Friday, May 29, 2020

New Car

Early last week, I had my car (a 2003) in for servicing.  It was due for 60K mile servicing, which I'd missed early on, and left to 100K, so this time, it was due for big stuff, and had 162K miles on it.  It's had a small oil leak for about a year.  It wasn't huge, and didn't worry me overly, but I kept an eye on it, and made sure to get the oil changed and checked and all.



So, they called me and said they'd changed the oil, but... in addition to the oil leak, there's a coolant leak, and also, it was going to need new brakes shortly, and to fix it and all was probably going to be a lot, and much more than the car is worth.

I brought it home to think, and texted with my incredible, wonderful brother.  I texted him a link to a newer used car (same model) at the dealer, and he said it was a bit pricey, and took a look at an on line car thing, and found a really good looking car, a newer model, with low mileage, and suggested that.  The on line place delivers to your house!  (The car is fairly local, so they say.)  So I went to the dealer and test drove one like it, and then started filling out the on line forms.  And I got to the place where I needed to submit my old car's title.  But that's in my safety deposit box.

Like a lot of people, I keep somewhat important but not safety deposit important stuff in my freezer (because someone told me it's the last place that burns when the house burns).  So I looked in my freezer for the little tiny envelop with the safety deposit keys.  Not there.  (All the other expected stuff is there.)  And then I looked everywhere else I could imagine.  Nothing.  I'm guessing when I had to get a new fridge, I missed taking out the tiny envelop, and it went with the fridge, back maybe six months ago, in mid winter.  (A good time for a fridge to die, since you can move things into coolers on the deck and fill them with snow.)

I called the bank.  They need to drill out the thing... and there's a charge and they have to make an appointment and such.  So, the charge is about $125, they said, so we arranged an appointment.  The earliest is June.  Uh oh.

I sighed, and the next day texted my brother my tale of woe.  And he sensibly texted back that they weren't going to give me much for my car, so why not get the on line one with low mileage, and then just take my old one to the junk yard when I get the title.  SMART! 

He looked at the on line place again, but the car he's suggested was gone, pending sale.  He looked some more, and I looked.  Then he suggested a different model, which I've never driven. 

I told him I'd go test drive one at the dealer, and then texted him the link to the dealer, and asked him which used car I should ask to drive, and also, if there were some of the other model I might look at.  And by the time I got to the dealer, he'd texted me four cars, and so I started test driving.  I really didn't like the second model as much.  But I drove one of the used cars he suggested, and really liked it.  It's not as fancy a version as my old car, but has all the things I really need in terms of extras: namely, heated seats.

Reader, I married it.  Or bought it, at any rate. 

It's very comfortable to drive.

My brother also helped me figure out to get the extended warranty (mostly for electronics stuffs), and also suggested that I go get a "bra" put on.  Basically, it's plastic sheeting that they adhere to the front parts of the car to protect the paint from dings and such from stuff that gets thrown up at the car. 

I had my appointment for that yesterday, and picked it up this morning.  So now it feels like it's really mine, and I've started adding stuff.  I put on things so the seat belts are more comfortable (they're always made to be comfortable for someone who's like 5'11" or something, and I'm not).  And I added a thing to hold some emergency money and a check, so they're not super visible, but are easy for me to get if I need them.  Finally, I added my park stickers for the state and county.  So now it's really feeling like we're ready to have some adventures.

My old car was really good, low worry for the most part, and good for camping and such.  If this car is as good, and lasts as long, then I'll be pretty darned happy.







Feeling My Way Forward

I've been the new chair since Tuesday, and I'm learning about all the things I need to start actually learning.

On Monday, I had an email conversation with the deanling Dan (not their real name).  Dan wanted to talk on Teams, which is fine, so I told him when I had stuff to do, and he sent me one of those outlook calendar thingies.

And then he sent an email that said "your calendar is grey" and sort of chastized me for my calendar being grey.  It doesn't look grey to me.  In the past, I've never much used the outlook calendar because I carry a calendar book, and like being able to flip pages easily and see things, which honestly isn't the same.  Anyway, I remembered this incident, when a student was able to make an appointment in my calendar somehow.  (The magic of blogging is that I can find stuff that happened way back when if I can remember a searchable keyword.  "Calendar" in this case.  Deanling Dan is the "deanish" person whose incompetence in checking how things should be done resulted in this post.  Fortunately, Dan seems to have learned a LOT in about ten years.)  And I remembered someone helped me figure out how to make people not able to change my calendar or even see it.

In the past couple of weeks, preparing for chairness, I've reset the calendar so the admin assistants can see and add things if they need to (because I trust them both to take good care of the department).  So I went in and reset the whole thing so that anyone can see when I'm busy.  And then I emailed deanling Dan and that was that.  I seriously have to check that outlook thing way more than I have been.

We "met" virtually yesterday, and I learned a lot.  And holy cow, that's a whole lot more to learn!

I need to find a system of keeping track of pending stuff easily.  I'm thinking a board with post it notes would do (in addition to my bullet journal and calendar).  That way, I can quickly see and review them, make sure anything that needs to get done is done, and then remove the post it.  But that doesn't really work unless I'm more or less in one place, and there's an organized office sort of space.

We're going to play office dominoes.  The previous chair needs to move our of our chair's office (which is close to the department office, and on a corner with big windows and a gorgeous view).  But the chair will be moving into an office previously occupied by Adjunct A.  Adjunct A got hired by the communications department onto the tenure track (hurray!  nothing could be better!), and is probably waiting to get a real office over there to move into.  (We're hoping he'll have his stuff out of our office by mid June.)  Then the previous chair can move, then I can move.  And then one of our new hires will take my office.

The things that have happened so far have been sort of, "yes, these happen, some not too often, some pretty much every week, and you need to figure them out" things.  No disasters yet.


Sunday, May 24, 2020

I'm Out with the In Crowd

A couple times in the not so distant past, I've seen or heard someone in my field use terms I don't understand.  In one case, it was before the shelter at home orders; in the other, it was on the interwebs, in an academic effbee discussion group.

First, I'm older rather than hip and young.  Heck, even when I was young, I was never hip.  Now, it's even worse.  And yet, I'm absolutely sure I used terms such as "Other" or "other" in ways that indicated I was "in" on the cool critical studies stuff.  And I don't imagine I was terribly thoughtful about making sure that everyone in the conversation knew what I was talking about.

I remember, in the mid-nineties, using the term "queer" in a women's studies class in my small, midwestern, SLAC, and realizing from the shocked looks that I needed to stop and talk about reclaiming the term.  For me, I'd long felt it was reclaimed and owned by the LGBTQ communities.  But for my students, it surely wasn't.  And so we talked about it.

At this point, I tend to be at least moderately aware of my audience when using lit studies cant, the semi-secret language of humanities fields; I avoid it if I'm talking to people outside of academic contexts, just as I avoid talking about quirky bits of Shakespeare.  In classes, I'm going to define the term, write it on the board, and make sure that my students understand it, and what I'm after when I use it.  And in hallways with my colleagues, I'm sensitive to whether my colleague is more or less a lit crit type theory person, and might well avoid some terms if so.  (If they're a music theory person, that's a whole different world!)

