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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, February 28, 2017

Literal and metaphoric fog

Walking back to the office after class tonight, the quad was beautifully misty, verging on downright foggy; I'm sure down by the water there will be actual fog.

And there is fog in my brain, for sure. I had a dreadfully wakeful night--for no discernable reason (generalized anxiety, apparently)--and I don't have the resilience I used to have after a bad night. I've been functioning today, but it's been a bit of a struggle, especially when it came to marking student papers. I just barely got the papers graded in time for the 5:30 class; in fact, I was late to class because I was finishing up the last one when I should have been walking over. Imagine, then, my disgruntlement that a number of students--including the one whose essay I marked last--were not in class today. Two of them contacted me; the rest? AWOL.

One of the two who contacted me is in the kind of predicament that's unfortunately all too common among our students. She is a single mother; she had been living with her own mother but was "kicked out," so now she's trying to make it on her own. Her grandmother, who had been providing day care for my student's baby daughter, has pancreatic cancer, so she's been unable to help out. And my student lost her job over the weekend, so she is unable to pay for day care and couldn't find anyone to help her out today. She probably will have to drop out entirely this semester--and it's a shame, as she has a lot of promise. I wrote her what I hope was a supportive and encouraging e-mail; I acknowledged that she may not be able to continue with school this semester, but I outlined various options for her--and asked her to keep in touch, no matter what happens. I hope she can come back this semester, but if not, I hope she can come back period.

The other student who contacted me is more problematic. It's taken me a while to figure out that he's actually pretty smart--but I think he spends a lot of his time stoned, so his mental acumen isn't reliable. He told me he's not feeling well today, and I choose to believe him, but this isn't boding well for his ability to do well this semester.

Of course, a number of students were AWOL from the 1:00 section of 102 as well--including both young women who were my students last semester. They're both headed for exactly the same outcome they faced last term: pretty soon they're going to be in "withdraw or fail" territory. I am disappointed but resigned.

Today's two meetings were fine. Poor Scott had to patiently deal with the fact that a good chunk of the seminar hours meeting was high-jacked by Cathy--not intentionally, of course--and there were only four of us there. But Cathy did start out conveying information crucial to the seminar hours discussion, regarding the union's stance on the whole magillah. However, what she said very quickly led us into the morass of what the Administration is trying to do and where their machinations leave us as faculty ... and there went a lot of specific, focused discussion of seminar hours.

P&B was more focused, in part because we had to just crank through the promotion applications, make sure everything was signed, sealed and ready to be delivered tomorrow morning but largely because Cathy was very focused in the information she needed to impart. She did share some of the information from seminar hours (it is interesting to me to step back periodically and note how the committees I'm on all dovetail), but she also was simply ticking off a list of things we need to know just so we know them. We'll take action on them in the coming weeks.

And now, I should stay here and read the essays that we'll be discussing in class tomorrow. Or, more accurately, the essays I hope the students have read and will be ready to discuss. After yesterday's class, I am not anticipating much meaningful discussion--and they're gorgeous bits of writing, in addition to having a lot of meaty food for thought.

But "should" doesn't equate to "am going to." In fact, I'm not going to stay here and read anything. I am going to drag myself home and hope like mad that I can get a decent night's sleep tonight. I'm reading an article in Time right now that talks about how necessary it is to mental and physical health to get enough sleep, so now, of course, I'm ready to lapse into dementia, heart disease, and uncontrollable obesity, all at once and all immediately. That, or get some sleep. The latter seems preferable--though perhaps equally unlikely. Still, it's worth the old college try, so to speak...

Monday, February 27, 2017

P.S.--I'm back!

I notice that there has been a sharp decline in "page views" since I took a few days off over the break. I'm back, everyone! Yoo-hoo! I'm back!

(There. I'm trying to break the previous record for page views in a month. I probably won't get there this month, but maybe in March? Come on, 800 page views! Hell, why stop there? Why not 900, or 1,000?)

Kicking the can a little further down the road...

I'm probably being overly sanguine about the number of essays I have still to mark and the amount of time I'll have in which to mark them tomorrow, but I have a choice: either I stay and try to keep working, despite the fact that I can barely keep my eyes open, or I take it on faith that I can finish up tomorrow. I have approximately 14 more to do: that's about 3-1/2 hours of work, though a few of them may be of a nature that requires little marking, either because they're good in terms of mechanics or because they need so much work in terms of revision that I can focus on overall comments for revision (for students who didn't submit the first version in time) and let them know that mechanics will have to wait.

I'm being optimistic about the amount of time available because these are all for the 5:30 class. I have a meeting at 10 tomorrow morning, but nothing between that and class at 1. I do have P&B, but I think we start late--and I do have to make sure I've looked at Cathy's promotion folder, as well as checking to be sure I've signed everything that needs to be signed. But I knew yesterday that I'd be getting up at 6 tomorrow, so I'm emotionally prepared for that (and it does require some emotional preparation, which doesn't entirely prevent the internal whining but at least mitigates it some).

Today's class was a bit of a bust, which was disappointing. I had assigned a relatively large chunk of Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac, including the section on the Land Ethic, and I think most if not all of the students stopped short of reading the whole thing. Their notes certainly looked pretty skimpy, and there were a lot of long silences instead of animated discussion--not to mention the fact that when they did bring up any points, they mostly were about the first pages of the reading, nothing toward the end. For next class, I assigned two Kingsolver essays, which was probably a horrific mistake, as I'm betting 99% of them read one (if that), but I couldn't make up my mind which to assign so I went for both.

If/when I teach the online version of the class, the assignments will be more limited in a lot of ways, as I need to use a book (or books) that the students can easily purchase. Right now, I'm working from the Norton anthology; it's pretty good (and not terribly expensive as these things go), but it contains a lot that I don't care about and misses a lot that I do care about--and none of the selections are very long (which the students probably won't mind in the least).

In any event, the advantage to what I've assigned this semester is that it forces me to reread these pieces--and I love them, so rereading them is a treat. (Why then do I need to be forced? Because I can always find 10,000 other things to do with my time and am unlikely to choose meaty nature writing when I'm looking for the literary equivalent of marshmallow fluff.)

