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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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Not you, Barry. You already told me--and thanks!






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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Not so unhappy...

Today was better than I anticipated. All yesterday evening and this morning, I was riddled with anxiety about meeting with the 102s today--so much so that I had a truly difficult time sleeping and woke with an incipient migraine. I turned off the alarm and went back to sleep, e-mailed Advisement to let them know I was using sick leave instead of doing my shift. I got to the office about 11:30, and I worked mostly on reading Cathy's promotion folder (at least the text part of it; I didn't have the documentation). I still have one more to look at--assuming it's back in the cabinet where we store them, instead of in the hands of the candidate--but I'm closer to caught up than I was.

So, that was good.

I also had made up my mind that I would be a bit more directive in pointing students to information in the novel that can be useful for their essays, or at least their preliminary thinking about the essays--and as it happened, both classes felt a lot more solid, a lot less lost than was the case on Monday. I did have to remind students not to stop when they feel confused--and certainly not to keep going back over and over and over the same chapter--but to forge on ahead and trust that things will make more sense. But also, we talked about the value of the various materials that I pointed out to them, and they are starting to realize that they can actually find help. One student brought up the fact that she listens to an audio version of the book that she found on YouTube. (I just had a listen to a bit of it: different pronunciations from what I've been using--and since I know that Ursula was involved in the production of the audio book, I can use the pronunciations to change where I've gone wrong in what I created on sabbatical.) I encouraged others to make use of the audio book, to use the online materials, to use my materials--and to keep going, keep reading.

Interestingly enough, the discussion in the earlier class was better, more substantive today; the later class was more bumpy, even though more of the students in that section understand at least the basics of the story. But I no longer feel abject despair at the idea of what the rest of the semester is going to be like in those two classes.

Another positive thing occurred to me when I was on my way to class, even before the students made clear that they're doing better than seemed to be the case on Monday: They're still there. Twenty students from the earlier section are still coming to class at least most of the time; sixteen students from the later section are still around. That's damned good--way above my usual results at this point.

And I hate to admit it--because it would be much easier for me if I were to do away with the conferencing--but I do believe the conferencing is the primary reason why they're staying. So, I want to try to find a way to continue to conference but without quite the same pressure on myself. Having made the decision to switch from The Left Hand of Darkness to The Word for World Is Forest, I know I will have a little more time to play with, as the students won't need anywhere near as much time to read WWIF as they need to read LHoD. But I still have to be realistic about the amount of time I need to turn essays around. (I also realized that--if I really want to continue teaching LHoD--there's nothing to say I can't teach it in SF next time I teach that class. I'd have to reconfigure the thematic threads for the semester, but that's not a bad thing.)

Speaking of turning essays around, however: I did not do any marking after class today. I met with a student from the SF class, and I talked with Paul. It turns out the observation I was supposed to conduct tomorrow morning has to be rescheduled (my colleague has had serious health problems all term, and now he has pneumonia), so I don't even have to have my bag all packed before I leave tonight. I'm ready for tomorrow's Strategic Planning committee meeting--or as ready as I can be--so whatever I do tomorrow prior to the meeting is gravy. And I'll schlep enormous stacks of stuff for the 102s home with me to work on over the weekend.

All of which is matter for the future--which does not exist. All that exists is this specific moment. For now, suffice it that I will be leaving campus before 7:30 p.m., and I do not feel surrounded by despondency and despair: I have some hope that my students will pull through in the end. Thus, in this specific moment, life is very good indeed

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Like a best-laid mouse plan...

My plan to have all the 102 essays marked by the end of day on Thursday has gone out the window. I wish I could consign the essays themselves to the same fate, but instead, I am looking across the room to a mountain of stuff piled up on top of the radiator...

I still hope to get as much knocked off before end of day on Thursday as possible, but I got nothing accomplished this evening--for good reasons, primarily the fact that I met with a student from the SF class, and we ended up talking for well over an hour. I may have mentioned him before: he's one of two military veterans in the class, and he's older. He's also legally blind ... which I feel awkward mentioning, but we did talk about it a bit today. He doesn't really need help getting around campus, but he often accepts it from other students (his science class lab partner, fellow veterans)--and the students in the SF class are very sweet about helping him navigate a terrible obstacle course between the desks and the door, though I note they don't quite know what to offer (hold his hand? steer him by the shoulders? how much help does he need getting into the desk?). I am learning myself: I've watched the people who help him more regularly, and I realize that what's best is for him to be offered an elbow--and that the guide needs to walk somewhat slowly.

All of which is beside the point, but we did talk about the warm hearts of many of the younger students on campus, their willingness to help...

The substance of our conversation doesn't much matter, actually. In my report of the mentoring session, I said that the unquantifiable but crucial aspect of the mentoring relationship is simply how it makes the student feel valued, connected, how it gives the student a sense that this campus provides a rich learning environment beyond the classroom. That sense--that NCC offers something special--tends to seep out, not even so much by word of mouth as by a general sense of the place. Students who have been in a mentoring relationship (or who have truly taken advantage even of their classes here) are very quick to correct the impression that this is just "thirteenth grade." Au contraire. And my veteran student is just one of many who can carry into the wider world the absolute belief in the value of the whole experience available here.

Class went pretty well today (speaking of the value of the experience), and I was particularly gratified that several students actually are interested in taking Nature in Lit in the spring. They don't need the literature elective; the SF class fulfills that requirement. But the class can fulfill a humanities requirement, and two students in particular were interested in that possibility. One of them surprised me in his expression of interest: he's one of the students who has barely been scraping by, essentially silent, low marks on all assignments... I'd have sworn he was only staying in the class out of sheer necessity--but when he asked more about Nature in Lit, my reading of the subtext was that he feels safe in my class: he may be out of his depth, but he doesn't feel like he's drowning. I find that very sweet--and gratifying. I may be the evil bog monster from hell, but some students still feel they can trust me. Perhaps it's just a matter of the devil you know, but if I somehow make students feel ... well, not quite confident, perhaps, but certain that they have something to hold on to, that makes me happy.

The seminar hours committee meeting also seemed to go well enough. There's a lot going on that Scott simply has to handle on his own--and I was unusually quiet in this meeting--but nothing feels dire or disastrous ... yet.

More worrisome was Bruce's report on his meeting with the other department chairs and the visiting team from Middle States. We were told, very firmly, that progress is not compliance: we can be moving toward fixing the problems, but unless they're actually fixed, the sword is still hanging over our heads. The impression I got from what Bruce said today in P&B was that we are still a hair's breadth from getting slapped with a "show cause"--which could lead to the campus being shut down. I suppose the upside to that eventuality is that I wouldn't have to try to figure out when I can retire; the decision would effectively be made for me. But, well, ye gods. I will be interested to hear what is said in Strategic Planning on Thursday, as that committee is in the middle of all of this stuff.

Speaking of that meeting, even before I "lost" a big chunk of time because I was talking with my student, I realized that my hope of getting everything marked before I leave on Thursday is probably a vain hope: I'd forgotten that on Thursday I have to do an observation, after which I go directly to the committee meeting, and from there, directly to class. I also am meeting with students; one tomorrow right after class, four more on Thursday afternoon. I'm delighted that students from the SF class want to meet with me about their revisions, and wish a few more would take me up on it, despite the crimp conferencing puts in my essay-grading time. Truth to be told, I'd far rather just meet with students and talk about their writing than actually have to grade it.

So, I'm kicking that can further down the road--again. I will take a few minutes before I go to sort out the steaming pile of papers that is threatening to avalanche off the radiator, but after that, you can take your Crayolas and color me gone, until tomorrow of course.

Monday, November 28, 2016

I quit

I'm not quitting my job, but I can't teach The Left Hand of Darkness any more. It's too frustrating for the students and for me. The later section of 102 is getting it a lot better, but the earlier section is filled with students who are just completely lost. I've sent them information about the "cheater sites": the ones that do all the digesting for the students, so they don't have to actually read the novel or think. If we had more time, I'd just drop the novel entirely and go with something else--which is what I'm doing for the spring--but we're too far into it now for that to work (when would students buy any new book, how would I come up with paper topics, blah blah blah). So, they're going to have to do their best with it, and I hope the cheater sites work.

And as I'm looking at all the materials I so joyously put together over my sabbatical, I realize they don't work: they're too wordy and dense. "Too many notes." If I want to pursue getting the student guide published, I have to take a machete to what I did and simplify the hell out of it.

Apparently, it's almost impossible to overestimate just how little students can read and comprehend.

I am so miserably depressed by this, I would like to quit my job--but I realize it's the nature of ENG102. The SF class is nowhere near as frustrating (even though a few students can't do even the simpler reading required), and ever since I did the whole-scale reboot of ENG101, I've felt a lot better about it than I used to. After this spring, no more ENG102 for me for the rest of my career--unless I end up teaching somewhere other than where I am now. I'm going to stick with 101s and my lit electives.

