Monday, December 31, 2012

Out with 2012

2012 was a rough year for a lot of people.

It wasn't horrible for me.  I didn't get shot, flooded, or lose my job.  I did have a rough semester job-wise.  I rode my bike some, skied some, went on a beautiful vacation.  Politically, it was a mixed bag.  Still, I'm hoping for a better new year in all sorts of ways.

I spent much of the day going through financial stuff, shredding endless statements (do I really need bank statements from 1999?  I don't think so).  And then wondering how historians feel about shredders, and being grateful that Philip Henslowe didn't have one.

Speaking of shredders:  where do the staples go?  I've shredded a lot of stuff with staples, and picked it up, and dumped it in bags, and picked it up, and I haven't seen bits of staple all over the rug or anything.  Where do they go?  Have we found the one thing that breaks the law of conservation of matter?

So I've filled six bags with shredded paper.  And my house looks like an utter mess, but it will look better as I put stuff away and straighten up.  Still, I'm a bit frustrated by just how messy it looks.

My bike odometer reads 9007.8.

My read at the turn of the year last year was 7703.7.  So I've ridden about 1304 miles this year.  The bike journal says 1296.9. (The difference would come from my rounding errors, walking the bike between rides, and so on.)  I obviously need to ride more!  (and ski more, run more, etc.)

2012: 1304 miles
2011: 460 miles  (away for ~6 months in the UK)

2010: 1020 miles
2009: 2380 miles
2008: 1425 miles (away for ~5 months in Japan)
2007: 2011 miles* (There may have been more miles, before I started using the bike journal thingy, but I seem to have started using it in mid-May, so probably not tons of miles.)

The goal for next year is once again, 2000 miles, and 11k on the odometer.  Wish me luck!

And you, too.  Thanks for reading, and for those who've responded, thank you even more!

A Question about High School Volunteering

I don't want to tie this specifically, but I'm wondering why I hear that high school students should do volunteer work to prepare for their college applications.

I'm willing to believe that doing volunteer work can be valuable in all sorts of ways, and that its value might be recognized by admissions folks at colleges. 

What I'm wondering is: what do college admissions folks see as the value of volunteer work?

What other values does volunteering have?

My guess is that:

--College admissions folks see volunteering as demonstrating that the student has an interest outside him/herself, and thus would be an interesting member of the community, where interesting is about being involved and active in learning.

--College admissions folks may see volunteering as indicative of an attitude of "giving" which may translate into donations to the college.  (Cynical, but there it is.)

If my first guess is right, then it's not the volunteering per se that the college is looking for, but a sense of engagement outside oneself.  A student could demonstrate that in a lot of ways.

But I'm also wondering how many students gain nothing by volunteering (except a line on a resume) because they aren't really engaged by what they're doing, aren't really learning from it, or creating a meaningful experience.

Okay, genius of the interwebs, tell me if and why volunteering may be important to college admissions folks, please.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


I'm reading VA Kolve's Telling Images, the second book he's written about Chaucer's imagery.

Kolve writes with such grace, it's just mindblowing.  You can hear his voice in his prose, and it's just beautiful, seductive, almost.  And gracious.

I love all the images, even though I'm not quite convinced so far by "The Merchant's Tale" reading (I'm halfway through the second chapter on the tale).  The thing is, he writes so well that I want to be convinced. 

The preface is marvelous in itself.  There's a moment when he's talking about his work, when Kolve says that
In the opening pages of the final chapter, "God-Denying Fools"--an argument conceived, in imitation of Chaucer, as a modernist's "Retraction"--I privilege my personal situation for the first time, confessing to a dilemma I have never wholly resolved: how to teach and write "from within" Christian systems of thought wihtout appearing to acquiesce in beliefs I do not share.  (xvii)
It's the best statement of a real difficulty I have with teaching Chaucer, Shakespeare, early modern literature, in fact all literature that takes Christianity seriously as religious truth, and expresses just that difficulty.  And it fits perfectly with the personal tone of the preface; it's Kolve's dilemma, and very personally his, but it also speaks to me.

