Tuesday, November 24, 2015

It's No Wonder...

My Mom called yesterday, just after noon, on my cell.  I was between classes, so I answered, and asked if she was okay.  She said something about it being lunch time, so she'd called.  And I told her that I was working, which is pretty much what I do during lunch time.  (I have an hour between two back to back classes, and another class, so I refresh my brain for what we'll be talking about in that third class.  I do need to refresh my brain.)

And then she went on to chat, but not as long as she usually does.

She does this sort of thing occasionally, calling while I'm at work, and then seeming surprised that I don't have time to chat.

I doubt she calls my brother while he's at work and expects him to chat.

The thing is, she thinks my brother works, and works hard.  And she thinks I basically lie around and read for fun.  Or something.

Whenever she tells me how hard my brother works, I think of that meme picture showing some women in Africa hauling big jugs of water up a hill with the caption something about if people were actually paid based on how hard they work, the women of Africa would be millionaires. 

If my Mom will never believe that the one professor she knows actually works for real, then it's no wonder that our governor and legislators think we lie all day around having grad students feed us grapes.


I'm a little cranky today.  Some folks I know have no classes tomorrow because their school(s) have no classes.  The local K-12 schools have no classes ALL WEEK!

We have classes here until 5pm on Wednesday.  And so, I have plans for my three classes.

And then I hear about this or that colleague who's cancelled their classes.  I'm so tired.  I wish we could all just cancel classes.  Or I wish that I felt like I could just cancel my classes.  But instead, I resent the people that do cancel their classes and take off.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


I had a most special day yesterday.

It begins like this.  Back in the beginning of time, the first house I lived in was across the street from a family.  That family had three kids, right around the ages of my brother and I (that is, toddlers and infants, basically).  Our mothers traded babysitting one afternoon a week for a couple of hours, so that the free mother could have a break.  So we played together.

Then my family moved.  But we still kept in touch, just not as much.

And their family moved, but we still kept in touch, just not as much.

And we started school, at different schools, but we still kept in touch, still felt affection, in that way.

And then, a year or so ago, we reconnected on facebook, the younger sister and I, first, learning that one of my cousins is in the same line of work in the same area, and they know each other and respect each other a lot.  And then the older sister, who'd gone off to the City Like No Other to become an actress.  She's successful enough that you've probably never heard of her, but have probably seen her on TV, or if you go to plays, on stage.

And she's now touring with a touring company of a Broadway show, with her name in lights, so to speak.

And the tour is in the Midwest.

So, we arranged to get together, and I got myself a ticket to the show.  (The matinee, because I'm a rube who had a longish drive just to get to the city.)

I was a little intimidated because we haven't seen each other in a long while, and we live very different lives.

But, you know, it was just wonderful.  We had the same feelings of friendship, but as adults who care for each others' families, too.  I don't know how to explain it, but my heart felt full and happy.  My friend was wonderful in the show, getting the laughs just where she was supposed to.

I'm so glad I went, so glad we reconnected in person.

We have vague plans to reconnect in the summer.  I'm excited!

I know a lot of people complain about facebook and the hatred people post.  I don't deny that some people post some awful stuff, and others post irritating stuff.  But I've reconnected with this friend, and my uncle's older sister, and a few other people, and I'm so happy to have those people in my life, even at a distance.

Friday, November 20, 2015

That Time of the Semester Thou Mayst See

It's that time.  We're all stressed and it shows.

I spent Tuesday grading like a madwoman, and that made my whole week better.  I could spend Tuesday grading like a madwoman because I graded last week tons, and entered the weekend with no grading, so I got to read and prep well, and that meant I was rested and could grade like a madwoman on Tuesday.  I feel like I can breathe again, and for this weekend, I only have a stack on paragraph assignments, which I think I'm going to try to do before I leave campus.

I have two big grading stacks for Shakespeare, two big grading stacks for Intro, and two big grading stacks for writing, and then the semester's done.

I have one thing to grade now, one of those revision things that I stupidly let a student do. 

I'm at the point of the semester when I'm so tired of being the softie that lets students revise crap to be less crap.  But I often am that softie.  (I try to be that softie equitably, of course.)

I have an assignment due on Wednesday in Intro to Lit, a short paper.  Of course, many students want to leave early, so they plan to turn it in on Monday.  That's fine, except some of them also want me to make extra time to see them at their convenience today, and I've run out of time.  (I saw one student at 8am, offered another an 8:30 appointment, but never heard from the potential 8:30 person.  I have three hours of class, an hour for lunch and prep between classes, and then a meeting this afternoon that will last as long as it needs to last.)