The weekend also was nowhere near as productive as I wanted it to be. I got most of the essays marked for the SF class; I have one more to grade tomorrow morning--and I need to see if I have reading notes that I've collected but haven't yet marked--but I think I can get all that done before class tomorrow (even subtracting out time for a seminar hours committee meeting). I may have to bail on Advisement for Wednesday in order to get reading notes back to the students in the 102s--and I have not even started on their essays.

That's another reason for despair right now: a number of the students have not uploaded their essays to Turnitin.com, and at least one hadn't submitted the hard copy of the essay (along with all the previous steps, which are required as part of the process). There just doesn't seem to be any way to get some of them to do all the steps.

And the excellent but anxious student who was the subject of a blog post some time back seems to have gone AWOL. She missed all last week because she was out of town for the holidays, but she also missed today, and I didn't get all of the pieces of her essay submission.

One of the 102 students who was in my 101 last semester has also fallen by the wayside, apparently: today was his eighth absence from class--and my attendance policy says at the sixth absence, it's withdraw or fail time.

If I were to maintain all my standards, apply all my rules with no flexibility, most students would not pass.

Let me say that again: most students would not pass.
 
So, my standards keep going lower, and lower, and lower, and lower--or I have to deal with the misery of failing the majority of my students. And that is a misery to me: I don't like it--partly out of empathy for them but also because I feel like a failure when I can't get more of them to legitimately pass, never mind pass at the level I think is appropriate.

I can't think of any good way to reframe this so I don't feel so despairing and trapped. I know that every semester at about this time, I'm ready to consign the current term to the ash-heap of history and move on to designing the next semester, which I can still delude myself into believing might be successful. The desire to be just plain old done with everything having to do with this term is part of why I'm finding it a challenge to make myself sit down and get the work graded and out of my hair. I know, intellectually, that I will feel better when I'm not staring at those essays any more--but even so, I resist marking them: I'll find just about anything to do instead. (OK, I don't clean the house. But I'll read, or watch something on DVD, or play dopey computer games...)

So, my aim for this week is to get through all the 102 essays before I leave on Thursday--whatever that takes. I'll probably still have to take work home over the weekend, but if I can take home reading notes, not essays, I'll be a lot happier. Getting everything done will take a huge push and a few late nights--and even at that, I may not be able to get it all done--but it's a good goal to aim for.

The best I can do at the moment is to remind myself that very soon, this semester really will be over--no matter what I accomplish or have to just let go of, unaccomplished--and I have gotten good reminders of what not to do in the spring. I have a hell of a row to hoe in getting together the readings for Nature in Lit--and I may reconfigure parts of the 102s as well, in addition to the necessary adjustment in the final essay, which now will be on The Word for World Is Forest. It's not as thematically rich as The Left Hand of Darkness, but it's brief and if the topics end up being a bit simplistic, ah well. There are scholarly essays about it that I can direct the students to, so I address the course requirement for research--and that's enough.

In fact, that's enough for today. I feel both bloodied and bowed--but all I can do is leave it all here in the office as much as possible for the night, and return to the trenches tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The intellectual critical mass...

All teachers know about it, perhaps especially at the college level. There is the mystery of class chemistry--why some groups of students come together in a cohesive and friendly unit and others never connect--but beyond that, there is a necessary critical mass of intellectual wattage that can make an enormous difference to class discussion. In classes where there are enough students to generate the wattage, even those with slightly less candle power glow more brightly. When there aren't enough minds in the room, nothing ever really shines.

Today was case in point--and it was just today (and Monday), as in the earlier 102, two of the three best students were absent. The one real intellect in the room was stifled by the lack of juice generated by the rest of the students, and we never got to observations in talking about the novel, only the most superficial of questions.

However, in the later section, the best minds were present (unless I'm forgetting someone, but I don't think I am). There were five or six students who are getting it, so we were getting into the deeper waters--and it was great to see the other students start to fire up a little.

In both classes, I asked them what (if anything) I could do to help them in reading the novel--and ultimately, in both classes, the consensus was that they just need to keep plugging away at it in the faith that, as Le Guin put it, "sense will be made." Fair enough. I did remind them that the online materials are there to help them; we'll see if they start making better use of them.

Mostly, though, I hope that slowing down a little allows them to absorb better. One student expressed real dismay that I'm not holding conferences as I did for the first essays--but she was relieved when I said she could still meet with me; I just wouldn't cancel class for meetings. I'll be interested to see how many students want to see me; there won't be much time for meetings, but I'll accommodate as many as I can.

Meanwhile, I have once again filled my "weekend bag": the tote I use to carry student work and my editor's desk home over the weekends. I filled it last night, too: last night, 102 essays (which look more daunting than they are, though they're still daunting enough); tonight, reading notes from all three classes and the SF essays. I don't know how disciplined I'll be about actually doing the work, but I'm hoping that I end up being happy I schlepped it all home instead of realizing on Sunday night that it might as well have stayed in the office.

And now, I am ridiculously tired. It hasn't even been a hard week, nor has it been a full week, but I feel as if I've been here dawn to midnight for months on end. Even though I want to be disciplined about getting work done, simply the fact that I go four mornings in a row without having to set an alarm is something to be truly thankful about. Those little pleasures, right? Sleep--and the satisfaction of clearing work off the desk (or living room table, as the case may be). Gratitude, gratitude.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hitting the ground trudging

I did not, in fact, hit the ground running today, my best intentions notwithstanding. As William pointed out, perhaps it would be more apposite to say simply that I hit the ground. I am not sure exactly what my thoughts were last night about what I would accomplish prior to class today, but what I actually did accomplish was marking the reading notes for the SF class and then, miraculously enough, rereading the last bits of The Word for World Is Forest, so it would be fresh in my mind when I got to class.

And it was fresh in my mind. However, my copy of the novella was still sitting on the desk in my office. Ah well.

I didn't try to use groups today; only nine students were there at the start, and only about twelve by the time class finished. However, even though they do get more animated and excited in groups, the class discussion is about the same whether I start them in groups or not: they've gotten to the point where they'll do well enough with the reading on their own (those who are doing well with it at all, of course), and they'll turn around in their desks to respond directly to each other's comments, sometimes carrying on a conversation without my having to do any directing of it. Man, I love when that happens.

P&B was moderately frustrating, largely because--once again--discussion of a problematic member of our faculty (who has been the focus of discussion for several meetings now) derailed our need to respond to promotion folders. We got through a few of them, but not all--and we've had them for weeks now. On the other hand, I should be grateful, as the two we have yet to discuss are the two I have yet to read, so I still have a chance to redeem myself. Not much of a chance, perhaps, but a chance.

After P&B, I at last turned my attention to reworking the schedule for the 102s, and reworking the other assignments and handouts that stem from the schedule. I wasn't able to buy the students much more time to read--not unless we ditch the whole revision process entirely, which would mean that one chance at the essay would count for about one third of their entire grade, and that hardly seems fair. But I do realize that--since I will be teaching the novel again in the spring--as I come up with the spring schedule, I need to work backward, not only for the essay assignments but for the reading. It would be best to read the book two to three chapters at a time--which would require a minimum of eight class meetings. Right now, I'm giving them five class meetings for it, and I feel like I'm pushing them through it way too fast.

Well, we'll see. That's all for next semester; I don't have to figure that out right now.

And I need to stop feeling so happy about the prospects for Nature in Lit running in the spring. It's been holding steady at four students for a while--and unless I can get more fliers out (one more thing to do!), that may not change much. Even if I do get more fliers out, it may not change much. But it's at least worth the try.

And again, that's a worry for another time. More immediately is my awareness that I'll be grading essays all weekend. Another little anxiety jolt occurred today when I realized that--because of a SNAFU with the online submission of adjunct availability for spring, we can't even start on the spring schedules until mid-December, and given the disparity in Cathy's and my schedules, I'll be coming in on a Friday to start the process with her. When will I work on prepping Nature in Lit for the spring? When will I work on the online version of the course? When will I look at the remaining promotion applications?

On it goes. That refrain of "When will I...?" leads to lots of anxiety without producing any actions that reduce the anxiety. It feels a little like trying to make one's way through a traffic jam when one is in a hurry: all that can be done is to look for little openings and dart into them while trying to avoid a crash. The openings do present themselves, one way or another. I wrote up the observation of Cathy's class tonight, for instance. I could have headed home earlier, but I wanted to cross at least one more thing off that triage list.

And the rest will follow in due course, as I see the little opening into which I can squeeze a task or two.

