Friday, March 30, 2012

Do Overs

This teaching gig is difficult at times. One of the little day to day difficulties is what I call the "do-over." Students hand in an assignment, and you grade it, record the grade, and hand it back, and one (or more) of the students wants a "do-over" so that they can hand it in again, and you can grade it again, and record it again, replacing the original grade.

There's certainly a place for revision in teaching at all levels. There has to be a way to try something, not get it right, try again, and maybe again and again, each time trying to get it better.

That's a really important part of the learning process. I build revision time into many assignments, both before the assignment is graded by doing peer editing (and meeting with students who come to office hours or make an appointment) and sometimes after (when I encourage first year writing class students to revise).

I also build in a different sort of revision by asking students to do small, low stakes assignments in a series. They don't do any one assignment more than once, but they write, say, ten journals over the semester, for a total of 10% of the grade overall; thus they can mess up a bit and figure out what's expected, and then do better as they learn (or get in the habit) to develop ideas more fully and write more fully.

There are also times when a "do-over" isn't appropriate, though. I don't let students "do-over" midterms, for example, or a number of other assignments. (And students don't tend to ask for "do-overs" of midterms.")

I get frustrated, though, when students expect a "do-over" of something that doesn't seem appropriate. That happened today. And then, when I'm frustrated, I blog.

Do students today expect more "do-overs" than students in my generation? (I have no idea, obviously, because I only knew what I was expecting as far as "do-overs" in my generation, and I was too afraid of professors to ask content questions, much less for a "do-over.")

When do you think a "do-over" is most helpful/approriate for student learning?

When not?

To what extent do student requests for "do-overs" come up against not pedagogical resistance but re-grading issues?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

On the Margin

A student asked me yesterday (while I was handing back papers and such in the few minutes before class) how many grandchildren I have.

That struck me as out of the blue, and vaguely inappropriate. Mostly, weird.

Partly, it's that I don't think of myself as grandparent age, but my grandparents were already grandparents at my age, and it's not at all out of the ordinary to be a grandparent at my age. Still, I don't think of myself that way. Nor do I tend to think of my colleagues that way. So weird.

Partly it's that questions about one's reproductive status seem at least marginally inappropriate in a professional setting. On the other hand, folks who have children do use those children for examples and such, or for chit chat, and I don't think that's inappropriate.

This student is often marginally inappropriate. Stu has relatively little verbal self-control and often seems to talk before zie really thinks.

Stu also tends to want me to chat when I'm handing back papers, though I've told hir that I actually can't both chat and hand back papers. (I can't look at names, walk over to the person, give hir a paper, and then look at the next name and do the same while chatting. I'm sure some people can, but I can't.)


Speaking of verbal self-control: students in one of my classes are doing presentations, and several students just (either with or without raising their hands to start) interrupt to ask a question, often only marginally related. It bothers me when this happens, but I usually answer the question and move on, because the time spent talking about how unhelpful it is to be interrupted would make the interruption way worse (and be seen as mean by the students).

But today I talked a bit about it between presentations. And then someone interrupted the next time anyway.

It's like some students just get an idea and instantly, right this very instant, someone else needs to hear about it and respond! NOW!

It's not all students, of course, or even the majority, but the ones who do it really stand out.

Get offa my lawn! (/old fogey voice off)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What's a Liberal to Do?

I've been thinking a lot about the bubble quiz responses I saw here and on the NPR site. I've been thinking about responding, and hesitating, and thinking, and hesitating. I'm learning. I've learned a lot in the past say 5 years from some initiatives on campus and from my colleagues. I've had two colleagues who've been especially instrumental in my learning, and I'm most grateful to them. But I have a lot to learn, and I expect in five years to look back and see real change from now, as I look back now and see real change from then. And I look forward to that. But it does make responding uncomfortable because I for sure don't have all the answers, and some of the answers I do have just aren't good enough.

On the other hand, I think it's important to respond here on my blog where I put up the link. One of the main reasons I think it's important to respond is that I imagine most of you are a lot like me in some ways: you're probably liberal (some more, some less), probably college educated or with a graduate degree, most are female (I think). And I'm pretty sure most of you are white, US born, with a job (though for those adjuncting or in grad school, it's not the job you're aiming for). And most of you want to promote social justice, to end racism, to make the world a better place.

