Notice about Cookies (for European readers)

I have been informed that I need to say something about how this site uses Cookies and possibly get the permission of my European readers about the use of Cookies. I'll be honest: I have no idea how the cookies on this site work. My understanding is that Google has added a boilerplate explanation. That's the best I can do.

Student Readers: A Warning

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.

Hi! And you are...?

My readership has suddenly blossomed, which is a lovely development--but I don't know who is reading the blog, how you found it, and why you find it interesting. I'd love to hear from you! Please feel free to use the "comment" box at the end of any particular post to let me know what brought you to this page--and what keeps you coming back for more (if you do).

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

Follow by Email

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Happy or panic-stricken?

Enrollment in Nature in Lit is up to 10. That seems likely to run--especially as there are still two weeks before class starts--but ... there are only two weeks before class starts, and I've backed up a few paces on having the class ready, so, freak-out time.

On the good news front, I did figure out how to create online quizzes, so I can assign the handbook reading and have a reasonable way to ensure that it's been read. (Ditto for the FTF classes: for the SF class, they'll be take-home quizzes, as I don't want to waste class time on them--and maybe the info will stick a little better if a. I tell them what to focus on and b. they have to give it back in their own words.)

But as for backing up, well, let me back up a bit, provide some context.

This cold/flu thingy is still kicking my ass, energy-wise. So I opted to spend today pretty much bed-bound, drinking tea (OK, yes, taking a nap), and my concession to the fact that I need to work was that I was going through the Norton anthology again, trying to pick readings. And I realized, it's fine to do things chronologically from Bradford and Smith up to Thoreau, but then I really need to organize thematically, as there is no strong historical thread by which to organize. And that meant I had to revisit a lot of the readings, as I don't know them terribly well--in fact, quite honestly, some I didn't remember at all--and try to come up with categories for them.

The categories are, of course, sprawling and ill-defined--and any one piece could conceivably be categorized several different ways. Of readings that appeal to me personally (which are the only kind I'll choose, as I don't want to be stuck teaching something I don't like enough to reread and talk about), a lot fall into specific categories that are not necessarily the most important in terms of the field (so to speak) of whatever we mean when we talk about "nature writing." I also have to bear in mind that some pieces that I love may be too dense or "deep" for students (Thomas Merton's "Rain and the Rhinoceros" being case in point).

And the anthology is fucking huge. It's wonderful because one can go so many different directions with it, but I cannot possibly read all I "should" in it to make good selections. So, tomorrow, I'm going to have to focus on skipping anything that doesn't seem to fall neatly into any of the categories I'm working with--and skimming anything that does, just enough to see whether I think it will work.

I also realize that I probably need to go through everything I set up last year very carefully, to make sure I haven't changed my mind about things.

And I have to remember to tell the IT guys to make it an active class, not in development. (That I can actually do as soon as I finish this post.)

And and and and. The usual domino chain of things to worry about dropping through the floorboards.

Well, Paul's experience last semester should be instructive: he was, god love him, building his online course as he taught it (which I know I cannot do), and he acknowledged that he did a good enough job on it: not the best he could have done, but good enough. Of course, my anxiety is that I won't even feel like what I've done is good enough--but I'll do what I can.

I hope, too, that today's sloth and lassitude will bring at least a partial rebound of energy and verve. This being under the weather is annoying as shit.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

This. Exactly and precisely THIS.

I've been keeping this blog for years. I cannot possibly express what teaching is or why I do it any better than Tegan Bennett Daylight does in this article from The Guardian. (And yes, if you'd be so kind as to chip in a bit to keep The Guardian publishing and access to its articles available, that would be nice.)

Fucking brilliant.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Knocking off early

I know, I know: it's going to come back to bite me in the ass. I did a little more work on the 101s today--streamlining some assignment handouts (they're still too long and cumbersome), clarifying late submission penalties, fiddling with how the syllabus is laid out, that sort of thing.

I spent a long time on the phone with my sister--and yes, I am aware how astoundingly, over-the-moon blessed I am to be able to work at home and put work aside long enough to talk with my sister.

I didn't get anything done on any other classes. In fact, I very nearly didn't even get that much done. I'm not feeling as sick as I've been (though my voice is pretty hilarious to listen to), but I am completely beat, just way the hell too tired.

So, in the "Tomorrow is another day" department, I'll try to get a little life maintenance done tomorrow and get a good stint of semester prep in as well. I have canceled both my lessons for this week (no ride, no fiddle), and I don't have any wild and crazy plans, so ... well, here's hoping. But for now, I'm stick-a-fork-in-me done.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Juggling syllabi

Well, actually, I'm working on one syllabus at a time, but I'm juggling dates and reconfiguring assignments for the 101s--and that meant having to rework the math of the final grades, which took a bit: I'm ditching the discussion board posts, so I had a lot of points I had to distribute--but I'm adding little "reflection" assignments as essay warm-ups. The numbers didn't balance out exactly: I didn't want the reflections to count for too much (and they still count for more than would be ideal, but ah well).

And I tried to figure out how to give myself some wiggle room to cancel classes either before or after spring break--and I couldn't quite figure it out. I may return to that project later; it would be nice to have a little latitude about then, but it just may not work out.

Since classes officially end on a Monday, however, I am reverting to an old practice of making the last day of class a "grade conferences in my office" day, which, of course, translates to "come see me if you want, but I'm going to be in the office grading.

I still haven't done any work on the online Nature in Lit--though it picked up two students today, so it's that much closer to running, assuming no one falls by the wayside again. I'm interested to note that in the SF class--which has I think 16 students now--there are only three women. By contrast, all eight of the students in the Nature in Lit are women. At least, that's what the first names suggest--and there aren't any names I see that would be gender-neutral.

Right now, the slightly bigger worry is whether enough students will register in the 101 section that I want to keep. The one I want to toss back into the pool is nearly full, of course. The one I want to keep is a little later in the day (not as late as was the case last semester, but later), which makes my time in Advisement easier to schedule--and it is the only 101 being offered at that particular time, so it may yet fill. Paul and I spent a while before the last semester ended looking at which sections were full, which not--for a bunch of classes--and tried to determine whether the enrollment reflected time of day, rating of professor by students, or some other constellation of factors. It's very strange and mysterious. But it's also early days yet--as I kept telling Cathy last week. We won't really know the story until the Nth hour, I'm sure. We'll cancel classes and suddenly there will be a surge of students wanting to register late, and we won't have any place to put them. When the semester starts earlier than usual, that's what happens.

Meanwhile, I'm still fighting off whatever dreadful virus I picked up (or viruses: I think I may have gotten one, kicked it, and then succumbed to another as I was still recovering). I sound like hell--but fortunately, I don't have to do a lot of talking, and, equally fortunately, I can sleep as late as I like. Which is heaven.

We'll see how much I can crank through tomorrow. I'll work on the SF syllabus next--polishing off the ones I know for sure I'm going to teach--and then it will be all hands on deck for the Nature in Lit, assuming enrollment continues to rise. Here's hoping.

Friday, December 22, 2017

And now comes the shouting part...

I got the grades finished, numbers crunched, paper forms filled out, paper forms photocopied--and submitted them to the office about 35 seconds before the office closed.

Then I spent about 2 hours with Cathy--mostly sitting in her office while she was firing off emails (as her MO is "do it right now" on everything), but also helping her get her mind organized with what she needs to have with her when she's out of town and I'm working on adjunct schedules all by my lonesome. (Not really: our wonderful office staff will be here with me--and Cathy will be just an email away.)

So, I just got back upstairs to the office to submit the grades on Banner--and now is when I start getting emails from students, incensed and irate that they got the grades that they got, even though they should have known exactly what was coming from their grade trackers.

I just had a moment of thinking, "Should I have adjusted the grades for the 2:00 101, the say I did for the later section?" But I don't think it would have made much difference, as the ones who didn't pass were deficient in all areas of their submissions, not just in their discussion boards.

I probably should stay here in the office to tidy up a bit--it's a bit of a chaotic wreck, as I was flinging paper about in my mad dash to get stuff to the main office in time--but I really am completely cooked, stick-a-fork-in-me done. I'll water my plants and stagger off out of here.

It may be foolish to think that I'll work at all on the spring syllabi--or the online course--in the next few days, but one never knows. Stranger things have happened. (Not to me, but ... surely, at some point in human history, something stranger has happened.)

OK, I'm getting daffy. That's clear and present evidence that I am tired and starting to lose it, whatever it might be. I'm off like a herd of turtles (an expression I just picked up from The Bone Clocks by David C. Mitchell--a very strange but fun read).

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Different section, different rules

So, I was saying the other day that I wouldn't adjust grades for the students in the 101s; I sent the "withdraw or fail" emails--and one student actually got the email and came in today with the withdrawal form. (I just checked: she got the form in to the Registrar and is officially out of the class, so that's good.)