Meanwhile, it's tired and I'm late ... or something like that. I would dearly love to play hooky from Advisement tomorrow, but I know it's likely I'll have to do that in December, in order to get essays marked for the 102s (I essentially have a day in which to mark them: ye gods and little fishes). So, I'll be a good girl and go to Advisement tomorrow, and teach my two classes--good Lord willin' and the crick don't rise.

For now, it's enough to pack up my toys and toddle off homeward.

Monday, November 21, 2016

[Insert profanities here]

I'm posting quickly, and I'm feeling outrageously frantic all of a sudden. I got almost no work done over the weekend--the willful ignoring of the amount of work I need to do and the time remaining in which to do it has, as I suspected it might, turned around to bite me in the ass. I'm getting pretty soundly chewed up, in fact.

I came back to the office after meeting with the 102s in utter despair: why do I torture myself by making students read the novel? Any novel--but especially this one? I'm kind of locked into it for the spring, as I've already ordered the books, but after spring, I'm going to stop teaching 102 entirely: I'm going to stick to 101s and whatever lit elective I can get--trying to limit the range of those as well, sticking pretty much to SF, Nature in Lit, and Native American Lit. The students' inability to read and comprehend is simply too painful.

But, thank God, Paul was here and ready to talk--and with his encouragement, I have decided to redo the schedule for the rest of the semester, ditch the last round of conferences, only do one pass on comments for the essays, and give the students a fraction longer in which to read the book. It's still awfully damned tight, but not quite as bad as it was. I knew when I put the schedule together that I was pushing them through the novel too fast--and it turns out it wasn't just a little too fast but WAY WAY WAY too fast.

So, I started to do a reboot this evening, but I can't focus well enough to continue. I'll have to hit the ground running tomorrow, but I will, in fact, hit the ground running--and I'll have to work pretty much the entire holiday weekend, but if it gets me caught up, it's worth it.

I have to dash: I should have been out of here half an hour ago. Tomorrow, I can stay here until all hours, but tonight, I'm going.

fuckfuckfuckfuck...


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Making an early day of it

I am, as is frequently the case, buoyed up by the energy generated from the events of the day: an observation of Cathy's wonderful teaching, an enormously helpful meeting with colleague Christina on the structure of an online course, the subcommittee meeting (complete with fruit bowl and water bottles), and a fine class.

The subcommittee is going to be very interesting. I tend to resent the hell out of the work that is involved (oh, you could tell?), but once I'm actually engaged in the discussions, I often get fired up--and this meeting was one of those that got things flowing nicely. We've backed up to reboot/start over territory--which involves a lot of what academics do best: talk. Not do: talk. There are some elephants in the room that need to be pointed to: we all know about the systemic lack of trust on our campus and how hard it will be to proceed with actions that will heal the trust, but it's important also to acknowledge the ways in which we in the faculty tend to create rifts, pitting discipline against discipline, the job training folks against the scholars. Possibly the most important "realization" of the meeting was something that should be absolutely obvious and weirdly is not: the importance of having a vision and mission that emphasizes the campus as a community. The issue isn't simply that we're situated in a community and have an obligation to be responsive to the needs of that community. The issue is that we ourselves need to be a community, a communitas. We're not. And as open-minded as we want to believe we are, there are often unacknowledged ways in which we see others in our community as second-class citizens. Unless all our voices, all our strengths, are included and valued in the workings of the institution as a whole, we will never be a community.

So we're getting very excited about the prospect of a full-day symposium, with a guest speaker and break out groups with Active Learning type tasks.... I hope it happens. I might even be persuaded that I should get involved in the planning.

Because I cannot cannot cannot seem to learn to sit on my fucking hands and not volunteer for things--and then I bitch endlessly about how overworked I am. Prof. TLP, do you happen to see any connection between those two things? Any way you might want to reconceptualize something in there?

Case in point: I may have roped myself into being a co-editor of the Nassau Review, the literary journal produced by this campus. No one else wants to do it solo, and Christina (the helpful colleague mentioned above)--who has been doing it solo for a number of years--is sticking firm to her decision to take at least a year's break from it, so someone has to step in or the journal will die. I said I'd "consider" doing it if I could do it with someone else: not solo, co-editor. But even that...? Jayzus, what am I getting myself into here?

And there I go, projecting into the future again. Nix.

Class was great: we really are down to the students who are engaged, responsive, thinking. I have been rather smugly saying how I'm experiencing less attrition than usual--and that's been true (so far, always that caveat) in terms of the 102s. But I counted how many students are still in the SF class--and the attrition is as near as dammit to 50 percent: the numbers have dwindled from 32 to 17. Fortunately, we're not yet at the point where I can be called on the carpet about that--but it does mean that the discussion can get beautifully complex and intelligent. Even the students who are trailing behind are mostly catching on to enough that they have contributions to make, which is very cool. And the bright ones have stopped resisting and are simply grooving on the ideas. Love it.

I have a ton of work to mark for them, of course: I've been collecting their reading notes for more than a week without returning anything, plus I have their second essays. All of that goes on top of the triage stack. In fact, all of that comes home with me this weekend.

It is a mystery to me how my work load seems to change even when what I'm doing really doesn't change much. There was a long stretch of time in there when I could routinely get home in time to ride my exercise bike for 40 minutes and still feed the cats and have dinner myself at a semi-reasonable hour--and I didn't have to bring work home over the weekends. Then things shifted so I couldn't do the bike ride any more, because I needed to stay on campus later in order to get the work done so I wouldn't have to bring it home over the weekend. Now, I stay on campus later AND have to bring work home over the weekend.

What happened to that whole "make full professor and everything gets easier" thing??

We all know the "problem" though: I've said it many times. If I simply didn't give a shit, my job would be much easier. Or if my idea of "giving a shit" was different than it is: if I didn't have such a deeply entrenched sense that this particular way of doing things is the only way I can do things and feel happy with myself.... I keep trying to find ways to address that: to let go of some things I feel are part of my "standards" and recognize that I'm still doing a fine job at important work but accomplishing the work in a way that is more relaxed, that allows me more time that is not devoured by my job.

My life, my teaching: works in progress. I can always do better--and by "better" I don't mean driving myself harder: I mean finding ways to accomplish what matters while being calm, relaxed, and rested.

Yeah. Well, when I figure that out, I'll be sure to let you know.

Now, however, there is still lots of light in the sky--but I'm going to start packing up to depart. I was here ungodly early (for me), so an early departure makes sense, but in addition, I'm trying to put into practice exactly what I was just talking about: creating an opportunity to rest, relax, be calm. (Plus, my right eye is twitching like mad. My ex would ask, "What is it you don't want to look at?" and my answer would be "the image of my face with steamer trunks under my eyes because I haven't gotten enough sleep, thank you very much." I feel energized, but my body knows better.)

Water the office plants. Shove things to be marked and my wonderful editor's desk into a bag. Look around to see what I'm forgetting. Get in the car...

and see you all next week, unless the impulse strikes for a weekend post.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The dreadfully impoverished mental lives of students...

Today in the 102s, I collected the essay and then embarked on getting them set up for The Left Hand of Darkness. I had what I thought was a brilliant idea: I'd present the whole thing as a way of playing "Let's pretend." I asked my students, "How many of you played 'Let's pretend' when you were kids?" Blank looks. "You know, making up something...?" Blank looks, accompanied by shaking of heads: "No, no clue what you're talking about, never did that."

Apparently an entire generation of young people who never made up their own stories: Let's be pirates, let's be a rock band, let's be superheroes ...

I told them that they had lead impoverished childhoods--and I told them that they were going to have a chance to make up for that lack now, by playing "Let's pretend we're in the future, reading the report of a guy who visited another planet." Some of them rather liked the idea. A few promptly fell asleep.

The ones who fell asleep woke back up again, however, when I started saying, "OK, these are people who are hermaphrodites: they have both sets of sex organs." Heads suddenly up: "Did she just say something about 'sex'?" I continued to bend their minds a bit (hermaphrodites, most of the time are completely uninterested in sex in any way shape or form, but periodically go through a "heat" period when either the male or the female organs dominate--but it's a flip of the coin every time...).

To my great satisfaction, I got the question, "But what do they look like?" I told them that I'd asked Le Guin about getting an illustration done of a generic Gethenian, but she nixed the idea. Instead, she suggested that I show my students images of Tibetans, Chileans, Peruvians, Inuits and then ask them, "OK, what do you think Gethenians look like?" And I pulled up the images I culled when I was on sabbatical, not only of people from those cultures but people from those cultures who could easily be either male or female--most very young or very old, but some quite beautiful. They stared at the images, fascinated.

Cool. Now, use your imaginations.

But that rather assumes they have imaginations, and I realize that this may be the biggest stumbling block to their comprehension of the novel: Le Guin provides spectacularly beautiful images--which translate into absolutely nothing in my students' heads. I read several paragraphs, rich in description (and in Le Guin's typically beautiful, supple style) and asked them how they were picturing the scene in their heads.

