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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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Thursday, April 27, 2017

End of day (and week) swerve into trepidation

I just read the concise, cogent, and insightful precis of today's special meeting of the academic senate about ratifying a change to the bylaws that effectively makes faculty utterly powerless in determining anything at all about this campus, including matters of curriculum. The vote is not a surprise, but the tenor of the meeting, as described by my colleague--who is extraordinarily level-headed and fair--sounds bitter indeed. One of the things he reported is that our VP for academic affairs said that faculty senates only have the authority to comment or "recommend" but not to enact (or veto) because "that's what they do." It is so because it is so. Forgive me if I don't accede to the tautological reasoning.

Somehow, this is all exacerbated by the fact that one of the buildings where the English department has historically held classes is being shuttered--perhaps permanently--and another will be closed over the summer for "renovations," though its long-term fate is also insecure. This whole side of the campus is has been the center for most of the humanities departments and their classes; the fact that we're being squeezed out in terms of the "real estate" (as the Registrar called it) seems to reflect a desire to squeeze us out entirely. (I just checked, and two of my fall classes are still scheduled to meet in the building that will be closed, and the other two in the building that may be closed.)

There has been a new dean appointed, for the area "General Studies." We do not yet know whether our department will be fractured so that all of our composition courses are moved into that area and the few electives we are allowed to keep are maintained under the Humanities umbrella, or what else might transpire. It doesn't feel good.

In fact, I feel unwelcome on this campus. I feel my contributions are seen as meaningless, my expertise as valueless, and my discipline as irrelevant. I doubt I'm alone in feeling that way--and I recognize that the feeling will wax and wane. As my students make clear that they value what I have to offer, I will feel like I still have a place, but I truly fear that it won't last long.

And today my students did make me feel that they value what I have to offer. For one thing, most of them still hanging on to the end of the semester: I no longer routinely experience 50% attrition rates. More to the point were the emails I got from two students in the 1:00 102 class. Both of them plagiarized their homework--one badly enough that what she copied into her work didn't even make sense--and after class I nailed them both to the wall. I didn't let them speak; I just told them they'd plagiarized, that their homework would get a zero, that whatever confusions or life challenges led them to want the short cut, it was cheating--and did them no favors when it comes to writing their essays. I told them they should consider withdrawing, and I told them that--should they decide to stay--if I get even the tiniest whiff of plagiarism from their final essays, they will fail the class.

Both wrote emails apologizing, saying they want to stay in the class, that they like me, like the class, want to pass, will do better. And the emails certainly seemed sincere; both young women are not the type to be two-faced with me (or with anyone) about something like this. Fair enough. I let them know that I was content to let them do their best with their final essays, and we'd let the chips fall where they may.

I also had a nice face-to-face interaction with another student in that class. She was horrified at her grade on her second essay (she'd missed the last few classes, so she hadn't seen it before today). She wanted to talk about what she could do, and as we started to talk, she started to cry. She's another of those students who is potentially very good but utterly overwhelmed and thus unable to do the work she's truly capable of doing. I looked over her grades, and I made an agreement with her: if she gets at least a B on the final essay (something well within her grasp), I will allow her to re-revise her second essay. I'll give her an incomplete, and calculate the grade when I see the re-revision, as it was clear she was under time pressure and didn't devote the attention to the revision that she could have.

My conversation with a student after the 5:30 class was a little more difficult. She really shouldn't have been passed along to this level: she should have had to repeat some of her previous courses. But she doesn't need to pass a literature class for her degree, so I offered her a "mercy D." I don't know if it will be much of a mercy in the long run: I don't think at this point that she can write well enough in English to do well in her chosen major. She's plenty smart, and for all I know, she's an excellent writer in her native language, but not in English--not yet.

But it wasn't an unpleasant conversation; it was just rushed and unfinished, as she had to get to her next class. I told her we didn't have to decide right away, but that she might want to consider whether she wanted to put the time and energy into her final essay, knowing she can't get a good grade out of the class. We'll see what she decides.

Even though that was my last encounter of the day, it was one of those days when I walk away from my final class, thinking about my manner in dealing with the students and feeling very dissociated from that persona, Prof. P. Here I am, just little ole me, but in the classroom, I suddenly have this authority and confidence and clarity. Where the hell does that come from? I almost feel I'm channeling something way beyond myself, the way I felt one or two times, millennia ago, when I was on stage and almost split into two: an almost out-of-body me who was watching my performance, and the character, who had a life of her own. The character I "play" now is this professor. I am more used to feeling like a fraud, as one of my grad advisers suggested would be the case, but every now and then, I am astonished that I can so readily fool everyone, including myself.

On that rather odd note, I will toddle off into the weekend. This will be a weekend when I take zero work home with me, which feels like an enormous reprieve. I still have plenty to do next week even before the student essays come in (and part of me thought--briefly--that I should at least write up the adjunct observations tonight before a saner part of me took over and said "Quit pushing yourself"). But I can have a weekend that is something approaching an actual weekend. If I work, it will be because I want to, not because I am driven to. The only thing I'm driving to is my riding lesson tomorrow...

So, so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Ever hopeful

I did mark the last of the essays for the 5:30 102 class, despite a number of SNAFUs (including leaving those last three in my office when I went to Advisement; I had a little bit of time to work in Advisement--more on that in a minute--and I had other work to do, but not those). I still have to churn through all the reading notes for that class, and record marks for the notes from the other class, but I'm trusting I'll have time for that somewhere along the line tomorrow. Although there are political reasons why it's unfortunate that tomorrow's meeting got canceled, it's a god-send to me, as it buys me time when I don't have any students coming in to crank through stuff.

The other good thing about getting those essays graded is I was also able to complete the assessment thingy I had to do. I could have waited to do it for the final essay (which might have made the success rates for some of the outcomes look better), but I didn't want it tangled around my ankles any more. Done is beautiful.

I think I mentioned yesterday that I had the sudden sinking realization that I had set things up as if I were going to do the usual mechanics review step on the 102 students' final essays when, in fact, I have no time to do that. I reworked one of the handouts pertaining to that mental error yesterday; today I realized that another handout would have to be reworked as well. Those are all set and ready to photocopy. The temptation was to photocopy them this evening, but I refrained: I put my energy where it really needed to go, instead of clearing my feet of things that really aren't underfoot enough to need clearing.

If that makes sense.

Class was ... well, about like usual. I was very glad that two of the students who are usually completely silent spoke up today; excellent. I also made a suggestion for their notes for Monday, as I found that most of what they were picking up on in the text really has little to do with the "nature" part of the Nature in Literature course. Moreover, what they're picking up on probably won't serve them very well in working on their final essays. So, I asked them to review all the pages they've read looking specifically for anything about what "nature" is on the spacecraft of the story. I'll be interested to see if they actually do that--and if they do, what they find.

Advisement was different from usual today: I was in the Library, not the Advisement Center, helping new students. The procedures are somewhat different, and I hope I followed them correctly. I will say that the new students are so Bambi-eyed and tremulous, it's rather touching. It's been a long while since I've recalled how overwhelming the initial experiences of registration and so on were--not so much my first year as an undergrad, when I was at a small, private, women's college but certainly my second, when I was at an enormous state university. Today, I felt little sympathetic vibrations of the uncertainty and sense of being overwhelmed with expectations... Of course, feeling the remembered visceral sensations, I was able to be quite compassionate with the students, and I think most understood what they needed to know--or enough for now. I'll be back there next week, at least one of my days in Advisement. We'll see how that goes.

