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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

More thinking than doing

I intended to do a good amount of work on classes today, either on the online Nature in Lit or on materials for the fall SF class. I was interrupted by a call about a rather urgent family matter, which derailed my work intentions, but for my own purposes, it's helpful if I note what I'm thinking about, and why it's important.

So: reading notes. In thinking about what I'm going to ask of my students in the fall, I realize that even having a good model for them to follow won't really do the trick. As it happens, the handout I have includes a model--and the problem is that they don't really understand what the model is doing. There are levels within levels of critical thinking here, and I realize I need to back all the way out to the most basic, simple, fundamental skin of the onion and work inward from there.

Among other things, the explanation needs to be a great deal more simplistic (and significantly less wordy: my perennial failing, using too many words). But also, I ordered the book I used with the 102s the last two semesters--an excellent (and very slender and inexpensive) book What Every Student Should Know About Writing About Literature, by Edgar V. Roberts--but right now it's recommended, not required. I realize that means that the vast majority of students will not buy it (and those who do are probably the ones who least need it). I'm still thinking about it, but it's very likely I will ask the bookstore manager to change it from recommended to required. That way, I can assign chapters out of it--and I can tell students to refer to it for information about documentation (as it includes that stuff as well).

The book is a great adjunct to what I need to present, but there are a few points I need to make sure I make clear:

1. A lot of why they need to write about what they read is to be sure they fully understand it themselves--because without in-depth understanding, they can't write about what they've read.

2. There is a difference between a book report and literary analysis, and somehow I need to help them understand the difference--and understand what they will need to gather for themselves in order to engage in the latter.

3. I need to tell them very clearly and precisely what not to do--but also help them understand when they're doing those things. What is summary? What is it useful for--and why is it not useful in the kind of notes I want them to keep? What is personal response--and again, why is it not useful for the purposes of my class?

4. There must be some way to get them to understand that not all details are created equal: some questions are unanswerable in any meaningful way (we can invent answers, but the answers would have no support), and some details don't require any real notice. Regarding that latter point, I need to make them understand that even the details that can sort of wash by are still in the text for a reason, even if the reason is "merely" to add depth and texture to the verisimilitude of the work of fiction.

I'm sure there's more that will occur to me--and more that won't, until I start getting the results of all my attempts to set up the instructions for their notes and see all the ways they still don't even seem to try to get where they need to go.

So, that will probably be something I'll work on tomorrow--though maybe not. If the weather is gorgeous again, I may spend the bulk of the day out. It is the break, after all, and I am allowed days to just enjoy the day, doing anything, or nothing.

I'm hoping for an early night tonight. I'd like to adjust my sleep schedule to be a little earlier to bed and earlier to rise (without an alarm, though, thank you very much)--but whatever the evening brings will be fine by me. And tomorrow will be ... well, what tomorrow always is: another day.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Writing past the writer's block

I spent much longer nailed to the computer today than I intended, but it turned out to be a very good thing. A good friend emailed earlier with some suggestions for how to get myself out of the knowledge gap that was keeping me stuck, and in answering her, I shook a few things loose. I spent the day reworking chapters I'd already "finished" (knowing that "finished" just means "I don't have to work on those for now") and revisiting the dreadful chapter that had run me full tilt into writer's block. In the process, I kept doing "quick and dirty" research--most of it relatively ineffectual--but I'd get just enough information to make a few sensible adjustments, work out a few inconsistencies.

And revisiting that problematic chapter actually turned out to be pretty productive. I could keep part of it, but a lot I just ditched--didn't even save to a "cut file" as I usually do--and wrote over. I am now officially unblocked.

That does not, however, mean that I will be forging ahead with great gusto in the writing. I hope to keep working at least sporadically--perhaps interspersed with whatever I can do to work on class prep. I can work on the online Nature in Lit without knowing the schedule, for instance. (More on that in a minute.) And eventually, the calendar for 2017-18 will have to be disseminated, which will open the door for me to get serious about syllabi for my fall classes.

As for the online class, Paul is going to be teaching something online in the fall, so he's been picking my brain, and William's (William teaches online pretty regularly now)--and I overheard William say to Paul that he should forget about the idea of having two separate deadlines in a week, the way we do for our FTF classes. We're used to read X for Monday and Y for Wednesday, X homework for Monday, Y for Wednesday--but William says that doesn't work for online courses, that one must instead plan for the week. I don't remember what I've done, but I think I was already heading in that direction: two readings, yes, but only one weekly deadline for each portion of the written work the students need to do. But it would be good to double-check on that.

I also should set up a meeting with my distance ed mentor to talk to him about online grading. It would be a good idea to try that out at least a little with my 101s, so I can get the hang of it before teaching fully online--but I'm not sure I want to add that wrinkle to my own process just yet. Fortunately, I don't have to make up my mind right now, and even more fortunately, I don't have to be in any particular rush to meet with the distance ed guy: I can contact him when I know I have to be on campus anyway, like later in June when I'll start with fall adjunct scheduling (assuming we get the finalized lists before I leave town).

Oh, and I got another email from the Tough Cookie, asking about summer classes. Summer one started today. I told her that, but there are also classes in summer two. She again had to whine about how I delivered really bad news. I reminded her that I'd suggested several times that she withdraw, and she opted not to. I'm really getting sick of students acting as if they had no idea they were doing badly when 1. they should have been tracking their own grades and 2. in many cases, I told them their grades were in jeopardy. But no: it's my fault that they felt blindsided. Oh argh.

There's more I could natter about right now, but I can feel my brain turning into pancake batter, so I'll leave any further musings for another post. I leave you all with the content of a message that I got from a good friend who is pursuing some work on metaphor (I was supposed to join him, but unless he gives me specific assignments and deadlines, it isn't going to happen: I don't think like that unless I have to). He sent me the following:
"All expressions (types), it should be added, have characters.
However, the characters of eternal expressions are “constant, ”
that is, they determine the same referential value (content) in all contexts;
only those of demonstratives & indexicals =
non-constant–yielding different referential values (contents) in different contexts."

This is why I am not a scholar, specifically of anything having to do with theory.  All I could think was, "Aren't we supposed to write in such a way that people can understand what the fuck we're talking about??" Shades of my dissertation all over again, reading Butler, Lacan, Saussure, Barthes ... and being utterly bewildered.

Instead, I'm reading a Mary Renault novel. Much better. A person can eat popcorn to a book like that.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The other side of my brain

I really would love to start working on my fall class schedules--just to get a jump start on them, so I don't have to be frantic about them in the weeks just before school starts--but without the official calendar, I really can't. I looked at my own calendar today to see if I could figure out what's likely to happen in terms of adjustments for the Jewish holidays, and there are too many potential variables for me to make a reasonable guess. I don't envy the people on the calendar committee; they have to make sure every class meets the same number of hours (regardless of how many days a week it meets, and taking into considerations any necessary days without classes, such as Thanksgiving), and they need to do so in a way that tries to minimize the shrieking howls of protest from faculty and students. Nevertheless, it's annoying as hell not to have any idea about the fall at least--and I'm also annoyed that an e-mail I sent to a colleague who is on the committee has gone completely unanswered: no automated "out of office" reply, no "I don't have the information," nothing.

In any event, that desire being stymied--but my desire to be active today also being at a very low ebb (partly because of the weather, partly the generalized fatigue I've been complaining about ), I wanted something to do that would feel modestly productive and would require sitting at the computer.

So, after literally several years of ignoring it, I'm dipping my toes back in the creative waters: not just a short story (though I have one of those that I want to rework as well), but the stuff I've been working on that I hope may turn into a novel.

I hesitate to even say that; I certainly don't want to be as definitive as to say "I'm writing a novel." For one thing, I have a really bad track record of starting a longer fictional project and dropping it before I get very far at all. For another, I have set myself quite a challenge here, as it's a historical novel--and for that, I need to know a lot more history than I do.