Ach. That's enough for tonight. I could continue to natter, but the sooner I'm home and settled, the easier it will be to get up in the morning--and the easier it will be to get through the day. (Which is, you know, another day, not this one.)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Well, that wasn't how I thought the week would work...

I thought I'd be posting more often during the week, as I thought I'd be putting in more days of solid work--but that was not, in fact, what transpired. I guess, in hindsight, I'd say I prioritized life maintenance over marking student work--and consequently, I didn't get through as much as I thought I would. (I need to get that put on a T-shirt or something, as I say it so often.)

Today I was sure I needed to get the mechanics review copies marked for both sections of 102--until I realized I wasn't going to get that done without pushing through a series of walls. And, as is frequently the case, it turns out I probably didn't need to get them all marked, as I think the plan I have now will work out just fine. I got everything done for Nature in Lit--including reading the (lengthy) extract from Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac, which I haven't read since I was in grad school (and which was wonderful to revisit). And I got everything--including accumulated homework--marked for the earlier section of 102. So I have 19 essays to mark for mechanics for the later section of 102, and the homework for that class--but I'm not commenting on the homework. I'm just slapping on the scores and leaving it at that.

I still would be grateful for a surprise Tuesday blizzard, however. I don't want to miss meeting with the students in Nature in Lit; I'm very curious to know how they respond to Leopold, what they pick up on as noteworthy. But I wouldn't mind a slightly longer break from the 102s.

Speaking of the students in Nature in Lit: I sent out the Academic Progress reports, and to my delight, one student responded to the report, which said he is missing a lot of work and needs to do a better job on the work he's submitting. He's the young man who surprised me at the start of the semester: he sits in the back, baseball cap pulled down almost over his eyes--generally signs of a student who is in some way shut down--but he's extremely smart, reads a lot, knew enough about the Transcendentalists to share some knowledge with the class, is articulate.... He seems to want to do well, and as he is loaded with potential, I hope he follows through.

This experience reminds me how frequently in the past I've faced the frustration of the incredibly bright student who, for whatever reasons, just doesn't follow through on the work. It isn't enough to just work hard; one must have the native smarts to get top marks. But it also isn't enough to have the native smarts. The best students combine both: they've got the intellectual capacity and they work hard. I have a few of those this semester, and if I can turn Baseball Cap into one of them, I'll be very happy.

Now, however, it is time for more of that life maintenance stuff. (It's endless--thank God.) I'll be back to the usual rhythm of posts as of tomorrow. A demain.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Incremental progress...

Has there ever been a day when I started a blog post by saying I accomplished more than I expected? If there was, I sure can't remember it: all I remember is the virtually endless repetitions of "I didn't get as much done as I'd hoped" (and variations on that theme). Today is no exception. I did get through the rest of the homework for Nature in Lit (writing the same comments an additional number of times), and I've embarked on the mechanics review for the 102s. That's not going too badly, I don't think, but I will have to time myself at some point to see if I'm overdoing it, especially given the limited amount of time left in the break and the steaming piles of homework from the 102s that I have accumulated while working on their essays.

I submitted the "academic progress" reports for Nature in Lit; it's interesting to see who does and who does not check.

Currently, I'm also wondering what might transpire with my call to jury duty. My number hasn't come up yet, and it's about a 50-50 bet about whether it will come up for Friday. If it does, that puts a further crimp in the time I have for marking assignments (though I imagine I'll still spend a lot of time waiting around, in which I can certainly continue to mark things). A more remote but potentially alarming possibility is that I could get selected to serve on a jury, instead of just being called in to a voir dire. But, well, I'll figure out what to do about that if/when it happens.

Getting back to the work on student work today, it did help significantly that I made myself get up and move every hour: I set the timer for 60 minutes, and every 60 minutes, set another 5 in which I had to either walk around the apartment or, more fun, dance to the Brazilian music I had on. (Wisdom from when I was working on my dissertation: have music on, but nothing with lyrics that might catch one's mind. My Portuguese being essentially nonexistent, Brazilian samba and jazz do just fine, even when there are vocals.) That kept my body from seizing up and kept my mood a little more upbeat.

Tomorrow I am meeting with a friend in Connecticut; I'll take work to do on the ferry crossing, but I know I won't get much done. (It's not a long trip.) Whatever I manage to accomplish on the boat, I'm certain I won't be in a frame of mind to blog after I get home, unless something really monumental comes up. I will pick up the posts on Friday, assuming I'm at home working, not in the jury pool.

Time now for a little life maintenance and a gradual gearing down. I haven't slept well yet this break. Maybe tonight will be the night.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Several kinds of wall

I put in a small stint of marking the enormous wodge of homework from Nature in Lit yesterday, and a longer stint today. I fully intended to finish them off today--and I got close enough that I am frustrated to have hit the wall, but I realize there are two walls to be hit: one physical, one psychological.

The physical wall has to do with eye strain. I did take a break to go to a doctor's appointment--and it took my eyes a while to be able to adjust focus to further away, but since getting back, my eyes haven't been able to refocus on anything desk-length away. It doesn't matter what glasses I wear, or how close or far from the words I am: everything is a little blurry, and that detracts from my ability to focus mentally.

The psychological wall is the exhaustion that comes from saying the same thing over and over and over: here's how to write notes; here's what to look for; here's what you're missing. And from reading the same pabulum over and over. Something in K-12 education as it now stands encourages thinking in cliches and in "the moral of the story" type applications to "real life." So, Hector St. John de Crevecoeur's musings about bees attacking a king bird becomes "if we all work together we can overcome any obstacle." I grant you, Crevecoeur tended to use his observations of the natural world to make moralistic points, but even so, I think there's a little more going on.

The other thing students are taught to do is to generalize. I can't find the article now--I think it's by Katherine O. Atcheson--but one article I read about the importance of reading literature noted how students have to be taught to actually look at the words on the page and treat those words as if they mean something specific. I have probably written at least a dozen times on student homework, "Read what's actually there, not what you think will be there."