This change is largely, I think, the result of a lot of teaching, and partly the result of feeling reasonably comfortable with myself.  I can't think of the last time I felt the need to "prove myself" in terms of theory, or pretty much anything except when I had my department interview as part of the chair decision.  And that was about trying to prove that I would be a decent and responsible chair.

In these cases I'm thinking of, my impression is that the users of the terms are both "young" in terms of the profession.  Maybe they were just totally comfortable using the term, the way I was with "queer."  Maybe they're trying to prove that they're in the know about things. 

In person, I asked (the word was "Ace" but clearly not about cards or sports or flying), and the person said what it meant, someone who identifies as asexual.  (I would have just said, "asexual," but I guess that's not the preferred term??  No doubt there are subtleties.)  There may have been a slightly patronizing look, or maybe it's just me feeling stupid.  On the web, I looked it up (the word was "DisCrit," which I thought at first might be criticism of dystopian lit, but nope, it's Disabilities Studies using a Critical Race Theory approach, I think).  In the latter case, I don't know the person, but they were asking for help finding resources about DisCrit in a way that didn't seem like a more experienced person's approach.  (I may be wrong, of course.)


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Student Communications and Canvas

We use Canvas as our course management system.  It lets me put up announcements for each course, comment on student documents, and other cool stuff.  It's actually a really workable system, I think.

If only students would read the announcements and such.  I know, it's the age old "students don't read the syllabus" and "students don't read my comments on their papers" thing.  I think Socrates makes the same comments somewhere, maybe in the Theaetetis?

Alas, there's no easy solution.  If there were, we'd all be using it.  (Like with the age old complaint, "I get cold at night," to which someone answered, "Hey, I could throw a hide or cloth over myself!  I shall call it 'blanket!'"  Only in some language more ancient than Socrates' upstart Greek.)

When we switched over to on line, about half way through the semester, I put up an announcement that I wasn't moving my grades over to Canvas, and only new grades would show up there.  I also sent every single student a mail merge email showing exactly where they stood with grades for the semester at that point. 

I give frequent short writing assignments (journals, let's say), at least 15 in each course, of which students need to turn in 10.  So, with 80 or so students this semester, and already about 7 of those done and recorded in my excel grade sheet, plus other assignments in all three courses, I'd have over 400 grades to transfer into Canvas.  So I told students I wasn't doing that.  I also don't know how to make Canvas count only 10 of those journals either.  (I have a similar problem with short papers, where students got to choose which one they wanted to do, out of three choices due at different times.)

So with that email, they should have known exactly how many journals they'd done, and very simple math would give them the answer to how many more they need to do.  (On the paper syllabus, I put spaces labeled to help them keep track.)

And yet, I got panicked student emails:  "Canvas says I've only done [some percentage close to 50%].  Could you tell me what I'm missing?]  So I told them.

After a number of these in one day (it was six, maybe seven), I put up a new announcement about the grades in Canvas.  That cut down the panicked emails slightly.

The other day, though, I got an angry sounding email from a student who'd turned in an 11th journal.  So in Canvas, I gave it a 0, and noted in the comment box that they'd already done ten, that they'd gotten xx/100 (a very good grade) on the journals, and didn't have to do more.  But apparently, the student had seen the 0 and hadn't bothered to read the comment (which, alas, shows up in small pixelation just below the grade: it needs to be BIG and BOLDFACE to catch their attention.)

So I made up a "testing one two three" file, and submitted it as a test student in one of the grades.  Then I graded it, and commented on it in the box and on the "paper" (which you can do in colors on Canvas).  And then I switched to "student view" and sure enough, there was the comment, right under the grade.

Finding the comments on the "paper" was more difficult (I had to ask the wisdom of the interwebs on effbee), but it's do-able.  And I had sent the students the exact same "how to look at grades and comments" page on Canvas at the beginning of this whole fiasco.

And then there's the student who panic emails about how their journal hasn't been graded yet, and why isn't there a grade, even though they turned it in a day ago, late (because I leave the "box" open an extra two days, just to help folks who are having difficulties, and don't grade them until a couple days later).

So, there's nothing new here.  It's just a bit of venting.  I can't vent with colleagues in an office behind a closed door.  When I email with students, I don't berate or belittle them, just try to be polite and answer their question.  Very few bother to even thank me for that. 

But, I did get a couple of very lovely emails from students thanking me for what I'm doing to try to make things good.  And that's been so very nice.


Sunday, May 03, 2020

Not Quite Bald

The hair on the back of my head is darker, less gray, than nearer the front.  So it looks like there's more here than on the frontal picture.




I'm quite liking it now.  I haven't shown a lot of people, but the ones who've seen it have been nice about it.

It's nice to touch, like velvet, with a strong direction, so it's super smooth in one direction, and sort of prickly in another (but still not super much).


Friday, May 01, 2020

Bald

Not quite.  But yesterday, I shaved my head.  I have what might be a two or three day stubble, so it wasn't all gone, but pretty much gone.

If you've seen Unorthodox on Netflix, you'll remember the scene where the other married women are shaving the head of Esty and she's crying.  That's not how it went down here.

I borrowed a shaver thing, put on the lowest plastic shaving guard, went out onto my deck, and went at it.  As I was shaving, I had a moment of doubt.  I'd just taken a huge swath from one side of my head, and I suddenly was filled with doubt.  But at that point, I was pretty committed.  I'd thought about shaving my head on and off for years, pretty much every summer.  But I never did, because it seemed like... well, it would be weird going into a new class with a barely fuzzy head.  Or something.

I was committed, but had a doubtful twist in my gut.  And then I caught my reflection in the window and burst out laughing.  The doubt didn't totally disappear, but it wasn't twisting in my gut.  And I kept laughing.  I cut what I thought was everything, and went inside to shower, and saw myself much better in the mirror, and realized I'd missed parts.  So I went back and did more.  Even so, at the end, I couldn't get all the little hairs behind my ears, so a friend helped.  (We'd planned to go trash walking in a big park, so I took scissors and we violated social distancing for a few minutes.  When I went to the park, I wore a hat, and when I took it off, she and I both laughed a lot.  It was fun!)

So now my head's shaved, pretty much.  It's a CoronaCut!

We're preparing for the possibility of teaching on line in fall, and it's not pretty.  The students mostly don't like it, and neither do most professors.  I think we all enjoy the human contact.  And, whenever we get back to face to face, I imagine there will be a couple of weeks of really appreciating being there.  (And then it will be back to normal, and we won't think about it quite that way.)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sunday Evening Reflection

It's Sunday evening.  I had a good day of grading and reworking some things for the on line classes, using students suggestions (which I'd asked for) to try to make things clearer.

I feel better prepared for this week than I have since going on line, and that's good, but I'm frazzled and feeling a bit anxious this evening.

I've posted a weekly summary of things to do for each class, and a little keeping in touch thing that I'm trying to do each week.

I'm caught up on on-time grading, though there are many late things that I need to find in email and grade.  That's the hard part about late things, that they get buried in email...

I made a "late box" for turning in late assignments for each class, so I'm hoping that will help me find them more easily.

One of my students emailed me asking when I would be posting all the grades from before we were on line into our course management system.  Let's see, 80 students, and if each student has done 5 small assignments with grades, that's... yes, 400 grades to move over.  It's not happening any time soon.