So, here's the interesting overlap: in order to fill in the gaps of my knowledge (or at least to have enough of an idea that my invention won't cause disdainful rolling of the eyes by anyone who knows the history better than I do), I have to do some research. And so far, my research is turning up a whole hell of a lot of dead ends.

Here's a brief list of the things I want to know:

1. How would a young Hungarian woman of a good family, an unmarried woman of good moral stature, end up being a "mail-order" bride? Or, if that wouldn't happen, how else might she find herself marrying an American man she doesn't know, in a marriage of convenience, on the prairie of North Dakota, just about the time North Dakota achieved statehood?

2. If that young woman's immediate family is dead (no siblings, both parents deceased), how would she get to the U.S. in the first place? Would she be likely to answer an ad for a bride in some kind of publication in Europe, or would she get to the U.S. first, then somehow end up with the husband?

3. How would she learn English--enough to communicate with her American husband?

4. If she didn't go straight from Hungary to North Dakota, what did she do in America before getting to North Dakota?

Here's what I know: the time period I'm looking at was a time when a fair number of Hungarian immigrants arrived in the U.S., but this was a second wave of immigration; the first was made up of people fleeing for political reasons; the wave in which this young woman would arrive would have been immigrating for economic reasons. Hungarian men in the second wave largely came to work in the mines and mills, heavy industry. A lot of them settled in Pittsburgh, which makes sense, given that Pittsburgh was the heart of the steel industry at the time. This is also handy for me, as I know a little about Pittsburgh, having lived near there when I was a kid and having spent my first year as an undergrad there--but I don't know a lot about Pittsburgh in the late 1880s, except that it was filthy, absolutely black with the pollution from burning coal to make steel.

I know that North Dakota became a state in 1889. I know rail lines were multiplying in the state by the 1870s, though the Great Northern Railway (which connected a lot of the lines) wasn't complete until 1889. I know that at the time I'm interested in, and in the part of North Dakota I'm interested in, the main crop would have been "winter" wheat.

I know more stuff--bits and orts from various things I've read--but trying to get from generalized historical knowledge to the kind of veracity of mundane details is highly challenging. I wish I personally knew a historian who would be interested in helping me with that angle of the thing I'm writing (whatever it is). I don't mind if some of the details are merely possible, even if not entirely likely, but--as I said--I don't want to commit any eye-roll worthy blunders of historical reality.

I also realize, in reviewing the bits I've already written, that writing something with huge gaps between stints is a recipe for inconsistencies. I mentioned a pivotal character and event in one chapter whom I had entirely forgotten when I got to the chapter that would pivot on that character and her circumstances. She's not a main character--I don't forget those, though it did take me a while to consistently remember some of their names--but I invented her in order to come up with a plausible solution to the first three questions I asked above. Having forgotten all about her, I invented an entirely different way to resolve the problems in those questions. Neither works, by the way; that's why I'm still looking for information. My imagination is failing to come up with anything that makes sense, so I'm hoping reality will provide a reasonable solution.

The other thing I realize about reviewing bits I've already written is that I am a very harsh critic of my own writing--as a scholar, yes, but more as a creative writer. When I reread my scholarly stuff long after having written, I often have the reaction, "Huh. I didn't realize I could sound so smart." By way of contrast, when I reread some of my creative stuff, I often have the reaction, "Oh, gawd, is that ever soupy and melodramatic. Yuck." But I have enough experience writing (though not publishing) short stories that I know I am capable of writing stuff that is unsoupy and genuinely laden with affect, not sentimentalized crap.

So, I don't know what I'll do in terms of writing anything today. It may be enough for me to make a record of the things I'm thinking about, haven't worked out yet but need to bat around for a while--and to record the sources for some of the information I've found, so I can find it again if need be.

And I will continue to check for that calendar to be ready. Enrollment is scary low at the moment: one student dropped SF, so I'm down to 8 in that--and it's been holding steady at 8 for a good while now--and there is one student in one of my 101s, two students are in the other. I haven't looked to see if the numbers for other classes are higher (probably), but it's also not even June yet, so I don't need to feel nervous about anything. I do wonder, though--I'm sure we all wonder--how the "free tuition" for NY students thing is going to impact our enrollment college-wide.

But for today, I'll noodle around a little more with the writing, then probably collapse on the sofa--again--with a good popcorn read. Can't seem to get quite enough of that sofa time...

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A word about "post-partum" blues

It happens every summer. I don't notice so much over the winter break, as there are the holidays as a distraction, and the break is so much shorter, but every May, once commencement is over and I have no particular need to go to campus, my mood takes a nose-dive, and all my typical depression behaviors manifest themselves: it's hard for me to summon the energy even to go downstairs to get the mail; I know I'd feel better to get out and take walks, but the sofa has a powerful gravitational pull that seems to keep me inert; my sleep patterns go wonky; I want to eat all sorts of unhealthy but pleasurable foods in vast quantities; I play endless computer games or do jigsaw puzzles or read "popcorn" books.

And I mope.

I've compared it to a sudden decompression, as if I were a diver who rose to the surface too quickly and got the bends. During the term, I know how much pressure I am under (most of it, I grant you, self-imposed), but the sudden release from it is mentally and physically disconcerting--and uncomfortable.

What I don't tend to be aware of, but what I know to be true, is how much of my social life is centered on campus. I don't even mean my time talking with Paul and William and other colleagues. I mean just in terms of human interactions that keep the mind percolating. I get that from every interaction on campus, from my brief chats with Nina, the woman behind the counter at the snack bar where I get tea (on my non-coffee days), to my work with students, to asking the folks in Advisement how to handle a specific situation. I am a profound introvert (which may sound odd from someone who maintains a blog, but it's true), which is part of why I guard my weekends so fiercely during the term. And the introvert in me is in bliss to have long stretches of days when my only interactions are through electronic media (and my conversations with my cat, which are pretty one-sided--or at least her side tends to be pretty repetitive). I like spending days when I don't talk. I like spending days doing bugger-all nothing (to use an Ed phrase). It's the sudden shift from intense busy-ness to nothing that's hard to navigate.

You might think that after as many years as I've been doing this, it would get easier to manage. I will say at least now I know to expect it. But it still throws me, every time.

Shifting gears, I've been responding to a lot of stuff about education that's been flying around Facebook, and in the process, I've had to recognize that although I am on the edge of becoming bitter and jaded--and at times do a damned good impression of being fully in that state--I am still filled with missionary zeal. I have my crises of faith, but when I remember just how important it is to help students learn to just plain fucking think, to have some kind of critical filters and awareness in order to navigate this world that is filled to overflowing with opinionated ignoramuses, I get charged up and ready to get back into the classroom.

But it's the 101s that call to me for that purpose. I don't know what my experience teaching SF will be like this fall, or how things will go teaching the online Nature in Lit plus SF in the spring, but if those experiences are as frustrating as this past semester's Nature in Lit, I may decide to forego teaching electives and just concentrate on the comps. If I do that, I do need to restructure how I handle the essays, or I'll be too overwhelmed with grading to survive with my faculties intact--but I'm done with 102s for the foreseeable future. I can only fight my battles on one front at a time, and the fight to get students to write a coherent argument is as much as I can do; I can't do that and get them to actually read and analyze literature at the same time.

I am aware that--depending on how long I can continue teaching before I really do burn out--I may well change my mind again (and again, and again). But I have a strong sense what I want to do with 101, and I'm not as clear about 102. So, I'll stick with that for a while.

