Thursday, February 27, 2014

Avoiding Despair

I'm teaching an intro to the major course this semester, and one of the small assignments I've given involves asking individual students to each do some minimal research and write a short (like a page) paper explaining a particular period or literary/intellectual movement.  And then they do a short presentation in class, so that everyone gets the idea.

I made up a timeline that we're filling in, and gave each student a copy to fill in as we go.

The idea is to give them the beginnings of a framework about literary movements and such.  So, for example, they should know that the Romantics didn't just pop up out of nowhere, but responded to industrialization, the Englightenment, and so forth.  If they have a basic, rough, narrative, they can learn more start to understand more subtle ways of seeing things in other classes.

So, they handed the printed versions in, and I started grading them on Tuesday, thinking I could get through the pile in a day, since they're fairly short.

I got through about a third of the pile before I was driven to despair.  Some were confused a bit, but mostly my despair was driven by the almost complete lack of acknowledgment or connection between what they'd gotten from their sources and what they'd written.  So, for example, there'd be a paragraph about Romanticism (I don't think I actually read the Romanticism one, so I'm making this up), with now acknowledgment of sources, and then at the end, a numbered list of sources.  Or maybe a "Works Cited" section with two URLs.

I couldn't even bear to read further.  That doesn't often happen to me with grading, but this just really bothered me.  I think of the third of the pieces I read, one earned a passing grade.  (Because I can't in good conscience pass a written piece of college work that uses sources without acknowledging those sources.)

This wasn't plagiarism in the sense of stealing ideas, but, I think, plain confusion about how to acknowledge sources for this sort of assignment, or laziness, or something.  That didn't make it acceptable, though.

I spent a lot of time Tuesday afternoon pondering, and being frustrated, and by Tuesday evening, I came up with an idea.

On Wednesday, I started our two hour class session by asking them to freewrite about why we cite sources, about what the point is.  And then I had them take their freewriting to groups, and they made a list, which we compiled onto the board at the front of the class.

So, I did my best to make sure that they had good reasons why we might want to cite sources, and that they knew they knew the reasons (at least collectively).

Then I talked about my despair at reading their papers.  And then I asked them to help me avoid further despair by revising their work and turning it in again, with full and appropriate citation, which I would then grade for real.  And I wouldn't look at what had been turned in, or count it, unless they felt they'd already done so well on the assignment that they didn't need to revise, in which case they could let me know.

We spent the next chunk of time working out how to resolve specific citation questions or problems using OWL at Purdue and examples.

They agreed.  Next Monday I'll get the results, and I sure as heck hope they're much better.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

More Tales from Ski Lessons

The same kid was there from last week, and even though it was colder, she was relatively uncomplaining, and skied happily along.  I think because it was colder a lot of kids' parents had put the little hand warmer packets in their gloves, and those help TONS.

(Yes, I had them in my gloves and the toe ones in my shoes.)

I feel sort of useless at ski lessons this year.  I think the teacher leader (I'm a helper) of my group last year got the helpers more involved, maybe?

Or maybe it's because I'm with a younger group this year?

One good thing is that I'm such a poor skier that any time spent on skis, even if it's doing warm ups (stretch, crouch, touch toes, twist, hop, and so on) helps me feel better on skis.  I think it's partly just feeling like I can balance and trust my legs, or something.

The other good thing is that seeing little kids waving their arms around makes me think about how I'm learning to keep my hands closer to my body.  Seeing little kids try to double pole by putting the sharp part of the pole in front of them helps me realize why that's counterproductive.  And trying to do both things right is good practice!

Now, if I can make myself grade a bunch today, I will be caught up, and life will get better!  (I hate having grading hanging over my head.)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Trying Something New

The local curling club had an open "try out curling" day today, so I went.

It's WAY harder than it looks!

I guess that's another Olympic team I won't be on!

It has the disadvantage of being on ice, so it hurts when you fall (often snow doesn't hurt to much, at least at the speeds I go cross country at), and being indoors so you aren't getting sunshine.  (At least this club is indoors.  I guess you can curl outdoors, too.)  And yes, I fell.  A lot. 

I fell face forward (more than once) when I was trying to throw the stone (which is pretty heavy, by the way).  And I fell on my bum when I was doing the brushing bit.

The teachers had groups of beginners, and then had us do a game of sorts.  The highlight of my four throws was that three of my stones went into the area that's "in play" at least.

