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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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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Bad praxis

Today was disappointing in terms of my own time management and preparedness: for some reason, going over the plagiarism information took much longer than usual, so we had no time to do the little exercises (which I actually find fun) and barely had time to talk about the reading for today. I was proud of myself for remembering to go over the handbook review homework, however: if they're going to do the homework, we should talk about it.

But the bigger disappointment was that I didn't have anything to return to the 5:30 class: no reading notes, no handbook reviews, nothing. And especially in terms of the notes, that's not good. They really need to see feedback on their own individual notes in order to start to get the idea that what I say to the class actually applies to them as individuals. And as I want their work to improve, it's especially important that I get feedback to them, so they can start applying it, so there is a chance for that improvement to happen.

Of course, the irony is that the first handbook review that they did included the comment that you haven't truly learned anything until you can apply it, and then went on to talk at some length about what notes need to contain, how they work, what they're for ... and students still didn't get it. They noted that comment in their handbook reviews, but they sure didn't apply what they'd learned, which indicates they haven't truly learned it.

That's one reason I'm going to have them re-read those same chapters after we finish the first essay. (The other reason is that, across the board, students in the 102s last semester said they didn't retain any of the information from that particular guide to apply to their later writing.) But the re-review will only be valuable if they have my comments on their own work to compare to what they're being instructed to do.

I hate it when I get this behind on assignment marking, but simply didn't have time. P&B ran way long--and we didn't get as much done as we needed to. (Poor Bob was clearly losing his mind at how long we were taking with everything--and he's right that we need to hustle things along--but we're also being quite meticulous, which I suppose is a good thing. We have given him carte blanche to be the "let's move it along" person, however: we need someone riding herd on us.) And somehow, both yesterday and today, it took me much longer than usual to just get out of the house, so I didn't have as much time before classes as I'd hoped.

Speaking of P&B, I'm so far behind on that work that I'm going to come in on Friday to review promotion applications--because otherwise, I don't know when I'd find the time, and we need to get feedback to the applicants as rapidly as possible so they have a chance to address the concerns.

I also am meeting next week with the VP for distance education to go over my Distance Education Equivalency (DEE) application for Nature in Lit, to see if it's ready to send along to the college-wide curriculum committee for approval (I hope I hope). I got some very helpful feedback from my DEE mentor--and now I have to apply it to my work.

(How many variations on the words "apply," "application," and "applicant" can we get in one post, and in how many different contexts?)

I am becoming increasingly alarmed by how tired, cranky and behind I am--which I know is a vicious cycle. I am in desperate need of a good, clear re-framing, and I'm struggling to find one. I know I can do it; it's just proving surprisingly difficult to do.

One positive note: I got an e-mail today from one of the students in last semester's SF class, pointing out an article in National Geographic about a genetic splice between pig and human tissues. His subject line was "Oryx and Crake," and the sum total of his message was something along the lines of "All we're missing is Painball"--which is brilliantly funny and apt. I'm delighted that he is still thinking about the novel, finding those "real world" (or maybe surreal world) connections.

Another positive note: I thought I had lost one of the students in the 5:30 102 who is showing the most potential. She was there--and surprised that I'd gotten notification that she was disenrolled. It looks like there was a SNAFU with her tuition payment, so I've just written to the Registrar, hoping to help get things sorted out. I'm very glad not to have lost her; I do think she's going to be one of a handful of bright lights in that class.

I realize, too, that I have to switch off any further "I have to" thoughts and simply take care of a teeny bit of life maintenance on my way home--leaving tomorrow to be another day. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. The sun'll come out tomorrow. Kiss today goodbye. There will be time, there will be time.... and I'll think about that tomorrow, when I'm stronger.

Monday, January 30, 2017

"Breathing skills"

A student in Nature in Lit wrote, in her preliminary thinking about what "nature" means, that being in nature helps us work on our "breathing skills." I don't think she was talking about meditative breathing, but that sure is a skill I should work on. (Apart from that, I'm pretty damned good at breathing, I think.)

Class was a bit of a bust today--because I spent most of the period frantically trying to mark homework to return. I got it done, but the students really didn't have enough to talk about and were kind of twiddling their thumbs for a while. I did pose two questions for them to consider, but they didn't spend a lot of time searching the text for answers. I realized when I was working on the syllabus for the online version that I really didn't assign much for this week--in fact, not really enough. They're going to get used to only having to read 4-5 pages and be shocked as shit when suddenly they are expected to read 20 or more.

Mea maxima culpa.

Advisement was very nearly empty, so I'm not sure why I accomplished so very little. I barely got a start on marking homework for the 102s. I came back to the office fully intending to burn through at least one promotion folder, then mark assignments--and instead, I've spent the last four hours trying to sort out what photocopies I have, which I still need, how many, by when, what I can send to the copy center...

...and you may recall that I spend ages on that last week as well. I do not know why this relatively simple organizational thing should consume so much time and cause so much tearing of hair. I now think I have things figured out well enough to get me through to March, but I can't get too sanguine about being on top of things, because my need for the next set of handouts will come whipping around the corner while I'm still patting myself on the back, and I'll get flattened.

So, tomorrow I have to talk to the 102 students about their reading notes without having any to return to them--and they'll have to do yet another set without feedback from me, which is wrong, dammit, but what can I do? There are still six or seven promotion folders I need to look at (including Cathy's--and I'm her mentor, ostensibly), and we're supposed to talk about them in tomorrow's P&B. And I have to write letters for Cathy and David. It won't take long to do once I sit down to do it, but when?

It bothers me that I can't seem to get on top even for a nanosecond. I feel like Indiana Jones being chased out of the temple at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark. (I guess I need a signature hat.)

And I would put in more work tonight, but it's a matter of diminishing returns--and my bizarre and apparently unreasonable desire to have a life that is not consumed by work. All the veterinary crises of last week have momentarily abated, but they sure didn't help my progress toward stability in my work life.

So, off to practice those breathing skills....

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Posting early and fast...

I am posting before the 5:30 class tonight. It's been a stressful day, and when it's over, I think I'm going to want to get off campus as soon as possible. It's been a day about veterinary care for my cat: I went from vet A to vet B (an emergency/specialty facility), dashed from there to teach the 1:00 class, dashed back, had to wait forever, had to make a lot of difficult decisions (though I should hasten to mention that the cat is by no means at death's door; he just has a chronic condition that's deteriorating, and we're trying to figure out treatment options), and just got back to campus with enough time to check e-mail and write this blog post before I teach again.

Needless to relate, my mind is not on my teaching today. This will not be one of those days when I walk out of the classroom thinking, "I do this very well sometimes." It will be one of those days when I walk out of here thinking, "If I don't come back to campus tomorrow, how much hell will that cause me further down the road."

If I come back to campus tomorrow (after retrieving the cat and taking him home), I will post again. If I don't, I may be in the "I have to bail on Advisement" trajectory way way way earlier than usual.