Using a shorthand I'd not heard until recently but now hear all too often: crickets. (As in, it's so silent, that's all you hear.)

Still, I think they may have a stronger grasp on what they're heading into than usual--not that that means much. Any grasp at all, however tenuous, is more than what I frequently see, and even though I very clearly set them up to expect a bunch of different kinds of "documents" in this report that we're reading, I know for absolute certain that on Monday, most of them will be utterly bewildered by the second and fourth chapters--if not by every single chapter they have to read by Monday.

I don't want to despair. I despair. How can they read a complex and rich work of fiction without having imaginations? This, of course, is why I all too frequently field the question, "Was she on drugs?" They cannot imagine a rational, sane, controlled mind creating something from pure imagination.

And yet I persist in teaching the novel. The Board of Trustees just passed two documents that give all the power in this campus to themselves and allow any and all other bodies--including the college president and his cabinet--merely the ability to "comment." It remains to be seen whether Middle States will respond by summarily yanking our accreditation--as the document so clearly violate any understanding of the word "shared" in "shared governance--or whether the Board will simply be allowed carte blanche, in which case, Paul and I are already trying to envision just how bad things might get: mandates that we have to distribute a certain percentage of good grades, regardless of the quality of work? Never mind a 5-5 load, maybe 6-6? Or shuttering the campus one day, reopening it the next in some other incarnation--but by closing the campus, eliminating tenure, so that we have to all become wage slaves or find some other line of work?

And all that, of course, is assuming that the Trump presidency doesn't simply eliminate any and all forms of federal monies for public education, in which case, what we do here would become utterly moot, even if we could find ways to keep our door open, as god only knows how anyone not already beyond high school or in a private school could be educated.

Grim times. Horrific times. I am more grateful than I can say that Paul, with his moral center and blazing intelligence, is on the front lines of the fight at this campus. I hate what it's doing to him, but I know what he's doing is vital. I know we have other colleagues who also are morally centered and blazingly intelligent, so when Paul steps down, I'm sure we'll still be in good hands--but I know his contributions are invaluable.

So, how to reframe, just today, just right now?

Well, the students in the 102s were coming up with some good stuff, despite their struggles. And I know some of them are going to grab on and really groove on the novel: it always happens.

More good news: Day three of registration, and there are three students signed up for Nature in Lit. I won't celebrate yet: enrollment could stall at any moment. But it feels like a good sign that there are a few in the class already--and that I don't know any of them, so they're signing up for reasons other than the devil they know.

And although the stream of students in Advisement is constant--and they're waiting on average about an hour to be seen--the students I saw today were very happy to have met with me: I received a number of expressions of gratitude, and, in turn, I'm grateful to receive them. It's good to know I'm helping. There were a few times when it took me a while to get myself sorted out so I understood what the student needed, but they were very kind and patient when I got tangled up. Nice.

Finally, although tomorrow is going to be hellish (observation at 8:30 a.m., for fuck's sake: I won't stop bitching about that for a while), next week is a short week. It's sad to admit, but the part that matters most to me about having an extra day off is that I can sleep more. Even if I can't sleep in late, I can nap. That's bliss to contemplate.

Once again, I am steadfastly avoiding marking any student assignments tonight. I can't remember the last time I've gone this many days looking at enormous, steaming--and growing--piles of student assignments and felt, "Nope: doing that later. Kicking that can down the road. I'll get to it eventually." Will it bite me in the ass? Almost certainly. But at the moment, it feels awfully nice to prioritize other things--like getting off campus before 9 p.m., having time to run an errand on the way home, that sort of thing.

And speaking of that sort of thing, I am hosting a subcommittee meeting tomorrow, and I said I'd be a good hostess and provide some sort of beverage and snacky thing, so I'm going to toddle off to the market to see what looks easy and welcoming. Then home. "Dobson! Drive on."

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Is this excitement or an anxiety attack? Or both?

Having well and truly burned out on marking student assignments--temporarily--I almost went home at about 4:30 but instead decided to head back into the welter of confusion that is my construction of the online Nature in Lit....

In another of those matroyshka doll strings of tasks, I decided at that point in writing this post to send an e-mail to some of my colleagues who teach online, to ask for some guidance, which meant I had to find out who is teaching online, and in getting ready to send the e-mail, I saw I had an e-mail from a colleague who is interested in some of my critical essays (Jesus, was there a time when I actually wrote scholarly essays? When did I find the time and brain energy--and what happened to the intellect that produced some of that stuff? It sure isn't in my head any more. I used to be smart...) So I went looking for some of my other scholarly essays that she might be interested in, which then led me to realize that I haven't updated my CV recently and need to do that, which I started to do but then realized I don't have to do right this minute...

I'm back.

Anyway, starting work on the online Nature in Lit had the same effect on me it had last time I tried to work on it: I was slogging away for a while, then realized I was getting lost in a morass of trying to organize all the material, make sure I'm answering the concerns of the DE people who have to sign off on the thing, reconsidering what I might teach (including a decision along the lines of "oh what the fuck; I'll just use the old syllabus for now and update it later when the course actually is going to run online"). And getting lost in all that underbrush, I started to feel a rising tide of anxiety.

I really do need to sit down with someone to get an idea of what will and won't fly. One colleague already answered my e-mail with a kind invitation for me to join him when he's usually in his office--but unfortunately, when he's there, I'm either in Advisement or teaching. However, I did contact a small handful of colleagues, so I'm hopeful that at least one of them will be able to show me what I need sometime soon.

And I did send an e-mail to the VP who has to sign off on the whole magillah, letting her know I'm not making very rapid progress here, asking her if I'm running into dangerous territory because it's taking me some time. I know I could search through my old e-mails to find the one that informed me I'd been granted the stipend to see what it says about deadlines--but if I head off to do that, I'll find myself opening yet another matryoshka.

So, shifting gears.

Class was great. The students who are left are interested and engaged. They were grateful to have some of the background of the Hainish "matrix" (as I call it), which helped them understand some of the things that are simply presented without explanation (casual references to Cetian and Hainish characters as one would refer to French or Slovakian characters, for instance). But they were primed and ready to get some good meat out of the story: they're picking up on the stuff they need to notice, and I'm happy about that. I hoped this one would be comparatively easy--and it is. Paradises Lost may be a bit more of a challenge--it's not quite as "in your face" as The Word for World Is Forest (which Le Guin herself admits is somewhat flawed by a rather loud background noise of axes being ground), but its subtlety may make it harder to grasp. Then again, it will be the last thing they read, so by then maybe their skills will have been sharpened sufficiently that it won't be daunting.

It was interesting to realize I was the only woman in the room. Initially there were three female students and two female senior observers; two of the students and one of the observers have dropped by the wayside--and the remaining student and observer were both absent today. It was rather fun to talk to a room full of young men about how the novel addresses gender roles, especially the status of women in our society. I don't think they really were aware of the gender imbalance in the room, until I pointed it out--and that in itself is pretty cool.

I'm about to wrap things up and get out of here for today, but I have the nagging feeling that a strand of pearls has broken somewhere. Heaven only knows what it is I'm blissfully forgetting I have to do, but it will just have to be forgotten. Perhaps I'm not forgetting anything but am simply slightly haunted by the specter of all the unmarked student work that is sitting on my desk; that in itself could be enough to give me the sense that I'm "forgetting" something. I'm not actually forgetting; I'm ignoring. There's a difference.

That said, I am ridiculously tired, given that it's relatively early, but I think that's good enough reason for me to fold my metaphoric tents (tense?) and get the hell out of here.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Hanging on ... so far

I suppose that post title could refer either to me or to the students, but I actually meant it as a comment on the students. I know we haven't embarked on the novel yet, and that's often the hurdle students can't get over, but so far, as I've said several times now, they're still mostly hanging on, staying with the class. And most of the SF students are hanging on, too--and if they've already gotten over the hurdle of the Atwood novels, the rest of the semester shouldn't present any major obstacles.

(And writing that led me off into a series of tasks: print the preliminary drawing of an Athshean (the humanoids in The Word for World Is Forest) done by a young friend--so the SF students will be able to erase the image of Ewoks or the World of Warcraft character one of my students showed me today; print the final essay topic for SF--which entailed revising it and e-mailing the revised version to myself at home; print signs to go on the box containing the printed copies of Paradises Lost for students to pick up... then in writing that, I ended up doing a Google Search to see if I could find the name of the character or race or whatever from World of Warcraft: tasks inside of tasks inside of tasks, like a task matryoshka doll.)

Hi. I'm back, focused on a recap of the day.