I have three biggish committee meetings this week. 

I'm mostly prepared for the one on Monday afternoon, but will need to do a couple hours of work for it this week.  (But not for tomorrow's meeting, for the next meeting.)

I have a meeting Wednesday afternoon, late, that I have a couple of hours of work to do for.  It's generally a once a semester committee meeting, so that's good at least.

On Thursday I have an ad hoc committee meeting that I've done maybe three hours of work for already, and need to do at least another four hours of work for.  The work's at least interesting and not too onerous at this point.  It will get more demanding in the coming weeks.

There's a standing meeting on Thursday morning, but it doesn't take a lot of prep on my part right now.

I have a set of papers coming in tomorrow.  Students can turn in either this short paper or another (later in the semester), and it's looking like there's one in for now, which means that later, there will be a ton.  Okay then.

What I really need to start doing for my courses is looking at all the discussion posts, and seeing more fully how they're going.  And responding some.  I gather I should set aside time each week to do that, and that's the goal for this week, probably Tuesday morning.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

It Had to Happen. . .

One of my NWU colleagues has died.  It seems like it was sudden, but unrelated to the Covid-19 epidemic.  I don't know.  It's not someone I was really close to, but someone I kept in touch with on facebook and was happy to see on campus on those rare occasions when we did. 

Facebook is how I found out.  Her daughter first, and then some other people posted on her page announcing that she'd died. 

It's the sort of thing that leaves me wondering, though I really shouldn't put any energy there.  And she was younger than I am by a few years, so it's one of those times when my own mortality seems a bit fragile again.

I'd love to know what sorts of things people are doing to try to make their classes feel like there's at least a little community.

I'm trying to post a little video thing once a week, wearing a different hat each time, mostly saying hello and wishing them well.

I really need help making discussions more effective.  If we go on line in fall, I'm going to do them more like I did on D2L.

So much grading. . .  so overwhelming and not easy.

Monday, April 13, 2020

A Weekend of Grading

We started back to classes last week, all on-line.  We were told we needed to have students doing something by April 2nd, and really dig in starting April 6th.  We'd left off just before I would have given midterm exams, and I'm sure a lot of my colleagues were in the same boat.  So, late last week, I had students turn in short essays for their midterms. 

Mostly, given the constraints, they did well.  Some were really excellent.

Today, we were supposed to turn in midterm grades for our lower division (first and second year level) courses, which meant I spent the weekend and much of today grading their midterms so I could give them a real midterm grade and turn it in.  I got them all done, but it wasn't easy.

Grading on line is hard.  We use a system called "Canvas" for doing on line course stuff, and it works pretty well, though it's not super intuitive.  The grading thing is good, but I'm really slow at reading and responding on line, MUCH slower than I am with paper.  So my responses on the midterms were minimal.  I'm hoping I get a bit more efficient with longer essays!

I have students do a fair bit of writing in short one or two paragraph assignments; they do ten of these over the semester, which ends up being about the equivalent of a 5-8 page paper.  Except it's less stressful, and they get a lot more frequent feedback, so more developmental.  Because these are short, it takes about half an hour to 40 minutes to grade a full stack (there are 15 for each course, and students do 10 of those).  That means I often have smallish grading tasks two or three times a week (for the three courses I teach).  So I'm constantly grading, but not huge tasks, if that makes sense.  It means I can keep up well with those, and pretty much turn them back at the next class session, which is as good as it gets in terms of low stakes feedback for developing writing skills.  Most college students can write a decent paragraph in well less than an hour, so it's not a massive burden on them, and certainly not as stressful as a 5-8 page paper would be.

If the semester had gone to plan, I would have had spring break to grade midterms, and never really fallen much behind.  But as it went, I'm buried in midterms now (I still have my upper level course midterm to grade), and another biggish developmental assignment for the upper level course (which scaffolds into their semester project), and I haven't even looked at those small writing assignments this week.

I think most of us, instructors and students alike, are feeling pretty ragged now.

I've gotten good feedback from my students on the material I put on line.  With the Canvas system, you can give students short quizzes, which aren't graded, but do the prompting memory thing; you can make short videos where you show what's on your screen and talk over it, or where they look at your face.  You can put up discussions (I really need to figure those out better), and you can put up writing.  So I've tried to do combinations of those so that it's familiar, but not exactly the same for each text.  (My classes are organized by text, mostly, so students can work at their own pace.)

Students say they like the quizzes (low pressure, ungraded, and mostly 3-4 questions), and the videos I've done (mostly with text showing, or pictures that I drew or something).  They also tell me that the course is organized so that they can find what they need to do pretty easily, and follow along.

All that is good news.  The organizational strategy seemed obvious to me, but I have no idea how other people are organizing their courses.

Last Monday, and today (also Monday), I sent each class a group email telling them what was happening as far as grading and such, and what they need to work on this week, and whatever due dates are happening this week (for those short writing assignments, mostly).  I'm planning to do that every week, and also put up a short video of me talking, just saying hi, how are you sort of thing, every week.  My plan is to wear a different hat or something every time.

That's the week that was.  Now that the courses are up and I've turned in midterm grades, I have more committee work to turn to, and more grading.  Of course.

Monday, April 06, 2020

The Not So Obvious Agenda in Assessment

I was at a meeting today about some assessment stuffs.  It was one of those meetings where people look at assessment info and decide if the course gets to keep its qualification for GE.

One course was flagged because every student in the course met the goals.  That's a problem, a colleague said.  They should tell us how and why they're doing that.

It's a small upper-level course, I said (well, not in these words, since it was on line and all, and it seems like it would be a problem if the instructor weren't reaching most students with this rather modest goal.

And the other person wanted more information about the meeting the goal thing, because they suspected it couldn't be so.  It might be that the faculty member wasn't doing more than clicking a number.  Which could be, of course.

So, I understand, but what I want to know is, what's the secret number that will or won't provoke Professor A's suspicion?

There's really no answer.  But 100% for sure, unless there's a good explanation.  Though the form didn't ask for any explanation like that.

It's one of those things where, ideally, everyone would be aiming for 100%, but if you get there, suddenly you're suspect.  Damned if you do, damned if you don't.  Frustrating!

Back in Session

After suspending our semester (which starts later than most), we're back in session today.

I spent a bunch of time sending emails to all my students yesterday detailing exactly where they are in terms of their course grade as of the suspension, having graded all the things handed in then.

We've been advised to go totally asynchronous, given how many of our students live in rural areas with uncertain internet or live in households with uncertain computer access at a given time.  If another sibling has a class meeting that has to take place, then better not to put that pressure on our students, and hope they can get things done at other times. 

So, I've tried to imagine what I'd want to communicate about a work to students, and tried to think of how to best do that on line, and that's what I've done.  It means I've basically done all the reading and prep for six weeks of work in three weeks, along with some grading. 

In a face to face class, I do short bits of information, and then tend to have longer times when I'm asking students to read and think, draw, write, discuss, and then share out, so that they learn to read and discover for themselves what's important in the reading.  In those cases, I'm trying to be more like a guide who focuses folks on where to look and helps them see something for themselves.  My goal is to help students learn skills in reading, in learning to identify what's important, and in learning to tease out how metaphors and  such work.

