Saturday, October 31, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

Frazzled Friday

On Wednesday, I got a mass email from one of the support areas on campus advertising an opportunity, a sort of grant. The application is due on the 4th, one week from the advertisement date.

Okay, one might say that we worker-bees should always keep up and be aware of all the opportunities available across campus and the world; I'm sure if I'd gone looking for this a month ago, I would have found an application form. But I didn't know it existed a month ago.

However, this time, I had a heads up last week from a colleague who got the grant this year, suggesting that I look into it. So I'd been thinking a bit about it, but wasn't really aware of the due dates or what's required.

I spent much of yesterday working on writing an application letter and updating and cutting my CV down to two pages (without going to a microfont). I also need to get a support letter from the chair, dean, or provost. (I asked my chair on Wednesday, after I saw the mass email, and the chair was encouraging and supportive.)

A lot of opportunities around here hit fast in this sort of way; there are a couple of days notice, and that's it. There's a long history around here that the people who are being groomed for opportunities or whatever get a heads up ahead of time, telling them to get an app ready, and then somehow they get it. (It used to be that they'd just get the appointment, but things have opened up enough that we actually allow others to apply these days.) It's a huge advantage for anyone favored by the folks over in the administrative Fort, since they set the dates and make the choices.

I've detested the situation since I learned it existed, and yet here I am, trying to take advantage of it. I'm a little uncomfortable.

I'm also having trouble putting everything together. I have to make it sound as if I'm qualified for the grant (I think I am) but still really, really need the grant to do the work and can't possibly do it without the additional support.

I asked two colleagues to give me feedback on my letter yesterday, and I have significant work still to do. But I need to more or less get a finished draft today so I can give it to the chair to use in writing that letter.

Sometimes it seems that the people over in administration forget how busy and structured faculty lives are during the semester. A couple weeks ago, someone from the Fort put together a series of a couple programs on teaching through the flu (using electronic media, etc). The mass email was sent out encouraging all faculty folks to go two days before the first program; each of the programs was scheduled during the most class-intensive parts of the day (10-2 around here).

I'm guessing they complained about faculty not showing up.

It's like they have good ideas about programs that could help us, but then don't actually talk to any faculty folks about how to make things accessible to us. We can't change around our scheduled classes; we need serious lead time to rearrange standing committee and department meetings. The day to day work of teaching students and working with advisees goes on, and it's not very flexible for most of us.

They also tend to send us a faculty funding opportunities email once every week or two. Mine always inexplicably focus on NSF and NIH grants I should apply for. And you know, if I could link Shakespeare to a cure for cancer, I'd do it!

Back to working on my letter.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Everyone needs to go see Quills' wonderful artwork!


Run over and watch the budding artist... err... bud! (She already uses color way more creatively than I ever have!)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's a Mystery

Why do students think that adding three sentences to a D paper will turn it into an A paper?

I have my students highlight their revisions, so it's easy to actually visualize the additions they've made. (For big changes, they can just write at the top that they've changed everything. I have the graded draft to compare.)

Early Modern Madlibs

Monday, October 26, 2009


In Spanish, at least where I served, gastro bugs or any bugs, germs, or parasites were called "bichos." I still use "bichos" as my generalized term for gastro-bugs and parasites. I called in sick today for the first time in a couple years. My gut hurts in that bichos kind of way; usually, thanks to the Peace Corps, I have a steel stomach, but apparently not today.

I got up, felt ucky, and went about getting ready for school. I made coffee, lunch, and wrapped up my breakfast to take to work (which I don't usually do, but I didn't feel like eating), and showered before deciding that I really didn't feel good.

And once I started thinking that, I wondered if I had a temperature, and almost convinced myself that I did. But I don't think I actually did.

(I don't have a people thermometer; obviously, that fact indicates that I'm lacking in the adult household department somehow. If I had a kid, I'd undoubtedly have a people thermometer. But I don't so I don't. I haven't needed one in years. I do have a meat thermometer, but that seems like a bad idea, one bound to make me feel worse than a mere fever even if I had a fever.)

I spent an hour or two emailing my classes, giving the students some tasks to work on for the next class. I hope most of them do the tasks, but I don't think I'll hold my breath. Still, if some do, the next classes will go a little more smoothly.

It made me think about on-line teaching and how difficult it might be to get students to do the necessary work and make connections. And again, it made me think about auto-didacts and how much work they have to do to really learn stuff. There's a big difference between really learning stuff and just listening to a lecture. And somewhere in between, most of our students learn what they learn.

