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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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Friday, March 31, 2017

Opting for life maintenance

I bailed on being a student today--and I bailed on being a teacher, opting instead to take care of human needs: the basic errands of life maintenance that tend to get shoved to the side but truly do need to be done sooner or later. I have more to do tomorrow, which makes me nervous, as I have so very much work to do before Tuesday--and since I'll be collecting essays from all three classes next week (Nature in Lit and the two 102s), I want to get as much of the collected homework returned as possible prior to spring break so I can actually take something like a break. I'll still be grading student assignments (or fussing about how I should be grading student assignments), but if I know I will take a few days to do a little warm-up on my summertime sea-cucumber impersonations. I might even see a friend who is not also a colleague. Will wonders never cease.

I do want to briefly report on the value of being a student, however. I had a truly crappy practice session on the violin today--the first time I've practiced in over a week, and it was monumentally frustrating. Some of that is because I've embarked on a new skill (vibrato, which looks so easy and sounds so purty when other folks do it but which is hard as shit and sounds like torture when I try). My instructor--who is in some ways actually a pretty bad teacher--did one very good thing which was to tell me that I would be frustrated and miserable and that it will take at least a year to start to get it. That was enormously helpful, and it made me proud of myself for confirming for my students that what I'm asking them to do is hard.

I also ended practice today in a "that's it, dammit, this is no fun: I quit" mentality--which lasted about ten seconds until I thought, "What about that whole 'work through frustration' thing you're so fond of preaching, Prof. P?" Kinda shut up the "I quit" voice, I must say.

Not much more to report today, I confess. Depending on what transpires tomorrow, I may post again. Or not. The blog posts don't seem quite as necessary to my sanity on weekends.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Got through it

I'm going to have to interrupt this, I suspect, as I'm waiting for one more student to show up. He's late--typically--so my only question is how long do I give him before I close the door. I suppose I can give him until 6:58; his appointment ends at 7, and if he shows up at that point, it will be too late to do anything. If he shows up before, well, we'll do the best we can with whatever time we have.

Meanwhile, about the day...

I didn't finish the last of the essays until I was in the middle of the stream of students, but there were often little gaps--one conference ended early, or the next student would show up a bit late--so I managed to even mark the one essay I'd told myself I could let go. And I did "let go" of one student: this is the kid who couldn't format his essay correctly--and, of course, that was the only thing he was interested in when he came to talk about revising. He hadn't actually looked at his e-mail to read my comments. Done. Next?

Actually, I didn't just toss him: I talked to him. He did the usual, "Is there any extra credit?" (me) "It was already built into the schedule." (him) "Is there any other extra credit?" (me, stealing a page from Kristin) "You didn't do the work I assigned; why would I ask you to do something else?" He wasn't going to accept it but I kept explaining that he couldn't do a semester's worth of work in the last five weeks, and he had so many zeroes or marks nowhere near passing that he'd passed the point of mathematical no return. We filled out the withdrawal form on the spot. Still remaining to be seen: if he has his shit enough together to submit it to the Registrar and make the withdrawal official.

The one unsurprising but still disappointing moment today was to find that a student had plagiarized. Only one student, so far--and he's the poor benighted kid who can't seem to understand instructions of the most basic sort. He came to his conference and admitted that his sister "helped" him with the essay--and that she must have taken something from the web... So, I pointed out, that's his sister doing a little too much of his work, if she's putting things into his essay that he isn't even aware are there. He tried--a little--to brazen out the "No, she just helped me" thing, and was a little agitated and defensive, but he also said he wasn't going to disrespect me and the zero "is what it is." True that. I asked him what his intentions are. I meant about the class, but he thought I meant academically in general, and he told me that he's going to finish this semester--for his father, he said--and then no more school for him. So I asked him whether he could withdraw from my course. No: he started with six classes, and he's down to two, so he needs to stay in mine.

Ultimately, the deal we made was that if everything he turns in from now on is 100% his, no help from his sister or anyone else, he'll pass. (It may be a mercy D, but he'll pass.) He agreed to that.

And then my favorite moment of the day: this skinny kid I could snap like a twig says, as he leaves my office, "OK, Sweetie, have a great weekend"--and he does the little "'tch' sound, thumb up, cool dude" thing. I couldn't see his face, but I bet you he winked. Hilarious. I managed not to laugh out loud while he was in earshot, but truly: it was completely ridiculous.

(The 7:00 bells just rang--which means it's 6:58. The door is closed; I've left a note for the student who didn't show. His attendance is a serious problem: he may be next for the axe to fall on.)

So, I have everything neatly organized in my tote bag to carry home for work over the weekend; I have a master triage list; my colleague Scott awaits me for a nice collegial dinner and "adult beverage" as he is wont to say--so I believe, unless something occurs to me in the next few minutes, that I will water the plants and then I'm outta here.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Jaysus, what a slog

It's rather miraculous that I'm in as good shape as I am in terms of the number of essays I have left to grade tomorrow morning. Between students whose appointments were on other days rescheduling into my open hours today, students from Nature in Lit taking me up on the offer of help in conferences, and students I ended up talking to for more than the allotted time, I really thought I'd be here until midnight, or would have to be back at eight tomorrow--or both.

I still have six essays to mark--but in a way I'm only obligated to mark five of them, as one was submitted so late, I told the student that I'd mark it if I could get to it. (She's an excellent student and she was dealing with a real life catastrophe, so I bent the rules for her. OK, I broke the rules. I will still take a whopping late penalty, even if I have time to provide comments.)

The last essay I graded today was one of two that I knew in advance would be seriously problematic--but, I hate to say it, they're the kind of problematic that leaves us without a lot to say. I'm knocking myself out trying to come up with something positive to say on every essay--and I almost had to fall back on the comment one of my grad-school professors noted having been the best that could be said about an essay: "Well, you certainly put a lot of words on the page." (A bit like Churchill's reported "compliment" when presented with someone's infant to ooh and ah over: "Now that's a baby!")

I'm falling over tired, of course--and I feel even more tired when I think about everything I have to do this weekend--but I do want to mention two particular meetings with students today.

One was with a student from Nature in Lit. He's been getting catastrophically low marks on his homework--what homework he's submitted--and I think I mentioned that after class one day he said that he couldn't figure out what he was doing wrong and wanted to meet with me. We sat down with one of the essays and with his notes, and I pointed out that his comment that the author (I'm paraphrasing) "used a lot of really descriptive words to paint a picture in the reader's mind" doesn't exactly indicate that he's understanding the points of the reading. It took several tries to get him to even begin to understand that the beige bilge that "we should appreciate nature" is not, in fact, the exact point of the readings.

We were looking at Richard K. Nelson's beautiful work "The Gifts," and I asked the student what the gifts of the title are. "We should appreciate nature." (Spare me.) So, I skipped over some of the--admittedly completely gorgeous--scene setting at the start of the essay and pointed to a specific sentence. "Watching deer is the same pleasure now that it was when I was younger, when I loved animals only with my eyes and judged hunting to be outside the bounds of morality." I think we had to go over it five times before he could see that Nelson is saying 1. He used to think hunting was wrong and bad, and that the only way to "appreciate" deer was to look at them, 2. Now he hunts--but he "appreciates" deer exactly the same way that he did when he used to just love looking at them. Eventually we went on to the next sentence, and the next: and all that took about 30 minutes. Finally, at the end of the conference, he realized that he needs to go back and reread anything he's thinking about using for his upcoming essay and pay that kind of attention to it. (Yes.) He also realized that he needs to read at home, where it's quiet and he can concentrate (yes) and that it's going to take a long time to get the reading done if he wants to really understand it (yes). But he was starting to get that feeling of finding one's way through a maze, or coming out of a fog: things aren't clear yet, but they're getting clearer. He said he kind of didn't want to go back to some of the things he'd read before, because now he'll realize how much he missed--but I pointed out to him that now he won't miss as much.

I don't know how deeply all this penetrated; I don't know how long this epiphany will last. But he's starting to get the idea that reading actually means more than just running one's eyes over the page. Yes.

The other meeting was with the bright young woman with the enormous anxiety issues who dropped last semester--and has to drop again. She told me she'd recently come to the realization that she is engaged in self-sabotage: as long as she keeps on being unsuccessful at completing the course (and others), she doesn't have to face her fears about what next. But she wasn't trembling with anxiety this time--and, after we talked for a while, she solidified for herself a plan to finish her degree at NCC, as well as how to manage the anxiety inherent in the fact that she now has to take four courses over the first two summer terms in order to graduate in August. I also sort of boxed her into saying she's going to major in psych at whatever four year school she goes to by saying her undergrad degree could be in anything: it's the fact of the B.A. that matters, and it will get her a job--but that her grad degree is what will get her a career, so that's really when she needs to have a sense of what she wants to do.

Moments like that are when my own history as a late bloomer comes in handy. It's nice to be able to tell students I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up until I was in my 40s (slight exaggeration: when I started grad school, I was still in my 30s--but I really wasn't sure until I started adjuncting, which was around the time I turned 40, that teaching was my cuppa).

In any event, she wasn't in tears at any point: she's clearly found much more stable ground to stand on, which is wonderful to see. We even got into completely unrelated territory (the stories around her name, the names of my first two nephews, what she wants to name her children, how to tell whether a name "works"...)--and she asked for my phone number, so I gave her my cell phone number, and I have her now in my contacts. This is a kind of mentoring that doesn't go on the books--but it makes one hell of a difference. I imagine she'll be one of the students I keep in touch with for a long while, which suits me just fine.