The student I met with this morning has worked very hard on their paper, and it's okay as a paper.  But the writing is just not great at the sentence level.  They aren't bad sentences per se, they aren't grammatically horrible.  But they just sit there, all doing basically the same sort of thing, not really achieving any depth or nuance.  I think it's a developmental thing; this student isn't quite intellectually ready to make sentences with depth and nuance.  The problem is, I don't know how to get this student to the point of depth and nuance, or even really how to help the student see what depth and nuance look like so they can aspire to those qualities.

That means grading it, well, right now, it's pretty much in B land.  How do I explain why it's B land and not A land, when the student has worked very hard with me on more than one occasion, and I've said encouraging things (because they're improving the paper each time).

Here's a random question.  We have class on Wednesday, though many students leave earlier in the week.  I know some schools have no class on Wednesday.  I think if we did that, our students would leave on this Friday and not come back until after Thanksgiving.  That would be fine by me on one level, if we all got that week, but if I'm expected to teach, and half the students are there, then what to do when the other half want to be taught that same stuff again (in our age of "customerizing" students)?

And a random point.  I had a massage earlier this week.  It hurt so good. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Narratives of Research?

In our first year writing course, we're required* to teach the same basic course, with four modules, the third of which is basically a lit review sort of module, where students read in an area to understand "the conversation" (a metaphor most seem to find incomprehensible), and then write an essay talking about their research.

The materials for the module suggest that research works like this:

You think of a question, and spend some time thinking of what you know and don't know, keywords, and so on.

You go to a database (or Google), and type in some key words, look, and find a source that seems appropriate.  You read the source, take notes, and then rethink things, and follow things in a slightly new direction.

You go back to a database, type in key words, look, find a source that seems appropriate.  Then you read that source, take notes, and then rethink things, and follow things in a slightly new direction.

Rinse and repeat.  So the idea is that the narrative thinks students read a source carefully, and use what they learn to figure out something newish about their question, and then follow along that.

But that's not the way I look for/at articles.  And while students pretty much obediently repeat this narrative in their essays about their research, it's not what they're doing when I observe them during our library sessions.

Here's what I do.

If I want to know what's up in a newish area, I start by asking around to see who knows, and who can suggest someone/something good.  Then I read that, and ask some more.  And then I start looking around more independently.

Or, I try to figure out some basic key words, then I go to the database, find a bunch of articles, like five or more, and save them in some way (usually emailing them to myself, or requesting them through the interlibrary loan program).  When I get to my office, I print out the articles, and start reading.  I take some marginal notes, and mostly, try to get a sense of who they've talked about as important, make some bibliographic notes for who to look for.  Maybe make a list for the library.  At this point, I'm treating these articles like the person I know who can suggest some basic readings, and looking for sorts of foundational pieces, the pieces that everyone knows and has in the back of their mind for the field.

When I'm through that five, I probably have a good sense of some foundational readings, and then I go looking for those, especially if I can find one of those overview anthologies, Foundational Readings in This Topic sorts of anthologies.  And then I sort of start over.

Here's what my students do.  Google search (unless I can convince them to start with an academic database, if appropriate).  Find three articles that are instantly available, save links somehow (only to find that those links won't work off campus, often).  Promise to read them later.

When they do read their articles later, they take them all at basically the same level.  So while I look for foundational articles, and then work forward to more recent, specific, work, they read the first articles and assume they've got the "conversation."

I'm sure my way of starting something new isn't the most efficient or even effective.  I don't think anyone ever "taught" me strategies.  But I also don't think the strategy we try to teach our students with our narrative is actually one they can use well.

Tell me some of your strategies for learning new or newish stuff.

For example, if I want to follow up on the research about how students research, and what research strategies might be most useful, how should I do it?

Monday, November 16, 2015

We Have a List

I don't think my tenure track colleagues generally realize this, but we, the tenured governance committee and it's leadership subcommittee, have a list, and they're on it.  The list is the future rotation of people to serve on the leadership subcommittee.  (There's also one for chairing the leadership subcommittee.  They're on that one, too.)  Pretty much, the first year someone's here on the tenure track, the leadership chair adds them to the tentative lists.  (The lists are tentative because people go on sabbatical, retire, have new children, or get sick, all of which require adjustments.)

The thing is, the list, that's our expectation that we're going to see our tenure track colleagues tenured and in this committee.  We look forward to it, because it's hard work, governance and reviews and such, and we want to share it with our newer colleagues, and we hope and expect that we will.

I think if my colleagues really believed that we have these lists, and that we've already put them on the lists, they'd be less stressed about reviews.