I'll give students passages to look at in groups, say four passages, 8 groups, 2 groups on each passage.  They'll get time, I'll wander around, try to guide them, and then we come back together and they tell each other what they've come up with, and I try to reinforce it.  My difficulty figuring this out on line stems from not knowing how to divide students into groups looking at different passages, and not knowing how to have students report out from groups, and not knowing how to get everyone else to read the reporting out part.

I've got two of my three courses totally up for the rest of the semester, and the third up through May 7.  I'm trying to finish that up by tomorrow, and start grading midterms that they're starting to turn in. 

My guess is that I'll feel less stressed and anxious as students show that they can get through the on line stuffs.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Virtual Meetings

As proto-chair, I've started participating in meetings, and now those are going virtual.  We've got a meeting program embedded in our course management system and it works pretty well.  But none of the deans or deanlings I interact with wants to use that.  So each has their preferred program, for whatever reason, and everyone needs to get on board with that. 

So upload I do, and then...  for a meeting tomorrow, the deanling's assistant thought I needed to practice on the program, and so called me on it, and then it took close to an hour because there was another dean's assistant on the line and both wanted to make sure I knew how to show documents and such, except they couldn't get it to work on her thing (though I got it to work on mine).

And now back to trying to put my courses on line.  I'm putting up the stuff for Hwang's M Butterfly now, and it's been really hard to figure out how much background to give on Orientalism, history, and the opera, in order to help them read and enjoy the play and make something of it.

I did a bad drawing of a set:

Super sophisticated, for sure.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Checking in

I have a Garmin watch that tells me when my phone's ringing because it's connected by blue tooth.  So this morning, I was in my bedroom dressing when my watch buzzed and I saw I was getting a call from my Mom, so I ran into the living room, except I didn't get there because for the first time ever, I tripped on a rug and went splat, onto a hard tile floor and head into a wall.  Fortunately, my head hit the wall to the side rather than, as it were, head on.  Still, it was a whack.  I took a moment to get up, wondering if I'd given myself a concussion (pretty sure I didn't at this point some hours later), and realizing I'd also whacked a knee. 

I'd missed the call, but called back right away.  My Mom had called.  The week before last, she'd asked me to send her some playing cards, and I had, but stupidly sent pinochle cards.  I didn't even look at the labeling, and even if I had, I don't think I'd have realized that pinochle cards aren't a regular deck of cards.  (My Mom let me know that, and has repeatedly every time we talk of late.)  I offered (last week) to get a another deck and send it to her, but she declined, assuring me that her friend plays bridge regularly and can probably lend her a deck. 

This morning, she was calling to ask me to go get a deck and send it to her.  So I asked, didn't your friend have a deck to lend you?  Yes, she said, but it's a brand new deck, and I don't want to open it.  And I said that if I sent a deck it would also be a brand new deck, so? 

I think the point was that she doesn't want to wear out or ruin her friend's cards.  So I said when the virus was over, I'd get a brand new deck so she could give that to her friend.  And I think that satisfied her.  At least about the cards.

My Mom isn't mentally all together these days, and I realize that, but still, it seems wrong that she wanted me to go out and potentially expose myself in a grocery store just so she could have a deck of cards that wasn't new from her friend. 

***
I think I've figured out why I'm so slow putting my classes up on line, other than just procrastinating a bit.  I'm basically doing the rereading and rethinking that I'd do for a regular class, AND doing more thinking about trying to teach it on line.  And I'm doing it for three classes, and trying in three weeks to put together six weeks of teaching. 

It's far less satisfying not knowing how things are going to work for the students and not getting feedback.  I hope things will feel less strange when I see that students are working on things and get some feedback.

***

It's been two and a half hours since my head banging, and it doesn't hurt on the surface, and I don't have a headache or any other issues, so I'm pretty sure I didn't give myself a concussion.  Still, as I was flying (literally) for the wall, I did think, that could be it.  And then it wasn't.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Koan Enigma and On-Line Teaching/Learning

In some Zen Buddhist practices, there's a way of teaching / learning called "koan."  There's a LOT of variety, but in one basic practice, a koan is a question, problem, or riddle given by a teacher to their student.  The student then ponders and comes back with a response.  At some point, if everything's going well, they figure out a correct response.  And then the teacher gives them another koan.

One of the most famous koans is the question: What is the sound of one hand clapping?

If you're like me, you ponder for a very short bit of time, and then look up the answer, thinking that it's like math, and if someone shows you the answer to one, you can repeat it and then learn how to do the next one.  But koan really aren't like that.  The point is more the pondering than the answer to the question.  Just getting the answer doesn't teach you what pondering and finding a correct response will.

Some of the things I'm doing for my on-line classes are sort of like koan: I ask students to freewrite, not because there's a specific answer, but because working through and thinking about things, even for 3-5 minutes, will help them learn in a different way because reading literature, thinking critically, writing well, these are skills, and to do them, you have to practice a lot.

In person, I ask my students to freewrite, and say I'll give them x amount of time, and wander around (warning them off phones if those are out, which is rare, but not unheard of), and most of my students, because they're cooperative, will appear to be doing something. And then when I ask them to share some ideas, they actually tend to have stuff to say.

But how do I convince them that it's actually worth taking that time on-line?  If they're like me, they just want to get through things, get to the "punch line" or point or whatever.  I know from personal experience that I don't do freewriting or whatever unless I really have a committed purpose that I'm convinced it will help with.  But I'm not sure I can convince very many of my students to feel that commitment or purpose when they're doing a class on line.

Are there ways to actually convince them? 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Administrative Musical Chairs

Another administrator has left NWU for greener pastures and a higher title.

It's been something like 10 years since my college has had a dean for more than 3 years, and about half of that time, we've had interim deans.

If they're good, they move up and away, and fast; dean is just a minor checkmark on the way.  Associate and assistant headmaster is a step up to headmaster, and there... well, there must be a lot of turn over at higher ranks because people seem to move a lot once they move into administration.

Or not.  If they're questionably competent, they can get stuck.

And sometimes, we've had GREAT mid-level administrators who stuck around a while; the folks I'm thinking of were hired from within and really found a way to put their smarts to use in creative ways here, and didn't move, for whatever reason.  (Though one recently retired, and what a loss that is to us!)

One of my grad school friends is now a headmaster, and a surprising number have served as chairs of various sorts of institutions.  (I'm late to the chairing game.)

I have a feeling my current chair could be a really successful dean if they want to go that direction.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Time in the Time of Covid

I talked to my Mom today; she's 88, and feeling her age lately.  At her retirement community, everything is locked down; they're supposed to stay in their apartments.  It totally makes sense; the managers want to try to keep anyone from getting or sharing the virus.

But my Mom's bored.  And anxious.  She keeps watching the news and stuff about the virus, and then she reads stuff about the virus.  Who wouldn't be anxious.

I get that she's bored.  I think there's two ends on the spectrum of reacting to the sheltering in place thing: people with a work at home job and kids in the house are at one end, desperately trying to get things done and not finding much time for sleep or even basics.  And at the other end are folks like my Mom, who don't have other responsibilities or easy access to the internet (my Mom could, but she doesn't get on because she found it all too confusing).

