Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dear First Year Students

There are a few things I'd like to mention, now that we've gotten to know each other a bit.

First, if you took a course in high school and vaguely remember it, you can't rely on your memory to write a college paper. You actually need to know your shit before you think you're an expert, and one high school class doesn't make you an expert. Seriously, don't tell me you're going to write a paper on, for example, what your high school teacher said about Macbeth. You need to think and know things yourself. Welcome to college.

Second, don't stick that late journal into the stack of journals due today that I collected today. I've graded and handed back that earlier journal, and the syllabus says clearly that I don't accept late journals. It's rude to stick your late paper in there and pretend I've screwed up or won't notice. Grow up. No, you aren't getting credit. Welcome to college.

Third, it's okay to mess up. If the worst thing that happens to you is getting an F on a paper in this course, you should celebrate. It's not, as one of my friends would say, a dead baby in the emergency room. And that goes doubly for this paper, because you'll have an opportunity to revise for a better grade. I know it's scary. Welcome to life. In my experience, life gets scarier the more I experience and know about it.

Finally, it's okay to be overwhelmed with everything and to cry in my office. You aren't the first, and you won't be the last, and it's okay. I do hope you'll take good care of yourself and feel better. But it's okay. To a certain extent, being overwhelmed at times means you're doing college right. You have to learn to balance the overwhelmedness out a bit, but you'll learn to do that.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Mine's doing pretty well in late flowers right now. Here's the last of the daisies. In the next week or so, I expect to cut these back and dig some up to transplant to different areas of the yard.

I have a bunch of different sorts of sedum or stonecrops. And the big ones are flowering now. There are several different colors blooming now, little tiny flowers in big clumps nearly the size of my fist.

Here's another sedum.

I have a shade area under my deck where during the early summer, my bleeding heart flowers. Right now, there's a really fragrant astilbe (I think). This is the first year it's really getting much in the way of flowers, so I'm hoping it will keep growing and have even more next year.

And finally, the hawthorne berries are bright against the fall sky! In mid summer, this has small pink flowers. And now berries. I don't know if the birds are eating them; I haven't been home much during the day to notice.

Here's a worrisome one, though. These are some bulbs that seem a bit confused. I'm hoping they'll survive the winter even though they're acting surprisingly springlike right now. (I'm pretty sure these are some of the hyacinths I put in last fall and had pictures of here earlier in the spring.)

The Book Rep

I understand why book reps come around. They're trying to sell their texts, especially (for English departments) composition textbooks.

I have a stack of said textbooks on the windowsill in my office. Publishers send them, and when I have time, I take a look, or a friend makes a suggestion and I take a special look, and then I choose a text. Right now, I'm using Graff and Birkenstein's They Say / I Say for my writing class, along with a non-fiction text and some excerpts from education writers. I have no objection to a textbook per se, but I'm not feeling any rush to change.

Today, a rep came by while I was trying to figure something out, and stood in my doorway asking me about my text preferences and what I teach and so on. I told her that I'm using the G&B, and it works well for me. And I told her that I'm too busy to chat right now (yes, I realize that I'm not too busy to write a quick post). And she kept going. Did I want to see the text her company thinks competes with G&B? She said the title, and I picked it up from the windowsill. I haven't had time to look at it. She finally gave up on me.

Frankly, in the early days of the semester, I don't have time to look at new composition texts. I'm trying to read up on the Ottoman empire, prepping a presentation for undergrads on grad schools, reading a thesis, grading, a hundred other things.

Then she came back and started rhapsodizing about how she went to school here. At some point she mentioned her breeding status. Seriously, I do not have time to talk about your breeding status. I hope you're well in a generalized way, as I hope for pretty much everyone, but I do not care.

Now, maybe if she were hawking some hot Shakespeare texts, I'd be more patient. ("Hawking" and "hot" have the same vowel sound for me, so that works in a sort of repetition way. If it doesn't for you, sorry.)

Now I'm off to eat quickly before I go give what I hope is very few undergrads the bad news about grad school.

I'm armed with ADE data and a little bit from the JIL and the new rankings from the Chron. And two of my colleagues from more hopeful fields will come help with questions, too.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In Which I Have Turned Curmudgeon

I'm putting together a presentation for students who are interested in going to grad school, so I've done some basic prep work, including looking at the JIL and talking to some folks, including folks who are currently in grad programs.

The current grad students seem cool and interesting, but at least one is doing a dissertation on "imaginary monsterish being through literary history." You can guess which imaginary monsterish being. The project sounds interesting; it's not that it's a stupid project or anything.

But, when I look at the JIL, I can't quite see where this grad student's going to apply with real success. There are a jobs in traditional fields, Shakespeare, medieval, blah blah. And there are jobs in really new areas, digital humanities and such. But with the exception of a few really small SLACs that want one person to cover most of literature, I'm not seeing jobs where I would be convinced that someone working on a trans-historical, several centuries of lit sort of project in multiple cultures would be the most convincing candidate.