Backing up to the start of the day, the onslaught has truly begun in Advisement: students were in a holding pattern both inside the Advisement area and outside in the waiting area, the list of students to be seen was a mile long, some were waiting over an hour to see an adviser... And tomorrow it will get even more hairy, as that's when registration opens for everyone, regardless of number of credits. It used to be that the "registration priority" rolled out over several weeks--but that meant that students who didn't have many credits were often closed out of classes before they had a chance to register. Now, the only students who will get closed out of classes are those who don't register promptly--which is more equitable but does make for more of a sudden crush of students wanting to talk about course selection.

We all have different approaches to seeing students. Paul takes his time between students, which seems to be the M.O. of a number of the professional advisers (see a student, check e-mail, see another student, send a few texts...). Some of the advisers do more of the driving--"Take this, this, this, and this"--in order to move students in and out quickly. I don't take breaks between students (except what Ed calls "bio-breaks"), but I also don't rush them through the process. I explain carefully; I won't tell them which humanities, or lab science, or history course to take (for instance) but simply explain that they must take something from the requisite categories; I explain the entire process; I refer them to the transfer office, the career center, any other help centers that seem appropriate.

And I like doing it. Occasionally I'll get the kind of student who drives me barking mad or who brings me to despair (the "you cannot possibly make it in college; you simply do not have the right kind of mental acumen" sort). But for the most part, I like being able to make things clear but also to put a lot of the decision-making into their hands. As long as we have a contract that says we can do this as part of our work load, I'll keep doing it.

The 102s were fine, too. Most of the students were present (though a few were late), and they all settled right down to doing the work of figuring out how to apply the corrections I'd noted on their original versions to their revisions. Yes, I said, several times: I know your essay isn't the same. That's rather the point. If all you had to do was to copy my marks onto a clean printout, you wouldn't be learning anything. You have to recognize the kind of error--"I seem to have a lot of comma splices"--and then look for instances of that kind of error in something I have not marked. Yes, I said, I know it's challenging. Exactly right. But this is how you learn.

It was interesting to get a little resistance from one student, who insisted that there was no way to handle a situation in which several quotations all seemed to him to address the same issue except to quote them in a string. I pointed out to him that he didn't have to launch into a long explication of each quotation--but he did have to provide his own connective tissue between them, not just run them together. He didn't like it--because what I said he needed to do takes some thought and skillful use of language. Yep: that's right. That's the work.

I was also flattered that students who were filtering in for the class that follows mine wanted to talk to me once the last of my students had gone, asking what I teach, what my name is so they could look up my courses. One of those students said he wants to retake 102 to try for a better grade. I warned him about the amount of work involved, but he said he didn't mind that. Fair enough. If he ends up in one of my 102s next semester, that's great.

Thinking of next semester, I just checked my counts--and on the very first day of registration, there is already one student signed up for Nature in Lit. I'm not getting my hopes up just yet--one registered, at least fourteen to go for the thing to run--but it's nice to know that someone actively wants to take it. I'll print up more fliers ASAP and hang them up all over campus, pass them out in Advisement....

Speaking of Advisement, I have to make up time from last week, so I'll be in there tomorrow morning at 9:30 for a three-hour stint. That being the case, I want to get out of here earlier than usual: I'm going to figure out what I need to take with me to Advisement, as I'll have to go straight from there to class, and straight from class to P&B. It's going to be quite a week, in fact. Wednesday is the usual song and dance, but Thursday I have to observe the only class Cathy is teaching this semester (she needs the observation for her promotion application)--and it meets at 8:30 a.m. (Have I complained about the time already? I don't usually get up that early for anything except a flight somewhere I want to go. Ye gods! I'm barely human before 10 a.m.) After her class, I have a meeting with the subcommittee I'm co-chairing (the one I was so bent out of shape about a while back), then class--by which time, I will be one hell of a crispy critter.

But that's all another day. Today, all is well, and I'm on my way out the door, once I pack my little bag for tomorrow. And, you know, tomorrow, I'll be stronger...

Thursday, November 10, 2016

38 appointments--all kept!

That's a real triumph: not a single "no show" among the lot. One student withdrew today (a smart move on his part, hard though he was trying), and I know I'll lose at least one or two more, those who apparently are not going to do this second essay at all. But I'm keeping a surprising number--for me. The raw numbers look pretty alarming: my official rosters (combined) had 52 students; now I'm down to I think 40--officially, including the ones who didn't submit this essay. Also, one of the 38 appointments was with a student who has never been in any of my classes but became my mentee from our open house a year ago, so he doesn't count in the 102 rosters. But still: often by this point the attrition rate would already be close to 50%, so the conferences seem to be helping.

One conference in particular stands out. There is a young woman in one of my classes who has seemed very switched off all the way through the semester--until today. She showed up for her conference early and was clearly eager to get in and talk with me. Suddenly, today, she was smiling and talking and filled with enthusiasm--simply because I had said in my written comments that her essay was an improvement over the first one. That was all she needed, it seems: just that little bit of confirmation that her efforts are doing something.

And how often I forget that these students walk in the door absolutely convinced that they cannot do well in English classes, that the work is beyond them, that they are incapable of learning. And simply to say--as I did several times today, in addition to the comment on that one student's essay--"you are learning" or "but you do understand poetry; you just wrote a whole essay about poems and you did fine": that's enough. That's what they need. One of the students from last semester's 101 was among the "I can't handle poetry" crowd, but as soon as I made clear to him that the problem he'd experienced was a problem with the topic, and that every single student who had chosen that topic had the same problem, he was almost giddy with relief.

"You can do this. You are doing this. You're learning. You're improving." Magic words.

I had a lovely time talking with one of my students long after the end of her appointment--the same student I ended up talking with at length last round of conferences. I found out a little more about her (Russian emigre parents, she's the designated achiever in the family, surrounded by working class conservatives), and we talked about the election and our fears for the future. She also asked me if I could see any good coming out of this, "Like, maybe financially: we won't have to pay as much in taxes...?" And I said, "I want to pay my taxes, because I want the things my taxes buy. If you want cable TV, you have to pay the cable bill. I want good infrastructure, a strong military, federal support for higher education--so I pay my bill." (Cue effects: bell rings, lights come on!) "Good point!" But then I said that the main benefit I can see to the current upheaval in our nation is that we cannot pretend any more that we do not have a deep and profound problem that is connected with racism, xenophobia, gender discrimination...

And I talked about what we get from a liberal arts education: the ability to consider sources, weigh evidence, understand the merits--or flaws--of an argument. It feels good to periodically get the chance to speak in praise of this process.

Class went well, too, though that feels a bit odd to say about a day when I showed a movie. But the students were rapt: I showed the beginning of District 9, and when I stopped it near the end of the class period and asked them what they thought, across the board, they said they liked it more than they were expecting, wanted to watch the rest of it--and they were picking up on the important ideas as well. Cool beans.

So, all in all, a pretty good week. All that remains before I head for home is to pack all the essays I have to mark over the weekend, along with the rubrics, and my beautiful folding editor's desk (have I mentioned how much I love my editor's desk?), and water the plants before I head out the door. I should have written my letter for Kristin's sabbatical application, but I'll have to do that on Monday--along with looking at the rest of the sabbatical applications. (We're to have reviewed the applications and written drafts of our support letters for Tuesday's P&B meeting.) None of which am I going to worry about right now. I'm going to take the triumphs I feel--minor though they may be--and allow them to float me off into the weekend of work at home.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Some hope in the younger generation...

If I hadn't been holding conferences today, I probably would have called in sick. I certainly felt sick, as I listened to the election results coming in last night, and I found it very difficult to sleep.

But I was conferencing, so I came in. I didn't get as much done as I'd hoped before my first appointment, but I did crank away at the grading. And the first appointment was very gratifying.

At first, I thought the student was on the verge of tears about her essay--even though it was a good essay to start with, and I know she has the chops to make it much better. It took a while for her to seem to click into focus in looking again at the poems, re-evaluating some of her points, but then I saw the click happen, and her whole demeanor changed: she sat up straighter; she stopped chewing her lower lip; she made more eye contact. As she was getting ready to leave, she said, "I'm sorry if I seemed out of it earlier; it was just a rough night, and today is a rough day." I said I thought that was true for many of us--and she suddenly was blazing with energy: she is incandescent with rage over the outcome of the election, but she is also very frightened. She told me that last night she way lying in bed, shaking and crying, for a long while before she could sleep. She comes from a Hindu family, and many of her family members supported Trump--in part because of a cultural antipathy between Hindus and Muslims. But she was standing up to her family about it, trying to get them to understand what her concerns were, what their concerns should be.

It was good to know that a member of her generation was passionately involved in this election: it's the first one in my time at NCC when I've seen my students truly care--and understand why they care. The next student that came in had a different demeanor, but when I mentioned that I was struggling a bit with my own focus, he also lit up with outrage.

There is hope in the younger generation. There is hope.