I keep reminding myself: in five years, none of this will matter. In five years, there will be other things occupying my mind and time and energy. Never mind five years: that will be true in five months. I don't know how things will work out, but no one ever does, really.

Now I have time to look carefully at what I've packed up to take to class, make sure I have everything I need, buy a bottle or two of water (because I left my "lunch" bag at home when I went to vet A, foolishly thinking I'd have time to get home again before coming to campus, so my water bottles are beside my front door), and do something that approximates teaching.

"Stop the World: I Want to Get Off" certainly applies right at the moment. Thank you Anthony Newley. (And good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Ironic

As I was switching gears from doing the scut work of setting up conference grids (both sign up sheets for the students and the appointment times in the scheduling software) to blogging, I passed through my work e-mail--and saw a subject line "The Wall." Having just slammed head first into mine, for a minute I thought someone was responding to me or one of my posts. No: it's political outrage about spending federal monies to actually build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

I have more than hit the wall in terms of politics: politically speaking, I would like to hide under a rug for four years (and pray to god it isn't for eight). Professionally speaking, I've only  hit the wall for today.

That said, however, I did tell Paul earlier that my intention for today's post was to confess that I continually think to myself, "OK, say I retire at the end of the academic year in which I turn 62. That means I have five more semesters--counting this one--to get through. Can I do it? Will I be able to last that long, or will I have to find an exit strategy earlier--and if so, what might that be?"

Part of that ongoing measuring of my ability to keep on keeping on is, of course, all the political shit going on on campus. I can't hide under the sofa about all that, not only because there is the potential for sudden and potentially drastic immediate impact on my own little life but also because I'm on P&B and Strategic Planning (assuming it continues to exist)--and because I share an office with Paul, who is even deeper in the ugly, rank underbelly of what's going on here.

But part of my concern is simply personal: whatever it takes to continue to do what I do seems harder to locate in my body and psyche with every passing semester, month, week, day....

Right at the moment I'm in a pinch in terms of work/life balance. Tomorrow morning I have an appointment to take my ailing cat to the vet--but, looking at everything I need to do, part of me thinks I should cancel that appointment so I can get to work early and fling myself into all these tasks that are mounding up on my desk in increasingly unstable piles. I am going to take care of my cat; he actually does matter more to me than the job does, right at this red hot moment. But I do so carrying with me quite a bolus of anxiety about the work. When will I read promotion applications? When will I mark student assignments? When will I get all the photocopies made?

I was going to try to join the last portion of a norming session for faculty readers of "borderline" placement essays tomorrow after my 1:00 class--but I just wrote the new placement coordinator and told him I'd have to bail: I am going to need every second of the time between my classes to work as expeditiously as possible.

I'm very concerned about one of the people I'm mentoring for promotion. He has been very ill for months, as I'm sure I've mentioned, and I did look at his folder today--and there are a lot of problems. I know he'll do all he can to get it pulled together, but he's also on sabbatical, which means he's not on campus every day to do things like get signatures and sit down to talk with me. And he definitely deserves the promotion. I've tried several times to persuade him to wait until next year, when he finally has his health problems resolved, but someone mentioned that he may be concerned about getting his promotion in while we're still under the current contract. Assuming we do not sign a new contract in August (and I'd be utterly astounded if we do), he won't get any pay raise accompanying the promotion until we get a new contract--but he would at least have the title, which carries a little cachet. But it would be so much easier on him if he'd just let go of it for now.

Cathy is a bit in the same boat--but she practically lives here on campus anyway, so it's easier for me to check in on her to see how she's doing.

OK, shifting gears to more pleasant avenues of thought.

I did get a few of the copies made that are most pressing; I did them before class this morning. And I had a very pleasant meeting with a student from 281. I glancingly mentioned him earlier: he told me he writes essays--and when I saw what he was considering for his self-evaluation, I plotzed. It was incomprehensible. He did confess today that he writes "poetry" (OK, it may be excellent poetry; I don't know)--but it was interesting to talk with him about the poetic tendency versus the need, in academic writing, to sacrifice artistry for clarity. I showed him the sample "solid B" essay that I give students (on the advice of my Modern American Poetry students from last spring), and he immediately got the difference and what's required. Whether he can do it or not remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen how strong his sentence skills are when he's writing for informational clarity (my hunch is that there are relatively significant problems he may not be aware of). But he's charming--and is "from" Utah (meaning he lived there for the last nine years), so it was fun to talk with him about the Rocky Mountain west a little (and what it's like to actually be in a territory also occupied by bears). I've encouraged him to come see me frequently about his writing. I may come to regret that, but for now, I'm completely content with the idea of working with him on the rigors of academic essays.

And part of what got me going on the whole seminar hours scheduling silliness is that I have my first mentor/mentee appointment next week, with a student who has now withdrawn from a 102 of mine twice--I don't know if I came up with a moniker for her, but she's another of those students whose intellectual acumen is apparent almost instantaneously. I hope someday I actually do have her in one of my classes, but meanwhile, it's neat just to have this mentoring relationship with her.

I was pleased with most of the student contributions to class today, too. The first two readings are difficult--and students haven't quite latched on to what they're supposed to look at (and are jumping to conclusions based on contemporary assumptions, instead of considering how views of the nonhuman world might have been radically different; John Smith, for instance, was not respectfully "appreciating" nature but rather pointing out how it could be plundered). But I had one of those lovely moments when a student I initially pegged as being disengaged and maybe not tremendously capable turns out to be smart and articulate and very interested in what's going on. That's always manna.

And now it's time to turn my attention not to manna but to manana. It's late. I'm tired. I'm anxious about that vet appointment tomorrow. I have to make at least a brief stop at the store for necessary supplies--so I can suck it up tomorrow to do it all, all over again. Yippie-ti-o, y'all.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

I have no time!

Adjusting to the bumpy rhythm of this semester is proving quite the challenge. I have no idea when I'm going to look at promotion applications: the time between classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays seems to get eaten up with other stuff, which leaves Mondays and Wednesdays after my stints in Advisement--by which point my mental acumen approaches that of overcooked oatmeal. I know I have to just gut it out and get it done--we have a round of promotion applications that must be read, and read carefully, as this is ostensibly the "final" version (though we know small changes can/will still be made). I still haven't adequately dealt with those handouts I was bitching about yesterday (and some really must be copied by next week, as students' first essays are coming up very rapidly, heaven help me). I'm sure there is other committee or class work lurking on my desk that will suddenly reveal itself to be ages overdue (the way I found a bill from November sitting in the stack of papers beside my computer at home: clearly I'd put it there thinking "I'll pay this just as soon as I..." and then got caught up in that other thing--whatever it was--put something on top of the bill, and buh-bye: gone, no longer in my universe, until I was digging through the stack of papers for something else).

Once upon a time I was able to get home and exercise for 40 minutes before dinner (and wasn't having dinner at midnight). Once upon a time, I might drop the occasional pearl--but now I'm losing entire strands all at once. I used to have all my photocopies done in advance.

