Sunday, September 30, 2012

Question about "A&P"

Thanks for the responses to my recent post about the Updike story.  I think Meanssomething is right that the story succeeds inasmuch as it does a good job developing through the narrator's voice.  I still don't love the story, but I get it a bit more.

For me, there's a big class conflict in the story.  But I'm not sure I'm totally getting it.  So, let me say this much that seems pretty certain.

One of the big places where class difference comes in is in the description of the narrator's imagined or real experience with adults drinking.  His own parents, he says, offer guests lemonade or, "if it's a real racy affair Schlitz in tall glasses with 'They'll Do It Every Time' cartoons stencilled on."  In contrast, he imagines the women's family party with "Her father and the other men . . . standing around in ice-cream coats and bow ties and the women were in sandals picking up herring snacks on toothpicks off a big plate and they were all holding drinks the color of water with olives and sprigs of mint in them."   It's like he's seen movies with high class parties, so he knows what the drinks look like, but doesn't know what the drinks are.

The narrator talks about the people who frequent the store, and it sounds like there's a "locals vs summer people" thing happening; the locals, he notes, don't go to the beach.  They're working people, and they wear working clothes and such, because if you're working on hard linoleum (or tile) all day, you need shoes to manage and clothes to fit your job needs.   The young women who come in dressed in bathing suits and barefoot, seem to come from the beach.  And unlike most of the summer people, they didn't put on clothes first, or even sandals.

Lengel, the store manager, responds to the narrator's complaint that he didn't have to embarrass the women (who have left) by saying that "It was they who were embarrassing us."

I think that's a really telling moment because he's affronted by them coming in, being summer people who don't have to work, who spend time on the beach, who don't need to wear shoes.  And their not wearing shoes is a special offense because it's excessive and over the top.  They may need to come into the store, but coming in barefoot is like rubbing the locals' noses in the class difference, in their own privilege.

The narrator, thinking himself a sort of hero, doesn't realize that the issue is class difference, and not just Lengel being a jerk and himself being some sort of stand up for the right thing rebel.

Now here's my question.  We're told that the women buy "Kingfish Fancy Herring Snacks in Pure Sour Cream."  Are Herring Snacks a code?  Specifically, is this a code for Jewishness in the text?  That is, I'm wondering if there's also a ethnic/religious difference being hinted at as well as a class difference?  And would that make Lengel's feeling of offense stronger?  Or is the herring snack more code for some pretensions (or not) to Britishness?

I've seen this story taught several times, and it was always in a way that sort of laughed at and admired the narrator at the same time, and didn't ever explore the social class stuff.  So now I wonder?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Internet Grinch

A colleague sent out an announcement about good news to a whole slew of email lists including departmental lists, college lists, etc.  There are a LOT of people on the lists.

I hit reply and congratulated the colleague, and wished well.  I'm sure some other folks did that.

But yes, a surprising number of people hit reply all, so that we can all read their messages of congratulations.  Really.

And of course, were I to send something out suggesting that perhaps reply all is not necessary, I would be the worst and meanest, nastiest, most despicable person ever.

But people, most stuff broadcast widely does not require a reply all to share your congratulations.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

My Brain Leaks Out

I just spent 45 minutes in a meeting.

It should have taken three minutes.  There were seven other faculty members there, and a deanling.

Every week, pretty much all year, we meet.  And often, as today, we are supposed to approve these forms filled out by departments.  We also approve other forms, and do some other stuff, but mostly, we approve these forms, call them form A.

In my memory (and this is my fourth year in this special hell), we have never not approved a form A.

Doesn't this lead you to wonder if we should really have seven or more faculty members spending a half an hour a week to approve forms which will be approved, period, no matter what?

It leads me to wonder that.  Why, if there's never a possibility that a form won't be approved, do we go through the approval process?  And why do we have seven faculty members taking that time.  Today it was 45 minutes.  Another time it might be more.  And that's just in the meeting.

Imagine, if it's half an hour.  That's three and a half hours of faculty time, or nearly half of a working day of faculty time in that one meeting.

Surely, we all have better things to do?

Except the deanling doesn't.  The deanling wants to talk about these forms because approving them is really important, and they have to be approved by faculty folks, though they've never not been approved (in my memory).

Let's see, imagine out of the 30 weeks of school, we have 22 meetings (spring tends to have some cancelled meetings).  And in each meeting, we waste half an hour of time.  And I've been on this committee three years already, and am in my fourth.  11 wasted hours per academic year (just in the meetings), times four years, is over a working week (well, a normal person's working week, anyway).

Times seven faculty members.  That's half a semester of wasted time over four years.  And that's me estimating conservatively (and that's the only conservative thing I'm going to do in this post, so there).

I think the deanling wants to believe hir job is important and actually matters, but it's all just paper pushing.