For now, my plan is to look at yesterday's post to retrieve the "to do" list I transcribed there, as I think it's more complete and up-to-date than anything else I have, and heaven knows that Prof. P can't function without a list, even if it's a list of the manifestly obvious. Once that is done, and I put the various piles of things in slightly less precarious positions, I will toddle off home. No 6 a.m. alarm tomorrow, thank all the gods at once. However, it remains to be seen whether I'll be able to sleep. (Haven't been too successful at that for a while.)

Tomorrow = another day. That's an equation I can do.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"I'll regret this in the morning": #2,873

The phrase "I can't even" has been going through my head this afternoon--as in today's parlance where nothing else is said about what one can't even. Just ... I can't even. (I can't even finish the sentence. I can't even decide what I can't even do. I can't even make more sense than that.)

I did not get all the assignments marked for the 5:30 class, to no one's vast surprise. I'm actually rather surprised I got any marked at all--but three remain. And now there's the homework I collected today, which the students truly need back by Thursday, so they have it when they embark on their essays, which are due Tuesday. (Hang on to the safety bar and scream!) I just realized that I had decided back when I created the schedule in January that I wouldn't do mechanics review on their final essays--which saves me a little flat out panic next week but not much. Instead, I had a hemidemisemi-panic just now, realizing I had to create a new assignment for them to do mechanics review on their own. Not that it took long, but ... well, on Thursday, I have to remember to pass around the conference sign up sheet, clarify the process, let them know they only need to bring one printed copy of their essay to class on Tuesday (for peer review), that sort of thing.

As I said, that bit about the safety bar, and the screaming.

So, here's what I need to do, in no particular order, and almost certainly missing a pearl or two that's dropped between the floorboards or rolled behind the bookcase...

1. Mark the rest of the final versions of the second essay for the 5:30 102, plus the homework I collected before today.

2. Mark the homework I collected today for both 102s.

3. Mark the homework for Nature in Lit (including what I'm going to collect over the next few classes).

4. Write up two observations.

5. Review six year-end evaluations, write up the P&B bits, print them, sign them, get them to the six colleagues in question.

6. Complete the critical thinking assessment I'm part of.

7. Create the final grade forms I use to crunch the numbers for all the classes.

8. Make sure I have copies of all the final handouts I need for all classes.

Um, um...

As I said, I'm sure I'm forgetting something (oh, yeah, I remember: I'm radioactive (Steve Martin reference)), but it will have to be forgotten until, well, whenever I remember it--or it will stay forgotten because it will turn out it doesn't matter.

I can feel myself descending into babbling incoherence. I haven't quite pushed my exhaustion to the point where my sense of humor goes loopy; I'm just at the "am I making any sense?" stage.

Which seems like an awfully good point at which to hang it up for the day and toddle off home.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The battle of the bulge...

Further to my personal life, I am in a battle with myself over my desire for copious amounts of "comfort" food, as most of my clothes don't fit comfortably any more, but the desire for comfort is pretty powerful. Work has been an excellent distraction today--I've hardly thought about the grief waiting for me at home--but there are other triggers that are in play as well. Weight Watchers uses a little acronym for common triggers for overeating: HALT, which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. I added two S's at the end, for Stressed and Sad. I am all of those except angry, and I'm only lacking the anger because I'm too tired to continue to get worked up over the lack of participation from the students in Nature in Lit, or to get too upset over the quality of some of the essays in the 102s.

Nature in Lit today was ... meh. I didn't put the students into groups, asked them for whatever they have, put stuff on the board, endured long silences. One thing I notice is that putting things on the board is crucial: if I don't, they get progressively more silent--I suppose because they're either trying to take notes or are trying to soak in the cascade of language. But when I put things on the board, they are well trained and will start copying whatever I write into their notes--and then some of them suddenly see that they have ideas.

I did, however, point out that at least five, maybe six of the students present in the room never made any contributions to the class discussion, so I asked them all to have at least one thing they want to bring up. It can be small and simple--it can be anything--but they should have something. I was trying to get those particular students (and yes, they know exactly who they are) to look me in the eye and acknowledge what I was asking of them; I was looking to a row of young women to my right, repeating, "You'll do that, right? You'll say one thing, right?" and from my left, a young male voice said, "Yes, Professor," very loudly and firmly--and lo and behold, it was one of the ones who never speaks. We all laughed, and I said, "That can be enough! I just want you to say something." So class ended on a relatively positive note.

I've been back here grading essays since--occasionally distracted by having to print something, or look something up, and meeting with a few students, too--and I have five more to do. Five. And I don't think I'll have time tomorrow to do them. I may do what I did when I hadn't quite finished essays for Nature in Lit and let the students vote on whether I should return what I've got or hold on to all of it until I have everyone's marked. Or I may just let them know they'll get them on Thursday.

Unless, of course, a miracle occurs.

Copyright Sidney Harris, from the New Yorker, used, I regret to say, without permission. But I couldn't help thinking of it.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Derailed by life

Our students frequently encounter things outside of school that profoundly affect their ability to attend to their academics. I am finding myself on that same side of the teeter-totter that is work/life balance. I finally had to have my sick cat put down yesterday, and dealing with all the research, decisions, scheduling--and grieving--took a huge chunk out of my time for marking essays. I tried to use work as a distraction today, and for the most part managed to do that (work being one of my narcotics of choice), but I am nowhere near where I need to be in terms of having essays ready to give back to the students in the 102s on Tuesday. I'd stay home tomorrow but I have some appointments scheduled with students from Nature in Lit to talk with them about revisions, and I really don't want to miss a class meeting with them, now that we're working through the novella.

I will, however, let the folks in Advisement know that I need to bail. This time, however, I won't take it as sick leave. It's too frantically busy over there for me to feel good about skipping a day, so I'll make it up somewhere (and sure as God made little green apples, I'll be bitching about how I can't get X done because I have to make up those hours in Advisement, but c'est la vie).

I realize, too, that I need to let a few students in the 102s know that they're not going to pass--or that they might pass, but their grades will be much lower than they probably want to accept. There may be another sudden drop in numbers at this stage in the semester, but this time it won't be because they're blowing up over a reading they can't get through; it will be because they've been falling further and further behind as time has gone on. A few are potentially very good students, too. Ah well.

Still, reading their revisions, I'm happy to see that some of them, maybe even most of them, did at least make a concerted effort to revise. There were a few that were completely unrevised and only partially, glancingly, corrected, and they just got the end comment, "I'm sorry you didn't take advantage of the opportunity to revise" and then the hammer would fall: penalties, low marks...

I only have two more to mark for the 1:00 class, and again, I'm having one of those arguments with myself: couldn't you suck it up to just do two more? No. Oh, OK.

I'm particularly concerned about when I can get them all marked not only because I have those student appointments tomorrow but also because on Tuesday I have an observation at 10, and P&B between classes, so whatever doesn't get done tomorrow may not get done. But we'll see. Sometimes I can tap a hidden energy reserve and crank through more than I expect. I'm not counting on it, however; the students may just have to wait until Thursday to get their essays back. Again, c'est la vie.

Now, however, I'm going to engage in self-soothing behaviors. I speak very calmly about having my cat put to sleep, but of course I'm anything but calm and sanguine about it. Grief is exhausting, and the grieving will no doubt sap my energy for the rest of the semester. Still, there's nothing to do but get on with it--both the rest of the semester and the grieving.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

When last we met...

I do want to say a word or two about those young men I mentioned yesterday, but first, let me give the news about today.

Before class, I opted to do my year-end evaluation, both as a feet-clearing action and as a way to ensure that I have sufficient professional development events to meet my minimum. This was important to determine, as I have registered for an event tomorrow, but despite the fact that Paul will be there--which is a compelling reason to go--I am unwilling to set an alarm for tomorrow, and I have 10 zillion essays to mark, preferably before Tuesday, which presents an even more compelling reason not to go. And, as it happens, I don't need the event to make my quota, so, I ain't going.

