Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Assignment?

Like most instructors, I'm constantly trying to think of better assignments for various courses.  This time around, I'm thinking about my junior level Canterbury Tales course.  I'm quite happy with the word paragraph assignment that Sisyphus (at Academic Cog) shared with me a while back.  That gets students writing regularly, focusing closely on the text, and makes up about 5-7 pages of writing for the semester. 

But I'm looking for a longer assignment, one that will challenge students, but not be out of reach.  The thing is, they're learning Middle English in the course, and our library resources are limited, and I'm not a real medievalist, so I don't feel like asking them to do a full on research paper is right.  When I did, some while ago, they tended to either find one tiny idea and then look for critical essays to support that idea, or they'd find a critical essay and like that idea, and try to rework it.  In any case, they weren't really researching anything new.  (That contrasts with my senior seminar students, who can usual do something new because I tend to teach several less canonical texts, and they can find new things to think and argue about those texts.)

I had a conversation not too long ago with our honors guy, about a student's potential project, and he had an idea of asking a student to find a critical essay and then read everything the paper cited, and then write a paper talking about the critical conversation represented in the original essay.  Now that seemed like a great idea, and I started thinking about it in case the student wants to do a project, and then I thought maybe that would work for the longer project for the course.  So yesterday, I started looking at crucial essays written in the past ten years about the various tales, and I realized that it's probably unrealistic to expect my students to do that sort of project.  For one thing, most of the critical essays cite 40 or so other texts, many of them medieval, some Latin, and many very theoretical (Derrida, for example).  They looked like really interesting essays, but my students just aren't strong enough readers of criticism to work with them very well.

I'm thinking of using one of them, though, to work with students on reading critical essays, and then building an assignment from there.  In the past, I've given students a list of topics and had them do basic lit reviews, and I think I might go with that.

I'd love to hear about what sorts of assignments people give for lit students to help them build towards real research skills.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Adults Be Crazy

I know, because I am one.

I'm spending some time with a couple young adults this break; one is just in college, one a couple of years out.  The one in college has matured a lot in the past few months.  If I ask hir to do something, it just gets quietly done, not hesitating, fretting, just quietly done.  Zie doesn't SEE things that need to be done, mostly, isn't thinking ahead about what needs to be done, but if I ask, they get done, and done appropriately.

The younger teen, on the other hand, is way less confident, doesn't see stuff even when asked, fusses a bit (but still, very cooperative for a teen).  There's a sort of vague quality to hir doing stuff, even something as basic as mixing pancake batter, which most adults (in my pancake mixing experience) do rather quickly by hand, takes five minutes, and isn't quick at all in hir hands.  The younger one gives me that "adults be crazy" look.  A lot.

I never wanted to be a parent, and am very happy with my decisions that way, but interacting with these teens, I think I could have been a decent parent to teens, but not when I was much younger.  (A baby would have left me crying on the floor, though.)

I guess what I don't think a lot about day to day but have noticed in interacting with the teens, is that at some point in my life, I went from being that younger teen to being someone who notices when something needs done, who feels pretty capable of getting things done, and who does stuff.  It's not that, for example, I like putting gas in the car, but I keep an eye on the gas gauge, plan a bit ahead about getting gas, and get the gas without fussing or worrying.

(I do feel more anxious if someone else is going to be needing to eat what I'm cooking, though, for example.  I guess I'm confident about doing stuff for myself, but less confident about doing stuff when other people might have a strong opinion about it?)

And now, for your viewing pleasure, more snowy owl pictures.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Snowy Owls!

It's snowy owl time in the upper Midwest.  I went out today, and found two owls!

Monday, December 22, 2014


I went to the county courthouse today to pay my real estate taxes.

While I was at the counter, someone came to inquire about where to file divorce papers, and someone else came and looked lost, and so on.  And it occurred to me that while for the people working there, the county courthouse is a place to work, and probably there are good days and bad days, otherwise, paying real estate taxes is probably the most pleasant reason for someone else to be there.  It's not like paying taxes is my favorite, but I'm paying taxes because I'm lucky enough to own (well, with the bank) property.  And I'm not getting a divorce, or making some less pleasant payment.  (And let's face it, I like having roads to drive on, schools to educate local kids, and so forth.  I'd gladly pay more in taxes for better schools and road maintenance.)

