Friday, December 02, 2016

This is Why I do Draft Days

On Monday, my upper level Shakespeare class will work on peer revising rough drafts of their semester projects.  They have to turn in a draft of their project to their peer revision group on Sunday afternoon, and then have to come in Monday with print outs of the other peers' projects, with notes and such written, so that they spend Monday's class period in useful discussion.

Then they get a week to revise before turning in the final project.

There are several options for the project, the most intellectually difficult of which is to write a traditional lit crit paper.

So naturally, at the end of class today, when we'd discussed draft day stuff a bit more, one of the weaker students in the class came to ask if I have open office hours today.  (I don't.  I pretty much have job related stuff to do until 7 or 7:30 pm today.  Happy Friday.)  Then she asked if she could email me a question, and I asked her what the question was.

And she said that she's having difficulty writing her lit crit paper.  So I asked her what her argument is.

And she said, and I did you not, "I want to write about women in Shakespeare."  You might well be proud of me that I didn't burst out in laughter or in tears. 

She doesn't have an argument yet.  So I suggested she start by thinking about a specific play to make an argument about, and reread it, and think about what she might want to say about the play.  For previous assignments, she's read some criticism, so I suggested that she might go back and think about where she disagrees with a critic or thinks a critic's argument misses something important, and that would form a starting point for her paper.

The good thing is, if she starts working intently today, and works hard through Sunday to do something to turn in, and then has a whole week to work hard, the paper will be a while lot better than it would be if she'd waited until next Friday to begin working, right?

I live a rich and full fantasy life.  My students are going to be working hard this weekend to get a draft of this paper done.  Better that than starting next week!

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Straw Men

I'm tired of being set up as a straw man.

No, I've been here for 15+ years, and I don't think I've ever known anyone who thought grammar drills and worksheets were great ways to teach writing (here or anywhere else).  In fact, shortly after I got here, the department voted to discontinue a grammar test that we were all supposed to give as part of the final for whatever writing course we were teaching.  When we discussed it, no one could even remember how we'd come to have it as a requirement; it had just been left there so long.  And, of course, no one taught to it, so far as I ever heard.  And most of us made it count minimally for the final grade because we didn't think it mattered. 

No, I've never met a Shakespearean scholar who didn't think about staging issues and recognize that Shakespeare wrote plays to be enacted in a theatrical space.  That's not to say we don't find other aspects of the plays interesting, but I've never seen the denial the theater folks attribute to us lit folks.  (Of course, actors and other theater focused folks have lots to teach all of us about acting and Shakespeare.  It's just that I don't know any Shakespeareans who think that isn't true.)

Maybe it's just the time of the semester, but dang...

So busy, and so many things happening that require attention.  I feel like I'm juggling very fragile glassware, and it's going to start crashing up there and falling as very sharp shards all over my upturned face and my desperately moving arms and hands.

I'm so tired of the crappy rumors people spread when they're really clueless.  But you can't answer the rumors because the actual issue is confidential (and you're hearing them third or fourth hand).

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Email Signature Lists?

I got an email from a student the other day in relation to a committee I chair, and I swear, the student's signature thing had nine lines of activities plus a phone number and preferred pronouns.

Do your students provide a full list of activities?

Each activity gets a line:

This major.
That minor.
This club
That other activity,

And so on.

I see this a lot around here, and I'm wondering if it's also something at other schools?

I'm guessing (only guessing) that students are being told that it looks professional to mention their activities?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Teaching a Friend's Poetry

In my Intro to Poetry course, I'm using a book of poetry by a friend; my colleagues and I tend to use one more recent book of poetry when we teach the course in order to help students get a feel for how to read a book of poetry as a collection.

This book is fantastic, and the students seem to be enjoying it.  They have lots to say, and what they say suggests they're reading pretty carefully.

That said, sometimes they're a bit off. 

In one of the poems, for example, the speaker talks about being at a funeral with her child.  At one point well into the poem, she hands the child to her husband so she can throw dirt onto the grave.

But several of my students missed that, and from the way the poem uses direct address, decided that the speaker must be a new widow, burying her husband.  So I've pointed them to the part where she says that she hands the child to her husband.

I'm pretty careful only to use evidence from within the poem.

When I started studying English, I took a course in theory and criticism.  In the course, we focused primarily on a book of poems by George Oppen and sort of on hermeneutics.  Sounds interesting, doesn't it?  Except it was pretty miserable because often, when someone would point to something in a poem and say, "this says X," the professor would say, basically, no, it isn't X, because I know George and that didn't happen.  And it always seemed to me very unfair to ask us to try to read poems if they only make sense if you know the writer. 