The activity for today's writing class involved analyzing some film reviews to learn about genre conventions and figuring them out, and then to learn about film review conventions specifically. I have a pretty step by step method of analysis that students do starting in groups, with full class discussion between some of the steps.

I could tell students about genre conventions and how to figure them out, and some students would get it and be able to do it independently.

But actually practicing the process of analysis helps more students actually understand conventions and the process better (I hope).

But still, of course, whether students can do that analysis independently next semester is up for grabs. We all have good anecdotal evidence that what's learned in one semester isn't easily or well retained by most students.

To really get the skills well and fully, most students need some repetition. But how much repetition? And how much should things change between repetitions? (So, if you're writing an essay, you don't use the same essay prompt over and over during the semester.)

So that's what I've been thinking about between naps. Now I'm going to grade for a while, because I know I'll feel better if I get some grading done.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

One Quarter of All Renaissance Drama in One Little Line Drawing, Accurately Represented in Full Detail

I love drama disguise conventions. It's so very silly, and yet because the audience has to recognize the disguised character and not confuse him/her with someone who's doubling a part, it has to be simple.

When I teach disguise convention, I very dramatically take my reading glasses from their usual class place on top of my head, put them on, and say, "no one will recognize me NOW!" It always gets a laugh, but it makes the point about how simple the disguise can be.

ps. I love early modern titles!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Dim Light

Not the best picture, and the light was going and the Downy Woodpecker wasn't thrilled when my flash went off, but I wanted to get a picture of the snow. The vine-looking thing he's (I'm guessing from the red on the back of the head) is actually a bent-over sunflower plant.

We've got some heavy, wet snow today. I pushed it around my driveway, and even though there wasn't much, it was a pain.

I'm so not ready for winter.

My classes are all doing the cough and hack thing that happens when the weather gets nasty and we all try to fight off little colds. Some of my students are emailing to say they think they have the flu; I'm inclined to believe them more than in most years (when a gastro bug gets called "flu").

I went to a local box store this week and got myself a seasonal flu shot. The local clinic usually does a flu vaccination thing in late October, but the website says it's indefinitely postponed for lack of vaccines. So, I paid my hard-earned cash rather than wait. It just seems that an extra couple of weeks could be really helpful, especially if we all get hit by the regular flu season after the H1N1 thing has gone through.

I think the swine flu shot's coming too little too late for me. I'm not in a priority group, and the swine flu seems to be pretty widespread in the state (according to the state health website tracker thingy). So by the time I could get that vaccine, I'll either have already caught that bug or not. Oh well.

Here's good news: the friendly pup from across the street is going to visit tomorrow night, so I'll get a whole load of puppy therapy and snow play!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Foxe Question

At some point, I was told or read that Foxe's Acts and Monuments (aka Book of Martyrs) was commonly taught as an early reading text and was widely available in churches as well.

I'm wondering, if that's so, was it widely used in the American colonies by early protestant settlers?

EEBO doesn't seem to show any texts printed in the colonies (but my search may have been off in spelling; it certainly wasn't exhaustive).

Any thoughts?

(We're doing Latimer and Ridley today. Should be interesting.)


I had a visitor from one of our student service areas in my first year class today. The idea is that the visitor, a student who's had some experience with the student service office, does a short presentation about the services offered by the office so that first year students learn about the services and (maybe) go take advantage of them.

All good. The student who came did a good job with the presentation. But then the student handed out little toys, sort of like little stress balls, but not. And a couple t-shirts. Okay, at least t-shirts might keep people warm and get worn, but little toys?

Let's imagine they each cost a couple bucks, and the service area buys say, 2000. That ends up being a fair bit of money off the top. We're doing budget cuts and the service area buys toys? We're adding extra students to most sections, and the service area buys toys? I know the money's not equal, but surely there's a better way to spend it?

And the toys. I imagine there are going to end up in the garbage pretty fast, filling the landfill. And that's if we're lucky. If we're not lucky, they'll end up in the gutter, or dropped on some floor, and someone will have to pick them up, clean up the floor, clear the mess. So not only have we wasted money on the toys, but we've wasted all the resources and poured an extra bit of plastic/foam stuff into the environment so that in 200 years, someone will be digging through a landfill and pick up the toy and wonder what sort of idiot paid good money for it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Special Place

The Anglican Communion, the overall name for the whole organization that includes the Episcopal church in the US, is in the throes of yet another schism-type thing. The majority, I gather, wants to allow the ordination of gay and lesbian priests, wants to bless same-sex unions, and wants to sanctify (is that the term?) gay and lesbian bishops. A minority thinks these things are an abomination.