Even though I'm sure what I have to say won't be good enough in some ways, and even though I expect to get schooled, I'm going to respond. Schooling is good for me, after all. Being challenged is good for me, as I think it's good for my students, even though it's uncomfortable.

Here goes:

When I look at the responses both here and at the NPR site, I see some common threads. 1) There's a thread of "yes, but I" followed by some specific point about why one or another question doesn't apply to the responder. 2) There's a thread of "this is a bogus test." 3) There's a thread of "so doing stuff that 'those people' do is good?" ("Those people" are "white trash" in some comments over at NPR)

I'm sure the test isn't perfect, but in some ways my concerns aren't with the test, but with the responses because they tend to come from a space of defensiveness, a space of "competitive victimization" sometimes, and from an attitude of "white guilt" and/or class guilt.

First, there's nothing wrong or right about any of the behaviors or status stuff on the test. There's nothing about living in a small town, working on a factory floor, watching popular movies, etc that is right or wrong. The test is trying to look at stuff most people in the US experience, and asking takers to identify their own relationship to those experiences.

But it sure feels like those are right and wrong answers, doesn't it? I sure wanted to get points for having had a job that sometimes involved walking on a factory floor, though it didn't involve doing the factory labor there (and even though my family members owned the factory and I was employed there as a part-time receptionist largely because I am a family member).

The test is saying, most working class US people have these experiences; if you don't share many of these experiences, then you're probably not much aware of the experiences of most working class US people. The next point is what the test didn't say outright: If you're not much aware of the experiences of most working class US people, then you may think you're aware, and think you share these experiences, and will behave in such a way that adversely affects those who do share these experiences. That is, you may think you understand working class experiences, but you may vote or act in ways that harm working class people.

That next step is where I think those of us who scored low (did you notice how many people reported their scores or not? And a pattern? I did.) felt defensive, and often expressed our white or class guilt. That's also where some of us played competitive victimization, that "yes, you had it bad, but I also had it bad" move we see so often.

That defensiveness, that guilt, and especially that competitive victimization, none of that does anything to work for social justice.

So we white liberal folks can look at our scores and make excuses, or we can look at our scores and think about what our bubble tells us. And if we do that, we can step up and work for social justice. I think we mostly want social justice, but we don't want to feel guilty about our privileges. We want the world to see that we, too, are Trayvon Martin (to use only the latest tag), by which we mean, we're also victims.

I have to say, I'm not Trayvon Martin. I'm sorry he was killed, and I hope the grand jury will look at all the evidence and act for justice, but I'm not Trayvon Martin because no middle-aged, upper-middle class white woman is going to be subject to the sort of structural violence that a young Black man is subject to. I will not be wearing a hoodie and pretending that my wearing a hoodie does anything to work towards social justice.

Here's what I will do, and here's what I hope you are doing:

1) Get educated. Notice I didn't say "educate yourself"? I don't think white folks can really educate themselves about racism, nor do I think middle and upper-middle class folks can educate ourselves about classism. I need to listen to what other people say, and keep my mouth more closed than open in these discussions. (Insert ironic look at self for typing this long screed.)

I need to listen when someone talks about how difficult it is to "make it" on an adjunct salary. I need to listen when people of color tell me about experiencing racism. I need to listen. And if I open my mouth, I should not deny the reality of their experiences or make excuses for how things are.

After listening, I can read and further my education. I found Beverly Daniel Tatum's Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria helpful.

2) Recognize Privilege. When I look around, and I see that I'm on third base metaphorically, I need to recognize that I didn't hit a triple. I started out on third base. It's uncomfortable, though, because I did work hard to "get where I am" and I want people to recognize and respect my hard work. But I have to recognize that all the hard work I did would have counted for very little if I hadn't had opportunities afforded by my parents, the racism in society, social structures, and so on. And those opportunities aren't available to most people. Yes, a few people have more privilege than I do. BFD. My privilege gave me opportunties not available to the vast majority of people, and in comparison, my hard work means not so much.

In recognizing my privilege, I can try not to assume that everyone has the same privilege. And I can try to not be a jerk about that. I can try to work justly with students who weren't raised to expect to go to college or to know how to behave in college, for example.

