I'm quite there yet, but I realize I do have to rethink the process of the essays for the 102s in particular, as what I'm doing is far too labor intensive, and the stress of it is not good for me. The challenge, always, is how to reduce the labor while keeping my pedagogic goals intact. I don't quite know what to do about that just yet, but I hope I can figure something out before spring, so I don't experience quite this level of intellectual exhaustion and emotional fatigue.

It's good to remind myself that I am in charge of this process: no one makes me teach the way I do, or respond the way I do to students. I am not a victim here: I'm in charge. Figuring out the alternative may be a challenge, but it's a good challenge to be faced with, and it's good to remember that I am a better teacher when I'm not hag-ridden with work I've manufactured for myself.

That said, I do want to take care of some of the things that matter to me personally, apart from work--so I'm going to practice the violin, which I haven't done in over a week. That will be a wonderful change of gears, from being the instructor to being the student.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The professor's wrath

I haven't talked about this much, if at all, as I've had other issues that seemed more pressing, but tonight, a struggle that I've been engaged in with a student finally lit my fury fuse, and I have instituted draconian measures that I've never used before.

The student has only been to class three times all semester--and all three of those times, he's been late. He has not turned in a single assignment. I told him that he needed to withdraw from the class, and then the wrestling match began. Repeatedly, I explained to him that he has done zero work and that he cannot pass; repeatedly he replies that he wants to stay in the class--but each time he does, what he includes as part of his "plea" becomes more outrageous. Today, he said that he was only missing two assignments (he's missing 11, including his first essay), that he'd e-mailed assignments to me, so he'd e-mail them to the Bursar to prove he'd sent them to me (I don't know what the bursar has to do with anything, but even if he did try to e-mail assignments to me, my syllabus very clearly states that I do not accept e-mailed work), and that anyway, he couldn't do some of the assignments because he didn't have the reader--which was sitting in a box outside my office door for three weeks, then a copy specifically for him was on my office door for another week, without him ever picking it up.

Now he's saying he'll study English three hours a day, he'll turn in all the work (what work, since according to him, he already submitted all but two assignments?) because he doesn't "want" to withdraw; he "wants" to pass the class.

To quote the movie Sweet Dreams, people in hell want ice water, but that don't mean they get it.

His last e-mails just sent me ballistic. I pointed out that not having the reader didn't mean that he didn't have to do the work. I detailed every assignment he'd missed and when it was due. I detailed his attendance record. And then I brought in the big guns:


"What you want is not the issue here. I am telling you what the reality is. You have two choices: you can withdraw, or you will fail.

"If you continue to press the matter, I will bar you from the class: if you show up, I will require you to leave. If you refuse to leave, I will call Public Safety to escort you from the classroom.

"If you wish, you may take a complaint to ... the chair of my department, but I will no longer debate this with you, via e-mail or in any other way."
 
I cc'd Cathy and Bruce on that response--and I have to say, I have never gotten to the point where I barred a student from the class, but in this case, I will. I will not talk with him; I hope I never see him again.

In a painful coincidence, I have another student in the same class who is in almost as bad a predicament--though at least he has submitted some work. He wants to get a good grade in the class, but I really don't think he can, no matter what he does, not only because he's already missed so much, but because the work he has submitted is of very poor quality. I will work with him, however. He at least has a reason for falling down on part of the work (his family in Pakistan had an emergency and the whole American branch had to fly over to help)--unlike the other student who simply says that it's important for personal reasons that he pass the class (with no explanation for why, in that case, he has been so cavalier about the work and his attendance). The student from Pakistan is at least trying (albeit not as hard as he should be, given how important he says his success in the class is), so I'll meet with him and see what we can work out, if anything. This is his last semester, and he's running out of financial aid--but if he can't do the work, I can't give him a good grade, possibly can't even give him a passing grade.

It's strange: it seems as if, this semester, I have far more students than I've ever encountered who think that they can submit work whenever the hell they want--days late, weeks late, all in one clump more than a month into the semester--and who are shocked when I either apply a whopping late penalty or simply refuse to accept the work. Paul says he likes to teach 102 because the students have some sense of what's required of them, but I swear, I'm having more problems with the 102s than I've had the last few semester with 101s.