(Retrospectively, I realize that we were probably all pretty naïve readers, but the principle holds.)

And then, of course, I try to be careful to separate the speaker of a poem from the writer, even though with a lot of more confessional contemporary poetry, that separation feels difficult.

(The other thing that made the course miserable was the professor's unwillingness to define or explain "hermeneutics" except to say that "hermeneutics isn't [this]," or "hermeneutics isn't [that]."  As I said at the time, my car wasn't either of those things, either, but I was pretty sure it wasn't hermeneutics.  (This was in the days before the internet, or even email, and my dictionary didn't provide much help.  I SHOULD have gone to the library and asked a librarian for help, but I wasn't that sophisticated a student at that point.)

I've never understood why he didn't just take half an hour and give us a nice introduction to hermeneutics and interpretation; I hope he had a good pedagogical reason for spiraling around it instead, but I've never figured it out.

Anyway, my friend is skyping into my class from afar today, and I'm excited for them to get to talk to her!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Page Limits on Assignments?

Like most teachers, I think, I don't like when students ask how long a paper should be, especially when it feels like what they want to do is the minimum.  You probably know the sort of paper I'm thinking of.  The student gets a page minimum (n), writes blather for n-1 pages, and one part of a sentence onto n, and then stops, pretty much mid-whatever, because they've done the page minimum.

It's not most students, but it happens, right?  And that's always my worry.

What I want, in my ideal world, is for students to start working on what they want to say, and to say it well until it's said, and be done.

When the shoe's on the other foot though, when I'm writing a statement for a grant or something, I totally want a page limit.

If you tell me, write two pages explaining your project for a grant, I'm pretty happy.  If you tell me to write no more than three pages explaining why my colleague should be tenured and promoted, I'm pretty happy.  But if you shrug and say, just write as much as you need to?  I'm unhappy.

If I know that everyone is just writing two pages for that grant, then I know I'm not going to turn in something wildly out of proportion to what others are doing, and mine won't look either overwhelming and too big, or like I didn't care enough to really explain. 

The same with the tenure letter; if I know no one's going to turn in a 12 page letter to get their colleague tenured, then I won't feel like my three pages are unconvincing because I could only write three pages.

(Of course, in either case, I'm going to work like the dickens to say a lot, as clearly and convincingly as possible in the allotted pages.)

How about you?  Page limits for student writing (even as suggestions), or no?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


I just got news that my sabbatical application has been approved by my campus.  Now, of course, it has to be approved by the governing folks.  But historically, they've approved sabbaticals if the state university campuses have approved them (because the university campuses, when they approve, say that they can cover them budget-wise).

The only difficulty on my end is budgeting, but I think I've got that handled.  I'll use some savings, but that's what savings are for.  (And it's not like I'm going to start spending money wildly on a Porsche or something.)

This is bright news for me in a difficult semester.  And boy, I can't even say how relieved and happy I am; words, as always, fail me.  Or I fail them, I suppose.

I'm going to start a new label in celebration!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Safety Pins?

The big question in this post is about safety pins.  Are you seeing them around?  I'm sympathetic, but I guess I feel like we're going to forget really quickly.  What do you think?

Other than that, I've been muddling through.  That's how it's been.

I've been ill; just a head cold, but miserable in the head cold way for almost three weeks.  (It's MUCH better now, and has been steadily improving since about Thursday, thanks for asking.)  For most of those past three weeks, I've been coughing a lot, and waking up every couple of hours during the night coughing.  So I've been barely sleeping.

I've been involved with interviews, many of them.  All good, but they take a lot of time.  And then there's the related paperwork, which takes a lot of time, too.

I'm involved in a task force which will come to partial fruition this coming week.  Fingers crossed that it goes well.  I have a couple hours (maybe) of prep to do for my part, then the actual event.

Much of the week was spent doing 20 minute conferences with all my writing students.  It's a lot of time, but very helpful to all of them, I think.  I hope.

I realized on Tuesday afternoon (between conferences) that I'd be teaching "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso" on Wednesday, though I hadn't reread them since I last taught the course some 5+ years ago.  Great poems, but what to do?  (It went fine.)  (On Tuesday, I went home about 4, got into bed and semi-slept for 2 hours, got up, prepped for a couple hours, and went back to bed around 8:30 and semi-slept

I've been feeling like I'm juggling, and something's always about to drop and break.  It's not a good feeling.

I've fallen behind on grading.  I need to rethink this sort of assignment because the grading's onerous, even though the assignment is really valuable in getting students to read critically.