I've talked with the students a number of times about their notes--and I know perfectly well that until they've seen comments from me (more than once), they won't think what I'm saying applies to them. ("Not me! That's everyone else in the room, but not me!" No, baby, it's you, too.) So I have constructed part of the wall myself by not getting work back to them more quickly. However, I'm on the verge of asking how many of them would like to attend a little mini-workshop on notes, outside of class time. I doubt many of them would--and even if they would, I doubt I can find times that would ensure enough attendance to make it worth my while. But I'm at a loss. I do not know why I cannot find the way to get them to understand the value and purpose of writing out their thoughts about the reading. If I just ask for their thoughts, they'll write plenty: they are experts in the art of solipsistic maundering (or, as a colleague aptly puts it, playing with their own poop). But thoughts about something specific, where they need to demonstrate that they actually understood the reading on any level beyond superficial summary? Nope.

I suppose I should fess up and say that I don't usually use the note-taking process I'm forcing on them--but when a reading is complex enough, and my thoughts about it hard to hold on to, I have used it precisely as I show it to them, and I can personally testify to the fact that it fucking works. But I'm this grey-haired English professor, so obviously either I can do things they will never be able to do or I want to do things they see no value in doing. Or both.

I think I wouldn't be quite so down about it if even one student was producing notes that are close to what I am looking for. Not one--at least not yet. Discouraging to say the least.

But discouraging or no, tomorrow I must finish up the Nature in Lit stuff so I can embark on the vast sea of joy that is marking 102 essays for mechanics errors....

I will say that it's been a treat to revisit Sand County Almanac, even if it's only the sections of it I assigned for next Monday--and it's a treat to be able to read that and still feel like I'm working and not goofing off. For now, however, my mind has produced as much actual thought as I'm capable of at the moment. It is definitely (or, in student speak, defiantly) time to goof off.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Another Saturday post (and some celebrations toward the end)

(I'm not going to make a habit of this, but as I'm here...)

I was fiercely resisting the idea of coming in today. The childish whine in my head was saying, "It's a break! I'm supposed to have a break!" but the adult intervened with two responses: "You will feel a lot better if you get the work done early in the break, so the rest of the break it isn't hanging over your head. Also, you have to go to the store near campus anyway, so you might as well."

I'm glad I did. Getting things organized didn't take as long as I feared--and I do feel that my feet are more clear, so I can see how to move forward. I know I need to put together a new triage list, but it will have to wait until I've had a chance to plow through everything I'm taking home, at which point, I hope I'll remember what committee stuff is coming up, any other bits and orts I need to take care of.

I do have quite a huge bolus of student work to chip through this week, I must say. Not only do I have all the assignments that have been piling up for Nature in Lit, and the latest round of notes and reviews for both 102s, I also have the mechanics review step to do on the 102 essays. I tell myself not to mark much, to keep it minimal, to make them do the work of finding what needs to be found. We'll see how well I am able to keep my compulsive pen under control.

I will ask the 102 students how they feel about the electronic essay marking. I like it for two reasons: 1) because I can return essays any time--day, night, weekend, whatever--I don't have to panic about getting them marked immediately for the first several conference appointments; and 2) because it's easier to type than to write by hand. I can also do more cut and paste, which does save time--and if I need to add to or change a comment, I don't have to use gallons of white-out. I don't think they'll care. They still have to print out the same number of copies of their work, just at different stages in the process.

Oh, and speaking of that: I don't know if I mentioned that one of the first essays I marked was all on PDF; when the student came to her conference, there were just little bubbles where the comments should have been on her printed essay. Today, I did a new PDF for her. It only took a minute--as I could copy and paste from the comment bubble in the original PDF to the comment bubble in the Word document I was using--and now she can print out a copy that will allow her to actually see my comments as she works on revising. In terms of the tech learning curve, not only did I realize I could translate PDFs into Word, I realized I don't even need my laptop to do it. I just signed in to Adobe Pro here at the office, and Bob is the sibling of one of your parents. I love it when I figure something out (though I don't so much like that I usually figure it out long after it would have been most useful).

Talking to Ed on Thursday, I realized that I hadn't related some excellent moments with students that have happened in the past week. Let me take a moment to celebrate those here:

1. A young man in the earlier section of 102 has had me puzzled. He registered late, has seemed resistant (felt to me like he had a chip on his shoulder, but mostly he just was all but silent in class). One day, I even thought he might be giving me the finger. Certainly the hand he was leaning on had the middle finger raised against his cheek, but I thought, "He's too old to think that's subtle, isn't he?" Before the essay was due, I returned some of his homework to him unmarked: it had been submitted in red pen, so I simply said, "Recopy these in dark blue or black ink, please." At the end of that class, he asked me when he should submit the recopied homework--and that was my first intimation that he might not be as resistant as I'd thought, as he seemed completely willing to follow my directive. He came to conference, listened very carefully, didn't ask much--but as he got up to leave, he said, "I just learned more in this 20 minutes than I learned in all my English classes before this." I gaped, and then managed to thank him. He said, "I'm serious. My teachers before this never had us do anything, and now I'm really learning something."

Well, shucks.

2. A young woman in the later section of 102 is also a bit of a puzzle. She's quite lovely--that striking coloring of black hair and green eyes that I associate with Persian heritage--and she has one of those teeny, tiny mouse voices common to women who have been trained to be reticent. However, she does comment in class: she's very engaged. Her essay was pretty darned good, and I told her so as she was leaving her conference. She said, "The reading notes are very helpful. They really make it much easier to write."

Wow, really? Thanks!

3. A young woman in Nature in Lit signed up for a meeting, so I saw her in the midst of all the 102 conferences. Her reading notes have been pretty bad, and she wanted to talk to me about how to make them better. I asked her to talk to me a little about what she's seeing--and damned if she wasn't seeing absolutely great stuff in the reading. I enthusiastically said to her, "Write that down! Put that in your notes!" She was thrilled to bits: she had been looking at the summary other students were doing and thought that was what I wanted--but as soon as she understood what I was looking for, she wanted to re-do all her previous notes. I told her to work backward: to start with where we will be after the break, and if she has time to also re-do some of the old assignments, I'd take them.