When I spent 5 years in a phud program, this isn't how I imagined wasting my life away.

One of Those Things I Don't Get

There's this famous story, you know, the one about the guy in the grocery store.

I don't get the appeal. 

Yes, I get the idea that the narrator is a young, straight, male, sexist, ageist asshole.  I just don't care.  I am inundated by a media full of young, straight, sexist, ageist representations (and mostly white, too, though I'm not assuming that about the narrator and I don't know enough about certain geographic areas and hiring practices to know, though my guess would be very white).  If I'm going to read straight, male (white) sexist stuff, it better be damned amazing.  And most of it isn't.

I'm not impressed that he thinks he's doing the world a favor, or that his mommy ironed his shirt.

I'm not impressed that he thinks the world is going to be a tougher place because he didn't kiss the ass of a man slightly higher on the work ladder, because he's still a young, straight male in a world ruled by straight males.  And yes, the world's tough.

And yes, his family drinks Schlitz and isn't rich.  He's still a straight white male in a world ruled by straight white males.  And yes, other people are rich, and doesn't he have it tough, because golly, he's a straight male, after all.

So what's the genius of this story?  Why is this one of the fix or six stories that students always seem to read in certain classes?

Adapt or Cry

I totally changed the composition course today.  Well, not totally, since it still follows the big overarching plan that we're supposed to share with all the other sections.

But the biking part?  That's totally gone.

The students hated it.  They don't want to talk about biking.  And their hatred (well, mostly) meant that I was constantly dealing with glowering students.  And I don't need that.

So today, we brainstormed what they'd like to learn and write about, and put a big list on the board, and then narrowed the list, and then narrowed further, and they'll be choosing from these three topics:

Local Sports Team  (and alas, its' not Omega Pharma or Sky)
Desserts  (yep, I checked the spelling, so not the dry areas)
The Election

Now they have a project to find stuff, but that's fine because they aren't going to make me miserable, and they'll find good stuff (at least in aggregate) because they're finding stuff about stuff they care about.

And I won't be made miserable.

And they'll learn what they need to learn about writing, and maybe they won't be miserable either.

These are all good things.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Needy Me

I've been teaching a while, and I generally feel reasonably confident about the courses I teach.  But I'm also not shy about asking friends with more expertise for suggestions and help (especially, for example, I always ask real medievalists when I'm prepping Chaucer again because I know they know way more than I do).

I'm really struggling with the new composition class format.  It's really uncomfortable.  I'm beyond anxiety about it, and more into incipient terror.  And it's obvious around here.  For the first time in ages, I don't want to get out of bed in the morning because I dread this class.

More than once I've been told to ask for help from this or that person, and when I've done it, I've immediately gotten help, and good help.  But it's still hard to ask for help.

It's like I'm a college student again, and having trouble in a class, and shy about asking for help.  And it's damned uncomfortable.

I think there's a part of me that thinks my colleagues are judging me, and I'm coming up short, when I need to ask for help.

I think there's a part of me that is judging myself.

I'm waiting to go see a colleague to ask for more help as soon as her office is free of the student she is helping.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Run Around

A student came to see me for advising today, and that's all good and well.  Unfortunately, zie came to see me about a problem that requires pretty extensive specialized knowledge handled by a special office on campus.  But the special office on campus had sent hir to me, saying that I was supposed to be the one to know.

Seriously, people?

We talked, and I provided what help I could, and then I called the special office, and voila, I got put through to someone, and then I handed the phone to the student, and then the someone (it seemed) explained the issues so that the student could make an informed decision and gave the student another person's name in another office with a specific request to make for that person for further help.

Why is it that the special office gave the student a run around?  And thank goodness, they didn't give me the same run around?  But really, students are supposed to be important to us, so they should treat students at least as well as they treat faculty folks. 

For what it's worth, I know nothing terribly useful about drug counseling, rental housing laws, financial aid, autism or other disabilities, alcoholism, admissions procedures, MCATs, or a ton of other things for which we have special offices that are supposed to help students.  And they know nothing much about Shakespeare.  That's fair, but I don't send them Shakespeare students looking for help understanding metadrama or quarto construction, do I?

Sunday, September 23, 2012


On Friday afternoon, a few people were hanging out in the lunch room, where, by no small chance, the admin staff puts up a monthly list of birthdays (not ages, but days in the month).  And I had glanced, and realized that Sunday is the birthday of one of our new colleagues, one who was there in the lunch room.  I said something, and suggested we should go to lunch on his birthday or something, but lunch on Sunday here is difficult (places often aren't open or are buffets, and some of the people there hate buffets).  So we decided on dinner yesterday instead.

We had a nice dinner, about 12 people total (including a couple kids and non-departmental spouses).  It felt like a good idea to celebrate a bit with a new colleague, especially this early in the academic year.  Zie has moved here alone, as lots of people do, and trying to make sure that we treat new folks with at least a little care is important.