And their essays truly were better. Once I explained to them the trap built into the poems about parents, they suddenly got the idea and started to sail--and just about everyone had done better in terms of organization and structure, even when working on a very shaky premise.

The young woman I was concerned about facing in conference didn't have the emotional reaction I feared--even though I was pretty clear with her that if she doesn't get her sentences to make sense, she won't pass. We talked about methods she might use: she can hear when a sentence doesn't make sense--not just when I read it aloud but also when she reads it aloud. And if she talks her ideas, she is quite clear. The problem is that disconnect between audio processing and the abstraction of the written word: even when she was trying to write down what she'd just said, it would get scrambled. I have begun to wonder if she has a learning disability of some kind--maybe one she knows about but doesn't want to get help for (a frequent concern in these students, as they feel stigmatized by the whole process of getting accommodations), or maybe one that has never been diagnosed. I don't know enough about such disorders to have any suggestions--except that she should find a way to speak out her ideas, either to a recorder or to a scribe, or read her ideas aloud after she writes, or find any way she can to use her good audio processing to inform her written work.

Sometimes when I'm in the depths of the trenches, slogging through the murk of their essays, I lose sight of what they do have to offer. They may have difficulty thinking critically, or writing clearly--but many of them have already begun to acquire the habits of mind that come with higher education: the ability to weigh and evaluate evidence; the ability to understand implications beyond the immediately obvious; the desire to understand and expand their spheres of knowledge. And all of that is indeed ground for hope on an otherwise very dark day for the soul.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Never met a cliche they didn't like

Note to self #3,874: if you provide students with material that they can see in terms of a cliche, they will see the cliche, even if the material specifically, in so many words says, "I'm not talking about the cliche." Case in point: in Billy Collins's poem "The Lanyard," he specifically says that what he wants to say to his mother is "not the worn truth // that you can never repay your mother"--yet essay after essay, the student author writes that he wants to say you can never repay your mother. I also presented them with poems that deal with the monstrous parent--in one of the poems, even specifically equated with Saturn--but all they can come up with is "abuse is bad, and these children will probably become abusive themselves, because they didn't have good role models." (OK, I'll be honest: sometimes "they didn't have good roll models." Kaiser? Cloverleaf? Parker House?)

So, the addendum to note #3,874 is, for spring 2017, I either have to replace the poems (aw, really??) or I have to be a lot--a lot--more directive in the essay topics than I like to be.

Side note: a student in SF today was looking at my "pump priming" questions in one of the possible topics and he asked me which one he was supposed to answer--and whether he needs a thesis for his essay. (Oh, Bernard...)

I really, truly do not want to have to go searching for poems that the students can write about that aren't plagiarism traps but that are accessible enough to provide material they can work with--but I do not like constraining their readings of the poems to fit with my analysis. And if I'm brutally honest, I have to say that even I would have a hard time coming up with a clear and coherent thesis about some of the poetry unless I were to head into pretty rarefied air, and do a hell of a lot of research. That should have been in my considerations--but I mostly simply wanted new poems that the students might be able to connect with, and I really liked the fact that at least some of my choices used very non-poetic language. It may be easiest simply to return to what I used to do: the same poems I used to use, the critical essays I used to pair with them, the requirement that students practice using critical material.

I'm rather worried about that this semester, in fact. I'm not actually introducing them to much in the way of research: what they do, for The Left Hand of Darkness, is going to stem entirely from the annotated bibliography and critical reception portions of the apparatus I created on my sabbatical. They'll still have to track down the sources--but they don't have to do as much evaluating of the sources: I'll have done that for them. I know they need a lot of scaffolding for critical research--which is why I no longer ask for it in my lit electives: too many students have absolutely zero clue what critical research is, how to find the source or what to do with them once they're found. But I know students from my 102s may end up in classes with professors who do require some critical research, so they have to be introduced to the concept at least.

And one of my classes has been selected for an assessment of "information literacy," so they really do have to do a little research...

Gawd. But all of that is a can I'm going to kick much further down the road.

More immediately, here are some thoughts about what I'm seeing in the essays I've graded--and although I have nine more to do, I've graded enough now that I can make some generalizations. For the most part, although they struggled with finding an actual argument (instead of proving that the sun shines), they did a much better job of creating a thesis of some kind and then tracking it through, following a clear organization. They're over-quoting and under-explicating--no surprise--but at least they're quoting.

That's in general. I do, however, have to mention one young woman. I'm almost dreading our meeting tomorrow--because I know she's going to be deeply wounded. Nevertheless, I've had to convey the painful truth that, whatever her ideas might be, her sentences are so screwed up that the ideas are not coming through. She's absolutely darling, too: not the kind of young woman who is used to getting by on being attractive, but genuinely adorable, in terms of looks and demeanor, a vibrant little brown-eyed sweetheart--and she cannot write an intelligible sentence to save her life. I don't know what's going on with that, but truly, if she can't write a sentence that makes sense, she can't pass the class, and I have to lower that boom now, rather than later. I hope she can find the help she needs to address the problems, whatever the problems may be--but if she doesn't I simply cannot allow her to pass. I just checked, and she got a B in 101, so what I have to say is really going to hurt: she's gotten this far without anyone--even me, I confess--telling her just how completely unacceptable her writing is on the most basic level.

There is at least one other student who probably can't pass, and probably shouldn't be allowed to keep trying, and I know he will be hurt, too, as he wanted an A--which was completely out of his grasp. He's another sweet and gentle soul, the kind I hate to hurt. But hurt them I must, in good conscience.

Well.

I'm trying for a more positive reframe for the day, but as it stands, the best I can come up with is that, although I won't be doing my time in Advisement tomorrow, and will have to make up the time on Tuesday next week, I will have those hours in the morning to mark the last of the essays--and maybe even get a start on the mechanics reviews, which would be great. The more I can get done before the weekend, the happier I'll be. (And the more likely I'll have time to get to the grocery store. Jesus, I am not kidding: I need a wife.)

That's it. Brain just officially shut down for the next 12 hours or more...

Monday, November 7, 2016

Time will tell...

I did get most of the promotion applications read today--and would have gotten more done, if the office hadn't closed early. I still have not gotten all the essays marked for Wednesday morning, which is a bit of a concern; I can only hope I get them done tomorrow.

I see the huge folder full of other assignments that also need to be marked--reading notes from the SF class, peer review sheets and notes from the 102s--and I start to hyperventilate a bit, but I remind myself that things will happen in due order. Unlike medical triage, there is no risk of death or serious complications if I don't get to everything yesterday. I can only do what I can do--and as I keep saying (because I need to keep reminding myself), I always get it all done or realize it doesn't really need doing.

In a nice confluence of things on my "to-do" list and my enjoyment of my friendship with Paul, he's wanted to watch over my shoulder while I do some stuff on Blackboard, as he wants to migrate his class materials from the old professor web page thing to the current, more frequently used platform--and although I originally told him I'd do most of my work on Blackboard at home, we decided to set up a meeting time when I'll work on stuff for the online Nature in Lit and he'll watch me do it to be reminded of how things work on BB. It feels good to have that specific moment scheduled, so I can feel I'm making some progress on that--though I do also need to find time to grade the essays for the students I'll see on Thursday.

I won't really get a breather for a while, though I keep trying to believe I will: I'm going to get essays from the SF class on Thursday, and I have to mark the mechanics copies of the essays for the 102s (part of the insane process I've created--which is good for the students but brutal on me). And there is all that collected homework that's staring me in the face right now, plus whatever I collect in class tomorrow.

I didn't get up early today, but perhaps I do need to do that tomorrow. I do need to get the last of the promotion folders looked at--and the more essays I can get graded tomorrow, the less I'll have to deal with on Wednesday.

Now, however, I have to get out of here. I have some life maintenance to tend to, and I want to get home before it's too too late.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Clock says 6, sky says 7, body says midnight...

Even if I were to ignore the "fall back" into standard time, I shouldn't be this tired this early. But I am, so I am taking a calculated risk here: I have started on the essays that need to be on my office door at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, and I'm going to believe that between now and then, I can get the rest finished--and perhaps even start on the essays that need to be on the door by 10 a.m. on Thursday.

I am not writing as much in the overall comments as I did on their first essays--in part because I'm running low on energy to comment but more, I think, because they seem to need less. If nothing else, I can remind them of what we went through with the first essay, which saves some time re-explaining. I also am relying more on conversation with them.

The saddest part today was marking the essay for a young woman who cannot, really cannot, get past the most superficial reading of the literature--and even the superficial reading is often missing important things (like the importance of the word "not" to the meaning of a line), She's one of two very earnest, diligent students whom I am probably going to have to gently but firmly persuade to withdraw. I really hate doing that, not only because of the blow to their fragile egos but also because when they retake the class, they could very well end up with Prof. Easypeasy: the kind who will let any kind of babble pass with reasonably good marks--which simply perpetuates the problem of inability to read with any real understanding.