The big question, of course, is why it is so easy for me to forget to record these moments that are so good. Part of it is that my first priority is to dump all the toxins as rapidly as possible, but I realize I've been neglecting the part of these blog posts where I reframe for myself and focus on the positive. Note to self: it makes a huge difference in terms of my ability to face the job with energy and enthusiasm. That said, I am already thinking about how many weeks we have before the next break (and this one hasn't even started yet)--and hoping against hope that the Monday when we're supposed to be back, we have a monster storm. I do have a little air built into the schedule before the next essay, so it wouldn't disrupt the schedule--as long as it happens before the next round of conferences.

But that's all way down the pike. I can now just load up the tote bag with student work and my beautiful, handy-dandy folding editor's desk and head off to the store ... and pastures new.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

I'm such a softie...

So, last appointment of the day was with the young man who gave me his mother's cell phone number for his contact information. I got a call a few minutes after his appointment was to have started--his mother. He had called her, confused about why no one was in the classroom. (Note: I posted a sign outside the room reminding students that this week there would be conferences in my office. I said that in class. I think I said it in an e-mail to him as well.) I explained; she said she'd call him back. I waited ... and just as I was about to put a sign on the door saying that I'd waited as long as I was going to, he came shuffling along, looking lost.

At first, I was pretty impatient and gruff--but he looked so small and pitiful, and he's so earnest and tender that I couldn't stay mad. I went through everything as slowly and carefully as I could. He repeated some of it back to me--incorrectly--so I said it again, and eventually, he understood at least part of what I was saying. We'll see how he does. He's one of those difficult cases: it's just hard to tell whether he can pull himself up just high enough to get to the top of the climb or whether he'll fall. I honestly wouldn't be surprised either way.

And honestly, I found him a lot easier to be a softie with than the guy who made a point of introducing himself to me after the first class and who told me how seriously he takes school. He didn't submit an essay because it would have been "crap" and he knows he's supposed to be working on his writing skills. I pointed out that "crap" would at least give us something to work on; as it is, his writing can't improve because there is no writing to improve. I actually suggested that he consider withdrawing.

It probably is time to start cutting some of them loose: the lazy, the uninvested. The ones who care--regardless of skill level--I'm happy to keep on with.

I am far too tired to say much more tonight. I will probably be back here tomorrow, or if not tomorrow then Saturday, just sorting through what I have: what handouts go to which classes when, what do I have in the way of assignments I have to mark, do I have all the rubrics I need...

My profound hope is that, over the break, I can get on top of the work. I almost don't care if I sleep (except insofar as sleeping improves my efficiency). I just want to come back from the break and feel like I have a little teeny pocket of air to breathe before the next wave hits.

For now, all the mess is just going to remain a mess. I'm not even watering the plants. I'm staggering out of here. I am certain to be posting over the break (when I work, I tend to post)--but perhaps not on the regular schedule.

Enough. I'm outta here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I'm so screwed...

As I was working on essays for tomorrow, I kept uncovering a late submissions that I had agreed to mark (postponing the students' conferences until Thursday)--so I thought I had nine left to do, marked one, realized I still had nine left to do, marked two, realized I still had eight left to do....

And I still have four left to do--all of them students who submitted their essays on time. Fortunately, their conferences are all late in the day--but unfortunately, students who were supposed to meet with me earlier in the week keep rescheduling themselves into tomorrow's schedule, so I have progressively less and less time in which to meet with them.

The largest frustration I'm having isn't with the quality of their essays; as I said yesterday, I'm oddly OK with that. It's with the students who are being irresponsible in one way or another.

Me: "You didn't submit your essay at all. What happened?"
Student: I procrastinated; I thought I'd missed the deadline so I gave up; I couldn't figure out what to write; I didn't know I had to do it...)

Student: "I'm submitting my essay now."
Me: whatever floats your boat, but you're not going to get any credit for this first part of the assignment, so you just lost 150 points....

(Student arrives in my office, out of breath, sits down, looks at me expectantly.)
Me: "So, you have some things to hand in today?"
(Answer should be, "yes, here's the clean printout of my essay and here's the handbook review.")
Actual answer: blank look.
Me: "OK, did you get a chance to look over my comments on your essay?
(Answer should be, "Yes, I have the printout here." Even the answer, "I didn't get to finish looking at them" is acceptable.)
Actual answer: blank look.
Me: "Did you check your e-mail?"
Answer: blank look.

Me (wishing I had a baseball bat or a 2x4...): "OK, well..."

Four students who have conferences tomorrow did not submit work--or were going to submit it today and I told them I can't accept it at this point. One of them--the most frustrating of all--is the lovely young woman from last semester who is incredibly bright and has such crippling anxiety that she's probably going to have to withdraw from the class again. I wish I could do something for her, but I truly can't; I know she's seeing a therapist (or she was last semester), but whatever progress she's making is not enough to get her through my class. Again. I want to upbraid her. I want to put my head down on the desk in despair.

But what I need to do is get the hell out of here. I have to be back in 12 hours so I can have a fighting chance of getting those last four essays marked and back to the students--and hope to hell they're frantically checking e-mail, looking for information about their essays. (I interrupted myself there to send them an e-mail, letting them know to look for their essays tomorrow--but really to see if they're checking e-mail at all, so I know whether to be prepared for another round of scenario #3, above. My hunch? For at least two of them, if not three of the four. I'm hoping it's not four of four...)

Oh, yeah: and I don't know if I've remembered to actually provide a point total for the essays as I've been sending them back. Comments, yes, but did I let them know their points? In the case of the last handful? Probably not.

One thing at a time. The thing at this time is go the fuck home.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Leaving "early" is the better part of valor

OK, well maybe not valor; maybe it just makes sense. Or maybe it doesn't even make sense: I have ten essays to grade for Thursday, and not a lot of time in which to grade them tomorrow (or even Thursday morning, for the students I see late in the day)--but that whole "candle at both ends" thing is starting to make itself apparent. I managed to squeak out the last essay I needed to have done for tomorrow before starting this blog post; I truly don't think I have another one in me today; if I try, I'm afraid I'll misread a lot of the student's points--and that my own comments will be nearly incomprehensible.