A slight shift of gears, but on the thread of maddening students who don't seem to realize that they have to do the work, the Truculent Plagiarist showed up to class today and grabbed the wastebasket; he told me he might throw up. For god's sake, go home then! "But I can't miss more class." We'll worry about that later; if you're that sick take care of yourself and everyone in this room and go home! The cynic in me says, "Nice ploy to get out of having to hand you the homework that he conveniently left in his mother's car on Thursday..." I know he's BS-ing me right and left--but I'm just going to let him hang himself. I do wish he'd fucking leave, and I can't explain why I don't simply toss him. However, on Thursday, if he doesn't have all his missing homework with him, I'm going to drop the boom.

I find it ... ironic? interesting? that this semester, when I'm feeling sort of fragile about the job anyway, I'm encountering all these problems. I'm starting to feel bitter about it, which I don't want to fall into, but I do feel like the students are taking advantage of my willingness to be kind and compassionate and helpful.

Oh, and I didn't mention, but the student who can't seem to understand instructions showed up for his conference yesterday--and almost the entire session was spent on his long, complicated explanation of all his health problems. When I finally got him focused on his essay, he said he had uploaded it to Turnitin, and it took me three tries (each time, having to hear the whole story of how he did the upload) to get him to understand that just because he tried to upload it doesn't mean it's there, and that it was his responsibility to check for the confirmation e-mail that the upload was successful. In actually talking about revision, he started out by saying he didn't understand any of my comments because he'd already done whatever it was I said he needed to do. When I pressed him to understand that whatever he'd done wasn't accomplishing what he needs to do, he'd veer off into the litany about his terrible health. He said again that I'm a "nice lady," and I said, "Maybe, but I'm a very strict professor." Did not compute.

Apparently, he went straight from me to the Writing Center and worked with one of the tutors I particularly like and whose abilities as a tutor I admire. She sent me an e-mail saying that she'd had the same experience: the litany about the health issues, the "but I did that" deflection of any critique or attempt to help. She took the next step, which was to point out that he seemed resistant to her feedback--at which point he first became angry then resorted to his usual "this will get me out of trouble" litany of health issues.

He is older, and I do believe that he legitimately has the health problems he complains of. But that does not mean he doesn't have to do the work, or understand instructions, or follow through on what he's told is required.

Reframe. Reframe. Reframe.

In a number of the conferences so far, it's been a delight to watch the students have "A-hah!" moments, or at least to see the dawning of comprehension on their faces, as they start to see how they can make their work better. Today I had one particularly lovely encounter: the student came to her conference and actually was prepared with specific questions for me which she'd written down. She started taking notes the minute we started talking, and she asked intelligent follow-up questions, ensuring that she understood what she needed to do. It was simply delightful to work with a student who is acting like a real student: doing her part of the equation, soaking in what's being offered by the professor, wanting to improve.

In fact, the majority of the students I met with clearly want to do better. Some have the fatalistic "I'm not good at English" attitude--at least at first--but as we talk they start to see that there actually is a process that will help. Most of them need some Socratic method, so they have to think for themselves what they actually need to do to revise--but they're starting to get it. And a few have a clear sense of what their habitual problems are, so they're excited when I help them see there's a way to deal with those problems.

God. It's all hard as hell, but, well, this is the job I signed up for, and as long as I'm in the trenches, I'll keep fighting the good fight, albeit with a fair amount of venting, whining, bitching--and the occasional reminder to myself that there are things I am truly grateful for in this unceasing battle.

I'm tired, and I have a shitload of stuff to get done tomorrow, so I'd better head on home. Since I will be working all day tomorrow, I probably will post to the blog tomorrow evening at some point. If not, definitely on Thursday.
 

Monday, October 10, 2016

9:30 p.m. Still in the office

Even though I sent e-mails to the authors of the last 8 essays I have to mark, saying their essays wouldn't be ready until Thursday morning, between one thing and another, here it is, 9:30, and I haven't left yet.

I saw students pretty much back to back all day until 7 p.m.--but I did get enough of a break to review the sabbatical applications. Check.

I realized at some point last night that I hadn't blocked off the time when I'll be in P&B tomorrow--and sure enough, three students signed up to meet with me in that time. One I saw here at the office, when he came by to pick up his essay; one has been in e-mail contact with me (fortunately she checked her e-mail, as the voice mail box on her phone hasn't been set up, so I couldn't leave a message); one seems to be unreachable: his phone is not in service, and he hasn't responded to e-mail--but he has gotten e-mails in the past, so I'm hoping he'll get that one and will contact me.