It also feels very good to have the YEE out of my hair, or out from under my feet. Wherever it was, it was an irritant I'm glad to get rid of.

I then started organizing the enormous and growing mounds of stuff I have for the 102s, so I can churn through it at least somewhat effectively. I didn't get far on that before I had to go to class--but class went very well. I didn't put them in groups; I wrote things on the board, both my own explanations of things they needed a little help with and their comments--but mostly their comments, of which there were many. That class has pulled together a bit: there isn't great class chemistry, but there is more than none, which is nice, and a few of them are both savvy enough readers in general and comfortable enough with SF to do a fine job on the novella. We got into some fine territory. Very gratifying.

Upon my return to the office, I graded two late essays for the Nature in Lit class. One is from a student who cannot read to save her life and is even more incapable of making a coherent point in an essay. I present exhibit A:

"There's another description in the literature that stood out; Dillard describes a weasel being 10 inches long, thin as a curve, a muscled ribbon, brown as fruitwood and soft-furred. (Dillard, 31). In this description the author is making the readers see the action of how male humans can be 10 inches long of height, be thin and skinny, have muscled and have soft skin or no hair. These are all perfect physical characteristics descriptions of male humans which is 100% correct."

Setting aside the hilarity caused by the (I hope unintentional) pornographic images brought to mind, this was an instance where the most pure and visceral response from Prof. P. was "WTF???" I posted it on Facebook. I sent it to P&B, saying perhaps we need to engage in norming sessions for 101 and 102--because the student in question received a B in 101 and a B+ in 102. (Again, WTF?) I had Paul read it (hilarity ensued). But really: how on earth did this student get a B or a B+ in any English class at all? She is not going to pass my class--and shouldn't have passed any of the previous levels of English (or Reading--and yes, she started in Basic Education, so she needed remediation, and a lot of it, in reading, writing, and math).

But I got her essay finished to return to her, and I provided comments on the essay of the young man who came to my office yesterday morning for help. He's working very hard, is very earnest, does not take naturally to this kind of subject material. (I just looked at his transcript: he got a D+ in 102, which seems about right--but weirdly, he passed 101 with a B+, then took 100--which is the same thing, only with an additional lab component--and failed it. I have no idea what happened there.) But he has some ideas that work; he simply needs a lot of guidance digging deeper into the reading and developing his ideas more fully.

I don't know what else I got done (surely something?) between classes, but I dashed off to the 5:30 class, confident it would go well using the same technique I used with the earlier class. Cue sound effects: crashing noises, explosions, things falling heavily to the ground. One student--by far the best and brightest in that class--gets the novella for the most part and had excellent questions. Another student was more confused but asked good questions. Almost everyone else? Silence. They said they'd read it (though many didn't have their notes), but I sure didn't see evidence of that at all.

Well, their loss.

Now, back to yesterday.

I don't remember which young man I saw first, but I think it was one who sat down and told me that he was "behind" in getting his degree and needed to load as much on as possible so he could get caught up. He's been here two years, and he's just getting into credit bearing courses--but he's going to be a success story, I think. It seems clear that his problem has more been that he hasn't been good at focus and discipline--but he's getting to an age at which he is ready to buckle down and do the work. I talked to him about slowing down in order to do well; I showed him the hours in the day that would be involved in summer classes; we talked about reasonable expectations for someone who has a job and goes to school, so has to juggle many demands on his time. He was happy to realize that everything he is going to take in the fall bears credit and moves him toward graduation. It took a while for me to persuade him that being successful might not be the same as going fast, but he finally got there. And he knows himself very well: he knew that he needed help with focus, structure, time management. So I recommended a course--though I just found out (reading the fine print) that he can't actually take it (not unless a counselor allows him in despite his not meeting the specific criteria)--and I showed him some of the places where he can get help. He actively wants the help, and was excited and relieved to see how much is available. (I also suggested mentoring; he said he'd definitely look into that.) As I was showing him all the help that is available and assuring him that we want him to succeed, I saw the beginnings of tears in his eyes: his relief was palpable, as was his appreciation of my vote of confidence in his ability to do well. It was lovely to see his initial impatience--which he admitted arose from panic--dissolve into a more relaxed and buoyant mood.

And I did that for him. I gave him that. That feels wonderful.

The other young man came to my cubicle with a similar impatience but with the addition of a brusque, almost angry tone. He announced, "I need to withdraw from all my classes." OK, I said. May I ask why? "I need to get into rehab." I praised him for that, told him that was an admirable admission to make. I told him about excused withdrawals, e-mailed him the information, gave him what paperwork I could, let him know that the college would do everything possible to help. I told him, too, that one of my nephews had to go into rehab (true) and made a success of his life (true, though not quite as simple and direct a route as I made it sound). I said, "Go off, get yourself clean, and school will be here, ready for you, when you're ready to come back." Again, his eyes teared up a bit--I think because he was expecting judgement and disapproval and instead got compassion and encouragement.

From me. I could do that for him. And I think it mattered. I think it mattered to both of them that they could talk to someone who would listen, work with them, not sugar-coat but be encouraging.

I can do that--be compassionate, encouraging, supportive--much more readily in my one-on-one interactions with students than I can with a class as a whole. For instance, toward the end of the 5:30 class, I told them that when we meet on Tuesday, I'm not going to talk so much. If they don't have things to say, we'll sit there in silence. "I don't mind silence," I told them. "And I won't let you go early, either. If you don't bring your own ideas, if you don't have things to say, we're just going to sit here in silence until the end of the period." One young woman was smiling and almost laughing; she knew I'm serious, but she loved that I'd challenge them that way. (I am reminded again of the possibly apocryphal story of N. Scott Momaday walking into the first day of his Native American Literature classes, slamming his books on the desk, and bellowing, "Listen!" Then maintaining perfect silence for the remainder of the class period. Love that.)

So, now I am gradually starting to put on the brakes, not just from the head of steam for the day but from the barreling forward of the entire week. I almost can't believe it's Thursday; the week seemed so interminable up until about 7 tonight, it's weird that it's over. (Sort of the way I feel about the clear signs of spring: it seemed like leafless and wintery was going to last forever, and suddenly, it's green.) The panic will surely hit tomorrow; I know I'm going to resist getting down to the essay grading, but if I don't, I will make life truly difficult and stressful for myself. I can be disciplined, when it is absolutely required--and we're at that point.

That said, it is definitely time to tie a bow around the campus part of this work week. I'll surely be posting over the weekend as I work from home. (And, my fickle readers, that means I get to keep you hooked a bit with daily posts. The minute you miss your daily dose of new, off you trot to some other blog and you stop checking mine. You never know when you'll find an excellent new post here, so go ahead and assume nothing new will be there. Hah. I'll keep you guessing.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

In a rush...

I have to be out the door in about 5 minutes (and I'm not packed up yet); I'm meeting Paul for dinner in a bit. I wish I'd left myself more time to post, but I got caught up sending an e-mail to the English department on shared governance. I'm not relishing the boola-boola that's sure to follow (typical me: have strong opinions but decline to share them because of my loathing of confrontation), but when I actually have something to say that I think might be worth saying, off I go.

I really wanted to post about two very moving encounters in Advisement today, both young men who are struggling--and both of whom were grateful for my attention and caring. A third young man thanked me for being helpful--almost before I'd started--and he assured me several times that he was sincerely grateful for my encouragement and help.

Perhaps, when I retire, I should become an academic adviser in some way--but not by joining the staff of our Advisement center. But I do love working one on one with students, mentoring them, talking to them about their academic progress and their lives generally. I don't quite know how to make that work, but, well, it's a thought.