I'm closer to the other end, trying to get classes up and ready while also trying to get some exercise and sunshine every day.

I'm now part of two on line teaching communities, and they're both a little overwhelming, just because there are so many people posting all the time.  What I really want is one easy answer, and done, but I don't think that's happening any time soon.

In other news: I checked nesting boxes today, saw many Robins, and the American Goldfinches are getting their bright yellow already.

So, last week, my Mom said she was going to run out of TP.  So my brother ordered some on line.  But then he got a notice that the order was cancelled.  So, on Friday my Sister in Law texted me, and made it sound really urgent to send some since I'd seen some at the store, restocked.  I went to the store and got my Mom some TP, and called her to see if there was anything else she needed while I was at the store.  No, she said.  I got a card and some licorice and sent the package to her (she gets a bit of a treat and surprise).  It's supposed to get there early next week.

Today, she called and said she needs instant coffee.  She doesn't like the coffee they bring her at the retirement place (they're delivering meals to everyone's apartments, along with whatever...  basic dietary stuff).  Like, I could have easily gotten the coffee while I was at the store and sent it on Friday.

I asked her to check and make a list of whatever she needs.  But she said she really doesn't feel like it.  (I hope I convinced her, anyway.)

I'm a little freaked out because if she gets sick, like really sick, there's probably no way I can go to see her.  And the same thing for all my other family and friends.  I can't be the only one thinking of this?

I saw a news article on the BBC about a family where four members died, but each alone in their hospital room, without knowing about the others.  The survivors are understandably devastated, and in self-quarantine hoping they didn't catch it at the family gathering.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

One Done

I made some good progress yesterday, considering.

I've now put up the basic structures for all three of my courses, and did one day's teaching material for one course.  We're finishing up Persepolis, so in order to do it, I had to pdf some pages, and then made three short videos (3-5 min each), some short quizzes that don't count for grades, and two discussion areas with specific questions.  I'd love some feedback on it, but truthfully, what I want is to be told, "that'll do" and feel okay about it.

Today, I'm going to work on finishing up "The Reeve's Tale" in the Chaucer course and work on The Tempest stuff for the Intro to Critical Studies course. 

Yesterday was a steep learning curve.  I was at a meeting on Tuesday (sitting far apart in a huge room), and the teaching center director was there, assuring us all that there's lots of support available.

So, I figured out how to make my little video things (voiceover with screen pictures of the appropriate pages of Persepolis), but then I couldn't figure out how to upload the video or embed it.  I figured out how to upload it, finally, but still couldn't figure out the embedding into a page.  Turns out, the "upload video" button isn't what you use.  Instead, you use the "other media" button, and then another button, and voila it's there.

At each problem, I tried calling the Canvas support folks or the campus support folks or the on line Canvas chat, but all of them were backed up, and the chat session timed out before they got to me. 

So, I finally got desperate enough to read the directions, and that helped.  (It's a pain to have to go back and forth between screens trying to read directions and then do them on another screen, isn't it?)

A friend has been joking about starting a blog as the "Pantless Professor," but it sort of seems problematic for a female professor, doesn't it.  And problematic in a different way for a male.  Still, funny to joke about, and we needed a joke.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

You Read it Here, First

I'm predicting an upsurge in blogging.  Buy those blogging stocks now!

Blogging is at its best when the blogger is doing something relatively new to them and processing a lot.  And by golly, we've got a lot of people who are going to be doing something relatively new to them and needing to process.  And a lot of folks are mostly going to be inside, trying to work on line.

I must admit, I miss the community from those heady days of blogging when lots of folks blogged, and then when it turned out that I knew a fair number of academic bloggers off line, too.  (I think my grad program somehow produced a disproportionately high number of bloggers.)

We're going on line, too.  We have a week of suspended classes, spring break for a week, and then another week of suspended classes in which to prepare, which is a whole lot more than a lot of people. 

My goal for today is to decide what I want to focus on and what leave out for at least one class, and maybe two.  We're suspending classes for two weeks, so it's reasonable to drop some stuff, two weeks worth.

As incoming chair, I've been to a lot of meetings this past week or so, and it seems like everyone up the chain is on board with being reasonable: try to do a reasonably good job putting courses on line, but recognize that things aren't ideal.  Try to do a reasonably good job in other ways, but recognize that we're going to need to treat tenure track colleagues' progression reasonably.  (People, especially people with kids, can't possibly do the same sort of research agenda while learning to teach on line and having their kids home, and so forth.  And people will get sick and lose time.)

In terms of first stage planning, here's what the Chaucer course calendar looked like:


Week 7
M - Mar 16 - The Reeve’s Tale
W - Mar 18 - Midterm Exam
F - Mar 20 - The Wife of Bath’s Prologue; read essay on prologue in Open Access Companion; Article Report #2 Due

SPRING BREAK

Week 8
M - Mar 30 - The Wife of Bath’s Tale; Word Paragraph #7: 1109-1124; Article Report #3 Due
W - Apr 1 - The Wife of Bath’s Tale; read essay in Open Access Companion
F - Apr 3 - The Friar’s Prologue and Tale; Word Paragraph #8: 1447-1554

Week 9
M - Apr 6 - The Friar’s Tale
W - Apr 8 - The Summoner’s Prologue and Tale; Word Paragraph #9: 2216-2237
F - Apr 10 - The Summoner’s Tale

Week 10
M - Apr 13 - The Merchant’s Prologue and Tale; Word Paragraph #10: 1319-1339
W - Apr 15 - The Merchant’s Tale
F - Apr 17 - SAA

Week 11
M - Apr 20 - The Franklin’s Prologue and Tale; Word Paragraph #11: 862-880
W - Apr 22 - The Franklin’s Tale
F - Apr 24 - The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale; Word Paragraph #12: 941-957

Week 12
M - Apr 27 - The Prioress’s Prologue and Tale; Word Paragraph #13: 502-529
W - Apr 29 - The Prioress’s Tale
F - May 1 - The Nun’s Priest’s Prologue and Tale; Word Paragraph #14: 3705-3719

Week 13
M - May 4 – Peer Revision of Research Project
W - May 6 - The Second Nun’s Prologue and Tale; Word Paragraph #15:  141-154
F - May 7 - The Manciple’s Tale (Guest lecturer)

Week 14
M - May 11 - Review for Final; Research Project Due
W - May 13 - The Parson's Prologue; Chaucer's Retraction
F - May 15 - Last Day of Classes; The Pilgrimage; read “Two Kinds of Anxiety” essay in Open Access Companion

The Manciple's Tale is going away, for sure.  But what else?

The article reports are assignments to read and write about a single critical article, and are preparation for the final research project, which is basically a lit review of a critical conversation around a topic/issue (I gave them a list).

What else should I lose?

I'm thinking: Second Nun's for sure, and Parson's Prologue; what else?

Friday, March 13, 2020

Astonied

Reading Spenser (I'm pretty sure), I was taught that being "astonied" or "astonished" meant being turned to stone, or, you know, like stone.  And "amazed" means being as in a maze, lost, without direction, confused.