I just spent a while going through all today's appointments in the scheduling software, changing the reserved appointments to kept (except for one no-show) and adding the obligatory "client report forms." Check.

I have started making a list of everything I need to take home with me tomorrow, to work on Wednesday.
Omigod, I'm so exhausted--but check.

And now, I'm checking out of this heartbreak hotel.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Ill-timed illness

So, I'm trying madly to get all these essays marked--and I have either a bad cold or a mild case of the flu. In any event, my health collided with my need to grind away at essays, and fuck me blind, but I still have four that I'm supposed to have done by tomorrow at 10 a.m.

Not gonna happen, my friends.

I will get up extra early tomorrow--even though right now my body needs all the rest it can get--and try to get at least two of them done, maybe three, if any of them are very good and need little commentary.

I did make my life a tiny bit easier by typing up comments--when I realized I was saying pretty much the same thing over and over--which had the added benefit of making me get up and move from time to time. (I'm marking papers in the living room and have my laptop here with me, but the printer is in the bedroom.) Actually, given how often I had to get up and go back and forth from table to printer, I may not have saved that much time--but it was still easier than writing it all out by hand.

The essays I did grade provided me with at least one good laugh: the student who said that one of the characters had committed an "anus crime" (though I don't recall any sodomy) and further that the character's crime was compounded because he "penetrated the killing her before actually committing it."

The spate of comments that have ensued because I posted those bloopers on Facebook have been particularly funny.

One gets one's laughs where one can, I suppose, Especially when fighting the flu.

Ah, god, I have to pack it in. I need to wind down as quickly as possible and get as much sleep as possible before the marathon of conferences tomorrow. Wish me luck (and improved health).

Thursday, October 6, 2016

P.S. on appointment scheduling

I forgot to mention that I actually finished doing the scheduling of appointments last night. It meant I was here a lot later than I wanted to be, but I figured out the glitch, which was, ahem, user error. Apparently, I had opened a window to make an appointment and never closed it, so the software wouldn't let me open another. Once I closed down my browser, I saw there was a window open for the scheduling system. I closed it, then opened the browser and returned to the scheduling system. As Paul's students would say (I've only seen it once): wa la.

Saved by late uploads and no-shows

The only reason I got everything ready "on time" for today is only one student came to pick up her essay after 5 p.m. Also, two of the students whose conference times are on Monday before 2:00 didn't upload their essays to Turnitin.com. Technically, I don't have to mark them (according to my late submission policy), but I already marked one of them, so I'll mark the other, since I have the hard copies.

And on top of that, the student who has the first appointment--10 a.m. on Monday--has not submitted his essay at all, even though I got a text from him at 5:30 saying he was on his way over to drop it off. I just wrote him an e-mail explaining that I won't mark his essay; I'll just read it and provide a mark (which will be reduced by 50%), but obviously I won't be able to do even that before our meeting. My conference with him, therefore, will focus on why he had such a hard time writing the essay.

We'll set aside the fact that last night he e-mailed to say Turnitin was "closed." Uh-huh: an online platform closes for the night. Sure.

There were two other 102 moments today: One was that a student came by to drop off his essay (which at least he'd uploaded to Turnitin on time) and to sign up for a conference time. He had a couple of questions for me, and it was nice to be able to encourage him a bit: he's struggling with reading comprehension, and I'm not sure he's going to make it, but he's earnest, and I want to give him as much support as I can.

The other was the student I was complaining about last night. He'd called this morning and left a message on my voice mail, saying that he'd made a mistake in signing up for his conference time, so he'd take one of the time slots right after his. I called back and explained that he couldn't come at those times, as other students have their appointments then. I told him when I had time slots available and told him to e-mail, rather than calling, to either take one of those slots or to tell me when he could meet on Tuesday or Thursday. He called back. (So, what part of "e-mail" was unclear?) Then he explained that when I said our class wouldn't meet, he thought campus was closed--even though I explained that at least three times yesterday. (No: your other classes meet on Monday; it's just our class that doesn't meet because we have conferences. Campus is closed on Wednesday; that's why I can't have conferences with you on Wednesday. No: campus is open on Monday; it's closed on Wednesday. We have conferences instead of this class on Monday, but all your other classes will meet. No classes meet on Wednesday. ... Do you think that's clear enough?) He actually has a class at the time he chose for our conference--but he could make it by 1:50 instead of 1:20. So I explained--again--that I can't meet him at 1:50, because I have a student coming at 1:40, and another at 2:00, and back to back conferences straight through until 5. Could he come before his class? Well, he's coming all the way from Yonkers. Could he come on Tuesday or Thursday? No, he only comes to campus on Mondays and Wednesdays. OK, so would he like to come at 5? No, there was some other issue with that.