In the 80s, as I recall, the argument was about ordaining women, and some folks thought that was an abomination.

Before that, in the 70s, the Episcopal church in the US wanted to change the prayer book so that some services used language that wasn't archaic (that's what I remember from being a kid then, anyway). And some folks thought that was an abomination.

In each case, most people stayed with their parish, but folks who didn't like what was happening left. They didn't tend to leave for Unitarian congregations; because they were unhappy with the progressive movement of the Episcopal (or Anglican) communion, they looked for more conservative affiliations or made their own parishes.

And now the Catholic church is reaching out; it's like the Vatican is shouting, "If you hate gays, lesbians and women, come join the Catholic church! We've got a special deal for you!"

What a special deal. If you hate gays, lesbians and women, the Catholic church is the place for you. Really. If you think women aren't equal in your God's eyes, then join the Catholic church. If you think God hates the gay and lesbian people you think he created, join the Catholic church.

(The special deal part has to do with dogma and specific practices, I gather; but I'm guessing most Episcopals really don't care or know much about the dogma. It's not exactly the most strenuous in it's religious education, so far as I remember. And I'm guessing the folks looking seriously at the Catholic church aren't fretting lots over consubstantiation vs transubstantiation.)


I grew up in the 60s and 70s, in an Episcopal, church-going family, but by the time I hit college, I'd had my crisis of faith and decided that, comforting as all the pretty hymns and such might be, I really didn't see any evidence that what I'd been taught as a Christian had any basis in reality. And I saw a good deal of evidence that what I'd been taught made no logical sense at all.

I also wasn't really interested in worshipping a God that thought women were crap. My service in the parish was basically doing dishes. Yeah, it wasn't called that, it was called polishing brass, but it was basically doing dishes, and it was behind the scenes and respected about as much as all women's work. Only boys and men could be seen having meaningful roles in actual services. That didn't help my little crisis of faith. (If I'd been a few years younger, the female ordination thing would have played out and I wouldn't have been turned off by this particular aspect of Episcopal practice.)

And so, I had a couple big arguments with my Mom about whether I had to attend church, and at some point, I was an adult and that was that.

Retrospectively, as I became more aware of the Civil Rights movements that had been happening while I was growing up, and especially as I became aware that the Civil Rights movements had been led by Christians, often, and centered through Christian parishes, I began to wonder why none of the sermons in our church talked about Civil Rights or race or justice. The parish I'd grown up in had mostly middle class white folks (mostly), with a fair scattering of community leaders--bankers, realtors, lawyers. And I wondered what would have happened if the sermons had pushed the bankers and realtors to fairer, more just lending and realty practices.

As an adult, I know full well that most of the bankers and realtors would have pushed back, either threatening to leave and take their supportive tithes with them or threatening to get the rector fired. Either way, it would have taken a very strong rector with strong beliefs to take up that challenge.

I have no idea what the rector of the church where I grew up felt about Civil Rights. I don't remember him ever saying. (I do remember numerous sermons about the beauty of fall leaves and how we should all be grateful.) But by the time I was a young adult, I was disappointed that I hadn't been taught about justice and Civil Rights through my supposed Christian education, because it was the most important movement happening through my youth, and we should have been led to think about it early on. It would have been, as they say, the Christian thing to do.

The rector of the church, Father Last Name, shared a house with the deacon, Father First Name. Father First Name was my favorite, probably most peoples' favorite, because he was kind and caring, taught our confirmation classes, hugged us when we skinned a knee playing, and made us feel that there really was love in the world. When he greeted me on Easter after the service with the traditional "The Lord is risen; the Lord is risen indeed, hallelujah," his joy and love shone through. Father Last Name was more distant, forbidding, almost scary. He didn't seem joyful at all, but sort of a sour, dour man.

As I said, they shared a house. Neither was married.

In the 70s, a new assistant was hired, a young, married priest.

And then the first schism I talked about hit, and suddenly Father Last Name and Father First Name retired, and the young assistant I guess tried to take over, but ended up leaving the Episcopal church to start his own parish of folks who didn't like the new changes.

As an adult, I've talked to some people who were adults parish-members then, and the vague consensus is that Father First Name and Father Last Name were gay, closeted and very careful, lovers. Maybe people in the parish guessed it, if they cared, but since the two were closeted and very careful, and maybe since Father First Name was beloved by all, it just wasn't that big a deal. But the folks I know seem to think that Father New Assistant tried to use it against them, and forced them to retire thinking he'd be able to take over, but that he didn't fully succeed in that last part.