But then I started calculating grades for the students in the later section. Of the ten who actually submitted the final essay, seven would have failed if I calculated their grades using the original scoring--and most of them were failing entirely because they didn't submit the discussion boards.

So, I figured out a formula that would put the balance of the grade on the work apart from the discussion boards; the discussion board posts thereby ended up being essentially extra credit. The students who did them, or did most of them, got a significant bump. One student--the snotty or not? young woman--would have gotten an A+ either way (if we gave A+ grades, which we don't), but the rest either passed or didn't, got above a D or didn't, based on the rest of their work. And I feel like the grade distribution is pretty accurate.

I was going to post this hours ago, but then I realized I still had enough steam left to embark on grading for the SF class. I was going to try to get it all done tonight--but I just realized that one student didn't upload his essay to Turnitin, and he's one I've suspected of plagiarizing since his first essay. (It actually wasn't that good an essay, but it sure read like a pastiche of other people's intelligent and sophisticated ideas and language.) I've just sent him an email telling him that he needs to email the essay to me so I can upload it. I was going to type it in myself and upload it that way--but you know what? It's late. I'm tired. I'm still getting over the hurkey-furkey. I might do it tomorrow. I might not.

The interesting thing about the SF class so far is that there is a strange gap: a number of students got A's (actually deserved them, in fact). I think there's one B, one C--and then a bunch of D's. Not a bell curve, more of a dromedary curve. I still have a few more to evaluate and a few more numbers to crunch--and given how early the office closes tomorrow, I need to get my little fanny in here ASAP to finish up and submit my paperwork.

All the more reason to call a halt to today's proceedings and put off to tomorrow the rest.

Oh, so close. So close....

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Home sick ... but still grading

I got everything finished for the 2:00 class: all essays evaluated, numbers crunched. I haven't filled out the paperwork (and once again, I will refrain from comment about the fact that we still have to do paperwork), but that's a matter of moments, as is inputting the grades on Banner. The 5:00 class won't take long, as so few students actually finished the semester.

I decided to send emails to the students who are set to fail, giving them one last chance to withdraw. My strong hunch is that they won't check their email in time to get the chance, but ... well, this will be their wake-up call about missing work. I'm not going to curve the grades after all; it turns out not to be necessary. The curve is pretty much as usual. And, to my delight, one young man who was virtually silent all semester--and who seemed to have more than a bit of a chip on his shoulder, having nothing to do with me, I think--actually managed to squeak out an A.

On the other hand, one of the kids who hugged me the last day may decide he wants to take back the hug: he's one who's failing.

I'm very glad I brought work home yesterday, as it meant I could stay home today and nurse this hurkey-furkey I have succumbed to. I was a bit alarmed last night when I spiked a fever and saw white spots on my tonsils, but this morning, no fever and spots gone--and although I still have a bit of a sore throat and am decidedly puny, I feel better than I thought I would. I got the grading done despite a rather lengthy stint of lying still on the sofa, so ... that's good.

In the more good news department, the spring classes are looking good in terms of enrollment. SF has 16, and--hooray (I think)--Nature in Lit has 6, which is a good trend. There aren't many spaces left in lit electives being offered online, so I suspect it will get to runnable numbers before the axe would have to fall. That does mean a hell of a lot of work on getting the damned thing constructed online--and I'm still not entirely sure about the last weeks' readings: I'm in the process of trying to get rights to post Paradises Lost. Ursula, god love her, has told her agent she approves of the idea, but she also expresses very valid concerns about the thing getting loose on the net. Her agent will advise, and it may be that the agent advises against it, in which case I'll just make more use of the purchased textbook--but it sure would be sweet to be able to teach the novella. It's such a great way to end the class, or so I think.

Returning to this semester, tomorrow I should be well enough to go to campus for the department party (sigh: I fucking hate that kind of party, but ... well, it's politic to go, and there are a few people I wouldn't mind talking with), and, more important, to meet with the SF class for their end-of-semester debriefing. I'll be interested to get their take on Left Hand of Darkness; I hope they generally approve of it, but we'll see.

And then it's just about grinding through the last of the grading. I have already made my peace with going in on Friday--and perhaps even having to set an alarm, as the office closes early on Friday; that will depend on how much I get done tomorrow.

But for today, I am one whipped puppy. Early to bed, says this professor.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Nope: going home

I'm fighting off a cold. I'm exhausted. I'm taking papers home to work on final grading after I have a nap. I may not make my "Thursday if it kills me" deadline for submitting all the final paperwork, as Cathy and I have to spend some time on adjunct scheduling tomorrow. But I am not going to push today only to feel like a squashed dog turd later in the week.

More tomorrow, I do hope.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Good-bye ... and good riddance

The last meeting with the 2:00 101 class was lovely: they were, as they have been, bonded, talkative, interested, interesting. One particularly sweet moment was when one young man--I've not talked about him much, but he's been charming and earnest and a good worker and intelligent--said how much he learned from the thinking of a few of his classmates, whom he mentioned by name. (The fact that they know each other's names is evidence enough of what a great class it is.) I told him that he's one of those people for his classmates: they all get great ideas from him. He didn't know that he stands in the company of the best students in the class, but he does. Two students wanted to give me hugs, which I granted (though I'm always a bit nervous about the possible accusations that could arise, I tend to trust my students--and I don't offer if they don't ask).

The students in the 5:00 class? Not so much. When class started, only two were there. Eventually, we got to seven--out of ten who submitted the final essay. They didn't have much to say--though one of them, a young woman I've not been able to figure out all semester (snotty? not?), was talking with her classmates about other classes and professors, empathizing, making recommendations. They didn't look at each other--and basically couldn't wait to get out of the room. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Oh, and earlier, during my office hour, the Media Mogul showed up with his withdrawal slip. He seemed a bit chastened, and he did say he'd been upset about "failing" the class, but that another of his professors reassured him that sometimes it just isn't the right time. I agreed with that. He also said that he's been put into the honors program--and all I could think was "Based on what, exactly?" The only examples of his writing that I saw were hardly honors quality ... but I probably shouldn't get going on what I think of the direction of the honors program in the past few years. I do want to see whether the Mogul has signed up for Paul's honors comp for spring--and if he has, I'll issue a bit of a warning. That may not be fair; it might be best to let Paul draw his own conclusions about the kid--but then, Paul also sometimes reads this blog, so....

As for the grading process, I've read and commented on the essays for the students who wanted those comments. I have two more essays to read and leave on my office door with just the grade. Then I get down to the quick and dirty: read, calculate, toss in the box. I'll get essays from the SF students tomorrow, then I'll meet them for the end-of-semester debriefing and to collect their self-evaluations. By that time, I should have everything calculated, ready to plug that last number in ... so I'm hoping I can submit final grades early and be home early on Thursday.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I do have a couple of those "Oh, shit, I keep forgetting" things to take care of (responding as a jury reader to a potential publication that I've given feedback on several times before, trying to get copyright to use Le Guin's Paradises Lost in the online Nature in Lit--which is now up to a whole entire three students registered!!)--but none of that will happen tonight. I'm staggering home. We'll see how early (or, more realistically, how late) I roll in tomorrow, and how much I manage to get done.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Much is explained

I'm posting fast, as I have to get out of here to a doctor's appointment--but in the SF class today, the Budding Literary Critic, who has been pretty silent for a while, suddenly spoke up, and man, did he go to an extreme. He hates the characters in Le Guin's novel, all of them, thinks they should die, because they don't understand that schizophrenia needs to be treated, as otherwise it's dangerous, and because of their attitude toward suicide (which they consider the worst possible crime--worse even than murder). In his rant, he said that when he was hospitalized, he saw someone get badly beaten by another patient with schizophrenia ... and I thought, "Ah. I get it." I don't know what his particular illness was, but the fact that he's had to deal with something profound enough to warrant a stay in the hospital explains his contradictory reactions: one minute, smiling in agreement; the next, only able to see the negative and ranting about it.

And his rant sure woke up some of the students who had been close to drifting off to sleep at that point. So: thanks to him.

I met after class with Gaston and Alphonse; Gaston wanted to talk about his final essay, and Alphonse about the revision of his second essay. Both needed to get a sense of focus for their ideas, which they both seemed to get through answering my questions and responding to my comments. (And to Alphonse, after he'd explained his writing process, I said that what he was doing wasn't writing an essay: it was brainstorming, and he needs to build time into his process so he can brainstorm and then go back over it and revise to create an actual focus.)

That's the good part of the day. The morning was chaotic in the extreme, as I had to deal with getting a rental car (my car in the driveway, waiting for me to have time to drive it to the shop--slowly with its muffler dragging on the ground), getting to the rental car place (long story), getting to an eye doctor appointment--and having to tell them that I was going to have to leave without seeing the doctor (at which point they hustled me into an exam room and apparently lassoed the doctor, dragged him away from something else, and shoved him in the room with me). And on it goes.