That's where I was yesterday, when our headmaster put out the word that we're cancelling classes.  I was pretty sure we would get to that, but didn't expect it yesterday, since he'd put off and made it sound like he didn't think it was that serious.  I think something changed his mind.

So, we're moving on line.  But unlike lots of schools, we have a couple of weeks to get our courses in shape and moved over.  That's really helpful, because it's a daunting idea.

On the other hand, I'm guessing there will be a lot of alcohol consumed in the dorms and student housing this coming week...

I've never taught on line before, so I've got a lot to learn in the next couple of weeks.  And I see all sorts of folks are putting lists of resources together, so I'll definitely be looking at them.

I read a couple of weeks ago that some expert (sorry, I can't remember who it was or where) thinks that having the Covid-19 virus around will be the new normal, like having the seasonal flu.  No one knows yet if getting it once will make you (mostly?) immune or not.  And no one knows if we'll develop an effective vaccine.  It's more dangerous than the flu so far, and may always be.  Or it may become less dangerous if exposure makes you immune and it doesn't evolve different forms quickly.  (That fast changing of forms is what makes the common cold so difficult to deal with, and also helps make the flu difficult.) 

My (vague!) understanding is that the common cold is also caused by a corona virus, so maybe that will mean this one evolves as fast.  I don't know.

It's especially worrisome for older folks and those with immune problems or chronic illnesses.  And the economy is worrisome now, too. 

Of course, there've been bad, bad pandemics before, but not for a long time.  And I wasn't worried (because I wasn't alive yet).  Now, I'm worried.  Like folks during the Black Plague, and folks during the Spanish Flu pandemic.  (I don't think this is as fatal as those, but it's still plenty serious, no?)

Take care, lovely readers.

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

A Voice in the Hinterlands

Sharon O'Dair wrote "The Lies Graduate Programs Tell Themselves" recently over at the Chronicle of Higher Education.  I'm sure O'Dair is absolutely right in some of her analysis, especially in recognizing that graduate school acceptances for PhD programs are driven by the needs for cheap labor to teach introductory and writing courses.

And yet I can't help but feel my hackles rise when I read the following sentence:
The decades-long overproduction of Ph.D.s has spilled highly trained graduates of elite programs into assistant professorships in the hinterlands, "places like East Podunk University or West Jesus State College," as Jeffrey J. Williams memorably put it in 1995.
Does she not think that students at schools in rural areas or the Midwest (which is what I think she's after with her "hinterlands" comment) deserve to be taught by highly trained graduates?  Or is it graduates of elite programs?  (Surely she doesn't think only elite programs produce highly trained graduates.)

Who does she think should teach at our schools?  Unqualified people?  People who didn't go to elite schools?

Well, [expletive deleted] that.  My students deserve great scholar/teachers every bit as much as anyone from whatever elite university you can think of.


NWU also benefits from the abundance of stellar graduates from PhD programs.  We don't tend to get many applicants from Grand Old Ivy type places, but we get really superb applicants from public R1s.  And that means we have highly trained graduates coming to become highly trained assistant professors, and developing into associate professors and so forth.  Even our non-tenure track  colleagues tend to be pretty darned amazing.

If PhD programs all agreed to accept only 10% of the students they currently do, we'd have troubles down the line.  But at 50%, we'd probably still be in great shape.


I'm guessing economically, the only ways R1s could do that would be by increasing the teaching loads of faculty or by hiring even more non-tenure track faculty.  So, R1 folks, you can make that choice.  Everyone teach an extra class or two a semester, and cut your grad program acceptances in half.  (No worries for O'Dair, since she's retired.)

I'm in total agreement that PhD programs should produce fewer graduates.  And yet, I don't want that to happen at the expense of people such as myself or my students.  As it is now, I'd be willing to bet that 90% of the PhD students in English at Yale or Harvard come from pretty elite educational backgrounds.  They don't come from places such as NWU.  And if PhD programs reduce their graduate student acceptances by cutting off people from less elite undergraduate schools, then that seems totally wrong.

But whatever happens, don't think that just because we don't live on the coasts or live more rurally that we're somehow less worthy of educational opportunity than someone from a coastal or more urban (or, really, suburban) area.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

I Can See My Desktop

That's been a rare thing these past few weeks.  Things have just felt so busy that I've had a tendency to put a paper down and then put the next one in a slightly different pile, and then put down a book, and so forth.

But this morning, I took about 15 minutes and cleared it off, put things in files, recycled some stuff, and now I can see the desktop, and it's nice.

I recently read an article about happiness and saw that there's a coursera course on it, and signed up.  I'm mostly a pretty happy person, not manically happy, but pretty happy.  (Especially after a good night's sleep.)  But who doesn't want to be happier?  (Except, of course, being complacent when one shouldn't be complacent, would be a mistake: who wants to ignore racism, homophobia, climate change, flu, or whatever.  So, while thinking about racism makes me unhappy, trying to work against racism is meaningful.  And so forth.)  Because I need more stuff to do...

I feel like there's a lot of different stuff competing for my attention, and (to mix my metaphors), I don't want to drop any of the balls I'm juggling.  There must be good ways to keep track of everything, right?  Suggestions?

Now that my desk is clean, I feel like I can work more effectively.  So that's next up!  (and then a meeting... )

Monday, February 17, 2020

With Every Assignment Due, Disaster Strikes

I have the first semi-big assignment due in one of my classes today, and disaster struck.  There's one car repair, one ill relative, one aging pet, and several oops, I didn't get it done because...

I don't doubt any of them, either.  I think the thing that's most changed in me over the years about handling disasters or non-disasters is that I'm less cranky (or less overtly cranky) about the need to turn in some things late.

It's not that I'm happy, but if you're 18 and a loved one is ill, or your car breaks down, or you mis-time things and have to work a long shift, I'm more inclined now to be sympathetic.

It's a tad frustrating to try to get a pile graded and then have to add more, but a whole lot less bad than having a loved one ill or something.

Strep and flu seem to be hitting hard locally, too.  And to be honest, if a student is feeling sick, it seems better to me that they stay home and try to take good care of themselves, and not spread whatever.  But, yeah...  I wish they never got sick (and not only for my convenience).

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Pre-Chair

I came in at the usual time today (before 8am so I could get parking nearish my building), mostly because I'm going to start attending chair meetings with the Dean and other chairs. 

Almost as soon as I got here, a colleague came and stood at my door to chat.  We exchanged the usual pleasantries.  And then the colleague started to tell me about this and that, and here's what we need to do to make the world better, and so forth.  So I suggested maybe starting with step A would be something we could do.  And then I got an earful about how they aren't paid to do step A, and besides, they've already been doing step A (sort of), and we'd really need to start with step A prime.  So I said, okay, so A prime.  And I got another earful about how they shouldn't have to do Underwater Basketweaving 101 so they could develop this new idea.  And I said, basically, that I didn't think that was going to happen, but that there might be a way to do their new idea taking a different approach.  And then they sidestepped to another idea.

And I realized I totally didn't really have a grasp on our conversation.  I was treating it as a colleague saying "I want to do X, and I want you to support that when you're chair" when what they really wanted was to just vent.  And that's fine.  We all need to vent sometimes. 