OK, OK, yes: I also used to be younger and had different priorities. But still, it bugs me to feel so constantly, chronically, behind the curve.

Of course I do recognize that I'm probably not nearly as far behind or as disorganized and out of control as I feel--but how I feel, my perception is all that matters. And lately, I feel I'm not going a very good job of my job.

Not that the situation on campus makes it any easier to feel like everything is Hunk and Dora (a quotation, I believe, from Krazy Kat, though I could be mistaken). On three occasions in P&B I said, "Can I just retire now?" Nothing out of the ordinary was even going on; I just have very little patience for more of the same.

I recognize that my woes are, as one of my colleagues put it today, the woes of privilege. I remind myself--perhaps less often than would benefit me--that I am spectacularly blessed to get paid well to do something I care about deeply and where I have a great deal of autonomy. Nothing forces me to assign the kind of work I do, nor to give as much of myself as I do. (I do have to attend my contractually required two professional development events per year--and I may not have done that in this latest two year cycle, or I may lack the requisite documentation for having done so--and there are other contractual requirements, but no one is standing over me watching me sort widgets, or taking me to task for not punching the time-clock appropriately. And I don't have to clean up anyone else's mess, the part of my previous jobs I hated the most: being responsible for things over which I had no authority--deadlines being met, boxes correctly ticked.) I worked damned hard to get where I am, and I am very good at what I do (even when I feel like I'm not doing as well as I "should"), and I am in tall cotton.

So, all the bitching and whining I do here comes with a caveat: I truly am utterly grateful. But I reserve the right to complain.

So, what's the reframe for today? I like the way I ran both sections of 102. It was a very "chalk and talk" day, which isn't my favorite thing at all, but no one fell asleep. Well, someone came close, but then I stopped and made everyone do a little ridiculous "wave your hands and waggle your head" thing to wake everyone up (and I kept doing it, saying, "We're going to do this until everyone does it.... Nope, three people didn't join in, so let's do it again..."). It worked, partly because the moving did wake people up but also because it was ridiculous, which caught their attention as it was flagging. In any event, I did all I could to make use of their homework and to set them up for their first reading of literature (handing them the fact that the narrator of "Town Smokes" A) is not the author, Pinkney Benedict, and B) is a young man--since sometimes students assume that the narrator is a girl, long after the evidence would indicate otherwise). And now we see what happens. The later section of students still were confused about the difference between Handbook Review (which--my bad--I incorrectly worded in the syllabus, in two places, as "Response to Handbook," which really clouded the issue) and Reading Notes--but I had them get out the "Reading Notes" assignment, pointed them to the example, and saw the "Oh! Now I get it!" light bulbs going on around the room. I asked one student if she was still confused, and she said, "No, now that I see it in the handout..." and I said--cheerfully--"Oh! Read the handout! What a concept." I also reminded them that they need to use their campus e-mail to contact me and gave the example of an e-mail I got today from "Bob." I saw the e-mail, and actually did see that it was from one of my students (whose name, incidentally, is not Bob)--but I told them that I only saw that it was from "Bob," whom I don't know, and from an AOL account or something, so it went directly into my junk mail folder (that last bit is true).

We have to tell them what we're going to teach, teach it, then tell them what we taught. Over and over. But that's OK. They learn. That's what matters: they learn.

And that's the note I'll leave things on for tonight: learning happens. It's really pretty awesome.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Awash in a sea of handouts

This is so utterly ridiculous, but I have spent the last several hours simply trying to figure out what handouts I already have enough of, which I need more of (and how many more), and which need to be changed/fixed/altered in some way before they are usable. The ridiculous part isn't even so much the flurry of lists and folders and hide and seek as it was that I kept turning up more copies of things I thought I didn't have, or didn't have enough of. It's almost like an Easter egg hunt: where might I have hidden more copies of the "Introductory Paragraphs and Thesis Statements" handout? And are the copies in this folder the same as the copies in that folder?

A lot of stuff went into the recycling bin--and I do wish I'd done this a month ago, so I could have sent more of it off to Printing and Publications for them to run off on their big, zippy-quick machines, instead of having to put the wear and tear on the department's more fragile machines (not to mention using up our paper and toner supplies, always a source of wailing and gnashing of teeth when we talk about the budget).

But ah well. Maybe in some future semester I will be more organized and on top of things--or maybe not.

I am reminded, oddly enough, of a tradition at my high school. The last day of classes, seniors would line the balconies around the central atrium and engage in a ceremonial paper toss, flinging all the work they'd saved over the year, or years--and sometimes adding in text books, confetti, and heaven knows what else. (I remember the long-suffering but indulgent looks on the faces of the members of the maintenance staff, standing around the bottom of the atrium, out of the line of fire as it were, with their push brooms, waiting for it all to be over.) I'd rather like to go out on one of the little balconies on this building and fling everything I have in folders over the edge--preferably on a wildly windy day like today has been--and start all over from zero. Except, there is a lovely feeling of triumph when I have a photocopied original out of a book that I can use to make more copies, instead of having to painstakingly copy one page at a time, without cracking the spine, making sure everything is lined up and nothing cut off....

Well. Enough of that.

Class today went well--better than I expected, in fact, which is always gratifying. I had students sit in groups and talk about their own thoughts about what the word "nature" means--and I asked them also to consider three questions as a group: 1. What is "nature"? 2. Are humans part of "nature"? 3. Do you think our ideas about "nature" have changed over time? A couple of the groups ran dry before others did, but it was clear there are some real thinkers in the room, which is lovely to experience. I also tried something I've never done before: when I was about to bring the small group discussion to a halt and talk with the class as a whole, I went to each group and asked them to have some notes so they'd have something to help them remember what they'd been talking about. That's not new, but what was new was that I said, "What happens is, when you're in your groups, we have this" (waving around the room at the animated conversations) "but as soon as I ask people to talk in the class as a whole: crickets." They got it (some laughed), and they were ready to talk. I was especially pleased that the young man who was my student in SF last semester is leading the charge. He was explaining how I work to his group; he was the first to be willing to talk in the whole-class discussion; he is clearly more confident--and therefore more engaged--than he was for most of last semester.

I hope that shows up in his work, too.

It's good for me to spend some time thinking about, reminding myself about, interactions with students--as that's just about the only part of my job that I can stomach these days. The game has changed in ways that piss me off, and I want to take my football and go home. Tomorrow the Strategic Planning committee meets, and we'll find out whether we have been made utterly defunct by the new committee formed by the college president--even though the "only" difference between the two is more hand-picking of the involved faculty and that the senate has no vote in any decision arising from the deliberations of that committee. Paul told me today that the president of the Academic Senate has asked all the Executive Committee members to be at that meeting--to "support the work of the committee" was the phrase Paul used, but I can feel the brawl brewing. (On a side note: I rather love it that when people get riled up almost to the point of fisticuffs in that committee, the secretary for that committee simply records in the minutes, "Discussion ensued.")