So, I'm packing it in for today. I'm hoping that I can get a reasonable night's sleep tonight and that the 6 a.m. alarm, plus whatever time I can squeeze out of the day around/between student conferences is enough to knock off the rest.

I may have mentioned on Sunday, but this is when I not only feel a little bit of guilt over how relieved I am that students have not submitted essays but how relieved I am when the essay is so bad that I don't have to say much.

I am rather surprised by how little frustration I feel at the quality of their essays. Maybe it's simply because this is the first set of the semester (we'll see just how much those frustration levels rise over their second and third essays), but I'm wondering if part of it is the novelty of commenting online--coupled with the fact that I had no naïve expectations that the essays would be better than they are. I know that the essays are uniformly pretty weak--there are a few sparkles among them, but not many--but I'm strangely OK with that.

Or maybe it's just that I'm too tired to give much of a shit.

(At that point, I took a break to revise the letter of support for Cathy's promotion application and to distribute it to P&B. I just felt I needed to cross one more thing off the triage list before heading home.)

Oh, and, speaking of the tech learning curve (which we weren't, but never mind): yesterday and today I brought my laptop to campus, thinking I needed my fancy-schmancy version of Adobe to work on student essays--but I really only needed it to translate a few of them out of PDF form and into Word documents that I could comment on. Once I have that, translating them back into PDF can be done from the office computer just as easily--and that saves me a step of getting files off the laptop and onto the desktop. I feel terrible about the first essay I worked on: the student had submitted it as a PDF, so I made all the comments on it using the PDF functions--but when she looked at it and printed it out, all my comments just appeared as little "speech bubble" icons with no content. In order to see what was inside the comments, she needed to hover the cursor over each one. Poor thing is stuck trying to revise using that to see my comments. Everyone else has a nice clear PDF with my comments visible off to the side. The type is miniscule when they print it out, but they can see everything. So: note to self.

Now, however, I really do have to get out of here. If I try to do anything else--if I even look at anything else--I'll be here until 9 p.m. again, and that will mean not enough sleep, and here we go 'round the prickly pear.

I'm off. (I'm also leaving.)

Monday, February 13, 2017

I have to get out of here...

No time for a real post today. Pearls are bouncing all over the place, plates smashing to the floor; it's almost 9 p.m., I've been here since 9:30 a.m., and apart from about 10 minutes to wolf down lunch, I've been hard at it the whole time--and more to come tomorrow. Didn't get the essays marked for Wednesday's conferences--a few, but not all. God knows when I'll get them done, or Thursdays. I may be caught up on P&B stuff (until, as I just said in an e-mail to my colleagues on the committee, my hair catches fire in tomorrow's meeting).

It's a lead pipe cinch that I'm going to be in the office over the break, just to organize handouts. Fuck me sideways.

Maybe more tomorrow. Christ...

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Not one but TWO weekend posts!!

Today went a little better--and it did help to get up and move once an hour. It does help some that I can often cut and paste comments. I am not entirely sanguine that I can get the essays for Wednesday marked tomorrow--or even tomorrow and Tuesday, since I have almost zero time on Tuesday (and less now that I have a seminar hours meeting Tuesday morning; as it is, I'm going to have to leave seminar hours early to meet a student. I don't want to miss any more of the meeting than I have to--and certainly don't want to miss the whole thing--but lord god is the timing ever crappy).

I also have to acknowledge--as I usually do--the gift that is provided by the essays that are so completely wrong that there isn't much to say. Those saved me a lot of time.

I still have to get to the grocery store tonight, however, and I am going to at least try to get up at six in the morning, try to get a few of Wednesday's essays marked. The one thing in my favor on that score is that almost half the students who signed up for conferences on Wednesday didn't submit essays. I don't like celebrating the fact that they are going to get walloped over that, but purely selfishly, I do look at the names that are crossed off the list and think "Oh, good."

But one of them, to my deep disappointment, is a student from last semester: very bright but with enormous anxiety. It looks like I'm going to lose her again, and I hate that--but she's missing lots of class, and she missed submitting this essay. I don't like administering tough love to her, but she really does have to come though on the work.

Well, but all of this is fooraw for another day. Now, I'm going to drive carefully to the store and back and then begin my wind-down for the night.

Until tomorrow...

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Not so productive

So, electronic grading.

I'm not sure whether the issue is that I write more extensively, since I'm using a keyboard instead of a pen and ink, or whether it's all the futzing around I have to do with formatting things (pasting the rubric into the student documents so they have both is infuriating: all the formatting turns into I don't know what--and not always the same I don't know what--and I have to reformat it all to get it to fit), but it's taking longer than usual to mark the assignments. I am dealing with a little bit of a learning curve, figuring out what's possible and best ways to get to what's possible, but it's not as smooth and easy as I was hoping. I've been at it for most of the day today, and I barely made a dent. I have everything graded for the Monday conferences, but there aren't very many of those--and a number of the students scheduled for those conferences haven't submitted an essay (which reduces grading time significantly, of course, as all I have to do is shrug). But I have twice as many essays to mark for Tuesday--and if I don't get the vast majority of them done tomorrow, I'm going to be truly frantic. I won't even pretend to myself that I'll get them all done (that would be best of course, but fantasies are usually better than reality). The main thing is that I will have almost no time for marking anything during the day on Monday, and even less on Tuesday. I think you can see the domino chain from here: reduction in available time, days passing, more essays that must be done...

Of course, I've sent seven e-mails to students containing a marked essay and reminders about what they need to bring to their conference, and with each e-mail I've asked for a confirmation of receipt--and so far I've heard back from precisely one student. I do realize that I may be driving myself wild to mark essays in advance of conferences for students who may not bother to retrieve said essay in advance of said conference--but thus it ever was.

Further in the good intentions going nowhere department (is that where we were?), I also told myself I'd get up and walk around a little after every second essay. Not.