I recalled what a former chair explained to me once, about how there were colleagues who would go into his office to just vent, and they were going to do that about an hour a week.  And he just had to listen and nod and let them vent.  And then there were other colleagues who'd show up once a semester, and they'd want to vent, maybe, or want to test out a real idea, maybe, or whatever.  And sometimes the colleague who usually vents actually wants to get help with an idea.  And figuring out the actual conversations he was having with different colleagues was key to being effective and getting done what could be done.

I don't think my colleague today feels comfortable enough with the current chair to vent at them, but clearly they feel comfortable enough with me to vent at me.  And I'm sure there's someone else who vents at the current chair and won't feel as comfortable venting to me.

So much to learn and keep track of.

I went to the chairs' meeting and felt like I needed a scorecard to keep track.  I think I need to listen really carefully this semester so that I have a better sense of what's important and how to best serve my department, the college, and the university.

So very much to learn!

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

A New Semester, New Things to Learn

So much to learn, not just for me, but for my students, too.

It's the morning of the second day of classes, and I've already had three students anxious about stuff.  I solved two of the problems, I think.

I had a student yesterday tell me they were going on vacation during X week of classes and what could they do to make up the work.  I said they could do it ahead.  BUT seriously, who schedules vacation during the semester for college aged students?  (And I realize "vacation" may actually mean that it's the only time my parent can get off of work or something.  Still, it seems weird.)

Yesterday, I taught five hours.  My normal Monday/Wednesday schedule will be four and a half hours, but I filled in for a colleague for half an hour yesterday.  I don't know how K-12 teachers do it.

My Mom's memory seems to be more and more a problem.  I'm grateful to the other family members who are helping and geographically close.  But there are times when it takes a lot of mental energy just to call and try to talk to her.

Here's to wishing everyone a good semester!

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Third Hand

On effbee, one of my colleagues posted a link to a student blog where a student at NWU says she was sexually harassed by a male prof at NWU, a prof who teaches in her major; she says she reported it a trusted professor who reported it to the department chair, who had a chat with said prof.  And said prof made it about his sad situation.

So this is, at best, third hand information.  What does one do?

Not my department?  Not my monkeys, not my circus?

Or is there still some responsibility?

I emailed the campus Title IX officer/legal eagle with the link and asked.  They've contacted me and are aware of the situation and reaching out to the student.  The fact that they're reaching out now makes me think they heard it from either effbee or someone who saw it on effbee or me...  and it seems like one of the campus publicity and marketing folks contacted them;   I'm guessing one of the people who's responsible for monitoring those web search things that aggregate anything and everything that mentions specific words you target.  Good on them!

And now the student has filed a more official report.  Good for her!

***

I think what I find frustrating at this point, separate from being pissed off at that stupid professor hanging out at a student bar bugging young women (bugging any women is inappropriate), is that the female faculty who are responding feel ineffectual and seem to actually BE ineffectual.

It reminds me of the sexual harasser who was grad program chair in my graduate department; reportedly, numerous women talked to a female professor (untenured), who supposedly told them that they needed to talk to the department chair.  But everyone was too afraid.  (Including me.)  It felt like it would be the end of any graduate funding, any support from any of the male faculty (who we all felt had to already be aware of the grad director's behavior, since he did it at every gathering where there were faculty and grad students).

And so, nothing happened.  For years.

The woman whose post I originally saw asked in general if other colleges have policies, seemingly unaware of ours.  Then someone posted ours (which I went and read), which covers the situation reasonably well.  Then someone posted more about the current policy, and how it didn't seem to actually work, given what had happened.

But none of them said, hey, I'm reaching out to our Title IX person.  (And I didn't post on the threads at all, just reached out to the Title IX person.)  And they all KNOW the Title IX person.


Saturday, January 18, 2020

Is the Shine off Comp/Rhet (Job-wise)?

I'm reading applications for a position that's not Composition and/or Rhetoric, but about 15 percent of the applications are from folks in Comp/Rhet.

Since I don't teach at super famous R1 in a fabulous place to live, that leads me to believe that the shine is really off the Comp/Rhet marketability.

It seems like there are a lot more Comp/Rhet PhD programs out there, graduating a lot more Comp/Rhet PhDs, but there's not a great tenure track market, certainly not what there was?  (Maybe it's the ratio: it seems like there used to be fewer candidates for each job, so a greater likelihood of graduates finding something, as opposed to say, 20th century American Lit.)

It used to be that when I had a promising undergrad who wanted to get a PhD in an English Studies field, I'd recommend they think about Comp/Rhet.  But I'm thinking that's outdated thinking now.

On the other hand, my suspicions are 100% based on an anecdote, and data isn't the plural of anecdote...

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Reading Ibsen

NWU is doing a production of Ibsen's The Doll's House next semester, and since I'm teaching an Intro to Lit, I thought I'd teach it.  And it's in the anthology.  So I started to read it so that it wouldn't be totally new when I taught it.  (I don't remember reading it before.)

I'm just in far enough that one of the characters is basically blackmailing another about the way she handled signing for a debt.  And I feel totally stressed out and tense.

I don't have any big financial stresses, and my only real debt is my mortgage.  But just thinking about the legal stuffs and financial problems makes me stressed out and tense.

I don't have a problem reading about a character in a play deciding to kill their king, perhaps because it's quite clear to me that 1) I'm not going to go out and kill anybody on purpose, and certainly not a national leader, and 2) in part that's because it's clear to me that killing someone, except under extreme duress (like actual, real, self-defense) never makes anything better.  So it doesn't stress me out that Macbeth wants to kill Duncan, or that Henry Tudor wants to kill Richard III.  Nope, not the least.

But the debt thing?  For some reason, that was so unpleasant that I just put the play down and went and did some cleaning. 

I may not actually teach it after all.  It will depend if I can make myself get through it.  But there's a certain point at which I really don't see the need to read lit to teach that makes me unhappy.

I really don't understand the theater folks wanting to put this on...

Friday, January 10, 2020

Reading Applications

I've been reading applications, and I've noticed a couple things. 

First, a number of the letters of recommendation are targeted, at least by an address and salutation, specifically at our search.  I've never noticed that before.  It means letter writers are reworking letters (at least minimally) specifically for each institution the applicant is applying to.  Maybe that's not many, but holy cow, it's a whole lot of work.  And it really doesn't seem necessary or even really helpful.  It's not like the faculty at Prestigious R1 are actually likely to know enough about a regional comprehensive such as NorthWoods U to really make the strategy effective.  And it's got to make things MUCH more complicated for submitting letters on time.  (Whose letter writers weren't always pushing the deadline?  Anyone not have that issue?  So it's got to add stress.)

The second thing is how few of the application letters clearly address some of the stuff in our ad.  If we put in our ad that, say, speaking a foreign language is vital, then the letter should tell us about the foreign language the applicant speaks and how well.

In my role as future chair, I've talked to some folks who are on the market in different fields, and at least one has told me that doing an invited talk is a real CV booster.  From my point of view, it's so not.  A conference or three is great, but an invited talk doesn't really catch my eye.  And given that a lot of candidates have multiple conference presentations, an invited talk basically disappears into the background.  It's certainly not the make or break thing that my colleague seemed to think.  For others?

