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


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!






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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Another non-post post.

I feel like every level of my life is falling apart right now. I'm going home, and I don't know when/if I'll get more work done or have anything productive to say in the blog. Forgive me, dear readers, if I vanish for a bit. I'm just under the sofa.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Going for the World Cup in Procrastination

Well, my mouse plans have again gone agly: I marked I think three of the essays from the SF class and did not, after all, do any marking of discussion boards on Sunday. As I started to write this post, however, I thought, "Oh, for God's sake, Prof. P: do the discussion boards."

So I did that. And I did mark a few assignments in Advisement. But the enormous, teetering piles of stuff I have yet to address are growing every day--and so far, nothing much has been getting returned.

But this is what "tomorrow" is for, right? I spent most of my break (e.g., office hour) between classes talking with Paul about topics various and sundry--brushing only briefly against the amount of work I'm putting off doing--and now it's late enough that I want to get home. Which means, despite my desire to sleep endlessly, an early alarm tomorrow, so I can make a little proverbial hay before class--and hope that, despite the alarm, I have enough energy after class (and P&B) to crank through some more before collapsing for the day.

I did gain a teeny bit of time tomorrow: the Drama Queen student has yet another life crisis, so I'm encouraging her to withdraw. I actually feel a bit bad about calling her that: if she really is going through what she says she is, her life is truly hell, and I would hate to think she wasn't getting support and encouragement in a dreadful time. My communications have, in fact, been supportive--albeit somewhat chilly in the advice (no "you can do it" pep talks but "yes, it's time to quit" cold dose of reality). But I don't think she'll be showing up for her mentoring appointment--or if she does, it should only be long enough for me to sign the withdrawal form.

I grant you, that 30 minutes isn't a lot of time to put to any good use, but as long as I'll be in the office anyway, I'll try to make the best I can of it.

Now, however, I'm going home. I was saying to Paul earlier that I'm in practically complete and total "hide under the sofa" mode: I'll curl up here with the dust bunnies and hope everyone and everything just goes away and leaves me alone. If I could, I'd tender my resignation effective immediately, pack a U-Haul, and head for the (literal or metaphoric) hills. That not being a viable option for a bunch of reasons, I will at least concede defeat for today--and pull the Scarlett O'Hara number. (I wonder if Scarlett ever considered hiding under the sofa? It works for my cat...)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Posting from home

I had an opportunity to get out of the office early today, and although I could conceivably have stayed and gotten more work done (or at least more sorting of work into stacks), I decided that it would be a lovely treat to get home while it's still light out.

So, here I am. The observation with the adjunct was ... interesting. I won't say more about it. But one of her students did want to talk with me after, to express some concerns--and, I think, just to feel he had a connection with someone in a position of at least a little authority.

But a much better student encounter was before class. I didn't see the student I thought I might see (and I don't think I missed him, even though I got to the office much later than I anticipated), but I saw a student from the earlier 101. His face reminds me a bit of one of my nephews, which is interesting, but he came in--obviously having sprinted across campus--to ask me how much trouble he'd be in because his upload to Turnitin was late. Apparently he tried to submit a number of times last night, unsuccessfully, but finally tried again once on campus and was successful. Under the circumstances, I told him, I wouldn't take the penalty. He was greatly relieved by that--and he told me that just finishing the essay felt like an enormous relief. He is also concerned about the low marks on his discussion board posts, so we talked about how he could improve those--and then we just started talking, about what other courses he's taking, about his ambitions. He wants to be a marine biologist, specifically to study sharks. Very cool. I did tell him he'd be doing a lot of writing as part of that--and that the next essay will use APA style, which is what he'll use most often in the sciences. But it was great just to chat with him for a bit.

I love those one-on-ones. I know I say that a lot, but it's true. They're great.

Today's class, talking about the beginning of Oryx and Crake, was great, too. The Budding Literary Critic was there but not as aggressive and borderline snotty as he can be; in fact, he was uncharacteristically quiet, but when he did contribute, what he had to say was very intelligent (as it usually is) and perceptive. Just about everyone was coming up with good points to share, interesting ideas--and they inspired me to riff a little more, go a little further, than I normally would, in terms of bringing in some of the wider contexts. Not quite theory--though they've had an introduction to that from the Budding Literary Critic and the (now withdrawn) Sometimes Snotty Student--but a sense of what some of the more common themes are in SF generally. We talked about post-apocalyptic narratives, about dystopias, utopias, and eutopias, about SF as social commentary...

When they get rolling, they really are great. I know whatever high I feel from being in class with them will be brought crashing down when I start grading their essays, but, well, I'm sort of used to that.

And their essays (and reading notes that I've collected) were what I chose to bring home to work on this weekend. It might have made more sense to work on the essays for the 101s, as they will embark on their second essays before the SF students do, but the stack of stuff for the SF students was just not as unwieldy. When I collect final versions from the 101s, they come freighted with all the previous versions and various other bits, so they look a great deal more daunting than they are.

Oh, yeah: and I brought home the discussion board tracker, too. I've decided that Sunday afternoons will be my dedicated time to work on discussion boards (except in those weeks when I'm frantically turning around essays prior to conferences). I want to establish some habits for when I'm teaching entirely online--assuming I do teach Nature in Lit online in the spring. (Long story of SNAFUs there, which I won't get into now: it's too depressing, and I'm too tired.)

I think that's about all I've got for now. I will be leaving when my house-cleaner arrives, so the only question at the moment is whether to practice fiddle for a bit or just fiddle around. The former, I think, in the "get it done now and then you don't have to worry about it" plan.

And tomorrow, as we all know all too well, is another day.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Another non-post

Nothing to say tonight. I'm exhausted and not feeling well. I'm going home.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Not my best thing...

OK, I admit it. Those of you who know me personally already know this, but patience is not my best thing. I can, in some circumstances, be endlessly patient--to the point that I surprise the hell out of myself. But most of the time, garden variety circumstances, my patience tanks hold about a pint of patience, after which they run dry and what comes out instead is almost teeth-gritted annoyance.

In my own defense, however, I have to say that the situation that taxed my patience today would probably have been vexing even for someone with much bigger patience reservoirs than mine.

Student in the SF class. I don't know anything about his background, or what his situation is now, except that he's not seeking a degree here; he's just taking every literature class that catches his eye. I may have mentioned him before: he's a little older than the usual student; if he were a decade or two older I'd think of him as a cast-iron hippie--but I also wonder if he was ever in the military because his behavior has all the hallmarks of TBI: traumatic brain injury. I've had students with TBI before, and it's extremely difficult to deal with. Classic symptoms include difficulty concentrating or processing information, memory problems, and emotional disturbances or irritability. In the case of this student, the "emotional disturbances" are more along the lines of difficulty with impulse control and--ironically, in this circumstance--impatience. (He also is a heavy smoker, so he comes to class reeking of it, and it's a smell I have a very hard time with: gives me headaches.) But I've explained to him at least three times what he has to do to successfully upload his essay to Turnitin, and he cannot get it. He says he's "bad with computers"--and today I finally had to say that he won't be able to get along very well if he doesn't develop a better relationship with them than he has. I feel for him: I know his behaviors are not under his control in a lot of ways. But God, I find it frustrating in the extreme, and today, I very nearly snapped--in the "I am not going to do this for you; you have to get help from the kind of people whose job it is to help you with this stuff" kind of snap.

Sigh. Well, anyway.

Today, two students withdrew from the class. One had missed six classes (out of ten class meetings); the other was the smart but sometimes snotty young man. I will miss the smarts of the occasionally snotty student--but there's still enough intellectual wattage in the room to make the class work well enough, I think.

I hope so, at any rate. I've asked Scott to sub for me on the 26th, and he agreed, though he doesn't usually sub. We've had some interesting conversations about Oryx and Crake, which is what the students will be working on, so I'll be curious to see what he manages to get out of them on the day.

For now, however, I am astonished to relate that I think I'm actually ready to leave for the evening. It is dark, but that's more about the season of the year than about my being here late. I'm sure as I'm driving home, I'll think "Oh, I meant to say something about that in the blog." But so be it. I have not only run out of patience, I've effectively run out of operational intelligence for the evening. I get to go home and make horrible noises on a fiddle instead of fiddling around here any more tonight. And we will see what the morrow brings.

Monday, October 9, 2017

That sinking feeling/that better feeling

That sinking feeling when one realizes somehow one has not marked (or even seen printouts of) four essays for the class one is about to teach in an hour.

That better feeling when one manages--by severely truncating the amount of commenting--to get through somewhere between eight and ten essays marked in 75 minutes, so everything could be returned to students on time.

Another sinking feeling: when one begins to think one might be being snowed by a student one likes very much (one of the veterans: he's had just one too many things going on, so either his life is really an utter train wreck right now--which is possible--or he's putting one over).

A slightly different feeling--mild annoyance perhaps?--when one has frantically marked two student essays only to have the students decide to withdraw from the class. (Or the student didn't show up for class, in another case or two.)

Well, there it is: the sink and bob to the surface of life in the (apparently flooded, given the metaphor) trenches.

I kept meaning to post to the blog as I was trying--mostly unsuccessfully--to grind through marking essays this weekend. I did a very good stint yesterday, but Friday and Saturday, I ended up feeling almost woozy with fatigue and in desperate need of a nap. The napping was great, but it did cut into the grading time.

But I got 'em done. I still have a smallish mountain of stuff to whack through and get back to students ASAP--and I'm going to collect the first essay from the SF students tomorrow (o frabjous day!), so as is typical for this time of semester, the work is pretty much constant high waves interspersed with the occasional tsunami.

I also spent some time this weekend completely redoing the assignment schedule for the 101s. I realized that I'd only allowed two weeks between the final version of the first essay and the first version of the second essay, which is insane, not only for the students but for me. I grant, it did give us a nice amount of time to do a ton of reading for the final essay, but I decided I should even things out a little.

The added bonus cherry on top is that in doing so, I also managed to avoid having to grade a mountain of essays over my birthday weekend. Who's just so smart?