Other committees are becoming equally difficult, albeit in different ways. In Seminar Hours, we're being asked to imagine what we'd want seminar hours to look like in our own perfect world. That should be easy--we work with our own students on their writing and reading, if necessary, period--but as soon as we say anything along those lines, the immediate response is that the Administration will never allow it. (If we're going to act for the Administration and nix any ideas we think they won't accept, why are we even having the discussion?) In P&B, the adjunct grievances have "gone away," thank God (though we still have to make a plan for observing the adjunct whose class I went to last semester)--but we're supposed to have gotten "final" applications for promotion today, and only two of the seven or eight people going up for promotion actually had their applications there, ready, professionally presented. The others were either missing entirely or (in one case) half-assed at best. One was there in a very unfinal form, but the colleague in question has been battling severe health problems since early fall, so I'm inclined to give him a break--and two of the missing applications were from colleagues on P&B (including Cathy--can you imagine learning how to manage this behemoth of a department and putting together an application for promotion at the same time? I don't know how the woman will manage--but I bet she pulls it off). But I had to have a little hissy fit about it after seeing what was--or wasn't--in the appropriate file cabinet. Paul reminded me of the P&B mantra: "Your application is your responsibility. P&B will help you if you adhere to the deadlines, but if you miss the deadlines, we will not be able to provide feedback." We still have to come up with letters of support--a requirement of the application--and in the case of the missing folders, I guess we're supposed to simply pull the information to use in the letter of support out of our left ears (or, as I said in an e-mail to P&B, other less savory places).

So, all that stuff, the actual running of the department and the campus, just has me in a permanent snit. I am cranky as hell about it all and want it all to go away.

But the students are great. I confess to being a little testy that I've had to explain in e-mails to several students the assignment information that A) is in the syllabus and 2) I explained in detail in class on Thursday--but at least they're asking for the help, which is a good thing. I'm trying to sound pleasant and helpful, instead of snarling, "If you'd actually read what the assignment schedule says, you'd see that..."

Blah blah blah.

And just like that, it's 8 p.m. (I think of the old public service campaign: "It's X p.m.: do you know where your children are?" Hell, I don't even know where I am, really. Physically, yes, but mentally? I'm all over the place.) But the lovely chime of the (electronic) bell in the Tower building tells me it's time to pack my tense and stagger off home--and I hope I can not think about things until I'm stronger, and I hope I truly am stronger tomorrow....

Friday, January 20, 2017

Quandary...

I'm working on the online version of Nature in Lit, and I've hit a pedagogic snag. In most weeks, there are two separate discussion boards--sometimes three or four. Initially, I was asking students to 1) Do their own initial post of approx. 250 words, 2) comment approx. 100 words on two other students' posts, and 3) do a follow up to their own initial post (either a response to someone else's comment or simply their own further ideas), also about 100 words--and I wanted them to do that for each discussion board. But I think that's too much. I think it's better to keep their own initial posts--no matter how many boards they have to respond to--at 250 words, but either require fewer words in the comments/follow-ups or make the requirement for comments/follow-ups a weekly requirement, rather than for each individual discussion board.

The problem is, I really do want them to have a "discussion" about each reading. I can group things by the same author, but--for example--I want them to read an extract from William Bartram's Travels and an extract from Alexander Wilson's American Ornithology the same week they also read extracts from de Crevecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer and his Sketches of Eighteenth-Century America. I can put the extracts from De Crevecoeur's two pieces together, but I really feel students should respond to Bartram and Wilson separately...

Quandary. Mulling.

Clearly it's time to lie down and read something that has nothing to do with work.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

P.S.

It's interesting to look at my "stats" from time to time. Suddenly, a lot of posts from 2016 are making it onto the "all time" greatest hits list. (And by "greatest hits" I mean those were the posts that people seem to have "hit" by doing some sort of search, not by simply finding and/or following my blog in general.) It's rather amusing to try to figure out what might have triggered the hits. Most of the time, it's utterly mysterious to me. But I like mystery.

Well, that was great. Now what?

The work I had planned for the 102s today went very well. I provided them with three quotations about literature: its value, how to read it, why students sometimes struggle with reading it, that sort of thing. I put them in groups and had them read each quotation, discuss it, take some notes so they'd have something to refer to in the whole-class discussion, know who would do the preliminary talking for the group. It sailed. They not only got the point of the readings, they got thinking about their own struggle to bridge the gap between the way they were taught to read in high school and what will be required of them now. They did a fine job talking in their groups, and they did a fine job sharing ideas with the class as a whole--both sections.

That seemed to make a good segue into talking about reading notes. I'll have to go over the point of notes and what they should contain many times, I know, but I feel like this was a good set-up for them. I also was able to clarify the assignment for Tuesday--mostly by having them read the actual words in the syllabus. (One of the quotations included the following: "Years of their so-called ‘reading’ is spent ‘making connections’ between themselves and text or the world and the text, but the foundational step of actually reading the words on the page is neglected often to the point that actually reading the assignment isn't necessary." [Karen Swallow Prior, “Why I Support the Common Core Reading Standards,” The Atlantic]. Never mind reading the work of literature in question; it's hard to get them to read what the assignment sheet says. I'm just saying.)

I'm sure some of them will still be confused, but ah well.

The larger problem is, the only things they have due for Tuesday are a self-evaluation and a review of the information in assigned pages in one of their handbooks. We can't do much group discussion of self-evaluations--and they were already doing a lot of that kind of reflection on their own experiences in their groups today--and going over the information in the assigned handbook pages won't take very long at all. So, what do we do with the remaining 57 minutes of the class?

I briefly considered bringing in a very short short story to read aloud in class so they could sort of practice annotating and turning their annotations into notes--but the addition of another story, unconnected to anything else we're reading seemed like it might be confusing. So I briefly considered starting to read the story they have to have read for Thursday's class--but that sounded boring as hell.

So I'm going to bore them a different way. Unlike my usual practice, I'm going to do a little preliminary lecturing, primarily about terminologies--but also about little things like referring to authors by last name, making sure the titles and characters' names are spelled correctly, other little pet peeves along those lines. And I'll review the instructions for reading notes with them, pointing out the examples I provided. It may be yet another class meeting when I let them go early--but that's OK. There will be plenty of times when I keep them until the last second, so it will all come out in the end.

I'm actually going to do more than the usual "chalk and talk" in Nature in Lit on Monday, pretty much for the same reasons--but also because, in reading the selection from Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation that I used this semester, I realized there will be a lot that they won't understand at first, so some preparatory glossing won't go amiss.

Assuming they stay awake.

Returning to today: I did, in fact, make good use of the time between classes--and even some of the time before my first class. I met with my distance ed mentor and got great answers to some of my questions as well as a seal of approval on most of what I've done. I do have a bit more yet to do, in order to have enough to show the VP for distance ed (the next step in the approvals process), but I am definitely making progress. I will need to print out a lot of stuff and go over it carefully to make sure I haven't made any howling blunders--and of course I don't need to have everything in place completely. I'm finally enjoying the process: thinking through the pedagogic rationale for what I'm doing, trying to think like an overwhelmed student who has never taken an online course before.