Paying taxes in my town is probably a lower key affair than in some places.  I walked into the building, was called to the window counter by a worker almost immediately, gave her my paperwork, and so forth.

There was a really lovely photo up on the wall, and I mentioned how lovely it was, and the worker said yes, she really liked it, too.  And then she mentioned that one of her grandkids, just graduating from college, had majored in photography, and took some great pictures, too.  So I said I bet she was really proud, and she told me about some other grandkids, and I congratulated her, and she beamed. 

And then my taxes were paid, and I left, and the counter was empty until someone else went to pay stuff.  (There were two workers at the counter, and they pretty much invited people up to the counter as soon as they walked in, so it wasn't like our little conversation was holding up a long line.)

My annual visit to the county courthouse done, I went on my way to turn in grades.  Paying my taxes sort of marks the end of fall semester every year.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Thoughts on "Comparing Living Standards Over Time"

I saw a link over on Mike the Mad Biologist's link review (something he puts up almost every day), and followed it to an article "Comparing Living Standards Over Time."  (Take a quick look, and also look at the comments, too, if you want.)

So, the basic question is: would it be better to live on an income of $100K in 1964 or 2014.

The article notes that an income of $100K in 1964 was a whole lot, but that you wouldn't have access to some technologies we're all really dependent on now.

And then it talks about how if you were asked the same question but the amount was $20K in either year, you'd be way better off in 1964 on $20K, the point it's trying to make being that the technological stuff is mostly available to people who have lots more disposable income, and so the extra income would be better for someone with the $20K then.

And then the commenters start to talk.

1964.  No thanks.  And it's not the technologies I'd miss.  It's basic civil rights for African Americans, for women, for GLBTQ folks.  I mean, we're not at all perfect now, but thank dog it's not 1964.  Let's think about the Voting Rights Act (1965), Title IX (1972), the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (2011), and so forth.  Maybe we should also think about Vietnam?  (Yes, we're also in deep military crappola now.)

I didn't see anything, not a single thing, in the article about how race or gender or sexuality might affect one's thinking about 1964 vs 2014, and I looked but didn't see a single comment talk about it either.   (Okay, I looked down towards the bottom, and there's one comment, from "Honkie Please.")  In response, someone comments that of course they're all white men commenting, and that women had it better then than now.

And that, that is one of the big things wrong with the internet: it's totally dominated by patriarchal, straight, white, male jerks.

Random Thoughts at the End of the Semester

  • Last night was the last Colbert Report.  I think we liberal arts folks are going to miss the obvious, beautiful examples of satire Colbert provided.  I hope his next effort is as smart and fun.  And I hope someone else comes in the slot with great stuff.
  • Death by a thousand paper cuts:  why is it when I think I've finished a stack, someone turns in late stuff.  Or gets sick and can't take the final.  Or has a car problem and can't make it to campus.  And why is it that the person who turns in stuff late says something along the lines of, "I'm turning this in late."  And nothing along the lines of, "I emailed you about my difficulty, and want to thank you for giving me permission to turn the assignment in late."
I'm sympathetic to folks with illness or car problems, but it doesn't mean I like having to write a make up exam.  I'm less sympathetic to folks who just turn in stuff late.
  • I've now graded the three biggest, hardest stacks of work.  I have (or will have at the end of the day) three more stacks, none of which requires the feedback the first three stacks did.  Feedback takes a long time.  Assigning a grade takes less time. 
  • Because it's easier than grading, I'm thinking about stuff for a class next semester.  I'm thinking of doing an assignment where students would read a critical essay, and then read all the work the essay cited.  I'd have to do a really good job finding good essays, so that they'd have stuff available to them (so, nothing that requires a reading knowledge of Latin, and nothing that requires a trip to the British Library or public records offices).
  • My last final is today, starting at 3pm.   Someone has to get the time, I suppose.  Ugh.
  • One of my friends at a different school had her students turn in their work on the school system (you know, the system for having course stuff), responded to the work on the system, and entered grades on the system.  The system lost every single thing.  EVERY SINGLE THING.  It is as if she did none of that work.  (I can't swear that she didn't miss a step of hitting submit somewhere, or something, but I can honestly say that no one has ever missed that step in a paper grade book.)