And I figured out a much easier way to explain the correct use of apostrophes in possessives than the lesson I used to give. I recognize that language and rules of punctuation change over time, but it was interesting that the students said, "I've never seen that before. I mean, I've seen it used, but no one ever taught it before." Yeah, well, now you know: singular possessive = 's; plural possessive--if the possessive is formed by adding an -s (or -es, or changing y to -ies) ending = s'; plural possessive when the word itself changes (thanks to the holdovers from old English) = 's. Who knew? (I did. And most of my colleagues. But I may be the only one who's bugged enough by it to teach it.)

And I'm kinda too tired to say much more tonight. I have to be in Advisement at 9:30 tomorrow morning, making up time that I gave up to conferences. So, I'd better stagger off home--and leave the office to the workers who are coming in to fix the alarm system...

Thursday, October 5, 2017

"I have a question: If you have an appointment with a professor who has a Ph.D., is it a conference or is it a doctor's appointment?"

I laughed out loud. That was where one of my best students ended his conference with me. He's ultra-super bright (can't write very well, but the rest is wonderful) and he's yet another military veteran with an actual adult life. It was great to end my week on that note.

The two veterans I have as students this semester--one in each class--have very similar affect: sense of humor, confidence, dedication to their work. Interestingly enough, they're both also fire fighters. Maybe that contributes as well (and come to think of it, they both have qualities that are somewhat like one of my nephews, who is also a fire fighter though not a military vet).

I'm happy to report that having the good student at the end of the day managed to remove the twitchy anger I felt after meeting with the Media Mogul. I asked how I could help--with his revision of his essay--and he made a snarky comment about all the articles he has to write for the student paper. He didn't really listen to or give a half of a shit about any of my feedback. He gives a lot of "gotcha, gotcha" head nodding and it's utterly obvious that everything is just bouncing off the surface. I hate to say it, but part of me is actively looking for the infraction I can use to boot him from the class. He gets on my nerves. That overweening confidence is guaranteed to raise my hackles. I try to maintain a calm and professional demeanor around him, but all I want to say is "Get the fuck out of my face, you obnoxious little shit."

And then a young man walks in who is worth 50 of the Media Mogul, infinitely more intelligent and articulate--and he not only is prepared with specific things he wants me to explain, he is very humble about his abilities.

At the end of class today, I talked with a couple of students about the essay topics, formatting, submitting to Turnitin--and one stayed even longer after class because he's been slaving over his reading notes and getting marks that are below passing. He spent 10-1/2 hours on one set--but it was all, all, summary. He said, almost wailing, "But I'm including more quotations!" Yes, but you don't do anything with them except summarize. I asked him how much benefit he would gain for his forthcoming essay from reviewing his notes. He conceded that he wouldn't get any. Ah: there you go then. So I've suggested that he make an appointment with me so we can sit down and talk in detail about notes--and I've made an agreement with him that if his notes improve, I'll give the same marks to his earlier summaries that I give to the notes that actually do what they're supposed to do.

He was one of two students to be upset about getting low marks on notes no matter how long they were--and both were summarizing. I know what I'm asking isn't easy. That's part of why I'm asking it.

In the "more good news" department (or perhaps the "be grateful for small favors" department), I did have just enough time between appointments to mark all the homework I'd collected from the SF class (prior to today's), so I could return that (whew), and to get all the various assignments from the 101s organized into "need immediate attention" and "can wait" stacks. I still need to make sure I have the handout I need for Monday already placed my wheelie pack, and I have a tsunami of work to try to paddle through over the weekend, but it's organized, which feels much better than having things strewn all over the map.

I just took a minute, too, to complete my record keeping of all the appointments. That feels good to have done. And now, I'm going to water the plants, put the needed handouts in my pack for Monday, and head off--while it's still light outside. My "evening supervisor" hours have been truncated (as I'm getting paid for fewer of them: this is the second time my hours have been reduced); I am sorry not to get the extra money, but getting to leave earlier is some compensation.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Staggering over the finish line...

I almost didn't manage to squeeze out the last two essays for tomorrow's conferences--especially as a student showed up for conference today, and although I thought she hadn't submitted her essay (one less for me to mark!), not only had she submitted it, I'd confirmed the submission with her and it was in my files. Fortunately she was understanding about it (or was able to fake being understanding, which is close enough for me), and we set up an appointment for tomorrow morning. So that meant that I didn't have three essays to mark, as I originally expected, but seven.

And I still got them all done. According to the little clock on my campus computer, I hit "send" on the last one at 8:01 p.m.

Ye gods and little fishes.

At some points, I'll try to remember to say a little about a student I spoke to today; he's the one who had to call his mother for his password, and our encounter today revealed a nastier side to his personality--not by a lot, just a smidge. And another student who had made almost no impression on me either way in class turns out to be quite bright--and to have a charming smile, which I'd not seen before. These individual conferences are revealing in a lot of ways.

The good news now is, not only do I get to go home before 10 p.m. tonight, and not only do I not have to get up at 4 a.m. tomorrow, I can actually spend some time tomorrow between and around appointments pulling together all the work I need to take home to mark over the weekend, figuring out what I got back from Printing in terms of handouts (and when I need to hand them out) and groovy things like that.

Now, however, after this miniature blog post, I am going to stagger off to my car and carefully drive home. My back has been killing me the last three days from all the time I've spent nailed to this chair; I'm looking forward to walking across campus a time or two tomorrow, just to get some of the kinks out.

I'm sure I'll be bitching over the weekend about how much work I have to do, but none of it is essay grading.

I don't have the energy to sing the "Hi-ho" song, but now, it's home from work I go.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Painfully tired

Two more essays remain to be graded for tomorrow. I cannot, cannot, cannot squeeze them out tonight. I've gone too short on sleep for too long, and I'm now so tired it hurts.

So, tomorrow, I have those two, which I have to do first thing in the morning, plus six now for Thursday. I missed seeing one that had been submitted on time (wishful thinking, perhaps?) and two came in late--but I'm going to allow them to proceed.

I realized today that I wasn't taking points off for the late submissions. I need to make a record of that for myself and take the points off the final versions for the students who submitted late. I don't quite know what to do about the students who submitted late enough that, at five points per day for each submission (printout and Turnitin upload), the penalties would be more points than the essay would earn.

I do know I'm going to have to scream at the students in the 5:00 section. They're just falling apart at the seams, and the few students who are any good in there are suffering terribly because their classmates are not giving them work to respond to. I had to make an agreement with one student that I'd give her full marks for her discussion boards even if she couldn't respond to two classmates with any substance--because what she had to respond to was so inadequate. I may talk to the five or so students in that class who are worth something and let them know that they can just talk to each other and ignore everyone else on the discussion boards. And I'll try to make sure they end up in groups together as often as possible. They deserve the good experience. The rest of the class, I'm not very interested in coddling.

Shifting gears, back to the essay grading issue: I do realize that since we instituted the ENG100 course (which fulfills the same function as 101 but includes an extra 50-minute lab for more intensive writing work and is used to house the "high fails" on placement tests), generally the writing in 101 classes is a little better than it used to be. There's still a pretty wide range, but the ones on the bottom tier are on a slightly higher rung than was the case before ENG100. I've heard tell that the converse is true of 001, the basic developmental writing course: the students there tend to be worse than they used to be. (One more reason I'm glad I've never taught 001 and don't intend to.)

Shifting gears again: P&B today was partly just grinding through business as usual (getting ready to mentor people for sabbatical and promotion), but at the end, Cathy did talk a bit about how hard it is to accomplish even the most basic, routine tasks because apparently a lot of the administrators either are too dazed and confused to stay on top of their work or are deliberately causing bottle-necks and ignoring requests for solutions to problems. The seminar hours meeting that started the day was similarly grim (and Cathy was venting about some of the same problems, to the point that Scott had to say that he needed to turn the meeting from being a Faculty Anger support group to a seminar hours committee). My tolerance for the bullshit on this campus is rapidly diminishing--and was never very high to begin with. The campus is falling apart--in terms of a lot of the buildings, literally falling apart. Part of me almost hopes we do lose our accreditation and have to shut down, as I would pretty much be forced to retire (though I'd hate for my colleagues to have to suffer the consequences of closure, even if we reopen the next day as a campus of Suffolk CC). Meetings like those really do make me want to flee to the hills (or mountains, actually).

But on the other side, there are the students who want to meet with me weekly for mentoring. There's the Drama Queen (which may be unfair to her, but I'm not sure how else to label her) and there's another young man who told me that he thinks I'm crazy to put what I do into my classes--but who also tells me how much he needs what I have to offer. I don't know enough about his story to give him a moniker yet, but I do look forward to seeing him on a weekly basis. (And it makes my stats look good in terms of the number of seminar hours I book.)

But now, it's getting late--again--and I desperately need to get home and wind down. I don't want to look ahead at all, as while I'm grinding out all the essays I'm marking now, other homework is piling up and needs to be tended too. It will be another weekend of immersion in student work. No brain breaks on the horizon for this battered professor. Battered and fried. (Oh, food: there's an idea!)

More tomorrow, if I survive the night.

Monday, October 2, 2017

SNAFU

Apparently, I was more tired and distracted than I was aware yesterday, as the last six or seven of the essays I emailed to students didn't reveal my comments. I thought I was checking each one before I sent it, but obviously not.

So, as soon as I get home, I need to send them--and try to remember to put everything on a thumb drive to bring back to the office so I have it on this computer, not just at home.

I realized as I was grading today that a student had submitted his essay to Turnitin late; I thought he hadn't submitted it at all and was being grateful I didn't have to have it graded today--but oops. So, I graded that, on top of the ones I needed to grade for tomorrow's conferences.

I have no idea how I'm going to get the essays for Wednesday graded tomorrow. For one thing, I have to stop accepting them late--but even so, I don't know how I'll get through them. Especially as the lack of sleep from the past about week is starting to really take a toll on my attention and my stamina.