Oh, and shifting gears abruptly and radically: I decided to replace one of the readings for Nature in Lit (which I had assigned but left out of the photocopied packet) with two little Le Guin short stories: "Mazes" and "The Wife's Story." I'll be very curious to see the responses. (And I put the students back in groups today--and yes, class went better.) I also have decided to assign Avatar along with The Word for World Is Forest. Essay topics still completely unclear to me, but I'm getting closer to ideas...

I could probably keep nattering about all this, but I need to get home--and before I leave, I need to at least make a few notes for myself of what I have to take home over the weekend. I've started yet another triage list--this one just for this weekend. (I still am not making lists of my lists, but I'm frighteningly close.) And I will be doing all I can to be here as close to 9 a.m. tomorrow as humanly possible, so I can--please god--get a running start at the remaining essays to grade, and still (maybe??) have periodic breathers in the parade of students in which I can tend to e-mail (which silts up the work in-box frighteningly quickly) and start sorting out the teetering piles of paper all over my work spaces, at least making nice neat stacks if not actually getting some of it taken care of and shoveled out the door.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Squeaking it out

By my calculations I have a little less than six hours of time in which to grade essays between tomorrow--around class and conferences--and Thursday before the rush of conferences begins at 12:40. I have eleven--possibly twelve--more essays to mark. One student, one of the best students, has not yet submitted her essay; normally that would mean no comments and a huge grade penalty, but I know she's dealing with some serious difficulties at home, so I'm trying to work with her so she can get the success she deserves out of the class.

So, of the essays I actually have in hand, one will almost certainly be excellent (unless something truly bizarre occurred, like the student was temporarily taken over by a pod person), and at least one will be disastrously bad. So there's a chance--slight, but a chance--that I'll be able to get everything done.

I did, however, cancel my PT appointment for tomorrow evening; I know I'll need the time after my last appointment to crank out a few essays--as many as I can stand.

As for today, one real stand-out moment. There's a student in the earlier section of 102 that I've always thought of as a very pleasant young woman, personably likable, but she seemed pretty disengaged from the class, and her work has been, shall we say, less than stellar. In our conference on her first essay, I got the feeling she was doing the "I get it, no problem [I'm not taking in a word you're saying just let me out of here]" thing, so I was anticipating more of the same today. However, she started with a very good--if somewhat startling--question, which was how she can avoid the "statement of intentions" approach to her opening paragraph: I will show, I will figure out, I will this that and the other. I was at a bit of a loss how to explain to her what she was doing, especially in contrast to what she needs to do--so I finally showed her examples of good opening paragraphs by students in the other section of 102. I asked her what she noticed, and she said, "It's a lot better than mine." OK, what makes it better? It took her a little while to grasp what the difference was, what she needs to do--and then, suddenly, I realized her eyes were filling up with tears.

She sat next to me and cried for about ten minutes. Here I thought she was a tough cookie who didn't really give a shit, and it turns out she's breaking inside because she always thought she was "good at English," and now she feels lost and "stupid" and overwhelmed. Apparently, she's getting some pretty fierce feedback from her art teacher, too, and it hurts her heart, deeply. She wants to be good at this; she wants to learn.

I just wanted to hug her, soothe her, offer comfort. But the best I could offer is to tell her that the problem isn't that she's "bad at English": she's facing a huge, difficult learning curve, being asked to do something utterly alien and new. As for the students who seem "so much smarter": they just got where she's trying to get earlier than she did, but that doesn't mean she can't get there. She apologized for crying, and I assured her that it was an excellent sign, as it shows she cares. She's afraid she's going to flunk the class--but now, of course, I will do everything in my power to keep that from happening.

She's going to see me next week on Monday, and I'll do what I can to see her again during the week, before the final version of the essay is due. I'm trying to be very pragmatic and teacherly, but it makes me deeply sad to see her struggle and suffer--and to know that the struggle and suffering are, I'm sorry to say, necessary and important. She does have a hell of a lot to learn; she has a huge chasm to get over before she'll be able to do what I require. And if she were with a different kind of professor, she wouldn't be suffering this sense of personal failure, she wouldn't be feeling so humiliated. But she's with me, and I can't take away the things she feels. All I can do is try my damndest to help her get across that chasm so by the end of the semester she is smiling and feels good about herself and her accomplishment.

But I do feel like a monster--and I am reminding myself, again, that I need to be even more certain to point to what's good, what the student in question can do more of, can build on, not just what's wrong.

Meanwhile, among my conferences tomorrow is a meeting with the young woman who dropped 102 last semester because she was dealing with crippling anxiety--and who is going to have to drop it again this semester, because she's gotten herself into the exact same place of no return. Have the tissue box handy: she'll be miserable about it, but it's a reality.

Also up tomorrow, Little Miss "I don't think there should be so much emphasis on analysis because it's stressing me out." Still to be determined: will I rip her head off--or will she reduce me to a soft-hearted puddle as the Tough Cookie did today? (Tune in for the next exciting installment...)

For now, I feel like I've been beaten with knouts while facing a sandstorm with my eyes open. I'm getting out of here almost an hour earlier than I did yesterday--but it feels like 2 a.m. Six more days of classes, six more alarm-clock mornings, and then spring break, after which we enter the "hang onto the safety-bar and scream" part of the semester.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Screwed myself over--again

Sometimes I am almost painfully aware of how I repeat myself in these blog posts. I didn't push as hard as I needed to over the weekend, and yes, I'm going to pay for it tomorrow and Wednesday, as I feared I might. It's an open question whether I'll be able to get the essays for Wednesday marked tomorrow; I only need to mark four, but I don't have much space between appointments, unless people don't show up. I cringingly asked Cathy whether I can skip P&B tomorrow. I didn't mind when Bruce ran the ship, but Cathy is more of a stern task master (and has much more of the Catholic school work ethic, which may be even more grim and unforgiving than the Protestant work ethic--and neither of which is at all close to my work ethic, which essentially says, "Nah, fuck it: I don't have to do that. I'll do this instead," even when "this" is reading a dopey mystery). I haven't heard back from her yet about that; if I haven't heard by the time I come to campus in the morning, I'll ask her face to face (if I can find her in her office).

But even with that time, I'll be hard pressed. And I'll be very hard pressed on Wednesday to get through sixteen essays for Thursday. I can, if necessary, do some of them on Thursday morning (for the students whose appointments are after about 3), but I'm just going to have to blast, with every available minute over the next two days and into Thursday.

And it's already 9:15, and I just finished grading the last of the essays for tomorrow--and that's after an unexpected hour of freedom because my two afternoon appointments today both were rescheduled.

Very strange, though: The first several hours I was at the computer, I didn't seem to make any real progress I don't know for sure what was going on there, but it worried me enough that I started setting a timer as I'd begin each essay: 25 minutes, working on the typical two an hour rhythm and allowing myself a few minutes to finish up one and do all the dopey formatting on the next. I found that usually I was wrapping up at the 25 minute mark--so, again, I'm not sure why I got so little done between 12:30 and almost 4 (if memory serves). If that same rhythm holds in terms of the essays to be marked for Thursday, I'll need eight hours--minus time for bio-breaks of various sorts. And I don't have eight hours on Wednesday. I have about three, around my various appointments with students and class. I have five, adding two hours on Thursday before my first scheduled appointment. I don't know where the other three are going to come from, but it looks like I'll be canceling Wednesday PT.

I realize, too, that my generosity to the Nature in Lit students is coming back to bite me to a certain extent: I saw a student this afternoon (20 minutes gone), and I have two students coming in on Wednesday (another 40 minutes gone). There are also a few students from the 102s who may yet sign up for conferences--but I also realized that two students submitted their essays so late that I won't have to mark them (and in fact, one I can't mark, as she never uploaded her essay to Turnitin, despite an emailed reminder).

Well, whatever. I've been sitting so long, I'm almost unable to stand up (this is one way that working at home is better: I get up and move more often)--so I'd better haul my butt out of this chair, waddle to the car (more sitting), and get home (with any luck, some lying down).

Sunday, March 26, 2017

So, I've learned a few things

One: It is a monumental time-suck to try to do the mechanics and the revision stuff at the same time. If I were doing it all on one sheet of paper, as I used to do, then it wouldn't be so hard, but continually going back and forth, from keyboard to page--and tending to forget which kinds of comments go where, so having to back-track and re-do--gobbles up minutes at an alarming rate.

Two: I've often noted that the essays that take the most time are the ones in the middle. The ones that are very good and the ones that are very bad require little in terms of comment; the ones in the middle--being salvageable--require a lot of work. But there is a second kind of essay that requires a huge amount of time and mental energy: the ones where the ideas are potentially excellent but so utterly pretzeled and laden with excess that figuring out what to say and how to say it takes a lot of acumen. One young man in the earlier section of 102 wrote an essay that falls into that category. This is not the Odd Duck, by the way: this young man is nearly as intelligent and somewhat in the same neck of the "oddness" woods, but he explained to me after the first class that he stammers, so he doesn't like to speak in class. But his essay: ye gods and little fishes. Somehow he got from an image of a hawk as "heaven's fistful / of death and destruction" to a discursion on Eden, the Fall, the expulsion from paradise--possibly even Paradise Lost, which I wouldn't be surprised to find out he's read and loves--but ... wait, where did Mary Oliver's poem about a hawk go??

Three: Working at home is excellent in some ways and dangerous in others. Home is much more physically comfortable, but I am a bit more likely to be distracted into all sorts of "displacement activities" (read, "procrastination"). Of course, if I'm of a frame of mind to avoid the real work, I'll find ways to do that no matter where I am--but when I'm in the office, something indefinable shifts in my deepest psyche and relays the message, "Woman at work."