I don't know how long I talked to him to get him to agree that--even coming from Yonkers--he could make an earlier appointment time. And just to be extra nice, I even reserved the 5:00 time, in case he can't make his morning appointment.

Give me strength.

And shifting gears: the SF class was pretty good, though as we were discussing things with the class as a whole, the Truculent Plagiarist and Mr. Fiance both put their heads down and apparently went to sleep. A lot of good issues came up--but another student I've talked about before gave me more cause for concern. I was talking to his group mates, both of whom are whip smart (though a bit truculent, I have to say), and he said, "You know what stood out to me? The Svetlana Sausages." OK, so there's all sorts of really important stuff going on, but the only thing he comes up with is that the description of the Svetlana No-Meat Cocktail Sausages is gross. It is gross, I grant, but ... really? That's what you got?

Part of what I was working to do was to connect their comments and ideas to some of the bigger thematic issues, the critiques of contemporary society Atwood is making--and I think that's where I lost them, or at least some of them. I know we're whipping through the book pretty rapidly, but the students who are on the ball are fine with it: I heard one of them say to a classmate who has done only one assignment so far, "It's pretty easy, actually." I suppose that balances out the group who couldn't figure out the timelines--still, despite all the discussion and clarification I've provided.

Well, there it is. (https://youtu.be/xEtRmzyUMIY)

I am so awash in assignments to mark, I am afraid I'm not going to be able to keep my nostrils above water, but all I can do is chug along. I got today's done; I have a shitload to do over the weekend--and if at all possible, I don't want to fall any further behind on marking homework from the SF class, or I really will drown. I have to be firm about Paul's policy: they've gotten feedback, so just whip through them and assign the points, leave it at that. But still: a whole, entire shitload. My own fault, of course: if I didn't assign it, I wouldn't have to mark it, and if I didn't feel so compelled to comment--if I could just do as one of my colleagues did years ago and write, "No. F. Writing Center." or something similar--I wouldn't be so overwhelmed.

But I now remember part of why I decided to ditch conferencing: the time, energy, effort is astronomical.

Now, however, I simply need to organize the stacks of shit, so I know what's what and where it is,and then I toddle off into the darkness. I'm not just going to call it a day: I'm going to call it a week.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Backing myself into a hell of a tight corner...

Man, I really did not consider time very clearly when I made the assignment schedule for my 102s. I told the students that those who will conference with me before 2:00 on Monday could retrieve their essays after 5 tomorrow, but that means I'll need to mark 10 of them--assuming one who didn't have his essay today will get it to me early enough tomorrow to even have a chance at that. But his goes at the bottom of the stack; I'll prioritize the essays of those who had their essays on time. Even without his, that's still 9 to mark, and I have an 11:30 meeting plus class. I was supposed to have another meeting after class, but I had to ask to reschedule that: there's absolutely no way I could keep it and still get everything done.

In fact, I "should" have worked on a few tonight, but instead, I was setting up the appointment schedule in the tracking software we use for seminar hours. That meant entering the students individually as "new clients" into the system, which was modestly time consuming (but only has to be done once this semester, thank god). More frustrating was the fact that, for no apparent reason, I suddenly was unable to actually put the appointments in the schedule. I hope that glitch gets worked out by tomorrow, as I hope to enter all the appointments before I leave campus. I realize that may not happen, given how manic I'm going to be about grading essays, but that can work two ways: sometimes, when I have to push hard, I get a good head of steam going and can chug along for a good while; other times, when I have to really slog, I hit the wall extra early.

I also have to be on campus at 9 (I ask you!) in order to collect a few signatures for the Distance Ed Equivalency for Nature in Lit. However, one of the reasons I don't feel too bad about having to postpone that one appointment is that it was to work with my distance ed mentor, who will let me know what needs to be constructed before I can get final approval on the online version of the course. I've been pushing ferociously, hoping I could get it to run online in the spring, but I realized that--given the meeting dates for the various bodies that have to approve the thing, and the date when registration starts--I wasn't going to get it approved in time. Shit, but oh well.