Well, there's always tomorrow, which is, as we all know, another day when I am sure to be stronger. (I'll need to be, if I'm going to accomplish what I have to accomplish--which includes getting to the grocery store. That at least will get me out of my chair and unkink my knees.) I'd keep working now, in fact, except the protests my body is registering are getting hard to ignore--and I do need to wind down at some point, and winding down always takes me a good stretch of time. I may end up burning the midnight whatever tomorrow to crank through my quota, but for tonight, I declare what I've done sufficient unto the day.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Productive...

I very nearly didn't come in today: campus was closed again (though I don't quite know why, as all the major streets were clear and most of the minor ones), and the lure of the whole "it's a snow day; I don't have to do anything but loaf" thing was pretty powerful. However, I knew that if I didn't get at least the P&B stuff done, or mostly done, I'd regret the hell out of it next week.

So I got Public Safety to let me into the building and into the main office, where the promotion folders are, and I reviewed the two I hadn't seen since their first incarnation back in October and wrote pages of notes; I typed up the notes and sent them off to my colleagues on P&B. Then I wrote first drafts of the two letters of support I'm responsible for and sent those to my colleagues. (And at some point in there, I had a sudden wave of panic: I don't remember if I looked at the Human Rights folder for Cathy--and as her mentor, I have to do that before members of the college-wide Promotion and Tenure committee look at it. So, Monday, between students, I'll be making a phone call about that--and maybe dashing over to the Tower building to view her file.)

Of course, Cathy has her promotion folder at home, but she'd sent me an electronic copy of the text part (not all the documents supporting her claims). I dug through it to find the high points to put in the letter for her--it actually was hard to find anything that wasn't a high point--and I found a few things I could fix or suggestions to make along the way. It needs more of a fine-tooth comb than I had time or patience for tonight, but I'll talk with her during the week to find out when she'll be working on it again and what she'd like me to do to help.

I also did a little test-drive of a method for commenting on student essays. I had asked two colleagues who regularly teach online what they do, and one suggestion works great for me: I can download the essay from Turnitin as a Word file, make comments using the "Review" function--then save the document as a PDF file, so my comments don't disappear (and so most students can't tinker with what I wrote, as most don't have anything more than Adobe Reader, which doesn't allow editing of PDFs. I, on the other hand, actually have Adobe Acrobat, so I can edit PDFs, which is great for the essays submitted as PDFs by a few students--probably because they were working in Google Docs).

This whole electronic pedagogy thing is kinda fun, I have to admit. I'll be interested to see if marking is any easier, goes any faster, when I do it on the computer instead of by hand.

Of course, as I'm writing this post, I keep interrupting myself: "Oh, I need to remember to send Cathy the comments on her application." "Oh, I need to remember to send myself the most up-to-date grading rubrics." "Oh, I need to remember to leave myself a note about the Human Resources file, which means I need to look up their extension."

"Oh, I need to remember that I have to water the plants before I leave."

On which note, I will wrap up for today. I may post over the weekend, depending on what comes up as I'm marking assignments. Or I may not. I just love keeping my faithful readers in suspense: will she or won't she? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

50 phone calls later...

I have covered my bases as well as possible: tomorrow is a snow day. (The forecast of 1-3 inches turned into 3-5, then 6-10, and is now 8-12.) Of course, I'm partially relieved: snow day means a morning when I do not have to set the alarm, get to campus. But part of me also feels royally screwed by the weather gods: the 102s have an essay due tomorrow. I grant you, a snow day tomorrow is a lot easier to deal with than a snow day next week would have been: rescheduling conferences would have been a bitch; I've been there before. But even so, because of the complex domino chain for progressing from first version to final, the class cancellation for tomorrow meant I had only two real options, neither of which I liked.

One option was to cancel the conferences next week and just move the submission date to Tuesday--but I think the conferences are enormously beneficial, especially with the first essay, and I'd have had to come up with a plan for Thursday, which somehow felt too challenging.

The other option--which I chose--was to deal with essays electronically. Students will still upload to Turnitin.com, but I'll download their essays, make comments on each essay file, save it as PDF, and e-mail it back. Then conferences can proceed next week as planned, as can the next steps of the process. Not only do I have to do less reconfiguring of the process; this will also be a good way for me to test drive online essay grading--which I'll want to know when it's time to do the online Nature in Lit.

The other downside to the snow day is that it significantly truncates the time I have available for reviewing promotion applications--and I'm once again woefully behind. I will have to come in on Friday, but I have a doctor's appointment in the middle of the afternoon--and the office won't be open late. I probably have to come in on Saturday as well as Friday and ask Public Safety to open the office for me.

Back to contacting the students: it would have been nice if I could have counted on them to check their campus e-mail, but of course that was a forlorn hope. So I ended up calling almost all of them. Two had already let me know they got my e-mail; one is in class with her boyfriend, so I got two students with one call. And two provided numbers that could not actually be used to contact them, one because the voice mail box has not been set up, the other because he provided the college with the wrong number.

I felt terrible about that one: I reached a clearly exasperated man who apparently has been fielding many many many calls from the college intended for this student. The gentleman I spoke to said that he was relieved to finally be able to explain the situation to an actual human being (instead of getting automated alerts--of which a number have gone out just today, regarding the canceled classes tomorrow). He was very patient, despite being annoyed, so I've sent a message to the Registrar, asking if we can at least delete the incorrect number from the student's records until I can get hold of him and tell him he needs to change his personal info.

But in the case of the students I couldn't reach, if they don't upload their essays tomorrow, the essays are late. If they operate on the wrong assumption--and don't think to check for information from me, and don't provide a phone number I can actually use to reach them--then it's their too bad. I've done all I can do to help them.

Of course, it's possible they'll be smart enough to check e-mail--or open their NCC e-mail to contact me with a question and see my announcement--but I wouldn't put any money on the odds.

(I won't get into the concern about the student who put his mother's number down for his contact information. He can't figure out how to upload his essay, either--and probably doesn't know how to check his NCC e-mail. He's a sweet, earnest kid, clearly out of his depth, and clearly being "helped" by parents who want the best for their child but are not giving him a realistic sense of what he'll need to do to make it in this world. My heart goes out to all of them, but still.)

