Friday, June 16, 2017

Progress: Floors and Summer Projects

As of last night, the floors are laid, sanded, and stained.  At this moment, the floor folks are putting on the second coat of finish.  Then it dries for the weekend, and on Monday, they'll come put up baseboards and such.  It looks every bit as good as I hoped!

In other progress, here's what I had to do, with the done parts stricken out.

Now I need to finish a third hurry-up project, and then I can begin the real summer projects!

1.  Studying Victorian lit and culture  (I should probably make a whole list for this!)
2.  Repainting some woodwork on the back, outside of the house.  (Last year I did some in the front of the house.)
3.  Finishing a paper and sending it out.

And some other projects, small and large:

1.  Learning the next violin song.  (and working on shifting, vibrato, and double stops)
2.  Planting my garden (yep, it still isn't in.  Maybe tomorrow...)
3.  Updating hard drives.
4.  Getting rid of some old electronics stuff (after checking the hard drive and emptying it...  I hope!)
5.  Doing a book of pictures for my friends' kid's third birthday
6.  Making all my reservations for the UK

I've made MOST of my reservations for the UK. 
Hotels for August before birding and December (for the British Library)
Between Birding and Starting << suggestions?  I'll be in Scotland for birding, near Cairngorms National Park.  Should I go to Glasgow?  Inverness?  (I've been to Edinburgh, and while it's wonderful, I'd like to see something new.)

In the violin world, at my last lesson, my teacher agreed that I'm ready to start memorizing and working towards my Book 3 test.

So, lot's to do this weekend, and then in the coming week, I get to move back into the rest of my house!

Thursday, June 08, 2017


The wood has arrived!  This is a lot of red oak, and from the great North Woods, I'm told.

(My sliding glass door is super dirty, but it seems silly to clean it before it gets exposed to all the more dust.)  

I submitted my syllabi for the courses at the Abbey today.

I still have some paperwork to submit (emergency info, for example), and have to have a physical so a doctor can fill out a form (because they won't fill out a form if you haven't been in within the year, seems).

Now I need to finish a third hurry-up project, and then I can begin the real summer projects!

1.  Studying Victorian lit and culture  (I should probably make a whole list for this!)
2.  Repainting some woodwork on the back, outside of the house.  (Last year I did some in the front of the house.)
3.  Finishing a paper and sending it out.

And some other projects, small and large:

1.  Learning the next violin song.  (and working on shifting, vibrato, and double stops)
2.  Planting my garden (yep, it still isn't in.  Maybe tomorrow...)
3.  Updating hard drives.
4.  Getting rid of some old electronics stuff (after checking the hard drive and emptying it...  I hope!)
5.  Doing a book of pictures for my friends' kid's third birthday
6.  Making all my reservations for the UK

I think it's time to stop, drop by campus to pick up a book (because parking anywhere near my building during working hours during the week is impossible this next month) so I can work on the third hurry up project.

Then time to practice.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Emptying the BardiacShack

As I've posted before, I'm getting new hardwood floors in part of the BardiacShack.  That means I have to empty out about half of the main floor, and put everything either in the basement or in the areas that are tiled.

This is the empty living room (the last picture was taken at night to avoid some of the window glare from afternoon sun).  I'm thinking next year, I may paint a new color...  (taking suggestions, please!) (The floor folks are going to move the heaviest of the furniture, which includes empty bookshelves.)

Here's a view of my home office.  I'm the only academic I know who actually has plenty of bookshelf space at home.  (There's a case behind the door on the right, and additional cases in the master bedroom, a bedroom downstairs, and the great room.)

This last is my red room, which is where a lot of stuff is piled.  There's also more in the dining area.  And in the basement.  (I put plastic over the windows in the red room during winter, and haven't taken them off yet...)

Editing to add a few more empty house photos:

The Hive Mind is Magic

I've put out several calls for suggestions on facebook recently, and it's amazing how helpful the hivemind is, and how much people know and are willing to share knowledge.

I've found a hotel that looks good for when I want to work at the British Library.

I've found texts.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Things are Getting Real

I've gotten some of the official paperwork to go teach at the Abbey!

So that's feeling more real.  I've started working on syllabus stuff, and book orders, and now have to do more, and fill out official forms and such.

Before there was any hint of going to the UK, I'd arranged to have carpet taken out of half of the main floor of the BardiacShack (tm) and hardwood floors put in.  (The other half is tile.)  We've firmed up a date, and it's coming soon.

I started packing up that half of the house last week.  One day, a friend came and we had a good time packing my office (many books).  It's so much more fun with a friend.  I still have some to do, but it's within easy reach now.  But the house looks increasingly strange, with empty walls (because art needs to come down to avoid dust and such), and empty rooms.

The floor folks are going to move the few big furniture pieces, but smaller ones I've moved or will move ahead with a little help from my friends.

I'm working on a new violin piece.  It's beautiful, a Bach piece, but pretty darned difficult.

On the other hand, I started going back through my early Suzuki books (#1 so far) and it's surprising how easy those pieces are now.  They were really hard when I started working on them, not so very long ago.  So that gives me hope.  (Regular Suzuki kids are expected to practice their older pieces at least once a week, but I don't do that.  On the other hand, I also work through the easier parts of new pieces in practice sessions because I can read music and, well, because I do.  So I don't have everything by memory the way regular Suzuki kids do forever.  But I'm learning in a way that's not frustrating to me.  Early on, I asked my teacher if it was okay to work on the piece just ahead if I felt like the current piece was going well, and she was fine with it, so I did, so now she gets me started on the hard parts, and I work on the easy parts, too, and then she helps me with those in lessons, and I work on making them better.)

One of my musician friends plays violin as a second instrument, so we're talking about working on a duet.  But it's way harder than I can do now, and Strings suggested to hold off starting on it (it's the last piece in the next book) so that I don't teach myself bad habits.  That makes sense.  She thinks it will be a year or two before I'm ready for it.  (And thinking how much I've learned this past year, that gives me some sense of how far beyond me this piece really is right now.)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

There's That...

I participated in my first recital today, playing a short piece (Dvorak's Humoresque), one of 5 of my teachers students to play.

The world didn't end.  I didn't lose my job.  And I didn't vomit in front of everyone (or at all, even).

Other than that... well, I'm really disappointed in how poorly I played.  I've been playing it pretty well, but today, in front of people, I just didn't.  At least I didn't completely fall apart when I made mistakes.  I suppose there's that.

Everyone was nice, of course.

But I'm pretty disappointed.  Gah.

I guess that's part of learning.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Scholarly Editions

When the semester ends, I always seem to sleep for a week.  This year, the weekend seems to have sufficed.  It probably helps that it's been too rainy to do much out of doors, so I've read, slept, and packed.

I'm having hardwood floors put in the main floor of my house, the BardiacShack, replacing the carpet that was put in when it was built.  Let's just say the carpet has seen better days.

But it means that I basically have to move everything out of half the house, including the half with my bedroom, living room, and home office.  So that means clothes and books.  Holy cow, I have a lot of books!

I'm probably the only person in academics who has more shelving than I need, thanks to inheriting three big barrister cases when my Dad died, after having bought sufficient shelving before.  And having a regular office where I have most of my books.  It's rather nice!  (But the big shelves all need to be moved!)

I took three boxes of books to the local library to donate to their sale; I hope they can sell them.  I'm sending some scholarly editions to a grad student I know.

It's weird, these scholarly editions, mostly from the Renaissance Text or Medieval and Renaissance Text Societies.  They're incredible, and beautiful.  But they're not something I use a lot.  A few of them I do.  I use a George Herbert facsimile edition about once every other year, when I teach poetry.  And there are a few other editions I use, or just plain like.

They're one of those things that you really want your library to own (if you're at an R1 and have grad students), because the occasional grad student will find them useful, but unless the specific edition hits your needs, you probably don't need them.  But I didn't really get that when I joined the organization.  And I'm not sorry I joined, because I found various sorts of editions like this so useful when I was a grad student.

But in a way, EEBO and other on-line resources have solved immediate access problems for many people, though the editorial apparatus that makes these editions especially helpful at times isn't there.  For medievalists, EEBO is no help at all, so maybe the editions are still really useful?