As for the "how long I can continue teaching" part: who knows. I am going to work very hard not to project too far into the future but just to take the moment that's right in front of me--or the next semester at any rate, but not much further. I know the longer I teach, the more comfortable my retirement will be, so... well, we'll see. I know I'll be at NCC for another year at least. (And Paul says the college isn't going to shut down, and I tend to believe he's right: we're unlikely to lose our accreditation, despite all the running around and waving of hands and shouting, so I don't need to worry about losing my job.) And truly, when I say "I know" I'll be there for another year, that makes the assumption we always make: that things will continue along pretty much as they are. I know that is not always the right assumption: the unexpected is always entirely possible. But we can't plan for the unexpected; we just live on faith that life is going to go along pretty much as it is right now.

And on that faith, I will sign off for today. I don't know if I'll get any work done before my usual Friday afternoon life-maintenance tomorrow, but if I do, I'll post again.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Update on "It's not about the grade"

The student complained to Cathy, saying I was nice but misleading, and that I'm way too harsh and most students dropped my class (which, of course, means that she should get the grade she wants just for making it to the end). I feel sick. I am not exaggerating. I feel sick: angry, self-doubting, vindictive, defensive... it's not a pleasant mix at all.

Cathy very kindly replied to the student, saying the conversation should be between me and the young woman--and I replied, including the student in my reply, saying that I had, in fact, been communicating with the student, openly and with supportive comments. I know Cathy is on my side about it, but I'm having one of those crises of faith. Do I need to change how I grade? Do I need to just say "OK, nobody gets anything lower than a C except in the case of a student who does zero work"?

I am so sick, so heartily sick, of the raging accusations, the personal attacks, that arise out of my grading. I feel like I need to go to one extreme or the other: either "I'll tell it straight: you suck at this" or "Everybody gets gold stars!"

And really, honestly? This is not insignificant in my desire to get the fuck out of the profession ASAP.

OK. I'm done venting. I'll talk to Cathy tomorrow, and I'll look at the student's grade tomorrow--and I'll probably change it (and I have to submit another change of grade, too). Oh, yes: and I just got an email from a student who stopped attending class in February; I'd seen him several times throughout the semester and told him he needed to withdraw. He wants to come in this week to have me sign the withdrawal form. I had to tell him it's too late. I'm waiting for the blow-back on that one.

Get me the fuck out of this.

It's not about the grade, dammit

If I could design my own position, in addition to having fewer students and lots more time, here's what I'd like: I'd like to never, ever have to assign a grade of any kind. I want to evaluate, give feedback, indicate progress--but not give grades. Students see those grades as the sole measure of their success in a semester, when they're the least important part. I say all the time, a student who started the semester earning A's and who ended the semester earning A's probably hasn't learned anywhere near as much as a student who started out earning F's and ending up with a D+.

But I completely understand why students can't see it that way. All they see is that grade--and it does matter, because GPA has a lot to do with where they can go next. And all their lives they've been told they are the grade: You are a B student; you are an A student, whatever. Getting a grade that doesn't conform to that sense of who they are is a shock--even if it's the pleasant shock of getting a higher grade than they anticipate. Getting a lower grade? That's not only a shock, it's a wound: the student has just been told he or she is not as good a human being as he or she has always believed.

I want to drum into their heads: the grade isn't who you are--and the grade certainly isn't a measure of your potential success. But I can't make them feel that reality as much as they feel the weight of that letter. It drives me crazy--and sometimes it breaks my heart. But as long as I have to give grades, I will give grades that I believe accurately reflect the work the student has done in this particular situation. Not who the student is, not what the student may be capable of in a different situation, just what I saw from the work across the 30 classes in which the student was in my classroom. And frequently, I'm the first person in that student's life to say, "This work is about halfway to where it ought to be at this stage in your education," or even "This work is significantly lacking in a lot of what it should contain at this stage in your education." And they're devastated, as if I've said, "You are a worthless human being."

Remember the student who wrote to me, discouraged and disheartened about her grade? I sent her an email--which I thought would be comforting--telling her that I'd re-evaluate her grade when I get to the office tomorrow. I just got another email from her, still wailing about how she is so discouraged, she never wants to take another English class, and I shouldn't bother looking at the grades again because they'll just say the same thing... Although of course there is a level of manipulation in her wailing to me about all this--I'm sure it's not conscious manipulation, but if she weren't hoping for something to change, she wouldn't be wailing to me--I don't think she's wailing so much because she wants me to change the grace but because she wants some comfort.

I just wrote her a long reply, and I hope she takes the time to actually read it. (It's long enough that she may not.) I set out five basic points:

1. The grade is not the measure of success. What she learned is the measure of success.

2. How she did in my class says nothing about how she will do in future English classes--not only because she learned what she did in mine but also because other teachers will evaluate her work differently, and her grades will reflect that difference.

3. Teachers are in a bind at the end of semester and tend to set aside the stuff we know about people's personal lives and just focus on the numbers--but now that I have time to consider, there is more to her grade than just the numbers, and I want to think about that.

4. I'm not just going to recalculate the scores she got. I'm going to reread her final essay, bearing in mind what she's going through, which includes her mother dying.

5. She can decide how to respond to the grade she gets from me: it will only hold her back and stifle her success if she lets it.

I could say a lot more about all of those points--especially the third one, because although we do have a clear sense of what makes sense as a grade for any essay, the holistic grading process allows some latitude for discounting certain kinds of problems and putting more emphasis on certain kinds of successes.

But the whole thing is distressing to me, and it's what set off that rant about grading. Being me, of course I think, "Maybe I need to write up something about that and give it to students at the start of the semester," but honestly, I think it would be more beneficial to come up with a clear list of specific benchmarks: not the rather confusing rubrics I've been using but something more clear to students, maybe with a scale from "serious problem" to "excellent" instead of the dopey "not meeting, approaching, meeting, exceeding" ratings of the SUNY delineations.

In fact, I think that's what I'll work on today. It will feel like work without actually requiring me to deal with course-specific assignments or materials. Hmmmm. We'll see how this goes.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The toll on the body

Since I don't usually post when the semester is over, I don't usually record what happens within the first ten days or so after it's all over. Not only do I deal with the occasional whining email, not only do I battle with myself about whether to work or not: my body generally goes through a profound spell of near collapse. I nap a lot. I don't want to move much. It's hard to summon the energy to do more than one minor thing in a day--and sometimes not even that. Today, I went to the dentist and did my grocery shopping for the week, and most of the rest of the day, I've spent on the sofa, reading, trying not to nap because I don 't want to interfere with tonight's sleep. I go to bed late, and I sleep late.

When people envy teachers and think we have such a cushy life, this is what they're talking about: the fact that I can do this, and that I can do it with impunity over the next few months. What is difficult to explain to anyone who hasn't been through it is 1) that the work continues, albeit sporadically, and generally not in the office and not on a specific time schedule, and 2) that the semesters are exhausting enough, mentally, that this kind of physical collapse is almost required.

I know many people work much harder, physically and mentally, and don't get the breaks we do. And I know many teachers--many of my colleagues--don't need the summer collapse but are perfectly happy to keep teaching pretty much straight through. I am blessed, and in many ways my life is indeed cushy. But it's not quite as easy as people think. Easier than many lives, I grant, but not quite what people imagine.

So when I am asked whether I work over the summer, I always reply, "I work, but I don't teach." And that's true.

Right now, my work is to rest, to recover some energy--and to wipe my memory of a lot of the frustrations and disgruntlement left at the end of the academic year so I can be at least relatively cheerful and positive heading into the fall. I don't have the boundless (and delusional) optimism I used to have, but I have at least a little. Enough to get me going.