In any event, pretty soon here, I'm going to pack up whatever I can take home with me to work on either tomorrow (in between bouts of shoveling) or over the weekend--and I'll deal with promotion applications and all that other stuff when I can get back to campus. It's going to be a relatively fierce push to get me through next Thursday, but then I really do get that week away from campus--and I am looking forward to that more than I can express.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Like my hair is on fire

I've been feeling frantic and harried and on the edge of panicky all day. Partly I'm freaking about the fact that I'm freaking out: I keep saying, "I used to be able to do all this without getting so woefully behind at every possible turn." I don't know if that's actually true: maybe I've always been this far behind and this frantic and I just have a very selective memory.

I will say that when I met with my promotion mentee on Friday, he and I talked about what it was like going through getting our various degrees--and being on sabbatical--and I felt a huge yearning in my soul for that feeling, especially the feeling I had on this past sabbatical. That experience was exhilarating and challenging and calm and focused and wonderful--and I want that feeling back. I don't yet know how to attain that goal, but it's good to have a sense of what I'm trying to create for myself, apart from further mayhem.

I called in sick yesterday--cancelled class as well as my Advisement time--and spent most of the day marking student assignments. I still didn't get them done. I had to race through about half the assignments for the 5:30 102, and I have almost all of the assignments from Nature in Lit yet to mark. I would love to get those back to the students tomorrow; I'm going to be collecting two days' worth of work (Monday's and tomorrow's), and on Thursday I'm hit with the deluge of 102 essays, so I really need to get my feet as clear as possible.

The funny thing is that on Sunday, I knew I wanted to call in sick the next day but I was telling myself that after this week I have a break anyway. When I realized that I have this week and next before the break, I thought, "Well in that case, fuck it: I'm staying home." I had hoped to get some sleep. Hah. Fat chance.

In addition to my difficulty getting on top of student work, I truly have been falling down on the job in terms of P&B. I haven't read the folders (not even Cathy's--still), and I haven't been responding to the endorsement letters my colleagues have been writing for their mentees, never mind writing the ones I am responsible for.

But here it is almost 9 p.m., I have hit several walls in succession; I still need to make a stop at the grocery store on the way home--and probably "should" get up at 6 (or even earlier) tomorrow to get in and get cracking on those assignments for Nature in Lit.

I really highly doubt I'll be any stronger tomorrow, quite honestly (it's a nice little fiction, Scarlett, but we both know better). But I truly can't think about--never mind do--anything further tonight. My brain is experiencing the intellectual equivalent of running on fumes. I'm outta here.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Zippy-quick Friday post...

So, I met with one of my mentees for promotion; the meeting took longer than anticipated but it went well; he understands what he needs to do. And I slogged through the promotion folders I should have had read for last week and those I need to have read for Tuesday--but there are still three pretty hefty ones to go, one of them Cathy's, and as I'm her mentor, I kinda need to get to that one, oh, yesterday. Still, it feels good to have at least some of them done. Maybe Monday night, or Tuesday before class, I can churn through a few more.

Still to do on the promotion folder front: write letters for my mentees--also should have been done already.

I am taking a wodge of homework with me when I leave the office today: homework in two senses, as in that's where the students did it (ostensibly), and I'll be working on it at home, too.

In showing the students in the 5:30 102 how to upload their essays to Turnitin.com (the plagiarism detection thingy), a glitch was revealed--and I'm glad it was, as I now can fix it in advance of their trying to upload their essays. That's another little chore for this weekend.

At some point, I need to write at some length about a student in that class. He's trying very hard--but he admitted to me that his mother has been doing things like handling his registrations, so he had no idea how to log on to the campus system or how to get to Blackboard. I think his mother is helping him with a lot more than simply those logistics: my hunch is that she's writing his homework for him. He is so earnest, it breaks my heart--and I want to strangle his mother, as she is doing him no favors; her "help" is just keeping him stuck in an undeveloped state. But more about that later.

In addition to the student work and glitch fixes I need to get do this weekend, I absolutely must go into the "development course" for the online Nature in Lit and make a few fixes/adjustments/clarifications there: I'm meeting with the VP on Tuesday at 4, and I sure won't have time Monday or Tuesday prior to meeting her to work on it.

I do realize, however, that if I can get the P&B work cleared off before Thursday, I will have a little more elbow room for marking the 102 essays that will be flooding in. I don't quite feel like I can breathe, but I do feel like I might be able to do without oxygen for a while longer, which is decidedly a step in the right direction.

Now, however, the office plants have been watered; student work is in a tote bag--which this week I will actually remember to take with me--and it's about time to face the traffic and head off to violin lesson.

And Monday, I'll face a new week bright eyed and bushy tailed. Or not, but I will continue to turn the crank, as my father would have said.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

I'll be back...

(Schwartzenegger voice...)

Actually, all I mean is that I'll be back here in the office tomorrow. Good thing, as I don't have it in me right now to sort out everything in my pack or the stacks on my desk: handouts for the 102s (what I need to give to the students who were absent today; what I need to hand out on Tuesday; what I can move out of my pack altogether and put in folders in the rack on my desk...), assignments from the 102s, whatever I have from Nature in Lit, blah blah blah.

I have been riddled with anxiety all day. Bad news on the veterinary front knocked me for a loop this morning (and the lack of follow-up from the vet has been bugging me all day); dealing with that got me to work later than I'd hoped--and I'm just plain anxious about all the work I have yet to do, as well as anxious in anticipation of what I'm facing grading student essays.

Among other things, it just occurred to me today that the essay assignment submission requirements say that a late hard copy needs to be submitted to me by 6 p.m. the day after the due date--but this semester, that will mean Friday, which means I need to make a trip to campus next Friday to collect late assignments (and there will be late assignments). I also have one less day to spend on marking before conferences begin: last semester I had from Wednesday to Monday; this semester, I have from Thursday to Monday. And I think I have more students--or at least as many.