But it was weird, because I'm in the, say, upper third in age in my department (I'm 52), though there's a cluster of people right around my age, a few into the 60s, and lots in the 40s.  The younger folks are mostly in their 30s, which given the years to degree for phuds in our fields makes sense.  (The people who want to say that baby boomers are selfishly taking up jobs that should rightly go to younger people would be hard pressed to find evidence in my department.)

Anyway, as I was saying, it was weird because while I don't think of myself as an oldster usually, I was clearly the oldest in this group, probably by ten years.  I really noticed this when folks were talking about some pop culture stuff, and their references were kids TV shows that I've vaguely heard of, but that were popular when I was in my 20s or 30s, and not watching kids TV.

It's one thing to think that you should try to keep up a little with popular culture to be aware of stuff your students are into, but it's weird to realize that you become outdated in your 20s because you don't have the cultural references your future colleagues will have in the future.


We had a meeting on Friday.  You know how you read the job wiki, or some grad student posts, and there's this analysis that purports to know what's going on in so and such a department?

This was a meeting about hiring stuffs, and I have no idea what is going on.  I'm not the only one, either.

I hope at some point a grad student writes in the wiki and explains it all.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Out with Friends

The best line of the evening: 

Menopause: that magical time between maxi-pads and adult diapers.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Anthropology Dreaming

I had a dream just before I woke up this morning, not quite a nightmare, but weird.

I was taking the final for a cultural anthropology course, and I wasn't feeling well prepared.  But nonetheless, I was taking the final.

The final was spread around, so you took part in an anthro lab, part in a museum annex, and so on.

And it was all cultural artifacts, and you were supposed to write your answer, but you had to find the question that went with the artifact, which wasn't entirely clear, and then you had to figure out where you were supposed to write your answer, which meant that at one point, I was trying to scratch my answer onto a sort of teddy bear furry surface with a knife and wondering how anyone was possibly going to read it or figure out that it was my answer even.

Then I went to the museum annex, and I was hopeful, because I thought I'd have some clue in there (I hadn't had much clue about the lab things and the teddy bear), but it was more of the same.  And I was frustrated.

And I woke up, and what upset me was that despite my frustration, I had been taking this exam which was more about finding the questions and figuring out where and how to answer than about knowing or writing anything about cultural anthropology, and still I didn't stop and question the professor or the point.  I just went along like a sheep with the whole thing.  Baaaaaa.

I'd like to note that I took several anthropology (cultural and physical) classes in college, and they were pretty much great and interesting, and the professors never gave anything but straight-forward, reasonable exams.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


The women's volleyball team did a faculty appreciation thing yesterday evening, and I got invited, along with numerous colleagues, three of whom were also from my department.  We rule, it seems.  At least it looked like we pretty much outnumbered all the other departments.

I was asked by a first year student, and I'm guessing she asked me in large part because I'm the only teacher she has this semester for a class of less than 50, and so seem a bit less intimidating?  I'm guessing that's also true of the other English instructors asked.

The game was interesting, though I know nothing about volleyball.  I have to say, some of those women pretty much take flight when they serve or do the slam thing.  It's amazing.  Really.  There was one woman who was perhaps all of about five foot five, who got herself pretty high above the net to smack the ball again and again.

Did I mention we won?  That was good, too.

Afterwards, a couple of us from the English department walked out together and trash talked other departments.  We talked about how our students have thesis statements, baby!  And topic sentences!  Yeah, you know who's assigning lots of writing, uh huh!

I think we may not quite have the trash talking thing down, somehow.  This wants investigation and research.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Two to Go

I have this weird professional goal: I want to teach every one of Shakespeare's plays before I retire.  I'm doing a new one right now, and then I'll have two left. (Troilus and Cressida and Timon of Athens; if anyone thinks of a really good way to fit one or the other in, or says s/he loves teaching one or the other and this is why, I will be a very grateful Shakespeare person.  I could do a class theme of friendship, and then Timon would fit as the anti-model.)

We're about to finish The Two Gentlemen of Verona and move on to AYLI.  (See what I did there?  I'm pretty much on a first name, all initials, basis with AYLI, while the other play I still feel a bit formal about.)

It's not that TGoV (I guess we're friends now) is a bad play, but when I think of teaching AYLI, it's just way better.  It's like TGoV is a sort of flat tryout of some stuff that later gets really cool and important.  You want friendship, TGoV has friendship, but it's not as intense or as challenging as, say, Coriolanus.  It's got cross-dressing, but it's just there to get one character unrecognized into the same outlaws den as another.  In comparison, AYLI, 12th Night, etc, they take cross-dressing and really make you think about metadrama, clothing, gender, all sorts of good stuff.  And then there's rape.  It's a threat, and it's a serious threat, but it's not as complicated as in MfM, Tempest, or All's Well.  And it's got rings, but they're not nearly as cool as in Merchant.  (My students thought I was nuts when I suggested that rings had a sexual connotation.  Grrr.  It's not just my dirty mind, people!  It's Shakespeare!)