So, this is going to be a very brief post. I need to get home. I need to get those essays sent. I need to eat. I need to sleep.

And tomorrow will be whatever tomorrow is. I'll figure it out one way or another. Probably another. Oh god, shoot me now.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Done for Monday...

I wish I had it in me to squeeze out two more essays--half of Tuesday's quota--but I don't. I am pleased, however, that I got everything marked for tomorrow, including one essay that I thought I didn't have but in fact did (so I had eight to do today, not seven). And I still managed to get them done in the time I allotted for myself today: I wanted to get them done by 7:00, and I did.

Not that I'm doing that well on keeping the time per essay down, however: that's eight essays in approximately five hours. WAY too much time. I don't know how to get it down to two per hour, but I really do have to manage that.

Of course, I've been saying that for years, and I'm still not able to do it. Sigh.

But the fact that I can knock off for the evening now is good. I haven't slept for shit for nights now, and it's having a toll on my ability to concentrate and make sense. (It's also slowing down my typing, as I make more errors than usual.)

Still. Done is beautiful. And somewhere tomorrow, I'll find time to grade the four for Tuesday--and maybe a few of the ones for Wednesday. I know, I know, but hope springs eternal.

No more blogging tonight, though. I'm wrapping it up. More tomorrow.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Well, at least I'm outpacing the snail.

I got seven essays marked today. That's about half what I'd hoped--and yes, I'm spending way too long on each one (closer to an hour than the 30 minutes I should allot). This is the down-side of electronic marking: once the keyboard is under my fingers, it's like a horse with the bit between its teeth: there's no stopping me. I have tried to comment less as I go through an essay (to avoid endless iterations of the same basic comments), and I have saved at least a few comments that I seem to be using repeatedly--primarily the one about avoiding personal voice.

And the fact that so many students used personal voice gives me another of those moments of self-doubt and self-castigation: clearly, my mind says, I didn't spend enough time talking to them about avoiding personal voice, even though I showed them the example that I wanted them to follow. Still, essay after essay includes the personal anecdote--or at best, personal experience very thinly veiled as representative of what all college students experience.

I'm telling myself that their use of personal voice is OK for this first version of the first essay: let them do it a little at first, but then have them revise their way out of it. The problem I've experienced in the past, however, is that they simply turn "I" into some generic term, with results like this: "When a person first got to college, he didn't expect the strict attendance policies that he found in his English class. He also got way too many handouts..."

Really. Seriously. Can I retire now?

What with one thing or another, I am in "flight" mode these days. I have the profound urge to chuck everything and run away--but I know that's a momentary response to feeling tired, frustrated, and, well, self-castigating.

So I just spent way too long trying to get a design for a little "static" symbol rubber stamp to use on the editing review of the essays--which accomplishes nothing worthwhile, neither in terms of life maintenance nor in terms of getting any actual work done. My doing that is yet another sign--as if more were needed--that I'm feeling frustrated and looking for diversions.

Well, perhaps I'll do better tomorrow. Today I didn't get up out of the chair much; I'm always unsure what's more productive: to just sit and work (and body be damned) or get up, lose some time to walking around, but maybe (??) have better focus when I sit down again. I do tend to lose focus very quickly and easily, if my attention is distracted, which is why I often opt for the "just sit and grind" choice.

By the way, in terms of how much grading I have to do prior to each day of conferencing, Wednesday is actually pretty easy--so far. If a bunch of students suddenly go, "OMG, I just got your email and I totally forgot to upload my essay; can I do it now??"--and if I say, "Yes, you may, this one time, but there will be a whopping penalty"--I may have more marking to do at the last (or last-ish) minute. But for Monday, I have the majority of the essays available to mark--fifteen of them, compared to eight for Wednesday (out of fourteen appointments). I actually have more appointments on Monday--there just are little breaks here and there in the day, which makes it seem less onerous than the back-to-back-to-back appointments on Wednesday. Five appointments, four essays for Tuesday. Eight appointments, three essays for Thursday. I am going to be very ready for that respite. (Of course, I also have to do the editing review, but I am, as I think I said before, only going to mark a few examples of each category of error and primarily use the rubric--so my goal is 10 minutes per essay on those.)

Argh, blech. I can't any more. I'll probably post tomorrow, though. Here's hoping I get through the seven remaining for Monday's appointments plus at least a few for Tuesday....

Friday, September 29, 2017

I've seen faster snails...

I took my laptop on the train to Manhattan today, when I went in for a doctor's appointment. I had high hopes of getting two essays marked on the way in, two on the way home.

One. I did one.

I grant, I did a lot of futzing around with the format and phrasing of the rubric sheet I attach to each student's essay, but I really can't continue like this, or I'm going to be pulling all-nighters, or as close to them as my aging body and brain can handle.

I didn't get any more done after I was back out here, because life maintenance took precedence. This is one of those awful moments--all too familiar to me and to readers of this blog--when I realize that as much as I hate the fact that so many students fell into a hole over this first essay, it has saved me from utter, abject panic of the "How am I ever going to get all this done?" variety.

Fiddle lesson tomorrow: cancelled. I need the day to just nail my butt to the chair and my eyes to the computer and crank hard.

But I truly do feel like the world's worst teacher right now: I'm second guessing everything. Did I tell them X? Did I sufficiently emphasize Y? Did I go over P, W, and G well enough? (No, no, no, my inner critic says.)

On the other hand, one of my favorite students of this semester sent me an email today telling me how much he appreciates all I do and saying that all his friends are hearing about me. I don't think I've talked about him, actually. Mea culpa: this is because it's often easier for me to focus on the negatives than the positives. I'm not sure what nickname I want for him just yet, but he's one of those street-smart young men from a hard background who is deeply sincere about learning and doing well. I have a suspicion that his personal life has been a bit of a train wreck. For instance he told me on Wednesday that for nine months he thought he was going to be a father, but he and his ex-girlfriend--the mother of the baby--agreed to have a DNA test done, and he isn't, which breaks his heart on a number of levels, and he's now trying to figure out if he should stay in the ex-girlfriend's life, as he basically has been raising her first child (by another guy) for the past three years (essentially, all of the child's life). Of course, I do think, "Haven't they ever heard of birth control??" But more, I appreciate his desire to do right by the three-year-old child, a little girl, while he also works to better himself through a college education. And he's really smart. Marginally educated, but really, whip-smart. And he very clearly has a deeply open and loving heart, which melts mine. In fact, now I think of it, he reminds me of my nephew who died in 2013. No wonder I feel so fond of this young man in my class.

So, there's all that. And all I can do from here is get as much done over the next two days as possible. Wednesday is going to be the hardest day of conferences--assuming everyone shows up--as I have them back to back from 1:20 to 6, I think. Lord give me strength.

And Lord give me a good night's sleep tonight. I certainly deserve it.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Whose responsibility?

Yesterday and today, I got a few emails from students who clearly were under the misapprehension that they can submit their essays whenever they want and that yesterday's "peer review" session was just an empty exercise on "drafts"--despite my explanations to the contrary. That's on top of the students who simply didn't turn anything in and haven't contacted me either. One student clearly felt all she needed to do was the upload to Turnitin, nothing else.

So, here's the thing. I didn't hammer the deadlines and late paper penalties with them. In fact, I didn't really spend much time on an explanation of all the nuts and bolts of submission, in part because I ran out of time and in part because--foolishly--I expected them to pay attention to the assignment handout because I said, "Read over page two carefully; it has all the information about late penalties and so on."

I am again slapped in the face with the fact that I need to simplify stuff for them because 1. When confronted with multiple handouts, they get lost, 2. When confronted with text more complicated than simple 1-2 line bullet points, they blank out (and everything turns into "Blah blah blah, Ginger"), 3. They cannot handle a process that is more than about two steps long--and even that's pushing it.

Of course, those points are infuriating, frustrating, and even saddening to me: they should be able to do all those things (or at least 2 and 3), god dammit, and the fact that they can't makes me want to scream and rant and throw heavy objects.

Nevertheless, that's where they are. It's a pathetic reality, but it's a reality.

Two things need to be addressed. The more pressing is what to do about the alarming number of students who are missing part or all of their submissions--especially as at least a few of those students are well intentioned and potentially very good, once they understand the process. (Oh, and that reminds me of another subject for ranting: they seem to think that all they need to do is send an email and the situation is covered, without their ever checking for a response--especially a response that might let them know they are operating on a faulty assumption. But I digress.) I don't know what to do about those students. All I can think is to take it case by case, even though doing so ends up being uncomfortably subjective--but there is no "one size fits all" solution to the problem. Some of them deserve to face-plant into the sidewalk. Some deserve to be caught just short of the full smash--enough to scare the shit out of them but not to trash their chances at a reasonable grade for the semester.

The long-range problem to address is the complexity issue, and this is a more thorny problem to address, as essentially it means I have to rewire my brain (which is unlikely to happen between now and January). Or I need to borrow Paul's brain: he has a genius for being simple and direct--and cutting out the obfuscations. I'm quite serious about this: I really feel incapable of thinking in the bullet-point directness students need.

Saying that, I realize how torturous it is for them to do the opposite: move from their own simplistic thinking to the broader, more extensive mental explorations I require of them. Note to self: bring this up in class--not only that I am aware what I'm asking feels completely foreign but that there's a chance it may actually be somewhat impossible. I honestly don't know how much someone on their end of the spectrum really can expand, just as I honestly don't know how much I really can simplify, at least without help.

