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

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

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Monday, December 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

P.S. No shouting

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

Astonishingly caught up

All check sheets for editing completed.

All discussion board posts read and points assigned.

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

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

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

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

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

More tomorrow.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Only marginally painful

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

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

So, all that's good.

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

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

Breathing. Breathing.

Friday, December 8, 2017


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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 7, 2017

I am toast.

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

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

"Toast is me.

"I am toast." (98)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, decisions and indecisions. There will be time.

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

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

Monday, December 4, 2017

I'm so screwed...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 30, 2017

What I'll miss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Count down to steak and booze blowout

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Posting from home

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 27, 2017

It didn't kill me

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 26, 2017

If it kills me

..and it might.

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

Damn and blast and hell.

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

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

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

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

Damn and blast and hell squared.

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

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Another grateful parent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The "Cliff's Notes" post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 20, 2017

A "teachable moment"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Well, that's done

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Well, OK, so ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

I can't believe I forgot to mention

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

...and then there was chocolate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

If anyone sees a brain lying about, it may be mine.

I know I am the epitome of the absent-minded professor, but especially when it comes to the later of the 101 sections, I have gone beyond my usual levels of disorganization and am pretty much falling to bits.

Of course, so are the students. There were eight students in the later class today. Eight. The updated photo roster (which removes students who have officially withdrawn) stands at 24. One I don't think ever attended; several more haven't been there since about the second week--or even since the first class. The earlier class was better: most of the students were there (apart from a few who fell apart over the first essay).

It's fascinating to me how many students--especially first year students--fall apart at the very first bump. The instant a requirement or deadline or expectation is different from what they're used to from high school, they simply bail: it's too hard. The students in the 101s are about to embark on the final topic, which is about "social technology," and I just read an article in Time magazine about teenagers and the ubiquitous "screen-based activities." I'll make the article available to students (though it came onto my radar too late for me to specifically assign it), but it references the work done by Jean M. Twenge, and I have assigned an essay by her about the concerns. In the essay I assigned, "Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?" (The Atlantic, Sept. 2017, retrieved from, Twenge notes, "Across a range of behaviors--drinking, dating, spending time unsupervised--18-year-olds now act more like 15-year-olds used to, and 15-year-olds more like 13-year-olds. Childhood now stretches well into high school." That corresponds with my experience: in the years I've been teaching, freshmen have seemed increasingly immature, babyish, dependent, tremulous. That tendency increases the width of the high-school to college gap, which is already pretty wide.

Ask little kids to take on adult responsibilities, and no wonder they bail.

Well. Anyway.

I could probably natter on for a while here, but I need to get the hell out. It's late, and I have to be in at 9:30 tomorrow to make up time in Advisement. And Advisement is now certifiably nuts: registration for spring starts tomorrow, and suddenly we've got students in holding patterns that rival La Guardia's on a bad-weather day. So I will not have any of the promotion folders read for tomorrow's P&B, except the one I'm mentoring (which I read last week). I'll read them on Thursday, I reckon, and send my notes to the various mentors.

I hope I have everything I need packed up and ready to haul to Advisement and from there directly to class; God knows I won't be alert enough in the morning to figure out what I need to take with me.

And as for everything I need to do to be ready for Wednesday? Well, that falls to tomorrow: you know, that "other day" we're so fond of (or of which we are so fond, if you prefer).

Thursday, November 9, 2017

I have absolutely no clue

Am I on top of the work? I think so, sort of, but I'm not entirely sure.

I just spent the last hour fiddling around the edges: making photocopies, putting stacks in bags, checking email. I think my wheelie pack is ready for Monday. I think I have all the student work I've collected of late in my tote bag. I think I've answered/written/sent all the emails I was thinking I should take care of.

But honest to God, I have no idea.

I can say this: I've spent way too much time in computer chairs for the past week, and my sacrum is certainly letting me know all the reasons why that's a bad idea. I've been working on too little sleep for too long. I still have an absolutely enormous shitload of stuff to get through between now and Thanksgiving--and once Thanksgiving passes, we'll be into the "hold on to the safety bar and scream" part of the semester.

