Saturday, October 31, 2015


I made a good start to the weekend last night, and read half of a play I'm teaching next week.  I can't seem to find teaching notes for it, which probably means I've never made a folder (either physical or virtual).  GRRRR.  I've taught this play several times before, and enjoyed teaching it, so I should have notes.  But I couldn't find them.  So I need to make sure I make a folder this time.

I have about 50 papers to grade this weekend.  But what I really want to do is go buy some things!  I've gotten to a point where a lot of my winter socks are wearing at the heels.  They're going to wear through soon, and I want new socks!  And I want some new long johns (tops).  I have four "technical" long johns base layers sorts of tops, and they're great.  But I want another color.  (First world problems!)  (Long johns make winter way better!)

I have really good news.  A couple I know, really fine, good people, are formally adopting a child they've been fostering.  I'm so happy for the whole family!  I've even arranged for someone to teach an hour of my class so I can go witness the happy event.

I need to think of a present.  Maybe a game?  Maybe a book for the child and flowers for the parents?  Something joyful.  (The child is a girl, about 11 years old.  Because we don't live really close, I don't know the child very well.  What I know of her, though, is that she's really fun, plays soccer and such.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Curricular Dance

The budget crisis here means we're all competing for students at all levels.  The university is competing, desperate to raise enrollments some.   Departments and Programs are competing for majors and minors, desperate to survive.  Courses are competing for enrollments, both for the instructors' survival and for their program/department.

Part of the competition for courses is to fulfill general ed sorts of requirements, some of which vary by college or department.  Letters requires languages, education requires special stuff, business requires other special stuff.

I'm chairing the curriculum committee of an interdisciplinary program this year, and we're even more desperate than most others, because we don't have a department, the budget is a joke, and we're teaching almost all our courses through the extension arm, but the dean has threatened that we can't do that again.  (The threat has gone out to lots of programs that are teaching through extension this semester.)

 There are two related special requirements in one of the colleges, and some courses fill one, some courses fill both of those requirements.  In our meeting yesterday, we looked at those courses, and looked at what the catalog says, and tried to figure out if some of our courses could also fill one or both of these requirements. 

As chair, it was my job to email the dean to ask about the criteria for courses to fill those requirements, with the goal that we might meet those criteria, and so our courses might fill those requirements, and so a few students from this college might be encouraged to take our courses.

And the dean basically wrote back that they don't really have criteria, they just come to an agreement about courses, and yes, the dean thinks they'd be interested in having more courses fulfill the requirement, and ours might, and I should get hold of a deanling to talk specifics.

Now maybe this means, no problem!  Our courses will fit for sure!  YAY!

Or maybe this means, we have secret criteria which we won't tell, and since we don't have much respect for your program, your courses will never fit, but I'm not going to tell you, and neither will this deanling, but we'll just never quite agree that they fit.

One or the other?

I'm hopeful for the first.  But this dean is, in my experience, pretty much a stickler for rubrics and details and micromanagement, and politics, so it might be the latter.  Or it may be that the dean hasn't had time to get all detail oriented with this particular issue, and so there really aren't good criteria, or maybe they think it's sort of a BS requirement, so they're willing to go with anything that sounds somewhat reasonable to get their students through?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Sent Off

I just sent off what I hope is the final draft of an essay for publication.  It's been a long process, and I hope it's done.

Revision is my greatest weakness as a writer.  It really is. 

One of the difficulties was that the editors didn't get back to me with revision suggestions until after the semester had begun, and needed it by, well, last Saturday (I emailed and got an extension until Wednesday, and sent it today, so not too bad).  But this semester I've been swamped with stuff, especially since I'm teaching two lit courses that are pretty much totally new, and my comp course is somewhat new. 

I think folks who teach 2 or 3 lit courses a semester don't see the work of teaching comp the way someone who teaches comp does.  And just as I, teaching 11 credit hours a semester don't quite see the work of someone who teaches 15 credit hours.  And so on.


1.  I need to be less willing to teach new preps, and instead teach the same basic prep again, as most of my colleagues do.