If we want to hire someone, say, in adolescent lit, which would fit some of the works in the grad student's IMBTLH, there are going to be 20 candidates who are much more thoroughly grounded in adolescent lit as a discipline. And if I'm looking for someone to teach Victorian lit, or film, or whatever, there will be many candidates who are centered in those fields more deeply.

I didn't say anything. It's not my place, because it's not like I teach in this grad student's program, and who am I to say. In a few years, there may be jobs begging for people who teach just what the student is working on.

It's sort of like the problem with inter-disciplinary work. Administrations say they really, really want classes taught that are cross- or inter- or multi-disciplinary. But when push comes to shove, most schools have fairly traditional departments, and those departments still want someone to teach disciplinary courses because our disciplines do matter to us. (Just ask any real psych person what they think of English people who teach Freud as psych. Or ask any real historian what they think of English lit folks who love Foucault as a historian.)

At some point it's bound to change, and there will be more places such as Cal State Monterey Bay, but even CSMB looks more traditional now than it did when they first started.

Okay, and while I'm at it, one course in a sub-field does not actually qualify you to teach that sub-field if there are whole degrees offered in that sub-field with lots of specialized courses.


And since I'm on a curmudgeonly path today, can I say that I'm really unhappy about some of the programs I'm seeing proposed at my school and elsewhere? I am. I was in a meeting the other day where some faculty and administrators proposed setting up a degree that I've never heard of. But, they said, it's very popular with this specific population when they google! And, they said, this population has money to pay for college, and if we don't offer this degree, they'll go to [private, for profit corporate school]. And, they said, the state wants us to do this! This population's members already have jobs, but they need a degree, and no one really cares what that degree is, because it doesn't matter. They just need some initials after their names.

So I googled. On the first couple of pages I looked at, pretty much every link but one is to a for profit. And the other is to a school we'd never consider in our peer group.

Why, some of us asked, wouldn't this program be part of X, which already exists? Why a new degree, why not a BA/BS in this field?

The non-answers, though implied: if it were in X, then the students would have to take a bunch of hard X type classes, and they wouldn't be able to finish up and give us our money and such. And if we do a traditional BA/BS program, then the students would either have to take a year of foreign language, or additional math, and that would be TOO HARD!

I think we're cheapening our degree, and it's already pretty low in terms of cultural capital. And instead of really addressing what the state needs, which is an educated populace, we're addressing what the state can measure, which is the number of adults with degrees.

But, they say, you can't guarantee that anyone who graduates actually is educated, so why should we even try to make that an issue with this degree?

And so, I was one of a rare no vote contingent. This is the second program in a couple years that we've put in place to make things as easy as possible for the most marginal students.

We'll take their money and give them meaningless initials and they won't know any better. But we should know better.

Of course, the folks on this committee who voted yes would say that I'm totally wrong and that we're offering these potential students a high quality educational experience and a meaningful university degree. And, on some level, I have to trust that they really are right and I really am wrong. Or at least, I have to act like I believe that's so.

Monday, September 27, 2010


We're coming up on that most exciting, most anticipated of all academic holy-days! For those of you not academics, you've probably not heard of this special day. For those of you paid on a 12 month schedule, you've perhaps heard of it, but aren't anticipating it with quite the gusto that those of us paid on a 9 month schedule do.

I'm speaking, of course, of the Festival of OctoberCheck!


The very word stirs the heart of ramen-hating grad students, adjuncts, and faculty everywhere!


It means not paying the rent or mortgage out of savings for a while!


Even those of us who've been at it a while and are good at budgeting for the summer breath a sigh of relief!

When I got my first tt job, after adjuncting for a year, I went from a final July 1st paycheck (the schoolyear ended in June there) to moving (expenses would be paid once I got there), first and last month's rent (way cheaper than where I had been living), and waited with much anticipation for my first paycheck. We started in August, and by some miracle of kindness, the school's HR guy figured out a way to give all the new faculty (there were 7 that year) a half a paycheck on September 1 to tide us over. It was lifesaving for most of us. (That school paid a 12 month schedule, so it was a big thing for them to realize we new folks were in dire straits.)

When I moved here, I at least had managed to save a buffer. But then I needed to learn that to make it through summer without too much stress, I had to save one third of each paycheck I got through the 9 month academic year. My bank's tellers think I'm crazy because I have three months of living expenses in my checking account in June; some teller is always suggesting that I use it to buy a 6 month CD or something. But about now, I'm happily anticipating OctoberCheck with the rest of my coworkers!

Shout it with me, friends, OctoberCheck! OctoberCheck is almost here!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Weekend TV

I chanced upon a TV show about hoarding this weekend.

Now I'm looking suspiciously at some piles of books and papers in my house.

The patience of the people who are helping the hoarders is amazing.