It's review season, starting now.  I have a letter to review and another letter to write this week; it's hard to write a letter that's totally positive without sounding gushy or impossible, but that's my task.  The dean in charge of such things wants our letters to be three pages, max.  We, being the English department, tend to write four and five page letters about our wonderful colleagues.  It's not just us being long-winded, but rather us trying to specifically show just how wonderful our colleagues are.

Three pages.  At least they're single spaced, right?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Night

I finished all my grading, all of it, by Friday afternoon, so for the first time in many weekends, I'm grading free.  After grading, I went by the recovery place, I don't know quite what to call it, but they seem to be all over the place these days, a sort of not quite hospital, and not a nursing home, for people who are recovering from surgery.  They stay and have help to recover, lots of physical therapy, and so on.  One of my friends is recovering from a knee replacement, and so was there since the last week. 

I didn't visit long, because my friend was tired and another friend of hers came to visit.  As I was walking out by one of the lounge areas, I saw the TV.  President Obama was speaking, but of course the sound was off, and the scroll said something about the President speaking about Paris.  I felt that sort of sick when you know something bad has happened, but you really don't know. 

I turned on the news while I drove home, but NPR was doing some other report, and the drive was short, so it wasn't until I turned on the news at home that I found out.

I really have no idea.  I'm sad, but empty.  My facebook feed showed me a flashback of a picture I took just over a year ago in Versailles, but I didn't put it up.  I didn't change anything on my facebook.  I just don't feel like I can make a difference that way.  I don't know how I can make a difference.  Such violence is beyond my comprehension. 

The next day, I saw something in the news that used the word "massacre" and I thought of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, and I wondered if people in France think of that when they see the word "massacre" now?  Or has it lost that allusive sense for most people?

It's been a quiet weekend, without the usual drudge of trying to grade everything.  I've read in preparation for the coming week, prepped classes (I had prepped some on Friday, too).  I've mowed the lawn one last time, and done some of the fall garden clean up I need to do.  (I have plenty more left to do, but it's a good start.)  I visited with my friend, now moved on to her sister's home for further recovery (unfortunately, her sister lives 25 miles outside of town via rural roads, so it's not going to be easy to visit).  My friend's making a very good recovery, walking well, feeling good, and happy to be improving.

And now, I'm going to finish reading M. Butterfly again, and then take a shower and go to bed early.  Going to bed early is an amazing luxury sometimes.

And tomorrow morning, I get a new stack of projects to grade.

Counting tomorrow's stack, I have two big grading piles for each of my three courses over the next month.  In five or six weeks, the semester will be over, and all the grading must be finished.  EEP!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Rules for Blogging, Academically?

Someone linked to someone on my effbee feed an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education about three rules for blogging.  (Easy enough for you to find, should you choose to do so.)

The writer's first rule has to do with platform.  F platform.  If that's what you're all hot and bothered about, really, don't even bother.  There are a couple of easy platforms.  Choose one and start.

What he should have started with is "branding" or "marketing," since that's what he seems to think blogging's about. If you're blogging to market yourself as an academic, you better be damned good, because I don't see it working for many people that way.  (But maybe we aren't marketing ourselves properly?)

So, in contrast, here are my rules for blogging.

1.  Blogging is either a private journal or about community.  If it's a private journal, that's all well and good.  Enjoy.  But if it's about community, then make sure you join the community.  Put up a blog roll and include people you read, even if you don't always agree with them.  It's not that hard to do.  And comment on the blogs of people you read.  Encourage others, recognize their work, their good ideas, their contributions.  Learn from others.

--Don't be like the occasional creative writing student I've talked to who doesn't read anyone else's work, and isn't interested in anyone else's ideas, style, work.  But they think someone should read their work and laud it.

It's no accident, I think, that the blogging community that I see as most interesting is largely comprised of women, some of whom blog, some of whom comment but don't blog.  (If you have an urge to say "what about the menz!?!?!" right now, you should calm down.  I didn't say that no men ever were good community members.)

2.  Enjoy.  Life is too short to do something without a good reason; enjoyment is a good enough reason to blog.  If you don't enjoy it, find something else that you do enjoy. 

Thus endeth the rules of academic blogging.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Talk Amongst Yourselves

I really wish we lit folks here at NWU had more time and energy to talk about lit stuffs together.  We're an unwieldy group, a lot of us, spread all over lit, theory, and pop culture sorts of stuff, but I'd really like to know what sorts of assignments my colleagues assign at different levels, how we see our assignments building skills and knowledge (if we do), how much reading we think is reasonable for our students at different levels, how much time we expect our students to spend on our courses, and so on.