Thursday, December 18, 2014


For the past, maybe 10 days or two weeks, I've had a constant ringing in my ears.  Not really ringing, more a steady, high-pitched sound, not horribly loud, but loud enough.  It's bad enough that I have a sort of constant low-grade headache and queasiness.

After about two days, it went away for a while, and then came back, and it's been steady ever since.


I checked the web, and it said that sometimes it's a symptom of high blood pressure, so I went to the mall, and after sitting quietly for a couple of minutes, mine measured at about 125/180, which is higher than it should be, but not scary high, I don't think.

I haven't worn earphones or plugs in a long, long time (think a couple years for plugs, and longer by far for earphones).  I haven't been at anything really loud.

The web site also said that sometimes it's from an aspirin overdose, but I haven't taken aspirin in years.

I sometimes have a nightcap, and I stopped that for a week, but the ringing continued.

Finally, today I called to try to make an appointment at the clinic.  The doctor I saw there before moved a while back, and I haven't been sick since, so I haven't gone, so now I have an appointment to see a new (to me) doctor there, in January.  I sure hope the ringing stops before then, because it's irritating.

(The web thing said that it wasn't usually a sign of horribleness, and the person making an appointment at the clinic didn't say I should go to the emergency room ASAP either.  So I'm not really worried, but more frustrated.  It's hard to concentrate this way.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Teaching Citation

I feel that I've failed a bit in teaching citation this semester.  Some of my students have gotten into the habit of citing, at least, so I don't think I've failed there, at least.  (And to be honest, if I could get every student to get in the habit of citing in academic contexts, I'd feel pretty good.)

The failure's a bit deeper than that, and comes from my sense of some of the research papers I've been reading this week.  The students know they need to cite.  But on some level, they don't know why they need to cite.  Or, perhaps more to the point, they don't know why they're incorporating someone else's argument so that they need to cite it.

As we discussed a few months ago, we cite people's work for many different reasons.  But some of my students don't seem to really understand any of those reasons.  So they include something about someone else's work in the paper, and cite it appropriately, but it really doesn't contribute to their argument.  It's just there.  Maybe they think having it there will lend "credibility" to their own argument, but since it's not contributing, it doesn't work that way, even.

Back to grading jail.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

"People Change Towards You"

I've had a couple friends move into various administrative type positions over the years, and a common refrain I've heard is that they were told that "people change towards you."  And they tell me it's true that people change towards them.  Things just aren't the same.

So I've tried to be pretty aware of how I change towards people as they've gone into administration.  And I think it's true.  Some things I do change.  For example, I don't easily share personal problems because it feels like every conversation is "official."  And if I share that I'm having difficulty with a class, that's going to be on the person's mind if they review me, or see my application for something, and so on.  If I tell them I'm feeling lousy, then the response is all official and not what I'm probably looking for, the sympathetic "gosh, I'm sorry, I hope you feel better soon!  Have some chicken soup."  So if a friend who's gone into administration feels that I've pulled back, that's a reasonable observation, I think.

But what I don't hear from the administrative folks is that they, too, change.  For one, they seem to quickly lose touch with the rhythm of the teaching semester.  I've had administrative friends suggest I take a week off in the middle of the semester to do a group vacation, for example.

And this week, there's another: 

In the stone ages, my department used to give a "common" grammar type exam in comp courses.  Everyone hated it, and we voted it away not long after I came, but when it was there, it was on the first Monday of finals week, at 8am, and then we'd have a departmental potluck for lunch that day, too.  We were all on campus anyway, and the emeriti and spouses would come, and we'd all blow off some steam, and then get back to grading jail.  (I'm sure it was even easier when most of the faculty were married men whose spouses would cook the potluck and bring it still hot from the oven.)