I am interested to note that my concern over the 101 students has completely overwhelmed any thoughts I have about the SF class, which I met with today. A number of students were absent (some apparently permanently), but in general, the class discussion was good. I hope I wasn't unduly snappish in my written comments to the young man who seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder (and who fancies himself quite the expert at analytical thought already--though I've yet to see much sign of it in his work), but his self-evaluation did arouse a response in me that I am not altogether proud of: he's the kind of kid I want to knock down several pegs. He is not, in fact, as advanced as he thinks he is, and part of me relishes disabusing him of his inflated sense of his abilities--but on the other hand, he is genuinely intelligent and if he had just a smidgen more humility, would probably be an excellent student. He may actually be more humble than he appears; I was pleased (and a bit ashamed) to see that he was carefully reading my comments. And it wasn't until I wrote that sentence that it dawned on me that he may just want to impress me: he may not think he's that wonderful, but it may be important to him that I think he's that wonderful. Ultimately, I do want to encourage him, but I also want him to have a realistic sense of where he stands.

Some echoes with my conversation with the Media Mogul last  night.

But what I like most about the SF class is that the students--for the most part--seem to hunger for the intellectual depth they find in my class: they're soaking in as much as they can, and it's deeply gratifying. I was similarly gratified that I got two expressions of desire for what I have to offer from 101 students today. One had to withdraw, more's the pity. I don't know what she'd be capable of as a student, but she seemed to really want to be in the class, and she said she wanted to take it from me in the spring. Of course, there are grains of salt sprinkled around here, but still: it's nice.

The other student is one of those who was late with his work--but he did submit both portions today, and when he came by to drop off the printout of his essay, he made a point of telling me that the rigor of my class is what he needs: that he doesn't like writing and struggles with it, but he knows how important it is and feels he'll be forced to advance his skills in my class. He's been absent a fair amount his semester (family issues, I found out today), but when he's been in class, it's been clear that he's got the intellectual chops to do well. I just wish the other three young men in that class with the most promise hadn't blown up over this first essay, as apparently they did. (Hence the panicked reaching out to Paul for aid.)

One last thing to report: I met with a student today in my capacity as evening supervisor. I won't do anything until I hear the professor's side of the equation, but from what the student said, I think the professor may have overreacted, though I can understand why. There is a way of being very direct that can come across as disrespectful and confrontational, and students frequently don't understand why professors react with anger to that kind of directness--and I'm among the professors who can have that angry response, so I completely understand my colleague's reactions. But I do want to help the student if I can without infringing on my colleague's authority. It will be interesting to see how that all shakes out.

Between that and the way I dealt with an adjunct I will be observing in a few weeks, I sometimes think I am just too soft. I know: doesn't gibe with my "big brass balls" image, but I really do have a mushy streak. The original "everything is black or white" kid: in my make-up there is very little grey area between mush and brass. Ah well.

And now I have one hell of a weekend ahead of me: shitloads of essay grading--because I need to get as much done over the next three days as possible, in order to not drown in everything that's coming down the pike right behind what I have already. I also realized last night that, like an absolute moron, I scheduled the next essays to arrive the day before my birthday, so I'll spend my birthday weekend in a similar stew (though I'm sure there will have been some significant attrition by then, if the lack of submissions on this round are anything to go by).

That's still a ways down the road, however. Sufficient unto this weekend is the grading thereof. And it's now late enough that I really need to get home to start my wind-down process (which takes for-fucking-ever, especially when I'm frustrated and feeling like a crappy teacher). I will pack up my take-home tote-bag and stagger off into the ... well, the sun already set, so the increasing autumnal darkness.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Lots of AWOL

The difference between the two sections of 101 was made obvious today. In the earlier section, there were more students present than on Monday, and all but one had essays in hand, ready to work. In the later section, ten out of twenty-four students were AWOL--including two of the best students in the class--and one didn't have an essay with him. A couple of them were clearly completely uninterested in doing the work; in fact, one of them has made his disdain for the class manifest in every possible way. He'll be getting an early warning from me, as well as an official one once the system has been activated: he's done virtually zero work. I was surprised he had an essay with him today (and I'm most curious to see what he wrote).

Another "issue" with that later section is in the form of one particular student. I may have mentioned him before: he's quite bright, and has a big personality, but he's the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, and it's gone completely to his head. He's late every class--and his writing leaves a hell of a lot to be desired simply in terms of correct "GSP" (grammar, spelling, punctuation), not to mention that he has a habit of shooting from the hip (to use a cliché) instead of actually thinking--and he perpetually shills for the paper.

So after class, I had a longer, more serious talk with him. I truly doubt that I got through; he knows how to act as if he's being respectful and cares, but I've been to this fire too many times to buy it. Students who are deeply involved in other aspects of campus life--the paper, student government, whatever--almost always are disasters in the classroom. The other stuff is understandably a lot more fun, and all of it--class as well as the other activities--can easily take up every morsel of a person's time. They prioritize the other stuff, and their course work goes to hell.

I was pretty fierce with this young man and told him that he needs to decide now whether he wants to prioritize the paper or my class--but once we're through with this essay process, if he comes to class late, I'm going to tell him to turn around and leave: he's too disruptive. I also told him that he can shill the paper after class--but not during: class is not the forum for his trying to drum up business (or contributors). He "yes, ma'am"ed me, but as I said, I'm not buying it. For one thing, he said that he sees his extracurricular activities as being similar to being a student athlete, and "athletes get excused from class..." I jumped in: "Not by me." He was startled. "What happens if they have a game?" "It's one of their absences." Ooooh, harsh. We batted that around: this is not an athletic institution; it's an educational institution that supports athletics. I understand that our athletic teams are quite good, but I expect my colleagues in the Physical Education department to respect the work that I do.

This young man wants to be the CEO of his own media corporation. I suggested that, in that case, it might be a good idea if he could write without glaring errors at the very least. He admitted that he comes in for a fair amount of ridicule over his writing; I didn't tell him that once he gets into the work world, he'll face more than ridicule: he'll face disdain (and possible unemployment). He'll find that out in due time, if he doesn't button things up and start putting more of his emphasis on doing well in my class. He did say that his girlfriend, who goes to Fordham (I think he said) looked at the syllabus for my course and said, "Oh! It's a real college course." He also said--though it may have been lip service--that he likes the fact that my class is actually preparing students for what comes next, so they don't get smacked when they move on. As I said, he knows the things to say to please, but his actions may well tell another story. I reserve judgment. But I will cut him zero slack. He's had sufficient warning.

I will say that ending my day with that class left me in a bit of a "fuck this shit" mood. There is lots more work I could, should, do tonight before I go, but I'm just not going to do it. I really will have to get in early (or early-ish) tomorrow, however, as I realized today in Advisement that I've been holding on to student assignments in the SF class for way too long. (I also suspect that a lot of them are cheating on their homework, using online study guides, but I can't catch them at it, so I'll pretend I don't know.) So I truly do have to get those ready to return at 1, and there's a big, departmental Assessment colloquium tomorrow that I really can't miss, so my time before class is limited.

All the more reason to pretty much drop everything from today and leave it where it is until I can get to it later. And with that, my faithful readers, I am outta here.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Slightly more organized chaos...

This morning I opted to let myself sleep instead of yanking myself out of bed to be in the office at my usual time. In the short term, that may have been a minor error, but in the long term, I know taking care of my sleep is more important than work. Not that I don't still go sleep-deprived most of the time (me and almost every other U.S.-American), but when I can let myself get at least a little caught up, it's good to do.

However, that means I didn't make as much progress as I'd have liked in clearing up the chaos in the office. I foolishly told myself I could do that after P&B today--but I'd blissfully forgotten that I actually had some P&B business I had to tend to, including setting up a couple of observations. Between taking care of those little bits and orts and making sure other bits and orts were nailed down (setting up seminar hours appointments for students who can't see me, making a clean copy of the conference sign-up sheet, and so on), I neither got a chance to finish organizing nor managed to get any marking of homework for the SF class done. (I joked in class today that I'm putting together a very large collection of homework, but I feel it needs a better curator. They didn't get the humor.)

So, tomorrow is going to be, um, interesting. I have to be in to advisement early, to make up an hour that I missed last Monday (because--in the theme of today's post--I opted to sleep in a bit, which made me late), so I can't count on getting any organization done before I toddle over there. And then I'll be dealing with 101 students doing peer review of their essays and, well, whatever else needs to happen in the 101s.

I've lost track of what handouts I want them to have and what I've already given them. I will say that I didn't get some handouts to them as early in the process as I'd have liked (including, to be honest, the essay assignment). I truly do feel that I lost my brain somewhere at the end of the summer and have been trying to muddle along without one ever since.

The conversation in SF was good. The sometimes snotty student wasn't there, so another student stepped into that role. He's also very bright, somewhat resistant, and feels that he understands everything better than anyone, including me. (He might be right on that, given that my skull is filled with oatmeal, not brain.) But it was fun to manage a debate between him and another student, to acknowledge when an argument was well-made but also to challenge the argument. A lot of students were missing today. I don't blame them for not wanting to be in that classroom on a hot and humid day like today, but I am a little concerned that some of them may be dropping away. I've already apparently lost the student I had pegged as the best of the bunch, as I mentioned before. I hate when that happens.

In any event, we finished Frankenstein and now get to turn our attention to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (And let me remark--possibly repeat--how delightful it is that the Blade Runner sequel is coming out soon, a lovely instance of synchronicity.) I'll be curious to see what they make of it (and how they feel about the fact that the last three things we read have never been made into movies).

But now, I want to get out of here so I have time to practice fiddle before it gets late enough that I am not willing to torture the neighbors with the sound of it. And tomorrow is ... well, you know the rest.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Chaos and Confusion Reign

I have no idea where things are, what needs to be done, what I have and have not copied: I'm not entirely sure about anything (who am I again?). I'm not sure quite why I feel so completely disorganized at the moment, all my plans, like those of the best of mice, gang agly.

And yet I'm going to write this post in a tremendous hurry (so I can get out of here 30 minutes ago) and simply leave all the rampant disorder exactly like it is until I return tomorrow morning. I know this increases the likelihood that I will forget something important tomorrow, but so be it. When my mind is this scrambled, I know it's best to beat a hasty retreat and return to the fray fresh (or fresh-ish) in the morning.