That said, I could probably have pushed through one more essay today--and probably would be better off if I had, in the long run. I've almost certainly created a very stressful Monday and Tuesday for myself, trying to get everything marked for Tuesday and Wednesday. But the life maintenance I wanted to do yesterday didn't get done, so I'm hoping calling an early halt to things tonight will make it possible to do at least part of what I truly do need to get done. (And where's that 1950s wife that everyone needs, the one who does the shopping and makes the meals and runs the errands while the bread-winner wins the bread?)

And that said, I recognize that fiddling around with a blog post doesn't get the life maintenance done. It doesn't even help with the literal fiddling (or, actually, violin practice). So, off I toddle.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Virtually zero progress

Well, today sure has been a bust in terms of getting through the amount of work I'd like to have done. I'm now trying to decide whether to bail on the life maintenance I was going to do in about an hour or whether to plow on ahead, shifting gears to the reading notes for Nature in Lit, so I'm sure to have that done by Monday--and then return to commenting on 102 essays tomorrow.

I suppose the good news is that I only am supposed to see three students on Monday, so not only am I already set for the first day of the work week in terms of getting students what they need for their conferences, I have huge blocks of time on Monday in which to work.

The not so good news is my chronic tendency to get distracted. Today I spent altogether too much time thinking about the final essay topic for the 102s. Not only is there a great deal less critical material available on The Word for World Is Forest than there is for The Left Hand of Darkness, what critical material there is is either pretty thin on analysis or relies on at least passing familiarity with theories around colonialism and post-colonialism. Or, even more dangerous in terms of student writing, it suggests ways in which the story draws on Le Guin's extensive knowledge of and family connections with Native American cultures. That may not sound dangerous, but what it leads to is the freshman writer version of "Lo! The poor Indian" type maunderings about how badly Native peoples have been treated and how pure and spiritual and nature oriented they were.

So, in desperation, I emailed a colleague who also teaches the novella and asked her about pairing it with Avatar. I am hesitant to go in that direction, as I'm not sure I can get the students to keep their focus on the literature instead of just writing about the movie, nor am I sure I can get them to a sufficiently sophisticated understanding of the movie that the resulting essays don't drive me bats.

But the pairing would provide more for them to say in their essays, even if a lot of what they'd say would be bilge. I suppose I should resign myself to a certain amount of bilge in any event.

In any event, I spent time looking for critical material about the movie, writing to my colleague, buying myself a copy of the movie (three-disc special edition!! See a zillion hours of additional materials!!! It worked for the Lord of the Rings franchise, so let's milk that cash cow!!!!), yadda yadda. I still don't have an essay topic in mind, but I did also e-mail the colleague in the library who is creating an online "Lib Guide" for the 102s. She'd made one for me several years ago for The Left Hand of Darkness, and students did find it useful, so I know whatever she produces this time--movie or not--will also be helpful.

Dinking around with the essay topic/research/DVD purchasing took a ton of time. Then I "had" to organize the hard copies of the essays that I'll use for the mechanics review step. Then I "had" to download all the essays from Turnitin. Last round, I downloaded each one as I started work on it, but this time it seemed easier to have them all at once. (Note to self, however: I need to duplicate those folders on the office computer.) As I was looking at things on Turnitin and in the hard copies, I kept e-mailing students with reminders, warnings...

All of which took several hours. I also don't know yet whether another adjustment to the process of marking makes sense or not, but this time--so far, at least--I've been marking the mechanics by hand as I make comments for revision on the electronic copy. If I can manage that multitasking well enough, it may make next weekend much easier, as I won't have to go back through all the essays for the mechanics round.

As I've been writing that, I've made the executive decision to work on the notes for Nature in Lit for a while tonight and pass on the life maintenance until tomorrow--or later. I will feel happier about the day and myself as a human being if I get some more work done before I pack it in for tonight. So, I'll fold up the computer and stagger out to the other room to sit with a stack of papers in my lap, my glasses perched on my nose, a pen in one hand and my water glass in the other. I won't get through everything, because it's almost April 15, and I'm not ready for that just yet, so that's one bit of life maintenance I must take care of today, but at least I'll get a jump on it ... and we'll see what the morrow brings.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sometimes it's about the life lessons

I had a meeting today with a student from the 1:00 102 class. He was in a lather because the bus he was taking to campus broke down, so he was unable to get to class--and he told me he had his "homework" ready. He arrived after my office hour, but I was sitting here with the door open, so I talked to him. I reminded him that there was an essay due today, and I asked him if he had that. Long silence, then the admission that no, in fact, he didn't. I pulled out his card: seven absences and only one grade out of everything that's been assigned since the start of the term. I asked if something was going on that kept him from doing the work: was he confused, or overwhelmed with his other classes, or dealing with something outside of school? Long silence, then the admission that he had no excuse: he just hasn't been doing the work.

He is not a liberal arts major; he's in one of our discrete degree programs, and he's taking 102 in place of a Communications requirement. He's also in calculus and a number of classes specific to his degree; he reported that he was doing well in all of them, though he was struggling with calculus.

Even when I laid out for him what he could expect this semester, he didn't want to admit that the best option would be to withdraw. I finally coaxed him into it--and I think he was relieved that I wasn't angry about it, or cold, just being clear and precise, and reminding him that, when we are adults, we sometimes have to make a choice that we don't like making but that will benefit us in the long run.

I signed the withdrawal form on the spot; he went off to the Registrar. I don't know if he got there before they closed--and if he didn't, I don't know if he'll follow through on completing the withdrawal process--but at least he learned that he has to acknowledge when he is not doing what he needs to do.

A bit later, a student from the same section came to the office to submit the printed copy of his second essay--and of his first essay: when I got the "final" version of the first essay, it was not anywhere near formatted correctly, so I handed it back to him and told him I wouldn't grade it until I had a properly formatted copy. That scenario played out three times prior to today: he'd submit something incorrect and I'd hand it back to him. Finally, today, we talked about it: he was using WordPad, which is utterly useless when it comes to formatting, so I explained that he'd need to get the material into an MSWord file and format it from there. When he came to my office, he had both essays--and essay two was mostly formatted correctly (he still hasn't figured out how to use headers, but one thing at a time); essay one was still incorrect--everything right except not double spaced. I handed it right back to him.

When I was talking to him about it in class, I said--jokingly--"I'm going to hit you, really hard." My frustration has turned into teasing, which works better for everyone concerned. I loved that when he showed up today, Paul and another colleague were in the office, so they witnessed the "Nope; do it again" moment. As I said to them, I'm just asking him to make sure his fly is zipped before he walks in the door... It's really that basic, and he needs to learn that even the little things actually do matter.

Both of these young men are smart enough--especially the one I talked into withdrawing--but both are, I suspect, bone lazy, and have never been held entirely accountable. Well, the time is now.

The peer review process in both classes went pretty well. There is one real character in the earlier class, as I think I've mentioned: he's quite the odd duck, seems to have slightly scrambled social instincts but a real intellect--and the other students in the class are mostly amused by his oddness. I am, too, most of the time, but today he seemed even more off than usual: slurring and muttering, then suddenly blurting out things loudly (including calling me by my first name, instead of the more formal "Professor" that everyone else uses). It occurred to me to wonder if he's on a medication that needs to be rebalanced, or on a new one that hasn't been fine tuned yet--but he explained that he just had a completely sleepless night last night, which is why he was "out of it." I guess I can buy that, but it doesn't really matters to me is that one student really wanted to work with the Odd Duck--a student who is also quite smart and who said, "Everything that comes out of his mouth amazes me; I want to know how he does that." And when another of the brighter students arrived late to class and needed to be worked into a group, the Odd Duck was eager to respond to her essay.

I do feel a little bad that one of the brightest students in that class--a truly charming young man, filled with intelligence and maturity--told me he hated the peer review process. I think he hated it partly because he was paired (and then in a trio with) two young women whose skills were way below his, and he was struggling with how to be honest without being too fierce. (Apparently he has the same problem in his Communications class, in which students critique each others' speeches.) I encouraged him to be honest in the future: he can show them the levels to which they can aspire better than I can, as he's a student, like they are. That said, I will work to put him with someone whose skills are closer to his own--maybe with the Odd Duck--for the peer review of the final essay.

So, now I have everything packed up to take home for another intense work weekend. I'm sure there is more I could say about today, student interactions (I got a couple of students smiling and laughing, which is always a great thing), that sort of thing, but it's gradually sinking in that I am absolutely whipped: I'm running on the kind of fumes that make toddlers get manic when they're exhausted, and I can feel myself trending in that direction. So, to stave off further mania and endless noodling, I will draw this post--and this week--to a grateful close. After how crabby I was at the start of the week, it's nice to leave the week feeling better about the students, my interactions with them, and the chances that they are actually learning what they need to learn.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Not quite so pissed off...

Today was marginally better--largely because I wasn't up to my eyeballs in crap student writing. I feel bad that I didn't get two essays marked to leave for students on my office door, as I had promised, but I hit a few snags. One was that one of the professional advisers wanted to chat, and rather than being fiercely protective of my time and saying, "I'd love to visit with you, but I have essays to grade," I went ahead and nattered with her--that being the collegial thing to do--and pretty soon, four women were there chatting with me about ... stuff. Everything from strange colleagues to the terror attack in London. It was nice to just be a person with them, but it did derail the essay grading.

So, I got back to the office and thought, "OK, I've got a good hour before I meet with the student who is coming"--and I thought, "Surely I can take the time to eat my little sandwich, too." Well, as I was gulping down the last bite of sandwich, a young man from the Nature in Lit class showed up, thinking I have an office hour on Wednesdays. I've talked about him before: he's very smart, very well read--but has a hard time writing with clarity, and has a profound tendency to wander pretty far away from the language of the texts in his notes (and in his essay). I've talked about him before, but I can't remember the moniker I came up with for him. (I'll have to think something up--but not tonight; I don't have the focus for it.) He wanted to talk to me about internship possibilities (we don't actually have any, at least not that I know of), he asked how he can improve his notes, and he wanted me to look at some of his poetry.