I'm pretty much a slob. My Mom tried and tried and tried to teach me otherwise, and now that I'm an adult, she seems to have mostly succeeded because I'm way less of a slob than I was as a kid. (I suppose that's pretty common.)

But I wonder if she saw that program, if she'd remember the years of yelling at me about how messy my room was and couldn't I just put things away. She tried again and again to help me organize my room and keep it neat. Yet another reason to feel sorry for my Mom having me to deal with as a teen.

But then, of course, she'd be reminded of the many times she tried to get me to turn off the TV and do my homework or something. I was a trial. (Yes, probably I still am.)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Catching Up

I've got minimal grading this weekend, but a ton of reading and prep to do.

And a bunch of gardening, which I should do now, while it's not raining. It's been raining steadily for a couple of days, and there's flooding in lower areas of town. I, on the other hand, live at the top of a hill of what a gardening friend calls "scree," which is basically loose and not so loose rock, so I'm not only not flooding, but if I went out to dig right now, the soil wouldn't be more than moderately damp. It drains that fast.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine told me about his/her blog, and I've been slowly reading to catch up on it. S/he's been writing for a while, and it's especially cool because it sounds exactly like his/her voice. I can sort of hear my friend speaking what I'm reading. I love that.

But I keep wanting to comment on blog posts that are over a year old still, and that feels a little silly to me. So I don't. But I want to, and I feel sort of bad that I'm not.

It's especially cool though because we'd sort of been out of touch in the way that happens when people get jobs half-way across the country and move here and there. You meet someone in grad school and you like them a lot, but somehow it's hard to keep up. And now I'm catching up on my friend's life, learning about my friend's job stuff, family, all that good stuff.

I'm especially happy that some of the people I really liked in grad school blog, because I still get a sense of knowing them and having the pleasure of that, and I also get a sense of how our lives change all the time, mostly, I'm glad to say, for the better.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Yesterday, our chair sent me a thing from admissions asking departments to help with several big advising days. The idea is to bring lots of prospective students to campus on these days and departments will allow some class visits, have demonstrations, whatever. (Science departments have a huge advantage with the demonstrations thing. I can't blow stuff up the way chemists can! It's hard to make reading in a library look as exciting, even when it really is.)

So, I did a little brainstorming with a colleague and sent out a request to colleagues and student groups for help with class visits, faculty open office times, and student groups.

I've got something cool for every single day already, and we haven't even gotten to lunch.

Yep, our department folks and students jumped right in and offered to help in little ways, and those little ways really add up beautifully. Yesterday, I was doubtful we'd manage to put anything together. Today, I'm just hoping a lot of students show up who are interested in English studies!


I'm doing a presentation for our majors in about a month, and asked our main administrative assistant to put together a little poster thing for advertising. Yesterday, she asked me to drop by her desk, and then showed me an absolutly beautiful little poster she'd mocked up. It's clear and easy to read, and manages to be eye catching at the same time.

Yep, once again, she stepped up and is going to make me look oh so much better than I'd ever do myself.

Thank goodness for my colleagues and students and their willingness to help out.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Administrative Scheduling?

In my Big Cheese capacity, I got an email from some administrative folks asking me to schedule some times to do some repetitive (and necessary tasks). The times they gave me were pretty much all MWF at the same two hour slot. Unfortunately, that's a two hour slot that's taken up for me by teaching, pretty much, and regularly scheduled meetings on Fridays.

So, perhaps they've asked me to meet with them to do X task and they give me potential time slots to choose from: MWF 8-10. But I teach in there. And pretty much, if someone at my school teaches Monday at 8, they also teach W and F at 8. That's just the way teaching schedules tend to work around here.

This seems to happen pretty regularly with some administrative folks. They set up a schedule, and do it so if I'm teaching a class on one day, I'm also teaching that same class on the next possible day.

In a way, this is like the office hour problem. If I set up office hours after my course X, say Tuesday and Thursday from 10-11:30, then I'm going to need to make appointments with students who have classes then. So I usually vary my office hours to hit different sorts of schedules. I still have to make appointments, of course, and am happy to make appointments. But I don't imagine that students are suddenly not going to have their regular Tuesday/Thursday course just so they can come to my office hours.

My initial response is to think naughty things about administrators and how they don't remember that teaching students is our primary job, and how class scheduling generally works, and don't take that into account.

But upon a bit of reflection, I realize that I have no clue, none at all, about how administrators fill their time. I guess I assume they have some set meetings. I'm in a set meeting once a week where one administrator regularly comes. I've been on other committees (and in faculty governance work) where administrators pretty much always were at our set meetings, every week. I'm guessing there are a fair number of meetings with other administrators, either regular, set meetings, or meetings scheduled more on the fly to deal with an issue or problem.

And then I'm guessing there's endless paperwork.

So, folks, how do administrators fill their schedules? Let's assume for a moment that they're neither stupid nor insensitive to the lives of instructors. Why do they put all the potential meetings at the same time on days when instructors are likely to be teaching a given class?