And at that, I have to dash. I hope I remember to say more about those young men in Advisement when I post tomorrow. It truly was very moving.

Paul and an "adult beverage" (in Scott's phraseology) await. Off I dash...

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Teaching an evening class...

I'm interested to observe the way my brain works:

Last night, the adjunct I observed asked why evening classes end earlier than day classes if the class period is the same as day classes: 75 minutes. I was utterly flummoxed: I was pretty sure that the class period is longer, but wait, what? The last day of evening classes is May 8th?

All day, I've been thinking that I needed to make sure the adjunct was right about the early end of the term, and that I was right about the length of the class period--because of the effect on her students. It didn't occur to me until I was galloping to the library for my 5:30 class's "information literacy" session that, "oh, wait: I teach an evening class, and I've scheduled them all the way through the final Thursday of the semester."

So, in the library, while the librarian was showing students how to use the databases and the Lib Guide, I was checking the class length and the academic calendar. I was right about the length of the class period: evening classes are 80 minutes, not 75. And the adjunct was almost right: evening classes actually end on Tuesday, May 9th.

But I have a final class scheduled for May 11th.

Moment of panic: "I need to email Cathy to ask her what I should do!" Moment of adult responsibility: "No need to involve Cathy with this; I just need to figure out a solution." Moment of rapid improvisation leading to plan ... what letter of the alphabet are we up to by now? "I'll just have them submit their self-evaluations on the same day they submit their final essays, and we'll do our semester wrap-up all at once." It's not optimal, but it will work.

To sum up: slow realization of my own error, followed by flash of panic when I realized the error, followed by a moment of trying to deflect the panic, make someone else solve the problem followed by, "Oh, we'll just do this. That will be OK": letting go of my "everything needs to be perfect and exactly the way I planned it" attitude and relaxing into "good enough is good enough."

Around all that, I have to say I had reasons to be the proud professor today: both librarians running the sessions today said that my students seemed like good bunches--and I could confirm that yes, they are. This is not entirely my doing: those without the chops to make it have already pretty much fallen by the wayside. But it's partly my doing: I have them pretty well whipped into shape. They are, for the most part, ready, willing and able to do real work--and they ask smart questions.

The kid who plagiarized his second essay seemed utterly lost today, which didn't surprise me. He's all but completely given up on learning and is just trying to slide through to the end, so the second anything is challenging, he disconnects. And I grant you, the information is a bit numbing, even though the students get to click and type along with the librarian, hands on. So, when everyone else was working and he was just sitting there, staring into space, I went over to him and walked him through some of the steps he'd missed. He did a little work, then was staring into space again, so I went over again, asked him if he was confused or... and he started back into working--and actually spent the rest of the class on task. Good.

In the earlier class, there was a moment when I had to say, loudly, "OK, those of you who are on your phones right now? Knock it off." The librarian laughed, and the students laughed--but they also put down their phones and got back to work. There were a couple of chuckle moments in that earlier class: nothing actually funny, just my pointing things out to them in mock-fierce teasing ways that they found amusing. I like the rapport I have with that class in particular, though it's sometimes hard to pick between the two 102s.

In P&B today, I mentioned my idea of using seminar hours to have a workshop on reading literature (though Cathy pointed out that, diplomatically, it's probably best not to use the word "reading" in the title or description of the workshop, lest our colleagues in the Reading department think we're dismissing or demeaning what they do). And I mentioned that both Paul and I are about ready to stop teaching literature electives altogether, because of the frustration factor when it comes to the students' inability to read. My P&B colleagues responded with a mixture of "Wow, you really must be unhappy" and "Yeah, I know exactly what you mean." When I told them that I am flat out hating the Nature in Lit course, they understood just how painful that is.

And I am hating it. I need to find a way to reframe it for myself so I don't look at it as something I just have to endure for the next eight class meetings but as something I can find some gratification in doing. I'm not sure right now where to find the gratification--I'll have to work on that--but I know it will help me enormously to try to find a positive spin on whatever the class is like: not to ignore the reality but to find a way to see the reality in a more beneficial light.

Meanwhile, my body is letting me know very loudly that it does not take well to going short on sleep, even a little bit, and that I need to do something to try to stock up on a little restedness. As much as the lure of noodling calls to me ("it's not full dark yet; surely it's too early to go home!"), I am going to end this post, grab my bags, and steal off into the gloaming (tomorrow being that other day we hear so much about).

Monday, April 17, 2017

An observation, and an observation

The Nature in Lit was like usual: students seemed to be working fairly well in their groups, but when it came to full class discussion, I'm sure there are livelier tombs. I even tried to help them out by posting some specific questions I wanted them to answer--but apparently the answers to the questions were pretty well beyond them. That, and the fact that they cannot, will not, read with attention to the actual words on the page but bounce off into their own maunderings and leave the text behind, bereft...

I had to speak to four of them after class about missing essays. One submitted hers by Turnitin, just didn't give me the hard copy; the other three submitted nothing. I've agreed to accept something--if they can get it to me, both in hard copy and uploaded to Turnitin, by tomorrow. I will give them feedback but no points until they submit something on the revision date. And I will take a whopping huge late penalty even so. (Most students can "erase" the late penalty by submitting a revision, so they'll be hurt plenty.) Two of those three may come through; the third--a very sweet young man but completely unfocused--admitted to me today that he's struggling with depression and with all his classes. I encouraged him to withdraw, but he doesn't want to. He should: it's truly in his best interest. I don't know why they resist withdrawing even when the math is clearly not in their favor, but they do. I guess they see it as an admission of defeat; I see it as a retreat and retrenchment, not a defeat. The F is a defeat.

But that's me, and I've got a lot of hard knocks to draw on as a reminder of when retreat is in order.

I also decided--somewhat reluctantly--to ditch the poetry they were supposed to read for next class and instead give them a little more time with Paradises Lost. They hoped I would turn the poems into extra credit, but I said I thought I'd given enough of that; instead, I said the portion of the novella they read for Wednesday will substitute mathematically for the poems--but I just realized that won't work, as I'd asked for separate notes for each poem. Fuck. But it's actually OK: they can just subtract 75 points from the total; with the other opportunities for extra credit I've provided, plus what was already built in, there's the potential to earn more than a "perfect" 2000 points, so... I may reconsider, but I really want them to focus on the novella and not to spend time on poems that they won't get and that we won't discuss so I can help them get them.

Fuck. Seriously: this course was just snake-bit this semester. No salvaging it. Ah well.

None of which is the observation "promised" by the title of this post. The observation is that there will no longer be time to mark student work in Advisement. It's not quite a mob scene, but it's pretty damned busy, a steady stream of students, many of whom had been waiting quite a while. Of course this makes me regret that I didn't get more of the 102 stuff marked over the break, but I was (and am) dealing with emotional undertow that makes that kind of effort difficult to say the least, so I am forgiving myself. It just means I'm going to be what the Hawaiians would call "hella busy" for the foreseeable future. Not that that's a surprise, or any different from the usual state of affairs.

In addition to that observation, I conducted an actual observation tonight, of one of our adjuncts, and it was a blast. The students were definitely swinging from the chandeliers, but she had a great rapport with them, and the lesson for the day was pertinent, useful, and engaging. Nice to be in a position to see one of our adjuncts just to show that we run a tight ship, not because of any problems. (Nice to see that there still are classrooms in which the chemistry creates that swinging from the chandeliers energy. I'd sure love some of that.)

But now, it's very late, and I have an ailing cat at home, so I'm going to bring this to a rather abrupt halt and get out of here. I'll be back in about 12 hours to make up some time in Advisement and then have my usual Tuesday. Bizzybizzybizzy me.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Close, but no cigar...