His poetry was delightful. It's a young person's poetry as yet: some of it fell a bit flat, but most of it was great. He explained that he's working to carry a typical Urdu form into English poetry--and it makes for fun explorations of themes. I was happy to be able to be enthusiastic in support of his skill, and I'm happy to report that he's serious enough about his writing to take my critiques without being defensive.

In fact, he was very appreciative of my critique of his notes. In class today, I said that far too many of them are using the literature as a sort of trampoline to bounce into their own ideas having nothing to do with the literature. I illustrated by bouncing my hand off an imagined surface off into the sky--then looking upward to watch my hand floating around up there, while my other hand (the literary text) lay neglected on the desk. Many of them laughed. I think a few of them got it. So when I was talking with the aspiring poet about his notes, I told him he was doing the trampoline thing--and he got it, right away. Perfect.

I also met with a young man from the 5:30 section of 102. This young man is a delight to work with. He is very hard on himself--he got so frustrated over the first essay that he just stopped, thinking it was hopelessly bad--so I talked with him about that today. He had a bunch of good questions, everything from wondering how to address run-on sentences to how to find inspiration to say more when one feels rung dry--and is still pages short of the required minimum. I did have to give him the bad news that there are no quick and easy ways to take care of some of the concerns he mentioned: writing takes time, and writing well takes lots of time, and there's no way around it. I reminded him that we can fix things in the revision stage--but I'm thrilled he's asking the questions.

Along those same lines, a student from Nature in Lit stayed for a bit after class because he's struggling with notes. He wanted permission to rework his notes and submit them when he had them better (granted), and he also wanted to meet with me to talk about how to make his notes better. Good! That's always a great sign: when they actively pursue help.

Well, in writing that, I interrupted myself another couple of times--and now I have to race out of here to get to PT on time, so.....

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"Dear Proffesor, plase do my work for me..."

Two, count 'em, two emails from students have arrived in the last few hours, essentially asking me to do the work for the student. One reads, "I'm having trouble understanding what Grouping 2 [a topic regarding a specific grouping of poems] is asking me to do. I was hoping that maybe you may clarify what it's asking me to do." (I thought I did that. It's called the assignment sheet.) The second reads, "For my essay I would like to write about grouping 4 (the women poems) and I am having a little trouble on identifying the strength of women in A Women's Issue. Could you help me depict the poem?" (First, we don't "depict" a poem in an analysis essay. Second, you can't write an essay about how I see the poem...)

Neither of those, however, is as infuriating as the comment a student from one of the 102s left on her homework: "My personal opinion, I feel as though their is too much emphasis on really analyzing and breaking down the ideas. Sometimes its very stressful at times."

Well, heavens to Betsy, we wouldn't want you to be all stressed out by having to actually THINK, now, would we. Here, let me remove any actual thinking requirement from the work so you can continue to float along on bullshit and vagueness as you have up to this point, because, no no, we can't have you be stressed by being a college student. And of course I won't point out the problems with how you wrote those two sentences. "My personal opinion, I feel"? "Sometimes ... at times"? Never mind the difference between "their" and "there" or "its" and "it's." (and I could go on)

(Breathe, Prof. P. Breathe: cleansing breath, cleansing breath.)

The irony of all this is that I was about to write another post about how much better the 102 students are than the students in Nature in Lit, because I've trained them to read with some attention and to think in some detail...

I grant you, a number of the 102 students are struggling, and some are starting to go down the tubes. But by and large, they are at least trying to see details, trying to "really analyze and break down the ideas," even if they're not quite succeeding. By way of contrast, there is the vague, generalized bilge I've been bitching about in the essays from the students in Nature in Lit.

I wish I could find an article I located once--absolutely brilliant--about the struggle to get students to actually look at the words on the page, not to simply glance at them and trampoline off into their own blather. Paul apparently does a humorous bit about this that works with his students. I have yet to find my own way to make the point clear and funny--but I'm almost ready to set aside a whole class period in which I first rant about it, then we work through something word by word...

Ack.

Shifting gears, I managed to grade one essay for Nature in Lit today; I got all the assignments marked to return to the 102s (and it was a near thing; I was, in fact, a few minutes late to the 5:30 class--because P&B ran almost 30 minutes over time), and I'd really hoped to have only four more essays to mark for Nature in Lit, but alas, no. As I mentioned, however, I have completely rebooted the schedule on revisions for the class--and I realize I'm not going to run into the head-on collision between finishing those and starting grading the 102 essays, as I won't get the 102 essays until Thursday, and even if I can't get much done in Advisement tomorrow, I may be able to squeak something out between the end of Advisement, a meeting with a student, and racing off campus to get to my physical therapy appointment on time.

And speaking of racing off campus: it's 9 p.m., and I'm not entirely sure where my brain is, so I'm going to drive home (being cautious, knowing that I'm tired enough to be arrested for Driving While Stupid) ... and then, well, there's tomorrow, doncha know.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Surprisingly necessary "self-indulgence"

Before I went to bed last night, I'd pretty well made up my mind that I was going to change the due date for the revisions of essay 1 for the Nature in Lit students, as I didn't think I could possibly get the done. I was more right about that than I knew.

When the alarm went off this morning, I abruptly decided that I needed sleep--and a day at home to get caught up on work and possibly nap. Nap, hell. I spent the whole day working through the homework for the 102s (since I'll see them before I see the students in Nature in Lit again), and I didn't finish even that. I did take two breaks for quick walks around the block (just to focus my eyes on something distant, move, and breathe a little fresh air), and I did mark one more of the essays for Nature in Lit, as a mental break from the reading notes and handbook review assignments from the comp students--but after all these hours, I'm still not caught up. I should have kept working, but I hit several kinds of wall (psychological as well as physical fatigue), so I'm faced with the same dilemma tomorrow that I faced today: when will I get all this work done?

I had planned to go to an event in Bradley Hall tomorrow, as I'm interested in the topic one of my colleagues will be discussing (though I can't now remember what that topic is, just that I'm interested), but if I haven't gotten through more of the homework for 102, I'll have to bail on that. I did finish the stuff for the 1:00 class, so all I have to do is finish up for the 5:30 class--but I want some time to work on those Nature in Lit essays, too, or, as I feared might be the case, I'm going to hit another traffic jam: Thursday I'm collecting first versions of essay 2 from the 102 students, and I'll have to mark those in a big flurry prior to their conferences next week.

It's that compulsion not only to teach but to teach in ways I consider good, to do well at what I want to do, to do it my way, and a fierce resistance to watering things down.

Speaking of which ferocity, I practically let loose with both barrels at a student in the earlier 102 class--in writing, but still. In her handbook review, she appended a little whiny comment: "My personal opinion, I feel as though their is too much emphasis on really analyzing and breaking down the ideas. Sometimes its very stressful at times." I launched. Let's just set aside the crap writing for a moment. In what sense is learning to think, read and write clearly "too much"? Did anyone say school would be easy? That the point is to keep you from feeling "stress"?

Even thinking about it now, I want to tear her head off. In other words, you're saying you don't really want to learn and think I'm unreasonably demanding because I expect you to. You want to slouch along with half-baked bullshit for brains and consider that good enough because it's easy. No. Not in my class. Not in my world, if I can help it. Seriously? Poor little thing, we don't want you to feel stressed: here, let's make it easy so you don't have to grow, think, learn, be worth fucking anything to anyone, including yourself.

Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

I will not confront her--though I'm half tempted to read her comment aloud to both classes and embark on my furious lecture about it. I'll just let my written comments do what they will (probably not enough) and hope she has enough sense to come talk to me about it, or rethink her attitude, or both.

Well, looking for the reframe that will shake me loose of my desire to destroy that young woman verbally, here's what's good: I did get a lot of work done, more than I would have if I'd gone to campus--and I'm already home, early as it is (comparatively speaking), so I can do things I rarely get to do of an evening, including possibly get to bed before midnight. I'm on the fence about which alarm to set: 6:00 or 6:45. I'll decide later, when it's clear how much sleep I'm likely to get.

Two more Mondays before spring break. Halle-fucking-lujah.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

I'm so screwed (redux)

Obviously, once again, I was overly optimistic about how much I can get accomplished in X amount of time. (Climb Mt. Everest: half an hour...) I still have seven essays to grade. I'm doing about two an hour--partly because I'm also marking homework, which I want to get back to the students so I don't have a huge backlog to rush through before they have to write their next essays. But in any case, that's a minimum of three hours--so I either have to return to work this evening or get up super-extra early tomorrow, or a little of both. And I did not sleep well last night (minor migraine), so the idea of either one--working late or getting up early--is deeply painful.

Of course, the other option is to do a reboot: move when the revision of essay 1 is due, hold conferences a different week, and buy myself time that way. That would certainly make sense in terms of husbanding my scant mental energies, but, as is usually the case when one simply kicks a problem down the road, there's likely to be a whole new bottle-neck/collision of shit to mark at whatever time in the future I select.

I'm feeling rather stubborn about this at the moment: "Dammit, I want to get these fuckers done and out of my hair." That feeling is intensified by my innate desire, when faced with something nasty, to just get it over with. (I've always been a "dive into the cold water" type, not the "inch in slowly" type.) I did--finally--mark one essay, one, that had the right kind of focus, made sense, was reasonably well supported (in other words, a B) instead of the unmitigated bilge I've been dealing with, but I'm not anticipating many, if any, more such wonders in the seven that remain.