The practice faded away because without the common exam we weren't all on campus on Monday, and we're all busy, and about half of us are women who don't have a spouse to obligingly cook and bring our potluck dish, and so on.

The new chair decided to bring back the tradition.  I think some of the emeriti really missed it. 

I signed up because I want to be supportive of the new chair, but I'm irritated that I'll have to get up early to get to campus to get parking, spend at least half a day on campus getting far less grading done than I would at home, figure out food to bring (I've done that, at least).

Judging from the nudges we got from the departmental staff folks, sign ups were slow.  And the sign up sheet wasn't very full when I put my name on there.  I think this is one of those things we should let go of, and let us do our jobs without demanding that we socialize on campus, officially.

May I also note that it irritates me slightly that the married faculty couples (both in the department) bring one dish, prepared by the female partner.  The married men in my department seem largely incapable of turning on a stove or oven; the ones who are married to non-department members always seem to note that their wives made their dish, unless they've chosen to bring cheese on a platter, in which case they may have made the purchase. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Northern Hawk Owl

In addition to reports of lots of Snowy Owls irrupting into the upper Midwest, we've got a Northern Hawk Owl!  So I took a little field trip away from grading and got lucky!

And the owl was very cooperative.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Special Studies

I got a polite email the other day from a student enrolled in my Chaucer course who wants to do a special study thing through the honors program so that it counts as an honors course for hir degree; zie asked if we could meet.

I looked at the agreement form on the honors website, and it looks like the instructor and student need to agree on something that will make it count for honors.  The form suggested that the student might do an extra paper or project, might teach a segment of the course, might do research, or extra journal writing, and so forth.

So I emailed the student back, happy to meet, and suggested that zie talk to the head of the program about what sorts of things students did.  When zie came in, zie said the program head had basically shown hir the form with its suggestions and that was it for suggestions.

I'm at a loss.

I asked hir if zie had interests in medieval lit, or in a specific theoretical approach, but zie said no.  Zie thought zie'd read some Chaucer in high school, but couldn't remember if zie had read in Middle English or not.

Zie is qualified to take the course, no question.  But zie is not so qualified that I can imagine hir coming up with a project beyond what the course will require of all students.  Nor does zie seem qualified to teach a segment of the course.

I really don't think it's my job to think of a project.

I suggested that the student go back to the program director and ask what he'd do if a student who'd taken only a single intro course in Spanish, and were in an upper level Don Quixote in translation course wanted to do this sort of project. 

In an ideal world, I'd have a lab where I could slot the student to measure some plant growth or something, and that would count for the extra work.  But in the humanities world, it's hard to see how to do this sort of thing without it being a lot more work on my part.  And unless this student's exceptional (some are!), it's hard to see the student actually doing meaningful work on Chaucer without a huge amount of extra work on my part.  And honestly, I don't see most students being willing and able to do a huge amount of extra work.  Some are, and I'm happy to work with them.  But most aren't.

Has anyone else done a similar sort of thing with humanities?  Can I ask for project suggestions?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Void

Yesterday, my senior seminar was doing a proofreading exercise on their final papers.  The papers were formally due yesterday, too, though I'd said I'd happily accept them until whatever time I left the office Friday afternoon.   Indeed, I also told them that while I'm happy with neatly handwritten corrections to proofreading problems, they could also take their work home and make the changes electronically, and then turn in the hard copies until Friday. 

Still, about a third of the papers got turned in yesterday.  A few didn't because there was a proofreading problem the student just didn't want to hand correct.

In our casual conversation towards the end of the class session, when I told them that I'd be handing their papers back during the final exam period, and that we'd discuss what they learned, a couple of them commented on how unusual it is to get final papers back, and how happy they are about it.

They talked about turning in papers they'd worked really hard on and not getting any feedback or even knowing how they'd done on the paper.  They find this understandably frustrating.