One might think that squeezing out one last graded batch of homework assignments and essay wouldn't be so hard, but I got to that point and I ... just ... couldn't. Part of my need to bail on grading the last one is that I realized I really do have to reread the stuff the students are supposed to talk about in class tomorrow. (One of the assignments is new, and I don't remember what's in it at all; the other I've taught before, but I'd like to have it fresh in my mind.) The students may not be able to do anything more than generalize and spew platitudes, but it behooves me to know what the fuck I'm talking about.

And the last essay was going to be a problem. I couldn't face one more bad one.

Two of the essays I marked today were relatively good, though, I must say. Neither was an absolutely stellar A+, but both are in good high B territory--which is a hell of a relief after D after D after D....

Ack. Blech. Enough.

I floated the idea of using seminar hours to offer tutorials on reading, and the one response I've gotten so far is and off-the-top-of-the-head "seems like a good idea" from Scott. I know there are lots of logistics to discuss, and it may not fly, but I'm glad it wasn't viewed immediately as a non-starter.

I'm also thinking some about when I next teach Nature in Lit. It won't be until next spring, when the online version will be offered for the first time. I wouldn't have to compete for the class even if it were FTF, as I haven't taught it several times in a row, but since I developed the online version, I own it for the first three times it's offered (assuming I'll be around the second and third times it's offered--or that it even is offered a second and third time). I'm still thinking about what was wrong with the readings I chose this time (not enough fiction and poetry)--and wondering how much of the Norton anthology I will use, and whether I can include The Word for World Is Forest at the end.

I realized, reading the students notes on the Le Guin short stories that I assigned that they were completely thrown for a loop by the sudden switch from nonfiction to fiction, tried to read the stories the same way--which doesn't work. (More reason for my workshops/tutorials on reading literature.) I'm very worried about what may happen when we get to "Paradises Lost." It could bomb utterly, unless I set it up very carefully--and I'm wishing I'd allowed more time for it: I'm cramming the whole thing into two weeks. Fuck.

Well, I've known for some time that this semester's class is just going to be a disaster from start to finish, so the fact that everything will blow up even more over the novella is just more of the same. It's tremendously disheartening, however.

Shifting gears radically: yesterday I wrote a very lengthy Facebook post about the new "free tuition" laws in NY, expressing my concerns for what it may mean for those of us at the community college level. I acknowledge that I may be particularly soured by the experience of this semester--it's hard for me to see the broader view chronologically; I tend to feel that whatever I'm experiencing this moment is what it's "always" like--but my concern is that the new financing will allow a significant portion of our better students to go to the baccalaureate institutions of their choice and avoid NCC altogether. Many of our students come to our campus to get the first two years of their education at a significantly lower price--but that reason will be moot under the new law, which takes effect this fall. My hunch is that most of the students who come to NCC will be those who cannot get admitted to any campus with competitive enrollment. To come to us, all they need is a high school diploma and a pulse (and they can, in fact, be working toward their GED and not yet have the high school diploma, so really the only thing that's needed is the desire to get the high school equivalency ... and a pulse).

Well, projecting catastrophically into the future gets no one anywhere good. The future will be whatever it is. I will practice avoiding what my mother calls "double suffering": creating unhappiness now that may not be warranted--and certainly doesn't diminish any suffering in the future. If it's bad, sufficient that I'll have to deal with it then. If it's good, no reason to fuss about it now.

But I am going to reach out again to my financial planner. The idea of retirement actually scares me witless: I don't have a clear sense of what I want to retire to, only what I want to retire from, and that's not an optimal position, I know I don't need to retire until I have a sense of what I want after this, but I do feel an increasingly panicky sense that flight is wise. (Dad said at his retirement party, "I always thought it made sense for rats to leave a sinking ship." I feel very much like one of those rats, water starting to lap around my ankles.) But calm is the order of the day. I mean that pretty literally: I'm ordering myself to be calm, or at least to assume the appearance of being calm. Inside I can be flailing around like my hair is on fire, but outside, I need to be calm, just ... calm.

And on that note, I will calmly embark on making dinner and getting that reading done. It'll be a six a.m. alarm tomorrow, so I can be sure I have time before class to get that last little bit of marking done and all the marks recorded. But that's tomorrow. Today is a gorgeous day, all the windows wide open to a beautiful warm breeze, and there ain't nothing wrong with that.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The frustration factor--again

As I'm trying to summon the whatever to churn through the essays for Nature in Lit, the wall I keep hitting is the frustration wall. Because the students truly do not know how to read with actual understanding--not even surface level understanding, a lot of the time--they are completely incapable of writing essays about the literature, so they end up pulling meaningless generalizations out of their left ears (or places less savory), and I am then stuck with having to tell them exactly why what they're doing is not working.

The sad thing is, I think they're all frustrated too. I first imagined sitting down with them on Monday to tell them how frustrated I am, but I think that won't do anything except make them even more frustrated and miserable. I don't know if there would be any benefit to talking with them about their frustrations, but perhaps. My plan at the moment--subject to change on a whim--is to talk first about the reading that was assigned but then ask them to talk about their frustrations, see if we can come up with any kind of solution. I may end up ditching the poetry I assigned for Wednesday--though I wish I'd spent more time on poetry and fiction and less on some of the essays.

I should be having a wonderful time: this class is my baby, afterall. But I am truly miserable with it, and as much as the students surely wish they could start all over (and probably choose a different class), I wish I could start all over, not only with what I assign but with how fast and fiercely I address the "Johnny can't read" problem.

Truly, the 102s are better. At least I expect them to struggle some with the reading--and they're struggling less, for the most part (though a few are every bit as lost).

I wish I could figure out a way to use my seminar hours to actually hold a seminar on reading literature as it needs to be read. My colleagues in the Reading department (and yes, that's a separate department at NCC) might howl with outrage, but truly, a huge number of our students need help, and I'd like to provide it.

Perhaps I'll propose it to Scott and Cathy, see what they think. I'm not sure how we could make it work, but I'm desperate to address the problem.

See? If I didn't give a shit, things would be much easier.

I would love to find a happy reframe, but not today. Maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Another day of no progress

I don't usually say a lot about my personal life in this blog, but I need to today. One of my cats is dying. He's been sick for a while, but over the break, he's taken a significant turn for the worse, and I have put in a call to a vet who does compassionate euthanasia house-calls: there's a whole lot involved here, which I won't get into, but tomorrow or Saturday, if my cat, Jack, hasn't given up on his own, I will get the vet here to put him to sleep. I've known this was coming for some time, but that doesn't make it any easier--and the emotional drain of the decision to be ready to put Jack down, the grief that is already very present and will only get more acute once he's gone, makes it very difficult to work, to think, to do anything except to try to distract myself with mindless fluff. I had hoped I could use work as what Bruce would call a "meaningful distraction," but grading essays requires a fair amount of physical energy to support the mental effort--and I am drained. I don't have it in me. And the next few days are likely to be as bad if not worse.

So, no: I won't get much done over the break. I have contacted students who didn't upload essays to Turnitin, or who didn't submit essays period, and I've replied to their emails. I marked a few essays--one completely awful, one mostly awful, one potentially good but missing a solid center--and some accompanying homework, and that's it for today. I refuse to beat myself up over it. The work will get done. Not today, but it will.

I don't have the heart to say much more in this post. I don't know if I'll post again before next week. I'm just breathing through each moment as it comes.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

From the office

I came in to campus today to meet with the colleague who put together the Lib Guide for my 102 students--which it turned out I didn't really need to do: I already had seen the work she did, and I'd sent her the essay assignment, so everything is ready to roll for the library classes on Tuesday.

