Monday, October 20, 2014

New Eyes

I'm teaching a course this semester on ecocriticism and early modern lit (as I posted here).  It's a learning experience for me.  We spent the first few weeks reading ecocritical theory, and now we're reading early modern texts paired with a critical text. 

I'm really enjoying this class and learning a lot.  I hope the students feel like they're learning as much, and also enjoying it.

One of the cool things is that when you start thinking theoretically about something, you suddenly start to see things you hadn't noticed before, start reading differently.  I'm really enjoying that about reading some texts I've read and loved for a long time.  This feels like a really fruitful area of inquiry.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Green Grass on the Other Side of the Fence

Is it just here at NWU, or is it everywhere?

Our English Ed folks always seem to want to teach literature.

Ask them why they did a doctorate in English Ed, and they'll tell me that they were aware of the horrid prospects in lit, and so chose English Ed.

And they're right: my school starts English Ed assistant profs at about what associates in lit make.

But then they'll say that they want to teach lit, and they're totally qualified to teach whatever it is in lit that strikes their fancy... because they taught it in high school.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Writing Some Letters

I'm writing some thank you notes in my official capacity as a committee person, trying to draft these so I can get some input from other committee members before I send them out officially.

But yesterday, I started reading a new novel, Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher.  First, I was sitting waiting to pick folks up in an airport, and kept laughing inappropriately loudly, but I couldn't help myself.  And here in the upper midwest, loud laughter in public is pretty unappreciated unless you're a white male, drinking, and watching your local sports team or something.  At any rate, I got some weird looks in the airport.

Second, beyond the amusement, the novel makes me want to get a little more action into my own letters.  (These letters are very sincere, but it's hard to say much beyond "thank you for doing this extra work" at this point.  I'm trying.)

If you haven't read it, I recommend the novel.  And if you have, I wonder if you're reimagining the various letters you write for recommendations or whatever, as I am.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Paradox of Im/Permanence

I decided to try a new (for me) organizational strategy that I read about (here).  I'm hoping that it will help me keep longer term stuff on track better, and inspire me to less procrastination.  We'll see.  At any rate, I bought myself a little journal book, and that and pen ink seem to be the only financial investments, so at least there's that.

One of the interesting bits in the website is that the guy who developed the system (Ryder Carrol, to give credit where credit is due) talks about the journals forming a record of sorts.  I'm not sure that I need any sort of permanent record of to do lists and such, but on the other hand, we find Philip Henslowe's account book invaluable, so I do respect that.  Part of its value lies in its rarity.  If we had account books for every theatrical enterprise in the period, Henslowe's probably wouldn't garner as much attention.  I'm pretty sure at least some of the other theatrical companies and such kept some sort of records, but they don't survive.  And in all likelihood, even if this system works well for me and I keep at it, my little journal books are unlikely to survive for very long.  Nor should they.

The system is paper-based, which means as long as the paper survives and the ink is readable, it will survive.  So even though paper is pretty easily destroyed in all sorts of ways, if it survives, it's pretty accessible.

Digital stuff paradoxically is super survivable and minimally survivable.  At least, that's how it seems.  We warn kids and students not to put pictures or whatever else might be someday damaging into the internet because we think of those things as coming back to haunt people later, at some distant date into the future.  But at the same time, if I wanted to get at files I wrote on a computer just ten years ago and stored on a floppy, the standard of the time, it's going to be super difficult.  And I doubt in ten or fifteen years flash drives will still be totally accessible (maybe I'm wrong?).

I cringe when I hear someone use the "cloud" metaphor and realize that they don't think it's a metaphor at all.  But there's physical, material stuff somewhere that's storing the information in bits and bytes and such, and that physical, material stuff can be destroyed in lots of ways.  But unlike my little journal, which I can (I hope) keep track of, most of us have no idea at all where the server farms are storing information we think of as being in "the cloud."

Heck, I have no clue where my own campus's servers live, even though I store tons of stuff on my "private" little area there, and trust that the campus folks are backing it up and taking good care so that it doesn't get destroyed.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Final Harvest

I dug up most of the veggie garden yesterday, harvesting the last of the carrots and the pumpkin.

(Link to post with pictures from the summer garden.)

I did leave one kale plant still going pretty well, and expect to have kale salad this evening.

Here are the final harvest pictures, with a quarter so you can see how big (or small) my pumpkin is.  You can also see where the pumpkin is scarred from growing on a concrete block:

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Return, Again

I've written here (December 2013) and here (April 2014) about difficulties with an MA student who has moved away and still wants to finish hir thesis.  We had contact in April, when I responded to a "full" draft that it wasn't acceptable, noting that the writer hadn't responded at all to my revision suggestions.  And the last I heard was that the writer was going to think about whether to finish or not because zie was pretty down and busy and life is complicated. 