3) Think Structurally. Injustice is structural in our society, and we can best change it by working to change structures. And that's damned hard. Yes, it's great to feed people by donating or volunteering at a local food bank. But it's more lasting to work on changing social structures.

In big things, I don't know where to begin. I don't. I don't know how we're going to make sure that every child in the world has food every day, and shelter. I don't know how we're going to make sure that every human being's rights are respected, and that they're treated with dignity and respect.

But I do know that at my school, I can do some stuff.

I can work on making my syllabi and classes anti-racist and anti-classist. I can talk about social justice in my classes, analyze racism, show how our social structures come through in the literature I love and teach. I can love Shakespeare while recognizing the cultural power that very name has, and not be defensive about loving Shakespeare. And I have to know that deconstructing that power doesn't actually diminish it, not really.

I can use my voice as a faculty member to ask questions about how our structures can help all students succeed, and not only middle class white students. I can ask how our structures make it easier for middle class white students to get in and come to my school, and how we can change those structures to welcome more diverse students and promote their success.

I can listen to my colleagues, learn from them, and support them, especially the ones who work more directly for social justice. I can follow the leadership of people who have more experience and different experiences than I do.

But no, I don't need to suddenly watch TV more, go to more movies, eat at the local franchise of chain restaurant. I do need to recognize that I'm making choices to do and not do some things, and that my choices may put me in a bubble.

I do know that I have a lot to learn, and hope that you're going to teach me in the discussion I hope ensues.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Have you seen this "do you live in a bubble?" quiz and article from NPR?

I scored a low number, which means that I do, in fact, live in a bubble of privilege.

It reminded me of a step forward/back exercise I've been subject to in groups talking about racism and privilege and such. You step forward if you're a minority, back if you took private lessons in something as a kid, and so on.

The weird thing about these "tests" is that because of the set up, you feel like you really want to be one stepping forward (or scoring a high number), even though most US folks spend much of their energy in fact trying to step back (or have their kids step back) or trying to live with privilege. (And one of the problems, especially with the structural racism in the US, is that most people of color won't get to a good level of what counts as privilege no matter how hard they work.) Trayvon Martin didn't live with the "privilege" of not being shot because he was wearing a hoodie and went to buy some candy. But that seriously shouldn't be privilege, should it?

(I've got nothing to add to the discussion of Trayvon Martin's death, except to be horrified.)

Anyway, according to the quiz, I'm in quite a bubble. And, yes, I think I am. The bubble being explored (or revealed) in the quiz is more a social/economic status bubble rather than a race bubble, and it exposes my social class privilege pretty clearly.

If you read the comments, there are a lot of commenters sounding very defensive about their results, and I understand that defensiveness. I had the same initial response, and then I thought about it and yes, realized that I'm pretty darned privileged and my behavior shows it. (The questions reflect mostly behavioral choices--did you go fishing, watch certain TV shows regularly, and so on--though some reflect choice less--did you live in a small town, and so on.)

It seems to me that what's important is to NOT make excuses for one's choices just because they correlate with social/economic status, but to think about how one's choices and experiences aren't those that most people in the US make or have, and then to step back and think hard about one's judgments about those choices.

Here's an example from the quiz. It asks if, in the last month, you've voluntarily hung out with people who smoke. I haven't. And really, I'm happy I haven't. It's way more healthy not to smoke, right? And I want to be healthy, and want my friends to be healthy, and so on.

But a lot of people do smoke, and it means something that I don't hang out with them. Here's what the quiz says about this question:
Rates of smoking have a strong socioeconomic gradient, but the wording of the question is designed to get at something else. Open smoking in the world of the new upper class has become so rare that it is nearly invisible. Cigars and pipes appear occasionally, but it is possible to go for weeks in the new-upper-class milieu without smelling a whiff of cigarette smoke anywhere except on a public street. Elsewhere in America, there are still lots of homes, bars, and work sites where smoking goes on openly, and nonsmokers in those settings accept it as a fact of life. The question asks to what extent you have any voluntary participation in that part of America.
That's interesting, isn't it? I might wish that no one would smoke (for the health reasons, and also because we have a lot of land under agricultural production for tobacco that could be growing other stuff), but the survey is more looking at my ability to choose not to hang out with folks who are smoking. And that's a bubble ability.