In the introduction to the notes for chapter 3, Kolve quotes Donald Howard's essay "The Idea of a Chaucer course," "where he reflects on what he thinks our teaching is for
While there can never be agreement on methods [of teaching], there can be agreement on goals, and on this point I will risk being dogmatic.
The goal and idea of teaching The Canterbury Tales is to put the student in touch with the mind of Geoffrey Chaucer.  Chaucer had a certain frame of mind, a way of looking at the world, which in our time we could use to our own great benefit if we could but grasp it. . . . [For there] are moments when we grasp with special clarity Chaucer's unique sanity--his impatience with cant and hypocrisy and with the posturings of seriousness, his sad tolerance for human orneriness, his humorous view of the world and of himself, his tragic and comic sense of self.  This sanity is what we have in our power to offer students.  (Donald R. Howard, "The Idea of a chaucer Course" in Approaches to Teaching Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, ed. Joseph Gibaldi [New York: Modern Language Association, 1980], pp. 61-62, qtd in Kolve, 278.)
I'm thinking of using that as the introductory bit on my Chaucer syllabus.  And yet, because of the rape record (and rapes in the tales), I have a more troubled sense of Chaucer than Howard seems to.  Still, there is very much something to teaching Chaucer and reading Chaucer that's worth doing, I think.

(I thnk that my sense of how to teach patriarchal literature is much like my sense of how to deal with religion in literature.  It's the same sort of difficulty for me.)

Now, off to try out my skis for a bit and then to read some more Kolve.

Work Cited
Kolve, V.A. Telling Images: Chaucer and the Imagery of Narrative II.  Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2009.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


One of my projects this break is to go through some old papers and put them into recycling.  I was at it today, and found a syllabus I made up for some class.  I don't remember it, but the basic idea isn't half bad.  It looks like it was for a class I taught as an adjuct (on the quarter system).

It was titled: Fantastic People/Fantastic Places: Marvelous Geographies in Earlier English Literature.

And it included texts from Beowulf to Gulliver's Travels.

I think I may recycle it, and rework it for an early Brit lit lower level course next year.

Of course, the amusing thing is that the whole syllabus takes up one double-sided piece of paper, and half of one side is taken up with a picture of a pict (I'm guessing I used one of the illustrations from Emily Bartel's Spectacles of Strangeness.

Anyway, here's what the reading list looked like.  What should I change as I revise it for a semester long course?

Gawain and the Green Knight
"The Description of Cooke-ham"
"To Penshurst"
The Tempest
Paradise Lost (Book 1 only)
Gulliver's Travels

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Read This!

Here's a link to a poem called "Storm" in the New Republic.  You should read it.  /nod

(Nope, not by me.  But really good!  Far better than anything I could imagine hoping to write.)


Last night I had a dream that I was hanging out with another blogger (I'm not quite sure who), and for some reason, Jo(e) was going to be about, and the other blogger told me, and Jo(e) in my dream is actually sort of local, but somehow wasn't supposed to know that I'm a blogger, too.  And we were driving around.  But there were no naked pictures.

Weird, eh?

In my dream, Jo(e) was just as fun as she seems in her blog (we've never met). 

In other news, I'm happy to be home.

I got an email from the missing student, and it turned out zie is fine, and things will work out.  I'm happy about that, and very relieved that zie wasn't in some horrible accident.

I did finish reading Shapiro's 1599, which I enjoyed and found impressive, if a bit frustrating at times (because I'm so used to academic structure, that I really wanted source information in the text more than it was, rather than in a bibliographic essay.  But I'm sure this is much more comfortable for some readers.)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Wrapping up the Semester

I've finished grading, finally.

I get frustrated by the late stuff that comes in, even legitimately (because of, say, health problems).  I don't blame the student, but it's a pain to have extra stuff to grade at the last minute.