I'm guessing there was about a hundred years where these editions were absolutely invaluable.  And now, maybe less so?

Do you folks find yourselves using scholarly editions of less well-known texts?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Requesting a Search

The Powers That Be around here let our department chair and personnel chair know last week that they'd be letting every unit put in a request to search for a new TT position in the fall.  These decisions need to be made earlier rather than later for a number of reasons.  The big one is that if we decide in summer, then the committee can be basically set up and write up a job description early.  That way the ad goes out, and we can request materials early.  And we can do phone interviews early.  And then we can invite candidates to campus at the end of spring semester.  Otherwise, since we don't start back until the end of January, it's February before we have campus visits, and then we're late trying to make offers and such (and paperwork here takes forever).  Then, as sometimes happens, our first choice candidates already have offers we can't compete with, and on down the line.

So we met to discuss the issue.  (And here, let me explain that all meetings of State agencies are completely open to the public unless we invoke a specific state law, and we didn't invoke that at this meeting because it wouldn't have been appropriate.  So you all could have come and sat in this meeting, and even asked to speak.  Which is all to say, I'm not violating any confidentiality stuff here.)

Our chair prepared some numbers about enrollments, and so forth, which pretty seriously demonstrated that in three of our core areas for student majors, and for our first year writing courses, we're having serious difficulty covering our courses.  (In a given semester, most TT faculty teach one first year writing course with 5 meeting hours per week, and two other courses.)

One of the suggestions is that we hire someone in comp/rhet in hopes this person would solve some of the difficulty of first year writing courses.  Basically, they're thinking this person would come in and have a steady, long term diet of first year writing courses, all year, all the time.  And upper level comp/rhet type courses are already well covered; it's one of only two areas that could add a number of students to each section at the upper level.  So we really don't need someone more to teach upper level courses.

That seems to me like a recipe for a really unhappy colleague.  I just haven't met anyone who's done a PhD in comp/rhet who really wants a full time first year comp load.  Maybe they're out there...  And it seems like that load would also really be hard on a research agenda (unless they were totally doing SOTL work on first year writing class stuffs).  (The response to my concern about this was that the person could also teach some lit, and yes, but then it doesn't solve the first year writing coverage, and it adds people in a likely area where we already have plenty of coverage, pop culture.)

We also discussed areas A and B, including the possibility that we try to find someone who does both A and B.  The A folks rejected that, since anyone who does both probably likes B better and isn't wholeheartedly A.  (And we have some folks who could do some A along with their B, but the A folks always, always refuse to let them.)

The A folks made an impassioned argument for a specialized position within A because they want someone who looks different, but not someone who looks TOO different (as in, too B).

The B folks made an equally impassioned argument for a specialized position within B in case our current person there goes off to be a deanling, which they really want to do and which seems likely.

I suggested a different specialization within B that could also reasonably offer serious help to area C.  That didn't go far.  But I conceded that the other area was probably more important to us.

And so, with much discussion, we came to a consensus which makes me very glad to be part of a department where folks can make an impassioned argument for something and yet be convinced that at this point, something else should probably have priority.

And so we'll put forward our recommendation.

And in all likelihood, since we searched this past year, the few searches there are will go to other departments and programs.

We have some 15 people there for an hour and a half.  That's half a week of work, and probably for nothing, really.  (And more work in the prep the chair and chair of the meeting did.)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Hit the Ground Running

And we're back!  At least I'm back.  From Kalamazoo, where I met Dame Eleanor to say hi, and also other medievalists. 

I felt good about my paper, and heard some stellar work.  I learned to play a game, and am trying to think how I might make that work in my own courses.

But I barely slept.  Blanketgate. 

Just so we all remember: at some point a short while before the conference, word got out that people staying in the dorms wouldn't be provided with blankets, but would need to either bring their own, go without, or buy one.  Some smart folks figured out how to arrange so that the bought blankets could be donated for one or more shelters for people more needy than most medievalists, and also worked to fund some blankets for more needy medievalists (especially grad students).

I bought a blanket.  It was an okay blanket, but nothing to blog home about, mostly because it was too short.  I'm about 5'5", and I had a choice of either shoulders or feet for coverage.  Fortunately, it wasn't super cold.  (And in case it had been, I had long johns and sleeping socks packed.)

Most important, I reconnected with a friend and had several lovely long talks with her.

But now, holy cow, back trying to catch up on all the stuff I put off.  I have papers to grade by Wednesday morning (so I can give them back at the final).  I had a final to write, but it's now written.

My home is a mess, my office is a mess, my life is chaos, and I haven't practiced the violin since before Kalamazoo.  (This afternoon, I promise myself.)

I need to figure out all sorts of things before summer really starts, but can't do some of those until official paperwork happens, and we all know how paperwork getting done sometimes is.

And the Giro d'Italia is on, and Nairo Quintana is in the lead!  (It's a rest day today, the second during the three week race.)  Tomorrow is a time trial, which I don't find much fun to watch, alas, and which may also spell the end of Quintana's time in pink for now.  (Since the Tour de France is more familiar, folks may be more familiar with the yellow jersey worn by the general classification leader of the Tour.  The general classification is the total time to finish the race.  For the Giro, the general classification leader wears a pink jersey.)  There's also a cyclamen/purple jersey for the points leader, which is basically a jersey for sprinters, currently held by Fernando Gaviria; a blue jersey for the leader of the mountain competition, currently held by Jan Polanc; and the white jersey for riders under 25.  (There are other competitions, but only four result in distinct jerseys.)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

At the 'Zoo!

I'm in Kalamazoo, pretending to be a bit of a medievalist.

And, I got really good news today.  Back in 2011, I did a semester of teaching abroad at a place I called the Abbey; well the person in my department who was scheduled to go there in the fall doesn't want to go, for a very reasonable reason.  So my chair reached out to me and asked me if I wanted to go.  But, you'll remember, I'm scheduled for a sabbatical this coming year.

Well, it all worked out.  I'll go to the Abbey this fall, teach at NWU as usual in spring, and then the next year, will take my full year deferred sabbatical!  Things couldn't be better for that!

Except... I'll be teaching a course in Victorian Literature.  Uh huh.  I mean, I can pretend to be a medievalist, sure, but a Victorianist?  Fortunately, one of my colleagues offered to help me put together the course and prep for it.

I'm thrilled!

And now, back to pretending to be a medievalist!

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Thoughts on Not Hiring Local Adjuncts

I've been involved in a couple searches recently, from a variety of angles.  For each of them, some NWU adjuncts* applied.  And none of them were hired.  And now a couple are really angry. 

I know some adjuncts ask how it is that we're willing to keep them as adjuncts, but not hire them as tenure track faculty.  The answer is that there's much more competition for tenure track jobs.  Someone who applies for one of our newer adjunct positions is usually fresh out of a grad program, has some conference presentations, is abd or just finished, and has a good record of grad school teaching.  They write an application letter, do a phone interview, and are hired by the chair.  The job description says nothing about scholarly activity, so that's not something the chair can ask about.

In contrast, the folks who stood out in our tenure track searches generally had a publication or two, conference presentations, a good record of grad school teaching, good references, and what made them stand out to get the interview were stellar letters of application.  What makes the letters stellar always includes addressing the things we put in our job description, and says meaningful things about those.

From the stellar letters, we looked at CVs, and letters of recommendation, and then writing samples to narrow down the pool further.  We care about scholarly activity and teaching.  But no one got an interview that I know of unless they had a stellar letter.

What makes a stellar letter?

One of the candidates who isn't mad and I talked for a good while about their letter.  They sent me a letter of application for a different job, and a job description for that job.  So I used different colored highlighters to highlight the things the job description said were important, and prioritized those.  And then I used the same colors to highlight in the candidate's letter where they addressed those things.  That made the lack of addressing the job description really visible.

For example, this job description said it valued candidates who could contribute to diversity.  On first glance, a white candidate might think that means only a candidate who's a person of color.  But what it means is that everyone needs to learn about diversity, and especially about working well with diverse students and colleagues, and about contributing to diversity efforts on campus.  So, for example, this adjunct mentioned in their letter that they worked with a diverse student body.  And that was it.  But in reality, when I asked the candidate, they'd made at least some effort to learn about effective teaching for a diverse student body.  But they hadn't talked about it in their letter and it didn't show on the CV, so how was the search committee to know?