I'm taking home the 101 essays for the students who want comments. They may just sit in the tote bag, untouched, until I drag them back here on Monday. I'm making no promises to myself about getting anything at all done over the weekend, except some life maintenance--and a little bit of time recharging my mental batteries before I dive head first into final grading.

So, more ... well, whenever. It's all just a chair of bowlies.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Funny how the mind works...

I have apparently given up on the 5:00 101 to the point that I almost forgot I had the class today, and very nearly went home at 4, instead of staying here long enough to at least collect essays. I got nine of them--which is two more than submitted the first version, but there you go. Now we see how many of them remember to upload to Turnitin.

I didn't remind them that they have to ask for comments; I figure, if they want the comments, they'd have remembered. Several students in the 2:00 class did ask for comments; a few just want the grade. As I said to them all, "You have to want it badly enough that you'll come to campus to get it; otherwise, don't ask for it." But again, we'll see. Every semester I have students who say, "Oh, yes, Professor! I want your comments so very much!" (eyelash bat-bat-bat, nose several shades of brown) and then ... the graded essay sits on my office door until some time in the next semester, when I toss it in my box of essays that I keep in case of grade grievances.

At any rate, while I was waiting for students to show up with essays, I did a little sketching out of the assignment schedules for spring. I have to back up and think carefully about what I'm assigning out of the Norton anthology for the Nature in Lit class. I know the pieces I liked well enough to star when I read them back in 2004, but I have no idea how I grouped them or what the essay assignments were: my files are woefully incomplete on that score. But it is fascinating to see how my pedagogy has changed: apparently I used to assign "process papers" that led to a "final research paper"--and now I have no idea what I meant by "process papers," and I can understand why my students struggle with my assignment sheets, as I did not have the patience to wade through my complicated instructions to figure out what the hell a process paper was. And I have some themes identified from back then, when I used the anthology, so I'm hoping I can figure out what readings might be used for those topics--or for the topics I created when I started using a photocopied reader, or for other topics I might come up with... or something.

Just thinking about that almost made my brain burst into flames. I definitely heard the "overload!" warning sirens...

And my brain just scattered to the winds. I have no idea what I was going to do, or say, or think, or anything. As a consequence, my strong hunch is I should get home before I forget where that is.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A need for many martinis

Well, not really. I don't drink martinis--or do so extremely rarely--but I am thinking about that Doonesbury cartoon, with the president of Walden College giving his commencement address.... And I certainly am tired. Very tired. So tired, in fact, that I'm having a hard time figuring out what I need to do, or remembering what happened, or being certain that I'm being coherent.

Class today was fine--even a bit better than they've been of late: more students managed to stay awake and more contributed to the class conversation, including two young women who are often too shy to speak, which I take as a triumph (even if it has nothing to do with me). We did talk a bit about the themes--especially the gender thing--and this time I remembered to focus on what we see in Gethenian society and to head off at the pass a few of the common errors students make (such as stating that all Gethenians are equal, when patently they are not). Some of them are latching on, some are hanging on by their fingernails, but I think the bunch that I have right now will make it across the finish line. Barely, in some cases, but they'll make it.

In P&B, there was more discussion of the fucked up state of the campus, with idiots wanting to rule by fiat, making decisions about things they know nothing about. I spent a lot of the meeting thinking, "I think I can retire soon. I think I can retire soon." It's  a whole different take on the "Little Engine That Could" theme: I'm becoming the Little Engine That Won't.

Right now, it's ridiculously early for me, but I'm tired enough--physically, emotionally, psychologically--that I'm going to pack up my toys and go home. I never got around to eating lunch, so I think I'm going to have dunch, or linner (why isn't there a word like "brunch" for that?) and snuggle down with Dickens. Tomorrow will be easy, teaching-wise, as all I'm doing is collecting essays. (Oh, yes, and I did offer an extension to the fragile student with the hysterical mother. I'm not giving him until Monday, and I am applying a penalty, but I'm being extremely lenient.) One more day of actual teaching is required--Thursday, with the SF students--but we're almost at the final calculations phase.

And not only is tomorrow another day, but January starts another semester. Here's hoping I am stronger.

Monday, December 11, 2017

That's not energy; that's piss-off

Paul was saying earlier today that I still have energy, and I corrected him. I only have energy because I am a dramatic person--and I'm systemically pissed off. Students are suddenly grubbing for points--having blown them off most of the semester--and whining about this and that. In a lovely twist, a student mom who contacted me earlier in the semester and who said she understood that I can't talk with her about her 21-year-old son in my class sent me a rather hysterical email: her son thought he had until Monday to do the final version of the essay; when I said I absolutely would not accept it late--and that it's due Wednesday--he fell apart, and called her from the parking lot, in tears. The final lines of her email to me were "I PAY FOR CLASSES AND THEN HAVE TO PAY AGAIN CAUSE HE TRIES SO HARD AND JUST CAN'T KEEP UP! HAVE A HEART- IT'S CHRISTMAS!!!! [student mother's name] ps: if he gets into an accident leaving school I don't know what I am going to do!!"

Give me a fucking break. If he gets into an accident leaving school, I'll send flowers: how's that.

It's a good thing that happened via email, as if she'd shown up on my doorstep with that sort of bullshit, I'd have had a hard time refraining from ripping her head off. As it is, I simply replied that, as she knows, I can't talk to her about her son but that she should encourage him to contact me. (He did. He's slightly less hysterical in his email than his mother--and I will consider granting him an extension, because, although he doesn't have specific accommodations granted, he is a student with "special needs," and I know that he is more fragile than most.)

Then I went to the 5:00 class--and six students were there. The amazing disappearing class. In a way, though, I found that easier to deal with: I can disinvest from their success or failure. Two students actually showed up to withdraw today. Most are simply AWOL. Ah well.

I've been fooling around with a headache all day, and it's getting worse. I know it's a tension headache, but somehow that makes it even harder to relax.

In other news, I'm up to 12 students in Science Fiction for next semester--and back at one in Nature in Lit; that one is a student I talked to in Advisement today. I put up a few more fliers after the 5:00 class--and if I get a chance, I'll put up a few more tomorrow. I should have had them up weeks ago, but I really didn't think an online class would have a hard time filling. Of course, it may fill at the last minute--or nearly. Hope springs eternal.

I'm absolutely certain there is something else I wanted to relate about today, but damned if I can remember what it was. I'm going to head home and do my damnedest to forget all about this place until morning. Early to rise and early to Advisement tomorrow, but it should be a relatively painless day--I hope....

Sunday, December 10, 2017

P.S. No shouting

I just checked my work email and there was a nice apology from the testy student who admitted that
her essay had not, in fact, been submitted on the 4th as she'd thought. So whatever shouting may occur, it won't come from that quarter. Apology accepted. And whew.

Astonishingly caught up

All check sheets for editing completed.

All discussion board posts read and points assigned.

I haven't looked in my tote bag to see if there's anything else I brought home to work on, but if there is, screw it. This is enough for a weekend.

During the week, I'll only have reading notes from the SF students to evaluate. (Those may be in my tote bag. I'm not looking to see.) I do have to look at promotion folders for the colleagues who are going up for assistant/tenure prior to Tuesday's meeting, but that won't be onerous.

It really is winding down. And even after I make a much needed run to the grocery store, I'll have enough time to practice fiddle for the first time in a week. Happy days indeed.

The only sour note is an adult student in the 5:00 section of 101, who keeps telling me that she has the digital receipt for having uploaded her essay to Turnitin on time, but she has yet to produce the receipt--and I have checked Turnitin every day, using several different methods to see her submissions, in case she accidentally uploaded it to the wrong place, but her essay appeared for the first time today. She tends to toss out emails and then not follow up, and I'm getting pretty testy that she says she doesn't "agree" that her essay was not uploaded on time. I sent her a screen shot of the page on Turnitin. If she can produce that digital receipt, I'll take back the penalty (though I sure as shit won't have time to give her any comments for revision before class tomorrow). However, my bet is she won't respond to my email saying I don't have the receipt, and I'll end up having to argue with her out in the hall tomorrow during class. I don't relish that. The phrase "all over but the shouting" is amusing until there actually is shouting, or at least evidence of tempers aflare.

Nevertheless. It's winding down, thank all the gods that may be. I might even go downstairs to join in the very loud party my neighbors are having. (OK, not really, but I'm almost feeling celebratory. Almost.)

More tomorrow.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Only marginally painful

Well, all the essays I got, I've marked and returned with comments. I still need to do the editing check-sheets for a bunch of them (eleven, to be precise), but I'm done with providing comments--at least until I have to comment on the final versions, as I'm sure, despite how much I don't want to do any more commenting, some students are going to want the comments--or say they want them, even though they probably won't pick them up.

And I got all that done even though I started later than I'd have liked. And it's not insanely late now.

So, all that's good.