Meanwhile, the gap between the two 101s increases. The students in the earlier section are doing their work (for the most part) on time (for the most part); the ones in the later section--even some of the "better" students (including the military veteran I like so much)--are falling down on the job: submitting partial assignments, or doing sub-par work, or simply missing assignments entirely. The earlier section also evidenced a lot more thought and care in terms of being ready to write their essays (despite the fear factor). I suspect Wednesday may be a bit of a debacle in the later class: lots of students late, or without essays, or whatever. Of course, it's possible that the same will happen in the earlier section as well--an alarming number of students were absent today, which is not a good sign--but I have a slightly better feeling about their chances to gut their way through this first version of their essays.

I just completed the first "attendance confirmation" report (required for all sorts of reasons); I decided to get it done now, even though it's not due for a while, or I'm sure it would turn into one of those pearls that drops through the floorboards. But as I did that, I realized that it's time for my own early warning to go out, even though the college's official "early warning" system is not yet up for this term. I don't know how aggressive I'm going to be about getting the warnings into the hands of the students who need them. Part of me thinks, "I should mail this to X's home address, so I'm sure he/she gets it." A larger part of me thinks, "This is college. Students need to learn--the hard way, if necessary--what they have to do, when, and how. I've already sent an email to the students who seem to have disappeared, warning them that they need to officially withdraw. If they don't check their email to see that communication, it's not my problem."

I suppose that's often the balancing act for me: the desire to nurture and support against the knowledge that they need to button up and get themselves in order toot sweet, learn those life lessons they need to learn sooner rather than later. It is time for them to encounter someone (preferably many someones) who say, "This is your responsibility. There is no wiggle room: it's absolute."

Well, whatever. I can feel my mind metaphorically turning off the lights as I keep nattering here, so I'll draw this to a close. We'll see what the morrow brings.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunday Post: When Mom writes your work...

I believe that in Wednesday's post (if we can cast our minds back that far) I mentioned a student who needed to call his mother to get his password to log on to the campus computers. I just read his self-evaluation and at least the first of his discussion boards, and either he is a great deal more facile with language and understands a great deal more than is apparent from his demeanor in class, or Mom is also doing his writing for him.

Even if I'm wrong in this case--and I might be--what the fuck is the matter with parents who do that??? Do they seriously think they are helping their children by keeping them dependent and delaying the moment when their inabilities end up being so manifest as to be crippling? Is Mom going to follow you to your career, too, and do all your work for you there? And don't you think your boss might eventually figure it out?

Years ago I gave up on doing in-class essays, deciding instead to focus on spending time working through revisions. I'm half a hair from reinstating the in-class midterm and final, as students can't fudge their way out of those. Even the students who get extra time for exams are proctored in the Center for Students with Disabilities, so someone is making sure the student is doing the work (or at least most of it, depending on the generosity of the proctor).

Well, whatever.

But I'm also kicking myself for not staying on top of the discussion board posts: students are already slipping, primarily in their responses to each other's posts. They either aren't doing the responses, or the responses are just, "I agree; you made a really good point." No, no, no. As I said in the earlier section's class meeting on Wednesday, they need to review the handout on discussion boards--because handouts are only helpful if the students actually read them.

In both classes, in fact, I think I have to ask whether they are actually reading my comments, whether my comments make sense, whether they are honestly trying to address my comments. This is particularly important for me to know before I launch into grading essays. If they're not reading comments, or can't take them in, I really don't need to spend time commenting.

Speaking of things I don't need to spend time doing, I had a bunch of rubric sheets copied, only to remember that I will be doing all my commenting electronically. I also decided (forgot, remembered that I decided) to only mark a rubric about editing concerns, not to mark up copies of their initial submissions. They get too confused by seeing marks on an essay that (at least in theory) they have changed considerably. If the specific sentence isn't there or has changed, they think the problem has disappeared. So perhaps if I simply mark the rubric, saying things such as "lots of sentence fragments" or "review comma use," they'll understand that they have to work through the revised essay, find the errors I'm pointing out, and fix them (by hand on a printout first, then type them up).

We'll see.

I lost a lot of much-needed work time this weekend to attend a "Breath, Body, Mind" workshop. Ironically, of course, the purpose of the workshop was to help us decrease stress, but I found myself stressed over the fact that I was in the workshop instead of churning through student assignments. I didn't get as far as I'd hoped to tonight, but I've been horribly sleep deprived for a number of nights now, so I hit the wall already: I cannot look at one more set of reading notes, one more discussion board post, one more anything having to do with work. (Well, maybe I'll check email. But otherwise, nope.)

And I may have to bail on Advisement tomorrow. We aren't seeing many students, but seeing any students is more than I feel I can handle and still get my own stuff done. I'll consider the options in the morning--and part of what will decide for me is how well I've slept.

In order to get good sleep tonight, in fact, I need to get off the computer now. I don't need that stimulus, neither mentally nor through the effect of the light from the computer screen on my production of melatonin....

More tomorrow--at which time you'll find out how successful I was at getting caught up on the work. Stay tuned for another exciting adventure in the trenches.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Love those 101s

Both my 101 classes are turning out to be great. The later section is a little slower to take off every day, and they're noticeably less lively, but they are still quite lovely. The earlier section is terrific. I spent some time today going through the posted self-evaluations--and the comments they left each other were kind and sweet and friendly. They're starting to use each other's names in class discussion: "As Drew said..." or "I'm sorry, I don't know your name...? [Jenny] As Jenny said..." They asked about a million very smart questions about the first essay, too. (I had to do more of the driving in the later section.) Between what I had to say to them about their annotations and notes and their questions about the forthcoming essay assignment, most of the period had been consumed before we turned our attention to the articles they read for today. I didn't have time in either class to split them into groups; I just opened things up to the class as a whole--and as was the case yesterday with the SF class, I was happy to note that even some of the more retiring students spoke up, especially in the earlier class.

The time in Advisement was pretty easy; I did spend most of the time on my own work, but the students I saw I sent away happy. One thought she had graduated, but there had been a SNAFU with her records, as she was following an antique major. We got that sorted out. Then as I was going through the degree evaluation for another student, I noticed that a few of her classes hadn't transferred, and I couldn't figure out why. Turns out, only one of the credits wouldn't apply, but the others she got, which made it that much easier for her to get her degree next summer. Score one for Prof. P.

I realize that I didn't mention an important student encounter yesterday, and it will be significant for most of the semester, I think. The young woman in the SF class who had been a disaster when she was my student several years ago came in to me for mentoring. We set up an appointment for every week at the same time: she just needs to know that someone is keeping an eye on her. She reports that she's been through a very difficult psychological battle since I saw her last, including (she says) being the victim of a sexual assault and trying to commit suicide. I am choosing to believe her. When she was last my student, I believed and was empathetic for a while until I started to think that it was all a manipulative act, a pity play by a consummate drama queen. That may be the case, and we may be starting on that trajectory again. But I'm going to call it as I see it and let the chips fall where they may. I told her I'd deal straight with her, and I wouldn't avoid being utterly real. She was a little shaky about that but appreciative. And she did write a gracious email, thanking me for my time. We'll see. If she does pull off a turn-around, that would be a fine thing indeed.

Campus is closed tomorrow for Rosh Hashanah, and I have some personal stuff going on every day through Sunday (some of the usual stuff, a few doctors' appointments, and a "Breath, Body, Mind" workshop on Saturday and Sunday). But I also have enormous stacks of marking that I have to do, on top of all the discussion boards I haven't evaluated yet. So, it's going to be one hell of a packed weekend--but I suppose that will keep me out of trouble.

In any event, I want to fly out of here. My wheelie pack is ready for Monday (except whatever homework I'm taking home); the plants are watered, photocopies are sorted, a new triage list has been made... I think that nails it. I may or may not post between now and Monday. (I like to keep you guessing.) And for those of you who are still tuning in: thank you.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Pulling the plug early

I have officially concluded my day here in the office, and although I "should" stay long enough to load up my wheelie pack for class tomorrow--and the part of my conscience that gets itchy way too easily is saying, "You know, Prof. P, you should probably do some work on all those discussion boards...," but I'm choosing to refuse to scratch that itch.

Being a bit slow on the uptake, especially when it comes to self-awareness, I have not realized until recently that the reason I used to have more time in the evenings to do things like, oh, exercise, is because I used to routinely take work home over the weekends. That's the calculus: I can have most of my weekends free of work if I stay in the office until past 8 p.m. every night, or I can get home early enough to practice the fiddle (which has replaced exercise in the equation of X number of waking hours in a day and Y number of things to do)--but if I get home early enough to practice, I have to work on the weekends. Pick your poison.

And, yes, I know there will be weeks when I end up doing both: staying in the office late and working at home on the weekend. But usually I'll be able to make the choice--and whenever possible, as long as I'm learning to play an instrument (a difficult instrument at that), I need that time in the evenings. That or routinely have dinner after 10 p.m., which also doesn't seem like a good way to crunch the numbers.

When I was talking to the barking-fit-inducing young woman in Advisement yesterday, I had to explain to her in all seriousness that being an adult means having to make decisions--and often the decision to do one thing means not doing something else. Or having one thing means going without something else. Decisions have consequences. Choices are that: a choice, and unlike on multiple-choice tests, rarely is the option "all of the above."

So. That's about this evening and my desire to drain the soapy water of the day.

Class was good. Small, but good. Today I was particularly happy that only one student sat silent during the class discussion. A few others who have been reticent to share their ideas prior to today suddenly found the courage and encouragement to speak up. One I had rather pegged as a lunk turns out to be OK: he had a pretty great idea in his group, and he shared it with the class. Even the resistant student seemed pretty open today, not snotty at all. The armchair psychologist in me suspects he has Mommy issues, but he seems to understand that I'm not an authority figure against whom he needs to defend himself but someone who is open to his ideas.