So I wonder whether Father Last Name could have preached about Civil Rights? Maybe as a privileged white man, he didn't care. But I wonder, when Stonewall happened in 1969, did he want to preach about it to his parish?

Of course, I'll never know. For all I know, they weren't gay. Or they had sex together but didn't identify as gay. Or whatever.

But I wish Father Last Name had preached about Civil Rights and Stonewall.

The very things that would attract me to the Episcopal church now (except for the whole God part) are the things that some people hate so much that they'll leave. It's not the logic that takes them away, as it is for me, it's that the church is too darned progressive. It's that they want a place where they can hate women, gays and lesbians. And the Catholic church welcomes their hatred.

Were I a believer in such things, I might conceive a special place reserved for people who hate so much.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Joy of Grading

I just graded a brilliantly insightful Crux Buster (the assignment shared with me by Dr. Virago, thanks, Dr. V!).

I feel like dancing in the hallways. It's this short, tight piece, but totally brilliant and with all the potential in the world for the student to develop and do some research to make it into a conference paper.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pop; or, Thoughts on Expertise

I had a flat today. I was out riding with a friend, on a road she'd heard was great riding (and it was). We were going down a sort of steep (but short) hill, with a sign warning that there's a hidden intersection, so I was riding my brakes, going slow. This is the Buster Keaton moment (you know how he could be walking in his films and a house would fall around him without actually touching him? Like that), because usually I ride with the abandon of a 12-year old down hills, but not this time, not this once. Then I heard this loud POP right under me. I said, "that can't be good," and wondered why I wasn't head over heels on the ground. I braked harder, realized my front tire was flat, and stopped safely.

My friend and I changed out the inner tube, and filled it with air. And then my friend noticed that there was a bulge of tube out the side of the tire. So we let out a little air, and I noticed that in the filling process I'd managed to break off part of the presta valve inner stem thing.

So we called a friend, and she and her partner generously came to pick us up. (We were about five miles out of town; yes, we could have walked.) (If I'd thought of it before I broke the presta valve thing, I could have done the fold up a dollar bill and use it to support the inner tube in the area of the split thing, but I didn't think of it in time.)

I have to say, if I'm going to have a flat, it's great to have a good friend there, someone who doesn't seem to get impatient or cranky, who laughs with me at broken Presta valves, and who's likely to be calm and competent in an emergency. And I'm also incredibly grateful to have friends who will come pick me up when I have a problem. I've never had to call before, but I'm so glad for my friends!

What does this have to do with expertise?

On my last post, a couple folks took issue with my calling myself a bike noobie or not a real biker. And I've been thinking about that. Maybe instead of "noob," I should think of myself more as a casual biker? Maybe "noob" and "noobie" have darker connotations for others than for me? But, to me, a real biker is an expert, and I'm not an expert biker.

I know what I feel like as an expert. I'm pretty much a Shakespeare/early modern lit expert. I'm probably one of the top 2500 people in the US at teaching college level Shakespeare/early modern lit. I'm sure there are people who do it lots better than I do, who know more than I ever will, who think more creatively about the questions and issues in the field, but I'm going to claim expertise. I studied hard to gain expertise in earning my phud, but I've also learned tons since then. I've sought out opportunities to learn about staging by doing dramaturgy, for example. I've tried different assignments, class activities, syllabus arrangements, and so forth, trying to figure out what works for what sorts of situations to help students do different kinds of learning.

The flip side to feeling like an expert in one thing is that I recognize when I'm not an expert and realize just how expansive people's knowledge goes into things I may be somewhat conversant about. I'm somewhat conversant about biking, and, yet this was the first flat I've ever had. And now I know what it feels like to have a flat, and how scary it is and isn't, and how the bike feels a little different. If I had been going fast, I probably would have fallen, and then I'd have gained a bit of knowledge about cleaning up road rash, probably. But I didn't. (It's good to be lucky!)

An expert biker has probably flatted a score of times in different situations, and would maybe be able to handle the bike better, to change the tire more efficiently (without breaking the valve and possibly figuring out about the slit so that s/he could put a folded up dollar in before adding all the air to the inner tube).

Here's another example: I've read an article doubting that using pedal cleats really helps bikers (though I'm not sure it's the one Brian kindly suggested). I'm not sure my cleats actually help me pedal better. I know sometimes I can consciously pull up, but I don't most of the time. I do like that my feet don't slip, which they did a couple times while I was a kid.