Last night, I realized that I needed to simplify/clarify the essay topics, so I spent some time on that this morning. I'm not sure I was entirely successful (we'll see how the students respond), but I know at least one of them is more readily grasped than what I'd written yesterday. If I had more time to mull it over, I could probably get even more clear and basic, but, well, I don't want to fuss with it any longer. That's one thing I just needed to get checked off the list, even if it's not my best ever attempt. My colleague in the library approved--not so much of the topics, perhaps, but of how completely detailed the information in the assignment sheet is. That's nice to hear. Of course, she is also a word person, unlike our students, so what seems helpful detail to her may be overwhelming detail for the students--but the librarians and tutors in the Writing Center will certainly be able to point to specific portions of the assignment for the students and say, "Look: you need to do this." Sometimes that's the best we can do.

Because I spent some time this morning cleaning up the essay topics and assignment sheet, I didn't get to campus as early as I had hoped, and--to no one's vast surprise--I didn't get as much grading done as I'd hoped, and I didn't work at all on my year-end evaluation, as the grading has to come first (and the deadline for the evaluation thingy is a bit further down the road). I did, however, get other little futzy clean-up stuff done, including making sure all the final essay stuff is on Blackboard and that I have the same documents on both my home and work computers. So, that feels good.

I have to dash off in just a minute here, but I did get into a rather lengthy conversation with our two office administrators about the impact of the new NYS law that students who attend public institutions get free tuition (and that rapidly turned into a discussion of "kids these days," which is where we always seem to go whenever we say anything having anything to do with the students). And that issue--what will happen to community colleges in general and this institution in particular--is something that calls for a blog post of its very own. In brief: I am extremely concerned about what kinds of students we're likely to get here--and how much enrollment will go down. I am grateful that I'm high enough up the seniority ranks that I'm unlikely to lose my job as long as the campus doesn't shut down entirely, but other than that, all bets are off.

But more on that depressing topic anon. For now, it's time to skedaddle.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Distinct lack of productivity

I didn't post over the weekend, so I expect I've lost a few readers, who look for their daily dose, but c'est la vie. The conference in Scranton was fascinating, discouraging, inspiring, exhausting. Some of the stories by panelists were horrifying examples of how bad things can get; some were inspiring--but just thinking of the work that any action requires is exhausting, not to mention the actual physical exhaustion of the 4:30 a.m. alarm and the drive there and back (especially back, when I was caught in a horrific traffic jam: took me an hour and a half to drive six miles). I would love for some of the things that were discussed specifically about shared governance to be shared on my campus, but I don't have the fire in the belly to create an event that would do what I'd like to see. It's not even that the flesh is weak; the spirit is a bit weak, also. It's hard to feel that anything will change, and I've had my fill of bashing my head against titanium walls.

Yesterday was a life-maintenance sort of day, didn't even attempt any work, beyond doing some reading of articles for the 102 final essay while I did my laundry. Today, I did organize everything I have in hand for the Nature in Lit class, and I managed to mark a couple of homework assignments, but as soon as I was facing the first actual essay, I was overwhelmed with a need for a nap.

I actually did need the nap, physically as well as psychologically: I've been running too long on too little sleep, and my body is starting to get pretty insistent about taking care of that little problem. But I am also very aware that--as I suspected would be the case--I'm in an internal conflict between my awareness of how much work I have to do and my desire to be really, truly on break. The whole "tomorrow is another day" only works for so long: then one gets to the point at which the work truly must be done--and I know it will alleviate panic as I get closer to that point if I can make myself do some work now.

Nevertheless, my intention for tomorrow is not to grade any student work but to pull together the final essay assignment for the 102s. I will go to campus on Wednesday to talk to the genius librarian who put together the Lib Guide for the book and to do my year-end evaluation--and if I can pass the final essay assignment along to the librarian and photocopy it while I'm on campus, that will be good. If I can get that done and still have time to do some grading, great. If not, I'll take some grading to the office with me on Wednesday.

And worst case scenario, I'll still be grading what I have in hand as I start collecting yet more sets of reading notes. Essays are the most important things to return; the homeworks can wait if need be.

And that's all I've got for now. I really am running on fumes, and the end of semester cannot possibly come soon enough. I know time is going to fly, not only for the break but through May 15, and that's a blessing.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Gi-normous stacks of stuff

I realized I couldn't fit everything I want to take home into either my wheelie pack or my tote bag, so I'm schlepping both home. Let me hasten to say that I know this is ridiculous: there is absolutely no realistic hope that I will get everything I'm carrying home marked--and most of it will probably sit exactly as is on my living-room table until I shove it back into the pack and bag and do the reverse schlep to the office.

Why, then, you might ask, am I bothering to drag it all home? Simply because I don't know which bits I'll decide need to be done first, or how often I'll change my mind about the order of triage. Also, the visual weight of all that crap in my house may provide a little extra incentive to work with some diligence, even though every fiber of my being is yelling, "I need a break! This needs to be over! I can't do this any more! Can I go home now?"

I also will come to campus one day next week. The plan is to bring back stuff that I have marked, so there's less to carry in one car-load after the break. The plan is also to get my year-end evaluation written up and out of my hair, so--with whatever time I may have after the break--I can do the other end of the equation and evaluate the year-end evaluations I'm mentoring. I also have two adjunct observations after the break, and I want time to write those up with a minimum of whining and rearrangements to my work flow.

But as for today: showing the movie went pretty well in both classes. No one fell asleep (that I saw) though at least one student was doing her homework for another class and several were texting (which is a little like saying "several were breathing," as for them, it's as much a part of moment-by-moment existence and feels almost as crucial to survival). There was some fooraw in the earlier 102 about what I needed to collect ("Why all the confusion? I've been over this--and you've done it before...??"), but I got them settled down--and I got to the same point in the movie with both classes, so, good enough.

There were also three interesting student encounters in my office. One was with a student who didn't show up to Nature in Lit until something like the third week and who then missed a bunch of classes after that. I think there's something going on beyond an unmanageable life situation: she often looks half asleep, and her reactions are very muted. But I did a lot of mentoring/advising: talking with her about how to go about getting a withdrawal from all her classes for the semester, about getting into our nursing program or a nursing program somewhere else (her grades are nowhere near what they need to be--and she thought she could just "change majors" into the nursing program and take the classes whenever she wanted, so she was a bit startled to hear that there's a very competitive application process). I gave her a lot of information--lots of places that exist to help students--and at some point I will see her again, when she appears with an Add/Drop form for me to sign.

The second was a student who had to drop out this semester: she was one of the bright lights of the 5:30 102, but she also fell foul of an unmanageable life situation. We talked about how things are resolving--actually, very well, I was happy to hear--and I signed the form. She's moving to Georgia with her family, so I won't have the pleasure of having her in one of my classes in the future, which is a shame, but it does sound like the move and everything around it will be very good for her.

The third was the Tough Cookie. She doesn't have her essay ready, which is no surprise, but she mentioned that one of her closest friends attempted suicide earlier this week and she said, "I don't know why all this bad stuff seems to follow me around in my life, no matter what I do: I can't seem to get away from it." I recognize that kind of thinking all too well, and I asked her if she knew about the psychological counseling we have on campus. She didn't, so I said I'd send her the information. And she said, "I really appreciate it; you've been there for me in all this." She wasn't effusive about it; she was in a flat rush to get to her next class, clearly completely overwhelmed--but also very clearly expressing genuine gratitude. I assured her, most sincerely, that being able to help my students is one of the things I value most in my job.