Yesterday, I heard, just a short note asking for clarification about some notes I'd put on draft chapters.  (I've received emailed draft chapters, read them and made marginal notes, and then typed up an overall response.  I then pdfed the pages with my notes and email them back along with the overall response.)  My writing is difficult at best, especially on a pdf.  I was able to read my marginal notes easily, even on pdf.

BUT, these are the marginal notes I made way back on the first chapter draft, and the student is only now looking at them carefully enough to notice that zie couldn't read them? 

I'm dismayed.  How much does it take to read a 10-25 page piece of writing and respond thoughtfully, trying to be helpful?  A bit of time, no?  And a bit of energy, no?

The email yesterday promised revisions to come soon.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Third Through

We're about a third of the way through the semester here at NWU.  First year students are dragging, mostly; I think things are beginning to catch up with them and feel overwhelming.

Some of the first years in my writing class are working full blast.  Some aren't.  I've had six no shows for todays conferences.  I'm not sure if they're confused about where to be or what, but I've gotten a lot of small tasks done while I wait.

Juniors and seniors seem to have settled in, and where they're interested, they doing really good work.

The student I wrote about here dropped by to say thank you today.  Zie is fine, thank Dog.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Looking from Two Sides

I was walking somewhere and saw a colleague from across campus the other day, and we started chatting in the way you do.  The colleague mentioned how much zie loves first year students because they're so enthusiastic and interested, and lamented how students seem to lose those qualities by the time they're in her courses in the third year.

I recognize levels of enthusiasm in first year students, but I appreciate how enthusiastic and interested my junior and senior level students are.

My colleague teaches juniors and seniors, mostly required courses for the major, and occasionally teaches electives at lower levels.

About half my load is first year writing, a course that's not on most students elective list; my junior and senior courses are pretty much electives for majors and minors.

I'm guessing the elective vs required thing is actually a bigger factor than the year in college.  What do you think?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Do More

I went to a school meeting today and heard the message that we (everyone on campus) needs to do more for more students.  It's more planning for a dismal future.

We need to accept more students, which means we all need to recruit more students and get them to want to apply and enroll.  We need to do this even though the population of traditional college age students is going down.  That means we need to recruit non-traditional students, or just more traditional students.  And that means, unless something changes and we suddenly become an Ivy, we're going to be accepting students who in whatever parlance you choose, are "less well prepared" to be in college.  "Less well prepared" may mean less economically advantaged, of course, because measures of preparedness tend to show a strong  correlation with socio-economic status; that is, wealthy students tend to be "well prepared" and very poor students tend to be less "well prepared."  And of course, preparedness has nothing to do with being smart, and lots to do with having learned to manage in academic cultures and dominant cultures, and having had lots of opportunities.

In addition to accepting more students (and yes, the presenters acknowledged that theses students won't be as "well prepared" as the current population here on average), we need to increase retention and raise four year graduation rates.  And, of course, four year graduation rates are also strongly correlated with socio-economic status.  Students who have lots of advantages tend to be able to graduate in four years more often than students with fewer advantages.

One of the presenters kept basically saying that we need to do all the good stuff we're doing now, but we need to all just get one more student to come and stay, and to get one more student to graduate in four years.  But of course, we don't know which is the one student each year, so we need to focus that on every student in hopes of catching one.

In other words, we need to do more for more students, some of whom are going to be less well prepared for college than our current students.

This meeting came after an hour and a half with a needy student who was unhappy that I sounded unfriendly in responding to hir question about how many issues zie needed to deal with for a project assignment.  An hour and a half.  It's the job, and I hope it was helpful for her, but it's draining and makes me want to find another job.  I have shoveling skills.  I wonder if any circuses need a shoveler?

Monday, October 06, 2014

Impressed, and Somewhat Useless

I was getting ready to leave campus this afternoon, not long after 5pm, so I went to the women's room as part of the getting ready process.  In the women's room, a young woman was sitting on the floor, looking distressed, making a noise that at first sounded like weeping, but then like some sort of breathing problem. 

I was slow, but she got out an inhaler, and I helped her use it, and then she got out her phone, and I talked to her mom (as it turned out), who said there was medicine in the backpack, but there was no backpack.  Then the mom hung up.

A moment later, another student rushed in with the backpack, and a moment after that, another student (the first student's roommate, as it turned out).  An hour later and she was much better, and we'd taken her to the hospital, and her roommate was going into the exam room with her, and I left (having given the roommate my phone number in case they need a ride home).

Boy, did I feel useless.  I'm totally the wrong kind of doctor.  (But I did get them to the hospital, so maybe I'm not totally useless.)

On the other hand, I'm deeply impressed with the roommate especially, and also the other student.  Both were calm and figured out what their friend needed and helped her effectively.

The roommate, once the student was breathing better, sort of directed her breathing.  And weirdly, I found myself breathing to, and really paying attention to my breathing.  You don't usually think about breathing, but sometimes you have to think about it.

I wish the powers that be in this state would realize that the people like me, the people they trash in the press, are also people who take care of students beyond our job description.  And also, we're people who do a good job at our job.