So, well, it's a puzzlement. And all I want to do is sit on the floor and wail like a toddler.

Poor, pitiful Prof. P! Let me remind myself that I am blessed beyond all measure to make a good living doing something that matters deeply to me, that it is actually a good thing that I still care so much about the quality of what the students produce and am trying mightily to figure out how to get them at least close to where I want them to be, As I said to a student, this is a good problem to have. I am healthy, well educated, gainfully employed, and enormously privileged. So, enough of the whining. Let me be grateful.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

So bad, I'd almost rather watch the news...

...and considering how depressing and infuriating the news is these days, that's saying something. I told myself I'd get through half the essays for Nature in Lit today, so as to return them on Monday and stay at least sort of on schedule in terms of revision of the first essay and submission of the second one. I couldn't do it. I got about a third of the way through--really pushing hard to get the last two in that batch done--and I simply could not face another.

I should point out that I am adhering more strictly to my late essay policy than usual. I'm not taking the full penalty for late uploads to Turnitin, but my policy states that essays that are not fully submitted within 24 hours will not be commented on: just read and graded--and actually, I'm being a little more strict than usual, as if something was even one day late (technically perhaps within those 24 hours), I'm only marking the rubric sheet, nothing else.

A lot of the essays are significantly under length--annoying, but helpful in terms of the amount of time needed to mark them. Only one (so far) has anything even approaching a thesis--and from a quick glance, it looks as if maybe three do, if that. Out of 24. And not one actually relies on close reading of the words of the texts it purports to cover: the problem I've been seeing in their notes is fully manifest in their essays.

Two of them are all but incomprehensible--one belonging to the woman who wants to desperately to graduate. Paul suggested I base my decision about whether to try to pass her with a mercy D on her essay, and I honestly have no idea how she passed any level of composition prior to my class, or how she's been able to read well enough to pass any class at all. I can't stop her from graduating entirely, but I won't be the one to pass her in a class that she clearly is utterly incapable of handling. I feel bad for the woman, I truly do, but if I had my druthers, she'd have to go back and go through it all again, and again, and again until she can read and write well enough to deserve any kind of college degree, even a "mere" associate's degree. Bless her heart, but I hate to know she's going to go out there in the world with a diploma from us with her level of reading and writing abilities. It makes our whole institution look bad.

So, after realizing that even the "good" students were turning in essays that are pretty much pure crap, I had to stop. However, I didn't feel I could stop working entirely; I have too much I need to get cleared away before essays come in from the 102s on Thursday. So I turned my attention to marking the reading notes and homework from the 102s--and it was a relief. That right there should say enough about how bad the Nature in Lit essays are. Many of the students in the 102s are actually doing OK--and a few are doing truly excellent work. I'm surprised that I feel better about the ability of the 102 students, but thank god I have them to feel good about.

This weekend I'm feeling a real pinch between the work I need to get done for classes and the life maintenance I need to do. I intended to work later than I did, but I wanted to write some of this out, so I'm not carrying quite so much of it around with me--and a few of the places I need to go will close soon, so I need to get moving. It's also starting to snow--the weather forecasts are stumped over and over by how fast things change--and although I don't think it's going to stick much, I'd still rather be home before it does, if it does.

I'm also lodging a request of the cosmos: please let me feel better about all this tomorrow--and allow me to get a lot more work done, despite the life maintenance that will be called for (what I can't do today). You know: tomorrow is another day, so there's hope it will be different from today...

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Made it--but another pant-load to do

"Pant-load" is an expression I picked up from my sister's first husband. It's revoltingly appropriate. I have all the essays for Nature in Lit to mark, plus all the poetry notes for the 102s--which they must get back on Tuesday so they can write their essays--plus a wodge of notes from Nature in Lit that I collected yesterday. I also need to reread the Gary Snyder essay for Monday.

All of that makes it difficult to celebrate the fact that I got all the essays marked before the 5:30 class--and I did not, in fact, get up at 5; I got up at 6. However, I was successful only because I graded four of the essays while I was sitting in that meeting. Thank you, William: he pointed out that I wouldn't actually have to participate in the meeting, as I was only there to answer any questions about the distance-ed forms for the class ("there being none," I could try to tune out what was going on, though a few times, the thread of discussion caught my ear), and to collect signatures, which I did. (No one seems to know what I do with the forms now. I think they need to go to the Senate somehow, but I don't know the procedures--and the procedure manual for the college-wide committee has vanished from the senate web site, apparently. I located it once before, but now? Gone.)

Nevertheless, I got the essays marked. Some were notably better. Some were not. Most at least showed a real attempt to revise, which is a huge step in the right direction, even if the attempt didn't lead to a good essay. But that's a job well done, and I should take a moment to bask in the glory...

Ok, moment's over.

Shifting gears: two realizations from this week.

1. I may have mentioned this in a previous post, but I'm remembering to actually say it to my students: academic success requires attention to details. Students are dealing with multiple classes, multiple sets of rules and regulations, very specific processes and procedures, and they need to keep track of it all--and it isn't easy. So paying attention to details isn't just about reading the literature; it's also about looking at the syllabus or at assignment sheets.

2. Students don't like group work--or at least most students most of the time. The students in Nature in Lit have wholeheartedly rejected group work as a viable process to increase their understanding of the material. I know that this is partly because group work requires that they do more of the heavy lifting--and I'll probably end up putting them back in groups after a few more classes (because I don't want to do all the heavy lifting)--but right now, they need the support. The students in the 102s also decided today that they'd rather not work in groups, very likely for the same reason, but it is marginally more efficient when I have a lot of stuff to cover to do it with the class as a whole so I can direct the process a great deal more than is my wont.

Now, I say students don't like group work, but invariably, at the end of the semester, the ones who stay end up saying that they liked the group work because they liked sharing ideas with classmates, hearing different perspectives. So I will insist on it more often than not--but I will say that none of the classes is really pulling together into a strong, cohesive unit, as happens with the classes that have really good chemistry. Weak molecular bonds this semester. Ah well.

So, I'm schlepping home a very heavy bag of stuff to contend with over the weekend, and I'm extremely tired, and yet my spirits are not as low as they've been of late. I think I'm too physically exhausted to notice how discouraged I am: it all sort of washes together in a big blur of sleepiness. The eight o'clock bells are just now tolling, and the bell definitely tolls for me. I am, my dear readers, outta here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Yeah, pretty definitely a mistake...

It did feel good to get all the homework back to the Nature in Lit students, though by the time I finished working on it, I was ready to strangle them. Class was pretty torturous, but we mostly focused on the essay we didn't get around to fully discussing on Monday, so my anticipations about the annoying feedback possible on the Nelson piece were unwarranted--and actually, even if we had talked about it more fully, I don't think I'd have gotten the kinds of responses I was concerned about.

I did tell them that for the reading due on Monday--Gary Snyder's "The Etiquette of Freedom," from The Practice of the Wild--I want them to read and annotate the text, then do their notes, but do the notes slowly and carefully: I don't care whether they get through the whole essay; I just want them to fucking pay attention. I am envisioning sitting at the desk (or, being me, more likely on the desk) and taking them through it pretty much one sentence at a time. What do the words say? No, no: what do the actual words say?

Several students are likely to come to me in the next few days to talk about improving their notes--a couple of them for the second time. I'm very happy about that: I want them to keep coming in and getting help until they start to actually understand what's required. One student is really struggling; she is set to graduate at the end of this semester, if she can pass my class--and she's an adult with daughters here at NCC, so that graduation is a profoundly significant milestone in her life. I hope she does come to talk with me, and I hope I can provide some help so she can read with more depth. The discouraging thing is that she's taking a Reading class, and she's passing it with solid A's--but she can't make more than the most general sense of the readings in my class. I'm not sure what to make of that, but I hope that between her Reading professor and me, we can get her on a better track.

I talked with Paul about her, and he helped me remember what matters: if she can write an essay that gets the forms correct, even if she's not really proving a point that matters, that's good enough for her to pass at the very least. I know she won't be happy with a grade lower than a C, but the main thing is to get her that diploma.

In terms of the essays for the 102s, I'm totally, royally screwed. I still have fourteen to mark before 5:30 tomorrow--and I can't stay here and burn the midnight oil tonight, as I have to leave for a physical therapy appointment. (Squeezing that PT into my schedule creates a real pinch.) I have to carefully do the mental calculus--and build in more time than I think I'll need (as I never estimate correctly)--but it looks like I'll be getting up at 5 a.m. tomorrow to get here early enough to whack away at the essays prior to that meeting I can't miss (at 11:30)--and since I know it's likely I'll see at least one student during my office hours, I can't rely on having the full stretch of time between classes in which to crank through remaining essays.

I almost did call in sick today; I could not get to sleep (generalized anxiety), and wasn't sleeping well even in the few hours in which I did sleep, so when the alarm went off, I decided to get back in bed and sleep until whenever and call in sick. However, I kept waking up (generalized anxiety), and I finally realized I might as well get up and get to work--even if I might be late (which, in fact, I was)--because all I could do lying there in bed was worry about the fact that I "should" be at work.

Being conscientious is a dreadful burden. Oh to be utterly blasé and have no standards!

So, between the lack of sleep last night and the fact that I'm unlikely to get a full night's rest tonight, I'm imagining I will be pretty fucking crunchy by the time I'm heading to my 5:30 class. (Never again!) And I definitely will be dragging home more essays to grade over the weekend: next up, the essays for Nature in Lit, and trying to get on top of the poetry notes for the 102s, as they have essays coming up and need their notes.

I'd say it's endless, but it does, in fact, end. May 15, I will be submitting my final grades. By Memorial Day, I'll have finished the summer scheduling with Cathy and will be like the proverbial birds (or like the sea cucumber I often use to describe my state of being over the summer months).