That, and the moments when I get to bring little bits of my knowledge as a scholar into my work with my classes. Paul and I talked about that some the other day: for me, it isn't enough to do something just for my own interest--because I feel too frustrated that I can't fully do that: be a scholar, know what's going on in my field, work on big ideas. So I need to know that whatever I'm doing in terms of "professional development" will be immediately helpful at least in how I conceptualize what I do in the classroom, and why I do it the way I do it. Which is one of several reasons I probably won't sign up for a very cool one-week workshop/seminar thingy in Massachusetts this summer: I think it would mostly be frustrating (and the timing is just wrong). But a little piece of me is looking at it with some longing.

Now, however, the only thing I'm longing to do is to get home. I have a relatively busy day of doing things for my own purposes tomorrow, then Saturday I drive to Scranton for a one-day conference the AAUP is holding on shared governance (which may be a whole different kind of frustration). Then ...

... well, that's all far enough in the future; I don't need to think even that far down the chronological stream. I just need to lug all my various bags to the rental car and drive cautiously home. I think I mentioned yesterday that my car would need to be left in the shop. As it happened, the process of getting the rental was smooth and easy and didn't add too much time to my morning. But what I should mention is that yesterday, as I was pulling out of the parking lot, I managed to crunch the hell out of Cathy's car. Mine looks like I've been driving it in demolition derbies anyway, but Cathy's cars are always pristine, new, gorgeous, impeccably maintained... (I was joking earlier today that I think I need to hang a sign on my forehead saying, "Brain temporarily out of order.") So, I will pull out of the parking lot very cautiously and drive very carefully home and put the rental in my driveway very cautiously. And that will put a button on the day, as this puts a button on the work week....

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

An unfortunate reprieve

I feel somewhat embarrassed to even refer to this as a "reprieve," but as it happened, Paul is sick, Kristin's life is in chaos (and her kitchen ceiling on the kitchen floor--again), and the unfortunate consequence is that we've canceled our planned dinner for this evening. We were all looking forward to it, but I have to confess that I'm also happy not to be heading in to the City tonight; I am so tired and generally loopy that getting home early is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

As it happened, I did opt to show the video of my presentation in class today. I don't know how much the students got out of it, though some of them had some interesting responses in terms of the ideas they'd picked up on. (One response was completely irrelevant and virtually content-free, but I was not at all surprised.) One gratifying moment is that one of the students actually got and laughed at a little joke I made early in the presentation (which no one in the original Portuguese audience so much as smiled at--largely, I later found out, because they're not used to the American manner of informal, colloquial, and humorous presentation, so they probably didn't understand that laughter was expected).

Some haven't turned in their essays yet. One more withdrew. One loved the Le Guin short stories and wants to read more by her--and also at last is going to meet with me to discuss improving her notes. She's one of the best students in the class, and by rights she should be knocking everything out of the park--she has the native intelligence and work ethic--but I think she's still learning what's expected, what's possible, if you will.

Advisement was surprisingly busy today; I think students are starting to realize that the day we get back from the break is when fall enrollment starts, and the smart ones realize they need to be ready to jump on their classes right away to get the ones they want. So I didn't get to work on the final essay assignment for the 102s, except to look over and print out the questions/ideas I got from a colleague who has paired the Le Guin novella with Avatar in the past. Of course, I'll need to almost completely reconfigure the topics, but at least she's given me something to bounce my own ideas off.

I also finally looked at the stuff put together in the Lib Guide by the brilliant colleague in the library. I just printed out articles she'd found that I hadn't; at some point, when I'm home, I'll have to find and send her the link to one article I found that she didn't list in the guide. (It's a good article, despite an annoying insistence on referring to the Athsheans of the novel as Ascheans.)

So, after looking at all of that material--the ideas from my colleague in the English department, the critical essays that are in the Lib Guide--I should be able to come up with a few different approaches to the novella, or the novella in conjunction with the movie. I hope.

But to do that, I need something approaching a brain, and at the moment, my brain has pretty well switched off. I can't even go any organizing of all the heaps and stacks around the office to see what needs to come home with me over the break, what I might be able to get a start on here in the office between classes tomorrow.

Tomorrow morning I am facing the added wrinkle of having to get a rental car for the day while my car is in the shop. That will make for a calm, easy, relaxed morning, as you can imagine. I made the reservation for the rental today, and arranged with the shop that I will drop off my car tonight so they have it first thing. This means walking from the mechanics' garage to my place, but it's a beautiful day--and the fact that I can get out of here early, as well as the fact that I don't have to walk home after a late night in the City, is something to be grateful for.

I am not taking my car on the highway, however: if it's going to break down on me, I'd prefer it did so on smaller roads. But I'm going to leave in the next few minutes so I can get home while it's still light. And stay tuned tomorrow for an other installment of Prof. P's exciting adventures.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Unexpected bonus...

First, I am happy to report that I got the essays marked before class--and had enough time to send an e-mail or two before heading across campus. My eyelids were pretty droopy by the time I was working on the last one, but ye gods does it feel good to have them done.

The students in both classes worked pretty diligently on making their corrections, many of them being smart enough to take advantage of my being there to ask a few questions, too. So, alles gut.

I have prepared my wheelie-pack for tomorrow; the one thing I haven't done is to reread the assignments for class tomorrow. On the other hand, I'm seriously considering showing a video of me presenting a paper at a conference in Portugal from a few years ago. I can only access it on Facebook--it doesn't appear to exist in any other format, and I can't seem to save it as something (though I may ask my computer guru about it)--but I can access Facebook from the laptop in the classroom and turn on the overhead projector...

There are two advantages to showing the video. One, it keeps me from having to try to crow-bar responses from them. Two, it gives them a sense of the richness of ideas possible when one reads with attention. The disadvantage is that it's 30 minutes of me being pedantic (and over-enunciating--but my audience was Portuguese, so I was concerned that they understand me ... or that's my excuse, anyway, and I'm sticking to it). Not sure what to do. I reckon I'll decide tomorrow.

In another kind of good news, a colleague sent me some discussion questions she's used for assignments about The Word for World Is Forest and Avatar, so I can now raid ideas from her to formulate the final essay topic for the 102s. I just confirmed that my library session were, in fact, booked, but I need to respond to the wonderful colleague in the library who is putting together a guide for my classes and for the topic. She's already pulled some articles about the novella, and she said pulling some for the movie wouldn't be a problem--but I need to let her know if she's on the right track with what she's found so far (I'm sure she is, but I need to confirm that), and I need to give her the essay topic(s) in case that helps her find anything further.

But not now. I do have a ton of stuff to grade, but I'm not planning on taking it to Advisement with me tomorrow: I plan on working on the essay assignment between students. We're not inundated, but there are students to be seen, so that means no concentrated attention on anything--but that's OK. I don't think I could concentrate my attention if my life depended on it (at least not any further than it takes me to drive safely home).

On a completely unrelated front, I just figured something out about our printer: turns out there is a much easier way to feed index cards than what I've been doing--and it works for feeding envelopes, too. I needed to print things up for those letters of recommendation I wrote, and in fiddling around with that: discovery! It's always good when I blunder across a technological aide I wasn't aware existed.

Now, however, I am so paralytically exhausted that I really need to just go home. Do not pass Go, do not collect ... well, anything, never mind $200. Just home. More tomorrow.

Monday, April 3, 2017

In desperate need of a re-frame

I am so utterly discouraged by the Nature in Lit class, I am about to explode--or, more likely, completely shut down, barely even going through the motions. Not one student in that class can read or think. Period. I know I've said that before, but it's true. There are two students who come a lot closer than the others--one of whom I have to force to withdraw, as he's missed at least eight classes if not more. (Last time I saw him he said he'd be there because he needed to pass the class--and then he was absent again today. Christ on a bicycle.)