I did suggest to the candidate that they could do more, start a reading group for the adjuncts across campus, maybe, to take on some leadership in contributing to diversity.

The thing is, unless a letter tells the search committee that you actually can contribute in the required and valued areas of the description, the search committee won't know.  And they don't have time to go look you up on the web to learn more because someone else's letter did tell them that information, and made it sound meaningful and committed.

So, let's hear: why do your schools hire or not hire adjuncts?

*When I use "adjuncts" in this post, I mean any teaching staff who aren't on a tenure-track contract.  These may be full time or part time, and may have a variety of different names, even on one campus.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Two Good Things!

We had a big poetry reading last night, the main rule of which was that the poem/passage not be in Modern English.

So, I read a passage, and had a prop, and I got a big laugh reading about a beheading.  I also had audience participation (thwack, thud, splat, and ewww were the audience participation parts).

It seems wrong to get a big laugh about a beheading, but it was the prop.  (I balled up a green jacket, put a hat on it, taped on two blue circles for eyes, and used red ribbon for blood, and had a colleague roll it out at the appropriate moment.)

I've gotten several congratulatory comments today about the reading.  So, that's good.


I have a review coming up next year, a big one for me, but I'm on sabbatical, so I arranged with a colleague to do a class visit this semester, so that there's a fresh report available.  Today was the only day that really worked in the past couple of weeks.

My colleague came to my seminar class, where we did final revision work on their seminar papers.  It can't have been especially exciting, but it was good.  First, every single student was really engaged in working on their papers.  And they had useful, good questions that showed their engagement.  And, at the end, most every student said the session had been really useful to them.

We basically worked through the sorts of things one should work through to fine tune an essay: thesis, intro, topic sentences, organization, checked citations, definitions, and so forth.  The thing is, most students are busy and won't make themselves double check this stuff (because they think they've already checked it by writing the paper), but it's really useful to do.

My colleague had a great suggestion to make it even better, and was overall very complimentary about the session.  I was a little nervous in that way one is sometimes, so I'm glad and relieved it went well.

It's one of the things I really wanted to take care of this semester for fall.  Check.


Just over one week of classes left!  I have a bad case of spring fever and sabbaticalitus, but I'm done with grading until next week, at least.  I do have to work on my Kalamazoo paper a lot more, but that's do-able, I think.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Home Stretch

We have two more weeks of classes, then finals, and then, yes, it's spring.  For real.

I had a great time at Birding School, and learned a LOT, which was wonderful.  Such fun!

In the meanwhile, I have to finish grading a stack to hand back later today, prep for peer revision stuff in my senior seminar today, prep to teach Persepolis, and yes, work on my Kalamazoo paper.  (I'm guessing Kalamazoo is really convenient for folks who are finishing up right now; they have a week or two without classes to work on papers, then a weekend trip, and then summer begins for real for them.  Not quite so convenient for me, alas.  But I'm looking forward to it.)

I had my seminar students turn in drafts in the discussion area (in groups) on Sunday.  Two were late (they turned it in after midnight when it was due at 5 or 6pm), but everyone turned one in.

One of the late students wrote on their turn in note that they don't usually do drafts, just write and turn things in.  What they turned in was 6 pages (the assignment is 12-15).  So I'm hoping that they'll get some good, critical feedback and take revision more seriously than usual.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Bird School!

Some months ago now, in that fantasy time when spring seems like it will be reasonable, I signed up for bird school at a local nature reserve.  And today's the day!

But holy cow, what a time to have it!  Of course, for migration and such, it's perfect.  But for the academic schedule, not so perfect.  Or not at all perfect.

Still, I did the homework, and read up on anatomy and physiology stuffs, and prepared a handout for my group.  And I've found set my camera battery to recharge today.  And I've got stuff ready!

I should be grading, but I'm going to go learn about birds, starting this evening, and then early Saturday and Sunday mornings, all day Saturday, and Sunday through noon.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Teaching Peer Revision

This coming week, my senior seminar students will turn in their essay drafts (to our course management system, in the discussion area, where they're grouped into small groups), and then the next class session, they'll do peer revision.

So, taking Earnest English's suggestion, we spent a little time today reflecting on (in writing) and then talking about what made peer revision effective for them, and what made it ineffective.

My students suggested that really reading the draft carefully was vital.  yes.

Another suggested that they worry less about hurting feelings and more about giving real, honest criticism and feedback.  yes.

Another suggested that they give feedback in terms of questions, rather than directions.  (So more, a "I'm not sure what you're trying to get at here, can you explain it in different words?" than a "do this" sort of response.)  yes.

And one suggested that real, full drafts were much better to work with as revisers.  YES!

And we talked about problems, which mostly came down to people not reading carefully, or focusing on grammar rather than bigger picture stuffs.

I've asked them to give their peers one or two things to think about when they submit their drafts, so that they'll get the most helpful response possible. 

What do you do to help your students have a better peer revision experience?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Several Things

I was looking at the CVs of applicants for a deanling position here, and one of the CVs lists a book out from Scholar's Press.  So I looked at some on-line booksellers, and didn't see it.  So then I thought, hmm, that's odd, and googled the press, which basically looks sort of like an academic vanity sort of thing?  It accepts manuscripts, and prepares to print them out and bind them "on demand," pretty much.

Is that your folks' impression?

What does it mean that a deanling candidate has listed this on their CV?

Does the fact that this person is a finalist for the position mean that the search committee doesn't realize about the press?


I'm working on a conference paper along with my seminar students.  They're required to do an abstract and annotated bibliography.  I really don't want to do the annotated bibliography, but I really should.  Ugh.

The upside is if I get this done, then I'll have a much better conference paper than otherwise.

Do you folks ever write alongside your students (as in, visibly to them)?


One of the things we'll do with this is peer revision.  In my experience, my upper level students do a much better job with peer revision than lower level students do.  This is especially true when there are creative writing students in the mix, and English Ed students, because they get a lot of practice in responding to and critiquing peers' works.  My sense would be that lots of practice helps people learn to be better peer responders.  But we lit folks don't tend to have students do as much peer response as other folks.

In the Grade Information thread, Doc said that he basically found that peer revision didn't work well with upper level students.

What's your experience with using peer revision for upper level students?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

On Being Ungraded

As regular readers know, in February 2016, I started violin lessons.  One of the cool byproducts is that it's got me thinking about being a learner in a big way again, because I'm not just learning little extra stuff here and there from reading, but I'm learning whole new skills and vocabulary and concepts. 

In light of our recent discussion about grade information, I was thinking about being ungraded in violin. 

At one point, I did ask Strings, my teacher, if I were progressing okay.  I worried about it when I started.  But once she reassured me when I asked, I really haven't worried about it.  I think two things have happened.  One is that she reassured me.  And the other is that I'm pretty much at the limits of useful challenge in my violin playing, so it really doesn't matter if someone else progresses faster or not, because the only way I'm going to progress faster is to add a whole lot more time to my practice sessions, and I accept that I'm probably not doing that.

In private lessons, it doesn't matter how fast I progress.  I'm not holding anyone back, or being frustrated by someone else not keeping up.  And that's very, very different from being in a larger class.  Of course, in a large enough class, I wouldn't be aware of how others were doing, mostly, whether they were more or less lost in the material than I was.* 

At this point, I can pretty much tell how I'm progressing because when I'm playing my current piece well enough, Strings starts me on the next one.  And if I'm not playing it well enough, she helps me figure out my difficulties and helps me with strategies to work through them.

In my last lesson, for example, I was having difficulty with some areas of the Becker Gavotte.  So she had me trying playing a couple section without fingering, just playing the open strings.  (It's weird to do that, too.)  In another spot, she showed me how to use one finger that was already down to place a finger on a different string, but nearby.  And in another spot, she helped me realize that I had to lift my third finger quickly to be ready to put it down somewhere else after a different note.  And so on.