From the professorial point of view, of course, it's way easier to read the paper, put a grade on, add it to the record, and move on than it is to read the paper, think about what might be useful feedback, give feedback, put a grade on, add it to the record and then move on.  It can take me as long to think about and give useful feedback as it takes to read the paper and put a grade on it.  Longer, even, because giving useful feedback is intellectually difficult work, often.

And, as a professor, I know that if half of my students will never pick up their paper, but I've put feedback on it, I've wasted a whole lot of time.  And I can't predict which half.  So what a lot of people do (including me, at times) is make papers due during finals, so there's no way anyone can expect to get them back during finals week, and then tell students that I'll give them feedback if they'll come to my office and ask.  And very few students do that.  The thinking is that it will be easy to give that feedback if they do come, but of course it isn't easy, and I tended to begrudge the time.

My solution nowadays is to try to return papers during finals week.  But that means I have a hard, hard week ahead.

I'd better get to it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Shame and eternal shame, nothing but shame

The words are from Bourbon, in Shakespeare's Henry V, talking about the impending loss by the French to the English at the battle of Agincourt.  I don't think there was eternal shame in losing the battle, certainly not in being a character that talks about losing the battle.

But there may be eternal shame, nothing but shame, in the way the US government has tortured captives.

Here's the BBC page on the report.

Here's a floor statement from John McCain, someone I rarely agree with politically.  McCain says,
I have long believed some of these practices amounted to torture, as a reasonable person would define it, especially, but not only the practice of waterboarding, which is a mock execution and an exquisite form of torture. Its use was shameful and unnecessary; and, contrary to assertions made by some of its defenders and as the Committee’s report makes clear, it produced little useful intelligence to help us track down the perpetrators of 9/11 or prevent new attacks and atrocities.
I think McCain's right here: the practices amounted to torture, and were shameful.

Unlike McCain, I think "unnecessary" really isn't the point.  I don't think we can excuse the US government's use of torture even if we assert that the US gained a single bit of useful information.  Torture is wrong, and we were wrong to use it.

Here's a bit more from McCain:
“But in the end, torture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.

“We have made our way in this often dangerous and cruel world, not by just strictly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by exemplifying our political values, and influencing other nations to embrace them. When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea, not for a tribe or a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion or for a king, but for an idea that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights. How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves even momentarily.
I'm ashamed because I haven't done something to stop the torture.  I still don't know what I could have done, but I'm ashamed that I've done nothing.

And I'm ashamed that I've done nothing to insist that the US government not hold prisoners without charging them or giving them a fair trial.  We've all known about Guantanamo and the torture for years.  Let's not lie to ourselves or anyone else about "not knowing."

These values are central to the US Constitution, as central as values of free speech and freedom from governmental establishment of religion.  Just to remind ourselves:

Fifth Amendment

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself; nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.

Sixth Amendment

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed; which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel for his defence.
My question is, to avoid shame and eternal shame, what can I, a citizen of these United States, do to stop the government and its agents from torturing and illegally holding prisoners, depriving them of liberty, without charges or a fair, public trial?

We, the people of the United States, have allowed the government and its agents to act illegally for far, far too long, to our shame and eternal shame.  What can we do to make change?

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Quiet Before...

I made a rookie mistake this semester.  Yep.  I made the due dates for the biggest projects in all three of my courses on the last Friday of classes, as it happens, this Friday.  So, I've pretty much done all the grading that can be done until I get those in.  (I will have peer revision/draft day grades for one course, but can't do those until I get in their feedback papers.)

So, for now, I'm sort of waiting for the deluge.

I should be working on my SAA paper, of course.  Yes.  And I am, slowly.  But I should be pushing that a whole lot harder.

Time to get to that!

Monday, December 08, 2014

It's Official

I have a half share in a big snow blower, which is sitting in my garage at this very moment.  (I'm sharing with some neighbors, which is great, let me say.)

I guess I really am a midwesterner now.

Also, I had a conversation this morning about forcing bulbs.


Friday, December 05, 2014

Damned if You Do...

The Underwater Basketweaving Department was having such a lively discussion of assessment today that I could hear it from my 9th story office.