I should have known what would happen today. One student read the stories. One. OK, I said, it's kindergarten reading circle time--and I read the stories aloud. Responses? Thoughts? Nothing. After a lot of urging and posing of questions, I finally got a few of them to respond--but one, the  would-be poet, responds without having any real idea how to respond in the least. (At some point, I may have to sit down with him and get pretty harsh with him about where his skills are in comparison with where he thinks they are.) But I should be loving this class, and instead, I dread it. I can barely face going in every day. I know I only have to see them ten more times, but that's eleven more than I feel like I have in me.

I honesty don't know what to do. I could rant and rave at them, but I don't think it will help, any more than it helps to explain the finer points of etiquette to a spider monkey. I don't think they're being willfully dense; I think they actually do care--in whatever etiolated way they can. In their minds, I'm sure they're trying very hard. But even if I were to hand them all copies of Ranger Rick to read, I don't believe for a second that they'd get what they're reading. They can't.

I'm trying to tech amoebas to tap dance. They can't help it that they can't do it, but I would give just about anything to be teaching something at least with feet on which to put the shoes.

One of the things I'm working on internally, as I write this post, is to fully, completely feel as well as know that this is not about me. I am not wrong; my expectations are not unreasonable--and they do not specifically intend to drive me crazy or to make me angry. I can try to summon up some compassion for them: they have been desperately undereducated and ill-prepared up to this point; they may even hunger for something that they're starting to feel is out there in the universe but which they can't yet get close to reaching. It is not their fault that they are so woefully ill-equipped for a class like mine.

Perhaps the saddest--and most maddening--part of this is that they truly think they are trying; they truly think they are doing what needs to be done, and part of the sorrow and frustration on their end of the equation is that they keep doing what they believe to be what I'm want them to do and keep hearing that it isn't enough or isn't right, and yet it's all they've got.

I don't know what to do with them in class any more. Part of me wants to just collect their homework and send them home. It's quite clear that I will not, in fact, get them to understand how to truly read and think in any depth about the literature. It's quite clear that any improvement I see in their work will be so miniscule that I'll have to struggle to celebrate it for an improvement. It's quite clear we are never going to have the kind of real, high-flying, fascinating conversation I'm used to having in that class. So, I need to find a way to make my peace with that and get through those next ten classes with something approaching calm and good spirits, instead of miserable frustration.

Shifting gears, I still have quite a few essays to mark for the 5:30 102, but even with the time I have to spend in Advisement tomorrow, I'm holding out hope I can get them done. I was hoping little bits of chocolate would help me keep awake and alert enough to make forward progress, but alas, such was not the case. (I think I might feel my waist expanding, however.) I don't imagine I'll get a lot more sleep tomorrow than I did last night, but one can always hope--and even if not, I think I can maintain sufficient mental acumen to grind through the rest before 5:30. I may arrive at class with very little brain actively engaged, but the onus of the work is largely on the students tomorrow, so I don't have to be too sharp.

I'm wrapping things up early tonight for PT; Wednesday, I'll be wrapping up early to go out to dinner with William, Kristin and Paul--which will be lovely. Meanwhile, I'm trying very hard to focus just on the task that it immediately in front of me, the thing that needs to be tended to first, and not to worry too much about all the other things backing up in the pipelines. It will get done. This too shall pass. Tomorrow is another day.


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Practicing for the national napping championships

Finally, all the nights without enough restorative sleep caught up with me. I was dutifully slogging through those essays, making pretty good headway, remembering to get up and walk from time to time (including a couple of laps around the block, as it's gorgeous out today)--and then I found my eyelids drooping. Knowing that my body is in need of the sleep, I lay down on the couch; I wasn't sure how well I'd sleep, as sometimes I do that and my mind gets on the gerbil-wheel, and sleep vanishes. It didn't take long for me to drop off, and then I couldn't haul myself out of the benthic deeps. I'd start to get up near the surface and then an undertow would pull me back down.

I haven't slept like that in a long time. It was bliss.

As a consequence, of course, I didn't get as many essays marked as I might have--but today was one of those days where what I actually accomplished hit an acceptable balance between the unrealistic desire and the fear of the worst. I will have one hell of a slog to get through everything before the 5:30 class on Tuesday--and I'm scheduled to make up time in Advisement on Tuesday, which I'd reschedule except I'm running out of days in which to do that without missing (or messing up) something else--or without having to be in Advisement four times in one week (my two regular stints plus two make-up days). So, I just have to hope it isn't too busy when I'm there both tomorrow and Tuesday. Early a.m. alarms seem in order.

Good thing I napped, as apparently I'm going to be going low on sleep again for a few days. But spring break is almost here--and after that, we'll very much be in the "hold on to the safety bar and scream" part of the semester. (And I'm trying not to think too much about that one-day AAUP conference in Scranton, for which I have to be on the road by 6 a.m....)

I think I'll leave it at that for tonight. I want (yes, "want," not "have to") practice the violin--hopefully with a modicum more patience and less frustration than last time--and I still feel tired, even after that monster nap, so I'd like to try to get to bed earlier than I have been. (By eleven would be nice, instead of somewhere between 1 and 3 a.m.) All other work considerations postponed until that magical moment called "tomorrow."



Saturday, April 1, 2017

Got some work done, but no essays...

The life maintenance took longer than I expected, and as I had a pretty bad night of sleep last night and have been headachy all day, I couldn't get myself to focus very long or very well. I didn't mark any essays; I didn't even do what I consider a sort of running start, the bit where I make sure I have everything in alphabetical order and write down the list of how many I have to mark (counting backward, so as I cross them off the list, I see how many I have left to do).

So what, you may ask, did I actually do in terms of work? I'd been somewhat blissfully forgetting that I'd agreed to help with proofreading the literary journal that we publish, and I'd somewhat blissfully forgotten that I'd agreed to provide comments on an essay that wasn't submitted to Turnitin until yesterday. So, I did those two things. And that's where the energy petered out.

The spirit of Scarlett O'Hara haunts days like today: "I'll think about that tomorrow." And I am interested in observing my own cycles and psyche here: how often I know that I am simply making life harder for myself in the days to come and yet find myself lacking the will or discipline or moral fiber to do something "today."

So, tomorrow. I have my beautiful, wondrous folding editor's desk with me; I have the batches of this, that and the other all clipped together, ready to roll, as soon as I'm up and fed tomorrow. And I know that I will not get as much done as I currently think I might: that's another perpetual self-delusion. Note the weird contradiction there: some part of me thinks I really might get a whole slew of the fucking things marked; another part knows perfectly well that won't happen, for whatever reason (or for no discernible reason: miniature black holes that simply the time-space continuum and speed everything up so I sit down to work at 11 a.m., and by the time I have the first essay marked, it's 3 p.m.).

And when the chipmunk voices start shrilly telling me that I will never get everything done and I need to panic, PANIC!!! a saner, lower-pitched voice says, "Prof. P, you think this every semester. And every semester you manage to get the work done. Come the end of the third week in May, you will be done with this semester and already thinking about the next one."

Actually, I already am thinking about the next one. I had a wave of panic (PANIC!!!) at the thought of reworking the syllabus for SF in the fall. Why that induced panic is rather interesting to tease out and has at least a little to do with my desire to meet everyone else's standards for what "ought" to be taught and not simply to please myself. And that thought led me to a little spurt of panic over what I'm going to come up with for the essay assignment for the 102s this semester, which led me back into thinking about the 101s I'll be teaching in the fall....

Apparently, I simply haven't had my panic fix for a while, so I'm manufacturing reasons to have one. It sucks to be hooked on cortisol and epinephrine. (And that thought led to a little exploration on Google of other hormones and neurochemicals related to anxiety/panic. Fascinating stuff.)

But now that I'm clearly nattering, I will consider it time to bring this post to a close and to move into my evening. A running start tomorrow would be lovely, but don't anybody hold your breath....