I also think I may have to curve marks--for the first time in my life. Students are generally getting low marks because they're missing key bits of their essays or because they miss deadlines--and I don't want students who really are capable of C or B level work to end up failing or getting a D. I'll see how things shake out, but I'm not ruling out the possibility.

The fact that I'm even considering curving the grades is a huge step down from my old standards, and when I think of it that way, I feel enormous qualms. I do not want to participate in a general trend toward the mediocre or worse, the race toward the bottom, the dumbing down of our society--but I am running out of the missionary zeal necessary to maintain my standards in light of where my students legitimately stand in terms of their skills and abilities.

Every now and then, in moments of utter delusion, I consider the possibility of trying to get onto a board of ed, either locally, in my own town, or maybe at a higher level, so I can batter myself to death trying to stop the problems earlier in the educational process. But I know I don't really have the skills and certainly don't have the fire in the belly necessary to get into that part of the scrum--so I resign myself to doing what I need to do to get through each semester, even each day, until I can retire with something approaching grace. And I try not to savage my ideals to completely along the way, though I find ideals are more malleable and tentative than one might think.

I may set the clock for early tomorrow, since that would suit my body's clock--and I could get to campus a bit earlier than usual, in order to dive into the promotion folders while I wait for students. I'm still trying to keep Wednesday morning clear, in hope that I can go to Advisement after all--but that remains to be seen. For now, it's enough that I contemplate dinner and my gradual gearing down at the end of a day.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Cue the anxiety...

Despite my resolve to get through twelve essays today, I got through nine--and realized that I hadn't accounted for three essays in my previous tally, as several students submitted essays but don't have conference times, and I was just looking at the conference times. So really, I probably needed to get through 15...

So, I've hit the wall, but I'm riddled with anxiety about it. If I didn't have to look at promotion folders for Tuesday, I would feel much more sanguine--but I do. It's bad enough that I wasn't ready last week (and I was saved by the fact that we spent most of the meeting on more pressing matters. But I can't, in good conscience, go another week without doing my duty by that committee. And I'd love to bail on Tuesday's committee meeting, but I'd only get 2-3 essays marked in that time, and the guilt I'd feel for blowing off the meeting would certainly outweigh the relief of getting a few more essays marked.

Part of the pressure is also because I'm trying mightily to have Wednesday morning free so I can do my Advisement time and not have to make it up later--but worst case scenario, I can sit in my office and grade essays Wednesday morning for the Thursday conferences. I could even let students with Wednesday afternoon conferences know that their essays won't be ready until later than scheduled. So really, my main concern needs to be about the essays for Monday and Tuesday.

Ah, there: that relieves at least some of the anxiety. As soon as I know I have an escape hatch, things get better. This is another weekend when the requirements of life maintenance put a kink in the work flow, however, which is a portion of the anxiety that remains--but all I can do is see how tomorrow works out, and I can't do that before it's actually tomorrow. (Funny how that works.)

And not that I'm projecting into the future or anything, but in two and a half weeks, it will be Thanksgiving, and that is the official kick off of the fall semester "hang on to the safety bar and scream" race to the finish. Kinda hard to believe we're getting that close, but the time will whip by, even with this current round of essay grading madness.

Clearly I still haven't come up with a solution to the crush of essay grading inherent in having conferences, and I really do want to figure out something that works better for spring--or I'll have to give up on conferencing again, despite the clear benefits I see. I see the benefits primarily in the reduced attrition (so far), but I also do see some improvement in essays after the first round. Many of them are still pretty crappy, but they're not quite as crappy, or not as crappy in the same ways.

But good, bad, or indifferent, this too shall pass. That's the one certainty: things pass. Even mountains eventually erode to nothing. The molehills of my life are nothing by comparison.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Stick a fork in me

I'm overdone--but not unhappy, just tired. Some of the dead wood has been disappearing from the SF class, including, today, the Fiance couple; I'm disappointed in her, allowing him to drag her around, but as long as she's in thrall to him, I'm just as glad to see her go. But the ones who are left are starting to really fly with the material. The class discussions are truly fun these days. I do tend to get on a bit of a tear, throwing out ideas, connections, comments--yes, I admit, digressions--but they seem to be soaking it all in. Nice to see the lights on.

I'm still struggling with one student: I think I mentioned him some time ago. He has a very strong science brain, so he sees everything very concretely--and early in the semester we had a lovely talk about ways he could conceptualize the work of reading for analysis. He seemed to understand--but he's not turning in any work. I had another conversation with him not too long ago, in which I told him he had to start turning things in or he wouldn't pass--and I gave him the "Mercy D" option, but it's contingent on his doing all the work and not missing any classes. I felt a tug on my heart when I was laying down the law with him; he didn't actually tear up, but I could see the distress in his eyes. But it hasn't hurt enough yet for him to shape up, apparently: he came up to me after class, asking for more time with assignments. He did manage to get a revision to me today (albeit after class--which was a stretching of the parameters of the agreement), but he's missing his notes on the reading. I hate to see him go, but I think I'm going to have to let him know that he has fallen down on his side of the agreement about the Mercy D.

To balance that, however, I met earlier today with a student who had been in one of my 102s, extremely bright, slightly older (almost 23)--but who had gone AWOL. I pursued her, all but begged her to contact me--and it took her a while to do it, but she did. She said it meant a lot to her that I'd reached out, and I'm delighted to have her among my mentees, even though she's dropping the class. There's a chance she'll sign up for Nature in Lit in the spring, if she can get 102 squared away over the winter term.

And--cherry on top of that lovely sundae--she'd love to cat-sit. She may not be able to do it, ultimately, as she's allergic to cats, but she's willing to take allergy pills and try it out, at least for a short stay at first--and we'll see how it goes. Mostly, I'm delighted to have another in the string of former students with whom I've developed a friendly relationship off campus.

As for work, I am taking two calculated risks--both having to do with putting off essay grading. I'm going to leave here tonight without marking any more than the two I promised to have ready, and I'm going to have my usual Friday of being a student: violin and riding. It feels delicious to make that choice. I don't want to say they're things I do just for me, because the way I teach is also "just for me": I decide what kind of teacher I want to be, and what makes me feel good about myself as a professional in general, so although I do have to teach to get paid, the way I teach is "just for me." But being a student is something I do that is separate from my career self, that feeds another part of the person who is also a professor.

And it isn't ungodly late yet--but it will be if I don't get a move on and get out of here. I have that bag filled with student essays to mark over the weekend (and including the beautiful editor's desk that I love so much), all packed and ready to go. I'll water the plants, and then, o faithful readers, I really will be done.



Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Respite when least expected

Once again, I am given ample evidence for why it is important to avoid what my mother calls "double suffering": worrying about something in anticipation of an event that may never transpire. Her thinking--rightly--is that if the bad thing happens, it will be bad enough when it happens without having doubled the suffering by worrying about it in advance. And in this case, the corollary has been demonstrated: it is pointless to worry when the bad thing may not, in fact, happen.

The "bad thing" in this case was being absolutely, utterly slammed with essays to mark tomorrow. And I won't be. Only two students signed up for conference times before noon on Monday, so there are only two essays that I have to mark before 6:30 p.m. tomorrow. I suppose there's an outside chance that I may get a late essay, accompanied by an early appointment--but I think I can head that potential problem off at the proverbial pass. And there are enough blank spots in the conference schedule that it shouldn't be too oppressively difficult to find time to mark essays and have them ready according to the schedule I've set up.

Right now, seven students are effectively AWOL: no essay submission, no conference time. Two students submitted essays but didn't sign up for conference times yet. And I have infinitely more times available than I have students needing times.

In fact, it may even be possible for me to do my Wednesday stint in Advisement--albeit shifted an hour earlier than usual--and not have to make up the time on a Tuesday or Thursday down the road, which would be further manna from heaven.

Continuing in the "god smiled" vein: I had two "mentoring" appointments this afternoon, and both were lovely.

The first was with an older student from the SF class. He is effectively blind, a military veteran (he began to lose his vision while he was in the service), probably in his late 30s or early 40s (though I'm a terrible judge of age), and he knows exactly what he wants to do and how to get there. He doesn't really need mentoring at all, but he did have some specific issues he wanted to talk about--including a conflict between two things that matter to him a great deal, so we talked about saying "no," about letting go of worry about how other people may perceive us, about making the decisions we need to make for our own well-being... I know I'm older than he is (unless he's a hell of a older than he looks), but it was interesting to share "wisdom" with a student who feels more like just a person my own age who happens to be in one of my classes. But I did have some wisdom to impart, and I was glad to share it.