I do want to post over the summer this year, just to track when and how I do work--or what else I do with my time in my "time off." This, too, is part of life in the trenches: the part when the bombs stop going off for a while, and there is a lull. I may not post daily (that would require a kind of discipline I lack), but more frequently than I have in the past. And yes, some of that is my awareness of how my readership drops off when I go AWOL for a while. I'm a glutton for those "page views." But some of it is that I want to be more aware myself of what I do with the time when I am not actively teaching. Perhaps I can make better use of that time in terms of recharging my batteries, if I pay a little more attention. We'll try it and see.

Friday, May 19, 2017

With gratitude to Sonya Huber

Since I first started using Blackboard as a place to store class materials and provide links for essay uploads, I've included a link to Sonya Huber's post "Shadow Syllabus," which is on her blog. I was just working on transferring all the materials from my 101s in 2015 to the fall sections, and in checking the links, I stopped to read it again. It's utterly fucking brilliant--and instead of just putting it up on the Blackboard space for my students, I think I should make it part of their first reading assignment--for every single class I ever teach.

I probably won't post later today (as I'll be heading out to do life maintenance in the early afternoon), but I didn't want to let the opportunity go by to share this--and to express my gratitude to Huber for her wit, honesty, and wisdom. I couldn't have said it better than she does (and it would have taken me about 20 times more words).

  1. I’ll tell you exactly how to get an A, but you’ll have a hard time hearing me.
  2. I could hardly hear my own professors when I was in college over the din and roar of my own fear.
  3. Those who aim for A’s don’t get as many A’s as those who abandon the quest for A’s and seek knowledge or at least curiosity.
  4. I had bookmarked a citation for that fact, and now I can’t find it anywhere.
  5. The only way to seek knowledge is to open your hands and let your opinions drop, but that requires even more fear.
  6. The goals and outcomes I am required to put on my syllabus make me depressed; they are the illusion of controlling what cannot be controlled.
  7. I end up changing everything halfway through the semester anyway because the plan on paper is never what the living class ends up being about.
  8. I desperately needed A’s when I was in college because I didn’t know what else I was besides an A.
  9. Our flaws make us human; steer toward yours. I steer toward mine. That won’t always be rewarded in “the real world.”
  10. “The real world” isn’t the real world.
  11. I realize that I, as the authority figure in this room, might trigger all kinds of authority issues you have. Welcome to work and the rest of your life.
  12. I have a problem with authority figures myself, but I’ve learned how to work with it. Watch my cues.
  13. I think I have more to teach you about navigation than about commas, although I’m good at commas.
  14. This is about commas, but it is also about pauses and breaths and ways to find moments of rest in the blur of life’s machinery.
  15. I hope we can make eye contact.
  16. One of you who is filled with hate for this class right now will end up loving it by the end.
  17. One of you who I believe to be unteachable and filled with hate for me will end up being my favorite.
  18. One of you will drive me to distraction and there’s nothing I can do about it.
  19. Later I will examine the reason you drive me to distraction and be ashamed and then try to figure out my own limitations.
  20. There will always be limitations, and without my students I wouldn’t see them as easily.
  21. Sometimes I will be annoyed, sarcastic, rushed, or sad; often this is because you are not doing the readings or trying to bullshit me.
  22. Students are surprised by this fact: I really really really want you to learn. Like, that’s my THING. Really really a lot.
  23. I love teaching because it is hard.
  24. Someone in this classroom will be responsible for annoying the hell out of you this semester, and it won’t be me.
  25. Maybe it will be me. Sometimes it is, but often it is not.
  26. I won’t hold it against you unless you treat me with disrespect.
  27. You should rethink how you treat the people who bring you food at McDonald’s, if you are this person, as well as how you treat your teachers.
  28. I hope you are able to drop the pose of being a professional person and just settle for being a person.
  29. Everyone sees you texting. It’s awkward, every time, for everyone in the room.
  30. Secret: I’ve texted in meetings when I shouldn’t have and I regret it.
  31. Secret: I get nervous before each class because I want to do well.
  32. Secret: when I over-plan my lessons, less learning happens.
  33. Secret: I have to plan first and THEN abandon the plan while still remembering its outline.
  34. Secret: It’s hard to figure out whether to be a cop or a third-grade teacher. I have to be both. I want to be Willie Wonka. That’s the ticket. Unpredictable, not always nice, high standards, and sometimes candy.
  35. What looks like candy can be dangerous.
  36. Secret: Every single one of your professors and teachers has been at a point of crisis in their lives where they had no idea what the fuck to do.
  37. Come talk to me in my office hours, but not to spin some thin line of bullshit, because believe it or not, I can see through it like a windowpane.
  38. Some of you will lose this piece of paper because you’ve had other people to smooth out your papers and empty your backpack for as long as you can remember, but that all ends here. There’s no one to empty your backpack. That’s why college is great and scary.
  39. Maybe there’s never been anyone to empty your backpack. If there hasn’t been, you will have a harder time feeling entitled to come talk to me or ask for help.
  40. I want you, especially, to come talk to me.
  41. You can swear in my classroom.
  42. Welcome. Welcome to this strange box with chairs in it. I hope you laugh and surprise yourself.
-by Sonya Huber

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A little whining--from me, too...

So, three students have sent emails complaining about their grades. I responded to two of them: one with kindness and compassion; one initially with terse authoritarianism. The third I haven't responded to yet--and I'm going to take my time over that one. My initial response internally in all three cases is the same: the thought, "You shouldn't be surprised; you should have been tracking your own grade all along." The first one I responded to more compassionately: it was from the Tough Cookie, who turned out not to be so tough after all. She was frantic to transfer, so I reminded her she could retake the class over the summer--but I didn't back off on the grade (and if I were to reproduce her final essay here, you'd probably see why). The second simply pissed me off, as the student said I "should" have warned him so he could withdraw. He got my raw thought: "You should have been tracking your own grade." But he then wrote a much sweeter email (or I choose to take it that way; it may have been dripping with sarcasm, but I'll treat it as genuine), saying that at least he worked hard--so I wrote back and agreed with him, and provided a little more compassion and encouragement.

Both those students failed the class. (Both were in the 1:00 section of 102.) The third student got a D+, and wrote to say that she only missed a few homeworks and so she thought the grade was "harsh." My immediate thought is that turning the work in isn't the same as doing well on it--and she hadn't done well on it, especially not at first. But I'm wondering whether I can in good conscience change her grade to a C. I don't like being subjected to emotional blackmail, however, which is why I'm waiting before I respond. (Waiting before I respond is usually a good idea anyway.) I'll think about it--and I'll be in touch eventually.

But getting her message made me realize that I need to have my automated "out of office" reply thing set up starting right now; I was going to have it start after commencement, but I've already backed way off checking (not to mention responding), and people should know that.

So, that's the whining from students (so far; there probably will be more).

The whining from me is entirely internal, and takes the form of "Oh, I don't want to deal with that now." I took a look at the online Nature in Lit--which I really do have to work on over the summer, for reasons I've explained in other posts--and I like what I've done, but ... nope. I don't have it in me to do anything with it now. It will be work. I need to loaf for a while. (The fact that it's hot as blazes increases the desire to loaf, as if it weren't already pretty powerful.)

And the same general idea applies to my prep for my fall 101s. I think I want to change one of the readings (since one of the adjuncts I observed used something I think will work very well), but mostly I just need to adjust the schedule--and copy all the discussion board stuff to the new semester, which means making sure all the dates are correct and so on, which means having the syllabus pulled together...

Nope. Work. Not doing it.

Getting my syllabus and schedule of assignments for Science Fiction ready?

Nope. Work.

Producing my very pretty, color-coded weekly schedule?

OK. That I can do.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

All over but the shouting

I am expecting some shouting, or whining, or other forms of bitching from students about their final grades. There were a lot of D's this semester--some of them "Mercy" D's, but that doesn't mean the student won't complain. There were more than the usual F's--at least in terms of students who completed the semester, and I actually feel bad about two of them, because the students were feeling so triumphant at the end of the semester, just for having survived.