Remind me that spring will come eventually, please.


No, of course we didn't have a snow day at school.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


I'm chairing this one committee this year.  It's a big job, but someone has to do it.  I've been on the committee before, but when you're chairing, it's different, I think.  Or maybe before, I didn't quite get it?

It takes me 3-4 hours to prep for a meeting, sometimes more (this is outside of some bigger prep issues earlier in the year, which took a whole lot longer).  When I do that, though, I feel like I really have a handle on things, and can make it work really well.  I tend to send out some notes ahead of the meeting.  My hope is that these save the rest of the committee some time, highlight things that we need to pay close attention to, and offer potential solutions if need be.  And it's better to have one potential solution, I think, and work with that (even rejecting it outright) than to have everyone on the committee try to make a solution and then cobble them together.

But when we have a good meeting, we do good work, and it gets done, and I feel really good about it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Working through a Question

The other day I helped teach little kids cross country skiing.  I'm the third adult, a helper, with a group of about 11 kids, all about 5-6 years old or so, I guess.   (There are four little kid groups, and I don't know how many older kids speeding around in groups learning higher level skills.)

Mostly, the kids have fun.

There's this one little girl, though, who just couldn't stop saying how cold she was.  And I believed her.

Now, the first thing we do is try to get the kids moving, because that gets them warm.  And we figure that sometimes a kid starts out whiny, and then forgets about being whiny because they're having fun skiing.

But this little girl just kept saying how cold she was.

I asked the other teachers if I couldn't take her back to the warming hut, because I thought she was just being miserable, and that being miserable would make her hate skiing.  She was so upset she was holding up the group, not learning, and so on. 

One of us (me) would have had to stay with her at the warming hut, of course, but that still would leave two adults with ten kids, and that seems pretty reasonable, doesn't it?

Anyway, the teacher and the other helper overruled me.

And I really think I should have just taken her back anyway, and apologized later to the main teacher.  I'm ashamed that I didn't, in fact, because I could have helped her be a lot less miserable, and being miserably cold is horrible.  Why didn't I stand up for her better?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Just Me?

Do you ever, when you sign into Blogger, which makes you (or me, at least) use a Google password thing, see the "One Account" thing and think, "one ring to rule them all" or maybe more, "one account to rule them all," which I'm sure is more what Google is hoping for.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Snowy Owl!

I finally got a good long look at the snowy owl that's been hanging out around here.
I know the last one doesn't show its face, but I really like the way you can see feathers on it.
It hung out on the pole a good long while, and I was able to get fairly close, cross the street, pass to the far side, and recross the street.  I tried to walk a bit towards the other side, to see how it was facing, but it was a field and the snow was too deep for me to get far.  (I didn't have snow shoes on, but even with snow shoes, it would have been difficult.)
It was getting dark really fast, so I was really happy that I got a few good shots.  (I took about 50 shots.)  Winter isn't so bad today!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Hope for Spring: the Artichoke Saga

Back in October, I posted a couple pictures of artichoke plants I'd brought in, hoping to keep them alive for the winter.

Poor artichoke plants!

In November, suddenly a bunch of the outer leaves died off.  I was sad, but hopeful that the rest would survive. 

And then in late December, the rest of the leaves started to die off.  Happily, in early January, the friend whose expertise with plants made growing artichokes in this climate possible was by, looked at the plants, and diagnosed them with spider mites!  SPIDER MITES!  Ugh.

So, in desperation, I went to the local little hardware place and the hardware person helped me get a dormant plant spider mite insecticide, which I sprayed.  And then I waited.  And things seemed a bit better, so I waited.  After a couple of weeks, there were little leaves starting from the center again, so I cut away the deadest of the old leaves and sprayed again.  And then I waited some more.

Today, I cut away the last of the dead leaves and took a couple of pictures.

Now if you compare them to the October pictures, they look awfully pathetic and sad.  But if you compare them to how things looked in early January, then they look pretty hopeful.

As my friend pointed out, it's a good sign that they're putting on new growth.

She also pointed out that since the other artichoke plants we've grown have been first year plants tricked into thinking they're second year plants, if these plants make it into the spring looking this good, then I'm way, way ahead of the game.