Blogger's Spam Thing?

I've been noticing recently that I get emails from blogger that there's a new comment on a post, but if the comment is one of those spam link to something stupid comments, it doesn't actually appear on the blog.

So, say someone writes a comment inviting people to visit a commercial site for plagiarized papers. I'll get an email of that comment (I get emails of all the comments), but the comment doesn't actually appear in the comments.

Are other people noticing that?

(I used to go in and delete spammy comments, but this is nice!)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chariot of Glowing Ember

I played outside for 1.6 miles today in my fancy pants shoes.

It's the furthest I've run at one go since I was in my early 20s. And it's halfway to a my 5K goal. Say it with me, "Five K by May!" (Actually, I think a friend and I are aiming for a fun run in March, but that doesn't rhyme.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bureaucracy at its Finest

I just sent an email from my position on a departmental "committee to do Y" to the Dean asking the Dean to officially notify the department that we need to do Y. We apparently need official deanly notice or we will be out of order. But the Dean, despite knowing that we need deanly notice, hasn't notified us, so we need to notify him to notify us.

That's two minutes of my life I'll never get back.

Happy Dance

You know those pictures Charles Schultz did of Snoopy dancing around, nose in the air, full of joy.

Imagine me, mentally doing the happy dance.

I got the final signature, and now I'm officially going to teach abroad in England!

I've never been to England. And now I'm going! And I'm going to stay and teach there for a term.

And I'm VERY excited! I've been waiting on this signature, trying not to put too much hope in things working out, but sort of holding my mental breath. And now I get to breathe again!


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Workin' on the Weekend

There's little so luxurious as being able to sleep in. For me, it's best when I wake up at the usual time (as I did today), and then relax back to sleep for a while. I always sleep especially well during that hour or so. And it felt so good today.

While I was making my breakfast, I saw a couple of Northern Flickers outside my kitchen window, foraging on the lawn. I couldn't tell what they were at first, because foraging on the lawn just wasn't the context I was expecting, but there they were. I've seen Flickers before, but never this close, and never foraging on the ground or in my own yard. It was a good start to the day.

Then I did some chores and ran errands, including buying six or so bags of new bulbs.

I dug out two of the three clumps of German Bearded Iris and split them up. Then I replanted and planted a couple rhizomes in new places. I've got more to share with friends and neighbors, too. The clumps were way too overgrown; I should have split them a couple years ago, I bet. But hopefully, they'll be fine.

Where I dug then out, I'm going to surround the new little ones with some bulbs. It will work for a couple of years, I suspect. I also weeded a hunk of the back yard, so I should be able to take a couple of hours and put bone meal and bunches of bulbs in. Then I can look forward to the spring.

I've got another clump of German Irises to dig, and Siberian Irises, and Daisies, but I suspect those will wait happily for next week.

And now I'm tuckered. It's not even 7pm, and I'm thinking how nice my bed will feel.

I just ate dinner, and the food tasted so good in that way it does when you're tired and hungry and dinner isn't that hard to make.

I should grade, but I don't think I will this evening.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Taken Aback

One of my students said today, aloud, in front of a whole class (we were just about to leave, and someone had asked me about my other class, and the student's comment came as a response to my answer): "[Ethnic group] are liars."

Holy Cow. I was taken aback.

And then I told the student that big generalizations like that were inappropriate. But not in any sort of brilliant or stunning way. Alas.

My students usually try not to be racist. They don't generally want to be racist. Sometimes they're insensitive, and sometimes they're closed-minded. But they really don't WANT to be racists. That's one of the things that makes them wonderful to work with.

I think I need to talk to the student about how that comment sounds racist, and how s/he might want to think about people of [Ethnic group] who might be in the room.

Dear Students

Is it really so difficult to remember not to double-side formal papers after we talked about why yesterday?

Is it so difficult to remember not to italicize or use quotation marks for you own title?

4/15 first papers read and graded.

So far, some students have no sense of paragraphing. Some have no sense of making a point. Some have no sense of focus.

And that's why they're in Bardiac's Bootcamp.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Q. How many deans does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

At most schools: A. Call maintenance!

At NWU: A. OMG, we need to hire a new dean and put him in charge of lightbulb supervision and management. He'll need a team of lightbulb orderers and installers to supervise, too. Maybe we need a deanling under him to handle disposing of dead lightbulbs?

And most of all, we need a really good acronym for the committee that will assess lightbulbs and undergraduate education outcomes!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On the Edge

Working on my IRB stuff today, I was on the verge of either crying or smashing something.

In order to do my IRB, I need to fill out about 5 things from the IRB web site. I filled out the hardest one before with no problem, but was working on others today. At least that was the idea. The first one seemed to work fine. I pulled it up from the site and saved it to my place, then I filled it in and resaved it. Slow, but fine.