And then it seems there's always one class where there's a problem, some confusion.  This year it's an exam.  I can't find a student's exam.  And I can't remember if the student was at the final, but zie is one of those students who didn't miss a single class during the semester.  And the exam is in two parts, and I have neither part.  And the student hasn't emailed.

So now instead of submitting grades tonight, I'm going to go to campus in the morning and search my office to see if somehow I dropped it in there.  If not, I'll send the student an email.  (I've already searched the room where I was grading. 

If I were missing one part, I'd be convinced I'd misplaced the other.  But it seems unlikely that I'd missplace both parts, doesn't it?

But this student is very responsible.  I hope zie is okay, and wasn't hurt in an accident or something.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Liveblogging a Final

It's the Shakespeare final. 

And I just finished the stack I brought to grade now, and had to check some stuff on the computer.  And now, this, blogging.

My finals are in three parts, an essay section (one essay, about at least three plays, from before and after the midterm), a short ID/concepts section, and a section writing about specific passages.

My goal for my final is that a student who's studied, participated in discussion, taken notes, and so on, should be able to demonstrate that they've learned a lot.  A student who hasn't bothered to do any of that should fail miserably.  And in between, well, in between.

So, the IDs and concepts?  About a week before the exam, we make a huge list on the board.  And I try to choose from the list mostly.  (And there's always some choice on the exam, so if someone just doesn't remember one thing, there's something else to write about.)

The passages?  They're all passages we've worked through in class discussion.  So someone who's been in class, active in discussion should have good notes.  The key then is to review and study well.  Again, there's some choice so if they just can't remember one, they can do another.

And the essay questions?  We take some time as finals approach to talk about potential essay questions.  Then I make up a set of five or six potential essay questions.  And then we talk about them, brainstorm, and they get to choose three potential essay questions.  For the exam itself, I'll choose two from those three, and they'll choose one to write on.  That means they have to prepare two essay questions.

The essay part is open book/open notes, while the other part is closed book/closed notes.  (It's a small enough class that I can do this.  Everyone brings two blue books.  I make the exam on two different colors of paper.  If they have the essay colored paper exam on their desk, and are writing that, they can have notes out.  If they have the ID/passages colored paper on their desk, they can't.  I can walk around a bit, and I'm not seeing obvious cheating.  That doesn't mean it can't happen, but it's not blatant.  That is to say, it's not happening more because they're using notes on one section.)

The thing about notes, and I warn them about this, is that if you know you can use notes and use that knowledge as an excuse not to prepare for the exam, you can sink yourself by getting caught up in finding whatever it is in your notes and running short of time.  People who prepare well are going to be well enough prepared either way.  I've seen people come in with their notes all organized, with tabs, and highlighted sections, tabs on their books.  All that perparation generally means that the notes are needed for little more than confidence and comfort; they may check them just to be sure, but they don't really need them once they've done that sort of organized reviewing.

Once I had an essay exam set up like this, where we were allowed to use our books, so I outlined two essays in my books as preparation.  I may have referred to the outline a bit, but because I'd prepared well, I didn't really need it.  The act of outlining was enough to really set it in my memory.

This semester, for the first time I remember, several people asked if they could write out essays and bring them into class as part of their notes.  I said yes.  Seriously?  Imagine that they're spending time to draft out two Shakespeare essays.  That's going to help them learn and remember!  Yay for learning!  (If I thought I were trying to test some "make it up right now on the spot skill" rather than trying to test whether they've learned and can connect what they've learned from one text to another, I might not like the preparation.  But since what I'm trying to test is that they've learned and can connect, I'm happy for them to prepare all they want.)

I'm not always thrilled with tests.  I guess they tend to make people study for real, but I'm not sure the sort of last minute studying some students do really contributes to their learning.

I don't remember the specifics of a lot of classes I took tests on in college.  I do remember that college changed my way of thinking and learning, and made me a stronger critical thinker.  Did studying for the tests accomplish that?  Or just being in lectures?  Or doing the reading?  Sitting in the stairwells chatting with other students about their lives and experiences?  Arguing about whatever it was we cared about (usually not related to our classes, by the way)?