However, I'm willing to bet that if you went to where the top bikers do their bike testing and training, someone has measured the wattage output with and without cleats, and could tell you the difference in a given biker's output with a fair bit of precision in a variety of wind tunnel conditions. That person is an expert. Me, I'm not. (And those people seem to think that clicking in has a positive effect or they wouldn't do it.)

There's a book I've heard of by Malcolm Gladwell called Outliers, where he argues that it takes some ten thousand hours of doing something to become an expert at it. I'm not sure that's so, nor that just doing something for hours is enough to become an expert. I'm guessing you'd have to focus as you were doing the activity.

Still, ten thousand hours is more than a year (8760, if you don't sleep), and I sure as heck don't put in that sort of time on my bike (about 150 hours this year so far); moreover, most of the hours I put in on my bike aren't increasing my expertise greatly because I'm not working at pedaling better or faster, or focusing on handling skills; I'm just getting some sunshine and exercise.

And despite my flat today, I'm ever so happy that I could get out for a ride, along a beautiful road, with a good friend, in the sunshine. So even though I don't think of myself as an expert, I still love playing bikes.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Shake Your Bootie(s)

Biking shoes, at least mine, are basically mesh on the topside. That's great in summer because the air flowing by and through the mesh helps cool things down.

When it's cold out, though, it's not so great.

One solution is to get little toe covers, and pretend that they'll keep your feet warm and dry. They really don't do much, at least not that I ever noticed. (You might be noticing here that I have amateur hour biking shoes. I think they're more mountain biking than road biking? At any rate, I'm a biking noob and it shows in oh so many ways.)

I finally gave up on that and got myself biking booties. One thing about bikers: we try to pretend that we actually know what we're doing and look the part at the same time. It's not easy. For example, these booties, which bootie goes with which shoe? Do they go like this?

I asked Terry at the bike shop (who counts as a real biker, I gather) and he pondered for a few moments before deciding that we were probably supposed to put the light reflective label on the outside, so I can advertise and be visible to cars in a single pedal stroke.

Good to know, since I wouldn't want my noobness to be any more obvious at first glance than it has to be (though riding an aluminum rather than a carbon, ti, or ancient steel bike is a fair giveaway).

Notice that I gained about 20% sleekitude in my lower legs through this, and since your lower leg rotates (though not as fast as a tire), sleekness counts extra. I probably gained point oh something of a hundreth of a percent speed!

If I really wanted to look like a pro, though, I'd need a bright orange or pink or lime green or something bootie. In what other sport do pro male athletes where pink and orange or lime green?

Of course, what you can't easily see about the booties is super important, the cut out so my cleats will still work. (Yes, my cleats are another noob clue.)

In what other sport do you pay a lot of money for a shoe thing that doesn't even cover the whole shoe?

The ride was worth it, though. The leaves feel late changing, but maybe it's just the cold weather and snow we've already had throwing me off?

And my feet were pretty much toasty warm for the whole hour. My knees, though... I may need knee warmers next.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Tuckered Out

I lost it in class today. I'd asked them to pay attention, waited while they chattered. The background chattering continued, again and again. And finally, I turned around and slumped dramatically against the table. Even more dramatically than I intended, my reading glasses fell off the usual perch on my head. And then they (the students, not the glasses) actually stopped chattering.

I didn't yell, but I did ask them to focus and not chatter to each other on the side.

And some of the students, the ones who aren't chattering, smiled. One of the chatterers apologized after class.

It's a good class, mostly, but hard to keep them focused on the text and discussion.

Then there were meetings, and they were pretty good.

And then I went out and bought some bulbs to put in. I got 45 grape hyacinth, 25 crocus, and 30 mixed deer resistant (daffodils and something else that I don't quite remember right now). I put in a bunch in the front yard, in two areas. But the front yard is a pain because it's got small river stone "mulch" over weed resistant wrap. Except the wrap is good against weeds for only a year or two, after which there's enough eroded dirt in the layer of "mulch" supports weeds quite easily. And then the weeds are all twisted in and around the rocks, and so an extra pain in the rear to weed.

Meanwhile, planting is a pain. My soil is mostly little tight packed rocky stuff, sort of sandstone that's breaking down a bit, so to really plant I have to amend with organic material and (for bulbs) bone meal. All that means I pull off the river rock in the small area, dig in the organic material and bone meal, stick in the bulbs, and then spread just enough rocks back to not look TOO different. Then I dump the rest of the rocks where they're less of a pain (in the back, holding the gutter extenders more or less in place). I planted more than half the bulbs in three areas so far. I'll hold a couple back to force, I think, and put in the rest tomorrow in another area.