(Wow: totally got distracted there. Writing that made me think, "Oh, before I forget, I need to..." which led to another, "While I'm at it, I should..." and a couple of "I'd better do this now..." thoughts--and now I don't even remember what set off domino chain. Not that it matters, but this is why I am the absent minded professor: the domino chains are nearly endless.)

So, I'm chipping away at the online course, still finding my way with this semester's courses (the evening class thing creates a really weird rhythm, which will take some time to settle down: it's like Dave Brubeck's "Unsquare Dance," in 7/8 time...). But for now, I think I'm good. I don't feel any other niggling little things threatening to drop through the floorboards, so I'm going to draw a metaphoric line through today on the calendar and call it a wrap for this week.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A bit like fish and chips...

I feel battered and fried. Silly, really: it wasn't a hard day and included a moment in which I could be amused with myself. I raced out of the house today, concerned that I might be late for class: I opted to get tea from the little on campus snack shop close to the classroom rather than making my usual stop for coffee down the road, sort of flung things around in my office dashed off, got to my classroom--and Kristin was there with a room full of students, clearly in full flood of teaching a first class. What the...?? Oh. I was racing to get there by 10:30, as that was my start time in Advisement all last semester. Class started at 11. I could almost physically feel myself abruptly slow down (a lovely oxymoron, come to think of it).

Meeting the students in Nature in Lit was quite nice. My roster briefly had two students who were in the SF class last semester, but it's back down to one now. Fair enough; I'm sure the other found a more congenial class or professor or time, or whatever he was looking for. The students mostly seemed awake and aware--and one came to me after class to tell me how much he was looking forward to it, and to ask me to look at two of his essays. From what he said, I thought they were observations about Transcendentalist writers, but I took a quick look at them, and they are clearly his attempts to "be" transcendentalist himself. Ah, god: the curse of the creative writer who feels that writing well creatively is the verbal equivalent of a toddler with finger-paints. However, the young man is filled with enthusiasm for words and language, which I do not want to dampen, so I'll need to craft my responses diplomatically and constructively. I do worry, however, about the potential havoc caused to his academic writing by his creative bent. I've said for ages that a huge red flag for me is when a student comes up to me at the end of the first class and says, "I write poetry...." Hang on to your hat: hear comes a veritable hurricane of meaningless magniloquence.

But it's nice to have a student in the class who is jazzed about the material. I couldn't quite get a read on the class yet; I didn't identify anyone who was obviously out of his or her depth, but I'll know a lot more when I get their first writing--and their first reading notes.

I do hope that the block of time between my classes tomorrow turns out to be productive simply in terms of my feeling organized. (It doesn't matter if I actually am organized, you understand, just that I feel that I am.) I've got a lot of little bothersome mental gnats that I need to clear off so I can settle into some kind of work routine, find the rhythm of this very odd semester.

And please God, Cathy and I will stop discovering more mistakes that we made in scheduling.

Oh, but before I sign off for today: one student in the earlier section of 102 shows enormous promise. I remember talking to him in advisement and feeling he was a smart cookie--and so far, all signs are positive. He chatted with me briefly after class yesterday, and today I got an e-mail from him, asking if we would be using MLA 7 or 8. The fact that he even knew to ask is pretty marvelous. Another young man made a point of introducing himself to me after the evening class, and although he's slightly older than the average student and clearly more dedicated to doing well in school, he did keep saying how much he enjoys "typing"--especially if he can talk about something he's interested in. I hope he's equally interested in learning how to talk clearly and intelligently even when he's not necessarily interested in something (a much more important skill)--and that he truly does understand the difference between writing and typing. This ain't chimpanzees at typewriters having a blast whacking at keys and eventually (with the aid of a computer program to winnow out the letter strings that would form the correct words) producing Hamlet.

Early days, early days. There is no telling how the semester will shape up. I think I'm ready (or ready-ish) for the earlier section of 102 tomorrow--assuming the roster doesn't change too drastically over night. And now it's time to toddle over to the grocery store and then toddle home. Tomorrow being that other day we keep hearing so much about.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Well, this will be ... interesting.

This evening class thing is going to be a mixed bag, I think. I don't notice a preponderance of "older" students, as used to be the case--perhaps a few more who've been out there in the world for a while, but not many. One already annoyed the hell out of me by asking what two handouts were after I'd just spent a fair amount of time going over all the handouts. "Where have you been?" I asked him. I asked cheerfully enough, but my gut was saying, "Oh, hang it up. You've already demonstrated that you're not equipped for this." I could be surprised; certainly I have been before. More of the students were actually there than in the earlier section: I think only two were absent, which is pretty good for a rainy evening after dark.

I was disappointed that the three returning students from last semester who are in the earlier section were all absent today. Maybe they figured they didn't need to be there, as they already sort of know the drill, but I have to say that I don't feel this bodes well for them this semester. I truly hope they all button it up starting Thursday; I'll be quite unhappy if they end up screwing up a second time. Two of them are more naturally confident about their skills and abilities in any English course, but all three have loads of potential--if they don't sabotage themselves.

In between classes, we actually did have a P&B meeting; Cathy had a few things she wanted to go over with us, but she gave it the kiss of death by saying it would be a "short" meeting--which of course meant it lasted the entire 75 minutes. We certainly have a lot going on for the start of a term, between all the furor over adjunct schedules and grievances and a few SNAFUs with FT schedules that only came to light today: two faculty members who had one too many classes--and one who had one too few. That last was almost certainly my fault: I thought the communications had gone through about a substitution we had set up just in case--and apparently they hadn't. Fuck.

That said, I would like to start screaming and shaking people saying, "We need more office staff! We cannot operate like this!!" If our poor beleaguered Lori had enough help, someone would have caught the problems before today. Cathy and I were almost fated to screw up: her first time period and my first time without Bruce overseeing everything--and the madness of all the cancellations and schedule changes we were going through. My guess is that both Cathy and I are going to be obsessive about quintuple checking things for summer and especially for fall. But please heaven we'll have more help in the office at least by the time we get to doing fall schedules.

It's awfully damned early in the semester to feel like my strand of pearls just broke....

Anyway, I've been footling around long enough for this evening; my tendency is to stay here even when I'm not accomplishing anything very worthwhile, but I need to get my little self home. I'm hoping the gap between classes on Thursday proves to be a productive chunk of time for things like getting my triage list in order, making sure I'm ready for the second week of classes, that sort of thing. Tomorrow, class followed immediately by Advisement, and it will be a mob scene in Advisement, with students desperately trying to fill their schedules when they waited until the last second to register. Ah well. So it goes.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Note to self: Do not try to predict the future

I've been watching enrollment since Cathy and I finished our wonderful adventure, and of course there's been a surge in late enrollment. It's entirely possible the late afternoon 102 on T/Th that was originally on my schedule but that we canceled might have gotten enough students to run. There is another section at that time that isn't full yet, so maybe not, but almost everything is now running at or near capacity. I'm sure there are students wailing about not being able to get a schedule that works, but I have very little sympathy--except for the odd case in which financial aid was uncertain until the last second or for some other reason beyond the student's control he or she was unable to register earlier.