Should I suddenly start hanging out with people who are smoking? I'm not going to. But I should certainly be aware that my ability to make that choice is something that a lot of US people don't have, and that's important.

To what extent are our choices freely made or not? To what extent are our "choices" determined (or strongly influenced) by our friends and family or social/economic status?


Okay, I know they're not really twins, because they're the seeding bodies, and not the seeds or plants from the seeds, but seriously, aren't these cute?

Previously, I've had three (I think) cones from my other young pine tree, but these look like the first for this tree! (I have two other, quite small pines, too, but they're still not mature enough to make cones.) These are in a good spot to see from my deck, so I'm eager to watch them grow!

I have a top super secret special thing that I call the "Pinecone Project." It's sort of embarrassing, or at least has the potential to be. When the cones from the other tree dropped, I opened them up the rest of the way and got out some seeds, and then read up a bit on the internet about pine seed germination and learned about cold stratification. The basic idea of cold stratification is that you put the seed in a cold, wet area (wet cloth in the refrigerator, for example) and fool it into thinking that it's been the spring thaw, so that it gets ready to germinate. So I did that, and had, for a while, a container with seeds in my fridge.

That got me thinking that I should gather some other seeds (since there were so few left in the cones by the time they dropped), and do the same, so I went to a local parkish area (there's a pool area, golf course, walking area, and parking lot all together) and collected some pine cones. Because the cones are differently shaped, I was able to collect both white and red pine seeds, and did. (The nurseries here tend to only carry white pine plants, though I'm not sure why, but I'd like some diversity in my pines.)

I did the cold stratification thing to those seeds, too, and then planted them, and here's the result. I'm pretty sure the one seedling is just a random seedling from weeds or whatever, but the others? They look alike, but they don't look anything like pines, do they? Of course, that makes sense, since pine needles grow out of a fascicle, and it would make sense that a tiny seedling wouldn't just produce miniature fascicles and pine needles. But I'm eagerly waiting to see if these actually ARE my pines or not.

Why the project? There's this lovely green space between my house and the ones on the far side of the little valley thing, and supposedly, that's too steep to be developed with other houses. (Yes, I'm pretty sure that will eventually be changed and they'll decide it's not too steep, but I'm guessing it will be too steep for a while yet.) And if somehow, some tiny pine trees started growing in that area, then in 50 years, there would be a bit more privacy, right?

That and doing it is fun, too.

There's also this. We get a fair bit of road noise, and more trees (in my fantasy world) helps absorb and diffuse that. (Though in 50 years, I have a feeling we'll have less road noise because fewer gas cars and quieter, more aerodynamic cars. And somehow quieter tires? I don't plan to be around in this house, but maybe someone will!)

My plan, if things work, is to put these seedlings in a cage near the house for a couple of years (the rabbits eat anything not caged, if it tastes good), and then in a few years, move the seedlings out to near the sumac plants you see in the one picture.

In other news: The lone surviving Tamarack has greened up already, and the daffodils have bloomed beautifully. There are also the little blue Glory of the Snow flowers, blooming with delicate loveliness! And the grape hyacinths are showing, looking like little, tiny grape clusters. (I should take some more pictures this morning!)

This past week, spring has come in quite dramatically, and it's so wonderful. (But also scary, because we didn't get much snow this winter, and our farmers need plenty of water for crops and such.)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

How's That Working Out for You?

You know when someone says s/he does X, and another person thinks that the results of X have been bad, and they ask how it's working out as a way to try to get the first person to re-evaluate doing X? Yes? This post is like that. I need to re-evaluate my grading for the break.

Here's what I listed on my to do list at th ebeginning of break:

Stack of Shakespeare papers
Stack of Writing papers
Stack of Writing peer editing
Stack of Shakespeare journals
Stack of Marlowe stuffs
SAA Response (today!)
Read other SAA papers
Draft a paper for something else
Clean up the house a bit
Plant marigolds (inside little pots)
Reread H5
Reread Marlowe play (how bad is it that I can't remember which one?)