All the UB majors choose a submajor, so what may have at one time been considered just "Underwater Basketweaving major" is now the "Comprehensive Underwater Basketweaving" major.  And there's also "Creative Underwater Basketweaving," "Technical Studies in Underwater Basketweaving," and so forth.  About half the courses that all the majors take are basically comprehensive courses.

The "comprehensive" faculty tends to teach pretty much all the students, while only a small subset takes "technical studies" courses, since the technical studies submajor has maybe 15 majors at any given time, and comprehensive has 150.   So, pretty much everyone takes one or another senior course in "Understanding Contexts of Underwater Basketweaving" in whatever context area the faculty member does.  So, when a deepwater UB historian is teaching it, then deepwater is the context.  And so on.

The argument seems to have been about this:  the comprehensive folks have to assess how the comprehensive submajor program is doing, and the logical place to do this is in the senior context courses, since all their submajors take these.  But lots of other submajors take them, too. 

Thus, if the course is assessing outcome X, where X is supposed to be learned in a bunch of comprehensive courses, and there are 15 comprehensive submajors and 5 other submajors, the assessment is going to be potentially problematic, no?  What if in the assessment, the 15 comprensive submajors all do "good job" on outcome X, but the other 5 do "not a good job"? 

Either they just run the data as is, and find out that they're only doing 75%, and that's not good enough, right?  Damned.

Or they tease out the data, but then they're told that since the other course is supposed to teach students outcome X (something like, say, piano playing, that's likely to be much better if you've practiced again and again as opposed to having a lesson and thinking you're ready for Carnegie Hall), then they're damned because they aren't teaching the other submajors well enough.  Damned.

Or they tease out the data and find out that the other submajors do just as well as the comprehensive submajors.  Then obviously, those other comprehensive courses aren't necessary at all, and they can just cut those out of the curriculum, and students will "achieve the outcome" with the one course no matter their submajor.  Damned.

In times of budget cuts, which are plentiful around here, the comprehensive folks are going to be damned either way.  And, of course, they're doubly damned because since they're the only courses where all the submajors take courses too, they're also responsible for the whole program assessment. 

Dress Up

Last month some time, someone administrative from the services side sent around an email requesting that everyone on campus dress in campus colors every Friday.  This morning, I saw a little poster put up about it.

Folks, I'm an adult.  If I want to dress in colors and such, fine.  But this semi-official "everyone dress like we're high school students" stuff is just irritating.

And yesterday, a faculty member sent around an email requesting that everyone wear "ugly sweaters" or other "holiday" garb, including a list that was very Christian-centered.

Also, I'm not Christian.  For six to eight weeks a year, I get slammed with Christmas stuff.  Last Friday, for example, I turned on NPR in the morning to a Christmas song, and I immediately turned it off.  I have no idea why they had a Christmas song playing (between segments, maybe?), but I just couldn't bear it.

And I don't have any sweaters I consider ugly.  I've gotten rid of sweaters I considered ugly, but they're no longer taking up my closet space.

Why, oh why, are we at a public institution being BSed into wearing Christmas crap?

I don't know how to respond.  Christians here are so effing repressive that any complaint will be made into a war on Christmas thing. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Filling In

We have this policy here, which basically says that if an instructor is missing class, they need to take a sick day (totally reasonable) and find someone else to cover the class.  Or at least be there.  (At least, if there's advance notice.  So if you wake up vomiting with a fever, you can just email the department staff and ask them to let the classes know you're ill that day.)

So typically, say someone knows they have to take their kid to some special thing (getting tonsils out, perhaps), which is totally reasonable.  Or even if they have a conference (in which case, they wouldn't take a sick day).  They send an email out to the whole department asking if people will step up and cover x, y, and z classes on specific days and times.  And then, in the tonsils type case, they have something prepped, and the covering person carries that out. 

As you might guess, the same people generally answer the call, with a small cadre answering often, a slightly larger cadre answering sometimes, and most people never answering at all.  You might also guess the gender issues.  Fathers rarely seem to need to be with their kids to get the tonsils out.  Mothers do.  Very few men answer the call (I could name two here that often do, so some are super good). 