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Remember when I posted this about the last snowstorm?   I was worried because I was expecting to get home late to a big old berm at the end of my driveway.  I didn't start for home until late, so I was thinking that I'd just park on the side of the road, climb over the berm, leaving it to dig until the next morning.  But that didn't happen.  No.  No, it didn't.  It didn't happen because when I got home, my driveway was beautifully clear.

So I asked the neighbor whose dog I dogsit, and who often does me kindnesses, but no, he said, it wasn't him.  And I asked the neighbor with the super snowthrower across the street, and even took him cookies, but no it wasn't him.  And I asked the paramedic neighbor, and no, it wasn't him.  But he said he thought the new neighbor had gotten a snowthrower and had done them, so maybe it was them?

Well, today we had a bit of snow, and this afternoon, I went to clear the drive for the second time (It's WAY easier to shovel if you're shovelling 4 inches twice then 8 inches once.  At least, that's my belief.)  I finished mine, and saw the new neighbor out, so I walked over and yes, it was him, and the other neighbor on the side, the accountant.  But the new neighbor's snowthrower had broken down in some way, so while I was there, I helped them dig out enough to get their cars in and out.

And then I headed home.

And then my other neighbor, the accountant was snowblowing, so I went to thank her.  And then, a moment after I returned home, the city plow came through.  So I dug out my berm.

And then I went to help my new neighbor dig his out.  And when we finished his, we went to help the third neighbor who'd helped with my berm, and then he came out with his snowthrower, and we did a couple more neighbors.

And now I'm good and tuckered.  But we're all dug out on the street.  And we're all feeling pretty neighborly, too.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Help from Medievalists, Please!

I'll be teaching The Canterbury Tales for the first time in a couple of years in spring, and once again, I'd like to ask the real medievalists out there for some suggestions for reading over break.

What one or two newish books (or articles) should I read to help me prepare again?  What's the latest and coolest Chaucer stuff I should look at?

I was thinking of Kolve's Telling Images: Chaucer and the Imagery of Narrative II.  But I may be biased.

Thanks in advance for your help.

One other thing: there's a post phud person teaching some comp classes here (and I assume, being on the market) who's a medievalist but not had a chance to actually teach any Chaucer.  So, I've invited hir to teach a class or a tale (hir preference).    I thought I'd also try to mentor a bit re setting up a CT course.  What should I think about specifically to help hir gain some experience?

Thanks again!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Quiz Answers!

1)  b, of course.  This student fell asleep in class, sitting in the middle of the front row, pretty much once or twice a week (it's a five hour/week class).  Perhaps not surprisingly, this student revealed an active gaming life at one point.

2)  a.  Yes, two men had signed up.

3)  b.  One of the men brought a heated chip dip, though he did reveal that his wife made it.

4)  c.  So, yes, it could have been worse.  Nonetheless, two hours too many.

Bonus question.  I lost count.  But, that's partly because there were a lot of retirees there, too.  And life partners. 

We have one lovely couple (well, there's more than one) with one partner in the department; the other partner is charming and delightful, and baked a yummy pumpkin treat with pumpkins they'd grown in their garden.  And several of the retirees brought food, too.  And some people who hadn't signed up when I saw the sign up on Friday brought food.  So I lost count.

No one got all the answers right, alas.  But, since you were all good sports about participating, I will haply send you postcards!  Drop me your mail address to:, and I'll pop some cards in the mail!

Having the retirees there made me realize that I'm now one of the oldsters in the department.

Senator Inouye

When I was a kid growing up in the early 70s, politics were important.  In my family, we talked about the Vietnam conflict, and the adults had conflicted feelings, so far as I could tell.  My family talked about the election of 1972, the adults split politically, and then the aftermath of Watergate; no one split politically on that.  I remember watching news bits on the hearings, and wondering about Senator Inouye. 