My only concern about that class right now is that it seems I may have already lost one of the students who looked set to be among the absolute brightest and best. He never submitted his first reading notes, though I could see they were extensive and his class contributions were excellent--but I haven't seen him in a week. I just sent him an email, letting him know I'm concerned about him and hope he will get in touch (and return to class). There's also a young man who has been chronically late--and significantly late. I spoke with him after class, and he just hasn't been allowing himself enough time for his commute. I suggested he plan to be on campus 30 minutes early, so he can do some studying. If he misses the study time, oh well; at least he'll be on time to class. He said he'd do that. We'll see.

P&B was a lot of the usual routine for fall: assigning mentors for people going up for sabbatical or for promotion, figuring out who would observe whom (which reminded me that I need to let an adjunct know I'll be observing her class: brief time out for that), that sort of business. However, Cathy did let us know that the admin, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to hide all classes for which there is as yet no classroom. That means 1. We can't tell what FT faculty schedules look like without comparing several disparate documents--and even then we may not have the latest information about any changes, and 2. Because we can't clearly tell how many sections we have of anything, and how many of those sections are already staffed, we can't make adjunct assignments. I might note here that because of the early start to the semester, Cathy and I will have a week in which to do all the scheduling of adjuncts--which usually takes at least two weeks--so they can sign their contracts in time before the start of classes. It is therefore especially important that we get a jump-start on assigning adjunct courses, which we can't do now because many of our courses are hidden. No rationale was given for this, by the way; it is mysterious to me how this decision could possibly benefit anyone at all, never mind the way it utterly stymies our ability to do our work. I said in P&B and repeated to Paul--and will continue to repeat--this may be an instance in which we just need to drop the football, or at least threaten to. My advice was to tell the admin that we simply cannot get the schedules all sorted in the two weeks between the start of January and the first day of classes, so if we can't see all our courses--room or no room--our faculty will be sitting in their offices (or at home, waiting for a contract, in the case of the adjuncts), not teaching anything, the first two weeks of the semester, until we can get all the schedules organized. And the students will either be wandering around campus lost or they simply will not be able to enroll because they don't see any open classes. (We're already suffering enrollment attrition--and some of it is because we can't offer enough sections of things because we have fewer and fewer FT faculty to teach them. Can you imagine if even more students can't find an open class in which to register?)

This isn't just a SNAFU, it's FUBAR.

This chair stands in the hallway, a metaphoric comment on the state of the institution.


And on that gleeful note, I'm outta here.

Monday, September 18, 2017

So young, so earnest, so ... slow

It's been a day of keeping careful control of my patience while dealing with students who are very young, very needy--and extremely slow on the uptake. I am more able to keep my patience because they are so obviously freshly hatched and wobbly, but it is a challenge when every explanation is followed by, "Wut? I don't unnerstand...."

It started with a young woman in Advisement. She was the hardest, partly because she's not my student but more because she kept going around the same circles--and changing the parameters. "All I care about is what classes to take in the spring." "OK, so here's..." "But don't I need a master's degree to get into law school?" "No, you don't, because Law is a ..." "I want to get my undergrad in psychology." "Ok, well look into what the requirements..." "So I want to take classes that will get me the psychology degree." "Do you want your associate's degree first?" "Yes." "OK, so here's..." "But this is all stuff I took in high school." "I think there are some differences..." "Don't I need more science?" "Well, yes: you need a lab and a non-lab science..." "But will those help with my psych degree? Because what I really want to do is teach." "I thought you wanted to get a law degree." "After I get an MBA." "Why do you want the MBA?" "Because don't I need it to get into law school?"

If you want to run around barking, you can imagine how I felt. It went on for, I kid you not, at least 40 minutes. Forty. Four Zero. Round and round and round....

I don't remember if I saw any other students in Advisement. I may have, but she took the bulk of the time when I was seeing students and not working on my own stuff. Oh, and I didn't mention: she said she just wanted someone to pick for her; she didn't want to have to choose courses. I told her, "Welcome to being an adult." She thought I was kidding at first, until I essentially told her that she'd better grow up and fast.

But I didn't strangle her, even a little.

Both my 101s met in the Library today, for their "information literacy" sessions. The first one was more efficient and clear for the students, but at least five students were very late--one of them one of my favorite students in the class. (Oh, I remember now: I saw him in Advisement, too. That was actually fun.) One of the students couldn't remember his password to log on to the campus computers. He'd texted his mom, but she wasn't answering. He looked on the verge of tears, and said, "I know I'm going to get in trouble..." I asked him whether he could learn what he needed to by sitting next to someone and watching or whether he'd do better by himself. He thought he'd do better doing the driving, but he needed to call his mom (not just text), and he was afraid I'd be mad if he went out of the class to call her. I said, "Well, College Student 101: It's time to start remembering your own password. But go ahead and call your mom." "You won't be mad?" (Inside: not any madder than I am already.) "Not in this case, no. Don't make a habit of this, but right now, go ahead and call her."

When he finally got back and logged in, I had to walk him through about 14 steps to get to where the rest of the class was--and I know he won't remember any of them, because they went by too fast. He's just lost, poor little lamb, and I can't do much to save him: "Leave them alone, and they will come home," but I don't think there will be any wagging tails. I'll be relieved if he figures out how to get, well, anywhere.

And there was another lost lamb in the second class. That student also has a vision disability, so part of what was happening was that he couldn't see the computer he was sitting at and couldn't see the projected images from the computer the librarian was working on. I found that there was a computer that had a "zoom" function, and we fiddled around with the screen settings so he could see at least a little better, but he was not absorbing anything, and I mean anything, the librarian was saying. I grant you, the librarian was pretty confusing to just about everyone, but most of them could at least follow the keystrokes and "click here" things--and the issue wasn't entirely visual with this student. Even talking to him about things, it's clear that he computes slowly and not very well. And my stuff is complicated and I work fast. Not a match made in heaven, unfortunately, but I'll do what I can to help all the lost lambs.

The best news of the day was that I did get everything marked to return to the 101 students. There is a fighting chance I can get the homework marked for the SF class tomorrow before class, too, which would be great. That would then free me up to grade discussion boards, on which I am woefully behind. But c'est la guerre.

Now, however, I need to make sure I have rounded up all the stuff that goes home with me (water bottles and the like) and I need to go make horrible noises on a stringed instrument. And I suddenly realize I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I have the time, money, and interest to put myself through the wonderful torment of learning to play the fiddle at my age. I'm rather proud of the way I live my life outside of work, quite honestly, and I am not unhappy with how I deal with the work component, either, despite all the bitching in this blog.

More tomorrow, good lord willin, and all that.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Surprise! Friday post!

I bailed on my riding lesson today, as my back is kicking up a fuss (and bouncing around on a horse is not great for my back even when it's being quiet)--and I very nearly bailed on getting any work done, as I was sucked into several vortices along the way: the vortex of life maintenance, the Facebook vortex (to my shame, but it is true), the vortex of other work calls ("Oh, shit; I forgot I agreed to review that manuscript...").

But I did get the Blackboard SNAFU cleared up (and it was a "my bad" moment, though the kind and patient woman at the help desk did, ultimately, agree that something weird was going on and was as mystified as I by how students could end up in the wrong place). And I did at least get the first of the required set of discussions read and evaluated. I only have six more to do... (Oh, Christ, why do I set myself up for this madness?)

As I was responding to students' posts, I realized that it's probably a good idea for me to read them all first and see if there's a comment that rightfully needs to be made to a majority of the students, then make such a comment in a discrete thread that I start, instead of finding myself repeating variations on the same comment in response to each individual student's post. That will take some discipline, but it's probably worth the effort, as I think it will save time in the long run.

I also realize that I cannot respond to every post. I just can't. Even as fast as I type--and as tossed off and casual as the responses may be--it's simply prohibitively time consuming. I made that overall comment on one of the forums (fora? boards? whatever). I'll have to remember to say something about it in class, too.

Circling back to the repeated comment: most students completely misread a sentence in the "quotation for consideration." They assumed the author was talking about routes to becoming a good citizen and missed that he was talking about the value of various kinds of education, specifically connecting education in critical thinking to the development of citizenship. But even that's better than the ones whose response was so vague and general, they could have been responding to a prompt that read "Write two inane sentences of cliche-ridden, grammatically incorrect comment on education."

Sigh. Well, the quotation does emphasize that teachers who insist on accuracy of thought inculcate that habit of mind in their students, so I pointed out that my insistence that they say something specific was simply doing what W. G. Sumner says a good educator does.

I did start reading the self-evaluations (before I hit the wall and turned to blogging instead), and the first one I read broke my heart. The student is from Nigeria, and relates that he has only spoken English at school, never at home. His written English is riddled with errors: I'm not sure at all how he ended up in my classroom when he clearly should be in an ESL-dedicated class--but if he didn't self-identify as a non-native speaker of the language, current testing might well have missed the clear pointers. I just sent an email to the ESL coordinator, asking for her guidance in what to do about the ESL issue, but what broke my heart is this:

"The whole situation [of English class in America] was different from what I was used to. I discovered we are all strange to one another; the whole class was calm like grave yard. Most of the student were busy fumbling with their phones. I look around to see may be I would see someone to chat with but nobody seemed care to realize that. I felt like a lost animal in a jungle."

He then goes on to say that he realized that because he knows "British English," and because American English is so different, he feels lost most of the time. I'm not sure what's so confusingly different--but the fact that he felt so lost and alone, and that he got so little response from his classmates, made me sad. However, I did notice that he glommed on to a young woman in the class, asking her for help and clarification--which she's been happy to provide (and she's a smart cookie, so he made a good choice there). Further, and even more heart-warming, another of his classmates responded to his post with great kindness, understanding, and the offer to be helpful. That student is also very smart--one of the best minds in the class--so I hope between all of us, the poor lost man feels less lost and alone.

So that's the state of things. When I sent the email to the ESL coordinator, I saw that I have a number of emails from students with various minor questions, so I'll answer those (and otherwise clear out my work email inbox), then I will put my professor brain into hibernate mode and get on with Friday evening.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Practicing a little gratitude...