Speaking of spring, however, I've put in my pitch for a schedule change: there's a section of Native American Lit without an instructor, so I asked for it. If I don't get it, I've asked to switch one of my 102s, so they both run on T/Th, instead of one M/W and one T/Th. I know that by the end of the semester, all classes meet the same number of times (barring weather cancellations), but week by week things get out of kilter, and it's all but impossible for me to create a schedule that keeps a M/W section even with a T/Th section, or at least even enough that I don't forget who's done what.

Shifting gears, I was pretty pleased with the 102s today, doing their peer reviews of each other's essays. There was only one truly annoying moment: One student is much older than the other students--at least my age, possibly older than I am--and I don't know what's wrong with him, but clearly there is some kind of mental issue there. He's very sweet, and he's trying very hard, but he seems to miss a lot, misunderstand a lot, have a hard time focusing. I almost wonder if he has traumatic brain injury from 'Nam or something. Today, he had two printed copies for me, but his other printed copy was literally printed, by hand, on notebook paper: almost indecipherable and with lots of cross outs, additions, and other confusions. I have no idea how his partner managed to read the mess, but when I saw it, I was horrified. He didn't seem to understand what was wrong with what he had: it was printed, after all. I also said several times that conferences would be in my office, and as he was leaving class, he asked where the conferences would be...

Oh, Bernard. (Billy Jack reference: about 20 seconds into this clip. https://youtu.be/jXXyms5g5ok. But I don't go berserk.)

Apart from that, the students seemed to understand the process well enough, and the better students were doing a great job of what they pointed out to each other, both in terms of what they thought worked well and in terms of what they thought could be improved. It's greatly gratifying when that happens. They also were surprised that the time went so quickly. I spent some time at the start of each period talking about the process, from "prewriting" through final version--and they were diligently taking notes. Of course, I don't know how I'm going to feel when I start reading the damned things, but that's a worry for another day.

For tomorrow, in fact. Now, I need to get home. Very early alarm tomorrow, so I can get here by 9, and a jam-packed day. I'm still fighting off this wretched cold, too, so I need as much sleep as I can get.





Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Oh, good. Oh dear.

Good: a student who had plagiarized homework in the SF class and who was clearly out of his depth withdrew today. I feel bad that the semester didn't work out for him, but it's in his best interests to withdraw--and it certainly makes my life easier.

Oh dear: my Rose in Bloom was not in class again today. I just called and left a message for her, all but begging her to stay in the class, promising by everything I hold holy that I will work out a solution for her that allows her to get what she wants to out of the experience without driving her around the bend, asking her to please meet with me so we can talk out a solution.

But, apropos of last night's--or, more accurately, yesterday afternoon's--blog post, today apparently whoever has been moving the wall moved it far away from me, as it's after 8, and I have to force myself to go home. I'm on the verge of getting sick (and not doing well with maintaining my "I refuse to get this cold" regimen), so my ass has been soundly kicked in terms of my physical stamina--but my brain is in overdrive.

Mostly, I'm driven by a desire to keep things from piling up much deeper than they already have. (See? I knew yesterday's early bail on top of a not-productive weekend would come around to bite me, and I feel the tooth marks in my ass right now, never mind when things get closer to crisis point.) Assignments from the SF students in particular are starting to pile up--and between 4:45 tomorrow and Tuesday whenever I pack my tents (tense?), I have to mark all the 102 first essay submissions.

Oy gevalt.

Of course, sitting here blogging doesn't help me get anything done, in particular, except the reframing and venting that I've come to rely on. And part of the reframing is to remind myself of good things that have transpired today.

First a little whipping of myself with knouts: I was afraid I was going to be late to the department meeting, and I had agreed to speak on Scott's behalf about any seminar hours updates. As it turned out, I was there before Bruce started the meeting, and we didn't get around to seminar hours at all--because most of the meeting went to discussion about more Middle States mishigas, specifically another infuriating document composed by one of our deans, apparently to sneer at and traduce the faculty in the guise of following a Middle States directive and the BOT's latest power grab, also in the guise of addressing a concern raised by Middle States. William asked the question I've wanted an answer to for some time: What motivates the Board? What do they actually want, apart from to win a pissing contest in which they're the only ones actually pissing? There was no good answer to that, except that "everything is political." Not very comforting, that. So lots of boola-boola as some of our colleagues provide a  transparent view of all the behind-the-scenes scrambling around that's going on.