Other than George Takei on Star Trek reruns, he was the first Asian American I was aware of as a national figure (there still aren't many, are there?  Hmm.). 

And being a kid, I had questions, about his race, his arm, but my parents explained respectfully what was appropriate, and we watched, and he seemed a reasonable, smart man, a senator who was trying to figure out what happened and what he (as a citizen and a senator) should do.

And so, since I became politically aware, he's been in the Senate, often quiet, but one of those senators who, for me, was someone I respected and listened carefully to when I heard him speak on TV.  I sort of counted on him being there, being smart and reasonable, and knowing more about political things than I ever will.

Thank you, Senator Inouye, and rest in peace, sir.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Quiz for Finals Week!

This is a tough one, so take your time.


1)  I got an email from a student this morning.  S/he had sent it at about 1am.  I responded at about 6:40am.

Which person in this correspondence fell asleep in many meetings of a 9am class?

a)  The Professor
b)  The Student

2)  Our department is having a Christmas potluck today.  The department has about 35 people, about half men, and half women.  As of Friday, how many men had signed up to bring food to the potluck (of the 15 or so sign ups)?

a)  2
b) 6
c) 10

3)  Of these male sign ups, how many actually required heating the food in any way?

a)  0
b)  1
c)  4

4)   On the last day of classes, yours truly had how many hours of meetings?

a)  No one would be stupid enough to schedule meetings for the last day of classes!
b)  1
c)  2
d)  3

Bonus Question!

How many men will show up and eat at the Christmas potluck?

Post your answers below!  The winner gets a postcard from some exotic place.  (Unless you're in England, then you probably won't consider it an exotic place.)  (And assuming I remember.  Don't I owe someone a postcard even now?)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Hour of Lead

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –

The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

Emily Dickinson.   Source: The Poetry Foundation

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Job Search - Other Thoughts on Interviews

Reading the comment from Susan, and after the practice interview, I was thinking about interviews, and I thought about interviews as a cooperative venture.  If I'm a reasonably sane interviewer, then what I want out of the interview is to get a really good sense of the candidate I'm interviewing, to get a sense of how that person will be as a teacher, colleague, researcher.  It's in my interest to give each candidate my attention and thoughtful responses.

That is, interviews aren't us vs them, or they shouldn't be.  They should be more along the lines of a dance, where you want to have a mutually fun time, to communicate with the people you're dancing with, to get out without smashed toes. 

I think phone interviews are difficult for cooperative dancing, so to speak, because we can't see each other, can't nod appreciatively, can't make eye contact, can't read body position.  And as an interviewer, I tend to feel awkward making verbal comments in response because it's weird to say "uh huh" in a room with an interview committee and I don't want the candidate to feel that I'm cutting him/her off.

I was also thinking about some other stuff.  When I ask a question, I want to hear the answer.  The candidate can redirect it, and if s/he does this skillfully, I'll feel answered.  But if the candidate just doesn't answer, I may ask a follow up (or someone else might), or I may let it go and feel unsatisfied.

So, for example, as a candidate, you should be expecting a question about how you teach some class in your field, or where you scholarly work is going now that you've finished the dissertation or MFA.  But listen to the question and make sure you answer it, and don't just give a canned response. 

Maybe, for example, I'll ask how you approach a lower division class in your field.  But maybe the question will be which texts you choose for a lower division class in your field.  The first question asks for bigger information, more theoretical, perhaps, more philosophical.  The second asks for specific information.  Now, you may give some examples of specific texts you teach in the first response, but if you don't give those examples in the second response, it's not as good.  (Then you might want to redirect to talk more theoretically about why you choose those texts, of course.)

If you're interviewing at a teaching oriented school, mock up some basic class syllabi.  You don't have to do it by date or anything, but if I ask how you would teach a basic basketweaving class, be ready to talk about which forms of basketweaving you start with and why, and how you get students to move into different water types in weaving, whatever.