Then I tried another. And my browser crashed. I thought, hey, that's weird, and tried again, and the browser crashed. I tried a different one, and the browser crashed.

So I went to the department office and borrowed the student workers' computer for a bit, was able to open it, and emailed it to myself. Except it didn't email.

That's when I got to the edge and wanted to either cry or smash something.

So then I sent our wonderful admin assistant and asked her to upload the one I needed and email it to me. And she did. (Have I mentioned lately how grateful I am that I work with our admin assistants? They just are so helpful and kind and all things good for our office.)

So I worked on that. And tried another with no luck. So I emailed her again.

And while I waited, I called our help desk for help.

The help desk is usually pretty helpful. They don't act like we're all idiots or anything. I had about 20 minutes before I needed to head out to meet a friend.

So the help desk person walked me through trying to clean up the browser. And I did that, but it didn't make the things open up.

Then he thought I should try Mozilla, but even though I've used it before, it wouldn't work.

Then he took over my computer to see what was up. I'm totally blown away by the technology that allows someone else to control my computer. It's sort of scary, but there are a couple of times when I have to click on my computer that it's okay for the help desk person to take over.

My 20 minutes were almost up and I needed to use the restroom.

So he tried to click the thing, and got a different error message about the not opening it.

And then he did the big hesitation thing. Yep, my computer stumped him. And he said it wasn't going to be quick to fix, but he'd write up a ticket for me.

He offered to load yet a different browser, but I stopped him because I had what I absolutely needed from my admin assitant, and didn't have time to mess around with a new program.

And that was that. At some point, hopefully, someone will come fix my computer. It's been buggy since it came to live in my office, replacing a perfectly good, unbuggy computer because of the replacement cycle.

And I left. And that was good.

The thing is, there's really no reason I should feel quite so upset just because my computer wouldn't work. It's not like anyone is going to suffer a huge tragedy because I didn't get my IRB done this afternoon. It's pretty close to done, and should be done by tomorrow.

But I just get to a certain point, and then I'm on the edge.

I don't think it's ever happened while I was teaching, but maybe that's just luck.

And I shouldn't be so stressed already this semester that I'm edgy already. Computer problems frustrate me very quickly compared to most sorts of things; so do car problems. I think it has to do with my sense of having no control at all of the machinery.

I did go meet a friend and had a good bike ride. It was good to ride, though we didn't go far or fast. Yesterday I played outside for about a mile and a quarter without stopping. So that's going well.

But when I got home, I sort of put two and two together: I think I've got a cold. I felt worn yesterday, and went to bed early. And tonight, it's not even 8pm, and I'm about to head to a warm bath and bed. And I've got the chills, though I'm in nice warm sweats in a warm place.

I'm hoping it's just the cold that has me feeling so edgy. I hate having a cold, but it's WAY better than lots of alternatives, right?

Off to bed. Hoping for less stress and better computing luck tomorrow.

Creative Procrastination

From my writing class, I have to grade:

half a set of journals on their goals...DONE!
a set of quizzes on a reading...DONE!
a set of journals on Postsecret...DONE!

I also need to finish my IRB stuffs.

I have been at work over an hour and a half now, and I've worked out two advising things, looked at some blogs, checked email, and not done one iota of grading.

It's like weeding: I can accomplish a lot in an hour if I just do it, but getting myself to just do it is tough some days.

But I have to do that because a lot of other stuff is going to come roaring in during the next couple of weeks.


Edited to update: I've now done the grading and some other little teaching chores. Now lunch, and then to tackle the IRB.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Blown Syllabus

I had my second day of my seminar today, and it looks like I've already totally blown the syllabus.

We were supposed to begin discussing Selimus. We discussed... the title pages from the 1594 and 1630s printings, and the look of the first pages (look, ma, no character list! no setting information, no Act/scene demarkations).

And we started in on the prologue, which is a sonnet.

The play has 29 scenes, and we didn't even look at scene 1.

The play has a bloodbath of violent murders, and we didn't get beyond the three mentioned in the prologue.

We did set up the early modern theater a bit, so it wasn't like we were just twiddling our thumbs. But still, there's murder and mayhem, and we hardly got started on it.

The good news: I'm pretty much prepped for the next part of our discussion (the opening scene, because I want them to think about some stage convention stuff, and it starts with a soliloquy). And then we'll start talking about some specific passages and get into the real fun.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Chores

I've hardboiled some eggs for the coming week.

I need to make some other lunch food, too. But to do that, I need to go to the grocery store.

I need to make some oatmeal (I got steel cut oats last time, and tend to make up a container for a few days ahead so I can just pop some in the microwave in the morning and it's done quickly.)

I need to read a play, grade some journals, prep a class, read part of a book, blah blah.

I need to weed the garden (which I started for a bit yesterday), do some fall clean up and transplanting, dig up the irises and split them for other folks, get and plant some more bulbs, and so forth. (Most of this won't actually get done this weekend, but I need to make some progress.)