Oh, and our new adjunct union rep filed two grievances, saying that two adjuncts "should" have gotten classes. One is the problematic adjunct I observed last semester--and who is now going to be observed unannounced and as often as we can legally manage; the other is an adjunct with incredibly low seniority who was only willing to work on Saturday mornings...

Well, she's new at the job and is trying very hard to do her job well--but I suspect the folks in labor relations (as well as the folks at the head of the union) are going to have a little conversation with her about what is a legitimate grievance and what isn't. I think Cathy and I are off the hook; we've explained pretty damned clearly why those adjuncts didn't get what they wanted, so now if it goes any further, the adjunct union has to press forward--and I doubt they will.

Backing up to the sudden surge in enrollment, it's been a teeny bit alarming to see my 102s suddenly start to bulge at the seams. I am, however, glad I didn't make any more copies of the syllabus than I did, as I've made at least three substantial changes to it since I made the copies. I've changed the syllabus for Nature in Lit, too. They're not drastic changes, but they're important changes, so I'll have to toss all the copies I made (thank god campus has a recycling program) and start all over. By Tuesday, however, I'll have a much better sense of how many students I actually have. The mid-day section is filled to capacity; the evening section is getting much closer. (Nature in Lit has been holding steady at 22 for a while now....)

I've been very happy to have a lot of work to do today, actually. Work is an excellent narcotic, for me at least. Some people clean house when they feel down; some people exercise. I do have other "drugs" of choice (chocolate and a good popcorn read, for instance), but sometimes work is the best one of all. The only downside to it is that I sit at the computer for hours on end--and then wonder why I feel so physically uncomfortable when I finally have to stand up.

I didn't get any work done on the online Nature in Lit, but that was a pretty distant possibility in any event. I may try to get to it tomorrow, but I have some life maintenance to do--and I'm meeting with the Timid Intellectual from semesters ago: she just finished her first semester at Mt. Holyoke, and I do look forward to hearing all about it. Still, if I can find a good sized chunk of time in there, it would be great to slam through a little more of that work, see how close I can get it to being ready before the end of the first week of classes. It's unlikely I'll have it ready and all the signatures in place for the first meeting of the College-Wide Curriculum Committee, but I really want it done as close to that date as possible. That way, I can get it to the February meeting of CWCC, to the Senate in March--and conceivably on the books for fall, which would be delicious.

I may even turn into one of those faculty members who teaches 50% online and only has to be on campus three days a week--but I doubt it. My hunch is I'll spend more time on any online course than I do on the face-to-face variety, and we all know that I spend waaaaaay too much time on my courses as it is.

I'm sure there was something more interesting I was going to note about the work today, but damned if I can remember what it was. Of course, I'm sure that some idiotic error will make itself known to me in the next few weeks and send me scrambling for a fix, but ah well. This is good enough for a Sunday--when I'm ostensibly still on "break" (whatever that is). And time just keeps rolling along.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Crossed fingers and toes, hoping not to jinx anything...

..but I think Cathy put out the last of the fires about 30 minutes ago (our magnificent office administrator, Lori, realized that there was a course filled with students but with no professor). I spent a lot more time today working on adjunct stuff than I'd hoped--when I went in, there were a couple of small fires that needed to be put out before I could even start doing the counts of how many sections we had to offer versus how many sections were requested. Just for the record, the answer is: we had 70 unassigned sections--and requests for 138 sections. We canceled something like 48 sections. The goats really got their jollies this time around.

I did, however, get a chance to make the photocopies for the first day of class--and a tiny bit beyond, I think. My files are a mess; there are still about a dozen significant bits of work I need to do to have everything really ready for the start of the semester, and countless little gnat-type things that I have to swat so I'm not driven to distraction.

I know myself: I am not naturally very organized, so I have to impose ferocious levels of organization on myself, or I'll quickly lose track of where I am and what I'm supposed to be doing. The only frustration I had at all working with Cathy on all the scheduling stuff was that she's somewhat the same way: she kept getting distracted by X when we needed to focus exclusively on Y, and we spent a fair amount of time reminding ourselves and each other of decisions we'd made, why we'd made them, that sort of thing. But I will say that she did a remarkably good job of remaining good humored in a real trial by fire. Talk about shot out of a cannon... I have nothing to complain about, by comparison.

Of course, that doesn't keep me from complaining. I said this morning that I am aware I am bitching about being gainfully employed doing something that I care deeply about and being paid well to do it. I am blessed beyond all measure and should do nothing but offer my profoundest gratitude to the universe for allowing me to have the life I have. And as soon as I start looking at all the things for which I am grateful, I feel my resentments and anxieties recede. Not disappear, mind you, but back off enough that I feel I can breathe for a moment.

I have been aware of a trend I want to stop. Never mind the ways I abuse my body (lack of exercise, unhealthy food choices, not enough sleep); I have started to sometimes think how wonderful it would be to be literally, physically unable to do my job--at least for a month or two. I know that if that were actually to happen, I'd be miserable beyond words; it's just an indication of how hard it is for me to continue to get up in the morning and come in here to do this. There are still the moments that can make me feel exhilarated--like talking last semester with that student who suddenly was turned on to reading--but I've lost something I used to have. I used to wake up in the morning--even to a painfully early alarm--and feel fine about heading in to work. Now, I have days when I wake up in the morning and dread it. I hasten to say that the dread doesn't occur every single day, as it has in some of my past jobs, but the fact that it happens at all alarms me. I don't want to feel this way about what I'm doing. I've always said that if I start getting bitter and hostile--or simply stop giving even the tiniest of shits--it will be time for me to do something else, and I feel myself heading in that direction. I'm not there yet, but I am watching myself closely, monitoring my "I can't stand this" meters.

And I do periodically ask myself, "OK, stop doing this--and do what instead?" I can't afford to simply stop working--or I could, but I'd have to drastically reduce my standard of living, and I'm not yet to the place where that feels like the only viable trade-off. So my task, my personal goal for this semester, is to try to find whatever it takes so I feel the job is working for me instead of it being something I have to endure.

Wow. Writing that all out makes it sound like I am a great deal more depressed and miserable than I am. I am tired (when am I not tired?), and if I think too much about all the things that could possibly go wrong, I can get very depressed and miserable. But there is much to feel good about, too. Nature in Lit ran with sufficient enrollment without me having to sweat the numbers even for a moment. One of my 102s has three students from last semester--including two of the brightest, who dropped the course in the fall for various reasons. My Tuesdays and Thursdays are going to be brutally long: I teach until 7. Teach until 7. I usually need at least an hour or two to sort, organize, get myself set for the next day (and, yes, post to the blog), so I'll be lucky to be home before 10 those days, unless I can figure out a way to go through the decompression stages much more rapidly without getting the metaphoric bends. But I have my 102s on the same day of the week, so they're not going to be out of phase--which I value highly. And I don't have a zillion students in any of my sections, or not yet anyway. Enrollment is still going on, so I could end up with something closer to full sections, but I'm glad with what I've got.