There was only one case where I significantly adjusted a final grade--and I did so because the student is graduating this semester. The "Mercy D" gets her her diploma, which right now is probably all that matters.

I really am dreading looking at my campus email over the next few weeks. My emotional reactions when students write the angry or pathetic emails about their grades are interesting to observe (not so much fun to feel). I feel angry, yes, and affronted--but I also feel strangely conscience-stricken, as if I have actually perpetrated a wrong. And I feel wounded. I try to pretend that I don't care whether my students actually like me or not, but the embarrassing fact is that I do. I want to be liked, even by the worst of the little pissants in my classes. Not the ones I dislike intensely, but even, for example, the young man I mentioned yesterday, who feels he should get a B+ simply because he wants one: it will bug me if he fires off an angry email. And I expect he will. And part of why I'll be bothered is because he has seemed to like me all semester, and it will sting to have him make it very clear that he doesn't.

Yes, I know I shouldn't take any of this personally. These students do not know me as a human being. In fact, since I'm a professor, they hardly see me as a human being at all. When they unleash their ire, they have no sense that their words might have an effect on the sensibilities of the person they're lambasting. This is partly due, of course, to the cushioning effect of electronic communication, which allows us to lob incendiary comments and duck any potential consequences, but it is also because all the writer of the email considers is his or her own feeling of righteous indignation, as if that bile is being splashed against a stone wall, not a human being.

Well, whatever. It's not as if I haven't dealt with the wrath of students before, and I know myself well enough to know that at a certain point my temper kicks in, and then I don't feel hurt or maligned: I just feel like someone with a very large and heavy stick in combat with an opponent armed with a toothpick. I fucking win: I'm the professor. So there.

Jesus, it's all very childish, isn't it.

Shifting gears: it does feel very good to have finished--done as in stick a fork in me done: hard copy rosters completed and submitted to the department, grades uploaded to Banner, photocopies and printouts made for my records. And I don't have to be back here until next week for commencement.

I will be back later this month to start working on fall adjunct schedules, either on my own or with Cathy. And in August, I'll probably be doing a lot of the work on my own, as Cathy's daughter and grandchildren will be visiting from London; she'll join me as soon as they return home, but until then, I'll just be bugging the crap out of her with calls and texts. I've done it before when Bruce was away, so I can do it again.

That's another thing that was finished today, by the way: Cathy and I tied up the last of the loose ends on the adjunct scheduling. She will complete the "retention pool" (the list of how many courses were requested and how many we assigned to what level of seniority--all stuff required by the adjunct union), but it's not due for a while yet. Next week, she gets to decide whether to cancel sections; I may e-mail to suggest that she hold off on canceling anything for the second summer session until it's closer to starting, but early indications are that either students are enrolling late (because there is a longer break than usual between end of spring semester and start of summer session one) or enrollment is down--again. Cathy is already getting nervous about fall, but it's way too early for that yet; we shouldn't start worrying until beginning of August at the earliest.

But all that is way in the future. For now, all I have to do is load the office plants into the car, move things off the various surfaces where I've been tossing them onto my desk, for clean-up and organization when I'm back to work on fall schedules, and toddle off to meet Paul for a well-deserved post-semester drink and dinner and talk. Funny that I feel anxious about being finished: I think it's because I'm waiting to find out what I've forgotten (that and waiting for the explosions from students). But tomorrow, I may actually start on getting organized for fall. Imagine such efficiency! Don't hold your breath, however: It's also entirely likely I could spend tomorrow staring into space and drooling--metaphorically speaking, of course.

I'll try to keep the blog posts coming, regardless. I'm rather addicted to the increase in my readership, and I know if I stop posting, people will drop away--so, I'll keep feeding my readers need for something new every day. There's always something to say...

Including, TTFN.

Monday, May 15, 2017

"Professor, give me a B+ because that's what I want"

I've read at least one self evaluation with that as the message. It wasn't even subtext: it's pretty blatant. I should give the student a B+ because 1) my class was too hard for him, given all his other classes and his full time job, 2) my class isn't important for his major, and 3) he needs a B+ because he's transferring to a prestigious university and anything else will be unacceptable to them.

I won't bother to address his request, or his reasons for it--and he's getting a C, which required some massaging of his grades, as what he actually earned was a D+--but here would be my replies, if he were to talk with me about it:

1) If my class was too hard, and getting that good grade was so important to you, you should have either withdrawn--or you should have been in to see me every single week to find out what to do to improve the quality of your work. If you didn't have time for that, then you shouldn't have been taking the class.

2) If my class isn't important for your major, why is it a requirement for your major? Surely the people who designed the major had some reason why they believed you would, in fact, "need" the class.

3) When you get into that prestigious university, try getting  a better grade from a professor just because it's what you want. Also, when you are there, ask any teacher to evaluate any of the essays you wrote for me and tell you what the grade would be. I think you'd find that the D you actually earned is closer to how the professors at a top-flight campus would evaluate your work.

Cleansing breath.

I've actually massaged the grades for a couple of students, one just to get her to pass; one to get her to a C; and Mr. Victoria's Secret Shopper ("No, I wanted a B, not a C; take back the C and give me the B"). And I'm on the fence about whether to do so for another student. This is the young man I mentioned way back when we were working on first essays and I was holding conferences: he's the one who at the end of his conference told me he'd just learned more in that 20 minutes than he'd learned in all his other English classes. Really, realistically, he shouldn't pass, probably--but the D would allow him to move on, and he'll reach the hurdle he really, truly cannot get over eventually, and that may be soon enough for him to have the painful reality check.

I don't know. It's that whole "I'm second guessing myself" thing again. Am I being too hard? Am I being too lenient? Am I being too inconsistent? (Probably that last. I'd say, "Let the math decide" and stick with it, except I know that the actual numeric value attached to any assignment is somewhat elastic, so the original numbers can be adjusted and still be essentially accurate.)

But when I get to this point, I know it's probably time to take a break--and as long as I know I'm not going to finish tonight, and given that it's 7:30, I might as well shove all the rest to tomorrow. I don't have to write comments on any more assignments: I'm in the read, slap a grade on it, crunch the numbers, and next part of the grading process. That being the case, I'm hopeful that I can grind through it all tomorrow without too much wailing and gnashing of teeth (and without being here too late). Paul and I are hoping to go out to dinner one night this week (which would be better than peanut M&Ms in the office), but it will depend on our individual energy levels and how quickly I can finish. I don't know if Cathy needs me to help with adjunct scheduling clean-up, but I don't think so.

And I'm going to start carrying the office plants home to leave on the porch over the summer. A highly symbolic gesture.

I am tired, anxious, cranky, and outta here.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

My (Freudian) slip is showing

Yesterday I spent in a state of almost total collapse; I didn't even think about getting any work done (though knowing how fickle my readers are, I nearly posted anyway--because even in a state of near collapse, I am still thinking about teaching). It was bliss, but I knew it meant that I would need to crank pretty hard today. So, as soon as I had my morning coffee in hand, I set myself up in the living room, opened my tote bag of school stuff--and realized I had very cleverly left in the office the essays on which I actually agreed to provide comments. Those are the ones that needed to be done first--and those are also the ones I am most resisting doing, because (imagine a very whiny child voice here) I don't want to work that hard any more.

I feel like my own students, complaining about how hard everything is, how unfair it is to be held responsible for, well, just about anything, really.

I probably should have worked a little longer today, and I am prepared for the fact that I'll probably have to finish my grading on Tuesday, not tomorrow as I had originally hoped, but I was starting to get pretty annoyed, and I was starting to second-guess myself at every turn, so I decided retreat was probably the best use of the trenches at this point.