A while back, one of my grad school friends published a book of poetry. I finally ordered a copy which came yesterday in the mail. So I want to read that. I'm teaching poetry next semester, so maybe I can put one or two of my friend's poems in there. How cool would that be!

I need to do some laundry, and actually hang up clothes so that they aren't totally wrinkly when I decide to wear them to work.

So, of course, instead of doing all the things that really do need doing, I updated my blogroll. If you'd like to be there and aren't, please let me know. (I suppose if you're there and don't want to be, you can let me know, too.)

I took down links to some blogs that have been retired. That makes me sort of sad, especially when it's a blog I like and tended to click the link to check every so often.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Usual Confusion

I do this all the time: I'll wake up in the middle of the night, look at my clock (which means I pick it up and put it about six inches from my face), and then panic because it says X, where X is a time shortly before or after I'm supposed to be somewhere. And then I cuss up a storm, jump up, run to the bathroom, brush my teeth, and somewhere along the way become aware that it's dark outside. Then I recheck the clock, and the X is 12 hours ahead of the X I thought it was.

I did it last night. I was supposed to meet a couple of friends for lunch today at 12:15pm. I woke up, saw on the clock that it was 12:20, and reached for my phone to call one to say I was on my way. Fortunately, the phone has "am" clearly on it, where I'm bound to see it if I look closely enough to dial. So I didn't actually call either of my friends in the middle of the night.

I don't know why it takes me so long to figure out the time. I don't see well, and I don't have my contacts in during the night, but the window's big and it's pretty obvious if it's dark, but it takes me a lot longer to process than you might think.

The upside is that I'm rarely late for stuff if it's on my mental radar. It's getting things onto the radar that's sometimes hard.

But lunch was lovely today, the food and the company both wonderful.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Stepping Up

The class that had difficulty with Freire yesterday, some of whom sort of gave up because he was too hard, stepped up today to have a great discussion of William Perry's work (a short selection) on intellectual development.

I think Paulo taught them something yesterday :)

Go students!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Explain How This Works Again, Please?

Here's a picture of my desk, cleaned off:

And here's a redacted copy of an email I got from the campus technology folks earlier today:

To use your phone to access your e-mail, calendar, and contacts, call your [Special Email etc Combo Program we've paid big bucks for] Voice Access number and enter your PIN at the prompt.
Your access number(s): [some numbers]
Your number: [some numbers]
Your PIN: [some numbers]

Your [North Woods University] voicemail account is now enabled. You can access your voicemail account by dialing the "Access Number" listed above. More help instructions can be found online at [a URL].

Can you guess the problem?

How Quickly I Forget

I assigned a short passage from Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed for my first year writing class; it's the section on the banking concept of education and why it's less than ideal. (A lot less.)

And then I was stupidly shocked when some of them complained about how hard it was, and how they didn't understand it, and what were they supposed to do if they didn't understand Latin.

Seriously, I don't know where my brain was when I was reading it, but I didn't register it as something that would cause great difficulty. And I was wrong.

But, it was the perfect piece in a way, because he's all about students not being passive, but really coming to contribute, and so we talked about teachers being responsible for listening and learning, and students being responsible for speaking and teaching, too.

Interestingly, some students made a clear connection between the banking concept and the "No Child Left Behind" testing that they were put through. Coolness.

So, students, if you don't want to be oppressed, get active and take responsibility. And teachers, don't just imagine that you're the font of knowledge, pouring it into your poor students' heads and then hoping they'll spit it forth during a test.

And we talked about how scary it is to give up power, and how it's sometimes also scary to take power because it also means taking responsibility.

What could have been just misery turned into a pretty good discussion. Thanks, Professor Freire!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Playing Outside

I played outside for a full mile today. It's probably the first time since my early 20s that I've "run" a mile at a go. And it was fun, and my toes were very happy.

Committee Fantasy

Here's my fantasy.

Someday, I'll be arranging a committee meeting, and it won't take 32 emails.

I'm especially tired of trying to negotiate the folks who teach all day Tuesdays and Thursdays, and don't want to come in on MWF, and vice versa. Then there's the person who has to take a kid to school after 8am, and pick him/her up by 3:30 on the days s/he's not teaching all day (because the partner does the other days). And the person who's administrative job takes up 40% of the time, but doesn't show on course schedules, so the planner doesn't know until after the third email.

Nerves Before Class

In about 15 minutes, I meet with one of my classes for the first time this semester. I have butterflies, nerves, you name it.

It's exciting. And terrifying.

I bet if I put on the heart monitor I used to entertain myself while running or biking, I'd be pretty high on the heart rate, at least for the first 10 minutes.

I worry about silly stuff before class: what if they hate me. What if they syllabus doesn't make sense. What if it's a Calculus class? (Okay, not really that worry any more.)