I'm in the slightly larger cadre that answers sometimes.  And today is going to be one of those times.  I get to go take roll and be the responsible party (see, doesn't that make you laugh?) while the tech folks teach the class how to do some computer programmy thing (it totally makes sense in the context of this assignment sort of thing, even if it sounds wonky).

Officially, we take the sick leave (or so I assume, because when I'm sick I take sick leave... but usually that's the morning of thing, so I don't bother trying to get coverage, and even then, only every few years because I'm very, very lucky).

The students, it's hoped, don't miss out totally on classtime, and learn whatever it is they're supposed to be learning.

But the people who fill in, just fill in.  There's no official recognition, no overtime, nada.  There's usually a thank you from the person whose class you took, and that's nice.  But the extra hour out of your day to do extra work is considered necessary by the powers that be, but unrecognized.  They'd get cranky at the person whose class it was if they didn't get coverage, but the people who do that extra work don't get anything for it.  (And since people who've never bothered to lift a finger for anyone else ask for and get coverage, it's not a reciprocal thing.)

There's no sense that covering ten times will get you a notch higher on the merit pay thing, for example.  The chair, if zie knows, may be momentarily grateful, but then it's done.  Much better to use the extra time to work on your own stuff which may be recognized.

I'm just a little frustrated at myself because I really don't want to do this today, but I said I would, and I will, and I know it's sort of going to throw things off the rest of the day.  And I'm cranky today because of some stress.

Okay, enough complaining.  Time to get everything ready so that it doesn't throw off my day for real.

How do your schools handle coverage of this sort?

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Not Quite Random

Here's the smartest thing I've seen written about Thanksgiving this year.  It's worth reading: "On Racism at Thanksgiving."

I have two courses this semester where the final project is the last grade and there's no final exam.  In both of them, I feel like my job right now is to help the students do a really great project, and not to try to teach them much new stuff.  That means conferencing rather than holding class, to some extent.  (Not totally, since we also have peer revision work and such.)

My other course has a final project coming due, but also a final exam, and we're still working on learning new stuff.  And that's fine.

I did a good bit of grading over the break, and plenty of goofing off, and a few house chores, and it was all in all very good.  I'm very happy I didn't travel far.

I applied for that thing I mentioned before, the special thing.  I'm not hugely invested, which is good, because around here a lot of special things end up being decided long before actual applications are invited, and inviting applications is just a formality.  It's one of the reasons we've had a steady stream of good old boys moving up into positions through other positions.

NPR this morning is running two stories very capitalistically interested, but so very different.  The first is a story about, basically, what a bummer it is for small oil producing businesses that the price of oil has dropped.  There's no mention of how that drop makes some other businesses more profitable (those who transport goods, for example), or how the drop helps people who buy gas for their cars.

The other is a story about, basically, what a cool thing it is that some folks are buying US produced grass rather than Mexican produced grass, and how the US grass is of higher quality, and now that grass is legal in some US states, the prices of grass have dropped, and that's hurting Mexican producers.

My NPR takeaway: It's bad when US producers are hurt by dropping prices, and good when Mexican producers are hurt.  It's good when regular-joe people can get grass more cheaply, and unnoticed (read: bad) when regular-joe people can get gas more cheaply.

I recognize there are lots of complications to both stories.  The gas price drop is, as I understand it, partly driven by frac-sand oil production, which is scarily bad for the environment.  And gas being really cheap means people tend to drive more.  Pot growing has also been traditionally bad environmentally, especially when it's done illegally.  I don't know if it would be better if grass were so legal (and cheap) that it were farmed like soy or something.   And then there's the drug cartel problem.  That's scary as hell.

In a perfect world, run by Queen Bardiac, gas would be expensive enough to incentivize other forms of energy production and use, and we'd somehow find ways to make those forms more environmentally sound.

And pot would be inexpensive enough to make farmers need to do math to decide whether to grow it, or hemp, or soy, or whatever other crops they might grow, and inexpensive enough that no one would be willing to go to jail by growing it on National Park lands or by being violent about it.