Even though I hadn't practiced as much as I might have in the preceding period (I skipped a lesson for SAA and didn't practice while traveling), she was able to find really specific ways to help me, all while being encouraging.

And this week, I'm back practicing the Becker.  (And technical stuff, of course.)

So how does it work without grades?  There's basically a sort of pass/fail, with opportunities to go work on doing better when I don't pass a given piece.  And encouragement. 

If I were being graded at the end of the semester, then it would probably feel different.  I'd probably ask, or want to ask, how I was doing in terms of a grade, because if you're in a system where grades matter (and they do for music majors, and for people getting financial aid, and for people who want to go to grad/professional school, and at some level, for people who want to graduate), you pretty much have to care about grades.

And there's the passing on to a new piece thing.  I'm pretty sure that doesn't mean I've earned the equivalent of an A at playing a given piece, even for my level.  I think it's more that I've demonstrated that I can play it acceptably at my level, and that the Suzuki system/teachers think I'll gain more by focusing on a new piece with new skills challenges than by continuing to focus primarily on that piece.  (With the reminder that in general, Suzuki students are expected to practice all the pieces they've learned previously with fair regularity, like once a week, for a long time.  With Strings permission, I don't do that.)

So if I were in a sort of portfolio system, how would I feel about moving on?  Me, I want to learn to play the violin, so I practice stuff that Strings doesn't check me on, scales, technique books, in hopes that those skills will help me as I progress.  But I don't keep working hard on pieces I've passed, mostly. 

What about students in a writing class?  Given that time is always tight, should a student keep working on revising a piece if they don't know the grade, just in hopes that they really need to?

There are times when I look at a paper, and it's very B land.  Minor, little things could make it B+ land, but to seriously improve it, the student would have to rethink the paper completely, pretty much.  Is it worth asking the student to take time to do that?  (My students are all pretty busy, with most working a lot of hours in addition to their courses and family responsibilities.)

*I remember when I went back to school, I was in this Shakespeare class, and just really enjoying it, but also not feeling super confident about my skills in lit.  At the beginning of the semester, I'd been in a long line on campus, and made friends with another student who also ended up in the Shakespeare class.  So we went along in class; this friend and I'd say hello and such, but didn't talk between classes about the class.  And then when the midterm came back, I was happy to feel good about my A, and totally shocked that my friend earned a D.  I was totally unaware that he wasn't getting stuff or writing well or whatever.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Grade Information?

You know how a fair number of the young folks you see on campus are looking at their phones at any given time?  What are they looking at?

I mean, I can check facebook, and my email, but all the folks I'm likely to text work (except my Mother, but she keeps plenty busy) and don't text me unless there's something up. 

So I asked my students while we were waiting for the class hour to begin.  A few mentioned texts or facebook messenger, and email.  But weirdly, several of them were looking at our on line course management system, looking for grades.  One said they'd turned in a paper the week before break, but still hadn't received a grade on it.  And that was like opening the spigot, because pretty much all of them said they were having similar experiences.

So, in a big course, papers, it can take more than two weeks (and certainly an instructor may actually have taken a break over break).  But the number of students who talked, in those few minutes, about their frustrations with not getting graded stuff back, or not getting feedback, was pretty high, and each person who came in as we were talking, quickly chimed in.

Now, let's take these with a grain of salt.  One student who complained about not getting anything back in a first year writing course acknowledged that she'd received extensive feedback on her work, just not actual grades.  It turns out she got an A in the course.  I don't know what the feedback looked like, but usually when I give feedback on an A paper, I write things about the smart ideas, good organization, strong thesis, overall high quality, and then maybe make a suggestion about how to tweak one thing to make it even stronger.  And the student said that others in the course got grades.

So, I don't know.  It seems weird that the student didn't ask the teacher, doesn't it?

On the other hand, it also seems weird not to give students feedback that includes a grade unless you're using a portfolio system, in which case your feedback includes revision suggestions and opportunities, probably.

Do you folks post grades on a course management system?  (I don't.)

How long do you think is okay to take to grade and return a short essay assignment (under, say, 5 pages)?  (I aim for one week, but sometimes take two.)

Do you give feedback without grades?  (I'm sure you have a good reason.  Please share.)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The More Things Change

I ran into a colleague in the "research room" (which is what our room with a microwave, coffee maker, water pot, refrigerator, sink, and seating is labelled, it being illegal to call anything on state property a "break room" apparently), a colleague who's retiring at the end of the semester.  And, as we do when waiting for water to boil, coffee to drip, and so on, we chatted.  I asked him how he was looking forward to retirement, and he said that while he's loved his job, there are changes, some for the better, some for the worse, but the detrimental ones are bothering him more than the positive ones these days.

So we started talking about some changes.

There are structural changes which make it seem more possible to give a wider group of people opportunities to go to college, but now those changes seem to be eroding.  So, here, he said, when he first came, the students were pretty much all white, middle class.  They're still mostly white, but now not mostly middle class.  We still have a long ways to go to serve the racially diverse population around NWU, but we're doing better at serving a more economically diverse population.  (You may think of the great North Woods as a land of unmitigated whiteness, but if you look, you'll realize there's more diversity in the area than you might think.  For one thing, there are more Native Americans in the area, but we're not serving them well here at NWU.  There are also more Latin@ folks than you might think, but we're not serving them hardly at all.  And there are more refugees and immigrants, often second generation now, too. 

Technology is a mixed bag.  It's great to be able to get texts, to access them in class, to not have to use a microfilm/microfiche reader, to be able to get texts PDFed from afar, to be able to look up some factoid quickly.  On the other hand, it's frustrating when students don't buy literary (or no doubt other) texts, but try to read them on their phones.  And it's even more frustrating when students pay more attention to their phone than to the human beings in class with them.

(What are most students doing on their phones?  Playing games?  Twitter?  Snapchat or something?)

I started here pretty much in the year my colleague feels was the beginning of local structural changes hurting students, so to me, those changes are sort of normalized for me as a faculty member.  I was totally unaware of them at most of the schools where I was a student (except for the years I was at a community college and regional university; the regional university hadn't bought books for the library in years in the lit field.  When we really needed something, the advice was to go to either the big public R1 15 miles east, or the smaller private R1 30 or so miles south.  Fortunately, both would let people read in their libraries, though we couldn't borrow books, of course.)

For colleagues who've come more recently, there've been drastic recent budget issues, but we're all weirdly adjusting to them as the new normal.

What have you found changing over your career in academics (or whatever)?  More positive or negative?  Mixed?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wild Dash to the Finish

How much do you work with undergrads on research/writing strategies?  How do you do it?

It's that time of the semester when we're all dashing to the finish.  We have five more weeks here.

In my Intro to Lit course, students turn in their critical essay next week.  I held open office hours last week, before leaving for SAA, and got some students, but this week I've had bunches.  So I'm in on a non-teaching day, holding office hours, hoping to help some more. 

In my senior seminar, I've been trying to be more proactive about the seminar paper stuff.  Just after break, I took a class session and we did a bunch of freewriting and other brainstorming activities about paper ideas.  Then students turned in a basic paper idea, and I responded to that.

In our meeting before I went to SAA, I spent time talking about strategies for writing a good paper, figuring out what to say, using research, and so on.  And while I was gone, I set them to get started, with the suggestion that rereading was a good start.

They seemed to appreciate talking about strategies.  I hope they weren't just BSing.

Yesterday, we spend time talking about what they'd accomplished, where they were stuck, and tried to help each person with some suggestions.  I also told them about my Kalamazoo paper, and that I'd be working on a paper along with them.

My plan going forward is to spend some time each week talking about progress and problems, and trying to help solve the problems.

And yes, I need to work on my Kalamazoo paper, too!

Here's wishing us all good work!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Catching Up

SAA was good, once I got there.  That was a bit of an adventure.  My original flight plans had me getting to the airport at about 4:45 am (to get the check in and so on.  My local airport is so small that the same person checks people in and then goes to do the security screening.  That means if you haven't checked in before they go to do security, you pretty much can't check in.)

Anyway, I got out of the car and saw a "flight cancelled" note scotch-taped to the door, went inside, and learned that yes, the flight was cancelled.  I texted my friend (who'd risen early to give me a ride), and she texted back that she was back outside the door.

