Monday, November 29, 2021

Deflated

 A while back, some of my old college pals invited me to join them in starting fresh in WoW classic; they'd all played a fair bit of WoW, mostly Horde, and wanted to try the old content in new ways, playing classes they hadn't played before, Alliance toons to experience new content, and so on.  So I did.

I played Everquest back in the day, mostly on my druid, and did some raiding.  In those days, raiding as a druid meant being part of the healing squad, pretty much.  And not the strongest part, either.  I spent a lot of raids with my toon staring at the floor, and me staring at health bars and the healer chat, counting full heal rotation heals.  It was stressful (no one wants to miss a full heal and let the raid down).  

It was also fun sometimes, heck, a lot of the time.  I loved being the pull team healer, for example, hitting someone with a regen just before they went out, and then waiting til they flopped (monks) to heal them up so they could jump into the fight.

What I never played was a tank.  I remember one time, in Velious, when we healers were standing back, and some small dragonny mobs spawned and just chewed through us in no time; and one of the tanks was wondering how it was we'd died so fast, not thinking about his armor and the fact that people were always focused on healing him up.  

Anyway, I wanted to be a tank, so I rolled a paladin.  And our group played on Sunday afternoons, and we could use voice, and that was just lovely to hear friends' voices from far away, and to move through stuff that was totally new to me, if not to them.

I joined a guild, and learned more about tanking from other paladins, and got bit by the bug a bit so leveled up my paladin faster than the group.  That was my bad in some ways because it meant the group wasn't having as much fun with challenging stuff.  I should, in retrospect, have leveled up another toon (a druid, as it happens, a dps druid).

But it gave me a chance to help on small raids and stuff, which was fun enough, except that I wasn't geared enough to be a tank, and there were way better tanks, so I ended up healing.  And that meant I couldn't roll on tank gear, because I was, for the guild, a healer, and that was frustrating in some ways.  At least I didn't have to look at the floor or count in a full heal rotation.  I was very much being carried by the better geared folks, so what I did wasn't that important, anyway.

My friends were hitting 50, but I was 60, and somewhat raid geared (the lowest level raid geared).  (My druid was also 60.)

Then TBC hit.  And as of May, my old computer couldn't handle the graphics.  So I ordered a new computer, and was out of the game for a couple of months, most of the summer in fact.  When I came back, I was further behind the guild than before.  And the guild fractured, and I joined a new guild started by a friend.

Then my friend M's computer couldn't handle the graphics, but M isn't in the greatest place financially, so wasn't quick to think about buying a new computer (I offered, but M didn't want that).  And M was the one who'd played the game most fully, and played at the highest non-raiding levels.

A and D, the remaining friends, had 60 level toons, and so we decided to try doing TBC content together, and that was fun.  They'd done it before, but I hadn't at all.  I leveled my paladin to play with guildmates, but played my druid pretty much only with A and D (having learned a bit of my lesson).

A couple of weeks ago, though, another update messed up A's ability to load the game.  So we didn't play.  

Meanwhile, in the new guild: people need tanks for non-raid stuff, but were months ahead of me, doing heroics (a higher level instance), and I didn't have the time or inclination to do the work to be able to do heroics.  (Because it becomes work...)  So if I can fit in a raid (low level, and thus basically being carried by others), it's as dps, which I suck at as a tank paladin.  If I did the work to get to heroics, then I could tank for heroics, but would never be tanking for raids because we have well-geared raid tanks, and so on.

So I thought, hey, I'll bring up my dps rogue, and maybe do dps.

And I spent a lot of time this short break doing that, and got my rogue almost to 59.  I have a friend with a 60 paladin and we could partner if I get to 60 in TBC.  

But yesterday, some friends in the guild were looking for a tank for a non-heroic instance, and I offered my Paladin.  Great.  We were short a healer, however.  And then one of the more geared tanks came on, and I said I'd be happy to heal, so I healed.  And we did the instance twice, and it was pretty good.  MUCH better the second time, mostly because I did a better job healing than I had and positioned myself better.  But it was also stressful because we wiped a couple times the first go, and while no one was cranky at me, and all were kind, I felt bad because I wasn't healing so well.  (I have gear for healing, but not great...)  I was thinking about changing over to being a healing paladin rather than a tanking paladin.