If we ask you about your dream class, first, be enthusiastic.  It's your dream class, for gosh sakes.  And choose one class and go to town, and then maybe add another class for a someday.  But if I don't get a sense that you have a deep sense of pleasure about your dream class, and if it has no connection with anything else you've done ever before, I'm going to be unconvinced. 

And that leads me to thinking about connections.  It's not like I think everything should always have a deep connection, but I'm smart enough to realize that it's really, really hard to teach 12 credits a semester of deepwater basketweaving and have a research agenda that's totally focused on reed cultivation.  So, say your research agenda includes some multicultural reed cultivation, specifically reed cultivation practices in Asia and Africa; maybe one of your dream courses would be on multicultural reed cultivation practices, which (you'd mention) would also help you develop your research interests, so your teaching and research would support each other somewhat.  Of course, that's got to fit with what the ad says the department's looking for.  So if they're looking for deepwater basketweaving, hopefully they're interviewing you because that's your field and that's where your dream teaching and research work will lead.

Finally, unless you've got 10 interviews, take some time and look up the basic structure of the curriculum for the places that are interviewing you.  Is the Intro a one semester theoretical approach to deepwater basketweaving?  A survey of basketweaving?  A combo of reed cultivation and basketweaving?  Should your approaches for these different structures change?  Probably.

I'm wondering what candidates are experiencing re interviews?  Are most interviews still happening at national conventions?  Are some happening by phone?  by skype?  I'd be really interested to learn about your experiences on the other sides of these interviews, too.

It's the season to wish all job candidates good things on the market and a TT job for the new year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Job Search - Practice!

Here at NWU, we recently hired some post-docs on a limited contract to help teach (mostly) comp.  It's a compromise, as are so many things in academics these days, but it helps us reduce the class sizes in our first year comp program to 20 (from 28) for most classes.  And so we did it.

Part of our rationalizing is that we're hiring these folks with a commitment to mentoring them and giving them some support and so on.  I'm not hugely hopeful, but it is what it is.  Our chair has taken the lead on this, and done a really good job, I think.  So the other day, one of these folks gave a practice job talk; we listened (and it was interesting), and then asked job talk sorts of questions, and then did a debriefing.

Today, another faculty member and I are giving someone a practice interview.  We've got some of the same sorts of interview questions we talked about here in a previous post.  And we'll try to be helpful.

Doing the practice talk got me thinking about how important practice is.  But I recognize that a lot of grad programs don't have a formal way of doing practice interviews or practice talks.  Obviously, it's a great help if you can get some faculty to do them.  But even if you can't, if you can get a small group of grad students, you could give each other a lot of help and learn a lot.

You can start with interviews.  You could even use some of the questions in that previous post.

And while it's good practice for the interviewee, for sure, I think it's probably even better as a learning opportunity for the fake interviewers because it puts you in the position of listening for the response, and realizing what sorts of responses are effective for you as a listener, and what aren't.

The same goes for the practice job talks.  You'll learn as much by listening as you will by giving a practice talk.  And as you're listening, make sure you're thinking hard about the sorts of questions you can ask the speaker.

Then, for both the practice interview and talk, debrief and talk about what the person did well, and what could be done better.  Practice some of the questions to ask your interviewers.

I'm thinking that talking a bit about job talks would be helpful?  Next, perhaps?  And some campus visit stuff?  Should all that wait until after finals, or should we get it out there and start thinking about it?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Great Horned Owl!

I saw one!  My first!

I was just getting set for bed, turning stuff off, closing up the house, that sort of thing, when I heard some hooting.  Hoo hoo ... hoooo.  And again.

So I looked out, and around, and there, big as a hawk, in my neighbor's tree, was a ... well, a big something looking very solid in the snow glow.  So I got my binoculars, and had a good long look (Fortunately, it was a patient owl).  And I could distinctly see the "horns" or "ear tufts" or whatever real birders call them. 