The second appointment was with another student from the SF class. I don't think I've talked about him before; he has Crohn's disease, and the flare-ups have led to more absences than I would like. But he is deeply motivated: dedicated and determined to do well. He started at SUNY-Oneonta, and flunked out of his first semester. His parents dragged him back here, and he's now trying to raise his GPA and get himself back up to Oneonta and back onto their lacrosse team. (Oh, yeah: that's been another detriment to his progress. He's had lots of practice and games for our lacrosse team.) We talked about the work he's been missing, and we talked about his essay, how to revise the first one so he can improve his mark.

It was fascinating to watch him, especially when we started getting down to the real ideas for his essay. He actually had a great thesis idea--but he said he didn't know how to put it into words. "You just did!" I said. "It doesn't need to be any more fancy or elaborate than what you just said." So I had him write it down, write down his main ideas, write down where he wants to go with his points--and as he was writing, it was as if his whole body needed to struggle to get the words onto the page. I kept telling him he could worry about the exact words later; the point was simply to get the ideas out of his head and written down.

But part of what I loved about the meeting was his feedback on two of the course tools I'd provided. He absolutely loved the grade calculation sheet: keeping track of his marks, adding them up, seeing where he stands, all incredibly helpful, he said. Of course I loved the validation--but he also pulled out the model essay I'd distributed. Following the advice of my poetry students last semester, I distributed a good, solid C+/B- essay prior to their writing their first essay--and I distributed an A+ essay when I returned their papers to them for them to consider whether to revise. This young man pulled out the A+ model to talk about essay format--but then he said that he'd really loved it, even though he didn't understand some of the argument. I asked him to tell me what he noticed that he liked--and he picked up on every factor that makes it an A+ essay: there is in-depth analysis of every quotation, even just a few words; every quotation is there because it's essential to proving a point; the ideas "flow"--logical connections from one point to the next; the wording of the sentences is elegant and clear.

I told him that the kind of writing he saw there was something to aim toward. He may never get there, but he now has a sense of what he wants to work to develop in his own writing. Writing may never come easily, but every time he writes something, he can try to make it closer to that model.

And he was practically walking on air when he left. He was radiantly happy and grateful. He'd been helped! What I offered helped!

I need to let that soak in deeply: that's the kind of thing that truly waters the roots, especially in a semester when I'm feeling as frequently frustrated and discouraged as I have been. I feel beyond blessed that I had something to offer that these particular students needed.

And I realize that--even though there has been some attrition in the 102s, and even though I see all that air in the conference schedule--there are more students still holding on, and still with a chance of doing well than would usually be the case at this point in the semester. And I know it's because of the conferences. I know it is.

Of course, there is still a very strong chance that a lot of them will find the novel an insurmountable hurdle--but a number of them, especially in the earlier section--asked if they could start reading the novel now. Of course! Please do! I'll be interested to hear what they have to say when they start...

Let me not forget to mention how well today's classes went, too: hearing one of my favorite sounds, the sound of students talking and learning. And the Truculent Plagiarist was in Advisement when I was there, was told he needed any elective at all and could take it over the winter term, and got my signature on his withdrawal slip, no longer thinking I'm the evil bog monster from hell. Nice. I'll take it.

At this point, I'll also take myself off stage, as it were. Once again, I'm here much later than I'd hoped, but I haven't been here marking essays in a flop sweat. I simply did the noodle-y administrative stuff of inputting all the appointments into the tracking software, sent a few e-mails, and wrote this blog post. That's so simple compared to what I thought I was facing, I don't know whether to throw a party or fall asleep. I think I'll opt for the latter, as soon as I can get myself home, fed, and wound down.

Hasta manana, y'all.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

I need a 1950s wife

I still feel like I'm about to drown in all I have to do. I managed to get zero applications for promotion looked at this morning. Remembering my own stated priorities from last night, I opted instead to get caught up on the marking for the SF class. That made me think that I need to let a few students know that they have no chance of passing the class--including the Truculent Plagiarist.

I should back up a bit: when I got in, a student from SF was waiting for me. I think I may have mentioned him: he really wants to be a bus driver. He was there with his withdrawal slip, and when I asked him about what's next for him, he said he would not be returning to college. Instead, he's working on getting ready for the test he has to pass in order to become a bus driver. It's an excellent decision for him, and I wish him all the best.

So, as I was marking assignments and creating the "withdraw or fail" notices, I was also doing a lot of "Oh, shit: I have to remember to... let me do it now before I forget" stuff. And I had a long conversation with the woman who was the chair of that problematic subcommittee before me--a conversation that was hugely beneficial. She made it clear that we can slow way down, as there is a lot going on politically on campus, in terms of who has authority over what, that may--probably will--have an impact on what we do as a subcommittee. I asked her if I should cancel the meeting I'd just set up, but she said no, she figured I could still hold the meeting--though she suggested I also check in with the chair of the academic senate to see if she agrees. I'm grateful to be told I can relax about something, don't have to work so hard to make sure things are proceeding apace. I do need to talk with my subcommittee co-chair to fill her in on what's going on; we have a phone date planned on Thursday.

Class went fine. I didn't put the students in groups today; too many were missing at first, and I was afraid that as students showed up late, adjusting the groups would become problematic. So it was a little more lecture-y than usual, and of course only the usual suspect spoke up--until we got a little more philosophical, and I asked them to consider the value of art: what it's for in our society. And yes, that does connect to something that's going on in the reading: one of Atwood's points in the Maddaddam trilogy is that--despite our society's valorization of science and intellect over art and emotion--we are inextricably artistic beings: music, language, perhaps even the "god gene," are inherent in our biology. Even the genetically altered humans designed by a man who did not believe in god, art, or even really in the power of language (except as a sales tool) could not be altered to eradicate the impulse to create music, and of themselves create the beginnings of a theology.

So, that was pretty cool. And then I finally had it out with the Truculent Plagiarist. I had set up a mentoring appointment with him--though apparently he didn't get the e-mail confirmation of the appointment--but looking at his marks, I realized that all the mentoring in the world wouldn't help him pass. Bless his heart, he had even done his revision--before the deadline--but I had to tell him that mathematically, he had passed the point of no return.

Of course, I had to tell him that in different ways about 40 times in the course of a 15-minute verbal tussle: he simply couldn't/wouldn't hear what I was saying. He tried to wiggle past the problems in several ways, but I wouldn't let him. It's too late. No, there's nothing you can do. No, you can't pass. You can fail or you can withdraw. It doesn't matter how good your marks are from here. It doesn't matter whether you did or did not turn in the two assignments that have zeroes next to them. Even if you did better on the revision you cannot pass the course.

My decision to finally lower the boom with him came in part because I got an e-mail from a colleague: he's in her Early American Lit class--and is doing pretty much what he's doing in my class, except apparently he's also disruptive in class (which he generally isn't in mine, though there have been a few times when I've had to tell him that he couldn't talk to me about X at that moment because he needed to be working with his group). She'd said he didn't have many credits, but I looked at his degree evaluation: he would have graduated this semester--except that now he has to withdraw from (or fail) my class. The sad thing is, he's taking it as an elective: he could have taken the credit-bearing equivalent of basket-weaving--something he'd have been absolutely sure to pass--and he would have graduated, assuming he passes everything else. But I suspect he won't pass his American Lit class either. What I don't understand is how he got the grades he got in any of his other classes: someone even gave him a B in ENG101.

Well, he said he'd bring me the withdrawal form on Thursday. I wish him well, but I'll be glad not to have to struggle to teach him any more. I'd still mentor the kid, but of course now I'm just the big bad bitch. Ah well.

Once again I'm struggling against my innate habit of worrying about things I can't do anything about: "When will I read the rest of those promotion applications? When will I have time to work on the distance ed stuff--not only for my own purposes but to get the rest of my stipend and to get the form signed and completed? When will I ... when will I ... when will I ..."

This is why I need a 1950s wife. My cupboards are essentially bare--because I haven't had time to get to the grocery store. If I didn't hire a house cleaner, I hate to think what the state of my apartment would be. Even when there is food in the house, I barely have the time and energy to feed myself anything at all, never mind anything remotely healthy. (A diet of popcorn and chocolate is not conducive to all-over well being, oddly enough.) And there are all sorts of little, annoying life maintenance things that I need to do and never find time to do (like locate a router that I ordered in September, for fuck's sake).

Maybe I need a mom. I'm not sure what kind of help I need (straight jacket? 12-step program?), but it's a lead pipe cinch that the cats aren't going to provide it. (They steadfastly refuse to grade student work for me, too. Useless animals, good only for turning into charming little hats.)

OK, I'm getting loopy: that means it's time to pack it in for today. I did fill the car with gas today, so that's one thing done...

Lord, lord, lord (voice fading, woefully, into the distance...)