Then yesterday, D and I got together to do a bit of content, and D (who is A's partner) said that A wasn't really interested in getting a new computer, and was pretty much thinking they're done with WoW.  And that's also the feeling I get from M.  They've started playing a newer game, Guild Wars 2, and that works well on their computers.  And it's all new content for them.

Of the three friends, D is the one who I know least well from before days, and the one who drives me a bit crazy with their play sometimes.  

We finished up early, because I was tired (because of all the time on the rogue).  

Then, last night, I couldn't sleep because I kept thinking about health bars and healing and blah blah.  Not fun.  It made me really think about not wanting to be a healer primarily.

I don't know if I'm that interested in playing WoW without my old pals to group with on Sunday afternoons.  I feel like I spend a lot of time on whichever toon doing the same thing.  On the rogue it's: sneak, approach mob, hit 5 (high damage sneak attack), hit 3 (attack haste), hit 2, hit 2, hit 2, hit 2, hit 4...  

I don't feel like working to get able to do heroics.  I don't want to heal on raids or groups.  And when I'm honest with myself, I don't want to hit the same keys over and over for pixels.

I'm feeling sort of deflated right now.


Saturday, November 27, 2021

Almost Halfway Through My Term: What I've Learned

 It's late days, but I think I've overcome a lot of my procrastination problem.  While I haven't joined Top Left Quadrant lately, I credit that blog with helping me a lot.  It didn't help me much when I actually joined, but as a chair, it has.  If you look at the link, you'll see it puts up a chart.  The X axis is urgency, and the Y axis is importance.  The basic point is that we all mostly get the urgent and important stuff done.  But we should also focus well on the not urgent but important stuff.

I think what happened is that I realized that the not urgent but important stuff becomes urgent at some point, and then it really has to be done.  And it's stressful.

So of late, I'm much better about doing things that are important before they become urgent, and that helps a lot with my stress.

There's not much in my work life that's in the not important/not urgent category.  Honestly, by the time it gets to my desk, someone things it's important, even if not immediately urgent.

A few things get to my desk that feel urgent but unimportant to me, but I know they're important to someone, and so they are important.  And I do get things that are important and urgent right off, but that's usually because they're emerging problems, and the urgency and importance are real.

This long weekend, for example:  I've read a thesis prospectus and given feedback; graded two stacks of assignments and given feedback; done a small house project; done laundry; cleaned the house a bit; read a play.  None of those things absolutely had to be done by Monday.  And I do have several things on my list still.  But my stress about Monday and next week has gone down a lot since I finished the stuff that would have become urgent some time next week.

I have stuff that will become urgent by the 15th of December.  Four things in one category, two in another.  But those aren't urgent yet, so I can try to get one done tomorrow, and then there will be fewer to do.

I'll admit, I felt a bit stressed out on Wednesday night, but I've plugged away at things without urgency, and gotten them done, and now I feel less stressed about Monday.

***

Another thing I've really taken to heart is that I'm everyone's chair.  Even if I'm cranky at someone, if they ask me for help with something, I do my best to help them.  I think I've risen well to that, though I would have had my doubts before I became chair.  That doesn't mean that everything works out and everyone gets everything they want, but I do my part.

I do admit that I wish that some of the on campus folks would decide if they REALLY need a full letter of recommendation from the chair for this or that.  I think they really don't, much of the time.  And it usually takes me about two hours to write a fairly short letter of recommendation (a page and a half, say).  But I don't want colleagues to miss out on something because I didn't make a real effort and some other chair did.

***

I'm more eager than ever for retirement.  I suppose that's a good thing to learn.  And the holiday, which we started on Wednesday, has been really helpful in letting me have plenty of relaxation time with some time to do stuff that was important if not urgent.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Hanging In There

 I'm on the edge of either overwhelmed or not.  I'm not quite sure.

But I'm absolutely looking forward to the Thanksgiving break!

Last week, I helped out with 12 job interviews for our sister institution.  That was a lot. 

The biggest problems I saw:  

Jabbering on and losing focus on the question.  Pro tip: when you're listening to the question, write down the one or two keywords.  Make sure to answer the question.  And then stop.  If you're not sure if you should stop, take a breath and say something such as, "I'm happy to go into more depth here, but don't want to go on too long on this one question."  It's better to leave people wanting more than to leave them hoping they'll never hear you talk again.