I am. I'm glad with what I've got. And among the things I've got is tomorrow and Friday away from here. Cathy said she doesn't need me tomorrow (and I'm hoping no new fires suddenly flare up), and neither she nor I will be in on Friday. I can work from home over the weekend--and I have a big, long break between classes on Tuesday in which I can fiddle and futz around the office.

It's 6:24 p.m. and all's right with my immediate world. And that's about as good as it gets, folks.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Smaller fires to put out

I remarked to Ed last night that each day the scale of the fires we're putting out gets a little smaller. We started with horrifying crown fires, then more ordinary forest fires, then brush fires ... Now I think we're down to grass fires. There was a moment this afternoon--of course right after I had begun to celebrate that I was able to turn to working on my own classes--when it looked like the fires might escalate again, but it really was no more than the usual SNAFUs: assigning two sections at the same time to one adjunct; assigning two sections that had a time conflict to another. The biggest hairball of the day was trying to find someone who could teach an ESL dedicated section of enhanced composition--but we finally found someone (and a very good someone at that), so our bacon has been saved. (I'm not sure why we're saving bacon, but there you have it.)

I am going to have a little bit of a struggle with the new adjunct union rep for the department. She is just learning the job, and it's been a while since I had to do what's called the "retention pool," which is a method for indicating that we have not violated seniority in distributing classes. One of the things she needs is a list of who is qualified to teach what, and how the qualifications are determined. We don't have a nice master file of that anywhere: most of it was in Bruce's head, though the qualifications had been sent to someone (god knows who) in the administration as we hired new adjuncts--but now that we have a new chair and all the concerns about having clearly delineated procedures to satisfy Middle States (our accrediting organization), it is important that we have a nice, neat, clear, official statement of how qualifications are determined, how they can be updated--and who is qualified for what.

My struggle was getting the new rep to understand that--although I completely understand her concern that she doesn't have such a list--we can't simply whip one up in just a few minutes, nor can I simply explain it to her over the phone. But this is going to be an issue for P&B to deal with ASAP this semester. If we had more office staff, we could delegate the data-entry parts of the task to one of those people; if we knew who in the administration has the list, we could simply ask that we get a copy. If, if, if.

Right now, Cathy is so mangled by what we've just been through, I don't even want to bring it up--but I just sent an e-mail about it to P&B so I wouldn't forget.

And when I checked e-mail, there was a message from the new union rep, saying that someone who had given us about a zillion choices for her availability only got one course and is complaining about it. She didn't get anything else because of her qualifications--but the adjunct who sent the complaint to the union rep is the problematic adjunct I observed in the fall. We're going to be observing her multiple times in the spring--unannounced observations--because we tried giving her a class we though she could be good at it, and she made such a hash of it, we want to rescind the tacit approval of her qualification to teach the course. It's going to be one hell of a mess to deal with, and I am not not not looking forward to it.

I'm also regretting giving the union rep my cell phone number. I did just say that I prefer not to deal with work related issues on my phone so would prefer to stick with e-mails. The last thing in the world that I need is to get constant text messages about work. I know this has become part of our culture: that we are always instantly available for any reason whatsoever, from friendly hellos to work demands--but I refuse to play that game. I am not chained to my phone, and I refuse to be. I am entitled to my time away from work, God dammit, and I intend to protect it fiercely.

But for now, I think I'm about as done as I can be for today. That's both done as in finished, having completed anything I think I can take on today, and done as in cooked to a turn--perhaps even more than a little scorched. I found some errors on both syllabi and corrected them and started the list of what I need in the way of first week (or two) handouts, and I have quite a list of things I need to handle at home (turning .docx files into PDFs, for instance), but for tonight, I think I can wrap up and head home.

Cathy is happy to have me roll in sometime around noon or a bit later--which suits me fine. I just want a morning or two without having to get up to an alarm--and if I can get my photocopies done tomorrow, I'll be in fine shape. Mangled, but functional. That's about as good as it gets right about now.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Reeking of goat...

Today was another goat-fuck-fest. We sort of got the problems with FT schedules worked out, but we're still white-knuckling a number of courses that have low numbers. We got rolling on the adjunct schedules at long last--and hit some SNAFUs pretty early on. We got to the point where we were confusing the hell out of ourselves and each other, so we decided (probably an hour or two after we should have) that we'd do better to drop everything for tonight and try to get a fresh run at it tomorrow. There's a whole lot that we need to see happen in the computer systems before we really know where we are--and we just found out that there's only one person in the pertinent office doing all the course changes, cancellations, and so on, for the whole campus.

This is lunacy on an even greater scale than the fact that we only have one office administrator for our department. The wheels are falling off this whole institution.

I did try to get a little of my own work done this morning while Cathy completed the move into the Chair's office (or at least got it mostly completed)--but I'm so confused about what I have to do, what I've already done, where things are, that I'm about to lose my mind.

And I did lose my late afternoon 102. It's being replaced by an early evening 102 on the same days, which is generally a good thing, but it does mean I have to reconstruct my schedule in terms of my office hours, seminar hours, evening supervisor hours...

I know that eventually all this will pass and it will just be a story we tell: "Remember that one semester...?" But now, in the thick of it, it's hard to remember how resilient I am (how resilient all human beings are: people keep on keeping on through much worse than this little shit storm)--and it's hard to remember that this too shall pass. And it will. Even if the semester is a chaotic mess from start to finish, eventually, the semester will finish--and between now and then, heaven only knows what miracles might occur.

In any event, I would love to natter some more--my brains are in overdrive, I'm wired for sound--but I know what will be best for me is to take care of my non-work self and get out of here. If it pleases the gods, perhaps tomorrow will be easier; perhaps tomorrow I will be able to sit and work methodically through my own course work, feel clear and organized and on top of things. But even if not, it will be another day: nothing for me to yodel about right now.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Sunday progress report

I spent a good deal of time today whacking through the syllabus for the online Nature in Lit: I need to have enough put together that the VP can sign off on it. She needs to see that I have the basic nuts and bolts in place, such as a syllabus, course goals and outcomes, how to contact the professor, assignment requirements, blah blah blah. I need to go back to what paperwork I have online (the stuff I didn't lose in that mysteriously missing folder, along with the mysteriously missing book) so I can take a stab at going through the checklist, such as it is, and making sure I can show everything I need to show in order to move forward: not just get all the signatures again but get the thing approved by the College-Wide Curriculum Committee and the Academic Senate (which still does have the authority to approve curriculum, though our new president wants to usurp that authority).