And yet, I love teaching Titus, and Titus sort of does the same work for tragedies and especially revenge tragedy as TGoV does for all sorts of other stuff.

Monday, September 17, 2012


In my comp class this morning, we were talking about an essay they'd read.  The essay uses the word "steed."  I thought this would be a good bit to discuss, since "steed" is one of those words with lots of meaning and associations.  Not for them, though.  They knew (or went along when other people said) it meant basically "horse."  But they didn't have any associations.

And when I asked for other words for horse, they'd never heard "nag" used for horse.  One person came up with "bronco" and one with "stallion" and then they were basically done.

I'm sure they have associations with lots of other words, but I'm sad they don't have any richness with "steed."

I wonder how many college students in 1896 (the quote is from a magazine published then) had associations with "steed"?

Sunday, September 16, 2012


I did a lot of maintenancy stuff this weekend. 

I have a room that's exterior to the rest of the house.  It can only be entered from outside, and doesn't have heating or electricity, even.

When I had insulation done this spring (along with the roofing), they re-insulated the room (so that it doesn't cool the area it's attached to during winter).  It had a hole to the outside, a tiny one, but big enough to mean the old insulation was providing a lot of housing for way too many mice.  So they took out the insulation, did spray caulk and sealed stuff up, and voila, no mice.

Until yesterday.  The wood wall has a lovely round hole, just about mouse size, just under the second story.  I noticed it because there was insulation fluff on the ground nearby, and I looked up, and there was the hole.  I need to get the handyman out to fix the rotten wood.  In the meanwhile, I want to discourage more mice.

So I went to my favorite hardware store.  It's one of those old neighborhood hardware stores where the people running it seem happy to chat and answer questions.  I described my problem to the guy at the counter, who consulted another guy, and then consulted the old guy who seems to own the place, and the concensus was not to try to caulk or seal it that way, but to stuff the hole with as much steel wool as I could.  The theory is that mice hate steel wool, and won't want or be able to use it for nesting material, or want to next in it.  I also got some spearmint-smelling stuff that's supposed to discourage mice, too.
I got the ladder out, and then went into the room and banged at the area with a stick to make a lot of noise, but I didn't see any mice, or any sign that there were mice hanging out there.  (Before, in spring, you could see the mice behind the vapor barrier.  Ugh.)  Then I went out, dropped one of the spearmint bag things in the hole, and then stuffed more than half the package of steel wool in.

I hope it keeps the mice out until the handyman can come.

I hate mice in my house unless they're pets.

That and grading, and a really lovely bike ride, some dog sitting, and the weekend is gone.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Thursday, September 13, 2012


The other day, Dr. Crazy wrote a blog post about her class, and mentioned another class on books about a certain boy wizard, books a good many kids read by the age of 12.  In short, Dr. C argues that the boy wizard books aren't the same as the major novels of the 20th century she cites, and that by extension, a class on boy wizard books isn't likely to be as intellectually challenging and rigorous as a class on, say, Ulysses, Virginia Woolf, and other influential works of the 20th century.

I was in a committee conversation where we were talking about curricular stuff, including some specific classes people have "put in" to teach.  (We tend to use umbrellas, and people "put in" to teach specific stuff within that umbrella structure, especially for summer school and such.)

Several of the classes people put in for were sort of zombies and monsters of the late 20th century sorts of things, and boy wizardy sorts of things.

I have a gut reaction, and it's not a pretty one.  I agree with Dr. C that these texts aren't the same, and that the classes I was looking at didn't look very rigorous or intellectually challenging.

I know that there are some people who do really smart, theoretically interesting work on zombies and boy wizards.  But I suspect that a lot of the work on zombies and boy wizards really isn't, well, smart or theoretically interesting, and that the works themselves aren't so challenging and exciting that they'll prompt really good students to get think hard and critically about them.

That is, I have two problems:

1)  The works aren't in themselves exciting, hard, challenging.  (That's my reading, of the ones I've read.)

2)  The work being done on those works (teaching and scholarly work) isn't (mostly) intellectually rigorous, theoretically interesting.

And yet, I suspect my reaction.*  Isn't my response sort of the same as the people who said, twenty years ago or more, that the work of people of color wasn't the same quality as the works of, say, Shakespeare?  And the same about the teaching and scholarly work on texts by people of color (and especially, of course, classes and scholarly work done by people of color)?  (Or works by women, etc.)

Am I reacting to something that really has incredible potential in a "good old boy" sort of way? 