Not understanding the difference between assessment and grading.  If the interview asks you about grading, talk about grading.  If they ask you about assessment, that's different.  That's about how you figure out if students have learned x or y.  There may be some overlap with grading, but not necessarily.  In a make-believe world, you'd give a pre-test and a post-test, and be able to point to improvement and voila assessment!  In the real world, you ask students to do something that specifically demonstrates that they've learned X or Y.  It can be a small thing (it probably should be a small thing for many Xs and Ys), but it should be something that tells you that students have learned X and Y and you can move on to Z, or that they haven't, in which case you need to take another shot at X and Y.  Sometimes a final exam does this, but if students don't demonstrate the learning, you don't get another shot to help them.  So smaller stuff along the way gives you that chance.  (I HATE the BS part of assessment, the filling in numbers and writing reports about the reports of filling in numbers.  But real assessment, thoughtful work to figure out what's working or not, that's absolutely useful.)

Not thinking about the difference between a teaching philosophy and teaching practice.  If an interview asks for your philosophy, they're asking for the reasoning behind what you do in a classroom or in creating assignments, and such.  If they ask what you do in a class, then they're asking you how you bring that philosophy into practice.

***

We spent today in my senior seminar working on concept maps for their final projects.  They turned in their annotated bibliographies today, so hopefully they've all made a start on their project.  And now, if things went reasonably well, they've got the concept map well underway (it's due on Monday of next week).  We finished the hour by writing a short plan of action for what to do next for their project.

I'm absolutely convinced that they write better final projects for my classes (than they would otherwise) because I build in steps to have them get started early and build in class time for some of the work.

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Reacting or Acting?

 As chair, much of my work feels reactive.  Sometimes that's good.  For example, when a colleague wants to apply for a grant or other opportunity, and I react by encouraging them, writing a letter of support and so on.

A lot of times it's more neutral:  today, for example, I got an email telling me that one of our senior level required courses next semester is planned for the same time as another senior level required course in another major, and there's a student who's a double major and needs both in order to graduate.

The other chair and I chatted, and we came up with a solution we hope will work.  

However, our solution involves changing the day/time of one of the courses, and registration starts tomorrow, so things feel a bit tight.

I emailed the instructor to check, and they're willing to move to the other day.  But to what time?  They didn't say.  I emailed to ask.

I mocked up an email to send to all the students who required to take the course (some of whom will plan to take it another semester).  I waited.

Finally, I went to the room where the instructor had class starting in ten minutes and asked in person, because email wasn't cutting it.  (I hate waiting for people to email back.)

Now I've sent an email to the students I think are most likely to need the course this spring, and another to all majors and minors to make sure that it won't mess up anyone else's schedule to change it.  (So far, so good.  Fortunately, this is a likely small class, so I'm not worried about 80 students or something.)

Hopefully it will work out.  Registration starts tomorrow, so if we can get feedback from students, and it's ok, we'll make the change early and not mess anyone up!

I have a book on department chair leadership that promises to help me move from reacting to things to acting.  But I haven't had time to read it, so...

One colleague in the mix complained that this sort of class conflict isn't new, which is true, alas, especially for this program.  The thing is, the chair of the other department is also new (last year), and so we're working on communicating better, and also I've tried communicating with another department where we've had overlapping issues before.  But even though I sent them our schedule for fall (the most recent overlap) in December of last year, with a note to please not schedule their required courses at the same time... they still did.

This one, though... the advising center folks should have caught it.  They were the people who should have noticed that the student had two majors and were advising for both majors, and could have said something to the other chair or me.  But they didn't.  (They're overworked, too, and have probably never thought to ask about potential conflicts for double majors.)

From the email chain, I'm guessing the advisor in the other major was looking at schedules with the student today, working things out, and saw the problem, and then started emailing to try to solve it.  Good for them!

Sunday, October 31, 2021

From Delagar: Do you know what your great-grandparents did?

Delagar found this on twitter, and I lifted it.

This is a hard one, isn't it?  I may have a bit of an advantage, because I knew several of my great-grandparents.

Dad's Side:

Grandfather: Steel work business, owner  (Sr.)

Great-grandfather: steel work business, owner  (Uncle Henry, aka Poppa)

Great-grandmother: Stay at home parent, kept house (otherwise, not sure...)  (Naomi)

Grandmother:  worked as a servant before marriage, stay at home parent once married, did data entry after divorce (keypunch cards)

Great-grandfather: not sure  (Pop)

Great-grandmother: not sure (may have kept a boarding house after divorce?)  (Ahma)

Mom's Side:

Grandfather:  artist, illustrator, draftsman (I found a piece he'd illustrated for Lockheed on ebay once, and got it for my Mom.)