I have no idea when I will have a chance to work on the online course, but god damn, I need to do that!

Right at this red-hot moment, however, I can't do another thing. Not one more thing. If I hadn't had conferences yesterday and today, and if I hadn't been subbing for Scott, I'd have called in sick the past two days. Knowing my current lack of mental and physical energy, coupled with the editing review of the 101 essays I need to do over the weekend, I very nearly bailed on my riding lesson tomorrow. But no, dammit: I want to ride. I want to be the student for a little bit, not the teacher. Ditto fiddle lesson on Saturday. I'm going, and be damned to the work. It will get done one way or another--or I'll figure out another plan.

I am about to head off to meet Paul for a little dinner and chat. He's staying down here this weekend, as his family is coming down to do a New York weekend; they arrive tomorrow, so he and I are grabbing the opportunity for a little palaver. (After Thanksgiving, William, Paul, and I will do a steak and booze blow-out, possibly with Kristin, if she doesn't mind the schlep out here from the City.)

Pretty soon, it will be time to not only count weeks remaining but to count number of class meetings yet to go. Nice to feel the semester drawing to a close--and I'm trying not to think too much about how little break I'm going to get before the insanity of the spring semester starts. Sufficient unto this day is the panic thereto.

I'm not making sense even to myself. I'm outta here.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Conferencing: complete, or nearly

I am meeting a few more students tomorrow, but one is a student from the SF class, one is a student I already met once this week, and one is a student who messed up his appointment time and had to reschedule. But I don't have to grade any more essays today or tomorrow, thank God, and I can turn my attention to reading promotion folders to be ready for next week's P&B meeting.

Reviewing the promo folders is the most pressing "in office" task on my list, but I do have to take essays home over the weekend to do the "editing review" pass--which is relatively quick and easy, comparatively speaking (though at the moment the prospect feels painfully daunting).

I haven't reworked the triage list in some time--in part because a number of items haven't moved up, down, or off the list since I first constructed it, but more because the tasks I have to do are all so large that I'm not really forgetting any of them; I'm just in the process of cranking through one after another, as each particular plate threatens to crash to the floor.

There are other things I need to do which I may opt to do before I address the promotion applications--mostly in a feet-clearing frame of mind: photocopying, sorting out the stacks of homework so I know what I have, that sort of thing. But I'm about as set as I can be for tomorrow; I'm prepped to sub Scott's class, and I'm ready to teach my own.

I'm also still suffering from lack of sleep--which is, I grant, a chronic condition, but this week has been pretty extreme, and is unlikely to get better any time soon. I did, however, have time to practice fiddle before leaving the house today, as I'll get home too late to practice then. Other life maintenance is briefly on hold: things are nailed down well enough to get me through the next few days.

The conferences today were fine--or as fine as possible, given the drag of sleep deprivation on my mental abilities. But the students seemed to feel more confident heading into their revisions, which is the main thing. As I'm marking the editing review, I'll be making notes for myself of what I want to cover in Monday's "editing review" classes--which will include more than just editing concerns, as I realize I need to emphasize with them that the abstract required by APA style does not eliminate the need for an introductory paragraph to the essay proper. There are a few other specific wrinkles to APA style that we'll go over--and that's on top of whatever sentence-level errors many of them have to fix.

However, for the moment, I am going to retreat from the fray--as I am frayed. There are specifics about the conferences that I might relate, were I in a more perky frame of mind; perhaps I'll manage to record those another day. For now, it's time to climb out of the trenches until I climb back in again tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


The young man I'm calling Street Smart?

I love that kid.

Plan ... what letter are we up to now?

So, rebooting:

I did get up at 6 this morning, but it didn't gain me much of anything, as I had some things I had to do around the house this morning, then I opted to vote on my way to work, as I know I'll be too staggeringly tired to do anything when I can finally go home except, well, go home. I'm starting this blog post early, before I've finished seeing students for conferences today, as I really do want to be out of here as early as humanly possible. I'm so tired it hurts.