If I go early, I see that the students, especially first years, are worried, too. What if the professor is mean, or hard to understand, or crazed? They have a lot more to worry about from me, I'm afraid, than I do from them.

And after ten minutes, I'll calm down. Maybe there will be a familiar face, someone who smiles or nods in a way that says "this sounds interesting!"

And now, I'm off. One of these days, I really should wear a heart monitor to class, just to see how it looks at the end of the hour.

Wish me good class karma!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Time to Worry

I have a student whose surname is, say, Camus. Or Sartre. You get the idea.

And this student seems to be caught up in a beaurocratic neverplace, waiting for some word that seems to have been lost.

It seems almost inevitable, doesn't it? I didn't want to say anything, because I'm sure someone has already made endless tasteless comments about an inability to exit or caught up in endless absurdities.

The good thing so far about my cheesiness is that I may have actually solved a tiny part of the neverplaceness.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

The FiveFingers Question

Fie Upon this Quiet Life was kind enough to ask about the FiveFingers thingies and running.

Believe it or not, the FiveFingers are intended for running (and other outdoorsy pursuits, but mostly running). The soles are moderately soft, so it's like wearing good gloves. You can feel what is underfoot, but little glass or whatever won't cut your foot. I have pretty whussy feet, so if I run on sharp rocks in them, I know it. But over little twigs and pine needles and smaller gravel, I just know that it feels fun.

The idea behind the FiveFingers (it seems wrong to call them shoes) is that people evolved running barefoot, and when you look at the way people run barefooted, they tend to land on the balls of their feet (rather than their heels) and use their feet muscles a LOT. Their toes are really active, especially running on non-paved surfaces. The FiveFingers give your feet most of that activity and stride mechanics while protecting them from sharp stuff that might hurt.

So, they have no support. The idea is that running in these is supposed to give your feet lots of exercise, which helps the bones and muscles do what they evolved to do. That's the idea. I've never had foot problems, so I don't know how they'd feel to someone who has foot problems.

Supposedly, real runners, that is, folks who run regularly, should start slowly switching to running with the FiveFingers because the change in stride means you use muscles differently and will get sore.

I've never been much of a runner, so I don't think I'm going to get sore from a big change in stride. But the bottoms of my feet have felt very mildly sore/tired after running or spending time in them. I've had very mild soreness of some leg muscles, but I'm not sure if that's from the new FiveFingers or from trying to do some running. (Take my mild soreness with a grain of salt; I'm the whussiest person on earth, so a normal person might not even notice what I find mildly sore.)

Remember what I said about the running on the balls of your feet? Supposedly, the thick shoes with lots of padding style of running lets people hit the ground with their heels when they run, but the heels don't have much padding or flex. In contrast, the balls of your feet have a fair bit of padding, and there's lots of flex in the ankle and toes. That's supposed to help people avoid some of the stress injuries that runners often get. Does it work? I don't know. I've never been much of a runner, and have never gotten the sorts of injuries runners get.

Here's the thing: I got the FiveFingers as a way to encourage myself to get some different sorts of exercise, because as wonderful as biking is, it's not the only exercise out there. And running is GREAT exercise. And I live in a community with lots of good park trails to play on, and I'm hoping that running a bit will make my legs better for snowshoing and skiing, and also give me another alternative for rainy-ish days when I don't want to bike for an hour, but might be happy to go play outside for 15 or 20 minutes.

And so far, they are fun. It's really neat to feel the ground underfoot, to feel when it's soft because there's a deep layer of pine needles, or when it's grassy and semi-solid. But until I can run, say, 3 miles without stopping to walk, I won't think I'm in the habit enough to tell if they're working.

Saturday Miscellany

It's Saturday, and I am duly grateful. And busy.

One of my friends is on a (medically directed) super-restrictive diet.

My bike ride today used up about 700 calores (according to the heart monitor, which isn't exact, but close enough for this). That's almost as many calories as my friend is allowed in a day. I don't know how my friend is going to do this; I'm vaguely worried, but since I know zilch about medical stuff, I'm hoping the medical folks know what they're doing.

I went "running" last week, and then measured the distance with my bike a day or two later. The "run" I measured was a half a mile out and back, and I also measured a little further. The first day, I "ran" some and walked some (in my new FiveFingers, so I was a little worried that I might get sore).

Yesterday, I ran the half mile out and a little more, then ran most of the way back (but not all). I think I have a little more confidence with my FiveFingers, rather than having improved my fitness substantially in a week of mostly not exercising.

Here's what gets me. I biked 18 miles this morning at just under 15mph, in a fair cross wind, and my legs and all were happy. It's just over an hour of pretty much constant pedaling. That might lead you to think I'm reasonably fit, and you'd think I could manage to run for 15 minutes straight, wouldn't you? Well, I haven't yet. But the half mile goal was a good one for yesterday.