Looking at the October pictures, I realize that I didn't take a picture of the light set up.  In those, there's one bulb.  But early on, my friend suggested that one wouldn't provide enough light, so I moved a different lamp there, one of those lamps with five bulbs on sort of moveable stem things, all of which are now lined up and pointing down at the plants.  They're also right in front of a big window which does afford some natural light, though it being winter, not much.

Back a couple of months ago, my neighbors were going to drop off their dog for the weekend; usually, in winter, the dog's crate goes right in front of the picture window where she can see out at the birds and the neighbors.  But because the plants are there, I asked them to put the crate in the summer spot (which is fine, but doesn't have birdTV and isn't in direct, hot sun to keep her from overheating in summer) because of the artichoke plants.  And she was so funny about asking if that was the light that's always on in that window. 

Yep, I'm growing artichokes, but I think my neighbors thought I was much more interesting agriculturally.

As you can see in the background of the first picture, I've also forced a couple of bulbs.  The hyacinth did great, one is pretty much done flowering, and the other is in full bloom.

The crocus seem to have died, but the daffodils seem to be starting.  Here's the currently blooming hyacinth.

I'm at that point of winter where I can't quite believe that it will ever be warm again.  But yesterday, I went out in the afternoon (about 4pm) to try to see the local snowy owl (no luck), and realized that it was light until WAY later than it had been in January when I went out to try to see it and it was getting dark by 4:30 or so.  So there is hope, right?

Thursday, February 13, 2014


I feel like I'm always dropping one ball, you know?

And the ball I drop too often is the one that matters to me, but isn't teaching or service related.  So I get the service done, I prep and teach classes, grade, I advise, and then, yeah, that other ball gets dropped.

I need to stop dropping that ball.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

That Jerk?

I just did etymology on effbee at someone.  I hope I wasn't too jerky about it.

A friend who speaks English as a second language asked about a word, someone answered, and I responded too, and then this other person "corrected" me with a sort of pedantic tone saying that we should look at the root, and then I pulled the OED. 

Saturday, February 08, 2014

The PBS Article on Faculty Non-Retirement

I did that web thing where you read effbee, and follow a link, and then follow a link, and found myself reading a PBS article "Colleges and Universities See Graying Workforce Holding onto Coveted Positions."

In the article, a small number of faculty members from pretty elite schools on the east coast are interviewed, including Claire Potter of Tenured Radical, about faculty members working into their 70s and problems with that for younger scholars and scholarly work.

In my small experience here, things look very different.  I see most of my colleagues balance the financial realities of starting late after years of grad school, low pay, but a (so far) decent retirement with the difficulties of the teaching load, constant demands for more administrivia, health problems, and rough weather; most that I know seem to retire in their mid-60s, which, for this generation means they can get Social Security and Medicare to cover health insurance.

And then, in the press, on one side we have young folks saying that we're staying too long, and on the other side, the government saying we won't have access to Social Security until later, so we need to work longer.  The Affordable Care Act MAY make earlier retirement plausible for some folks.

I'm reminded of Hal wanting that crown, being impatient for it, though I don't think of my job as a crown, exactly.  When haven't younger folks wanted to shove out the older generation for being old and greedy, and take over themselves?  I'm pretty sure my generation was plenty impatient. 

The difference, I think, is that for people in the US, since, say, the 40s, we've had this idea that there should be a retirement, a period of relative leisure to grow old, even for people who aren't among the very wealthy.  But I think historically that's a pretty rare thing.  Most people through history have struggled to eat and keep reasonably sheltered until they died.  They didn't retire and leave the land lease to their kids because they needed to keep working as long as they could, and when they couldn't, well, that was pretty soon going to be it.

I wonder if my impression that faculty at schools with higher teaching loads tend to retire a bit earlier is accurate? 

I wonder if there's also a regional aspect to that?  Are there incentives to work longer if you're in a big city?  (I know that's a whole complex can of worms; most faculty members here come from at least moderately privileged backgrounds, and a fair percentage from larger cities, and many of those folks move away when they retire.)

One of my department colleagues and I, trying to figure out if we're likely to ask for another TT search in the near future, and knowing that out budget makes it unlikely that we'll get a new line or get to search for one of the lines we had that was put on hold, ran down roughly our TT faculty ages a bit back.  I'm probably not 100% accurate in my count (or in estimating some peoples' ages), but here goes.

