Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Spring Birding

I took my non-teaching responsibilities today and went birding. 
 I'm remarkably bad at IDing ducks.  Still, these are ring-necked ducks, though I'd be hard pressed to find the ring in these pictures.
 I love Northern Harriers; they're right below kestrels and white-tailed kites in my favorite raptor list.
 This is a trumpeter swan, I think.  If so, it's a first time seeing one for me!
Pied-billed Grebe.  Very cute, and a picture that's surprisingly sharp for me.
 American coots.  And you can sort of see that there's snow falling.  It wasn't a perfect day for birding, except that it was pretty darned good to see birds.
 Blue-winged teal.
The same Blue-winged teal, and a female Blue-winged teal, too.
Another trumpeter swan.
 A Northern Shoveler.  I love the size of their beaks.  Those are serious beaks.
 And a female Northern Shoveler, with an equally impressive beak!
 This isn't a great picture, but if you look carefully about a third down and a third to the right, you'll see a duckish bird with a sort of horizontal stripe on its head.  That's a Garganey, a mostly Eurasian Duck that's been sited around this area lately, and which I was lucky to see.

There's the same Garganey in the picture below, maybe a bit easier to see.

It was hanging around with two female and one male Blue-winged teal.  (Not the ones pictured above.)  You can see the female teal in the lower picture, to the right of the Garganey if you look carefully.  It makes you realize how hard these guys can be to see!

Monday, April 28, 2014


I'm still slightly under the weather.  As I was walking to my 2 hour class today, psyching myself up to appear energized, I thought about how much energy it takes to enact "professor" in a classroom, and how absolutely vital it is to try to put forward the energy.  I don't think teaching and learning are all my responsibility in a classroom, but I think my trying to enact "professor" with good energy makes a difference.  And is difficult sometimes.

I've gotten hardly any exercise while I've been feeling under the weather, so finally, Sunday, I rode my bike on the trainer for half an hour.  It was fine, and I feel better for it, but I can't imagine trying to compete in any sort of real way while feeling under the weather.  I can fake my way through teaching a bit, but I couldn't fake my way on a bike at all.

Saturday, April 26, 2014


A couple I know who've been adjuncting at NWU are moving far away; this morning, they had a moving sale.  I'm sad for us to be losing them, though I don't know them really well, but I can't decide whether to be excited or scared for them in their new adventure. 

And then later, a colleague who left our department for another job last year was back in town to sign papers and such for the final sale of the house she'd bought here, and to move the last few things to their new home.  I think she's happy in her new place, but we're sad to have had her leave, of course.

Some folks met at a local restaurant to chat and say good bye, and another colleague was there who is leaving us for a better opportunity.  I'm excited for him, though sad for us, since he's an excellent colleague.

It feels like there are a lot of good byes happening right now.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Add a Paper?

I got an email from a colleague the other day, asking about a student who needs an upper division course, but also needs Shakespeare (which I'm teaching at the lower division next semester, as is usual).  The colleague wants to know if I couldn't just add a project or longer paper and make it so the lower division Shakespeare course can count as an upper division course.

1.  Guess what field this colleague is in.

2.  Guess how insulted this colleague would feel if I asked the same question about one of their courses.

How do your departments or fields think about the differences in lower and upper division courses?

Do you think of the differences as being primarily in one or another assignments?

Do you think of the differences as being more foundational and intellectual?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy Maybe!

398 years ago today, William Shakespeare died.  So says the parish record.  It's not a nice round number, but there it is.

Traditionally, it's said that Shakespeare was born on April 23rd, too.  The math is nice and round, and there's one less number for Shakespeareans to remember.

But the truth is, we don't know.  The parish record indicates that one William Shakespeare was baptized on April 26th, 1564.  And we know that in practice, in the area, babies were baptized within a few days of birth.

I find the obsession with Shakespeare's birthday a bit irritating.  For me, the baptism stuff is more fascinating, more cool because there are records to look at, and we can think about how we know what we think we know.  But for some reason, the baptism narrative isn't what makes it onto NPR this morning.  (The text version acknowledges the uncertainty, though I don't remember the radio version doing that.  The lack of memory may be my morning fog.)

Still, whether a day or two early or late, the exciting thing is, Shakespeare still rocks!

A friend asked me the other day if I thought that Shakespeare knew his works would have lasting impact.  It's an interesting question, isn't it?

I think he did.  He certainly knew that old works could have lasting impact, since he knew how important he found Ovid, Plutarch, and Homer.  Whether he thought about the ways their works had been made more and more available with the advent of movable print technology, I don't know.  I think he probably took printed books for granted, as we do.  But he knew that printed stuff gets reproduced again and again, and plays with that idea.

And he knew that in his theater tradition, plays got played again, came back into repertoire, even after they'd found their way into print.