What do folks see as make or break?

For me, a well written letter that addresses our job ad requirements.  Research that sounds interesting.

A clear CV that shows growth and ... exploration, experience, interesting work.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Academic Anxiety Dreams and a Question for Medievalists

Last night, I had my second anxiety dream about teaching Chaucer.  The first one, I was without any syllabi on the first day of classes, and then for some reason, went home instead of going to my first class (intro to the major) and then was trying to get back for the Chaucer class, but still didn't have any syllabus or calendar for any

The next day, I wrote up the basic academic calendar template for next semester.  That was three weeks ago, I think, soon after the previous semester finished.

Last night, my dream was more focused on not having the Chaucer calendar ready.  And when I woke up, I was thinking, but that's three weeks away, almost.  And it is, but there's no telling the dreaming that.  So today I'll start rereading the Canterbury Tales and thinking about the calendar.

I was looking at the Harvard Metro site the other day, and on one of the teaching pages, they suggested starting with the Shipman's Tale, as easier to read (in part because it's short and has a really basic plot-line) than the General Prologue.  So I'm thinking of doing that...  are there medievalists out there with thoughts?

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Visit from a Former Student

I was in my campus office yesterday, having gone to get my computer back, and then trying to delete some emails and do some little chores. 

And a youngish person stood in my doorway and said hello.  I didn't recognize them at first, but then they reminded me: a former student.  This one had gone on to grad school in Practical Basketweaving.  They'd stopped by because they'd learned from a faculty member in the department that there was going to be a new chair, and had dropped by the department to find out who it was, and then came to my office.  They lamented the difficulty of finding an academic job, and the earnest wish to come back to our department.  They mentioned that they'd made it to the interview stage for a job we had a while back.  And they hadn't even gotten a phone interview for the short term hires made by the chair.

It was awkward.  I'd better get used to that, I suppose.

They kept sort of asking why they weren't getting a job.  And probably the real answer is that the job market sucks, and they aren't quite competitive, given the absolutely stellar people that are out there in Practical Basketweaving.  Which I didn't quite say, though I mentioned the incredibly bad market.

They revealed that they'd had a TT job at a strong regional comprehensive, but had left to follow a now-ex-spouse.  I didn't ask more, but I did silently realize that a friend of mine also teaches at the former school.

I finally told them I needed to get going, and wished them well, and they left.

I feel an odd sort of responsibility for a graduate of ours who goes on and doesn't get a job, though I can say with absolute certainty that if they talked to me about graduate school, I would have told them the bad news about the market.  But the person they were closest to, I think, wouldn't see that as their responsibility at all.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Running in Place

On Friday, I went to the office, turned on the computer... and waited.  So I started cleaning up my office, which was pretty messy, as happens towards the end of the semester.  It took about half an hour for the computer to get to the log in stage.  So I logged in... and waited.  And reshelved my books, put away files, the usual.

I tried to do computer stuff, the things I'd come to campus to take care of, but every time I tried to open a program or something, I got the "(not responding)" thing, and it hung up.

Finally, I called the nice people at campus tech support.  The person who answered was, well, hesitant.  I said I needed help because my computer was so slow, and they suggested I could wait until next week.  I said I needed the computer sooner to do my work, and finally they agreed to send out a tech.  So I started reading.  And the tech came, and started doing stuff on the computer.  And waited...  because it hung up every time.

So at least it wasn't just me.

The upshot was that the tech took away my computer for re-imaging, and I'm supposed to meet with someone this afternoon who will bring it over and set it up for me.  So, YAY!  That should be good.

I have so much to do before classes start:

Chairing a search committee: our application deadline is soon, and we have to read everything before our first meeting.

Rereading the Canterbury Tales, because I haven't taught Chaucer in about 5 years.

Reading The Dolls' House, because I'm teaching intro to lit and the theater department is putting it on.  I don't think I've ever read it before...

Reading a couple of books.

Trying to exercise.

Practicing the violin...


Friday, January 03, 2020

A New Year Begins

Happy New Years.  Let's hope 2020 gets better.

(Though I saw that the US military basically committed an act of war...)

I spent much of the break so far with my Mom, helping her travel to visit my brother's family for Christmas, and then at her retirement community, trying to help make things work. Her short term memory has really failed over the past several months.

A medicine she was taking may be at least partially responsible.  So she's off that medicine for almost a month now, and seems slightly less confused, but she's not at all where she was 6 months ago.  (She began taking the medicine about May, and it was stopped in late November, I think.)  I don't know if things will get better or not.

It was a hard year for her: she had to move from a retirement community she loved that closed (because the fire department said it couldn't be made reasonably fire safe or accessible for firefighting) to a much smaller one.  And she got a cancer diagnosis (very early stage).  And her last sibling died.  These are all very hard things, and there's a lot of uncertainty, and it's all taxing for her.

Fortunately, my brother has stepped up wonderfully, as have two of my aunts (my Dad's sisters), so I'm very grateful.  Still, it's hard when you can't make things any better, not really.

I got home last night and slept in my own, comfy bed.  I'm happy to be home, and have a lot of work to prepare for the coming semester and for taking over as chair.

There may be big changes in our department.  We may drop our tiny and weak MA program.  That would mean that we'd lose four grad courses a year and a two course faculty reassignment, so basically 1.5 FTE in support for graduate students.  (We'll have to continue at least some grad courses for at least a year so the folks in the program now can finish.)  I'm imagining we can teach a couple more general education type courses, which would be helpful for the university. 

At least some folks in the administration want us to continue our grad program: grad students pay much more tuition.  At least one administrator wants us to go all on-line, and promises massive help recruiting people in business.  However, we've never been able to support or compensate faculty for working with thesis (or whatever project) students.  And we're very much a regional university, and have served students in our region.  If we go all on-line, then the regional students might as well do an MA at a much stronger program (there are many).  (Our program's strongest days were in the 80s or so, when local schools gave teachers who earned an MA a raise; then the education program started doing an MA in teaching program that was pretty... weak and easy.  Once we lost that cohort of teachers, our program got even smaller and weaker.  And then the raise went away...)

I'm hoping as chair I can help be creative and get a course reassignment for one of our writing non-tenure track folks to work deeply with our Writing Center and Writing Program folks to develop and support a Writing Across the Curriculum initiative.  Currently, the upper admin in charge provides some financial support for a couple of MA students, but they don't have the education or experience to really do the higher level work we need done.  And once they're all on-line, they won't be on campus to do that work.  On the other hand, if we can provide a course reassignment for a PhD in writing stuffs to work on it, I think we'd make better progress.

The other thing, though, is that with another 1.5 FTE to put into work with undergrads, we'll have a hard time justifying any new hires unless something really specific comes up.  (It's been more than a decade since anyone around here has been able to do an old-fashioned line replacement, the thing where a Victorianist retired and a department got to hire a new Victorianist.  That's a thing of the past, and it's not coming back.)

So there's lots to think about.

Two questions: for anyone who's been chair of a department: please suggest stuff I should read/learn.

And two: I'm teaching Chaucer again, for the first time in maybe 5 years.  I'm looking forward to it, but I'd love some suggestions of the most useful and important books or articles to read before the semester starts!