Something I just noticed as an almost invariable experience: being snake-bit by an end-of-semester self-evaluation by a student who has been cheerful and friendly all semester and turns out to have been harboring resentments. Case in point out of the work I just marked, a student from the 5:30 102: I've mentioned her before as the one who is otherwise a good student but cannot seem to get her essays uploaded to Turnitin on time. As it happens, she confessed that she can't seem to keep the requirement in mind--but of course that means it's my fault for having this unfair requirement in the first place. Let's follow the logic of that again: I have a requirement. She can't remember to follow the requirement. Therefore, the requirement is unfair.

[Heavy sigh.] Yet this is constant, chronic. And despite the fact that it is constant, chronic--every semester I have at least one student who faults me for something the student is incapable of doing--I am still unduly bent out of shape about the student expressing his or her complaint. At the start of this semester, a student in Nature in Lit said in his self evaluation that he hadn't passed his literature class in the fall because he didn't remember to upload to Turnitin and that he thought that was unfair.

[Heavy sigh.]

I wish there were a way to get these students to understand the fucking idiocy of their complaints, but the best I can hope is that the "real world" will slap it into them at some point. I am less certain that that is necessarily going to happen than I used to be--as far as I can tell, a lot of people get through their entire adult lives thinking that way--but I still hold out some hope.

Rewinding a bit to yesterday, here's what I was thinking about. One of the better students in the 1:00 102 class said that he was astonished to realize that the homework grades added up to being the equivalent of an essay. He didn't quite say that was unfair, but he did seem to suggest that it was strange. I explained that the theory is, if students have to put the time and energy into the assignments, they should get appropriate credit--but I think his point was that students don't put the time and energy into the assignments, figuring they're something that can be blown off, only to realize the error when it is too late.

So I need to now decide whether to adjust the homework grades to a blow-offable proportion of the final grade or to find a way to impress on students the weight given to homework assignments. Something to think about as I start preparing for fall.

I'm already thinking about finding slightly different articles for the first essay for the 101s in the fall, as well as making other possible adjustments. And I'm already thinking that I want to work on the online Nature in Lit over the summer, as I assume I'll be teaching it in the spring, and I don't think I'll be able to work on it over the fall. Talk about looking a long way down the road, which is a recipe for tripping over something that is directly under my feet.

Now, however, I don't much care what is under my feet. I am going to sign off for today, and let tomorrow take care of itself. Because, after all, I don't have much choice about that.

Friday, May 12, 2017

"It's plagiarism because I say it is."

At least one of my former colleagues (now retired) had the attitude that if she believed something was plagiarized, it was. I am more cautious, dammit: I feel I need to prove it before I can legitimately give a zero for an assignment--but a student in the 1:00 102 definitely plagiarized: I can think of no other explanation for the bizarre mix of stumbling sentences and high-flown ideas. I present examples:

In one paragraph, the student's essay reads: "Lyubov is an anthropologists and he was the only Terran to treat the Athsheans with respect and like human beings. Whereas Davidon helped introduce violence and destruction to the Athsheans and treated them with little to no respect and didn’t consider them to be human beings but he referred to them as “creechies”. ... But Davidson proceeded go and rape Selver’s wife killing her in the process, because of Davidson’s actions Selver seeked revenge not only for his wife and people but for the sanity of his planet."

In another, it reads: "Their culture embraces wisdom and self-control that preserve a sustainable coexistence of diverse clans around the planet. ... The unprecedented violence profoundly troubled and complicated the peaceful worldview of the natives forcing them to adapt and respond. ... The acts of humans undermine the social order held for eons and move the Athsheans to punitive violence."

Never mind the fact that the ideas in that second example are very likely beyond the understanding of this student. (I doubt she understood the novel very well, assuming she even read it--which may be a rash assumption.) Just the shift in parlance is enough to raise red flags all over the place.

And yet, not only was it not flagged by Turnitin, my own search of suspicious phrases didn't turn up anything definitive.

I let her know when I talked with her about the first version that it seemed like she'd used things from sources she didn't cite, or otherwise had help, and she said that her aunt ("she's a professor") "helped" her. I didn't give a grade to the first version but told her to eliminate anything that was not legitimately her own. She did some of that--but the rest of the essay, well ... you see the examples. I gave her a D for each one--and that may be sufficiently low that she'll fail the class, as a lot of her other work was either sub-par or entirely missing--but I wouldn't be surprised if she's indignant that I should suggest it isn't her work. I will say, however, that even if it is hers, it's a jumble of unconnected ideas inadequately supported with specific evidence from the novel; in fact, that's part of what I said in my comments to her, and that alone is sufficient to give the assignment the low grade I gave it.

But it burns me that I can't prove it. And I may be misremembering, but I think I said something about the same problem with her second essay. Ah well. If she's cheating, at some point in her life, she'll hit a challenge she can't cheat her way out of, and she'll pay penance then.

Shifting gears, but in looking at the Turnitin report, just to see who had submitted on time and so on, I noticed that one of her classmates used the "title" of his essay as his chance to tell me that he really needs a C+ to transfer. I dislike such guilt-trip actions on the part of my students and will now have to guard against a tendency to be more harsh with my grade for him than is strictly necessary.

Well, whatever. I have my little bag packed up with stuff to take home and mark; included are three or four essays on which students wanted comments. I'd sort of hoped to get those done today, but cleaning up the last bits of scheduling took longer than I expected and then trying to prove the plagiarism took up a fair amount of time, so ultimately I got two essays marked. But that's better than none. And tomorrow is supposed to be chilly and rainy, a perfect day to stay in, grade essays--and nap.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

"I didn't hate coming to class."

That's one of the ringing endorsements I got from the 102 students today. I laughed (so did the other students), but I know the student who said that was pretty sincere about that being praise. I did get a better sense of what works and what doesn't in terms of particular homework assignments, should I ever teach 102 again. And as I suspected, the students in this section were much more lively and fun to do the wrap-up with than the other class. They asked some of the same questions, and I volunteered some information, but nothing too startling was revealed--by them or by me.

I had a long talk with one particular student after class. I don't know if I've mentioned her before; she's a little older than the average, and she clearly wanted to do well, but we never got much of a chance to talk one-on-one about how she might improve her work. I know she was frustrated by her grades, and we did have a long talk a few weeks ago in which I urged her to withdraw (and also talked with her generally about possible academic routes to the kind of career she's interested in). I think I did mention her: I offered her an incomplete if her final essay was a B or better, so she could re-revise her second essay and have a shot at a better final grade. Her final essay was not a B, which she already pretty much knew--but her decision was that if she could get at least a C, she'd take that instead of withdrawing. I crunched the numbers, and her grade was close enough to the points she'd need for a C that I figured she could have it--even without submitting a few assignments that she'd done but forgotten at home. (Yes, I believe that is true. I may be overly trusting and gullible, but I think I have a reasonable sense of when someone is bullshitting.) So, she gets the C, and off we go. She said she would keep in touch; she may even sign up for the SF class in the fall, though I'm not holding my breath.

I heard today from one of the students in the 5:30 102 about her missing upload to Turnitin. This is the student who otherwise is great but who has not gotten a single upload in on time (or maybe I exaggerate; maybe she got the first version uploads in on time and just missed the final ones--every time). She is at fault, since she didn't check to see whether she'd gotten the confirmation email that the upload was successful, but she was clearly furious that the upload hadn't gone through, even though she wasn't going to kick up a fuss about the result being a zero on the assignment. I told her it wouldn't be a zero; as long as she emails the essay to me tonight (since she can't upload on her own now; the settings don't allow late submissions), she'll be fine. (One student in the class I met today hadn't done his upload; same deal--thought it had gone through, didn't check for the confirmation--so I let him upload it in class today. Whatever.)