Or is there something substantially different between my reaction to boy wizard classes and the reactions of some people 20 plus years ago to classes on the works of people of color?

I would like to think not, but I still suspect my reaction.  In my defense, I will say that my reaction is to specific classes suggested by specific people, in a context where I know the preparation of those people and how they've described their classes.

I find it laughable, for example, that some of these specific people seem to think that monsters are the NEWEST thing!  It's as if Beowulf doesn't exist.  And sex was invented in 1967.

And as I look at these and think about them, and think about the job market, I have to say: were I to be on a search, I would need to see something really stellar about monsters or monstrosity in an application for it to make me want to interview that applicant.

* Dr. C, by the way, has also indicated an awareness far greater than mine of how challenging and interesting popular culture is.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bird Help!

I was driving home from the grocery store, and about three blocks from my house, at this little park, I saw what looked like a cat at first.  But I stopped, went around, pulled to the side, and brought out my binoculars, and it was a bird!  Then I drove home, got my camera and zoom lens, and went back.  The bird was still there!  So I took some pictures.

I think this is an immature Ferruginous Hawk.  That would be a first for me, and a fairly rarish bird for this area, but it's migration time, and immature birds sometimes go a bit off the usual track.

Can anyone either help me make a better ID or have more confidence about the Ferruginous one, please?

UPDATE:  I got in touch with a local(sort of) raptor center, and they put me in touch with an expert, and he kindly explained that it's an immature (2012) Red-Tail Hawk.  I feel like such a noob.  Still, it was COOL to see!

A Piece of Me

I've got a full service line up this semester, as usual.

Personnel (which everyone with tenure is on in my dept)
Department Committee
College Committee (chair)
University Committee (not a hard one)
Internal Reviewer
Search Committee
MA Thesis advisor (there's no other way to count this)

And still, the requests and demands for service come.  At this point, it's mostly not committees, per se, but ad hoc stuff, or short term stuff, or just do this four or five hour task stuff; you get the idea.

Yesterday, I got a few requests (some were blanket requests to groups of people, some were individual):

Judge students' work thing
Come to a meeting to be a warm body
Be on one of two ad hoc committees
Another judge students' work thing (but very different)

Each of these things is important to the person who's asking for more service.  I know that.

I also know that there are people in my department (and elsewhere) who sit on a committee, do none of the work, and then complain about being on the committee loudly and often, and who don't get additional requests (because their committee work is crap when they do it).  And there are people in my department who basically teach the same courses over and over (it's not that they're lazy, necessarily, but that they have a creative writing workshop or intro to this or that subfield, and they do it in whatever way they've always done it, and that's probably fine).

And the same is true across the university; and in a lot of subjects, they basically teach the same basic classes without huge change, semester after semester.  (Maybe that's my imagining?  Maybe intro algebra changes radically?  Or intro chem?  But maybe they think the same about a Shakespeare class.  You only have 34-36 plays to choose from, right?  Add a few sonnets, and maybe RoL and easy peasy.)

Right now, I'm resentful of every single request for additional service stuff.

I need to go to the mall and measure my blood pressure.

Dr. Crazy Explains

Over at Reassigned Time, Dr. Crazy has a really lovely analogy for education in the mass market age with bespoke suits.

You might find it interesting.  Yep.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Job Market, Again

Via Acephalus, here's an ad in the Chron for a job in English:
The Department of English at Colorado State University invites applications and nominations for the position of Assistant Professor of English with an emphasis on Pre-1900 American literature and culture. The successful candidate will be appointed untenured and at the rank of Assistant Professor. This is a tenure-track, nine-month appointment, beginning August 16, 2013.

Required qualifications:

1. Ph.D. in English or American Studies or closely related area awarded between 2010 and time of appointment [emphasis mine]

2.A promising record of scholarship/research in pre-1900 American literature and culture

3.Ability to teach a range of subjects in American literature and culture between 1600 and 1900

I'm no legal expert, but this seems highly unethical, at the least.   One of the commenters on the Acephalus thread said a call to the department indicated they were doing it to try to reduce the number of applicants.  I can understand writing an ad carefully to try to limit applicants to people who do exactly what a department needs, but there have to be more ethical ways to do that, no?  

You could specify the time more clearly:  pre-1700, 19th century, pre-civil war

You could specify a genre specialty: poetry, prose non-fiction

You could specify a subfield: a subfield in Native American lit, or race theory  

But to specify by the date of degree?  That just seems wrong, doesn't it?

I can't quite imagine why a committee or department would choose to do it that way.  And I can't imagine a dean going along with it.  (At my U, the dean is supposed to give the final nod to ad information, also the person who makes sure we don't break laws.)

Yes, once again, the job market is open.  

Here's a link to the academic job wiki.