The reboot, to plan Q or whatever, stems from the fact that I realized I could not possibly get all the essays for tomorrow's conferences graded today. I got through four of them, which was more than I thought I was going to do; the remaining four I'll have to do tomorrow when I get in. The decision to reboot instead of trying to crank through more today was made despite the fact that we had an unbelievably short P&B meeting. Between the slightly later than anticipated start this morning, class, today's conferences, P&B, and the exhaustion factor, it just got very clear that it makes more sense for me to reschedule Advisement to another day and use tomorrow morning to grade. I'm not entirely thrilled that I now have to make up two days of advising--that means two Tuesdays in which I have to go in at 9:30 a.m. (so I can finish and feed before I go to teach the SF class). I'm also not entirely thrilled that four essays are still hanging over my head and have to be finished tomorrow. But I will be much more capable of working intelligently tomorrow morning than later tonight, so the lack of thrill is compensated for by the increase in sanity.

The conferences have been going well--and I'm very glad that three students from the SF class took me up on the offer of a conference this week. I did give that class their second essay assignment and sort of went over using critical material. The two students who are turning out to be the best (and who are buddies as well) both got it right away. Some of the shakier students? Not so much--but I've told them to read everything over carefully and bring questions to class, so if they don't, it's their own too bad. (Of course I'll also go over it all again; incorporating critical material is a big hurdle, and I want to try to help them over it.)

Speaking of the SF class, the only real problem I'm having in there is the lack of a critical mass of students who are willing to talk in whole-class discussion. The Budding Literary Critic has been uncharacteristically quiet for some time--a reticence that could have any number of causes--and one of the students who is willing to talk up in class has been missing lately (which she told me would be the case). So, it all falls to Gaston and Alphonse, the pair of intelligent young men.

And they are intelligent. I haven't talked about them much to this point, but they're definitely two of the three stars of the class. They're both getting a little weary with being the ones who have to start the conversation in their groups (and there may come a time when I put them with the other really good student, the young woman, together in a group and let them have that wonderful experience--and leave the other groups to flounder along as best they can). But they write excellent notes, and they're seeing a lot, and they both are curious and interested and love to read in general. They have no reticence about bringing up all their points in the whole class discussion, largely because they relish the opportunity to share their ideas with me; they don't really care whether their classmates are comatose at that point, as talking with me is enough; it's just in the small groups that they get understandably disgruntled by working with students who won't share, talk, reciprocate--think.

I'm meeting with one of them (I'll call him Alphonse) tomorrow to conference about revising his essay. I think I mentioned Gaston some time ago, when I talked about the experience of handing back their essays to them; he wasn't alarmed by the B he got, as he said he knew it wasn't his best work. I confidently expect that he'll revise, and I equally confidently expect that the revision will be an improvement over his first attempt.

As for the other students in the whole class discussions, well, I'm not sure what to do. Putting them in a circle was, as I mentioned last week, a disaster. They all do well enough in their groups, even the students who rarely if ever participate in the class discussion--but when I shift them to talking with the class as a whole, things don't go as well. I wonder if it's a proximity thing: if they'd do better if they were all clustered together in the middle of the room, the groups practically in each other's laps instead of surrounded by little moats of empty desks. I don't think the circle will work well even if I were to put them in groups first; something about facing each other across that gap apparently is daunting. But when they're close together...

I'm now curious about the physical grouping idea. I may try to get to class early on Thursday, to put the desks in groups before the students arrive. There are fifteen students still officially attending, though one of them--the slightly older student I suspect has TBI--hasn't been around of late and is probably going to withdraw (or simply disappear). So call it fourteen students: that's two groups of three and two groups of four. I've been selecting the groupings of late, instead of allowing things to shake out from the count around the room, but I may micromanage further, looking at the roster to make sure I've got at least one strong--or talkative--student in each group. I'll stop short of providing place cards... I think. (It might be worth the giggle factor just for me; I doubt they'd be amused.)