I thought about getting my camera out, but with a big enough lens to see the bird well, it would have needed an exposure time WAY longer than the bird would have been still for (it moved its head as I watched).

So I just looked with my binoculars, and then when I went to try a different way to look, it flew off.

Still, my first Great Horned Owl!  And it was BIG!

(And it was sitting in a tree in my neighbor's yard, the same neighbor who sometimes lets her cat out, and whose cat sometimes comes over and hangs out near my feeders, though I've asked her not to let it.  It's not worth making a big deal of, but I hope the cat doesn't meet the owl, because the owl would win, I bet.)

The cat guest I have at my house, though, joined me at the window to look out, though I don't think she saw the owl, and I'm sure glad she wasn't outside to see it up close!

Monday, December 10, 2012


We had a bit of snow yesterday, enough to... well, enough.

When I first moved to snow country, I was surprised by a few snow... err, features?  characteristics?  results?  Something like that.

The biggest, and the one that always amazes me still, is the way the world glows in the dark.  Even with only a few stars, the local lighting from the city is enough to make everything glow and sparkle in the middle of the night.  Get a full moon, and it's almost like daylight, somehow.  I still can't quite get over that, and always sleep so I can see the glowiness from my bed if I can.  (And glowiness is all I can make out once my contacts are out, but still, glow!)

Another thing was the sounds, the sounds of car tires crunching, of feet crunching, of this weird sort of creak.  I guess I didn't expect that at all.

And finally, snow is a lot dryer than I'd realized, especially if it's really cold when it snows.

There was a movie on TV that I saw part of at some point, where the temperature in, say New York, dropped drastically, and the characters were talking about it being so cold that you couldn't survive even moving with gear on, and it was snowing.  And now I know that when it's super duper cold, it doesn't much snow.  Or something.

I dug out my driveway several times yesterday, a few inches each time.  One time, by the time I'd finished the four inches or so that were there, it had snowed another inch.  But it was dryish, that inch, and quick to push off to the side.  When I got up this morning, there was probably another inch on the drive, and the street hadn't been plowed, and other trucks and SUVs had driven on the street, so I was fine to get out and didn't have a problem staying in their tracks and getting to where the plow had been.  I expect I won't be able to get to my drive this afternoon without a goodly bout of shoveling the berm.  I hate the berm.

The good news all around is that there should be GREAT skiing, and soon!  I wonder how long it will take them to groom up the golf course?

Thursday, December 06, 2012


My Younger Relative called me recently, and asked me to give hir some feedback on a high school writing assignment.  The assignment requires students to write about three characters in a text in terms of one or more characteristics from a list.  The draft YR sent was about nine pages, all in these long, overly long paragraphs.  The paragraphs wandered a bit, but there were ideas there and they addressed the assignment.  I realized after not too long that he'd written a five paragraph essay.  And I was smart enough to realize that the five paragraphs are a requirement.  And indeed, they are.


Here's this high school student who has worked hard to think of and write out his ideas, and instead of teaching him to organize them into meaningful paragraphs, the teacher is teaching him to fit them into a really nasty box.

I recognize that there's good reason to limit page numbers, but a five paragraph essay that is five paragraphs long is just nasty for the teacher, isn't it?

So, help me, dear readers.  Why teach the five paragraph essay?

Do state boards require it?  And why?  No one who studies writing thinks this is a good idea, do they?

So, why?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Deep Breath

I just finished a big committee responsibility, and it's probably done for real now.  Fortunately, the other committee members were excellent, and good to work with, and we accomplished our responsibility well.

I feel like I can breath a bit again.

I have one huge stack of papers to grade.  (But I just got them, so they're not late or anything.)
I have three classes to prep for tomorrow.
I have an observation  to do tomorrow, and then to write up.
I have a small bunch of stuff to grade.

And I feel like I can breath again.  I felt this weight lift the minute I finished part of the committee responsibility, even though there was more to do in our final meeting.