And here's how it's working out so far:

Stack of Shakespeare papers - 9 left to do (33 total)
Stack of Writing papers - 8 left to do (24 total)
Stack of Writing peer editing - about half done
Stack of Shakespeare journals - done, grades recorded
Stack of Marlowe stuffs
SAA Response (today!) - done!
Read other SAA papers - not even started :(
Draft a paper for something else
Clean up the house a bit - done
Plant marigolds (inside little pots) - not even started (which is probably actually smart, given how early it still is in the spring season and how cold it can still get
Reread H5 - I found my text again
Reread Marlowe play (how bad is it that I can't remember which one?) - I figured out the text (and don't have to re-read until Wednesday)

And: I've gone birding to a marsh a ways away with a friend, ridden close to 100 miles, cared for some friends' pets, had a couple meals out with friends, made a verbal agreement for the roof work (they're sending out the contract), read a really good book (The Rider by Tim Krabbe), watched a couple of movies on dvd (A Single Man and Synechdoche, New York), put a book on cd into my itunes so I can listen at night.

And the day is still youngish (before noon)! So IF I can finish one of the stacks of papers today, and start in on H5, I'll call it very good!

But the stacks still look big :(

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

That Princeton Survey Thing

I just filled out the survey; I'd done the original pass way back when.

They really set it up so that it's focused on folks at R1s, and need to rething the "how many courses" you teach question to also ask about credit hours or student contact hours.

It's hard to be cheerful about professional prospects in this state. I need to not think about that or I'll start getting really upset and will want to go home and make oatmeal cookies so that I can eat the dough.

But, I'm over halfway done with one big grading stack, so at least there's that.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Thing About Grading

You start, and grade for a good while, and then you look, and somehow your stack feels just as large, and maybe larger, than it did.

If you've got classes in the high 20s and 30s, you can't (or maybe I should say "I can't"?) just power through and finish, as I can with a few papers or small journal type assignments.

The other thing: there's really nothing on TV that works for grading. At least for me. (I need something fairly familiar, not too interesting, just to make some background noise.)

More grading must happen today.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Stress Break?

Today is the first official day of spring break here at NWU. Last night I had a dream, not quite a nightmare, that it was the first day back and I hadn't graded any of the papers I need to grade. Bleargh!

So here's the work rundown for the week:

Stack of Shakespeare papers
Stack of Writing papers
Stack of Writing peer editing
Stack of Shakespeare journals
Stack of Marlowe stuffs
SAA Response (today!)
Read other SAA papers
Draft a paper for something else
Clean up the house a bit
Plant marigolds (inside little pots)
Reread H5
Reread Marlowe play (how bad is it that I can't remember which one?)

It sounds like a lot, and feels like a lot, but it's easier to focus when you don't have classes to prep and teach throughout the day and week, right?

Yesterday, a friend and I went to a big marsh several hours away, but we didn't see nearly as many birds as I would have hoped. The company was wonderful and we had a really good time (at least I did), so it was a great trip.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Crocus Report

My crocuses came up and bloomed midweek, but I didn't have time to get out there in good light with a camera. But here they are.

One of the things I really enjoy about the blog is that I can look back and see what's what with things. For example, I did a search for "crocus" on the blog and was surprised to see that while we're all talking about what an amazingly early spring we're having, I had posted pictures of my crocuses at about this time several years. So it feels early, but the crocuses aren't saying it's that much earlier, maybe a few days, maybe not. I suppose that's why we write things down?

Since I wasn't here in fall to put new bulbs in, or to redig older plantings, I'm happy to see that lots are coming up anyway! And thinking about where to put in some new plantings.

Spring break officially began for me yesterday afternoon! Let the relaxing begin! (And the grading, and reading!)

Friday, March 16, 2012

My Students!

I had 20+ students come to class, and they were great.

I got all teary-eyed reading Hal's farewell to Hotspur. But I noticed one of my students wiping her eye, too :)


As for what I do with a class of 30+ for Shakespeare?

This is a sophomore level class, though my junior level classes also cap at 35.

Mostly discussion: break out groups look at passages, then come back for full class discussion. Mini-lecture moments, but mostly looking at the text and pulling from there to talk about themes and issues. Sometimes we draw stuff, enact moments, read aloud, etc.