I have a suggestion for those of us on the other side.  Go look at the listings of Universities to Fear and Universities to Love, and read some of the complaints applicants have about how universities and departments treat them.  Let's do our best to treat our applicants as well as we can, recognize that just applying is an expensive prospect, often, exhausting, and effortful.  Let's treat them well when we send rejections, and do it respectfully, though there's no way to make it less than painful.  Let's treat them well when we interview them, and when we bring them for campus visits.  Let's make sure we read their materials with care, pay attention to their presentations, and treat their applications with respect.

We can't hire ten people for our one position, but we can avoid being jerks.  (I know that seems like a low bar, but read some of the complaints and tell me that it's not a worthwhile starting point!)

Good luck, applicants.  I hope this year treats you well.  If you have questions someone on the other side can answer (though from a limited point of view, of course), feel free to email and I'll try, or I'll ask people to respond (or ask in the comments, if you prefer).

Student Anxiety

It seems to be running high in my lower division classes.  Holy cow.

I must have answered six times today that yes, if something is on the syllabus for Wednesday, that means it should be ready to go by the time you walk into class on Wednesday.  If it's a written assignment, it should be ready to turn in.  If it's a play, it should be read.  And so on.

And yes, that means the whole play.

If you're a lit faculty type, you're thinking, wait, they won't have read a play until Wednesday, and they've already had a week of classes?  I know!  And still, somehow, it's shocking that they need to read a whole play!

(We've been doing a performance project and also read a chapter of Russ McDonald's beyond wonderful companion to Shakespeare.  He really met a need with that text.  Do other people love it as much as I do?)

When I look at my colleague's class outlines, timelines, calendars, whatever, they all seem to show something on a given date, and we all seem to think that means that students should have that done for class on the given date.  But students must be learning something else somewhere else?

The only place I've seen it done differently is when I go to the Gathering for Incompetent Teaching place on campus, and the people who've never actually taught pass out "sample" calendars that have days for when students "should" do the work.  [Seriously, if you have a Tuesday Thursday class, do you REALLY think you get to mandate that the work gets done on Friday and not on Tuesday morning at 2am?]

But maybe high school teachers organize their calendars that way to help students manage time?

It wouldn't be so noticable if I didn't basically get the same question repeated several times about the calendar.  I try not to be snotty (really, I know it's hard to believe, but I do), but there's a point where I want to ask if they realize they're asking the same question that the person in the room with them asked within their hearing barely a minute ago.

All of my classes have now had an opportunity to turn in a small assignment (it's one of a group, so they can choose to turn in which ones they want, so no single one must be done so long as they do a certain number in total).  

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Perspectives in Biking

One of my biking friends called to invite me on a ride with a couple of new colleagues today.  So off we went.

As we're biking along, we see another biker coming the other way, wearing this over the top red, white, and blue stars and stripesy kit (and when I say over the top, I'm thinking way louder than most biking kits, which are plenty loud). 

So I jokingly said, "hey, there goes the US national road champ!" to the other folks in my group.  (The other biker couldn't hear.) 

And one of the new people looks back, for a sort of long time, and quietly says, "no, I don't think so."    But it was like he took my joke seriously.

And then we realized that while I was totally joking, because the idea of seeing the US national road champion on the road around here is pretty much out of the realm of possibility, he had momentarily taken it seriously because he comes from Colorado, where someone could see Tim Duggan riding around the roads.


I got an email this afternoon from a student who registered for my class after Friday's class.  So zie has missed a week of class.

I know it's not the student's fault, but what a pain in the rear.  This class has already turned in an assignment.  Should I let this student make it up?  How about the assignment for Monday; allow hir to make it up, or no?

The student sent a polite email, which is good.  But it's still a pain in the rear to rearrange stuff for a new person.  We're sort of the factory floor of education; it sucks but there it is.  You do all this planning to try to make things work for 20 or more students, and then you have to rearrange.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Embracing Disaster

It's already happened, not even the second hour of the comp class, and disaster.

For today's class, I'd assigned a reading by David Bartholomae, an excerpt from his "Inventing the University." 

For Friday, their first assignment was to summarize it.  And then next week there was a more focused summarizing assignment of the same essay.

If you've read the essay, you know already what my disaster was.  This is not an essay you should give to students in the first week of college, at least not our students.

First, it's an excerpt, and the honchos who asked us instructors to read it over the summer (but didn't suggest that we assign it to students; that was my own stupidity) didn't give us the works cited.  (That makes me cranky because we focus so much on that sort of thing with students but often fail to do a good job modeling how to use a works cited ourselve for them.)

It's a really smart essay, but also subtle, not organized in the way that students can read easily (it's more spiraly than thesis, points, conclusion).  And it talks about students appropriating and being appropriated by discourse.  First, they don't really get what discourse is.  And they sure haven't thought about being appropriated by it, mostly.