Here's how backwards I am: most people burn a LOT more calories when they run for a given time than when they bike that same time. But I'm such a slow "runner" that I burn more calories on my bike in 15 minutes than I do "running" for 15 minutes. (At least according to my heart monitor, which again, probably isn't precisely accurate, but should have about the same inaccuracy for running and biking.)

I've made an executive decision that when I talk about "running" from now on, I'm going to call it "going outside to play."

I've never been good at running. In grade school, when we had to run a 50 yard dash for the president's fitness thing (does that still exist?), my friend and I were so slow together that the PE teacher made us do it again because she didn't believe anyone could be so slow.

But I've always been very good at "going outside to play." It's fun to go outside to play. There are adventures when you go outside to play. There are places to explore! And my FiveFingers seem to make things interesting and fun (it's very cool to feel the softness of the grass underfoot, for example, or to run where there's soft pine needle build up), so I'm thinking I'll have more success if I just "go outside to play."

Friday, September 03, 2010

Email Irritation

After spending that time yesterday learning how to get a student's progress analysis from the new computer "system," and as the departmental cheese for the moment, I sent out an email to my departmental colleagues saying something along the lines of:

I hate the new program, but I spend X amount of time with a deanling trying to learn how to get a progress analysis, and to save you time, here's how. And then I had a short bit about feel free to delete, and then gave the basic directions.

One of my colleagues emailed the list back asking a further question about the special analysis, and I answered that, again to the list.

All good so far.

Then I got an email from a different deanling, not someone associated with our department (and thus not on our list) basically condescendingly congratulating me and the colleague who asked the question for figuring out how to do the progress analysis. And then he re-answered the colleague's question, adding ONE SENTENCE of new information, but otherwise repeating what I'd said. And then he added that later in the semester, he and the a-hole deanling whose incompetency caused me irritation this spring will be coming around to teach us about the new system.

I'm instantly irritated. I'm not quite sure why, but I have some ideas. I mean, I'm sure he "meant well," but I'm not feeling the love.

1) He's not part of our department. WTF is he doing reading and responding to our departmental chatter?

(Answer: yet another deanling--we have an abundance of deanlings--who is on the departmental list forwarded it to him.)

2) He re-answered a question I'd answered correctly without acknowledging that the information had already been covered. Seriously, deanling, if you are going to jump into a conversation, at least have the MINIMAL courtesy to look over what's already been said and not act like you're providing new information when you're not.

Our administrators are so eager to "communicate" that they blather at us without acknoledging our part of the conversation, much less recognizing that we've actually said something. For once, I'd like one of these administrators to treat me like I have a brain. (And yes, this deanling is one of the sexist porch drinkers.)

3) He and the incompetent a-hole (another sexist porch drinker) are going to come teach us MUCH too late (more than a month from now) to be useful, and if the incompetent a-hole is as incompetent as he was before, incompetently.

My dissertation advisor used to relish telling a little story about some physics or other sciency field. Here's the story: A grad student was doing some big oral or defense (I have no idea the details, fill in the blanks.) One of the examiners asked the student to explain complicated "theory X." (Again, fill in the blanks). And the grad student said, "I don't know theory X, but I know where to find it when I need it." And the examiner responded, "You need it now."

It's a sort of cruel story to tell your grad students when they're preparing for exams, I think, but it's apropo here. What I'd like to say to the deanling is that I won't need to be taught how to find a progress analysis in a month. I needed to know yesterday.

4) I'm in a foul mood. But it's Friday, so I have some hopes.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

First Day Impressions

I taught my first class of the semester today. I start most courses by going over the syllabus with the class, asking each student to read a small bit, and then making comments. If you listen, you can begin to get a sense of how fluidly students read. It's not ideal or completely accurate, because someone who's a good reader may stumble out of nerves, of course, but it's the beginning of an idea.

I had several students stumble over words like "attendance." That's not encouraging.

On the other hand, we had a good discussion of the "what is an essay?" issue, and talked about breaking the rules folks were taught in high school. (You know the ones I mean, the only five paragraph essays, no starting sentences with "and," no using "I" in an essay, and so forth.

That is encouraging.

Meanwhile, we're having the usual problems that happen when a big organization shifts from one computer system or big program to another. It's painful and frustrating.

We have had this system where we could look up a student and get a print out of how they are doing in completing all their degree requirements. It's a great tool to use in advising.

There's a way to do it on the new system, but I couldn't figure it out. So I called the computer help desk, and hung up after being on hold for 5 minutes (because I needed to go to a meeting). Then after the meeting, I asked the deanling, and the deanling spent fifteen minutes trying to figure it out before s/he finally did. Seriously, that's a good half an hour of professorial time just between she and I after the meeting, to figure out something that's semi-hidden and really shouldn't be, not to mention the time I spent before. It's so frustrating.

Tomorrow's another day. I have one class to teach, and then an appointment to give blood, and then a couple of meetings.

For now, we're having a rain storm that's coming down so hard against the house and windows that I thought it might be hailing.