For grading:
10 short journals (on a specific passage in a text)
4 Research Question assignments (prep for later assignment)
Explication Paper
Research paper based on question (find a published essay that responds to the research question, write a summary of it and how it answers your question, basically)
Final Exam

I'd guess I get about 15 full pages of prose from the average student, with some doing up to 30, and some a bit less (not counting the midterm and final). They have some choice on journals (they have to turn in 10 of about 15 possible journals), and on research questions.

At this point in the semester, I've graded 7 of the short journals, and 4 out of the 5 research question assignment possibilities. They've done the explication, and taken the midterm. So the next big thing is the research assigment, and then the final.

Our students tend to be willing to work hard if you ask them to, and are very capable readers and thinkers. They're good people to work with.

Taking Bets

How many of the 33 students currently enrolled in my Shakespeare class will be in class this afternoon?

more than 20
between 10 and 20
fewer than 10

All the students who signed up for conferences with me this morning (five) came, so that's hopeful (but that wasn't for the Shakespeare class).

I haven't been off the floor (where my department lives) and into the teaching wing yet today, but I heard from a colleague that a lot of classes are dark. And presumably they're not dark because they're playing a movie.

Today's the day we talk about Falstaff, honor, death, and then we kill Hotspur. It's a good day! And then break, and that, too, should be good!

*edited to change the greater than and less than signs, which html things mean something different, and thus didn't display as I wanted.

And yes, I said "fewer." Anyone else have that pet peeve about count nouns?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Another Reason to be Glad I Teach English

I read a research protocol today that involved counting and measuring mouse feces.

I've never had to do that as a lit prof. What's more, I've never had to write up a protocol asking permission to do that.

Life's looking pretty good right now!

Three More Days

There's nothing quite like getting to work early in the morning and entering a long column of midterm exam grades in the gradebook. For just that moment you can look and see that yes, you did a good deal of work to get those graded.

But then there are all the blank columns still waiting. And the stacks of papers in my bag and on the desk, all waiting.

I have one big stack to grade still (I'm aiming for Friday, but not really hopeful). Then there's a small stack for one class, a small stack for another class, and a small stack for another class. (The small stacks tend to be journals, so they aren't too onerous, but they still take some time.)

And then, and then, there's spring break!

I have a foot appointment (which I may cancel) and a roofing estimate appointment, but other than that, my time looks flexible. I'm also okay to give blood again in there, but I think I'll put it off for a week so that I can ride my bike and feel good every day. (Giving blood makes me feel less than lively if I ride the next day. I don't feel less lively if I do normal stuff, but riding or other sporty stuff, I do.)

My foot: Last time, the physical therapist suggested trying some support shoes (structured, or something), so I got a pair (running shoes) and have been wearing those. And my foot hasn't been hurting.

BUT, I also haven't been walking for 5+ hours at a time.

If the foot is fine, then it's fine. To test it, I need to walk for five hours (or less if it starts hurting earlier).

If the foot's fine, then I don't really need the appointment.

If the foot isn't fine, then the physical therapist is at a lost and will suggest that I go back to the clinic physician and ask for a referal to a podiatrist. Or, I can just accept that when I walk 5+ hours, my foot will get sore and leave it at that.

And that's what I'm leaning towards: leave it at that. I can't really imagine a podiatrist is going to do anything helpful that doesn't involve a risk of something worse (like surgery), and I don't think the pain is that bad or happens that often to go through surgery about it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I met with a student about an assignment recently. Stu wanted to run an idea about organizing a paper with me; zie'd started off thinking X, but was now thinking Y (a MUCH more sophisticated understanding), and wanted to know if it was okay to reflect that in the paper, and if it was, how could zie do that.


I told Stu that I was impressed by the development, and we went over one or two organizational possibilities. Stu was in that moment of having realized how much zie is learning in classes (not only mine) and wanted to talk about hir learning, and it was delightful.

Often, students learn a lot, but it takes time to realize that they've learned, and they're long gone from our classes by the time they realize it (if ever). But every once in a while, you get a student who's ready at just that moment to learn and realize hir learning, and it's so fun to hear about hir excitement.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Little niggling things are on my mind today.

Last Friday, the handyman went to the house to check on a lighting fixture that wasn't working and on the stairs to my deck, which have never been quite right. And while he was there, he glanced up at the roof and then told me that I need to get the house reroofed. (He doesn't do roofs.)