As I was prepping for class last night, I panicked.  My usual starting thing is to give students a reading, then on the first day, give them a quiz (open notes).  I stop them about half way into the first quiz, and ask how confident they feel.  Most don't feel confident.  So then I give them a copy of my notes for the reading, and we talk about notetaking strategies.  That way, they have a sense of my expectations for giving quizzes, and hopefully, they also get a sense that taking good notes will help them on quizzes, and they have some strategies for taking good notes.

So I was prepping those notes, and more panic.  I gave up and went to bed, but couldn't sleep.  And then I figured out a solution, got up, sent out an email.  What we'll do is discuss the Bartholomae (and the other reading), but then they'll do their first writing assignment on another piece of writing that's more accessible for them, and also important and elsewhere on the syllabus.  So it should be okay.

And yes, they'll soon realize that I have no clue what I'm doing in this class.  Huzzah.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012


You have to imagine me taking a victory lap around my department, hands raised, yelling with joy.

You know how often we teach something, and come back a couple of days later, and ask something about it, and the students give you a blank look? 

And then it gets even worse when they finish the class, and a semester later they're in another class, and they can't remember even the most basic thing you talked about in the last semester?

If you've taught, you've probably had those happen.

But today, one of my colleagues stopped me in the hallway to say that she'd asked her class about Orientalism, and a student had been able to basically define and explain the idea from Said, and when asked, that student said zie had learned about Orientalism in my Marlowe class last semester.

Now my colleague thinks I'm a rockstar teacher (for the moment, at least).

And one of my students learned something!!!!!  Hurray!!!

And retained it over a summer!

(I'd like to take credit, but I'm willing to bet the student should get the credit.  Yay student!)

So Good

Teaching Shakespeare is almost orgasmically good sometimes.

Today, we did the syllabus stuff, and then students started working in groups on a project, and I could tell they were struggling in exactly the right ways.

He really is just amazing.

Step on Up

I taught the first hour of my first year comp class just a bit ago.

Somehow, it sort of shocks me that students don't know how to read a calendar.  It shouldn't shock me, of course, and I do explain it, but it's a whole new thing for them, and many are anxious, and they really want to do well, and so they want to make extra sure they understood.

It's all new to first year students, every few years, students pass on to something more complicated and difficult, and they need to make an adjustment.  Most of them make the adjustment pretty well, but the first days are anxious, and then the difficult part of beginning college sets in with time management.

There's time management for me, too.  There's a bunch of stuff that HAS TO BE DONE right off the bat for this course, the common ground stuff that we all agree to do to get started, and that took up a lot of time.  And the group leaders gave us this syllabus language and it's long.  But it seems silly to give students a syllabus and not go through it and talk about it, so I did, but it took forever.

And of course, there's one student who has a legitimate obligation that will keep hir from class for the rest of the week, and now I have to deal with that (either not give a quiz when I plan to or give hir a chance to make it up, which is a pain in the rear).

In a little bit, I get to go teach Shakespeare!  Yay!

We're starting with a short performance project.  Usually, it's a dream; it does all sorts of good things to get the students thinking about plays and such.  But it's the sort of thing where if there's a student missing the first day, or one that tries to add a day late, it's a pain in the rear.

And then later, witchcraft!  I'm going to conjure!  Yeah! 

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Little Things

I got an email today that my aunt died recently.  I didn't even know this aunt until a few years ago; she was the older daughter of my grandfather's first marriage, before he ran off with my grandmother and had my mother and three other kids, and before he then ran off with another woman (but didn't have more kids that I've heard about).  My Mom got to know her half sister a bit after both of their mothers (understandably not chummy) had died, and so I met her and visited a few times.   (Yeah, anyone who gets all nostalgic about the joys of "traditional" marriage in my family gets some rude looks; my grandparents were all divorced, and most more than once, and my great grandparents, too.  Ask me about the detective someday.*)

I feel bad for my Mom, but she seems okay.  I think the aunt being almost 90 and in not great health  for several years tempers her feelings.  And they didn't grow up as siblings, so they don't have that sort of history that seemed so important to my Dad's siblings when he died.

Still, it was unexpected.  (For me.  Apparently my Mom visited last week and felt it was imminent.  But didn't mention it to me.  I guess she figured there wasn't anything I was going to do anyway.)

I thought about going back for the funeral, but I'd have to miss half a day of work and travel a whole lot, and that for an hour or so of ceremony, meeting some cousins I don't know.  I'd go if it seemed important to my Mom, but it doesn't.  And I don't think she's covering that up for me.

It's one of those difficult things about being in the middle of nowhere.  It takes me hours to get to anywhere, and I'm pretty much guaranteed a layover and wait.