Class today took place in a sauna. Well, actually, simply in a classroom with no AC on what turned out to be a relatively hot and very humid day. It was miserable--but as I left, wanting to bitch about it, I remembered to be grateful that 1) there is a classroom in which I meet my students, and it's the same classroom both days when class meets; 2) said classroom has enough desks for the students; 3) said classroom has a white board and a chalk board, as well as a desk and chair for me. On the first day of the semester, not all of my colleagues could say the same--and many still can't say that their classes meet in the same room for both class meetings. This is because the administration, in their infinite wisdom, rented one of the buildings in which we frequently held classes and closed another for "renovations"--which haven't even started yet (and which, mysteriously, despite there being plenty of money in the budget for it, won't include replacing the windows--because they're "new," having been installed in the 1960s). The registrar assured all the department chairs whose classes would be affected that 1) in most institutions, the registrar "owns the real estate," so no department has certain rooms in which that department's classes meet (unlike what has been the case here since the institution was created), and 2) that there were plenty of rooms. It's the reverse of the Mad Hatter's tea party: "Plenty of room! Plenty of room!" "But ... there isn't any room."

Ah, well. Signs of the times.

I will say that at first I thought--through the combination of class chemistry (which seemed to be lacking) and heat (which truly was excessive)--the class would be one of those when I need a hydraulic jack to get the students up of the intellectual floor. I will say only one of the groups was overflowing with things to talk about--but they were sort of the A team, based on what I'd seen in their notes or heard from them in previous classes. The A team, by the way, included the young man I was so peeved about on Tuesday--and his demeanor was at least mostly different today. He was a bit snotty about the "statement of self-defined goal" assignment (a preliminary writing assignment that asks the students to set for themselves something specific they want to get out of the semester)--he hadn't done it because he could only come up with two sentences, he reported. But once the group got talking, he was animated and engaged. And despite the lack of energy in the other groups, the discussion actually was quite good and got into some pretty high-falutin' territory: Frankenstein's creature as his shadow (we didn't use the word doppelganger), or as a metaphor for his loneliness (a contribution by the sometimes snotty student); Frankenstein's youth contributing to his ego and his lack of willingness to take responsibility for his creation and its (his) actions.... and so on. Fun. Felt like being a real teacher for a little while.

No, I do my 101s a disservice. I feel like a real teacher there, too; we're just working on a different kind of material and at a different level. I do notice, however, as I am marking their discussion board posts, that they haven't really read the directions about discussion boards--not surprisingly, I suppose, as the directions are much longer than the students' attention spans. But I do need to go over the parameters again. (Just "I agree" isn't much of a response, either to the reading or to classmates' posts--and before you can agree or disagree, you'd better be sure you actually understand what the other person meant.) And I've discovered some kind of glitch in Blackboard, or in how I set things up. Too technical to get into here. If you use Blackboard and are interested, post a comment, and I'll explain--especially once I have a chance to contact the SUNY help desk and get the problem solved.

But the fact that I do need to get the problem solved means that I have to take some class paperwork home with me. And tomorrow, I need to read and score more of the discussion boards, as more deadlines will have passed. So, I figured, what the hell and put all the homework I've collected in a tote bag to tote home with me. I hope to put in a good stint at it tomorrow, and possibly more over the weekend--at least enough to tell what I can reasonably expect to get done on Monday before my classes.

And wham: just like that: I hit the wall. Just now. Hit the "enter" key, and entered a state of "stick a fork in me" doneness. Even though I'll be working (some) tomorrow, I probably won't post; I'll work right up until I have to leave to continue trying to learn how to ride a horse (a usefully humbling experience in all sorts of ways). Maybe I'll post on Sunday. More likely not. So, I wish you all bon weekend.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

History has been made today!

Scene: 2:00 section of ENG101.

Most students present (though a few were tardy).

Careful explanation of several handouts ("This one is required: for all required readings, you must annotate, produce expanded notes, and write a discussion board post." "This one is extra credit. Do not do annotations or expanded notes. Simply write a discussion board post if you would like." And so on.)

Student information index cards filled out and collected.

Then, the professor asks the dreaded question, "Is there anyone here who does not have the articles with annotations and expanded notes for today's discussion?" A little clarification ensues: yes, I'm trying to determine whether everyone in the room does, in fact have the homework.

And--here's the historic moment--everyone did. Not a single student was in the room without the homework. In the entire history of my career, I don't think that has ever happened--especially not in a beginning comp class in the first full week of the term. I told them that they had just made history (and that the class would feature prominently in tonight's blog post). I was thrilled. Of course, the homework produced by some of the students will be problematic in various ways, but ... my god. Everyone had the homework. I was positively gob-smacked.

But wait: it gets better.

It happened again. Well, OK, in the 5:00 class, a few of the students had neglected the expanded notes part, or only had them for one of the two articles--but everyone had at least done the reading and came to class with annotations, ready to talk.

I don't want to get too cocky and think that this has anything to do with anything I actually did; I think it was just one of those miraculous alignments of heavenly bodies and feng shui and sheer, dazzling coincidence, but man, that felt good. And the best part was that their preparation showed. I put them in groups and the conversation took off--in both classes, even the 5:00 section. The students in the 5:00 class are still less likely to laugh at my jokes (so I am correspondingly less jocular with them), but they were every bit as animated and involved in discussion, and I was delighted that some students who seemed a bit on the reticent side were not only talking but leading the conversation. Of course, the military veteran--the Firefighter, I'll call him, as that's what he does and wants to do--led a lot of the conversation, with intelligence and verve and knowledge from Hard Knocks University, but the level of involvement was wonderful, in both sections.

I am a happy woman at the moment--and as I don't want to damage the moment, I'm actually going to leave very soon here, despite the fact that there are about 50 things I could probably profitably do before going that would facilitate tomorrow's experience. However, I'm going to trust that between my arrival in the morning and class, and then again after class until I can close up the main office at about 7, I will have time to work and organize and get myself situated well enough.

So, I will make my farewell for this evening, and leave with a trail of glory--and gratitude to the Educational Gods--drifting in my wake. Life, my friends, is good.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

"I have chosen the words 'spelunking,' 'fungible,' and 'spork'..."

So said the wonderful Scott, in prefacing his report at our department meeting, saying that he would respond in the theme of the meeting. He is a wonderful and rare example of an academic who can be simultaneously genuinely funny, cogent, and concise. Nice to have a few laughs in the meeting, before it devolved into a food fight over observations and the need to adhere to specific requirements for syllabi. (I left early. I saw that the usual suspects were about to get exercised in ways that would piss me off and decided retreat would not only be a good diplomatic move but would prevent an increase--even temporary--in my perceived stress levels.)

Shifting gears to the experience with students: Of the three young men whose first day in class was Thursday, only one remains; the one who showed signs of initiative and intelligence. I'm a bit disappointed to lose the one who was taking careful, step-by-step notes on what to do, but given the fact that he was concerned about becoming overwhelmed, I suspect he made a wise choice. One student who impressed me on Thursday by suddenly having interesting and insightful things to say showed a very different side today: he said he didn't own a pen (my response: "College Student 101: always have pens"), didn't have his homework (me (trying to sound friendly) "After today, this will be 'thanks for coming and see you next class'"; him (snotty tone of voice) "I'm aware of that."); spent the entire time in his group doodling, contributing absolutely nothing. But other students seemed to have more going on than I anticipated, and the major players are making their presence known.

Not to my surprise but somewhat to my discouragement, I could see that the first set of notes from most students was woefully inadequate, despite all I'd done to try to set up for them what they need to do--both in terms of the concepts and in terms of the process. I talked about it again. I will no doubt need to talk about it again. And again. And again. The words "detailed" and "specific" seem to be the verbal equivalent of "blah blah" to many of them.

This happens every semester. Every semester. I am completely, utterly, out of ideas for how to convey what's needed. I've tried everything I can think of--short of working with each student individually, which obviously I can't do.

Sigh. Well, moving on.

P&B was interesting, too. We have two brand-new members--and a lot to work out in regard to the aforementioned foo-raw over observations and syllabi. Fun and frolic, y'all.

I realize I have almost entirely already clocked my brain out for the evening. Fortunately, I think I'm pretty well packed up for tomorrow already; I think I have a general sense of what I want/need to do throughout the day. Usually, I'd be holding a seminar hour right now, but we haven't officially started holding them yet, so I'm going to send one more email (which I forgot about until I wrote the words "seminar hour"), then shut everything down and toddle off for the evening. And more to report tomorrow, I'm sure.

Monday, September 11, 2017

I need better shoes...

As I'm schlepping my wheelie-pack all over campus and up and down stairs, my body is beginning to protest (ouchy back in particular). I am not a woman who is wild about shoes, but I have tended to opt for style over comfort. No longer. I draw the line at wearing running shoes with my skirts (or anything that's too clunky: a modicum of elegance is still important to me), but I really do have to go on a quest for shoes that are more congenial to the demands on my bones and cartilage.

That aside.

Both classes today went pretty well. I was a trifle annoyed that a number of students did not have the homework ready for today--many because they couldn't get the book (this despite my having said and written on the syllabus and all but tattooed on their foreheads that the book is available in the library). I gave them a one-time-only offer of submitting the homework late. I'm going to be pretty fierce about that from here on, however: if anyone comes to class without the homework on Wednesday, it will be "Thank you for coming in, and I'll see you next class; that's one of your allowed absences for the semester." (Freaking out and wild-eyed panic ensue.) But the ones who had done the homework were ready to talk about what they'd read with intelligence, even in the 5:00 class, which seemed more inert the first day.

I also got through exactly everything I had planned to do today. That isn't always a foregone conclusion, and there was a lot on the slate today, so having gotten it all done was a good thing.

However (and there seems to always be a "however"), a number of students are utterly, completely confused about the fact that some assignments are submitted in class and some happen online--and a number don't understand where and how to locate discussion boards despite 1. Written directions in a handout (OK, that's hopeless: they can't read complex instructions. After two sentences, they stop paying attention) and 2. A live demonstration in class today. Yes, it's a little complicated. It's also spelled out very carefully in the assignment schedule. I also went over it slowly, clearly, step by step, in class today. It's also in handouts. If there are any other bases I need to cover, I'd be grateful if someone would show me where they are and demonstrate how to cover them.