From the 5:30 102, there are still three students I haven't heard from. From Nature in Lit, three students submitted nothing--no hard copy, no upload--and one submitted the hard copy but not the upload. That last student I may give another chance to, but I talked with Cathy about it, and she strengthened my resolve: the rest get zeroes on that final essay. They were warned; I sent the email reminders; the other students did the work on time. Basta.

Backing up to the huge ratification (or not) vote today, it was a bizarre event--and of course, as much as we were hoping it would all be over except the counting of the ballots, there's now more foofaraw over the fact that the tellers committee won't count the ballots until next Thursday. What?? Where will they be stored so there is no tampering with the vote? Why weren't we given envelopes to seal? Why the delay with the counting? Poor Paul is on that committee, so he's once again in front of the firing squad. But in terms of the event itself, and any sense of the feeling in the room? Cathy and I read it very differently. While faculty were still arriving (because there are always people who are late), the tellers were keeping track of how many people were in the room: as soon as we knew we had a quorum and that the vote would count, people flocked to leave, even though speakers were still making the case for or against the change to the bylaws. Cathy assumed that all those leaving early were voting in favor of the change. I hope not; I thought people were leaving simply because their minds were made up before they got into the room and they didn't feel any need to listen to the same arguments that have been flying around in emails for the past week or so, presented by the same people, in pretty much the same wording. I would have been among those to leave, in fact, but I didn't want to be rude to the speakers, and I didn't want to join the mob by the door, so I waited until things cleared out. I ended up talking with Cathy and Kim and Sara and a few other choice colleagues; it was nice to be able to laugh a little and just talk, not about the issues.

I ended up walking to the building where my class was held with the former chair of the senate. She's wonderful. She used to be one of the faculty advisers, and we kind of got to know each other then; I've gotten to know her better since she and Paul have worked so closely together. It was good to remind each other that we can only do what we can do--trust in God and do the dishes, as they say in 12-step programs--and focus on what makes it good.

Talking with the students today reminded me of what makes it good.

And now, although it is relatively early, I am going to depart--without even sorting out stuff or figuring out what I need to pack up to take with me over the weekend. I'll be back tomorrow to help Cathy with schedules, and I assume I'll have a chance to shove stuff in a bag before I have to toddle off for my Friday afternoon life maintenance activities. I am very tired (my balance has been wonky all day, due I am sure to fatigue), and I am modestly hungry, and it will feel very good to get out of here while it is still full light. The lengthening days make it seem earlier than it is; it's after 7, though the light says to my body "It's late afternoon." But after 7 is late enough, thank you.

See you on the flip side (a vinyl album reference that the youngsters wouldn't get).

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Grumpiness and gratitude--and uncertainty

So, I just found out that there was some kind of glitch in my campus email so that a lot (and I mean a lot) of emails were going into my junk folder. What I don't understand is that I'd get parts of a thread in my inbox, and other messages went to the junk folder. Very weird. The problem apparently started at the end of March, and between March and now, 308 (possibly more) emails were erroneously marked as junk. A lot of the political shit-storm that Paul has been talking about I missed not because I metaphorically have my fingers in my ears and am singing lalala but because the emails that were kicked up by the storm were not visible to me. Obviously I didn't read all of them (OK, any of them), but it was a snorting pain in the ass to notify the junk filters "nope, not junk mail, nope nope nope." It didn't take as long to check them off, mark them as read, and delete them--but still, I've spent about 45 minutes on that idiocy.

I was also very grumpy because there was an awards event this evening, celebrating students who won scholarships, and since Cathy couldn't go, and no one else on P&B volunteered, I went. I stood on stage with the president, AVP, and someone other administrator--but not one of the students who got a scholarship from the English department--and had my photo taken (a little like being placed in front of a knife thrower in my book), and then sat there and watched other groups gather, get arranged, have photos taken ... for an hour and a half. In the immortal words of Pogo, murmph murmph murmph.

On my way back to the office, I suddenly realized my car key was not in my coat pocket. I don't usually keep it there, but I moved my car on my way to class this morning, so it ended up in the pocket--and then ended up out of the pocket. I was wondering whether I was going to have to schlep back to the gym, where the event had been held, hope it was still open, search the floor for my key (and the little security beeper thingy), but decided to check the office first--and the building was locked. And I don't carry my phone with me, so I couldn't simply call security to let me in. I was making a circuit of all the doors, and a colleague just happened to be going out: thank the gods, I could get into the building. I went up to the office, frantically looked on the floor around my desk, where my coat had at one point fallen off the back of my chair, was about to trek back to the gym--and then saw that my key on my desk. Apparently Roberto, the wonderful member of the maintenance staff who cleans here at night, saw it on the floor and put it on the desk for me.

Gratitude, gratitude.

Today's class was a non-event: students showed up to submit their essays, got the self-evaluation assignment, and left. Four students did none of those things, and haven't uploaded their essays to Turnitin--or at least not yet. Do I accept the essays the last day and give a whopping penalty? Or do I keep the letter of the law and say sorry: that's 200 points you just lost?

I don't know.

I also don't know what to do about the four students from the 5:30 102 class who didn't upload their essays yesterday. One of them is the student who otherwise has been very good--but she has missed every single upload all semester long. God dammit. Does the axe fall? They've been notified by email--twice. One email I sent to the whole class--and more on that in a minute--and one I sent specifically to the four delinquent students and ... nothing. Not sure what to do about that. Especially because earlier today, I got a call in the office from a student who was completely hysterical on the phone: she has been a very good, very diligent student, hasn't missed a single deadline--but she did miss the upload last night. She called because she'd seen the class email; apparently after class last night, she got into a monumental fight with her mother and spaced. I had no problem with having her email the assignment to me for me to upload (since the assignment settings in Turnitin do not allow late submissions). But the other four?

I don't know.

I may try to talk with Paul about it, though tomorrow is a pretty fraught day: he's officially done with ASEC, but tomorrow is a big vote on a bylaws change (the subject of about 290 of those 308 emails), so no one's mood is going to be great. But I honestly do not know what to do about those students who just completely ignored the "I will not accept this late" and "'I forgot' isn't an acceptable excuse for forgetting the upload" warnings....

So the fate of the campus is still uncertain; the fate of some of my students is in my hands in a way I do not appreciate. But, to focus on what is good (and circle back to the gratitude thing), I spent a long while with one student in Advisement: he's just working to fulfill prereqs for a program he wants to transfer into, so I helped him figure out what he could take in what order to get there. What we discovered is that he'd need prereqs before the prereqs (two levels of chem before he can take the chem the transfer program wants him to have). We both kept getting confused about the various if/then scenarios, but I helped him see how things would have to stack up:  this, then this, then this--which a couple of questions about whether X would fill the requirement or Y would do. It was interesting, and he was intelligent and very focused: it felt collaborative, and that was great. I also  had a nice encounter with a student who is withdrawing from Nature in Lit (or I hope she is: she doesn't want to come back to campus and she may need to, in order to finish processing the form). She asked me if I would be her mentor until she graduates, because she needs someone to kick her butt from time to time. She wants to meet with me every few weeks all the way through until she graduates. Absolutely: I'm game. I don't really expect her to follow through on it--in fact, I'll be astonished if she does--but it's lovely that she asked.

I responded to the last two year-end evaluations; one I simply signed off on, the other needed some adjustments by the faculty member (and the communication about how best to proceed just in terms of what to do electronically and what to do in print was bumpy; I'm not sure we understood each other). I'm waiting for adjustments from two other colleagues, and two of the evaluations are done, signed, sealed, and just have to be delivered.