And then I waited for a bit while the airline folks rerouted me.  This route meant that I'd fly out on THE afternoon flight (two flights out and in a day here), stay overnight in Chicago, and then fly out of Chicago super early.  (The desk clerk at the Chicago hotel said I pretty much needed to be on the 3:15am shuttle to get to the airport, through security and such.  I could have made it on the 3:45 shuttle, probably, given that there were no lines at 3:30 when I got there.  But maybe there would have been lines at 4am?)

At any rate, I made it to Atlanta mid-morning, and spent the rest of the morning rereading papers for my seminar.  I went to the lunch, had a delightful conversation with a friend, but couldn't hear the speech very well (bad sound system?).  Then my seminar, which was really good and interesting, and which gave me some good ideas for revision.

Then it was evening, and I went and got an early dinner, took a bit of a walk, and was in bed by 8:15pm.  I felt so much better the next day!  I went to a morning session, went to the book exhibit, and got on the MARTA to get to the airport.

It was really frustrating to miss so many seminars and talks I'd wanted to see!  But I travelled safely, and had a good seminar, good talks with friends, so that was worthwhile.

And now I'm getting back in the swing, taking care of school stuff, trying to sort out adding office hours for my desperate students.

I don't remember being so helpless as a first year student.  Maybe I was.  But I sure didn't talk to my professors so they'd know it!  (On the other hand, it's probably actually way better that my students DO talk to me and other professors, since my strategies weren't particularly successful.)

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

To the Shakespeare Association Conference

I'm headed out early tomorrow for SAA, which is in Atlanta this year. 

I have mixed feelings about conferences.  On one hand, it's great to go and see Shakespeare folks, talk Shakespeare and early modern lit.

On the other hand, it reminds me how isolated I feel intellectually here, and how many resources just aren't anywhere near.

It's great to get away, especially to somewhere warmer.

But it's also a pain to make arrangements for classes to be covered, plants to be brought in/taken out, travel, and to pick up the extra expense, because NWU never quite covers everything.

At any rate, I'm heading out.  I'm not taking my computer, so I won't be posting.

Death on the Internet

For years now, I've read Steve Tilford's blog.  If you don't follow cycling, you've probably never heard of Steve Tilford, but he was the first US mountain biking champion, four times the US cyclocross champion, five times world mountain bike masters champion, twice world cyclocross masters champion, an inductee in the mountain biking hall of fame, and three times a member of the US world road team at the world championships.

He was also just a bit older than me, but still raced and road tons, and wrote wonderfully about racing and riding, and all sorts of things.

But today, I opened  Cycling News and saw this.  And then I opened his blog, and saw a post by a friend of his.  (It was a car accident, a really horrible car accident.)

I never met Steve Tilford.  (I don't even feel like I can call him by his first name, certainly not by the nickname many seem to use.  But just his surname doesn't seem right, either.)  But I'm really sad.  Reading someone's blog, following their life, learning from them, seeing pictures of their dogs, family, friends, adventures, it all makes you feel sort of like you know them.  Except you don't.  Not really.

But still, what a life the man led, and how he'll be missed by his family, friends, the whole cycling community, and his blog readers, including me.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Why an MA in English?

We had a meeting about our MA program last week; there's a new colleague directing the program, a colleague who very much wants to be a deanling and so approaches everything as an administrator.  They really wanted to present their idea, have us all nod obediently, and move forward.

Instead, people started asking questions.  And the best question asked us to think about what the MA program is trying to do.  It's a great starting point for rethinking our program.  (I've blogged before about my frustrations with our program, how weak it is, how much of a disservice I think we do for students who should be encouraged to go elsewhere.)

So the question of the day: what should an MA program try to do?  Or, to put it another way, why should someone get an MA in English?

(Note: we're a regional comprehensive with the only MA in English for 100 miles in most directions.)

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Crocus Smile, the Fourth Year

I know you've all been waiting for pictures of this year's blooming of the now famed art installation, "Crocus Smile"!!  Here it is!

And yes, an individual crocus bonus, because they're so amazingly beautiful.  Once again, let me say, the crocuses are more obvious in person.

And, this year, I've tried adding more bulbs (that I'd left in the garage over winter).  Hopefully next year's smile will be even better!

Crocus Smile, the beginnings
Crocus Smile, Year Two
Crocus Smile, Year Three

Friday, March 31, 2017

Sometimes, It Works

When I finished teaching yesterday, I felt really good.  I'd prepped the heck out of my classes, especially for the novel, and both classes went really well.

I usually feel pretty good, like I've taught say, a B+ class.  But today, I felt way better, and that's sort of rare.  But oh so good!

On the other hand, I played less well than I'd hoped at my violin lesson.  But I got a new exercise, got some encouragement and tips, and will practice to improve. 

After several weeks of practice, I'm able to get a slight variation in sound when I use the bow while doing slow vibrato.  That's a huge improvement, but it's going to take a lot more practice!


On Tuesday this week, I spent pretty much the whole session in my senior seminar doing brainstorming type work for their seminar papers.  I think it worked.  They all seem to have come up with at least basic ideas for things they want to look at.  If it helps their papers, it's time well spent.


I bought a new toy this week.  I'd been thinking about it off and on for a few years.  Over the weekend, I went birding up to this amazing pond, filled with geese, swans, ducks.  But while I could pretty much tell the Canada Geese from the others, I couldn't tell whether the smaller white geese were Ross's Geese or Snow Geese.  It's hard to tell size at a distance, and the other big field mark is beak marking, with the Snow Goose having what my Sibley's calls an "obvious black 'grin patch'" (79).  Let me say, the patch isn't at all obvious at a great distance through my binoculars, much less in my pictures (taken with a 400 mm lens).  I was so frustrated!

So I got a spotting scope.  My 400 mm camera lens basically does 8x magnification.  My binocs are 10x.  My spotting scope is 27-60x.

It's utterly amazing.

I need to get a new tripod before I can take pictures with it (there's an adaptor to fit on my camera), but when I do, it should be pretty darned exciting!  I can't wait to go look at those geese again!  (I can hold 10x binocs okay; in good light, so the shutter speed is fast, I can hand hold the camera with lens.  But it's way easier with a tripod.  But there's no way I can hand hold this huge spotting scope and actually see anything!)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Novel Teaching

I always feel a bit at odds and ends when I teach novels.  I know that's weird for those of you who teach lots of novels all the time, but I usually teach plays and verse stuff, long or short.  I'm pretty comfortable teaching The Faerie Queene or Donne's sonnets, and super happy teaching plays.  Short stories seem more straightforward to teach.

But novels!  First, they're often pretty darned BIG!

I assigned the novel for over break reading.  I hope they did it! 

So I started in today trying to introduce characters, and trying to weave bits of those characters through the whole of the text.  I'll pick up more, but I want the students to start paying close attention, and I can tell they didn't.  Of course, it's an intro to lit course, and they're in the course to learn to read better, so it's completely reasonable that they didn't read with quite the attention I did.

Still, For a couple of the characters, I traced bits through the novel (Reservation Blues, by Sherman Alexie): one character's a bit of a bully.  Later, we learn that he's been sexually abused as a child by a priest.  And they also cut his hair off.  Then later still, the mysterious Big Mom character tells him he has to forgive the priest. 

Students need to learn to pay close enough attention to tie these things together, to remember the sexual abuse incident when the forgiveness talk comes.

But I don't feel like I know quite how to teach students to read this way.

Or how to teach them to get at the bigger picture at the same time.  I tend to be a smaller, tight focus sort or reader, I think.  I like to work through small passages and explode them to get at the bigger issues.

How do you more expert folks teach novels?

Monday, March 27, 2017

No Wonder Non-Academics Think We're Lazy

NPR has a story up today by a UC Berkeley psych prof about balancing parenting and being a professor, "A Day in the Life of an Academic Mom."  The intro says, "Blogger Tania Lombrozo is an academic — and a mom. Here, she gives a window into what that's like day-to-day."  From that intro, I have a sense I'm going to read about a whole heck of a hard day's work.  Don't you?