Clearly I will need to go over assignments very carefully for a while (repetition, repetition, repetition)--but I also need to continue to remind them that they need to be detail oriented, and read. And be detail oriented. And read. (Repeat ad infinitum.)

But circling back to the homework thing: I am again confronted with the downside of actually using written work as an evaluative measure of how students are doing in the class--because once I assign it, I have to mark it. I grant you, what I collected today was pretty teensy in the comparison to the deluges of work I'll be dealing with further down the line, but still: I collected assignments. Now I have to read them and at very least assign a point value. Bugger bugger bugger.

A couple of students were new to class today. One will make it. The others, probably not. This is a crash course in letting go of the high school mentality. And I haven't even shown them the "backward brain bicycle" video yet (something I take great delight in doing).

Yes, ladies and gents, I'm going to mess with your heads--on purpose, but not because I'm a sadist. I'm going to do it because you need to be shaken up like a snow globe.

One student in the 2:00 class is terrific in terms of making sure she has what she needs to do the work she has to do. She's keeping careful track of what I have handed out and what I have not--and I think it was reassuring to her to see that she can locate handouts on  Blackboard, if I haven't given her something she wants to get rolling on. I know her name (though I haven't come up with a blog moniker for her yet). I'm starting to learn names, at least of the ones who are contributing to class. It will take me about another week or so to learn everyone: thank god for photo rosters. We'll see who turns out to be of enough interest to become a blog character as well as a student in class.

And now it's a hell of a lot later than I wanted to be here tonight--but I'm not entirely unhappy about it, as Paul and I actually got to have a bit of a talk. I will see William less frequently: he's gone 50% online, so his days on campus are reduced, as are the number of hours in any given day that he's around when he is on campus. We'll have to make the best of the moments when all three of us are here together. Tomorrow may provide brief opportunity for that: we have a department meeting, and Cathy made a point of reminding us that attendance is mandatory, contractual.

I'm sure there are other things I could say and do before leaving, but I want to get home and put in at least a little time doing my own homework of fiddle practice. It's appropriately humbling--and uses parts of my brain that otherwise don't get much exercise. So, off I go.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A good day

The SF class went well today, even though it was a very lecture-heavy day, which I generally don't like. It was also handout-heavy, and two students stayed after class because they were confused. (More on that in a minute.) I provided more scaffolding than I usually do, not only in terms of providing them with some broad-stroke themes that might help them focus their reading but also in terms of laying out the exact order in which they should do their homework. I actually wrote that on the board--and we talked about it a little.

Once I started talking about SF generally, and a little bit about Frankenstein, students were asking questions, contributing ideas (and only one fell asleep). There were three students who were new to class today. One seems particularly bright and with it, but all seemed like they have the right attitude at the very least. And one of those new students was one of the two who stayed even after I finished the Cliffs Notes version of what's in all the handouts. He knows himself well enough to know that if he doesn't break things down into small, precise chunks, he'll lose focus and get lost. So, we talked through exactly what he needed to focus on--and he took notes, making sure he understood each step.

Interestingly enough, he brought up a syntactical problem that hadn't occurred to me: when I talked about reading notes, he asked, "Are we supposed to read notes? Or read?" Of course, he hasn't had a chance to review the handout about reading notes--which specifically explains how to construct notes on what one has read--but it was interesting to me to realize that this is part of the process that might not be immediately clear. However, I'm pretty sure (not 100% sanguine, but fairly certain) that between my handout and the reading in their little handbook that the process will become more clear.

The other student who stayed after class was a lot less forthright about what he needed; in fact, it wasn't initially clear that he was hanging out in order to talk to me, as he was hovering outside the door. He asked a question about what needed to be done that revealed not only that he couldn't absorb the specifics of the written material but also that he hadn't absorbed anything I'd just gone over in class. I answered part of his question, and he said, "OK..." and started to leave. I could tell he was still confused, so I called him back--I'd let the students go early, so we had time to talk--and went over it all more carefully. I'm still pretty sure he is utterly lost--and he's one of the students I pegged in the first class as being unlikely to make it to the end. It speaks well of him that he summoned up the courage to ask the question, and I hope he does email if he has further questions, but I'm concerned about how little seems to be soaking in.

Interestingly enough, I just reread one of the articles I'm assigning to the 101 students, and it addresses student fears. The article is "The High School to College Transition: Minding the Gap," by Deborah Hirsch, and it was originally published in The New England Journal of Education (June 4, 2010). I quote from it at rather great length:


Beyond [lack of] academic preparation, one explanation for the high school-to-college achievement gap is

what Seton Hall professor Rebecca Cox calls "the college fear factor." The students she studied

know that a college degree is essential to their future success in life and careers but bring

tremendous anxiety to the experience. Many bring past experiences with failure in an academic

context. And typically, this gets reinforced on their first day of college where they have to "pass or

fail" a placement test to see if they are deemed ready for college-level work. They come to college

acutely aware of their past failures and lack of readiness and this feeds their self-doubts about

whether they will be able to succeed.

So why don't students reach out to professors who say that "their office doors are open" and they

are "always available to meet with students"? Cox believes that students are afraid professors will

confirm their academic inadequacy. Because of these fears, students end up not employing the very

strategies that will help them such as meeting with professors outside of class, asking for help or

asking questions in class for fear of being exposed as stupid. They don't ask questions, seek outside

help from faculty or their peers and may even skip class rather than risk seeming ignorant or slow.

Unfortunately, these behaviors only exacerbate the problem. Students may be afraid to even admit

this to themselves and usually have no one to turn to who can help them sort through these feelings.
 
 
I think I had precisely that experience today with that confused student hovering outside the door. I suspect he was unwilling to come back into the room because he didn't want to ask his question in front of another student for fear of looking stupid, and he didn't want to ask any follow-up questions of me for the same reason. I hope it helped him to see that another student was doing precisely what he was afraid to do: getting detailed help from me. But that fear factor may well be so great that this poor confused young man can't get the help he so clearly needs.

However, returning to the notion of pegging students as likely or unlikely to succeed based on those first day impressions: my impression of one student was clearly shown to be completely wrong today. I had him down as possible but unlikely--and he asked some of the more astute questions, made some of the more interesting observations in class today. And one of the new students (really new: hadn't registered until yesterday) slept through a lot of class, but when I talked to the three students after class, he was alert, quick--and not only has read Frankenstein before, he recommended to the other students that they should read the parts I glossed for them (the "letters" that provide the narrative frame and the first two chapters, all about the background of the Frankenstein family and about Victor Frankenstein's early education). I'm glad he's advocating for the value of the parts of the book students in the past have found too "boring" to get through. And I'll be interested to see whether he stays awake in future classes.

After class, I spent a little while in my office, during the time that will usually be one of my office hours. Then I went down to the main office to sort of cover for both Cathy and one of the members of our office staff, who is out recovering from surgery. I wish Cathy would take a page from Bruce's book and make a point of closing the office when we are short of staff (including putting a note on the door that anyone who comes looking for help and finds the office closed should contact the dean or the college president for assistance). But I know Cathy doesn't really expect me to act as "office staff." She wants someone there who can be sort of "in charge"--and I am the evening supervisor after all.

And I did talk at some length with the woman who really runs the place--and found out that her official title is "clerk," even though she's doing significant administrative work for the department. And she's getting paid a clerk's salary--which, at this institution, is lower than she would get if she worked in any school in the K-12 system. (The office staff are all county employees and have to pass a civil service test to get paid less than someone flipping burgers would make.) I am beyond appalled. I knew her salary was insultingly low, but I had no idea just how low. She revealed a few other inside pieces of information about the department, too, that are equally infuriating. I could get deeply incensed about this--but I continue to metaphorically put my fingers in my ears and sort of willfully "forget" a lot of the worst of the shit that I hear about this place. I'm trying to preserve as much of my equilibrium as possible, and to reduce my personal stress levels wherever I can, so there's only so much of the insanity here I can absorb before I shut down.

But I will say, one of the rooms we were forced to use (after one of the buildings that used to house a lot of our classes was "closed" for renovations) has no blackboard, white board, or anything else to write on. And when Cathy pointed that out, she was told our department should buy one--even though our department is not the only department to use the room. That's on top of the fact that handicapped ramps have been removed from one of the buildings that's still open to us, and that one classroom was double-booked, so one of our faculty members held class sitting on the hall floor with her students....

Cleansing breath. Cleansing breath.

The work part of my day ended with a fascinating conversation with one of our student aides. She's from South Africa (and was in a long conversation with another student aide who is from a different country in Africa, though I never heard which one); she came to the U.S. as an au pair and is now working on a degree in early childhood education. I loved the depth of political knowledge she and the other young man possessed (few U.S. students would be able to talk about the politics of their country with as much basic factual information never mind understanding of motivations and implications), and it was great fun to talk with her about her educational experience thus far. This is one reason for me to look forward to having to be downstairs in the main office on Thursdays for at least a few more weeks, while the evening secretary recovers.

Now, I "should" pack up the wheelie-pack so it's ready to roll (literally) on Monday; I realize that--although it was nice to get way over my quota of steps on Fitbit yesterday--it's probably not a good idea to plan on getting from Advisement, back to the office, and then to class in 30 minutes. It's easy enough to do if nothing keeps me late anywhere and if I don't need to gobble down a quick lunch in the break, but I don't want to find myself suddenly in a scramble. Better to take all the things I need to teach my 2:00 class to Advisement with me. Then I can make a much more leisurely (if less physically active) transition from one to the other. And having everything packed up tonight before I leave will make the transition from car to Advisement a little smoother Monday morning. But you know what? I'm just not gonna. I am going to go home and engage in the parts of my life that have nothing to do with "work."