Seven more days of classes. That's it. Seven. I have one more early morning (making up time in Advisement on Tuesday), but ... it's almost done.

I sort of feel like I should do some paperwork of some sort--grade calculation sheets, prep for spring classes, something--but I'm not going to do anything except feel the relief of having gotten through that push.

Breathing. Breathing.

Friday, December 8, 2017


Well, I sure didn't get much done today, so that's going to make for a hell of a day tomorrow. I have nine essays that need comments, and another eleven that just need the check-sheet for editing review--but like an idiot, I didn't send myself all the files I downloaded at the office, so I'm having to download everything again. Ah well. If that's the worst thing to happen, I can't complain too loudly. (Well, I can, but I'd feel pretty ungrateful.)

I don't have a lot more than that to report today. Tomorrow is supposed to be wonderfully wintery--our first snow of the season, and some actual accumulation if the forecast is to be believed--which means it will be a great day to hunker down with many cups of tea and the computer and just crank away at it.

After this, all I have to do is final grading. I hope like mad that no one wants comments, as I'm about commented out. If at all possible, I'd love to spend next weekend working on my spring syllabi and assignment schedules. I really don't think Nature in Lit is going to run, dammit, so I'll prep the other courses first, then do what I can with that one. If nothing else, maybe it will run in the fall...? Hope springs eternal.

I may check in at the end of the grading haul tomorrow. It always feels good to have a blog post to put a period on the day.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

I am toast.

Having just taught Oryx and Crake, I of course think of the moment when Jimmy/Snowman tries to explain to the new genetically modified humans in his charge what toast is:

"Toast was a pointless invention from the Dark Ages. Toast was an implement of torture that caused all those subjected to it to regurgitate in verbal form the sins and crimes of their past lives. Toast was a ritual item devoured by fetishists in the belief that it would enhance their kinetic and sexual powers. Toast cannot be explained by any rational means.

"Toast is me.

"I am toast." (98)

But I am toast, over-done toast at that: a bit burned around the edges, and so crunchy as to fall to bits. There is no real explanation for this state of affairs, except, well, it's two weeks before the last day of the semester; I am among the millions of Americans (and perhaps all teachers) who are sleep deprived; there is work I have yet to do that I absolutely, utterly do not want to do.

I didn't do much today. I conferenced with a few students, met with the SF class (which now follows the routine of three students asking good questions and making intelligent comments while the others stare into space, stare at their desks, or fall asleep), did a little photocopying, read a bit of Left Hand of Darkness (just to have it fresh in my mind--and because I still absolutely love it) and made some notes for the online Nature in Lit (which I'll still try to pull together, in hope that it might run), put up some fliers about the class. That sounds pretty active, but it adds up to nothing much.

I certainly didn't grade any of those thirteen essays that I need to mark, nor did I do the editing review check sheet for the ones I already graded. I had a serious Scarlett O'Hara moment over even the thought: nope, I'll think about that tomorrow.

I think I have the pack ready for Monday morning. I think I have the things I'll need to work on over the weekend in my "schlep home" tote bag.

I think I'm pretty well out the door. I need to water the office plants and bundle up (it's actually a seasonable temperature out there). If I'm forgetting anything, it will just have to be forgotten until, well, whenever.

I will depart, leaving a trail of crumbs behind me no doubt.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Thirteen: let's hope it's a lucky number

I have thirteen essays yet to grade; that's combining both sections of 101. Of those thirteen, six were submitted today. It's possible a few more may come in, but if they do, I don't have to comment on them; I just need to calculate a grade, then reduce it by 50%. but honestly, I'm not expecting anything from the students who are, in terms of essays AWOL. I'm pretty sure that what I have is what I'm going to get.

I just spent a little time reworking--again--the assignment handouts for the various 101 essays. I don't think I'll ever achieve the Golden Assignment Handout, but at least I keep striving for clarity and concision.

Today generally was surprisingly unstressful--particularly considering the unusually fierce bout of insomnia last night. Advisement was busy enough to move the time along but slow enough that I was able to mark almost everything I have in hand for all three classes. The one bummer of a moment was when I checked enrollment for my classes for spring--and saw that the online Nature in Lit has gone from one student to zero. I'm not sure if that's about the class, about me, or about it being at the bottom of the list of online courses, but it does make me wonder about how much time and energy I should put into prepping the damned thing. (It also makes me think I need to do fliers--as per usual. I was foolish to believe it would run just because it's online: it needs to be "sold," more's the pity.)

Today's conferences were fine, too--and I had enough time, because of cancellations and one no-show, to grade the three for tomorrow with time to spare. I was afraid I might be burning the midnight whatever, but no: I can sail out of here at my usual time, knowing I'm set for tomorrow.

I am some combination of amused and alarmed to note in myself a sense of "Oh, good: I'm done," just because I graded everything for the conferences. That was the minority of the essays I have to do: eleven, with--as I said--thirteen more to go. So I need to be on top of things tomorrow and, if I can make myself be disciplined, on Friday (though my whole body is going to be screaming "PROCRASTINATE! You can do 'em on Saturday."). I should be motivated by the "if I do it and get it done, it won't be hanging over my head" thing, but I suspect I'll be more motivated by the "the students need these so they can do their best work" thing.

Oh, yeah: and I also still need to do the check sheets for editing, even if I'm not marking the essays for that step. I keep forgetting that I actually have to do that--and it will take a bit of time. I probably should have been doing those as I graded all along, but I was concerned about time for the ones I needed for the conferences. I hope, however, I remember to do the editing check sheets as I grade the remainder, so each one is done as in stick-a-fork-in-it done.

Then I'll have some reading notes to mark for the SF students (which I'm mostly enjoying actually, especially the notes that are pretty good, providing some real thoughts for me to encourage, respond to, challenge...); that will be it until next Wednesday, when I get the final versions of final essays from the 101s. Final versions of final essays from the SF students will be on Tuesday, Dec. 19. Then self-evaluations--and we're out.

And I'll have survived another semester. Remarkable to feel it so close. (Challenging not to let go of my energy and drive prematurely.)

Apropos of nothing: it's been interesting to speculate on the nose-dive in the blog readership since an all-time high this summer. A friend on Facebook suggested that my readers might mostly be academics--and that theory might be borne out by the fact that in the last week, the "page views" have declined even more precipitously, right at the time of year when most of us are in the final throes (or throws) of the term. It would be nice to think I'm talking to other educators. You all get what I'm talking about, right?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

So, I "officially" declared this "Student Blooper Month" on Facebook, and I've tried to remember to post at least one blooper a day: I've been saving them for ages, and a lot are pretty hilarious.

I encountered a good one in an essay I graded today, and as Paul was also here working, I interrupted him to share it. That got us talking about bloopers--and I mentioned out loud the experience I had eons ago with encountering Richard Lederer's "Student Bloopers History of the World." I decided to google it, so I could share it with Paul--and in a very creepy moment, the minute I typed the word "Richard" into the Google search bar, the whole name and title appeared. I have done absolutely zero searches having anything to do with that on any of my devices, at home or on campus. I haven't written it anywhere. All I can think is that there is some kind of voice-recognition software in the computer and it heard me. Which really freaks me out. If the computer is listening, who else is? And who's keeping a file of everything I say?

Setting aside my tech paranoia, here's a link to the history. It is pretty hilarious, I have to say, and it holds up. I still laugh out loud at some of them.

The SF class went about as it's been going. Most of the student contributions came from three students--the same three who've been holding the rest of the class up pretty much all semester. A few other voices got into the mix, but if it weren't for those three, I think there would be 75 minutes of silence in the room. I don't know how much they're getting, or maybe more to the point how much they're missing, but they seem to be latched on well enough to go for the full ride. We'll see.

The best news of the day is that three students didn't submit their essays to Turnitin yesterday, so I was able to tell them that I won't have their essays ready for their conferences tomorrow--and in fact, there's no reason for them to come to their conferences, as there wouldn't be anything for us to talk about. Plus Cathy canceled P&B today, so that freed up a good chunk of time. And one sweet student--who just turned 17, so she's even younger than most--agreed to move her conference to Thursday. I think she's pinching another part of her life to do it, and last night I told her she didn't have to feel obligated--but she didn't tell me she wanted to keep the original time, so ... Thursday it is.

And for Thursday, only three students who have conferences have submitted essays.

In fact, of the students in the 5:00 class, a grand total of seven have submitted essays to Turnitin. Of course, they may still submit them at the last second today--or even try to submit them later than that, though I sent out an email saying that I won't mark anything that's submitted after Thursday.

And that made me realize that--once again--I have to rethink and rewrite the submission policy and late penalties.

On top of which, I'm fretting about whether to grade on a curve for the first time in my career. I'm right on the fence there. On the one hand, the students need a wake-up call. On the other, this is the first time in their lives, most of them, when they've had this kind of responsibility and need to be completely point-precise in following instructions. I don't know. If I have time to crunch most of the numbers before the last time I see them, I'll try to make a decision before our last class meeting, so I can let them know what I'm doing and why.