It's hard, also, I think, because we're often a bit defensive.  The older folks are worried that we're not cutting edge enough, not theoretical enough, or doing the "wrong" theory.  The younger folks are worried that the tenured folks will use information against them somehow.  And we're all a bit worried, maybe, that people will think we're not working hard enough.  (I think I've mentioned, critically, a colleague who decided to use multiple choice tests for her intro courses?)

And we're all feeling absolutely overworked and looking for ways to make things a bit easier.

How much do you communicate with colleagues in your field about work loads and assignments for students?  About managing your own work loads?

Is there a good way to facilitate this sort of discussion?

(I'm thinking of inviting my colleagues to my house for hot cocoa and cookies during the winter "break" period to talk about lit and share assignments and such.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Suggestions, Please!

Well, I've now tried this assignment I call an "article report" for two semesters.*  The first semester was an out and out experiment, and it sort of worked for some students, and not for others.  This semester, I'm just frustrated.  It's not working well for more students, and it's a pain to grade.

So I'm looking for suggestions.

What sorts of assignments do you give to junior level courses that don't have (m)any prerequisite requirements, but fulfill major requirements?

I teach lit courses.  Few if any of the students have had any early British lit, or early lit period, when they take the course.**  The majors have often had theory.  The junior level courses are basically umbrella type courses.

What I'm looking for are assignments that help students build towards writing lit type research papers, but that don't require those skills.  So, I'm looking to build skills in one or more areas: asking good research questions, finding and reading "secondary" sources well (lit crit work, theoretical work, historical work), finding and reading "primary" sources well (early modern, theoretical), writing arguments about texts.

I want students to think better about what they use as evidence and how they use it, especially.

So, what sorts of assignments do you give that will 1.  help students learn (some of) the skills to write real research papers, and 2.  not require much background in the field.

How much writing do you have students do at this level, realistically?  How much reading?

*  The "article report" asked them to read a "secondary" source carefully, paying attention to what it uses as evidence and how it uses the evidence.

** We have no "survey" sorts of courses/requirements.  We do have sophomore level courses that look part of a field, but they don't do survey sorts of stuff.  So, instead of Beowulf to Virginia Woolf in a year, our students may take one or two lower-level courses looking at Shakespeare, Women Writers, Asian American lit, 19th century British Novels, and so on.  They're way better experiences for instructors AND students than most big survey courses ever seem to be, but the downside is that our students have no sense of literary development and change over time, nor of historical change over time.  So they don't have a framework.  If I ask them what "Romanticism" is, they generally have no clue.  On the other hand, they don't start out hating Chaucer.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Budget Bust in Person

I went to the local hardware store.  It's one of those sort of hole in the wall hardware stores, run by an older guy who seems to know just about everything hardware related, and who seems to be a mentor to the usually high school kids working part-time.  It's a great store.  I usually get in there one a month, more or less, usually to pick up something smallish, garden gloves maybe, fertilizer, or, this time, a small metal file.

Because I had no idea where such files would be, I stopped at the checkout counter to ask.  But I was surprised to see one of our former adjuncts working the counter.  And having a problem with the register or something.  The older mentor guy was there, gently guiding him to figure out the problem, while another customer waited. 

The adjunct and I said hi, and I waited.  And then when he'd figured it out, we had a short chat.

This particular adjunct didn't get rehired some four or five years ago, I think because he just wasn't a great teacher, though he was always a nice person.  His partner was a significantly better teacher, a real go-getter, who wasn't rehired in the recent round of budget horrors.  The partner has, it seems, landed a decent job managing or training for a company that has some local truck stops. 

And this guy is working the checkout at a hardware store.  He's probably in his 50s, and seemed new at the hardware store, and seemed embarrassed that I'd come in while he was having difficulty with the register.

And I was embarrassed because I still have a job at NWU, and those two don't.  It's not like I think I could have done anything to keep them both hired, but I still felt embarrassed.

Curricular Dance, Part 2

I met with a deanling yesterday about the curricular dance of getting some of an interdisciplinary program's courses to count for a requirement in her college.  (Here's the first post.)

Can I just say, some deanlings are wonderful.  This one is.  She basically said, yes, let me know, I'll add them to the list.  Glad to have them, makes totally sense for our students to take those courses!

She also gave me some helpful insight into the new general education requirements and how different departments are suddenly working to fit stuff in.  The fact that the stuff people are fitting has nothing to do with the original intent of the requirement, well, that doesn't matter.  We can't afford the original intent and don't want to put resources there (and don't have any spare resources), so it's pretty much out.  And you can't step this back, I don't think.

Cynical much?  Around here, so very.