And an aside.  You know how you meet people at cocktail parties or whatever?  (In my case, more whatever than cocktail party, but the idea is the same.  It's a non-work thing, social, friendly.)

So there are a couple of people chatting, and one says that hir spouse does X, so zie basically knows all about X.  Now imagine X is nanotube science.  Yeah, being married to someone who does nanotube science does not make you an expert on nanotube science.  Nope.  It doesn't.

Or law.  Nope, being married to someone who's a lawyer doesn't give you a deep understanding of the law.  Further, if your spouse is talking to you about confidential case stuff, I'm doubly unimpressed: that your spouse broke the confidentiality, and that you think you should blab it at this [not a cocktail party] gathering.

I feel strongly that confidential stuff should stay confidential.  However, the number of times someone not at a confidential meeting has stopped me to talk with inside knowledge about what happened in that confidential meeting leads me to believe that my ethical belief here is not as widely shared as I might wish.  (That said, I hope I haven't broken confidentialities on the blog.  I don't think I have, but I sure hope I haven't.)

Monday, December 03, 2012

Job Search - What not to Say

I thought it might be worth talking a bit today about what not to say in job interviews.  These might seem obvious, but you'd be surprised.

In previous comments, some folks have suggested helpful questions and unhelpful ones.  Susan suggested not asking about personal issues in an initial interview, but saving those for an on-campus visit.  And that got me thinking about other questions not to ask.

Like other interviewers, I really like the interview question where we ask candidates what questions they have for us.  But...

1)  If we've listed a deepwater basketweaving position, with a secondary interest in reed cultivation, don't ask us about teaching mathematical weaving course.  You can safely assume that if we needed someone new to teach it, we'd have put it on the ad.  Further, if the person who teaches mathematical weaving is on the interview committee, and a bit defensive anyway, s/he is going to get cranky.

More important, we're looking to hire someone who will want to teach deepwater basketweaving, whose life will be better because they're teaching deepwater basketweaving, not someone who will pine about not teaching mathematical weaving.  If you're going in a direction where you want to be doing more mathematical weaving, then we're going to find that problematic, and if we have candidates who are enthusiastic about deepwater basketweaving, we'll look to them.

2)  Don't ask us about salary.  If we're a state school, you may be able to look up salary information.  We may be able to tell you what we make as individuals, but we'd probably find that uncomfortable.  And that wouldn't necessarily help you know what you'd make.

What you may not realize is that a lot of colleges have what's called "salary compression" going on.  Here's how it works.  Say Dr. A got hired in 1995, at 40k/year, and got a few raises, and tenure and promotion, and now makes 48k/year.  (These numbers are fairly close to beginning salaries at my school, so try not to react with too much scorn.)  Dr. B got hired in 2000, at 42k/year, and got a few raises, and tenure and promotion, and now makes 49k/year.  The school knows that neither of these folks is going to leave because they're both mid-career, teaching 4/4 and so on.

Dr. C got hired in 2007, at 45k/year, and hasn't gotten a raise. 

And now we're hiring again, and Dr. D may be offered a salary of 47k/year.

There's talk around here of giving people who've been hired more recently a fairly chunky raise, a couple thousand a year.  The university, we're told, is worried about retention of young faculty.  The admins aren't worried about retaining Dr. A and Dr. B, though, so they won't get raises.  Dr. C will be making more as an assistant professor than Dr. A and Dr. B, and when Dr. C is promoted and gets that raise, will be making more.

Since there haven't been raises around here for a long time, we're not likely to be privy to initial salary offers, and we're maybe not going to be comfortable talking about our salaries, depending on who's in that interview room. 

3)  I'm not sure about this, but I probably wouldn't ask about spousal hire possibilities.  I'd appreciate hearing what other folks have to say.

So, everyone, what shouldn't a candidate ask during an interview?

Sunday, December 02, 2012


Here's a really interesting post from JJ Cohen at In the Middle on "Early Modern."

Periodization is both useful and problematic, and Cohen does a good job getting at that.  You should go read!