I am resolutely not looking toward my desk and am ignoring what's on the radiator: it's a wild and chaotic mess at the moment. But I'll sort things out a little tomorrow before the big vote; then I'll meet with the 1:00 102 students (which should be fun), do my make-up time in Advisement, and ... start churning through the essays for the final grading. Several students want comments, so I'm focusing on those first, but it feels pretty painless right now. I am going to have to come in on Friday, or take work home over the weekend (or both), but that's just to reduce the flurry on Monday. If all goes as planned, Monday night at about this time, I'll be checking in to say I have just submitted final grades and am preparing my sea cucumber impersonations for the summer.

Hi-ho Silver and away!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Staggering toward the finish line

So, backing up and reporting what I can remember about yesterday.

The day began with taking the Nature in Lit students to the little prairie preserve here on campus (19 acres of what used to be something like 40,000). The professor who showed us around is clearly more interested in botany than in zoology, but the students were delighted (at least briefly) by the red-winged blackbirds. I wish they'd seen the hawk I saw (probably a red-tail, but I had no field glasses with which to check). I don't know how much they got out of the event; I wish we'd had more time and that I could have turned them loose with sketch pads or journals and just had each find a spot to settle in and observe for a while--but I'm making mental notes that next time I teach the class face-to-face instead of online, I'll more specifically schedule a visit, and I may find out how many students from the online course would be able to come to campus on a Friday or something, not as a requirement but as an added opportunity.

Sunday night, I had sent an email to the head of Advisement, Amanda, asking if I could be sprung in order to work with Cathy on summer adjunct schedules. I got a reply from her yesterday morning saying that she wouldn't stop me from helping my department but that maybe next semester we could work something out so there wouldn't be so many changes to the schedule. I read the subtext, called Cathy, told her I would go to Advisement--and when I got there, I sat down to talk with Amanda about what happened this semester and what was likely to happen next. She kept saying I could go, and she was very friendly and accommodating when I explained about conferencing in the fall; all she wanted was more advance notice about changes to the regular rhythm so she could schedule the rest of her staff accordingly. Easy enough. Consider it done.

And as it happened, Cathy hadn't started on the adjunct schedules by the time I was done with Advisement; she was still making changes to fall schedules for the full-timers. (One thing Cathy is going to have to learn about being chair is to delegate. She wants to do everything, help everyone, be everywhere--and what with the energy drain brought on by anxieties about the politics on campus, she has to tend to her internal resources more carefully.) We sat down together, worked out the kinks I'd been fretting over on Friday--and I got so caught up in doing it that I was ten minutes late to meet a student up here in the office. I met with two students--and Paul was ready to wring the neck of one of them: "How many times do I have to tell you this?" I was marginally more patient, but I did say those words, just not with the "mustard" on them that Paul would have used in my place.

Then I raced to the train--only to realize I had the time wrong and was 15 minutes early. But that was fine, and Paul showed up with enough time to spare before the train arrived that I didn't quite have kittens, though I was close. Lots of transportation foul-ups made us very late for dinner, but it was great to talk with my good friends and I think it was worth it, despite how little sleep I got, despite the headache I was fighting off just before I fell asleep, despite the upset digestive system today. It's just good to be human beings together.

Today was also a good day. It took a while for a few people to show up for the seminar hours meeting at 10, but once they did, there was a very interesting conversation about how veterans' affairs are handled here on campus and how we might mentor a little more effectively. And we're setting up a cohort for students who are in a particular course usually used for students with multiple remedial placements (though it's a credit-bearing course and open to any freshman); I've volunteered to take part in that. I can't teach students at that level very well--I can't seem to conceptualize concretely enough--but talking with them in Advisement can be very rewarding, so I'd be happy to do more of that in my office, assuming we can work it out around my conference weeks.

The earlier 102 was filled with hilarity today--and filled with students who hadn't printed out a key piece of their final essays, so I sent folks off to print things out. And that just reminded me to contact the student who is in the Navy to find out where he is, where the hard copy submission for is essay is--and that reminded me to send out an email warning students not to forget the upload to Turnitin (though I will lay any odds you like that a handful will forget it, and I'll get panic-stricken emails through and after Monday from students realizing that they left that part out).

But I'm looking forward to the debriefing on the semester with that class. It was--not surprisingly--a bit of a dud in the evening class. Whatever. Two students have asked for comments on their essays. Two are getting incompletes. One should withdraw; he was in 102 with me last semester, and he fell apart again this semester. I don't want to give him an F, but if he doesn't withdraw, that's what he'll get, as he didn't have his final essay today...

And I managed to do my P&B bit on four of the Year-End Evaluations I have to mentor (out of six). One of the two remaining just needs a very quick note from me, as the faculty member in question is retiring (she didn't even need to do the evaluation, but she did it--and I'm going to be very sorry to see her go). The other didn't send me an electronic version, so once I've read over the hard copy she sent, if changes are needed, I'll ask her to make them and submit it electronically for me to do my bit. If no changes are needed, I'll just attach the relevant pages to the end of what she printed out. I hope to finish those tomorrow.

Perhaps I should finish them tonight, but I am so painfully tired, and feeling just that much unwell, that I want to get home and collapse. But I will say that one of those faculty members misspelled my first name--and I finally had to "say" something to the department, so I sent out an email about how my name is both spelled and pronounced. (Three responses so far, all supportive--and all from people who don't make the mistakes.)

God, I'm just tired. I'm going home. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200...

Monday, May 8, 2017


Rushing off to meet Paul at the train station, going in to the city to have dinner with William and Kristin. Today was ... a day. Nothing much to report, but whatever there is, I'll report tomorrow.

I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date....

Saturday, May 6, 2017

(Mopping metaphoric sweat from her brow...)

I got them all done. Halle-fucking-lujah. And in some strange reversal of the usual, it took just about as long as I figured it would: I thought I'd finish at 8, and I finished just a few minutes before that.

Now my only worry is whether I somehow forgot to send the comments to anyone, but I think I stayed on top of that.

And here's what I have to say: I hurt. My shoulders and neck are killing me. It's miraculous I don't have a screaming, yowling headache. I think the only thing that saved me is that I was very good about getting up every 55 minutes to move around a little. The timer would go off; I'd get up and move around the apartment a bit. The timer would go off again; I'd get up and walk around the block (or a couple of blocks; it was a cool but gorgeous day, brilliant sunshine, and I'm glad I got out in it).

In further good news, this means I can probably bring myself to churn through the homework I have collected from the Nature in Lit students (including a couple of revised essays), so I'll head into Monday with virtually zero student work in hand. (I'll have the peer reviews from the 102 students and maybe a stray set of reading notes here and there, but that's it).

I feel compelled to record an apparent inconsistency in my application of late penalties. I applied them to all but one essay. That one was was written by an otherwise excellent student, but on the day the essay was due, she met me in the hall to say she was going to be late submitting hers, and she relatively calmly told me that her mother is dying, isn't expected to make it much longer. I asked her if she should even try to finish the class, but she insisted she could do it. We joke about how at about this time there are suddenly lots of sick or dying relatives (all six of my grandparents...) and other crises and disasters, but in this case, I completely believe the student--in part because she was so undramatic about it. She didn't want to talk about it, either. Fair enough.

I was more fierce with the student who had sent me an e-mail the day the essay was due, the subject line of which was "greetings from Barbados." I shit you not. She informed me that she hadn't realized she'd still be on vacation the day the essay was due. (Excuse me??) She also is otherwise a very good student, but I feel absolutely no hesitation in applying the penalty, full weight, to her essay. Hope you had a great vacation.


I can tell it's going to take a little effort for me to unlatch my little bulldog teeth from the effort of today and persuade my psyche that I can stop, just ... stop. But I'll be aided in that endeavor by a cat who is indulging in ASBCB (attention-seeking bad cat behavior) because she wants dinner.

I may post tomorrow. Or not. Five more days of classes. Holy god.