One of my aunt's kids evidently looked up out mutual grandfather, and had a slightly different first name for him, so my Mom googled it, and is wondering if that's why she has never been able to find his birth certificate.  Then after we talked, I googled, too, and he's listed in this artist book.  And then, talk about weirdness, there's an auction on ebay listing a print of his work.  I've never seen his work before, that I know of.  Except, thinking about it, I probably have, because he did ads way back when, and some of those ads were the sort of thing that you still see.  (Think not nearly as famous as Rosy the Riveter, but those sorts of war postery things.)

I also got news today that our theater department is going to do a Shakespeare play this year.  Hurray!  I wish our two departments would get a little coordinated, though.  I've tried, but then the person I had a little connection with retired, and I haven't seemed able to make a real connection with anyone else.  And there seems to be one of those historical issues between our departments, the sort of thing that no one remembers exactly, but everyone thinks there must be something?

I'm pretty much ready to walk into all three of my classes tomorrow and start.  Copies are made, files are ready.  I've even done the excel grade files.  I take a weird satisfaction from putting together an excel sheet and then doing it with a mythical 80 student, and actually having it work. 

I probably should have been an accountant.  At least I'd make better money and could probably live in an area of the country less distant from family.

I registered for my conferences and put in my money request for the year.  Holy cow, I really SHOULD have been an accountant.

*Okay, the detective.  Supposedly, one of my great grandmothers, let's call her A, got married to P, and had a couple of kids.  Then she got suspicious that P was having an affair, so she hired a detective and found out that he was.  Then she divorced P, and married the detective, K.  They had some more kids, and P went away (I'm unclear where).  Then after a while, K died.  And P showed up again, and A remarried P.

Another one of my great grandmothers fell in love with a guy.  But he went away to the Spanish American War, and she got angry, so she married his best pal.  And they had a kid, my grandfather.  And then the first guy came back, and she divorced the pal and married the first guy.  This happened when my grandfather was an infant, and he was raised by the first guy as his son.  He only found out that he was adopted as an adult, when two women showed up at his work asking for [Uncommon First Name] Smith.  And his co-workers said, there's no [Uncommon First Name] Smith here, but there's [Uncommon First Name] [WAY uncommon surname].  So they got him, and the two women said, we're your sisters!  And that's how he found out he was adopted.  He'd formed a real relationship with the man who raised him, and decided to change his name to be [WAY uncommon surname] for real.  And when the paperwork got done, it changed the spelling of [WAY uncommon surname] to [WAY unncommon surname].  And everyone else in the family decided to change the spelling of their surname, too.  And so, pretty much everyone on that side of the family has a surname that's spelled unlike anywhere else, but it's not an Ellis Island thing.

I have a feeling that the roaring 20s really were roaring in my family.

Monday, September 03, 2012

The Shape of Things to Come

I'm teaching two new (or newish) classes this semester.  One is a senior seminar in early modern lit.  I've taught the senior seminar a lot, so I've got a good idea of how to balance various aspects of that, even though I've never taught this iteration.  And I haven't taught all the plays we'll be reading, though I've taught a couple of them in other contexts.

Still, I've got the whole course pretty much planned out.  I know when assignments will be due, how peer editing will fit, how one sort of assignment should build towards another assignment, and so on.  I have a sense of the whole shape of the course, if that makes sense, and how various parts are supposed to work with each other.  That doesn't mean things won't change or work differently than I expect, but I have a sense of having planned through the semester.  I've thought things through a fair bit, and have ideas of where I'm trying to go.

The second new class is comp.  I'm part of the second wave of a pilot program for a totally new comp course (which I've talked a little about previously).  We have to pick themes, and build the program through the theme, but the program is way bigger than the theme.

We had a week of professional development about it, and in that time I was pretty much able to map out the first two thirds of the course, pretty much.  But that last third, totally unmapped.

The pilots of the pilot have told us to do that, to leave the last third very open at this point.  And I understand that.  But it still makes me uncomfortable and wary.

I've planned out the basics of most of the assignments, and have the grading percentages together.  But that last part makes me a bit nervous.

And even within the first part (which I haven't had copied to hand out yet), I think there are things I need to change.  For example, for a long time now, I've done an exercise to get students to think about essays as essays.  We read two short samples, one a single paragraph making a point, the other five clumps of sentences, all more or less about the topic, but not really paragraphs, and not making a point.  The idea is to get students to think about making a point, recognizing that five clumps of sentences doesn't necessarily make an essay, and so on.  Do I drop that?  It doesn't quite fit in with the pilot.  On the other hand, it's really valuable to get students to understand that five paragraphs is not going to cut it as an essay for most college assignments.

I need to go over the calendar for the first weeks and really think about it some more. 

I haven't been very good at getting work done while the guests are here.  It's not their fault, more that I've been procrastinating.  The semester starts tomorrow!  Ack!