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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.

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