This only applies to the 101s--and it applies more to the 5:00 section than to the 2:00 section.

Well, decisions and indecisions. There will be time.

Two weeks. Well, two weeks and two days to the official last day. Paul panicked when I said that, but I'm weirdly blithe about what I still haven't done. I suppose the panic will hit eventually. It always does, and it always turns out to be needless. Here we go round the prickly pear.

And here I go out the door. Thank God tomorrow is another day, because this one is shot.

Monday, December 4, 2017

I'm so screwed...

I've given myself zero time in which to evaluate the first version of the final essay for the 101 students: I'm getting the electronic versions of the essays tonight, and I start conferencing on Wednesday. And of course, most of the students in the earlier section signed up for conferences during our class period on Wednesday. Fewer students from the other section even showed up with essays, and not all of those wanted conferences--but getting through everything I'll need for the Wednesday conferences is going to be a nightmare. My own fault, I know, but that doesn't make it any more tolerable a situation.

I did tell students that if I didn't get their essays today, they wouldn't get any comments at all in time for conferences; late essays mean no conference (though they'll still get comments if they submit by end of day tomorrow--just not until after the conferences are done).

And one student who is not opting for a conference asked me when he'd get his essay with comments. I wanted to say, "Whenever I get it to you, and be fucking grateful that I do this at all." But I didn't. I said, "As soon as I can get to it." Which is every bit as true, just without the mustard.

I managed to get the vast majority of the work for the SF class graded over the weekend--and did my self-fulfillment activities (riding and fiddle lessons). I had a few bits to finish up today, but I got that all done plus returned everything I had in hand for the 101s, so apart from the little bits I collected today, the decks are completely clear for me to grade those essays.

Still: it's going to be a Herculean task. The Augean stables have nothing on this.

Meanwhile, I am making my dear Paul completely miserable, as I keep talking about how I have to get the fuck out of here, retire ASAP. I do not want to leave behind the wonderful sharing that he and I engage in--of pedagogy, of professional and personal support--but the rest of the job is just wearing me down, as I keep saying here. I would like to stop banging that particular drum: it's getting tedious and repetitive even for me. But the feeling is there. I know that some of my present feeling about the job is colored by clouds in other areas of my life--including the political situation of this country, which is not fun for just about anyone right now. If I were more positive in other areas of my life, I'd be more positive about the job--or at least I'd have more energy to devote to it instead of feeling so sapped so much of the time. It's not just lack of sleep. Hell, the whole nation is sleep deprived; I'm not alone in that. It's the emotional weight from all the parts of life that are less than spiffy at the moment. And I'm not alone in struggling with that, either.

I know this too shall pass. Everything does. I know things will change, and likely for the better--eventually. I'm with Anne Frank: "I still believe that people are really good at heart." I know my life is filled with blessings, too--and this career, this job, this place are among those blessings, despite how much I complain. It's good to remind myself of the ways that being here is something to be grateful for, instead of the perpetual bitching. And the good goes well beyond my dear office mates, both of them treasures--though they are certainly way up there in the things I value about my job.

That's my homework for tonight: to remember the good, to celebrate the positive, to be grateful for the gifts. The hard work of tomorrow will be done tomorrow. Tonight, the decks are 89% clear, and that's good enough to go home on.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

What I'll miss

I talk incessantly about retirement--broken records have nothing on me--though the date at which that retirement is likely to happen keeps shifting a little (in either direction, depending on the mood of the moment). But last night, I was struck with how dear my friends from the department are. They're not just colleagues; they truly are dear friends, and it will be very hard and sad to move away from them, both in terms of no longer being on campus and in terms of relocating to a different state (or at least a different part of this one). I wish I could take them with me when I go. I know we'll keep in touch, but it's very different to maintain a friendship across the continent and to have the opportunity to revel in it most days of most weeks of the year.

I also will miss interactions with some of my students--like the young woman who came to my office today. I had a hard time reading her. My first impression was that she was not entirely alert. Then I got some of her work and realized she was very alert, very intelligent and articulate. Then she went AWOL, through the whole of the second essay process. She kept saying she wanted to come to see me, but somehow it didn't happen. Today, however, we finally met.

Simply in terms of her work and her grade for the semester, we came to an agreement under which I will grant her an incomplete, so she can write Essay 2 (both versions) and get at least some kind of grade. But talking with her was a revelation. She does--as so many of our students do--come from a family with significant problems; she is in some ways taking care of both of her parents (who are not married), as well as trying to take care of herself. She's suffered some real traumas in her past--though she mentioned those only to acknowledge how different her view of life is now. She has a kind of inner resilience that is going to carry her far, but more to the point, as far as I'm concerned, she has a deeply questioning mind.

She wanted to talk about the topic for the final essay--which is about "social technology"--but she said her difficulty with the topic was that it was making her ask "really existential questions," such as "are we going to stop being human? Can we stop the advancement of technology before it ruins something important in us?"

Well, first: get that girl into my SF class (except she has to pass 102 first, dammit, and by the time she does, I probably won't be teaching SF for a while). But also, let's talk about the importance of asking those existential questions. Let's talk about how people asking difficult questions is the way societies truly advance. We talked about the value of conflict, about mob mentality, about "the silent majority" (noting that people use the silence to assume agreement with their position, instead of recognizing that the silence could be a distaste for confronting their position, not agreement with it). About snotty students in my class. About developing the skills of rational argument--and how that increases one's willingness to speak up (and step out of the silent majority, becoming part of the minority who care enough to be vocal). About the importance of tempering one's emotional reactions with knowledge, data, information, understanding.

We talked for about an hour and a half. And I enjoyed every minute. I also suspect that if I hadn't gently terminated the conversation, we might still be talking.

And she said I'm a cool professor. Scary hard as a teacher, but really cool. How gratifying is that?

Since she left, I've been noodling at the computer. I have a ton of stuff to mark for the SF class--and I've all but promised I'll have it for them on Tuesday (and I really do need to have it before then, as I'll be getting the onslaught of 101 final essays on Monday)--but I am far too tired and addle-brained (thanks to the periodic return of migraine-like symptoms) to read student work. So I reread some of the materials on The Left Hand of Darkness that are up for my students--and found myself enjoying my own writing style. (I think I can be rather funny at times, though of course that's not for me to say.) The students who read some of the materials found them helpful--which they volunteered without my having to ask. (Note to self: save some of the comments from students to put in the publishing proposal.) Also gratifying.

I still have 20 minutes or so of my evening office hour to fulfill, but I think the main office is already closed for the night, and no one has made any appointments with me, so I'm going to take off a smidge early. I have no clue what I'll do about dinner (last night's dinner beat my system to hell, so much so that I couldn't face breakfast until after noon), but being home and quiet feels like a very good idea. I allowed myself a slow, unfocused start to the day today, and I'd like to continue that trend for a bit. I see the comp students five more times (well, four and two days of conferences); I see the SF students six more times. That's it. That light at that end of the tunnel over there may not be the headlights of an oncoming train after all...

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Count down to steak and booze blowout

I should be out the door already. I'm heading off to a long-awaited, much-anticipated dinner at our favorite steak house with Paul, William, and Kristin. Life holds few pleasures as great.

Both classes went fine, which was a much needed boost, as I started the day miserable. I was in trouble with Advisement, as it happens--for good reasons, I confess--so I'm figuring out what I can do that will make it possible for me to still conference with students and not upset the Advisement boat. I need that boat; I cannot imagine going back to teaching four courses--not the way I teach them.

I did, however, realize that an alteration to the process which I'm making out of necessity in this next round of essay grading will actually work better for the students, so I'm going to implement it for future comp classes in all the essays. In the past, I've gone through a printout of the first submission of an essay to point out sentence-level errors, and I've told the students they need to look for similar errors on their revised essays. They absolutely do not understand how that would work: all they know to do is to find the exact things I marked to correct exactly what I marked. If the sentence doesn't exist any more, they won't look for something similar. Part of that, of course, is they don't know what makes the error an error--why a run-on is a run-on, for instance--so they don't know how to locate other instances. But also, they're just too accustomed to correcting what the teacher tells them to correct, nothing more. So, I'm just going to mark the check-list of possible errors and give them that; then they can go through either the first version or a revision or whatever they have, try to find the problems, and try to fix them.

It still won't work, I'm betting, but it takes less time and energy from me.

And at that, I'm out the door. I may fill in some more details from the day tomorrow, if I remember--and if I'm not bolting for home as early as humanly possible.