And for tonight, it's time to stop the natter and head off to work out those muscles and get massaged and work out the kinks. I'm looking forward to the massage part. (Maybe that should go in the next contract: massage therapy for all FT faculty?)

And tomorrow is, you guessed it, another day.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Probably a mistake

I spent today churning through all the homework I've been collecting from the students in Nature in Lit--and it did take a truly large chunk of the day. And it was discouraging as hell. I don't even really want to write about it much; I feel stymied and frustrated and ineffectual and tired--all of which also makes me feel angry. I don't quite know what to do with them in class tomorrow. I have some hope that the reading for tomorrow might actually encourage some thought and discussion, but I'm prepared for the discussion to be all about why hunting is just plain bad, indefensible, mean, cruel--all the usual city-slicker arguments against feeding oneself directly from what one "gathers" in the wild. That, and all the usual, knee-jerk sentimental woo-woo bullshit about how pure Native peoples are.

The piece in question is Richard K. Nelson's essay "The Gifts," about him hunting deer to feed his family. The gifts in question are the buck he kills to eat and the doe who walks up to him and allows him to put his hand on her head. The two are described as being essentially the same thing, the same reflection of the spirit of the nonhuman world and our connection to it, and the essay is beautifully, gracefully written, gorgeous in turn of phrase and specificity of detail. And I anticipate the students' only response being the above mentioned--plus, maybe, how much he "appreciates" nature.

Fuck me sideways.

The other problem, of course, is that the time I put into that is time I didn't put into marking essays for the 102s, and I'm still in the same place I was on Sunday: four more to go for the 1:00 class, and I think 18 or so to go for the 5:30 class. And it may be busy in Advisement, or busier than it's been, as summer registration is open.

So, the current dilemma is, do I call in "sick" and stay home to work? Or do I trust that somehow, in whatever time I have around and between other things (class, students in Advisement, meeting on Thursday, commuting, meals, sleep) I'll have time to get everything done? I'm leaning toward the latter at the moment, but I may think better of that in the morning. I really don't have any choice about the meeting on Thursday; normally that would be the first thing to get ditched in favor of marking essays, but that's the meeting at which the online version of Nature in Lit gets reviewed by the college-wide committee, so I have to be there.

Of course, if I were truly being diligent and driving myself, I'd keep working tonight, but I'm opting to call a halt--mostly because my patience is even more shot than my mental energy. I don't want to take out my frustration with the students in Nature in Lit on the students in the 102s. I have plenty of frustration about the 102 students all in themselves.

But I will say, one little niggling factor weighing in the "maybe I'll just cancel class" equation is that I don't really want to work through anything with the Nature in Lit students. I'm considering whether we might work all next week on one reading, moving through it as a class, one paragraph, one sentence at a time, and I'd just collect notes on the other assigned readings without actually discussing them, I don't much like that idea, as I don't like how it feels to me when I read notes that clearly miss what matters--an error I can at least attempt to correct in class discussion--but it might be precisely what they need. This is especially true as the assignment for Monday is somewhat complex but vitally important.

God, I despair, I despair. Do I even want to teach the wretched thing online? I hope that online (if it runs) the students will be slightly more elevated in terms of skills and sophistication of thinking, but the more I teach this particular class, the more I realize that to teach it the way I want to, I need students who are several cuts above the average I encounter. The students we have who are top notch would be excellent in the class--but I don't get enough of them in any one section to make it fly. (And I don't chase out all the small fry as I used to, so I don't end up with the kind of "senior seminar" classes of four or five students that I often had in the past.)

So, to try to give myself something positive to hold on to (other than the count down to end of semester, which is not exactly the kind of positivity that helps me face the day with energy and enthusiasm) is to think of the handful of students across the three classes who are a pleasure to teach. I would dearly love to have them all in one room together, or to work with them individually, but I'm grateful to have them in my classes at all.

And just in case you were wondering, there are three more Tuesdays before spring break, seven more before end of semester. But who's counting. (Don't everyone raise your hand at once.)

Monday, March 13, 2017

Oh, so much noodling...

I don't know what I did during Advisement; the time whipped by, but I don't seem to have actually accomplished anything at all. Ditto my time back here in the office after Advisement. At least I saw two students from Nature in Lit, both of whom wanted help doing better with their reading notes--and one of them wanted to know what she can do to do better overall. I loved talking with them; that was good.

Also good--if somewhat sad--was talking to another student in Nature in Lit. She probably won't make it through the semester: she missed the first three classes, and has barely been present since. She's turning in work, but clearly something is up. I talked with her for quite some time after class. She didn't reveal to me the details of the circumstance she's dealing with, but she did say it's unlikely to resolve any time soon. I asked her if she thought it might be helpful to see an educational counselor, or a psychological counselor; she asked if she could see someone who did both. I told her I'd send her the information about those services on campus (which I did)--and I also recommended that she come to see me for mentoring. I encouraged her to do that even if she decides to withdraw from my class (which she should, I think, no matter how good her work might be). She seemed very grateful for the acknowledgement that she's struggling, and for my calm offer of help instead of stern warnings.

I like it when I can get a smile out of students who are usually stone-faced in class (and yes, sometimes stoned-faced). And I like it when students realize they can come to me for help without fear.

Class was a bit of a revelation, too. I talked with them briefly about what was going on, where things were breaking down for them in the readings (as clearly they're missing really big, important points). Several of the brighter students, including Baseball Cap, said that they can see individual details but they can't seem to connect them into a deeper understanding of the work. So, I ditched group work and simply asked them to toss out ideas, questions, observations, whatever they have, and I wrote stuff on the board. (I'm not as good at this as my colleague Mary: either she's better at turning a sentence into a telegraphic few words than I am or she writes much smaller than I do, but she gets more on the board than I seem to be able to manage.) Then we talked about what was on the board. I also had them write a little about themselves, their neighborhoods/towns, whether they thought they lived in areas that encourage a spirit of creativity and hope, as one of today's readings suggested should be the case with urban (or suburban) environments. Most of them said yes--but largely because they feel comfortable and safe in those environments, not because those environments challenge them in any way. The second of the readings for today was about an environment that very specifically challenges our comfort and safety, as well as our sense of belonging to a nearby community; we didn't have much time to talk about it today, but--assuming we have class on Wednesday--I'm going to start with that.

At the end of class, I asked them if that process--working out their ideas through me--was more beneficial than what we'd been doing and I got a resounding "yes!" Part of that, of course, is that six of the students do all the responding and the others can coast on the slip-stream of the students who are really moving. Part of it is that they don't have to feel afraid of being "wrong," because I'm there to steer them right if they're getting off track. I don't know how I'm going to get them to pay attention to details, but I think I need to do more work on that at the very start of the semester for all my classes. Words have actual meanings. We need to understand the actual words as they are put together in sentences--and not just take a few words and then go bounding off on our own trails that lead us further and further from what the author was saying.

I am worried about this as a trend among my students. I am very worried that they can't seem to see the proverbial forest--or that they can only see the forest and can't figure out how the individual trees create the forest. I didn't give this lot my watch analogy, my long thing about how to engage in literary analysis--and perhaps I should have. (Perhaps I should give it to students after I have trimmed it down significantly, so it's less dense and easier to approach.)

Maybe I need to work on a reading--any reading--one sentence at a time with them. As soon as we hit a sentence that they can't make sense of (or can't clearly prove they make sense of), we stop and work it through one word at a time. They're often such literal thinkers on one level and so wildly inventive without any basis in the actual words of the text on other levels, it's hard to know how to approach them to get them where I know they need to go.

My brain hurts just trying to explain it, never mind actually coming up with a way to deal with it. I'm reworking my pedagogy on the fly here: the new system with Nature in Lit feels way to "chalk and talk" to me, but if it helps them get something out of the readings, then it's worth it. The point is to get them to understand what they need to understand. That's it, whole story.

And the whole story for me now is that I'm exhausted. The clock change always kicks a hole in my sleep, and this time was no exception. I'm overjoyed that we will have a snow day tomorrow--the college president has already let us know campus will be closed--and I'm hoping I don't have to teach on Wednesday, either, though I won't mind to much if I do. The main thing is to actually get things marked tomorrow: to really dig down and work my ass off to get on top of the stacks of shit. I don't want to spend spring break like I spent the Presidents' Week break, trying to get on top of student assignments. I also have to do little things like produce my own year-end evaluation (in addition to mentoring six people through theirs), conduct some observations of adjuncts, do my taxes....

Oh, it's just endless fun. No wonder I find myself noodling.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Couldn't quite squeeze 'em out...

If I'd finished marking four more essays today, I'd have at least completed everything for the 1:00 class--and I just couldn't do it. I'm so frustrated by so many of them, and so impatient, I feel my comments verging on vitriolic, which is not very constructive as a teaching tool. Student after student did nothing at all approaching revision. Student after student included a piece of paper saying something along the lines of "I didn't know I had to do X," or "I didn't know I had to submit X"--despite the fact that I went over every single X in class and included the necessity for it in at least one handout if not several. I just want to scream at them all: where the fuck are your brains? Why are you being so completely dense about this? How fucking helpless are you, really?