Great-grandfather (Adoptive father):  not sure  (Kem)

Great-grandfather (Biological father):  not sure

Great-grandmother: schoolteacher until marriage, then kept house, I think.  (Grandma Kem)

Grandmother: stay at home parent, kept house; worked for an insurance company after divorce/widowhood.

Great-grandfather: steel worker   (Peck)

Great Grandmother:  stay at home parent, kept house, invested in real estate  (Blanche)

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Joys (or NOT) of Chairing

 I've asked each of the different majors groups in the department to think about the department assessment we've done, talk about it in their groups, and then email me a very short list of a couple of good things, and a couple of things they think need improvement.

Of the several groups in the department, one sent an email.

One handed me this:


And the others have sent nothing.

Seriously, a couple of sticky pages clumped together.  And the people who handed this in are amongst the more prickly about students handing in things in just this or that way.  They'd never accept this from a student for anything.  It's still better than nothing!

***

I just got a very bad email today and am now trying to solve a problem I didn't know about a couple of hours ago.  I have a feeling this is the tip of the iceberg.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Changing Seasons for the Chair

 We're having a gorgeous autumn here, with nice brisk days, with mostly good sunshine.  Not too cold.  The leaves seems slow changing this year.

For me as chair, I'm changing seasons.  The semester is fully in flow and I've now done class observations with all of our new teachers this semester.  Fortunately, they all went well.

I've written some letters of recommendation for folks looking for jobs.  My fingers are firmly crossed.

And now the turn is to writing letters for folks undergoing five year after tenure reviews, for folks going up for promotion, and for folks going up for tenure (and promotion).  The after tenure review letter(s) isn't as important, since there's less at stake (no promotion, no pay raise).  The promotion and tenure and promotion letters are super important, though, and take a good deal of time.

We're also finalizing plans for spring, and figuring out the last bits of filling in first year writing courses left open by the colleagues who left over the summer.  That's good because we're also about to start fall course planning and scheduling.  I never realized how far out those have to be done until I found myself on the schedules committee during my second year here.

And, of course, I'm already a couple days late ordering my books for spring semester... but I'm guessing most of my colleagues are, too.

In my class, a senior seminar, we're moving from introductory readings and short, low stakes writing assignments, to beginning to focus on the final project for the course.

In the garden, things are basically in prep mode for winter.  I need to bring some things in to prevent freezing in lines, and need to mow at least one more time.  Then there's some trimming and cleanup.  It never ends!


Friday, October 15, 2021

Treading Water

 I feel like I'm trying to swim up a swift river, and mostly treading water, barely staying in place rather than moving forward.  And then a wave comes and breaks up the analogy.

I need to do book orders.  I'm teaching Intro to Lit, which is lovely, but the rental system has dropped the textbook I'd been using (because it's so far out of print they can't even get used copies), so I need to use another that they have in stock.  It's also out of print, but our amazing admin assistant found me a used copy and that will do.

***

The other day a senior colleague with about as much teaching experience as I have stopped into my office to get my feedback on an event that happened in their class.  It's like when you sit in the Chair's office, people suddenly think you know a whole lot more than you actually do.  But I don't.  The colleague's handling of the situation seemed really smart and apt, so it should be ok.  Thank goodness.

***

There's one job that several of our contingent faculty folks are applying for, so I've been doing class visits and such, and wrote each a letter of recommendation.  I'm sort of proud of my letters because they're really positive for each of the candidates, and each focuses really well on what makes that candidate strong.  So each of the candidates has a strong, supportive letter from me, but the letters are different and don't feel at all boilerplate.  I don't feel any strong sense that one is better than the others, but that they're really good in different ways.

I've also given those candidates and another in a different department pretty extensive feedback on their application materials.  In one case, I've also looked at the revised materials, and I think the revision is massively better, so I feel good about the time that it took to give feedback.

It seems to me that the job of the letter is to get a candidate into the interview pool, and after that it's pretty much a new start.  A couple of colleagues have offered to help any of the candidates who gets an interview with a practice interview.  

I hate that there are so few jobs that our folks feel like they're competing directly.  But my fingers are crossed tightly that at least one gets the job.