I'm tired, but if I get some grading or reading done, the rest of the weekend will be a lot easier.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

D'you Want Fries with That?

I was in a meeting earlier this week during which a colleague talked a little about the difficulties our students have conceptualizing themselves as potential employees. They learn all these important and useful skills, but they don't quite know how to put those into context for an employer.

They also hear again and again that English majors have no job prospects, and that they should really study business in order to get a job.

I know getting a job isn't the only point of a liberal arts education, but for our students it's a major concern (with good reason). It's especially big for our first generation students, since they don't have lots of models available of people they know who have college educations and have moved from getting a degree in English or whatever and getting a job in real estate or management or something else.

I think back to my own models, and my own anxieties when I was an undergraduate student. I had my Dad as a model of someone with a college degree; but he worked for the family business (engineering/light manufacturing) and it was made very clear by my grandfather and father that sons and grandsons were welcome, but daughters and granddaughters weren't part of the plan. So my Dad was an obvious model for my brother (one he followed through undergrad) but not for me.

Other than that, I knew that one of my aunts was a nurse. Then there were school teachers I knew from primary and high school. One neighbor was a physical therapist. And that was pretty much it so far as I knew (I had minimal knowledge of women who had college degrees). But I knew I wasn't interested in nursing or high school teaching. So I felt pretty lost. And my family wasn't much more confident; I remember my Mom telling me that it didn't matter what I majored in because I could always work as a secretary until I got married. (Can I just say how glad I am that the world has changed so much since then, and how grateful I am that I had the opportunities I did?)

So today in my senior seminar, we talked about what they'd learned in college, focusing on skills and how they knew they'd "gotten" something in a real way. I didn't make the connection to work overly explicit, and that may not be good enough, but I tried to get students to practice a bit talking about their skills and why they're valuable in the world.

It's odd, because I talk to my first year writing students quite a bit about liberal arts and skills and such, but bringing that into a course in early modern lit isn't as obvious or easy for me.

Was our discussion useful for my students?

I think maybe it was because one of the students came to talk to me about job and career decisions later and said she'd thought about some things anew.

The questions of the day for you folks are how do you talk to your more advanced students about their preparation for future careers? How do you help them prepare for applications, interviews, and so forth? And finally, how do you talk realistically to them about the costs of graduate school when that sometimes seems like the only alternative (because we faculty are ready role models).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Just Sad

One of my students was absent for a couple days, and then came back. And suddenly I realized how much I'd enjoyed the class discussion in his/her absence.

I would give a lot if in one of my lower level classes, one student would actually raise his/her hand and respond to what was said before by another student. Sometimes there's a relationship between what the second student says and what was said, but the second student almost never seems to recognize that.

(Okay, once in a while, but not nearly as often as I'd like.)

One can say the same thing for some department meeting discussions, alas.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Procrastination is Bad

You'd think that after nearly 20 years of teaching (with a couple years off for various fellowships and such), that I'd have learned that procrastinating about grading is a bad idea and a worse practice. And yet, I procrastinated much of the weekend.

Besides the slowness getting back papers and all that means, procrastination basically means I do almost nothing else meaningful because I tell myself that I'll grade in just a moment, and I really need to grade, and I don't have time to put bulbs in or whatever. And then I don't.

I woke up at 4 this morning after a nearly sleepless night because I was so tense about my grading, and I finished the stack. So, for now, I am ALMOST caught up on grading. ALMOST. (I have two papers to grade, and maybe can do them by this afternoon if I finish some other stuff.)

And then I get a stack this afternoon, too. But that will be a pretty good stack, I think. I hope.

I did do something at least mildly cool this weekend, other than procrastinating. I started watching a friend's DVDs of Breaking Bad. The basic concept of the show is that a high school chem teacher finds out he has lung cancer, and knowing that his wife is pregnant and he's got a son with a disability, he's desperate for money. So he turns to a previous student and begins making meth with him.

It's a weird premise, but the show is really good in an absurdist way. And there's something to be said for a show that shows that high school chem teachers have highly valuable skills.