For the last, I think the answer is, "Very"--but it's not really the fault of the students. It's a combination of the fact that they've rarely if ever truly been held accountable for anything and the fact that they almost surely have been made to feel that their efforts are hopeless so frequently that they have now acquired "learned helplessness." Learned helplessness is a dreadful thing; at least one experiment proving the reality of the phenomenon strikes me as horrifically cruel (chaining a dog in a box and shocking its feet--then removing the chain and shocking the dog's feet, and it doesn't move to escape, as it's learned it can't). In the case of my students--not just mine, but many students in the U.S. educational system--the "painful stimulus" from which they can't escape is delivered by standardized testing. They are tested repeatedly, told they did badly--and are never given the opportunity to go back over the material and test again but are just shoved on ahead to the next test, and the next. But not only are they not allowed to learn from failure, they're not even really allowed to fail: they are given "structure" that amounts to an intellectual straight-jacket. Read this in order to answer the study questions you've been given--not to develop questions of your own. I, the teacher, will tell you what the theme is (as if there's only one). If you have to write anything beyond that, all you need to do is prove that your eyes have passed over the words on the page and that you can report on what you looked at. (Choice of words is deliberate there: they haven't read it, they've simply looked at it. Whatever "it" is.)

There are the few shining lights, it's true, but sometimes even the ones with the intellectual chops fall into a kind of mental fog that keeps them from paying attention to detail.

Maybe I need to include that in my "college will change you" speech: that doing well in college requires not only the ability to work through frustration but also the ability to be (or become) extremely detail-oriented. I'd not thought of that before, but it's true. (And--full disclosure--faculty are as likely to miss details as our students are when we're in a rush. However, when we bring our full attention to something, we can see incredibly fine detail.)

So, all in all, it's discouraging. And I need to do some more investigating of what retirement would look like if I were to take it at the end of next year, instead of waiting two years (or longer). A lot will depend on what happens with our contract--and with our accreditation. If we lose our accreditation, there goes retirement: I'll simply be unemployed. There is a rumor on the grapevine that the union and administration may decide to sign a letter of agreement extending the current contract until we're through the accreditation process and can breathe again, instead of trying to negotiate a contract while also struggling to please Middle States. If that happens, I might as well retire sooner, as I don't think I want to stick around, say, five years in hopes of a good early retirement incentive.

It isn't that I dislike the job, or that the administration has curdled everything for me (though that's also a distinct possibility). The issue is simply that I find it harder and harder to summon up the energy and enthusiasm I want to bring to the job. Not that I have to: that I want to. Even being discouraged these days feels like a low-level, Eeyore-esque resignation. and I dislike the feeling.

I've also realized there is a real and insurmountable block to my getting the sabbatical project published the way I want to: Penguin/Random House simply will not look at unsolicited manuscripts or proposals, and since there's no real way to get an agent for my kind of project, I'm stuck. So, I'm now trying to figure out whether I want to shop the thing around to other educational publishers, even knowing it's unlikely to fly as a stand-alone (without being packaged with the novel) or whether I want to self-publish and hope someone picks it up from there. What I have isn't designed for the web at all: if I self-publish, it would pretty much have to be an actual, physical book (though there could be links to some kind of web presence as well--if I can find someone tech savvy enough to set that up so only those who purchase the book can access the web stuff). And the idea of taking on either of those challenges--finding another publisher or publishing on my own--is exhausting. Just the idea of it, never mind the actual process.

But I realize I am not, in fact, stuck. I feel stuck sometimes, but I'm not. I have a lot more agency and options than I sometimes recognize, and a lot more freedom than I keep readily in mind. It's good to remember that I have many, many, many options, a number of which I have yet to even think of, never mind explore.

On which note, I now head out to do a little life maintenance--and I'll be posting again tomorrow, I'm sure.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Howling error on my part

I was reading the essay from one of my 102 students--a very smart, capable woman, more grown up than most--and I was unhappy to see that she'd only made superficial corrections to her essay, what I call "mechanics" corrections, and hadn't revised at all. But I also noticed that the first version of her essay, with my comments, wasn't submitted with the rest of her materials, and that's one of the submission requirements. I wrote comments on one of my rubrics, then changed them--then tore the rubric up entirely (twice), because I realized ... I never sent her the first version of her essay.

Now, you may recall that marking the essays electronically was something that had to happen because there was a snow day when the essays were due. I missed sending the essay to one student, but because I conferenced with him, the error was discovered before he got too far down the road. In the case of this woman, there was a flurry of e-mails back and forth about the submission of her essay to Turnitin (and a little bit of teaching her how to send an e-mail with the message in the e-mail itself rather than in the subject line); then there was another flurry of e-mails because she was ill the day of her conference, so we were trying to figure out when she could meet with me. As it happened, she didn't meet with me at all--and I didn't realize until today that I never sent the marked first version.

I did send her that version today, not because it will help her on this essay but because I hope that perhaps my comments will help her understand what she should do differently for the second essay. And I'm being very generous with her grade because I fucked up so badly. I grant you, she also fucked up by "forgetting" to submit the final essay to Turnitin on time, but ... well, I'm just going to let this one go.

That reminded me: I needed to make a decision about the penalty for late uploads to Turnitin for the Nature in Lit students. I'm going to be somewhat merciful this time and take half what I'd usually take.

On the other hand, several students in the 102s have blown their chance at credit for the final submission, as more than six days have passed without their uploading their essays, and my policy states that after an essay has accrued 60 points (ten points per day), it no longer receives credit. Because I am sick of students not giving enough of a shit to turn things in on time.

Full disclosure: I was terrible about turning things in late when I was an undergrad. I now empathize with my professors' frustration--and I don't know why more of them didn't take huge penalties when things were late. It's fucking annoying, is what it is.

That said, I have accomplished virtually nothing today--or at least virtually nothing in terms of marking assignments. I am only able to be sanguine about this because it looks all but certain that we'll have a snow day on Tuesday: an active blizzard watch has been issued, to the tune of 12-18 inches of snow (which almost makes me wonder if classes will be canceled on Wednesday, too--or at least Wednesday morning). I am not proud of the fact that I'm like a kid, praying for school to be closed, but that's where I am. Of course, I also realize that I'd probably have done best to have worked much harder today, and to crank through as many essays as possible tomorrow at home and around class and Advisement on Monday, in addition to the gift of an extra day in which to mark things on Tuesday, but ... well, I didn't. I've made that particular bed, so I'll end up lying in it, I suppose.

I don't know if I'll post tomorrow; it rather depends on how the essay marking goes and whether I am more than usually frustrated or delighted. (Hey, miracles do occur.) But I'm done with work for today. Time to focus on things I do purely to gratify myself.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Lowering the boom

I looked it up. The etymology is unclear, but the meaning is what I thought: it means to call someone harshly to account, to demand obedience. So, today, I lowered the boom on two students in the 1:00 102.

I think I've explained before that I keep the attendance and grades for each student on an index card; students can ask to see their cards at any point in the semester--and now that I'm grading through accumulated points, I sometimes have the students add up their points to see where they stand, and I distribute their cards so they can check to be sure their records match mine. In the case of the two students in question, I presented each with his card and said, "Tell me what you see." "A lot of O's." "Those are zeroes." I went on to explain that both of them have submitted no work--or so little work that it doesn't count for much. ("And," I added to one of them, "your essay still isn't formatted correctly.") I made clear that to stand any chance of passing the class, each one would have to come to every class, never be late, turn in every assignment, complete everything to the absolute best of his ability--and submit it on time. Even then, the chances of passing the class are pretty damned slim. I did hold out the hope that they might be able to reach C's, though that's a real long shot. (They'd have to get essentially A's for every assignment from here on.) I told them they're grown ups and can decide what they want to do, but they need to do it: either do the work and stay, or, I said, "The next time you come to class without your work, I'll hand you the withdrawal slip."

One looked like he'd just watched his favorite toy get run over by a truck. One looked faintly sheepish but not overly concerned. Ball is firmly in their courts, and I'll be interested to see what they do. My hunch is that I'll see a split decision: one will be smart and withdraw, the other will simply disappear eventually--but I'm not sure who will do which. What would astound me would be if either were to actually come through, come to class, do the work, give it his all to complete the semester. I'm willing to be astounded, but I'd also lay some pretty long odds here.

By way of contrast, a young woman from that class made an appointment to meet with me. She's really struggling, but she's come to see me before, so I have hope. I asked her what she wanted to discuss today, and she said, "How to not fail the class." First thing to do, I explained, is to turn in the work. I won't often fail someone who has truly tried, turned in the work, done her (or his) best. We also talked about how she can do better work, and she had some fine ideas of her own; I didn't have to offer much beyond support of her intentions.

I am struggling with all my classes right now. I bitched about the students in Nature in Lit yesterday. Today, I've been complaining about the fact that--as soon as we get to talking about poetry--suddenly the wheels come off, as if we aren't reading exactly the same way we have up to this point. Yes, what we're reading is fundamentally different--poetry is (usually) markedly unlike prose--but the actual strategy for approaching it is the same: read for details, notice word choices, make connections.

In the earlier class, the students were struggling over three lines in a poem (Li-young Li's "The Gift"), so I suggested they write them out as a sentence. Ah! Comprehension dawns. As one student put it, writing it out without the line breaks allowed him to pull it all together in one idea. Good: now, consider why the line breaks are there. How do they affect the way we read the words in that one idea?

I tried the same exercise with the later class, and it failed miserably. However, with them, I found a way of explaining when we can "go deeper" with something and when something is likely to be literal, no metaphoric dimensions at all: Read the words literally first--and stick with the literal meaning unless other words in the poem (or whatever) lead you to see something more than the literal going on.

I also realized, if I ever teach 102 again, I need to either reconsider the poems I teach or I need to add footnotes to the Patricia Goedicke poem I teach, "In the Ocean," explaining that--at the time when the poem was written, "lame" had only one meaning--the literal, physical meaning (not the slang meaning of being useless or ineffectual)--and that it's important to note the use of the article "an" before the word "invalid." The father in the poem isn't (adjective) invalid (emphasis on the second syllable), but (noun) an invalid (emphasis on the first syllable). Oh! they say. That changes things.... (Um, yeah, I guess it would.)