***

There are things that I really should delegate, but the trouble of getting someone else to do the thing feels harder than actually doing the thing itself.  And so this weekend I'll be reading three masters theses (not from my department) and ranking them.

***

As I look at my calendar for next week, I realize that this week has been a relative breeze in comparison.  This basically means that I have to do a really good job prepping this weekend, because the week to come won't give me much free time to read, prep, or grade.  Last weekend I got caught up on grading, but now I have two small things to grade.  That won't take long, the the master's theses will more than make up for that.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

What Goes Around...

 I've had a couple of odd conversations recently with some of my younger colleagues.

A couple have told me that they like teaching on line because they can record a lecture and tell students what they need to know.

And I'm thinking, but wait... didn't we all get told by the experts that the teacher-centered, font of wisdom, pouring knowledge into heads models weren't good?

I used the term "sage on the stage" (which is better than the "cock of the walk" that a Lacanian would choose), and the colleague looked at me like I'd spoken classical Greek or something.  They'd never heard of the term.

There's a continuum, right?  on one end, is the old lecture format where the expert instructor tells the students what they need to know and the students dutifully write it down and learn it.  That's actually how I was taught mostly in college, and for some of us, it worked ok.

At the other end of the continuum is a format where students do a lot of self-discovery of stuff and the expert expertly guides them to appropriate conclusions and understanding.  That's a model that works better for skills and stuff.  So if you're learning violin, for example, the instructor shows you something, and you try to reproduce it and get feedback.  It's more the Oxbridge model of tutorials, I gather.  It takes a LOT of work from students to really get at stuff, but, at least the theory goes, the students learn the material at a much deeper level.

On the lecture side, a good lecturer can tell students a LOT about a topic in an hour, but the experts questioned the retention of that information.

On the self-discovery side, students need to put in a lot of work, and can only really discover a small amount of information or learn a small amount of skills in that same hour.

In literature, since I started back to school as a student (after my undergrad of lectures), much of the instruction was a mix of short lecture bits and student discussion which was supposed to lead to self-discovery.  Back and forth.  Tell students about X, point them to a passage, and gosh, they find X.

You could even do the reverse: point them to a passage and they notice Y, and then give a short explanation of Y.

In either case the students are, one hopes, building critical reading and discussion skills and learning how to read independently.

So there's a continuum, but are things swinging back from the discussion end to the lecture end?  Is on line teaching part of that swing?

Is the feeling that students are too overwhelmed right now to put in the work for self-discovery part of it?

Next thing, is this colleague going to want us to go back to teaching Beowulf to Virginia Woolf surveys?

****

In another conversation with a different younger colleague, they claimed that films aren't literature, in part, because films are created by many, many people, and don't reflect the author's intent in the same way that literature does.

And I thought, holy cow, didn't we have this conversation 20 some years ago and all sort of come to concensus that films and other media ARE all texts worthy of critical consideration and yes, can fit into a "literature" course?  

At the same time I thought, are we really back to talking about the author's intent?

And at the same time, I thought, every play is also created by many people, and Shakespeare doesn't seem to have controlled the printing of his plays (certainly not the First Folio, since he was dead), and yet we consider Shakespeare (and other plays) literature.

Then the colleague said that "we've always done things this way," and I thought, you've been here maybe ten years, and we haven't, and I've only been here 20 some years, and I can't tell you how we've "always" done things because there's never been an "always" to most of the things we do.  We're constantly shifting and changing.

Aren't I, the old fogey, supposed to be the one arguing for us to do things the way "we've always done them"?



Saturday, September 11, 2021

Delagar's Mini-Questionnaire Thingy

 Delagar put up an interesting mini-questionnaire thingy:

1. What did your father's father do for a living?

2. What did your father do?

3. What did your mother's mother do?

4. What did your mother do?

5. What do you do?

 

1.  Worked in steel fabrication, eventually owning the business.  (His father or grandfather started the business.)

2.  Worked in the family steel fabrication business, mechanical engineer.

3.  When I knew her, she worked for an insurance company.  I think she did data entry type stuff.

4.  My mom was a stay at home wife/mother, mostly, though she worked as a grammar school special ed classroom assistant for a while, and as a secretary for a while.  Before she married, and when she was first married, she worked for the advertising department of the Emporium department store.

5.  I'm a professor of English.

Anyone else up for it?