He gave me a couple of suggestions for people whose work he respecs, and I called them. One called back this morning to make an appointment to give me an estimate, and the other I'm waiting to hear (they thought they should be able to look and measure stuff for the estimate without my being there).

Bleargh. I was thinking that I might replace the ugly carpet in my living room with hardwood this spring, but I think roofing's more important. (And I'm really glad he pointed out the roof issues, because I don't look up there enough, and I would far rather replace it early than deal with leak damage.)


In our department coffee room, we have: a toaster, a coffee maker, a microwave, and a water-heater (for tea or whatever) all plugged into the same area (because there are very few plugs around in this building compared to what you'd put in a building nowadays). You can use any two things, and it's okay, but if you use a third thing, you'll blow the circuit and then you have to call maintenance and get them to come up and do something in their secret locked room.

So today, I had some stuff to microwave for lunch and wanted hot tea as well, so I put my stuff in the microwave while someone else was using the toaster. Then I waited, and once my microwaving was done, started the water heating. The toaster finished and then another person started the microwave for her lunch.

And then another person came in and without looking at what was already going, started up the toaster.

Poof. No water heating, no lunch heating, nada. So I never got my hot tea, and now my caffeine levels are dangerously low in the late afternoon (which is at least partly my fault because I was up way too late finishing some grading).


An advisee came in on Friday and asked me questions about a class over in another area of campus (one we have a fair bit of contact with). On the computer registration system, the lecture and discussion for one class are scheduled so that they overlap. I don't know what's up.

So this morning, I emailed their chair to ask what I should suggest to my advisee. And she helpfully emailed back.

I don't know whether it's a department problem or a computer problem or somewhere in between, but it's not good when they're telling me to tell my student not to register yet. It's really hard to get into classes, and if she got lucky with a good time assignment this semester, she needs to take advantage of it because she probably won't have the same luck twice.


I have one of those students. You know, the student who makes you really happy you chose to become a professor. If I could clone him, all our lives would be immensely better in so many ways.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Total Joy

It's gloriously warm out today! I went out for the first bike ride of the year, and it was happiness. Every time I saw another biker I would wave and call "Yay biking!" and they would be grinning, too, and you could tell we were all happy to be out playing on our bikes.

I've opened up some of the windows in the house to air things out, and I'm thinking of going and sitting out on the deck in the sunshine. It's just that good to have the combination of sunshine and warmth.

Last week, I planted some pine seeds I'd collected (some from the two pine cones under my own tree, some from white and red pines in a local parkish area (it's the parking lot for the community swimming pool). So they're sitting outside now, too, in the sunshine.

The sunshine and warmth just fills me with joy.

Friday, March 09, 2012


I was at a meeting this morning, a meeting of folks from around the university, students, faculty, administrators, lots of different people. And we were there in part to hear about efforts to introduce a specific diversity program thing on campus. All of that is to say that there were people there who were very versed in the issue, but mostly there were people there who were committed to social justice but who weren't really in the know about this specific issue. One person (let's call this person X) is basically in charge of the next move, and had to leave early for another commitment, so the facilitator changed around the schedule slightly to ask X to talk about the next move.

But then someone else wondered if the whole group should get a quick background. And that made sense.

So another speaker started in on the background. Let's call this speaker Y.

This speaker comes from a culture known for being less direct about arguments, say, than US culture is. And so the speaker started in, and 20 minutes later, when the person facilitating the meeting (let's call this person Z) tried to interrupt the narrative to refocus on the issue at hand, Y got frustrated because zie hadn't had the chance to tell the full story. Y said zie wanted to make one point, and when Z acquiesced, went on for another five minutes not only about one point, but circling around serveral. To me, Y's communication feels like we're circling around, getting a long narrative about stuff that isn't the real point, and not really getting to the real point. (I've experienced Y's communication on many occasions.)

So here's the issue: We're all committed to social justice, and many of us have put in some time to learn about cultural issues of communication. So I know, for example, that the culture person Y comes from tends to be less direct than my own culture (white, US, middle/upper middle class). And I know that in order to work effectively towards social justice, I need to learn about, recognize, and value other styles of communication.

And that means that I (and other people at the meeting, at least some of whom are far more well-educated in understanding different cultures) need to respect non-dominant sorts of communication.