At any rate, I hope he had some inkling of how good his works are, how utterly astoundingly good!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Teaching Sick

I've had a cold this week, not serious, but coughing, hacking, and sleeping a lot.  And yet, I've taught all my classes.  I wasn't nearly as good teaching as I usually am, but they were okay.

It got me wondering, though, how other peoples' schools handle short term instructor illnesses?

Here, you can just cancel classes.

Or you can email the department and ask someone to cover the class.  (It seems to me that most of those emails are more for planned absences, such as for conferences, rather than for illness.)

I have cancelled classes in the past rather than try to find someone else to teach them, mostly because we teach an 11 credit load (with adjuncts teaching a 15 credit load as full time), so it seems harder to find someone with free time than it would if we taught 6 or 9 credit loads; easier than with 12 credit loads, though.  But usually, especially with a cold, I just muddle through, do the best teaching I can, and that's that.

With a cold, I don't think I'm extending the cold.  It's usually a week to two weeks, or, if you don't teach, 7-14 days, right?

But I feel bad about probably sharing germs with students and others.

I was amused, on Friday, though, when I taught with a really ragged voice (mostly trying not to talk), and after class, one of my students came up and did that thing where they apologize for missing class because they didn't feel well, and you could tell as the words were coming out of their mouth, they realized that not feeling well hadn't kept me in bed.  On the other hand, if we all stayed home when we got a cold, we'd share them less, but my students would also have missed two weeks of classes this semester from my absences.

Crocus Smile

Last fall, I was thinking aloud (in the company of friends) about doing that thing where you put crocus bulbs in your lawn, and then in the spring, they come up, bloom, and die back before it's time to mow.  One of my friends suggested I do a pattern.

So I did.  Or at least, I tried to.  Using some wrapping ribbon, I laid out a smiley face, and then worked around it planting the little bulbs.

Behold, smiley face.

Then I took away the ribbon and we had that little winter thing.  You know, with the cold and arctic blasts and such.

And now, the snow's gone, and things are starting to come up.  But, naturally, not all at once.

So here's the same patch of lawn:

If you embiggen seriously, you can see three very tiny bits of yellow.  On the left, just a bit directly towards the camera from near the tip of the shadow, there's a tiny spot.  On the right, if you work forward from the tree in the back, there's another spot, and then forward more, another spot.

I had bags of mixed crocus bulbs, and it looks like the yellows came up first.

You can also see that I pruned some of the lower branches of the tree (it was getting too difficult to mow near it, and getting in the neighbor's way, too).  But mostly you can see that the tree isn't leafing out yet.  Nothing is.

And do you wonder, as I do, what caused the optical illusions of curves in the vinyl sidings of the houses?

Edited to add:  I took another picture this afternoon, and there are a few new blossoms showing up!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

SAA Conversation

I asked some of the folks I know who teach at R1s about their PhD placements.  All but one assured me that all of their grads get jobs.  One of these folks said that their students get jobs because their PhD students are even willing to go to places such as the U of North Dakota.  Yep, in his mind, that's the worst thing possible.  My sort of school isn't even on his radar of horrors. 

The one who didn't assure me that all their grads get jobs talked about the ethical dilemma of teaching grad students who probably won't get jobs.  And yet, he teaches where he teaches because he took the best job offered in a tough market. 

Overall, though, the job market difficulty was passingly acknowledge in the presidential address, where Diana Henderson talked about how her connections helped her get a near Ivy job after she didn't get tenure at her first job.  It's good to have connections, no?

I know the folks involved would be horrified to realize this, but to me, SAA often feels like an insider crowd from all Ivies or near Ivies, and the rest of us who exist to buy their books and teach at places they don't really quite believe exist.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Back to the Fifties

My students are working on a project where they pose a question having something to do with our class, and then try to find an essay published in a peer reviewed journal that helps them understand the question or an answer to some extent.  They read and write an analysis of the essay.  It's a stepping stone (see, I chose a different metaphor) along the way to other research.

We're talking through the questions now, and I'm struck again (as every time I've done this) by how often their questions feel very "fifties" to me, where "fifties" means that it feels critically old fashioned.

They tend to want to know if Hamlet is really crazy, for example, or if Lady Macbeth had kids.  These aren't bad questions, but they feel out of step with questions most critics these days are asking and pursuing.

My goal is for them to be able to find a useful essay, so I help them modify and look for stuff, so things usually turn out okay.

Some of them are carrying over from high school questions, it seems.

Others, of course, are asking much more fun (from my point of view) questions.

What sorts of questions do your students ask?  How do the questions change across course levels?  (These are first and second year students, mostly, so they really are early in their development as college students.)

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Ups and downs.

I was in probably the most useful seminar so far as specific feedback for everyone's papers that I've ever been in.  It was really great that way.

I got to see good folks, from grad school and elsewhere, and that was great.