But she gets to work at 9am: "9:00 a.m. I'm finally in my office, a glorious hour of uninterrupted work time ahead."  From there she gives an hour by hour run down of her day, until the 4pm entry, which says, "4:00 p.m. I ignore my escalating email and return to the paper I'm writing. Forty-five splendid minutes speed by; it's time to pick up the kids."

So, she's worked 9am to 4:45.  Nice.

Except every single factory worker in the US got to work at 7 or 8am (or started a night shift or whatever), and did their job for 8 full hours.  Yep, they probably got some time for lunch.

Lombrozo does say she emailed a little later in the evening: "9:00 p.m. The kids are finally asleep. I email my student the experiment idea. I book my conference travel. I open the document with the paper I'm working on. Can I sleep yet? I close it again."

It's not that I don't think she does her job.  Heck, she's probably way smarter and harder working than I am.  But this hour by hour thing isn't convincing.

Let's imagine that factory worker's a mother as well.  She, too, gets up at 6am, maybe earlier.  She gets the kids ready, makes a lunch for everyone, gets herself to work by 8am.  She works a full 8 hours. (with, say, a half hour for lunch.  That's how my non-academic jobs generally worked.)  She gets off at 4:30, and picks up the kids from afterschool or day care.  She goes home, makes dinner.  (In the real world, most mothers do most of the cooking in their households.)  She cleans up, bathes, reads to kids, and all that.  Gets them into bed.  Then maybe she pays some bills, reds up the kitchen, does some laundry.  Then bed.


How about me?

It's the first day off after break.  I don't teach classes today.

6am.  Get up.  Get ready. 

7:30 - At the office.  I start in on my to-do list.
--the list starts with bureaucratic paperwork.  I do that.  I do more of that. 
--I arrange travel for a conference.  I register for the conference.  Then I do bureaucratic paperwork (except, of course, it's all on computer, so "paperless.")

10:00 - I start working on the agenda for a committee I chair.  I get frustrated by the word processing program adding indents to my list, and make a quick call to the help desk.  The quick call takes 20 minutes (but I finish the agenda while I'm on hold!).  Then the help desk person asks me if the next person up the line could call back with an answer.  I say sure.

--I do a task related to the committee, email the chair, adjust the agenda.  I send out the agenda!

11:30 - The help desk person calls back, can't figure it out, and asks to come over.  I say sure.
--I grade some student work, and prep some for class presentations in the coming weeks.

11:45 - The help desk person comes with two helpers, and they work at my computer.  I get tea and wait.  I go talk to a colleague.  I keep checking back, but they're not having an easy time.

--They think they've got it!  But no, it doesn't work.  I clarify what I need to happen (no automatic tabbing) and they finally figure it out and show me.  It should have taken the first person two minutes to explain it over the phone.

--I reshelve some books, clean up my desk, and check for the next tasks on my list.

--I get an email to tell me that some of the bureaucratic paperwork I did actually worked, and I'm getting reimbursed!

--I do some conference prep.

12:30 - I think I'm almost ready to go home, but a colleague stops by to ask for help with a course she's teaching next semester (our first year writing course).  It's a complicated course, but I print out my course materials from last year and walk her through what I do.  Then we talk a bit about what she wants to do.

1:20 - I reorganize a couple of files for my senior seminar reading materials.  I put together my stuff to take home for this evening.

1:30 - I leave campus. 

1:50 - I get home, have lunch, relax, read this article, get pissed off, write a blog post.

3:00 - Time to get back to work: I need to reread a play, prep to intro two plays in my senior seminar and talk about seminar papers.  I need to prep to teach a novel (which I reread this weekend). 


What do your days look like?

Sunday, March 26, 2017


We're coming to the end of spring break here in the NorthWoods.  A friend from college spent the week here visiting.  They were recently "made redundant" in their job, and so are unemployed, but got a decent severance and such.  And their profession is one where there's lots of job movement through a career, so I expect they can find a job pretty quickly in their field.  Unfortunately, they're also really burned out on their field.  So we'll see.

At any rate, it was wonderful having a friend from my previous world visit.  Since my friend was feeling tired and burned out, we spent a lot of time relaxing, chatting.  We did some driving around, going out for meals, and hanging out.  I introduced them to some favorite Netflix series.

My friend left yesterday.

Now life feels quiet.  My house feels quiet.  (Not that my friend is loud, but it's quieter.)

I did some grading and such, so I'm all caught up there.  I spend yesterday rereading a novel to teach this coming week, and still need to reread a play or two.  And plan classes, of course.

I'm working on a really difficult violin piece.  I missed two days of practice over the break, so that's not too bad.  Strings suggested an exercise book for third position, and I've been working on that.  The biggest difficulty with third position is reading notes and putting my fingers in different places than before.  (The position thing has to do with where the fingering hand is on the fingerboard.  First position is nearest the end.  Third position is with the first finger where the third finger usually is.)

I'm also working on additional scales, in second and third position.  Some are physically difficult for me (reaching up the violin), and all are mentally difficult in terms of thinking about what notes I'm playing.

So I'm plugging along there.

I haven't been birding at all yet this spring, but I've heard about a great pond about 40 miles away, so I'm heading up there in a bit, I think. 

And my crocus smile is up.  I've got a new plan to try to fill in spots.  I got some crocus bulbs in fall, and left them in the garage all winter (so they'd get cold enough, but not too cold).  So I'm going to stick them in the empty areas today using a dibble stick thing and some bone meal, and hope they'll come up!

Meanwhile, Gent Wevelgem is on (it's a bike race in Flanders) and very exciting.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Kwame Alexander and Li-Young Lee

I'm teaching two amazing poems today.  First, Kwame Alexander's "LIfe" and second, Li-Young Lee's "The Gift."

Days like this, I have a really, really good job.

Thursday, March 09, 2017


Earlier this week, I had a chat with a student who's missed more than half the class sessions this term because they're suffering from anxiety and depression.

I don't know what to say.  Shakespeare doesn't help here.  Don't kill a king.  Marry someone who's wit and personal qualities match yours if you can.  Don't ignore your day job if someone else is going to come in and cause problems for your dukedom.

It's not that I want to be unsympathetic, but I'm at a total loss.

I don't have much experience with real depression, but from the far sidelines experience I've had, it's horrible.

The thing is, if someone is too anxious or depressed to come sit in a classroom where little is demanded of them (a little small group discussion, maybe sharing ideas, but it's not like we're doing brain surgery and someone's going to die if we mess up), then really, my class is the least of their worries.  How can you hold down a job?  How do you deal with relationships?  (Bad things happen in relationships: loved ones get sick and need care and love, for example.  That can be hard under the best of circumstances.)

What I want to say, but don't, because I know it's not helpful is "just get up and drag yourself through the day like most of us do."

I don't say that, and I know it wouldn't help.  But seriously, I think for an awful lot of people in the world, getting up and dragging themselves through the day is how they get by a lot of the time.

And I think it's probably always been that way.  There was probably some Homo erectus out there who really didn't want to get out of the nest they'd made the night before, but then got hungry enough to either get up and go forage or decide to just lie there and get eaten by something else.  And until they couldn't any more, they got up and went to forage.  And even if they went out to forage, something else might have eaten them.

Those of us who are lucky, mostly get up and are happy to do what we're paid to do, at least mostly.  (I would be happier not to have to grade or fill out assessment paperwork, but there you go!)

I tried to help this student, gave them an option to help them catch up, dug out handouts for them, and so on.  I wish I felt even slightly confident that I could be helpful.

What's the most helpful thing for students with anxiety/depression (for an academic instructor) to do?

Edited to Add: I should have mentioned the counseling services stuff before.  The counseling services and the student were already working together, along with the Dean of Students office coordinating.

Thanks, all!

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Losing Touch

There's a recent article by Deborah K. Fitzgerald in The Chronicle of Higher Ed about how "Our Hallways Are Too Quiet."  In the article, Fitzgerald laments that after a ten year absence (deaning), she returned to the faculty area to find it feeling empty.  She notes that faculty are busy working elsewhere, especially at home, something made possible by changing policies (allowing folks to work at home as a way to make things better for families, for example), and technology (networked computers enable us to work away from specific offices in ways we couldn't earlier; though to be honest, I've had networked computer capabilities for about 18 years now, and I'm guessing my campus isn't as tech quick as MIT, nor am I as tech savvy, in all likelihood, as she is).