In the process, I was trying to find a textbook I could like well enough to use. The one I most wanted to use is, sadly, out of print. I requested an examination copy of another, but I don't think I'll go with it: not only is it wildly expensive ($150+), it's so rigidly thematically organized and so lacking in older material that I can't pull it apart to do things the way I want. So, as of now, it looks like I'm going to go with the old reliable Norton Book of Nature Writing, college edition, which I used the first time or two I taught the class. It's "only" $50 (give or take) for a brand new copy, and it's easily available much cheaper used. Plus it's got enough of a decent selection that I can work with it, and it's pretty much chronologically arranged, which often works well for me in lit electives.

And I'm so in the groove, I kinda don't want to stop--but if I don't, I'll be nailed to the computer for many more hours; dinner will be ridiculously late, and I won't get to sleep until god knows when. But it's nice to feel that I've broken through some kind of resistance or fear and am making headway.

I probably won't get to work on anything of my own tomorrow--enrollment has not moved at all over the weekend, so Cathy and I will be having another goat orgy--but if I can at least make a stab at getting my first week handouts ready, I'll be happy.

And I'll almost certainly post again tomorrow...

Friday, January 6, 2017

Maybe goat foreplay...

Today wasn't quite the goat fuck yesterday was, but it was still one hell of a frantic day. We still have a number of FT schedules that are potentially in trouble, and we haven't gotten close to working on adjunct schedules--even though contract signing starts on Tuesday (screaming, mayhem, and other signs of utter panic). At this point I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing with my own courses--but hey. I may end up teaching an evening section of 102, if my late afternoon section doesn't suddenly experience a surge in enrollment. If anyone knows which gods need to be propitiated and how, please advise.

The other thing that was a little panic-inducing today was that our one full-time office staff member was out sick. She'd said last night that she didn't feel well but couldn't get sick; I assured her that her health was more important than work and that she should take care of herself. This morning she called Cathy: temperature of 102, very likely the flu. Cathy sent out the SOS, and one of the office staff from the Reading department came over to help us out. She was great; patient, careful: truly a god-send. We actually got Lori, our amazing office administrator, from the Reading department: she was just told she was changing departments and had no say in the matter. Consequently, the chair of the Reading department was more than a little reluctant to loan us someone, for fear she'd never get her back. And if we could do it, I'd love for us to keep Ann, the woman who helped us today. Time will tell what happens with that.

I have more I could natter about, I know, but Cathy needs a ride to the train station, and I need to start slowly applying the brakes to my turbo-charged brain, or I'll still be jittering at 2 a.m.

I may post over the weekend, as I'm sure I'll be doing work on my courses--and I'll definitely be posting on Monday. Stay tuned, faithful readers!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The usual "shot out of a cannon" feeling...

The start of the new semester is always a lot like being hurled forward, and this one is going to go down in the annals as a particularly violent shove for the start. Cathy and I were working on scheduling--but we didn't even touch adjunct schedules, except to take courses away from some of them. Forty-eight course sections on full-time faculty loads are in jeopardy because of low enrollment--and some of those are classes that have always run full-to-bursting in the past, to the point that we're usually being begged to open more sections. This semester, we've canceled seven sections already, and we'll probably cancel three times that before we're through. We're even going to have to give FT faculty evening sections of comp classes. That may not sound like a big deal, but the rule is that any comp course that is not scheduled during regular day hours must be assigned to an adjunct--unless there is a dire emergency.

This is a dire emergency. And the adjuncts are going to scream. I don't blame them in the least: I'd be frantic and furious if I were in their position--but we are that desperate. We're asking FT faculty to take classes at horrible times even within the day "grid," and we're hamstrung by the fact that--unless the faculty member is teaching online--she or he must teach no more and no less than four days a week.

There's a line in the movie G.I.Jane when an operation has turned out to be a nasty mess, and the Master Chief says, "What a goat fuck." Yep.

As for my own courses, I did manage to pull some things together over the holidays--including putting in a little work for the future online Nature in Lit. I have a syllabus for the FTF version I'll be teaching in 12 days (Jesus Christ on a bright blue bicycle!!), and I think I have a syllabus for the 102s. I haven't changed as much as I'd have liked in terms of trying to lighten the grading load for myself, but I have some intentions about how I'll do at least one phase of the marking. If I can follow through on those intentions, things will be somewhat easier than they were this past semester. And so far, I don't have anywhere near as many students. In fact, one of my 102s is on that "danger" list. I'm hoping for a surge in enrollment; I just looked at other options, if it doesn't get enough students in it to run, and they're bleak....

But I'm not there yet. A lot will become clear over the weekend. But I am definitely working with Cathy all day tomorrow. There's a little bit of furor over the fact that there is a "winter weather advisory" issued for tonight into tomorrow--but although I may have to drive to work slowly and carefully, it doesn't look like it's going to be anything that would cause a complete shut-down of operations. Of course, I remember my father's story of listening to a radio program in Pittsburgh, and someone called the station to say, "I just want to let the weather man know that I'm shoveling 8 inches of 'partly cloudy' out of my driveway this morning." Then again, there have been many times we've prepared for a blizzard of epic proportions and gotten nothing. So who knows.

But I'm taking it on faith that both Cathy and I will be able to grind through a lot of work tomorrow. It would be a miracle if we get to the point where we actually can start working on adjunct schedules--but man am I ever glad I didn't go any further with making preliminary assignments than I did, as pretty much everything I did is going to get undone. Cathy is even talking about coming in to work on the weekend--but that's partly because she's still in the process of moving into the Chair's office from the Placement office. I advised her to only focus on moving over the weekend and not work on scheduling at all; we can see where we are on Monday.

And I'll see where I am with my classes on Monday as well. I do want to try to squeeze out a little more plain relaxation and enjoyment before classes begin, but that will only be possible if I feel confident that I'm ready for the semester to start and won't be playing catch-up from the first week. The readers for the 102s have been printed and are in my office, and so far, I don't have to ask Printing and Publications for more copies of the Nature in Lit reader: I asked for 20 copies, and enrollment has been holding steady at 19 students for a while now. Worst case scenario: a few students have to start with just a few of the pages and get the full reader later, which wouldn't be a catastrophe.

And writing that makes me realize that I really do need to rethink the readings for the online version: it's just not feasible to scan as many documents as I'd need to in order to do my own tailor-made reader--never mind the fact that I'm treading on thin ice in terms of copyright laws if I post a bunch of PDFs of copyrighted material online. The early stuff I can find online already and just provide links: things that are in the public domain are pretty easy to find. But much of what I want to use isn't in the public domain, so....

Well, again, that's not a concern for today. Right now, I want to get out of here and take care of some life maintenance. (Yes, life still needs to be maintained, even when one is being stampeded by work pressures.) But it seems I'll be back in the swing of blog posting pretty early in 2017: I expect I'll post a bit sporadically over the next week and then the usual rhythm will assert itself.

Holidays? Did we have those? I don't remember...