I felt ever more alienated from Shakespeare stuff here in my NWU home, where I teach more comp than early modern by far.  But where there are other good things that I appreciate.

I planned poorly, I think, and rushed in and rushed out.  The bad in that is that I spent the whole visit tired.  The good in that is that I'm home and got a good and full night's sleep last night, and I get to go to a friend's concert tomorrow which I'm very much looking forward to.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


NWU is going through a thing with an ad agency or something to establish some "brand" so that students in the area will want to come here (and, I hope, so taxpayers in the state will want to support state education, but here I am all naive and everything).

They're having some fancy thing where they're going to unveil "our brand." 

You can imagine how much fun some of us are having with the brand thing. 

But even more now, since they announced the fancy thing to announce our brand via an invitation in a small envelop.  The invitation is a once folded piece of cardstock with the information about the event.  Fine so far.

But also inside, on the same cardstock, are small colored rectangles, each with one or two words, each of which is supposed to make us think of NWU or of the brand or something.  (The fact that it's not quite clear what we're supposed to make of these is all the more amusing.)

That's right, we've basically been sent an envelop with fancy confetti.

You can guess that none of the inspirational words is "sustainable" or "environmentally conscious," can't you?

Alas, none is "snowy," "pays well," or "education," either.  Nor is "change," "feminist," "justice," "work," or "diversity" among the choices.

So my question is:  did we pay these folks more or less than we pay our athletic director?

And also, have your schools been doing "branding," and if so, what's your "brand"?

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Growing Up

I was in a meeting the other day, and it really struck me how difficult I find it to say to someone in a meeting situation that I think their idea, however good, won't fly, and that we should do something different.

And then today, I wrote a note to a student to tell hir that I think the project they've been working on doesn't pass muster, and either needs a lot more work, or needs not to happen.

I'm sure I'm not the only person to find these sorts of conversations difficult.  Heck, I'm sure it was worse for the person at the meeting and the student than it was for me.  And I'm sure it would be way worse if I were actually giving life-changingly bad news.

Still, it's something I'm weak about, and I need to think how to do it well and better.

On the other hand, I also realized at that meeting, and writing to the student, that I've gotten a lot better at not feeling personally hurt when certain things just don't happen.  Yes, I still feel invested, but I'm better at realizing that I should worry about the things I can do something about, and worry less about the things I can't do something about.  Or something.

And I can't be more invested in a student's project than the student is.

And I have to recognize that I make choices about what's important and what I put my energy into, and that other people make choices, but that our choices aren't going to be the same.  And I'm mostly better at respecting their choices.  (Though not always, true!)

I think everyone here is feeling beaten down by the long, very cold winter and by the semester and by constant budget cuts and administrative additions to the work.

Of course, from administrators' points of view, the work they want us to do is really important and they want us to be totally invested.  For most of the faculty, though, the work is make-work, and we don't see that it helps us teach or research or advise or anything else.  It merely provides more fodder to hire more administrators, it seems.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Bucket List

You know how there's that movie, and now people have a "bucket list" of things to do before they die?

I don't really have a list, but I do have some ideas of things I haven't done that I'd like to, and of things I've done that I'd like to do again, or more often.

So this morning, with wet and heavy snow on the ground, I built my first ever snowman.  Picture or it didn't happen, right?

The snow is super melty, and I'm not that strong, and I'm no engineer, so it's not a great one.  But it's taller than I am.  (Note to self: build with someone stronger so that you can make the first two snowballs bigger.)

Thursday, April 03, 2014


I happened to be chatting with a friend yesterday, over coffee at a little coffee shop; we'd gone out looking for the snowy owl before, and then I thought of the swans that come through, so we went out to look, and sure enough, there's a gathering of swans in the field pond by the highway!  I counted 40.

(I like to be able to look back and see how the seasons go, and it looks like this is about average for swan sightings.  I did see them in March of 2010, looks like.  But other years, it's been April.  It's cool to be able to use a searchable blog to think about seasonal stuffs.)

Bad Timing

I've posted before about some frustrations I have working with some of our tiny MA program students.  I posted here about some students I had who were rushing to finish after getting extension, and here about a student whose work didn't quite have a thesis.  That last was back in December, and now suddenly, after relatively little contact, only one revised chapter (which still wasn't quite a chapter), the student has sent forward a complete thesis, expecting the faculty folks to read and approve it really quickly.

I really did my best to explain to this student that zie needed to be in regular contact and working along, but I've pretty much had to initiate contact and ask for thesis stuff.  I did that earlier this week, sending information about the last dates to do what needs to be done this term, and a day later zie expects us to take this on.

Every time this sort of thing happens, I want to never work with another MA student.  And yet, I didn't turn this one down when zie asked.  And I try not to take out my frustrations with one student on other students.  But right now, I'm really irritated.