I've only watched the first several episodes of the first season so far, but there are a couple of highlight moments. First, I laughed when the bathtub collapsed. (I think it's the part of me that delights in teaching Titus.) And I loved when the meth partner kid gets all involved in making a really great product for his customers and throws out three batches that he thinks are inferior (though the other cooker he's working with thinks they look great). It just cracks me up somehow to think of meth dealers being really concerned with having a high quality product. (But then, I know nothing about meth, so maybe it's a big deal?)

I also loved the DEA agent brother-in-law.

In conclusion, then, if you want to procrastinate, you should do it with a good show on the computer (or dvd if you have one of those).

Sunday, October 11, 2009


It got above 30 this morning, so I wrapped up and went for a short ride. I rode reasonably well (for me) and was warm enough. When I finished, I put on a jacket, turned on the heat in the car, came home and jumped in a hot shower. Then I put on long johns, a shirt, another shirt, and sweat pants. I ate a hot lunch.

And when I sat down to grade in the heated house in front of my little space heater, within about ten minutes, I was shivering. Blah. It's hard to focus on grading when you're shivering.

I don't know why I'm so cold. I don't think I'm getting sick (I biked and felt good and rode reasonably well for me and I don't think I would have felt good and ridden that well if I were sick). And I don't feel sick.

I don't know how to face being cold for the next six months.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Grading Avoidance

There was snow on the ground this morning. My papers are not closer to being graded than they were yesterday, and I'm in avoidance mode. Or was. I'm going to start grading now.

But, since you may be in avoidance mode, here's another piece of lit ruined by stick figures.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Oxymoronic Grading

I just read a quite poorly written paper about the importance of communication.

When I was taught to respond to student writing, I was taught that I'm supposed to say something positive and then point out how to make the writing stronger.

All too often, it's tempting to make the positive statement something along the lines of "you've got a good idea, BUT blah blah." The "but blah blah" is painful, and makes the positive bit feel so minimal.

However, it's really hard to come up with positive things to write sometimes. This paper is a good example, because what I want to write is that yes, communication is important, and yours would sure be a lot better if you could write decently to communicate your point.

My upcoming committee meeting is looking quite appealing compared to this stack.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Three Good Things

Our admin assistant today looked at me when I walked in, and said, "You remind me of chocolate." I took that as about the highest compliment one could hope for, even though she was realizing when she saw me that the little bowl of candies she keeps on her desk (and which I enjoy getting a treat from and contributing to with bags for her drawer) was empty, and she thought I'd want some.

Still, since pretty much everyone smiles when they're eating chocolate, I'd be happy if to remind people of chocolate. That has to be a good thing, right?

One of my colleagues stopped me in the hall to say that some committee work I'd been in charge of had been done well and she really appreciated it. That sort of made my day. Funny how something like that can give me the warm and fuzzies.

And now I'm going out to dinner with some friends.

I could add, I had a really nice bike ride today, and taught three classes, each of which went quite well, with good, solid discussions and participation from students.

I could also add that I turned back a set of short papers to one class today, and have only one more set hanging over my head to grade and turn back for Friday.

I guess that's more like eight good things. Good thing I'm not in the math department.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A Different Sort of Meeting

I went to a meeting today about teaching abroad. I'm excited, but not particularly hopeful because budget cuts have hit teaching abroad here at NWU hard.

But still, it's a cool program, and would be a new place for me. (Though part of me would love to go back to Japan. At least I know the alphabet in the new country!)

Fingers crossed, please.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Hours Eaten Up

I got in this morning at 7:45, a bit later than usual. And then I tried to handle a committee task I needed to handle, and before I knew it, it was 8:30, and I hadn't done the last minute centering and such that I usually do, or graded the last couple of papers in my pile.

When I finished class (where I was less than inspiring, alas), I graded the pile, responded to an issue about the committee task, ate a quick lunch, and then went off to my other classes. And then I spent some time talking to a student about class stuff, responding to some student email questions, and finishing some prep stuff for a class. My email got overloaded again, so I cleaned out a couple big pdf files.

I went to try to ask the admin assistant something a couple minutes ago, but she's long gone for the day because it's after 5pm.

It's like, there's time, but not. And now I'm going to go home and grade some more.

I'd like to think I accomplished something today, but it feels sort of like nothing I did really mattered (except the teaching, some of which was good).

Sunday, October 04, 2009


Going from teaching a great Shakespearean play (though one with a only modest body count) to a modern play is, well, cramping. The scene stays the same, rather than roaming with world; the emotional level feels, well, despairing, without doing anything about it. There are no highs, no real anguish, just whiney angst, no sense of a character realizing s/he's made a big mistake--and that's just in the comedies--or is caught up in history, no playful metadrama, just overdrawn stage directions and endless blather.