It isn't May yet. That seems cosmically unfair.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Posting from home

I went in to make up time in Advisement and to teach the SF class, but since I'd been fighting a migraine since about 2 a.m. (doze, wake in pain; doze, wake in pain), I decided to bail on P&B and take my sorry self home. I brought work home with me--and to my amazement, I actually did a teeny bit of it, after a nap. (And I seem to have forgotten how to nap; I used to be a championship napper, but no longer.) But I'm feeling the migraine-related feeling that synapses aren't quite lining up right, so everything feels fuzzy and vague and slightly confusing. I think retreat was the better part of valor.

I don't know if I'm in total trouble with Advisement, but the woman who basically manages the clerical end was annoyed--because I'd clearly said I'd make up time on Dec. 5, not today, and she'd adjusted all the paperwork accordingly. We worked out today but I still don't know when I'll make up the time I'm going to miss next week. I was going to talk to the head of Advisement, but she was in meetings the whole time I was there. I'll try tomorrow.

And the SF class was a bit discouraging at first; even the best readers were more lost than I had hoped would be the case, and a lot of students were falling asleep as I was trying to convey the information they'd absolutely need to understand--but I knew putting them in groups would be a bit of a disaster. They did all start to wake up eventually, though I'm not sure what happened that created the turn-around in alertness--and they certainly were not as systemically confused as my 102 students have been (or I don't think they were). In any event, I now recognize why I started them off slowly on this: not just because they had essays to write in addition to doing the reading but also because they need to get their feet under them before we pick up the pace.

Meanwhile, I am completely maddened by the fact that I don't seem to be able to get onto the internet using the computer in that classroom, so I can't show them the online materials. Well, they'll have to be self-directed, I reckon.

Mostly, I just am eager to get to the end of the semester; I'm tired of doing the heavy lifting, and the students are too. Stumbling toward the finish line....

Monday, November 27, 2017

It didn't kill me

I got everything done today. I may be in trouble with Advisement (I can't tell if the head honcho is annoyed with me for schedule changes or if she just doesn't want me to make up time over the break), but I got everything done--and I didn't use any sick leave.

But speaking of sick leave, I came close to canceling the 5:00 class today--but that's a slippery slope. If I cancel once, I'll be tempted to cancel for the rest of the semester. I just don't have the energy to engage in the process of trying to get them  to understand what they're reading. Of course, when I got into the classroom, I was OK: not systemically cranky and not ground to a nubbin with frustration. The class was a bit of an exercise in extractive dentistry, but ... they learned something. And it didn't hurt.

By comparison, the earlier class was dynamite. They were not as fully baffled by the article in question (an interview with Antonio Damasio, in which he posits that the speed of modern society makes it difficult for us to come to ethical decisions)--and once I gave them a little structure for it, they just flew. It was one of those wonderful, magical classes when I hardly had to be there, as they were talking with each other, not just to me. I get a little taste of that, and man, I want more. It's an extraordinarily rare pleasure, but it is delicious.

I'm about to fly the coop now, so this will be a brief post. I don't know how on top of things I'll be for the SF class tomorrow; I'd love to be able to return everything to them, too, but it would have to be pretty much dead in Advisement (when I'm making up time)--and it's not the time of year when we can anticipate that. I'm also a bit apprehensive about the first class meeting in which we talk about The Left Hand of Darkness. I have several plans for how I might approach that; we'll see what I end up going for in the moment.

Meanwhile, I'm in the process of updating some things in my HR file as I start to gather information pertaining to retirement. (One of my emergency contacts is a friend from the Met who has not responded to any contact from me in four years, so I'd say, even though I still think of her as a friend, she's probably not a great back-up to my mom as someone to call if I'm run over by a texting student.) It is strange to actively seek out the information--and I'm probably asking some stupid questions, but ah well. Folks in HR no doubt are used to everyone else being idiotic about some of this stuff.

That's it for tonight. I'm going to be uber-crunchy tomorrow, but this is my life as we know it, ja?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

If it kills me

..and it might.

I think I have to either call in sick or reschedule Advisement tomorrow. I have so much stuff that I've accumulated for the 101s, and I absolutely am determined to get it all back to them tomorrow--especially as I'll be collecting more from them tomorrow (homework), and their essays will be due in a week. And I'm about to collect a huge bolus of essays and homework from the SF class.

Damn and blast and hell.

Well, there it is: my life in a nutshell.

And I didn't get one second to work on next semester's classes, though that was what I wanted most to do in terms of work this weekend. I did take care of my life at least a little (routine life maintenance and the things that I do for my own enjoyment, having nothing whatever to do with my career), but I did not manage to get caught up on sleep (and I wonder if I ever will, short of retirement), and ... well, there's still quite a bit in that huge stack of things to mark.

I had told myself earlier today that I was going to get all the essays marked at least. However, I could feel the impatience that arises from pushing through too many too fast, so I shifted gears: I just graded discussion board posts, and I have all the collected homework organized so I can crank through it as quickly as possible tomorrow.

And I need to try to find one student's essay. He was late submitting it--for good reasons--but as a consequence, it didn't end up in the stacks with everything else, and now god alone knows where it is. I hope to hell it didn't fall into the recycling bin and disappear--but when I get to the office tomorrow, I'm going to have to start with a search for the damned thing. And until I wrote those sentences, I'd blissfully forgotten to include it in the count of essays that still need to be graded. I thought I had four, which is more than I want to have to do, but with his, there will be five.

Damn and blast and hell squared.

Well, all I can do is all I can do. And now I absolutely have to stop for the night or I'll be even more sleep deprived, and that downward spiral will continue.

Food. Winding down. Sleep. And tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Another grateful parent

For the third time in my career, I have gotten an expression of gratitude from the parent of one of my students. One of them was indirect; the Timid Intellectual's mother is a nurse, and Cathy was in the office where that mother works, so the mom took the opportunity to tell Cathy that one of her colleagues (me) had been extremely beneficial in her child's life. Then there was the moment when Rose in Bloom's mom stopped me on campus to tell me that I'd saved her daughter's life--her expression, not mine.

And today, there was a voice mail from the mother of a student who has no moniker that I can recall, but he's been struggling for a while. I may have mentioned that he came to my office because he was almost ready to give up on school, so we talked about that at some length--and I offered suggestions for ways he might continue his growth without necessarily having to be in college classes. His mom told me how much she appreciates my work with him, that she feels I am helping him in ways that matter a great deal to her.

That gratitude is manna. I am deeply grateful to hear that I am making a difference in these young people's lives--and in ways that go beyond my teaching them how to write, or how to read literature.

To my delight, every single student in the 2:00 comp class was there today--and they were ready to talk intelligently and insightfully about what they read. They also were smart enough to point out places where they didn't understand the author and to get those points clarified. In the 5:00 class, eight of fourteen remaining students were there--and only three of them had anything much to say, but we did what we could with what they saw in the readings.

In between classes, I did a lot of noodling--really having nothing whatever to do with work for the most part, but I did stack up everything I want to take home over the weekend. How much of it I'll actually work on is an open question, but if I have it at home, at least there's a chance I'll work on some of it. I realized, in the process, that when I was doing all my copying yesterday, I'd forgotten to copy the grading sheet I use for the final versions of essays--and the office was closed by the time I realized it (Cathy kindly having sent the office staff home early today). So I printed them out, which is a scandalous use of printer toner, but ah well.

I am both amused and daunted by the fact that carrying everything home requires not just my tote bag but also my wheelie pack. The stacks look worse than they actually are, as final versions of essays include multiple parts (which the students had already submitted but need to provide all at once at the end, to show all the steps)--and I don't have to spend as much time on final versions, very little commenting being required. Still, the stack is pretty ridiculous:

And that's not quite all of it, but enough to give the general idea.

At this juncture, even though I have a little time yet before my Wednesday evening appointment, I am going to schlep everything out to the car and make a quick grocery stop on my way to my appointment. I may post over the weekend, depending on how the work goes--but I certainly won't be posting tomorrow, so I wish everyone in the U.S. a great Thanksgiving, and all my readers from other nations many reasons to be thankful.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The "Cliff's Notes" post

I'm not invested in putting a lot of time and energy into posting tonight. It was a perfectly fine day, but nothing of great moment happened, for good or ill.

I met with the student I'm mentoring. Today wasn't quite as intense and moving--or as long a meeting--as last week's, but this work with this student is deeply rewarding. I'm not only talking to him about how to develop the discipline needed to stay on top of adult responsibilities; I'm helping him frame his experiences so he sees his successes and builds on them. He was very happy with himself for having successfully presented a speech in his Communications class--and for getting some lovely, positive feedback from his professor--but he mentioned that he realized how much better his speech would have been if he'd given himself more time to practice. He also talked about his writing process, and I pointed out that he is not a sprinter: he's a marathon runner, so he needs to allot his time accordingly.

And of course it was deeply gratifying to hear that he talks about my class with his friends "all the time," and that his friends tell him he's having a "real college experience" in my class. He sees the value in the topics I've selected, and he likes the way I let the students do their own research and find their own focus. I'm delighted that it works for him. He's in the later section, which has seen higher attrition than the earlier one, but even in that class, I'm holding on to more students than I used to years ago.