60s - 3 all men
50s - 9, 8 women, 1 man
40s - 10, 5 women, 5 men
30s - 6, 3 women, 3 men
20s - 2, 1 woman, 1 man

Of the 40s and 50s groups, a fair number were hired during their 40s, a couple quite recently.  (That is, we've hired people who were in their 40s.  They're new TT faculty at 40+)

So, at least in my small department, we have a reasonable balance, I think.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Time Time Ticking...

I'm about to head off to a meeting which, based on the agenda distributed, looks like it will be a bit of talking, more talking, and no decisions needing to be made.  I hate these sorts of meetings generally, but I will go to this one because it's in the job description.

We've been working on assessment stuffs, mostly on doing stuff that says we'll assess our courses in this given way for these given assessment points, which all include at least three subpoints.

I've spent probably a couple hours on this for the class I was supposed to do (and did).  If everyone in my department spent just about two hours on theirs (we pretty much all had a class to do), then we've wasted two weeks of work.

Wasted?  I'm sure the latest assessment guru would tell us that this is vital work, and that it's all important for making sure that we teach what we've decided is worth teaching, and that our students learn what we've decided is worth learning.  And by the way, there's that ever present threat that if we don't do it to ourselves, "they" will do it to us.

And in three years more, having done these and many more, having filled out assessment bubble things, and written reports, all of which will show that our students aren't learning as much as we think they should, but some of them are, and some not at all, the assessment guru will tell us that no, we've been doing it wrong, and now there's some cool new way to do assessment, so we should start over again.  And it will be treated as practically an emergency situation, so we all need to do that new thing lickety split.

And then we'll need a new assistant to the recently hired assessment guru, because there will be ever more work to do in assessment.

One of my colleagues and I were chatting today, and she expressed her frustration at the constant near-emergency attitude from the administration, and at the ways that this assessment work takes time away from other work we need/want to do, work such as, you know, teaching, prepping classes, designing courses, and so forth.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014


I taught cross-country skiing last night.  Those of you who've seen me ski are either laughing or bewildered at this point.  I'm not the most graceful or easy or even half-way decent skier you've seen.  Put it this way: whenever the woman in charge of the lessons sees me, she can't help herself but try to give me some helpful pointers.

But I'm still better than most of the four or five year olds I was helping teach.

The kids were really all over the place yesterday.  We were trying to teach them basic double-poling, and it was tough.  They couldn't seem to pay attention, and some didn't have poles, and so forth.  Chaos!

And it was cold.  I resorted to the chemical toe and hand warmers, but I gave away my hand warmers when one of the kids said she was super cold.  Still, my hands were warm enough by then and didn't get cold again.

The great thing about trying to teach the kids is that I also get in little bits of practice, and for me, just being on skis and sliding around, trying to do stuff (stop, turn and help a little kid, pull up some kids' britches), all that helps me be a bit better on skis.  (And reminds me to be grateful that I don't have to pull up my students' britches!)

The ski club also has lessons for older kids, mostly kids learning to skate ski, and it's surprisingly helpful to me to see them start off on the trails (they quickly surpass me), and think about what I'm doing.

I think I'm BEGINNING to get the hang of pushing off with my feet.  I can do it sometimes, on level areas, when the snow is just so.  And then, of course, I also lose it and fumble around.  Still, it's way cool when I can get it.

After the ski lessons, I called a local Thai place for take out, and went and picked it up on my way home, changing my ski boots for regular boots while parked outside the restaurant (because ski boots are more slippery).

And then I went home!

At which point, I'd inexplicably gotten cold to the bone.  I ate hot food, in front of a little space heater, with bean bag buckwheat heater bags on my shoulders (you microwave them for 3 minutes, and they're nice and warm), and I was shivering.  I hadn't been that cold while I was skiing, but holy cow, I was cold.

So, by 8pm, I took my bean bags and went to bed, wearing my bright orange "I'm not a deer, please don't shoot me" knit hat.  (I don't think I've ever been so cold that I needed to wear a hat to bed here.)

Sometime in the early hours, I woke up again, warm and cozy, took off the hat, and fell back to sleep.

And woke up early, feeling GREAT!  There's nothing like going to bed, well-fed and getting warm, at 8pm to make the morning feel GREAT!

It's pretty bright out, and I have work to do at the office (which I've already started on), and then this afternoon, I may go out skiing some more or go look for the snowy owl(s) that's hanging out locally.

Things are busy here, mostly in good ways, but busy!  Soon, more posting.