One more lash: I completely forgot I was supposed to be in P&B after class. I talked with Kristin a bit, then got talking to Kim, one of the colleagues revealing what's going on behind the scenes, and a beautifully intelligent and irreverent human being. Fortunately, I hadn't missed much where my input was needed, so, dodged another bullet there.

But class: now that's good news. A lot of students were absent today--some, I suspect, because they hadn't done the reading and didn't want to be thrown out of class--but those who were there were doing great work. They're still struggling some with Oryx and Crake, despite my scaffolding last class, but they were asking good questions, bringing up good ideas, very lively discussion both in their groups and with the class as a whole. I'm pleased, and I hope like mad that kind of work continues. Oh, and the seemingly hostile student (fiance of the overly emotional student) was more open today. He still seems resistant, but he did smile a few times--and contributed to the class discussion, so that's good.

I was faintly annoyed that the fiances both brought up the "Atwood could have done a better job with X" kind of response, but I pointed out that their response was coming from their own aesthetic and didn't indicate a failure on Atwood's part at all. But in addition to that, they actually did have some very good ideas to share, especially the young woman.

Well, now I have hit the wall, so enough for today. I don't even know what I'm putting off thinking about right now: I'm suddenly so over-done that I can't think of anything else at all except getting home and having dinner. Some days are just like that.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Someone keeps moving the damned wall...

...or at least I keep hitting the wall a lot sooner than I used to. I certainly did not do much work with the holiday at home--or with any of the rest of the weekend, for that matter. I have no excuse. I'm just not very good at making myself do the work until I'm in crisis mode.

I will say that I did some other work-related stuff, including writing a letter to our new campus president about a pretty blatant power-grab by the Board of Trustees, put forth under the guise of a necessary response to our failures in the Middle States accreditation review. I'm more than a little disturbed that the new president seems to think that there's nothing wrong with the documents produced by the Board: he seemed to suggest that the documents are simply a necessary step toward making clear lines of responsibility and steps of procedure. But I actually looked at the documents myself (though I admit I didn't read all of them; too much legalese for me to wade through), and what I saw was the Board essentially saying "We'll make all decisions about everything. The President can propose some stuff, and the Academic Senate can 'comment," but we are the only body that can actually enact anything, and we don't have to seriously consider any comments, even when they disagree with what we want to do."

And how exactly does that meet the definition of "shared governance"? Inquiring minds want to know.

Of course, I'm not alone in expressing serious doubts about the documents. Our campus chapter of the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) as well as individual faculty have weighed in. I didn't want to face the potential firestorm of backlash that often follows any individual's airing of thought or opinion, so I simply sent my comments to the president, but I'm glad to see that others are speaking up.

That said, there's nothing to stop the Board from approving their own documents, because no other entity has the power to stop them. Middle States won't be happy, though, is my guess. Maybe the Board really does want our accreditation yanked, so they can close the campus, then reopen it under a new name--and without the need to provide employment to anyone who is currently tenured.

My own marking of assignments rather pales in significance to that larger fight, and the larger worries of the faculty. I see Paul being eaten alive by the fights, and I really hate what it's doing to him, though I am more relieved than I can easily express that we have him on ASEC to fight for what's right. And yes, part of why I felt I needed to respond to the Board's documents is because I want to back him up at least a little. I'm not in a position to do much (neither is ASEC, at this point, and that's part of what's devouring Paul: he has no real power and is fighting people with unreasoning power and the will to use it without reason). But it felt ethically important for me to say something.

Even so, the time I spent on that e-mail doesn't explain how little other work I've done today, nor the fact that I hit the wall so fucking early today. I know I'm going to get bitten in the ass by the fact that I neither dove into grading the SF essays nor checked off the homework for the 102s that I've been carrying around. Ah well. I won't try to justify or explain. I'll just say, "that's how it is today," and go on about my business, which, right at the moment, has nothing to do with work and everything to do with life maintenance.

I'll post again tomorrow; we'll see if I've made any actual progress by the end of the day.