Well, we'll see.

Now, I'm just waiting for Street Smart to show up for his conference; he'll be my last victim of the day, and we'll have quite a bit to discuss, trying to turn the train-wreck of his essay into a clear somethingorother. I've already notified the students whose essays I won't have ready until tomorrow that they have to wait. (Some of them probably wouldn't check before I get the essay to them in any event, but I didn't want anyone to worry, just in case.) And after those four essays are marked, I'll be able to turn my attention to preparing to sub for Scott on Thursday (I need to read Fences and go over Scott's set-up for the class). With whatever remaining time I have tomorrow and/or Thursday, I'll probably write up last week's observation, focus on reading promotion applications--and eventually turn my attention to marking the bolus of homework I'm accumulating. (Oh, yeah, and I have some copying I have to do, too.)

The fun and frolic continue unabated. And now that the weather has turned autumnal (especially on a chilly, rainy night like tonight), all I want to do is read Dickens, drink tea, and eat bon-bons. I'm rereading Our Mutual Friend, as of the Dickens volumes on my personal bookshelves, it called most loudly to me--but I may make a trip to Barnes and Nobel to buy Martin Chuzzlewit and maybe Little Dorrit, the first because I haven't read it in a very long while (it not being one of my favorites) and the latter because it is one of my favorites. Not tonight, though. Tonight, home, James, and don't spare the horses.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Done for tomorrow--but eight for Wednesday...

Just ... shoot me now. I did get all the essays marked for the students I'll be seeing in conference tomorrow--but that took every minute I had that wasn't in conference (well, and a few talking to Paul and William, plus a little time getting the essay assignment and materials ready to copy for the SF students tomorrow). And I have eight to grade for Wednesday, with significantly less time in which to grade them, between conferences, class, and P&B.

I've asked Cathy if I can bail from P&B. If the answer is yes, that will buy me a little time--but not quite enough, unless some of the essays I have to mark take way less time than usual, either because they're spectacularly good or because they're spectacularly bad. And so far, all of the essays have been problematic, even the ones from the students who are usually the best. It's partly the topic: students get so wound up about the whole food issue (environmental and health issues stemming therefrom) that they want to include everything plus several kitchen fixtures, and they end up with a mess.

My comments on at least one essay may have been unduly harsh, as a matter of fact. The student in question is profoundly disengaged; I don't know how much of that disengagement is fear and how much is from other factors, from genuine lack of interest to unfortunate lack of intellectual capacity. I don't think I'll be able to get much out of her, and I'm not sure how hard I want to try, but I have run out of the patience required to be sweet and nice and supportive in providing comments on an essay that is about 80% quotation and the other 20% bilge.

And Street Smart bombed his essay, dammit. I think his personal life got in the way, but it was a disappointing train-wreck of a piece.

Well, shaking all that off and moving on.

I am paralytically tired (the change of clocks in either direction always throws me for a loop--not to mention the fact that the life maintenance I had to do after my grading stint yesterday kept me out and busy until 9:30, which my body recognized as 10:30 despite what the clocks said). I do have to get up as early as I can stand tomorrow (which may not be any earlier than usual, but the simple fact that I have to set the alarm is sufficiently painful at the moment). Worse case scenario, I'll have to ditch Advisement and make up the time some other day. And as scenarios go, that's not so terrible.

So, I will toddle off home and hope I can get to bed and to sleep early enough to get something approaching the minimum I need to be functional... (I'm afraid I'm not even being coherent at this stage. I'm off. I'm also leaving.)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Ass permanently welded to computer chair...

This is an occupational hazard, especially when I'm in the throes (or, as my students would say, throws) of grading essays. If I don't set the timer to make myself get up every hour, I just sit in one place and grind away--and when I then absolutely must stand up (say for what Ed euphemistically calls a "bio break"), I can barely (or barley) move.