On the other hand, I'm not sure that Y's communication practices are cultural so much as unaware rhetorically. I don't know if Y's communication practices would be more acceptable in hir home culture than they are here.

And, by being rhetorically unaware, Y seems to undercut hir own stated goals, to alienate listeners, and thus to cause problems for the very cause we're working for.

Of course, these are issues some of our students run into a lot: to what extent should they be responsible for code-switching to meet the expectations of people who aren't going to care about cultural differences? And to what extent should dominant US culture learn to respect and deal with other communication practices? And even if we can assert that people from the dominant US culture SHOULD respect and deal with other communication practices, it's not going to happen quickly or easily, and our students are going to be out there working and being members of the community the whole time.

So there I was, wanting Y to get to the point so that X could give us the more important information, and wanting to be a good cultural communicator.

And looking around the room, I could see other people looking similarly frustrated and impatient. And I don't think frustrating these people helped Y's causes at all.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Bits of Sunday

I sometimes call myself "The U-turn Queen." Let's just acknowledge that I have a poor sense of direction. I used to fret about it, but now I just make myself the u-turn and it's fine.

Yesterday, I went out cross-country skiing for only the second time this season. I went alone, out to this gorgeous, wonderful park. This park has a maze of trails, but they're marked with numbers and a map at intersections. The numbers get higher the further you are from the warming hut and parking lot.

And I skied. I'm a lousy skier, but as long as I'm out enjoying myself, it doesn't much matter how clumsy I look. And for moments at a time, I float along and it's glorious! Just wonderful!

I was skiing along, and at first it was totally awkward and blah, and I thought about turning around and heading back right away. And then it started feeling good. I was going slowly, focusing on trying to slide and relax, and it felt good. So I went a bit further. And then I thought I should head back rather than get too tired, so I looked at where I was, and planned my move to the next intersection, and then I needed to go left. But that took me to a hill, and I snowplowed down it with great care (because I felt awkward and it's sort of icy).

But at the next intersection, the sign was shot out. I know :( Think about someone peppering a sign with shot, and think about that sign being in a public park. Ugh. So I went the way I thought would take me back without making me climb that hill. And there were hills, and I snowplowed down, and herring-boned up.

And the next sign I got to was #65, and showed that I was at about the half way point of a long side-loop. Oops! I could have made a u-turn, but I didn't because I figured the way forward couldn't be as difficult as the way back. It was about that difficult, but I finally did make it back. (I DID whuss out and take off my skis to climb up two hills and down one.) Every so often someone else would ski by in the opposite direction (mostly, friendly folks, who said hi), so it wasn't like I was exactly breaking new ground in the wilderness.

All in all, I skied for an hour and 40 minutes, and my heart monitor said I used 900 calories. No wonder I was hungry! And now today, I'm just a bit sore. (I've read that heart monitors tend to overestimate caloric use, but still, that's a lot of calories.)

But, Paris-Nice will be on TV shortly (the prologue)! I, myself, am planning to ride along for a bit. Yay, it's the beginning of the TV biking season!

I should grade a bunch today, too, and I will. And I've already written the midterm for tomorrow, so at least that's done!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Witchy Woman

I'm going to do my senior seminar next semester on early modern witch plays (and some historical context stuff).

Macbeth is on the list, of course. Because yay Macbeth.

What other plays (and in which editions) have you enjoyed or thought would work well in a classroom?

So far, The Witch of Edmonton is HIGH on my list, and maybe The Tempest, too. But there are lots (so maybe not LOTS, but some), and I'm aiming for, say, 10 plays that I can get in reasonably good, affordable editions.

I have a week to turn in my book orders (it's so early!). I know that's a whole congressional mandate thing, but it's obvious that no one in congress ever thought about teaching anything that wasn't constantly on the rotation or taught from a textbook type book.

Sleep In

Yesterday, we had snow, and that meant I got a few emails from students who couldn't make it to class. It happens, and it's way more important that students are safe than that they get to close. And when road conditions are bad, they're bad.

But today, more students missed my morning class. And I got emails from them after class, a few of them, saying basically that they'd slept in and missed class.

It's weird how that can happen with a fair number of students in a class (three for this class). Did they go out partying last night? Was there a midnight dorm fire alarm drill thing? Or was it just coincidence?