So. I don't think I have much further to relate about today, this week. I am very aware that now there are four weeks before spring break (four more Mondays, four more Tuesdays...), and after spring break, there are four weeks until end of the semester. Four weeks is nothing. Four weeks is a sneeze, a mouse's heartbeat. Any second now, I'll be running around like my hair is on fire because there's so much to do and so little time. There's a possibility that Tuesday will be a snow-day, too: two of three weather sites are predicting 5-8 inches of snow. (The National Weather Service hasn't weighed in yet.) I would love that: there's room built into the schedule for a missed day before their essays are due, and I would have a little more time in which to grade essays as well as a little break from trying to crowbar them up off the floor.

And on that note, I think I will tie a ribbon around this week and consider it done to a turn. As am I...

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Posting early--and fast

My body nicely manufactured an incipient migraine for me today, so I could feel more justified in calling in sick to Advisement. I might as well have called in sick to Nature in Lit; the students are starting to disappoint the hell out of me. There is almost no class discussion, and even in their groups, they discuss for about 15 minutes and then, "We finished." Fifteen minutes to discuss Thoreau's essay "Walking." Fifteen minutes to discuss portions of Emerson's "Nature." Fifteen minutes to discuss the chapter "Spring" from Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. These are rich readings, but the students are locked into generalizations that pretty much lead to "he/she appreciates nature."

Fuck me sideways. Well, as one of my students said in a response to one of the readings, "what are you gonna do?" Bashing my head against a wall doesn't seem tremendously productive. I think I may have to ask the students what they think will help, because right now, I'm ready to just take attendance, collect homework, and dismiss them. (I can't actually do that, of course, but I'm not sure what I can do.)

Meanwhile, I keep adjusting the order in which I want to address all the stuff I have to mark and return. I'm conflicted between doing the most important stuff first and doing the little stuff first to clear my feet for the important stuff. At the moment, I'm leaning toward the latter--especially if I can return homework to the 102s tomorrow.

In any event, I am going to leave here in about 15 minutes. I truly am exhausted; I truly do have at least a bit of a headache, and I truly do believe that being home--even if I don't get any work done--will be beneficial. I'm operating on the assumption that I will be teaching tomorrow--and I hope to hell tomorrow is a better day, but I'm not really sanguine about the chances of that. I realize that the poems I assigned are almost tailor-made to produce clichéd, sentimentalized pabulum. O joy, o rapture.

Oh to hell with it. I'm heading out.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Long-ass day...

Dear God, sometimes Tuesdays and Thursdays are interminable. I'm noticing two things in terms of my stamina (or lack thereof): one, being here in the office as late as I am this semester is making it very challenging for me to wind down in time to get a decent night's sleep. I know I kvetch about lack of sleep all the time--I bore myself with it--but it is a thorny problem for which I would like to find a real solution. In the "never again" department, I will never again teach an evening class, unless it is absolutely, completely, utterly necessary. The last slot of the day grid is late enough (that's the 5-6:15 slot on Mondays and Wednesdays); the additional 50 minutes I need to put in to the evening class is just that many too many.

The other stamina issue is more emotional than physiological, and it has to do with trying to hoik students out of their unfocused, irresponsible, vague, lackadaisical and otherwise maddening ways. Case in point, the student who first didn't submit his revised essay at all--though he kindly handed me the version that I marked up for mechanics review--then submitted it single spaced and with just his name at the top; then, when I told him he needed to resubmit it formatted correctly, added the bullshit header that students learn I don't know where, double spaced it, and otherwise didn't change a damned thing. And it's two pages long, double spaced (minimum length requirement, four pages). He's turned in absolutely no other homework. And yet he has the intellectual chops to do really well--but he seems absolutely hell-bent on washing himself down the drain.

And he's one of many who look startled when I point out that they haven't done something basic that they need to do: attach a works cited page, format the essay correctly, write as much as the assignment required (without overwriting by 50%), submit on time, submit to Turnitin ... I could go on.

Today, in the 1:00 class, I had to say--loudly--"from now on, if you sleep through class, you are absent." That woke up the two young men who drifted off before I even finished taking attendance. I will say they managed to stay awake for the rest of the class, but honest to Christ: do I have to tell you that it's important to stay awake in class? Thanks to my kid sister's research, I know that sleep enhances memory, but that's after you've learned something. And I know Suzuki method music instruction includes having the student listen to the music as he or she sleeps--but the student is not supposed to sleep through the actual lesson.

Lollygaggers. That's what I have. Classes full of lollygaggers. https://youtu.be/XYoBOhZvBEw

I don't quite know what happened in Advisement, but I made even less progress on marking essays today than I did yesterday. I'm looking at the rapidly growing piles of stuff I have to mark and (again, the chronic, boring plaint) wondering when I'll be able to grind through it. The weekend, obviously--but will that be enough? (I'm paying for taking last weekend off, big time. I didn't even sleep enough to make it a good trade-off.) I've been feeling just the tiniest bit under the weather health-wise for a couple of days now, too. I haven't wanted to call in sick, because what I'm doing with the classes seems important, but tomorrow, I may come in just long enough to teach Nature in Lit, then bail on Advisement, pack up a bunch of stuff to mark, and roll home, just so I'm more physically comfortable--and can nap, if the urge comes upon me. My concern is that I may get too comfortable at home and may bail on Thursday as well. Not that that would be a disaster: I have a "review" day built in to the schedule for the 102s, so I could simply adjust all the reading assignments one class later and still have them ready to do the next essay when scheduled.

I don't know, I'd say I'll think about that tomorrow, when I'm stronger--but really, I'll think about that tomorrow, when I know whether I feel stronger or not.

I'd love to do a positive reframe of the day--but I almost don't need one. I'm not feeling negative (the bitching about needing to hoik students up out of their own murk notwithstanding); I'm just feeling somewhat worn down. So, departure is the better part of valor for today. I'm outta here.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The fine art of procrastination

I started on evaluating the final versions of essays for the 102 classes today; I truly did. I got two and a half done. This was not a case of my not having time. I had plenty of time and could, in theory, have gotten quite a few done. It was very quiet in Advisement, and I didn't have anyone coming to see me in my office hour or seminar hour after Advisement, so I had oodles of time in which to mark things--and I ended up doing anything else, whatever I could think of. I don't even know what else I thought of (though I did just spend a little time looking for images of monkeys and owls to find faces that looked similar, as illustration for a line in one of the Mary Oliver poems we're going to discuss in 102 tomorrow). I wrote a couple of letters of recommendation. I probably checked Turnitin.com 400 times to see who has and has not submitted an essay, who submitted late, who submitted to Turnitin but didn't submit a hard copy....

And while I'm on that vein, two particular peeves:

1. The student who writes an e-mail essentially saying, "Hi, you barely know me, but I need a letter of recommendation tomorrow. I don't know where you need to send it or anything else. But you'll do it, right?" (Much better the student who asked two weeks in advance--and apologized for the short notice.)

2. The ever-growing number of students who do not follow through on basic requirements. Even a couple of the better students either were late with the upload to Turnitin or neglected it entirely. I sent a reminder to everyone (which I probably shouldn't do)--and several students got back to me with essentially a shrug, saying "I thought I uploaded it"--and then attached the essay to the e-mail for me to upload.

How many times have I said that it is crucial to upload to Turnitin? How many places have I written out the penalties for late submission--or submission that is missing entirely? How many times have I told students they have to go through the Blackboard page? How many times have I said, "Make sure you got the confirmation e-mail; if you didn't submit again"?

Countless. And it makes zero impact. Sometimes I feel I must be in some kind of cone of silence, so I'm speaking but no one can hear what I say.

I'm trying very hard not to be systemically cranky, and to remember the things about this job that I still love instead of perpetually thinking how much I want to get out of here, retire, go do something else: the urge to flee is powerful. But I am old and wise enough now to know it's a good idea to have something to flee toward, instead of simply running away to god knows what. And as long as I haven't figured out what that something is, it clearly isn't time for me to go.

But I still find myself counting days. I have nine more Mondays this semester. (There are ten weeks left before classes end, but one of those Mondays is during spring break.) After tomorrow, I'll have eight more Tuesdays ... and so on, through the week. And I am counting. Boy am I counting. Not even counting to spring break: counting to end of classes.

I know I'll go through a brief flurry of craziness scheduling summer classes with Cathy after classes end--but that isn't the same as having to teach, and it will be over very quickly.

Shifting gears radically, today in the Student Services Center I encountered a student from one of last semester's 102s. We chatted; she asked me how my semester was going. I told her I'm not teaching Left Hand of Darkness this semester, and she asked rather plaintively why not. I told her too many students had found it an insurmountable hurdle last semester--indeed she seemed to be one of them--but she told me she talks about the novel all the time, tells friends they should read it. The ones who get it really get it and (usually) love it. The ones who can't really can't--and I'm tired of the battle.

I'll face a somewhat different battle with The Word for World Is Forest: they'll understand the book, but the critical essays may be an insurmountable obstacle. One or two may be somewhat accessible to the students, but most will be challenging in the extreme. But at least I won't be repeating the same thing I've said over and over in the past: same basic struggles, but new words, and even that small shift will be good.

I'm about out of energy for tonight. I'm going to stagger homeward soon here. I have to make up time in Advisement tomorrow, which means getting here at 9:30 a.m., not the more usual 10-10:30, but I'm all packed up and ready to go, so the morning should be relatively smooth. One can only hope.

And maybe I'll mark more essays tomorrow. (Maybe pigs will be doing aeronautic displays, flying with the Blue Angels.)