Fitzgerald suggests that it's hard to get "work" done in campus offices, and that tenure demands for publication fuels faculty needs to work off campus.   (At NWU, requirements for tenure and promotion subtly shift up all the time, at least partly the faculty's fault, but also in response to administrative pressures.)

While that seems likely, I'd also suggest that faculty may be in their offices with doors closed, doing the additional paperwork sorts of work that seems to keep getting added to our loads in various ways.

Even basic stuff, such as writing syllabi, seems more complicated.  A while back, I found a syllabus I got in college.  It's one side of one page, and basically gives the readings for the semester and test dates.  We're now expected to give information about how we're evaluating students, what plagiarism is and how we'll deal with it, absence policies, various sorts of help available on campus, and on and on.  Some of it's cut and paste from previous terms, but sometimes we add new stuff; I have a colleague who wrote up a civility policy after dealing with a particularly rude student last semester.

And then there's "delivery," how we try to teach students whatever we're tying to teach.  How much time do people spend on powerpoints so that they can make them available to students?  I'm guessing a lot more than my art history prof used to spend picking out slides for a lecture.  In addition, we probably all spend time setting up course management sites, putting up assignments, arranging whatever.  (Does this take longer or less long than the copies of readings that were stapled into folder  for check out at my undergrad library for readings not in the textbook?  I don't know.  I think I probably assign more out of text readings than I was assigned, but I wasn't an English major.)

Don't forget about advising and student services: we're all asked to send notes to the Dean of Students if we have students "of concern," students who aren't coming to class enough, students who seem depressed, students who come to class hungover.  We're supposed to track these students' emotional states and notify whatever offices on campus seem appropriate.  (And in order to do that, we're asked to take special computer modules about student depression or whatever.)

Finally, there's the endless assessment game, and all the meetings we have to attend to decide what and how we're going to assess whatever it is, and then the additional time to fill out the forms that the assessment folks demand, with ever changing goals and targets.

And all the committee work that needed to be done ten years ago still needs to be done, but here in my department, we're down about 20% of faculty from 10 years ago, so we have fewer people doing the work, and more work (assessment, especially) is required all the time.

So here's what bothered me about the article.  Fitzgerald seems surprised by these changes.  But here at NWU, at least, people write bigger syllabi in response to administrative requirements (read: the dean's office sends a mandate).  People make up powerpoints and study guides because administration pressures them to in some fields.  And by golly, administrative pressures are behind every single bit of endless assessment work we do.

Did she not notice as dean that the administration was making continually increasing demands on faculty?  (Was she not making those demands or seeing them made somehow?)

Fitzgerald comes up with a typically deanly remedy: she praises the creation of
events such as regular colloquia, lunches, teas, and happy hours to give people a chance to interact. Some may view those social opportunities as a huge time-waster. I would argue that, on the contrary, collegiality and collaboration are part of what we are paid for.
I'm not the best happy hour person (I have a low enough alcohol capacity to not drink anything alcoholic if I have to drive), but these sound pretty nightmarish to me. 

If we really want to make departments more sociable (and I'm not sure we do, for a variety of reasons), then reduce workloads, and give people opportunities to chat over whatever relaxing beverages they like.  But it has to come with a workload reduction that means my friend with a two year old isn't worried about making the pickup from daycare on time, and so the TT colleague who's desperately working on an article can take a breath away.  And the atmosphere has to be actually welcoming.  (My department's social functions pretty much always feel like straight, married folks sit in pairs and talk about being straight married folks in the most gender-normed ways you can imagine.  Maybe that feels welcoming to some straight married folks, but it doesn't to me.)

We also need to recognize that if the sociability fantasy is based on everyone "back in the day" having had a stay at home spouse, having been all white, all ivy-educated or whatever, then we need to rethink whether we want that sociability.  If we've done anything right in the past 20 years (and the closed door thing has certainly been a problem for more than 10 years), then we've increased the diversity of our faculty in many ways: we have more people of color, more LGBTQ folks, more women with children, more folks from different social classes.  Not everyone may want "tea" if it means pretending we're all upper crust British wannabe aristocrats.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Coughing and News

I've had a cold for about two weeks now, it's all stuffy nose and coughing.  Ugh.  It's not as bad as the one earlier this academic year, that lasted until I took antibiotics (prescribed by a PA) after a couple of months of hacking.

But coughing gets very old, very fast.

I haven't practiced my violin for about three days.  It feels like months.  I keep coughing and sneezing, and it's really hard to play anything when I'm coughing and sneezing.  I've also spent a whole lot of time trying to sleep, wishing I were asleep, and on the verge of sleep.  It's hard to sleep when I'm coughing, and that makes me more tired, which makes me go to be earlier, and get more frustrated when I cough instead of sleeping.  And it probably doesn't help much with getting better.

I had two pieces of good news this past week.  One was the official notice about my sabbatical.  The other was that the search I chaired has finalized a very good hire.  I blogged a little about diversity issues in hiring here (Hiring Faculty of Color) and here (Diversity Statements) this fall.  I'm very pleased with our hire, and so is pretty much everyone else who's talked to me about it.  (I've been stopped in the halls, gotten emails, and such.)

But can I say, as someone who's in a department that teaches writing, and so, one would hope, is likely to attract people who've been trained in writing and stuffs: holy cow, some people in our field can't write their way out of a paper bag.  It's not the majority, but there are definitely some.

Here's a hint: if the ad says that the ideal candidate will show evidence of X, then by golly, show us some evidence of X.  If X is teaching excellence, talk convincingly about your teaching excellence, about the work you do to teach well, and so forth.  If X is doing handstands, talk about doing handstands. 

Can I also say, our HR department is a real mess right now with all the retirements and people leaving for better jobs.  Their messiness added a lot of stress to certain people's lives in regards to the search.

I've had it up to here (hand at forehead) with colleagues who don't do some basic aspect of the job, but who expect the rest of us to fill them in.  And when these same colleagues make snotty comments about the job we did in their absence, I don't want to hear them.

On the other hand, I'm going to Kalamazoo!  When I started back to school to study English, one of my first teachers was a medievalist who talked about what a great conference Kalamazoo is, and for the first time, I'm going!  And that teacher and I are going to be able to get together and catch up a bit, which will be splendid.  She's one of the best teachers I had, and was always super encouraging to me.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Next Step: Vibrato and Shifting

At my lesson yesterday, Strings had me practice a small bit where I shift my left hand (the one that fingers the strings) up the violin so that the first finger is where the third finger usually is.  This is "third" position.  It's a little step, but I'm excited.  And I got a shifting practice exercise and a vibrato exercise.  I know someone who plays the violin (non-professionally) who said that for him, when he learned vibrato, that made everything so much better.  Since I'm pretty happily playing what I can, it will be fun to have it even better when it gets there.  (I think vibrato takes a good while to get on violin.)

We also talked about learning how to play by ear.  The plan is for me to start with really basic tunes, the sort of things we know deeply, like "Row, Row" and such, and just work them out. 

So after my lesson, when I did my practice so that I can remember what I learned at my lesson session, I worked out "Happy Birthday" and "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "Row, Row."  It's going to take some practice!

We had 6-8" of snow last night, so it's time to rev up the snowthrower and clear some ground!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

First Outside Bike Ride of the Year!

I don't think I've ridden outside this early in the year since I moved here.  Pretty amazing.

I almost fell because I hit an area of ice without being able to stop in time.  My rear tire slid out, but I was able to unclip and get a foot out in time, so I didn't fall.

It was really great to be outside!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Public Performance

I performed on the violin before an audience of more than my teacher or one other amused person today.  In front of a fairly good sized group, in fact. 

It went pretty well.

Don't get me wrong, it was no big recital or anything.  Just a good step for me.

Strings is primarily a violist, and put together a viola day on campus today, with master classes for three different levels of student (middle school, high school, and college), lecture/workshops, and a big concert (and rehearsals for that).  All of them open to the public and free.  (You had to sign up ahead to play viola, though.)