The SF class was fine. I didn't put the students in groups to finish our conversation about The Year of the Flood, which was a deliberate decision to truncate the amount of time we'd spend talking about it, as I wanted to get them set up for The Left Hand of Darkness. I did some of that, though not as much as I'd hoped (in part because of a technical malfunction that prevented me from showing the students the online materials, all the stuff I put together on my sabbatical which is now on Blackboard, ready for them to use as they will). Perhaps I'll get the computer working better on Tuesday next week and can show them; it won't be as early an "intervention" as I might ideally have liked, but better than not at all.

I was grateful that at the nth hour, a colleague agreed to act as Senate alternate for Cathy, so I could stay it the office and work. I was planning mostly to look at promotion folders, but as it happened, there was really only one I needed to read, which I did and still had plenty of time to do the photocopying I needed to do for the 101s, to do some other bits and orts of organizing stuff, and to start writing up the observation I conducted two weeks ago. (Tempus fugit.) I finished that after P&B, and managed to hack back a few other vines and weeds that have been tangling around my feet.

Now, I want to get out of here, however. I'll be putting in a full day tomorrow, and I'll be schlepping a shitload of work home to attend to over the "holiday" weekend. I'm hoping it's pretty quiet in Advisement tomorrow so I can get a jump on some of that work, but even if it isn't, I'll have time between classes and after the 5:00 class to try to pull together as much as I can.

But, while it's still before 8 p.m., let me just ....

Monday, November 20, 2017

A "teachable moment"

In the earlier 101 today, a student in his group was very heatedly saying that he didn't agree with the article the students had just read--which was not an opinion piece but was conveying the result of a study of cell-phone use among the generation that follows the "Millennials"--so, for the most part, students just a smidge younger than the students in the class. I told him he couldn't "disagree" with facts--but then I realized that what he was talking about was an objection to the author's generalizations, which are statistically valid and rely on a preponderance of the evidence but which are nevertheless generalizations.

So, I ended up talking at length about valid generalizations--and the fact that educated readers implicitly understand that there are outliers, cases that do not fit the generalization. Further, in an article in a popular medium (in this case, The Atlantic), the author is under no obligation to specifically cite the numerical data in every single paragraph, especially when the author is referring to her own research.

However, I stated, that doesn't mean that a student can't verify the findings by doing some research to ascertain whether other studies come to the same conclusions. It also doesn't mean that there might not be an angle that the student sees that the author has left unaddressed. In this particular instance, one of the generalizations was that young adolescents in what the article's author calls "iGen" are slower to get their driver's licenses than previous generations, being perfectly content to let their parents chauffeur them around. My student pointed out that in his area, most parents are single parents, and even in two-parent households, both parents are far too busy to be driving their children around, hither and yon. So, I said, you might want to do some research into whether there are class distinctions in the effect of cell-phone use especially in terms of kids' maturity and self-determination.

Talking with Paul, I realized that a possible reason why my student was so fiercely resistant to the article's assertions was that he felt his own independence, maturity, and emotional stability--and those of his friends--were being impugned. If I'd realized that possible cause earlier, I'd have reminded him that one of the places we started this semester was not only with the idea that critical thinkers "[hold] everything open to unlimited verification" but also with the assertion that critical thinkers "can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices"--or, conversely, can contemplate challenges to their dearest prejudices. (Those quotations are from The Critical Thinking Community, “Sumner’s Definition of Critical Thinking.”

Since that student demonstrated the need for me to talk about generalizations, statistical validity, preponderance of evidence, I decided to talk about all that with the later section. They were more puzzled, I think, than anything by the mini-lecture, but I'm still glad to have reinforced that awareness of how to read (and think) critically with both classes.

I also thought, as I was wrapping up the 5:00 class and getting ready to come back to the office to write this post, that I am boring the hell out of myself with my perpetual complaints about being tired and cranky. I am perpetually tired and cranky, but instead of focusing on that, I need to find some effective attitude adjustment. (Sleep would help, of course, but I need to find something more feasible, as knowing myself and my schedule, it's unlikely I'll get much more sleep than I've been getting.) As I mentioned to Paul, I'm carefully monitoring what it takes for me to feel all the joys that still exist in this career for me; when I can't feel them, even knowing they're there, early warning bells about the thin edge of the "bitter and jaded, burned out" wedge start to go off. I saw one colleague today who is in many ways bitter and jaded--and who looks like hell to boot--and I thought, "Not me, please god: not me." I want to stay in this career at this institution as long as I can still do my job effectively for the students and without a toll on my emotional or physical health. I'm still OK on all that--but I can feel the tipping point creeping closer.

Meanwhile, it is time to start counting how many class meetings are left. I meet with the 101 students eight more times this semester: that's it. I meet with the SF student nine more times, as I haven't met with them yet this week. That's nothing; that's a sneeze. I'm sure I can breathe my way to December 21 without much struggle. And I'm actually really looking forward to putting some time into planning my classes for spring; I hope to do some of that--as much as possible--over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Now, however, I need to get groceries, which I meant to do over the weekend and never got around to doing--and with Thanksgiving coming up, I sure don't want to be in the store tomorrow or Wednesday. Off I toddle.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Well, that's done

I kept putting off working on the accumulated homework from the SF class, but I just spent the afternoon cranking through it--and actually reading and responding to a lot of it. I'm no longer making comments about the quality of the notes, but I will correct mis-reads and add comments or ask leading questions for the students who put enough substance in their notes to give rise to comments or questions.

And I checked the discussion board posts for one section of 101. I "should" do the other, but I need to do a little more life maintenance today, before it gets too late.

Mostly, I want to record my bafflement about the Budding Literary Critic. I finally was compelled to comment on his notes about his apparently adversarial approach to any and all reading. As one example, he accused Margaret Atwood of "victimizing" women (because she shows them being victimized in her books) and slammed her "disgusting," "false" feminism. (He also completely misread the timelines in The Year of the Flood, despite my careful work to orient everyone to its relationship to Oryx and Crake--an orientation that worked even for some of the least competent readers in the class but not, it seems, for him.

In the past I've pointed out to him that his emotional reactions to what he reads are, of course, valid--but that focusing on them inhibits his ability to understand the literature in any more meaningful sense, as he tends to see what he thinks he'll see instead of seeing what's actually there. That's not at all uncommon, in fact, but it is disappointing in someone who apparently has the native intelligence to read more carefully and insightfully. But this time I pointed out that he seems to attack the readings and authors, as if the only way he can respond is through hostility. I can understand feeling a certain amount of hostility toward an author whose style I find distasteful (especially when I "have" to read whatever it is for some reason--my reactions to J. K. Rowling thus far being case in point), but even as an under-grad I think I was capable of setting that hostility aside and approaching the text with some kind of critical, analytical view. But this kid can't, it seems.

I'm interested to note that my response to his hostility toward the readings is to get angry in return, as if I am being attacked. And I guess in a sense I feel that I am, since I chose these readings--and at least in the cases of Atwood and Le Guin, I did so because I love them (though in very different ways). So I'm aware of trying to keep my anger out of my comments, to frame my comments in such a way that I encourage better reading tactics on his part instead of just swatting him like a pest.

How successful at that I am is a different point, of course. You'd have to ask him.


I don't have much else to record at this juncture, but something about my reactions to that particular student called out for a blog post. Tomorrow will be the usual fun-filled day of Advisement, class, office hour, class--and Thursday can't come soon enough. I do wish we had Wednesday off, but I'm not canceling class: for one thing, I've told the students I will be there, but also, I've taken three days off this semester, and that seems like plenty to me.

So, on that note, I will turn off the computer, stuff all the student work into my tote bag, and head out into the wind chill to run a few errands.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Well, OK, so ...

For the past week, every morning I've thought, "Oh, maybe I'll call in sick today." As I noted in my last blog post, I compromised yesterday by going in late.

Today, I'm not going in at all. I could have--I had a pretty bad bout of insomnia, but going to work sleep-deprived is situation normal, as I've been noting ad nauseum of late. When I woke up this morning, my first thought was to go in long enough to pick up the unmarked homework for the SF students to bring home to work on. Then I thought, "Nah, I'll just go in; I can give them the critical essays they'll use for their next essays, even if I don't have all their homework done--and after class I'll work on promotion folders."

But since there is almost always another way to do anything, I ultimately decided to cancel class, office hours, evening supervisor hours, and not to even try to go to campus today. When I go tomorrow for the event, I can collect the student assignments to take home over the weekend and I can work on whatever promotion folders I can get to. I've just rescheduled my make-up time in Advisement, so next Tuesday morning is also clear, to be used to finish whichever of those tasks--marking student work or reading promo folders--I haven't yet completed.