And most of all, there's not a single moment of soaring verse, no ceremony, no Aleppo, no Edenic isle, no what's Hecuba to him, nada.

And the mother? She's clearly supposed to be a nightmare, but compared to Volumnia, she just doesn't impress.

Clearly, I'm not a realist, am I?

I really don't get why anyone would stage this one when they have a world of great plays to choose from. (I'm teaching it because it's going to be played locally and my students could go see it. And yes, it's an important play, and good for what it is.)

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Harder than You Might Think

I went for a ride today between the rain (mostly, I got caught a little). Just before I got to my turn around point, I saw these two, and they saw me. Sometimes, deer just look at me as I'm biking along with this "what the hell kind of idiot contraption has that human come up with now?" look. These deer had that look, and then they took off.

Meanwhile, I had stuck my little camera in my jersey, and quickly pulled it out and turned it on, which isn't all that easy with long-fingered riding gloves and pedaling and all. So I didn't get a great picture.

And that's the metaphor of the week: it wasn't all that easy what with my hands busy and pedaling and all.

Speaking of metaphors, do you ever get the feeling that whoever first used the "capstone" metaphor for a college "finishing" type experience really didn't know what a capstone is, and maybe meant to use "keystone" but got it wrong and now we're all stuck with it? Because it's a piss-poor metaphor that doesn't work when you think it through.

I really needed that ride today, though, rain or no.

I woke up really early this morning, and sort of sat up and realized that people in my department are (overall) really demoralized, tired, and on edge. I think getting our first cut paycheck hit home, and we're getting to the grading point where we feel the extra students loaded into classes more, and the administrative demands (more assessment!) feel piled on. If we were a person, we'd be on blood-pressure stuff for sure.

I'd like one of my colleagues to quit complaining about something s/he didn't have the fortitude to object to when s/he was in a position to make a difference. I'd like another colleague to quit complaining about exactly the same thing. The thing is, both people were working on the same task, and neither had the fortitude to try to change what was heppening, and neither apparently realized that the other would have agreed.

I'd like another colleague to not be so difficult about meeting times. I don't know if this person actually cannot meet at X time, or if it would just be inconvenient.

And finally, I'd like yet another colleague to actually do the committee work s/he agreed to do.

On the other hand, I had a really fruitful talk with a student this week; the student asked for help with something, and I think I was able to help him/her, and then we found something extra cool, but only because we were looking. I think the student might follow up on the coolness, which could make for a fascinating project.

I'm so far behind in grading I want to hide, but now I have to get to it.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Lacking Imagination

We're working on a new way of doing general education here in the Northwoods. And on one level, the plan sounds really interesting. And I don't want to turn into a curmudgeon before I'm 50 (coming close, though).

But I'm having a hard time imagining how anything I teach will fit into this form of general education.

It's the same issue I tend to have when we talk about interdisciplinary teaching.

When I look in other areas of NWU, areas outside my department, I don't see much being taught that relates to what I teach and I'm having difficulty imagining how I fit. We don't have a British history person, much less an early modern European historian, or a medieval European historian. We don't have theater people who really like early modern theater. Our women's studies folks begin in the 19th century.

So when we talk about these general education and interdisciplinary teaching, and I mention my concerns, I'm told, "we have to be student centered about our teaching; you need to stretch."

Right now, I'm stretched in one class from classical Greece to the 20th century. I'm stretched in that class between two continents. In another class, I'm stretched into teaching about a local immigrant group because that's the text the department chose. It's not that any of these things are bad, but I'm pretty much stretched as far as I can be in my classes. In only one class am I teaching to my strengths.

The thing about stretching, is that I studied early modern drama because it's fascinating to me in ways that the 20th century just wasn't and isn't. Nor do I find the Romantics that fascinating, or graphic novels, or television. Those fields are plenty fascinating for people who are fascinated by them, but I'm not. I just lack the imagination to want to teach those areas.

I suppose I could take comfort in thinking that it will all work out in the years it will take to change the curriculum, and that I've got tenure and they're not going to fire me because I can't stretch so far. But mostly I'm upset because realizing how much I lack imagination makes me aware again of how limited my intellect is. And I'm tired.

(And I taught some Milton yesterday, so I was reminded of that pretty strongly then, too.)

(I wish the next person who tells me I should stretch got told s/he has to teach Milton next semester, because really, all s/he has to do is stretch a little, right?)