I'm also tired, daffy, and not quite able to make any sense. And I know I've got a fee-rocious day ahead of me tomorrow, what with all the conferences and the need to grade seven more essays for Tuesday's conferences. (And then eight for Wednesday. Fuck me.)

If I were smarter, I'd grade a few more tonight. If I were even smarter than that, I'd find a way to absolutely, barring nothing, force myself to grade each essay in no more than 30 minutes. Some I can do in less. Most take more. Some take a lot more. And most of that effort is wasted, as the students don't really pay attention to the comments.

But I've struggled with that problem my entire career, and it's unlikely I'll suddenly find a way to overcome my compulsive need to say more.

For now, however, I have errands to run and laundry to do. And I don't care that the clocks say it's "only" 6:30; my body knows good and well that it's 7:30--and so do my cats (one indoor, and a new outdoor addition to the family, a lost or abandoned sweetheart who I've been feeding and who therefore is now my cat). (And if any of my faithful readers live in the area and want a cat, please let me know. I would take her in myself, but introducing an adult female cat into a household that already has an adult female cat--especially one who tends to be the jealous type--is not a particularly spiffy idea.)

Gawd, if things continue to devolve this way, I'll be posting cat videos. Enough about cats. Enough period. More tomorrow.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Should. Not gonna.

All of my files, student assignments, folders, things to be copied--whatever--are in a huge and chaotic mess. I "should" organize them tonight before I leave. I wanted to do that when I got back to the office after observing a colleague's class, but there was an email from our wonderful goddess of the office staff, saying that because the evening secretary would be out, Cathy wanted me to be down in the office.

I dutifully went down there, but I was filled with resentment. I am not a secretary--nor is Paul--and we shouldn't "have" to be in the office when one of the secretaries is sick. We can be around when Cathy is not here, as we are her assistants, but that's a different story, and if I'm covering for her (which is my job as evening supervisor), I can do that just as well from my office.

What annoyed me most is that I had a bunch of stuff I wanted to get done--all of which was not transportable to another office, as it depended on my being on my own computer, or, well, organizing all those stacks of paper. I've done at least the most important bits tonight, setting up conference times in the appointment-tracking software, typing up the conference sign-up so people who haven't yet signed up can do so (the typed copy on the wall outside the office; the one students filled in by hand home with me so I know the order in which to tackle the appointments).

Speaking of conference appointments: thirteen are scheduled for Monday (a busy weekend ahead, as previously complained about); eight each on Tuesday and Wednesday (plus a few students from the SF class); no 101 conferences on Thursday, just one conference with a student from the SF class. That's assuming A) that the students who have not yet submitted to Turnitin actually do so and B) that no one else submits in addition to those students.

I won't get into how completely annoyed I am that students are "forgetting" to upload to Turnitin. God dammit. What on earth do I have to do so they'll remember?

Growf, rowr, bazz-fazz.

Cleansing breath, cleansing breath.

Today's class was moderately disastrous, as the students opted to sit in a circle, then (for the most part) refused to talk--though I did get the one student who had yet to contribute anything to class discussion to speak, and she had an intelligent insight, though I did have to specifically call on her to get her to talk. I worked around the circle for a while, then I put them in groups while I finished marking the notes I've been collecting so I could return those. Note to self: only do the circle thing when there is the appropriate critical mass of students who are willing to talk; otherwise, stick with groups.

And the observation went fine. My colleague was doing the best she could with one of those classes in which the majority of the students steadfastly refuse to think, work, talk, do anything beyond the abilities of a house plant (except get themselves in and out the door on their own volition). But she handled them as well as could be done--and in the observation, I will point out that holding an English class in a science lab is probably not a grand idea for any number of reasons (not to mention that the tech in the room is nonfunctional, so she couldn't show the video clip she wanted the students to watch). I'll write that up next week, I hope, after I finish grading essays (and engage in a little recovery time).

Now, however, I'm going to toss a few things in my bag and head for the hills. I may post over the weekend, as I'll be working, so keep yourselves tuned to this wildly exciting blog for further developments.