But let me start from the beginning of my day.  The first thing I was going to was mid morning, so I decided to practice before.  Except my strings were all out of tune.  So I went to tune my A string (second over), but instead, wound the peg for the E string (the highest, thinnest one), and yes, broke it before I even realized.  (But, the good news is that I had bought a set of replacement strings about a month ago; the bad news is that I don't know how to change strings yet).

So, I went to the master class, and before it started, while folks were in the milling about stage, I asked one of the college viola players how long/hard it is to change a string (and explained that I'd broken my E string; the viola folks on campus know that I'm learning violin).  She said it takes about five minutes to change a string, and anyone here (all the viola folks) should be able to do it.

So after the fascinating master class (I sat in on the college one), I went home, had lunch, picked up my violin (and strings) and went back.  When I got there, one of the college players I'd met before was sitting at the registration table, so I asked her, and she changed my string for me, and tuned me up.  (I'm ever grateful.  These students are super!)

Then I went to the workshop by Strings on performance anxiety, and learned some strategies (because, as I've written before, I got so nervous playing for a "test" that I was shaking).  There were a few minutes before the time was up, so Strings asked who wanted to play something for the rest.  A couple of students volunteered, and while they were getting instruments out, Strings reminded everyone that we're all rooting for people, we're a friendly audience.  Which was true.  Three students played, and they did well, but there were still a few minutes, and Strings asked for more.  Silence.  So I finally asked if I could play violin, and she said yes, enthusiastically.  So while I was getting my violin out, she explained to the students who I was, and that I've been playing about a year.  And I got up and played the opening two sections of the first piece of Book 3.

And you know what, it was pretty good.  I didn't have time to fret, and everyone was very nice about it, and I sounded pretty good (for where I'm at as a violinist so far).  And I didn't die, or shake even.

So that was great, to at least do it and stand in front of a group, on a little stage, and play.  To have at least done that was very good for me.

I don't think Joshua Bell (or whatever other violinist comes to your mind) needs to worry about competition for gigs just yet, though.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Politcal Conundrum - Interdisciplinary Basketweaving Style

I just got off the phone with a colleague over in Interdisciplinary Basketweaving.  They've got a special course taught once a year by a deanling with an MA, during one of our breaks in the regular semester.  They've been teaching the course for at least ten years, maybe more.

One group of basketweavers finds the course and the deanling's approach to it unsatisfactory.  The deanling isn't qualified as a basketweaver, and doesn't teach the sorts of things that basketweavers think are really vital.  The course might be better housed in Underwater Arts, but the Underwater Arts folks said "no" many years ago because the course wasn't using an approach that's vital to the faculty over in Underwater Arts.  And so, it found its way to Interdisciplinary Basketweaving, where it's been taught pretty much with the deanling doing their thing, ever since.  And Interdisciplinary Basketweaving doesn't really have the power of a department such as Underwater Arts, and there's a deanling involved, so it happened despite some people's reservations.

The deanling wants to make the course fit a campus requirement.  That in itself isn't unusual, since lots of courses fulfil one or another requirement.  But this iteration of this course the deanling teaches isn't the only iteration, and the other iterations don't really fit the same requirement. 

So, in order to make this work, it looks like the deanling needs a new course, something that's not umbrella-ish, and just includes what the deanling does.

Some folks want to stand up against the new course because it doesn't really work for Interdisciplinary Basketweaving.  And the deanling really isn't well-qualified to teach the course.

On the other hand, to be honest, the deanling's been teaching this course for 10 plus years, and if I'd taught anything for 10 plus years, you can bet I'd be pretty well-qualified to teach it by then.  (Because I'd have studied my ass off to do so.  Wouldn't you?)

It seems to me that the time to draw the line was back when the deanling first started teaching this course.  To suddenly say, "you've been teaching it for ten plus years, but now you're not qualified" seems stupid now.  Why has Interdisciplinary Basketweaving not stopped it way back?

The answer, of course, is that the deanling is a deanling, and so it's convenient to let deanlings do what they want.  It was then, and it probably will be now.  It was easy to imagine the deanling would do this course, and then get bored, and give it up.  But that hasn't happened.  (There's a political payoff for the deanling, I think.  Also a bit of financial, I bet.)

I guess one question is, is the course doing what it should be doing well enough?

If not, is there a way to get it to "well enough"?

Students who've taken the course (mostly first and second year students) tend to think it's wonderful.  It makes them feel good.  They think they've learned lots.

Maybe they have learned lots, but they haven't learned the "lots" that either the Basketweaver faculty or the Underwater Arts faculty think they should, mostly in terms of critical thinking and theoretical understanding (these aren't grad school sorts of theoretical understanding, but the sorts of theoretical understanding introduced and taught in lower level Interdisciplinary Basketweaving and Underwater Arts courses).

Take a stand or no?

I'm so bad at political stuff.  I hate the idea that faculty folks didn't take a stand 10 plus years ago, but I also understand why they didn't.  But I don't want to stick my neck out, either.

Except, you know, isn't this flattering of authority types a slippery slope to worse?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Red Lips?

The local college feminists are sponsoring something called a "Red Lips Project."

My initial reaction was to just wonder why.  I don't really want to criticize young feminists, but this seems so... heteronormative or something.  Traditionally, in western culture, red lips are about looking sexually appealing to men, no?

Then I figured, this must be a "thing" that I just don't know about.  And I found out that the idea comes from this tumblr called The Red Lips Project.

The idea, according to the about page on the tumblr:
Women are intrinsically powerful. But I realized that many of the women in my life don’t always have a space to express their power. I wanted to create a project to change this and give them that space. 

As a photographer, I have always been fascinated by the imagery of red lips. To me, red symbolizes power; it is a sign of strength and courage. This was corroborated further when rapper A$AP Rocky stated that dark skinned women shouldn’t wear red lipstick. He certainly wasn’t the first to say this and he certainly won’t be the last. This inspired a movement where women of color posted pictures of themselves wearing red lipstick. These pictures were just one way in which women were able to fight back the beauty norms and instead revel in their own ideals. 

When I saw these pictures, what stood out to me was how powerful each woman looked; they had all maintained their individual identities, but the underlying power behind each picture was the unifying element. 

I took inspiration from this movement to create The Red Lips Project. Each woman I photograph is asked the question, “What makes you feel powerful?” My only other request is that they wear red lipstick as it serves as both an aesthetic and symbolic unifier. Every other detail in the photograph is the subject’s decision. 

The Red Lips Project serves to remind women everywhere of their intrinsic power. I find this to be a therapeutic process for both myself and the women I photograph; we don’t always take time to pause and remind ourselves why we should feel powerful. I hope in exploring this blog you too can find ways to remind yourself of why you are powerful. 
So, I gather there's a critique in this project about a rapper who said that dark skinned women shouldn't wear red lipstick.  From reading what he said (here's [a version of?] the interview and an article about the interview that has the quote where he says dark skinned women shouldn't wear red lipstick, and also an article about how he responded to criticism about what he said from women of color) he's not making a feminist critique of makeup, but more saying that he doesn't like it much. 

This complicates things, doesn't it? 

My reaction is still that red lipstick doesn't feel empowering to me.  But having read some critiques and responses of the general idea (not specifically aimed at the rapper's comments) (here's one from Essence (2014), and here's one from Essence in 2016), I think there's a whole lot of thinking I haven't done about lipstick, especially for women of color. 

I don't know if my students have, either.  (The college feminists here tend to be pretty white, and overall, this isn't a campus where most white students are really thoughtfully critiquing racism.)

What are your thoughts?

(I don't wear make-up, and am unlikely to notice if someone else is, unless it's really sparkly or something; I'm also very bad at noticing what people are wearing unless it's a really strong color that appeals to me.  The bonus is that you can wear the same thing to see me every day and I won't be bored.  The downside is that I probably won't notice when you've put on an especially wonderful outfit and look especially wonderful in it.  I try to dress myself so that my clothes are reasonably clean, weather appropriate, and won't get me arrested.  So far, so good on the arrest part.)