I was doing the math in my head. I have 28 students. Let's round it up to 30, for the sake of the math. At 30 minutes per essay--which is about my usual--that's 15 hours of essay grading. It doesn't all have to happen over the weekend, of course: once students have signed up for conference times, I can see where I have breaks and use that time to continue marking for the students whose conferences are later in the week.

The unusual wrinkle will be handling the special time constraints of the students in the evening class. Many are parents, taking multiple evening classes and working all day. I don't know how best to get their essays to them in advance of their conferences, as they may not be able to get here to retrieve them. I may end up scanning them and sending PDFs--which will be a bit of a time commitment on my end (not to mention that I'll have to find out what the options are for scanning here in the office).

Well, challenges are what keeps things interesting, right? At the moment, the minor challenge is getting used to the new computer here in the office. It's a nice new computer, with more up-to-date operating systems--but it doesn't have all my old bookmarks on it; in fact, it only has Internet Exploder, er, I mean, Explorer, not Google Chrome, not even Firefox. I've asked our departmental tech person if I can get a better browser--and I've asked if there is any way I can retrieve my bookmarks. It's not really a huge deal; it's just that every tech upgrade requires a bit of a learning curve, so that's, well, a challenge.

Both classes today were OK. I don't feel I did a spectacular job with either one--everything is feeling rushed, and I'm aware that I should be going over things I'm not going over, but we'll limp along somehow.

I am glad that, after the frantic push to get through conferences, I have a week off. I'm decidedly going to need it. True, I'll be on stand-by jury duty that week, so there's the chance I'll get called in to a voir dire, possibly even empaneled. But I don't have to hang around the courthouse all day every day (as was the case when I lived in Brooklyn). I just have to call in after 5 p.m. each evening to see if I'll be called upon the next day. But even if I am called in to a voir dire, it's not teaching. I probably will have assignments to mark over the break--but not essays, just homework. And with any luck at all, I'll get to do a lot of sleeping, which sounds like heaven.

Now, however, I need to get the flock out of here--and be back tomorrow morning to meet with one of my mentees for promotion, go over the promotion files I haven't looked at yet, and sort out my paperwork before my violin lesson. And the fun continues...

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Time dilation? Not teaching but on a space ship?

I do not know why everything seems to be taking 400 times longer than it should. I have been working for hours on the homework from the 5:30 102 class, and I've made almost no significant progress. I hope I have as much time tomorrow before the 1:00 class and between classes to get it all done, but yumpin' yimminy, this is maddening. It's as if I'm traveling near light speed, but all my work is still on the planet I'm traveling away from, so time is passing normally for me but whipping along everywhere else: a minute for me is an hour in "real" time.

Or I have actually become a sloth and just don't realize it yet.

Despite the huge stack of assignments I still must mark for tomorrow, I have decided that retreat is the better part of valor in this particular circumstance, and I'm going to head home as soon as I finish this blog post. (No groceries to pick up, no need to get to the pharmacy: just home, James, and don't spare the horses.) I decided not to get up earlier than usual this morning, got to work at my usual time--and I'm going to do the same tomorrow. Sleep is required for even minimal effectiveness.

Class today was ... meh. I really hadn't assigned enough for them to read, so we really didn't have much to talk about. However, during class, when I was checking in with the groups, a student said, "I'm not used to working in groups, and I don't like it." I was more than a bit taken aback, but I didn't address it in much depth at that moment: I simply suggested a strategy for him to try and kept moving. But he said it again at the end of class, and since I had let the class out so early, I knew there was time for me to talk with him, so I asked him to wait.

He told me he didn't expect me to change anything; that he was just "giving voice" to his discomfort. He also recognized that he probably shouldn't have blurted it out in the middle of working with his group. My hackles were not up in the least: I just wanted to understand what the problem was, in case there might be a way for me to address it, or further strategies for him I might suggest. We ended up having a very pleasant, wide-ranging conversation--in which I told him that I will, eventually, start micromanaging the groups, creating different mixtures for different pedagogic purposes--but also that I will try to make sure he doesn't keep ending up in the same group (which tends to happen as students tend to sit in the same desks every class). One of his group mates has been a young man who is very bright but clearly somewhere on the autism spectrum: a strange, flat affect to his speaking, lack of awareness of how loud he is, difficulty engaging with what others have to say, prone to rather bizarre interjections. (Case in point--according to the student I spoke with after class--the comment, "I ate a lizard once." Um, OK....?? Actually, the student I was talking to handled it beautifully, better than I would have: "Really! That's unusual. What kind of lizard was it?")

The upshot of the conversation was that the young man--I'll call him Garbo, because he just wants to be alone--acknowledged that learning to adapt to group work would be interesting for him, and if he could think of something that would improve his learning experience in dealing with groups, he'd "give voice" to that, too. And I hope he signs up as a mentee. I'd enjoy talking with him further.

I also had a meeting with the student who withdrew from 102 last semester, was on my roster for a while for this term but withdrew again (actually, she changed to an online section, which works better for her). I think I've been calling her the Young Activist--and indeed, a lot of our "mentoring" appointment was spent talking about politics, protest, activism... Paul was here for part of it, and clearly enjoyed listening to a bright young woman who is well informed about national and world events and who wants to act on her convictions. She's a world-beater, that one. I don't know what direction she'll ultimately go in--and I hope she's in no hurry to figure it out. She does want to spend some time being more professionally activist, while she's young enough to handle a potentially insecure income stream. I think she should definitely pursue that vocation: it calls to her heart, and she'd be great at it.

Harking back to my first paragraph, it is true that I spent an hour talking with her--and hour that could have gone toward marking assignments--but it was well worth it. I need those contacts with students: the bright ones especially, but really almost all one-on-one with students is good. The silent ones suddenly come out of their shells. The lunks catch fire. The doubtful gain confidence. The confident gain humility--but grow from it. I am not looking forward to the ferocious stress of essay grading prior to conferences (starting end of next week), but I am looking forward to the conferences themselves.

But that's looking further down the road than I want to right now. Right now, my main objective is to get home. Home and deranged...