The one bright thing is practicing the violin when I haven't been coughing too much.  It totally takes my mind off everything else, just focusing on trying not to sound really bad. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The Day

This is a big one.  I thought there were big ones before, but this seems way, way more important.

I voted a couple of weeks ago, which is legal in my state.  I didn't have problems, but then, I'm a white, middle-aged woman with easy access to legal ID.  And my local city clerk seems to be not crazy.  (I don't know her politics, but what I hear is about making sure everyone has clear information about how to vote and such.)

I drove by my polling place (it's on the best route to work) this morning at about 7:15, and the parking lot was full, and the street parking was close to full.

Vote well, USians; please, please, please vote well.

(I don't own a pantsuit, and none of my clothes are white, but I am wearing a nice blue sweater.)

Sunday, November 06, 2016

McMansion Hell

Have you folks seen this site, McMansion Hell?

Basically, the writer is an architectural critic who explains why it is that McMansions are so darned ugly.  They basically do two sorts of posts.  One is the broad explanatory post, taking some issue and explaining how it works in the architecture.  It may be an overview, as here, or it may focus on a specific aspect of houses, and show different ones with explanations, as with this on front entries, or this one on landscaping, or this one on roofs.  The second sort of post takes a specific house, staged by realtors for the market, and critiques it.  Here's one on a house in Virginia.  And here's one from Georgia.

So I have a bit of a love/hate, or maybe more a love/fear relationship with this site.  I love it because it explains so much about that aesthetic and why McMansions seem so unpleasing aesthetically. 

But I hate/fear it because every post makes me more aware that I live in a sort of ugly McMansion, not guilty of the highest level of McMansion excesses, perhaps, but pretty up there.

For example, if you look at the Georgia house, and scroll down to the kitchen, where the writer talks about white appliances?  Yeah, I can see my white kitchen appliances from where I sit.  And I'm not getting new ones any time soon (I hope!).  So white appliances, check.

Open concept.  Yep, check.

At one point the writer talks about someone's TV being old, but it's basically a big screen TV from maybe 10 years ago.  If it works, what's to complain about?  There's nothing wrong with a 25 year old TV that works, is there?  (Asks a woman who owns a 25 or so year old TV, and who just got a new big, flat screen one a few years ago because the old one couldn't talk to the CD player I bought used.  The old one was good, and color, even if it was only 13".)

My house is probably a 7 on the scale of 1-10 horribleness.  Maybe a 6. 

In addition to the ugliness, the architect talks about the cheapness of materials and building techniques used to build McMansions, and here's where my house falls squarely in.  Bad roof shingles, check (now not bad, because I had the whole thing replaced).  Vinyl siding, check (but seriously, I would hate to have to restain or repaint every three or so years).  Minimal insulation (well, at least I had a lot added when I had the roof redone, so hopefully that is solved).  And so on.  It's sort of worrisome.

On the other hand, I don't have the money to decorate a lot, so my house doesn't have the most egregious decorating faux pas, I suppose.  On the other hand, it's pretty much just whatever old furniture I've picked up over the years, and a few pieces I've bought for specific purposes.  (The writer of McMansion Hell says they specifically show pictures of realtor staged houses, and not houses real people live in, because they aren't making fun of real people.)

When I bought my house, it was in a newish neighborhood, on a cul-de-sac where all the houses were built, but also near areas that didn't have streets through and such.  For a while, it stayed like that.  But in the last three years or so, there's been a building boom, streets have been put through, and a lot of new houses are going in, and they're all so McMansion.  My house is already one of the smaller houses on my street of 9 houses, maybe the smallest.  But the new houses going in are way bigger than most of the houses on my street (there's one that's way bigger than the others, and about the size of the new houses).

Maybe this means our housing values will go up?  Which doesn't matter until we decide to sell, of course, except that our taxes will also go up.  And the city may decide to put in sidewalks.  (It's a cul-de-sac; everyone just walks along the side and no cars are driving fast.)

So, there we are, something fun to read; or, if you're like me, something fun and perhaps anxiety-producing!

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Surf Scoter!

Surf Scoters are pretty rare up in the North Woods.  They're way more common in the way up North.

But there's been one nearby, so I went out after work on Friday, drove a bit, and got to see it.  (And took a couple of pictures; these are cropped, and not nearly as good as pros take, but enough to remind me.)

Pretty exciting.  It's so very cool that there are email lists and such that people use to share information about bird sitings and such.  (I'm sure there are lots of such things about other stuff, but I'm on the edge of the birder world, so that's what I see.)  It sure makes it lots easier to get to see rarer birds than it would be.  (Though, population decreases work against that, I bet.)