Friday, January 30, 2009

The Week that Was

It's 7:30pm. You know how when you're a kid, it's all about staying up late? I'm thinking about going to bed. Now.

What a week. It started off with first days of classes. My students seem like a good bunch, interested, willing to contribute in class stuff, and when they do, they say smart, interesting, engaged stuff.

I also closed on refinancing my house. It was all very smooth and pleasant, but it's still stressful signing a bazillion papers, and hoping none of them say in the small print that I want to be a sex slave to some straight guy with patriarchal tendencies. The bank owns a good portion of my house, but they never mow or vaccuum. On the other hand, they don't insist on quartering a bank clerk with me, so I think I'll just shush and mosey on.

Tuesday started with a colleague leaning on my office door jamb, venting a bit about how unfair some things are. Yes, these things are, indeed, unfair. But in the bigger picture, we're all screwed, so this minor unfairness seems minor right now. I told her I didn't have the energy to fight the fight she wants to fight. It's understandable that she wants to vent, and I'm fine with that.

Later in the day, I went to a meeting where our headmaster talked about the budget. It's not pretty, not in any way. I'm usually a cold-hearted meanie-head when it comes to administrators, but I felt sorry for the guy. It's like, he came here a couple years ago all eager to do a really good job and make this an even better school than it is, and he keeps getting pounded in new ways by a hugely metaphorical boxer.

First there's the big THING that all the campuses that wanted to get in on were supposed to get in on by sending a plan. The plan was due about three weeks after he got to campus, and no one mentioned it to him until the week before it was due. So now all the campuses that got in on the ground floor are getting some cool opportunities, and we're not, and he knows he's responsible in some peoples' minds, and he has to deal with the results even if he's not responsible.

Then there's the budget, which was bad, and over the past several years has gone from bad to worse, and now looks like it will go from worse to dismal. It's "unfair" if that has any meeting, and it's going to get worse. And we will either deal with it, and muddle through, or we'll individually decide to quit and do something else somewhere else.

So there we were at a meeting, and there's not much we can do about the budget from where we sit (as faculty members and such). What we need is an anti-Reagan movement to argue publicly and convincingly that education, roads, healthcare and such are all public goods, and that if we take good care of each other, we'll all benefit.

It was a nearly two hour meeting of bad news followed by terrible news.

On Wednesday, the governor added his bit to the bad news. He looks like he's been worked over by the same metaphorical boxer that has been hitting our headmaster. But only after I'd been worked over by my three classes. They were fine, but tiring.

For some reason, my first year writing class students seem especially anxious. It's like they don't trust professors, and don't have confidence in the system, and so they want to ask questions that seem unnecessary to me. But I'm trying to answer them well. I don't trust some folks (administrators, for example) easily, because I've learned not to, and I'm guessing my students are feeling that they've learned not to trust professors. So I have to earn at least their respect, and if I'm lucky, I'll earn a degree of trust. But the process is tiring.

Thursday was my dream day. My friend and I went skiing in the afternoon; it was sunny, and not too cold, and we went out to a part of the bike trail just outside of town. It had snowed a little, maybe an inch, so there was freshness to the bike trail's packed snow. We worried in the car about snow-mobiles coming out of nowhere to smack us, but quickly realized that we'd hear a snow-mobile a long ways off. It was beautiful, near one of the rivers and a small lake thingy covered in snow. And quiet, and my friend is such good company. When I get cranky about the snow and the cold, I need to remember what a good day this was.

We skied for an hour solid. Out the trail and then back. And it was good. And it was tiring. (I think a good skier who's in skiing shape can probably go an hour like I do on a bike, at a nice clip but not racing or anything, without it being exhausting, but I'm still such a beginner and not in good skiing shape, that it's tiring.)

Then I stayed up late prepping for this morning's classes. I'm just not as comfy and at ease teaching REALLY old dead Greek guys as I am with my not quite as really old dead English guys, so it takes a lot more focused preparation. Thank goodness I took good teaching notes and planned well last time.

And today. Two hours of meetings scheduled, which turned into more like three. Early in the week, I really tried to get out of the first meeting, but there I was, slogging through it. We talked about subject A, which isn't really anything I have much to add to. I was asked to be there about subjects B and C, which will soon involve project D, a project I'd estimate will take 20 or so solid hours of hard work, and which I'm not really focused on or committed to (and which, in fact, I think is a problem).

And at the end, having not at all really talked about B and C, the chair of the meeting wound things up, offering to summarize two or three points, and then turned to me and asked if I'd do project D.

"No," I said. And there was silence. We don't often say "no" to an open request around here.

I explained that I'm teaching a class I haven't taught in nearly ten years, and that I'm overwhelmed with other committee work, and I just don't have the time or energy.

The chair thanked me for my "candor," but I'm sure she was shocked and frustrated.

Later, one of the other people in the meeting told me that he was totally shocked that I said no, and that the silence was, well, very loud. I'm sure there will be a downside, but more relieved that I didn't accept this extra project.

The final meeting was okay. There are four of us on the committee, but one is just too effing important to come and actually do any work. He turned up an hour and fifteen minutes late, and then played with his electronic phone toy thingy. The other person we needed to consult kept coming in and going back to his office to consult his schedule. I just wanted to say, either put it on your effing computer and print it out, or just get a little book and bring it in here, or get a phone toy thingy and put it on there. But if keep having to go check for every single time we might possibly ask you to do your job about this task, it's going to make me crazy!

[Liveblogging: my friend called! Hold on a sec.

Okay, I'm back.]

And yet the nadir of the day came when I'd asked my writing students if they had any questions about what we did at our last meetings (none of them did), and then asked them to get out a paper for a quiz. Immediately, a couple complained that I didn't put a reading on the syllabus! So I tried to explain that I wasn't trying to trick them, and that they'd had an opportunity to ask about things from the meeting before, and that the quiz wasn't on some hidden reading. It was on two basic definitions we'd talked about in our last meeting, two definitions so important to a writing class that they need to know them in their bones (and the quiz was open notes, so if they paid attention and took notes, they should do great!). But boy, did that distrust come out in a big way.

On the other hand, the high point of the day was starting to teach scansion and poetry reading. We played with scanning names, which is always fun, and the students were willing to get up and write their scansions on the board to share.

Now it's after 8pm, and I'm going to bed. Tomorrow is a new week, right? The meetings will all be positive, useful, and productive! My anxious students will get some successful quizzes back and relax a little! My poetry students will continue to participate actively, as will my drama students! No one will want to vent at me!

And the weather just MAY get above 30F for the first time in a MONTH!


  1. Yes, yes and yes: the week that was my week, too. My students are lovely but demanding; the meetings are driving me nuts; and I'm dredging up the nerve to speak up in meetings despite my untenured status. Thank goodness for a weekend to reset!

  2. Your paragraph about refinancing CRACKED ME UP. I love your writing style.

    On a more serious note, we, too, are dealing with the budget cuts from hell. I kind of ache for the guy who has to give us regular updates on how bad things are getting, because he also started here just a few years ago. He hates telling us the bad news just as much as we hate to hear it.

    The old Greek and Middle Ages guys are really hard for me to teach, too. I think it's because in my field, we know so little about their personal lives. (Most of our Really Old Guys* are named "Anonymous.") Once we get to material with Not So Old Guys, about whose lives we have some details, the materials sort of "live" a little more for me. Even if the guys were crazy patriarchal asses, at least I can tell my students that. Somehow it makes the music more real to me.

    *Yes, scholars still assume that the Anonymous Old Guys are mostly males, except for Hildegard.