And today, I'm going to do a combination of sleep and--maybe--life-maintenance (getting my bike to the shop to repair broken spokes and rust from it having been ridden on wintery salted roads last season; collecting mail from my P.O. box--the stuff that I don't want to risk getting misdelivered by it being sent to my house; posting "Found Cat" fliers...). But the life maintenance really is a maybe. Right now, I'm simply spectacularly grateful to not be on campus, not be facing any work, that I may just spend the day on the sofa.

It's amusing to me to write that, knowing that in a week or two, I'll be posting--as I always do at this point in the semester--that I have too much to do and no time to do it in and am freaking out even though I know I'll get it all done. These patterns of thought and behavior are so entrenched, I should just apply a numbering system and provide the play list: track number 6: Student papers are crappier than I expected and I'm miserable grading them. Track number 14: I love working one on one with students; those connections are deeply gratifying to me. And so on.

But--apropos of nothing--I can't remember if I mentioned that reading one of the promotion folders suddenly lit a fire under me, and I sent off an abstract for a paper presentation to the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. I sent it after the deadline--and I wrote it in about 25 minutes--so I won't be at all surprised if it gets rejected, but it was fun to have a moment of thinking, "Why not?" I proposed a topic I've been thinking about for years: "Real Fantasy versus Fake Fantasy, or Why I Hate Harry Potter." If the proposal is accepted, I'll have the cast-iron reason to finally do the damned thing. If the proposal isn't accepted, no worries: I'll go to a meditation workshop instead. It's all good.

Now, let the slobbing about begin. I feel the siren call of the sofa drawing me...

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

I can't believe I forgot to mention

The absolute best part of yesterday was the mentoring appointment with a student from the later 101 class. I may have mentioned him before, but I don't think I've given him a moniker--and I can't think of one right now. He's extremely smart, but his work has been sporadically submitted and not always done to the best of his ability. In his first mentoring appointment, he wanted to talk about time management--so we did. I suggested he make a schedule for himself, so he has specific times "budgeted" for specific tasks. When we met yesterday, we did talk about his essay--for which he missed the first version and all the in-between steps--but he also showed me his beautifully color-coded schedule, which he is not following. I said that he then needs to rework his schedule, as he's learned something about how much time he needs for various tasks, or how he works, or what he needs to set up for himself.

But the conversation continued: he's a "parentified child," so I heard a lot about how he and his sister are trying to manage things for their parents. Earlier in the semester, he told me he'd had to be out of town to help settle his mom into a new apartment; apparently over the past few weeks, he's been away helping his mother more than he's been home. And he's exhibiting signs of depression (says the pop psychologist), in that he finds it very difficult to motivate himself to get off his bed to actually do anything. I had suggested he might want to withdraw from the class, but right now, he's using school as a reason to get up and get out of the house--plus his sister paid his tuition, and he doesn't want to waste that. I talked to him some about self-forgiveness, about why we do things we know are not in our best interest sometimes, about having realistic goals, about self-awareness. We agreed that his goal would be to complete this semester--not worrying about grades, just doing his best to gut it out to the end. (Interestingly enough, I had a similar conversation with another student from the same class today, though the one I spoke to today is nowhere near as sharp.)

Whatever I said, at the end of our talk, he said, "Can I give you a hug?" Of course. My sense is that--as a young man who is parenting his own mother--he needs some mothering, and yesterday, I filled that particular role for him. It was lovely. And I hope it helped. He does have an appointment with one of the campus counselors later this month, which I am very glad to hear--despite what I think I know about psychology (from having been "on the couch" myself), I am not at all trained to offer counseling of that nature, and I want him to get the kind of help he really needs.

As for today, I got in to Advisement late: I very nearly bailed entirely, as I let myself sleep until I woke up on my own, not to an alarm, but I realized I'd only be about an hour late, and given how hammered we are at this point, I thought it would be beneficial for me to be there, even if only for a while. Classes went OK, too. It's pretty amusing to be talking about the effect of "our" attachment to our devices and social technology to a class full of students who can barely stand to go three minutes without checking their phones. The irony was not lost on any of us.

The only concern I have now is that I really want to get everything marked to return to the students in the SF class--and I'm not sure I'll have time to do that tomorrow. Plus I really need to look at the promotion folders we didn't discuss in P&B so I'm not quite so functionally useless next week. I reassure myself that, since there is an important event on campus on Friday, I will be here anyway and can spend time working on the promo folders then.

Meanwhile, my sleeping "late" seems primarily to have reinforced how deeply sleep deprived I am (me and virtually everyone else in America), so despite the number of assignments I need to mark for tomorrow's class, I am going to have a hard time setting that alarm for tomorrow. But, well, that's another day, isn't it. I'm going to draw a line under the work portion of today and leave it at that.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

...and then there was chocolate

I've done a pretty good job of staying out of the little candy bowls all over Advisement and the department office, but today, the narcotic was necessary to keep my energy up for the long haul of the day.

For whatever reason, the powers that be, in their infinite wisdom, decided to open spring enrollment to the entire student body all at once at noon today--and the system pretty promptly crashed. It took hours for IT to get things back up and running (if indeed they have), but in the meanwhile, absolutely zero work could take place in Advisement, as the advisers couldn't access student records to evaluate their progress toward their degrees, look at transcripts, look at course offerings: nothing. I'm sure the decision was made in part because students in the past complained that they couldn't get the courses they wanted because by the time it was their turn to register, courses were already filled to capacity. That's a legitimate beef, I grant, but today's enrollment feeding frenzy could have been anticipated. I just hope to hell that the students who were suddenly shut out--unable to register for their classes, whether they wanted to see an adviser first or not--don't say, "Fuck this for a bag of apples; I'm going to Suffolk." We hear all the time how we need to encourage retention, retention, retention (and that we need to get the enrollment numbers up): today's fiasco, in addition to the crumbling infrastructure of the campus (one building semi-demolished even as we're still teaching in it), is unlikely to send students the message of confidence we'd like to project.

In the "good news" department, however, my own stint in Advisement was pretty well over when the system crashed, so the only effect to me personally was that I didn't have to try to keep working an additional 20 minutes to cover the 20 minutes I was late getting there. (I set the alarm for earlier than usual, but I used up the additional time doing my usual "I don't have to get to campus until later" morning activities, and ... well, oops.)

Class went fine. Nothing of great note in any particular direction.

P&B went fine as well. We were talking about promotion folders--and I'd only read one, so I essentially got to just say, "Pass." The nice thing is that I suddenly was wearing my guise as eminence grise of the committee and corral the conversation, monitor the passing of the "speaking stick," and say, "Should I read that one?" I will, of course, read any we didn't discuss today prior to next week's meeting, but today was pretty easy for me.

And I did finally talk to Cathy about scheduling adjuncts for spring. We have--as I think I've whined before--virtually zero time between New Year's Day and when we must have contracts signed, and as it happens, Cathy will be in London the week when I thought we'd be in her office sweating blood over the falling chains of dominos. However, Cathy has very intelligently prevented one of the larger issues we've encountered in the past: faculty who are teaching a multi-disciplinary course (i.e., one not housed specifically in our department) have it on their schedules as an adjunct course, in addition to a full load of English courses. One of the problems we often have is that the multidisciplinary courses don't run, and then we're scrambling for something to fill the schedule for a full-time faculty member. As things now stand, if the multidisciplinary course runs, the faculty member can opt to teach it as an adjunct course, making some extra money, or can drop something from his or her full-time schedule, which we can then assign to an adjunct.

The other thing that will make our lives easier than they've been is that there just aren't very many courses to cover. Cathy has cut way back on what we're offering--which not only will make it more likely that all courses have good enrollment but also will mean we don't have to take courses away from people because they're not running. The "worst case" scenario is actually a good case: we may have to open new sections of courses if we have more students than we have seats. But those newly opened sections go to adjuncts. The people who are going to suffer, of course, are the adjuncts: a lot of people who are used to getting multiple courses may get only one--or none. It's dreadful for them, but that's the nature of the beast at the moment.

For me, the best news of all this is that Cathy and I may be able to get preliminary adjunct assignments done in December; then that first week in January, I might have to come to campus a bit, but mostly I can simply monitor enrollment from home in my bunny slippers (I really should get a pair of bunny slippers), keeping in touch with Cathy and Lori, our spectacular office administrator, by email. That works for me.

Right at this red-hot moment, I will continue the self-indulgent theme of the afternoon. Having allowed myself a few "bite size" pieces of chocolate, I will now allow myself to head home before 8 p.m. I have plenty to keep me occupied the next two days, but I'll figure out what I need to do when I'm back in the office. I'm pretty sure I'm packed up and ready to roll to Advisement as soon as I get in tomorrow, and that's enough planning ahead for the moment. Sufficient unto the day are the smashing plates thereto. I've got the plates spinning well enough to last over night--and I'll be sweeping up the shards tomorrow.