2.  I need to use my time better.

3.  I need to use my time better in oh so many ways.

I'm now way behind.  I have a book to finish rereading (I've never taught it before), a play to finish rereading (again, one I've never taught before), a stack of midterms to grade, a stack of lit papers to grade, and a stack of comp papers to grade.  And I'm supposed to turn in midterm grade reports for all my first year students (50+) by Friday.

On the other hand, a couple I'm friends and their child are having the official adoption court date soon, and I'm thrilled for them all.  It's such wonderful news!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Courses in Spring

It's advising season here in the northwoods, so our master undergrad adviser sent out the list of topical course descriptions.  (We've organized many of our courses as "umbrellas" by geography and broad period.)

It would be fun to look back ten years and see how we write courses to follow our developing interests and trends.

Ten years ago, we'd likely have had one transnational course.  This spring we'll have three very different ones, focused on different areas within transnational studies. 

We have a couple courses on a small geographic area, following a faculty member's interest.  The courses are different (film, novels), and both sound interesting, if not my cup of tea.

We've got one very traditional white men write novels and short stories in the 19th and 20th century US, sort of course.  Ten years ago we would have had two, probably.  But one of the faculty folks has since retired.

One of my colleagues is teaching a course on "nature" that sounds really cool and fun.

Still, ten years ago and today, we had and have similar looking women's lit courses, post-colonial courses at the introductory level.  We still have Shakespeare.  And there's a course on early modern race, which I hope turns out to be interesting, since I have a vested interest!

I have to admit that it's fun to see my colleagues' courses, and to follow their developing interests. 

When I was on the market, one of the practice questions I most enjoyed was the "what's your dream course" question.  I consider myself very lucky that I get to teach these sorts of courses, to develop and change and use my teaching to help that development.  It's one of the best things about my job.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Six Hundred Years

This is the 600th year anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, memorialized so stirringly by Shakespeare in Henry V:

Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

A good many people died that day for the ambitions of Henry V and others, and though they were promised, by Shakespeare at least, to live in memory to the ending of the world, they don't live in most of our memories.  And they didn't when Shakespeare wrote the play.

Let's be cautious about what we promise will be remembered to the ending of the world, and careful of our ambitions.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Another Shooting Today

I clicked over to the BBC for a quick look at the world, and I saw a report of a shooting near Tennessee State University at Nashville:
One person has been shot dead and three others wounded in a shooting incident at Tennessee State University in Nashville, US police say.
Police in Nashville tweeted that the violence arose after an apparent row over a dice game on Thursday night.
A 19-year-old man was killed in the argument, and three female students who were passing by were wounded.
The latest incident comes a week after three people were wounded by gunfire at an off-campus party near the college.
The suspect fled the scene on foot.
A university spokeswoman said the two men involved in the argument were not students and were believed to have been gambling.
The report is short, and says that the two men involved in the argument weren't students, but three female students passing by were wounded.  And, it says, three people were wounded a week earlier at an off-campus party near the college.

Our state legislature is, among other things, proposing that concealed carry be allowed on campuses of the state system here.  I know that folks off campus conceal carry at times, and I know that this incident happened off campus.  But it still worries me, allowing people to carry guns into campus buildings.

A couple of years ago, a really good student of mine, one of those gentle men who's kind and who study well, who's sort of geeky in the best way, was walking through the dorm entry area (you know the sort of area, where there's a TV, sitting places, and so on), when another male student, quite drunk and a good deal bigger and tougher than my student, started beating up my student.  Other students pulled him off, but he still got in a few punches.  The bruises lasted visibly for a few weeks.

If the drunk student had had access to a gun, my kind, smart, geeky student might have been killed, or more seriously injured.

Despite all the "specials" every deer season offering cheap beer and ammo at local gas stations, guns and alcohol are a bad combination.  Add young men with less self-control than we'd like, and it's a worse combination.

Even so, I worry more about students using guns to commit suicide.  If they don't have easy access, then committing suicide is just a little more difficult, and maybe a little less successful.  Access to a gun makes it so damnably easy.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


I had two weird dreams last night.

In one, I was eating at a cafeteria with someone from grad school, and complained about my grading load.  Until he, with the totally confident look he always had, mentioned that he taught four courses of comp every semester.  (I don't think he does, though, but in a dream, these things happen.)

The other dream was far weirder.  I was visiting a hospital, walking in with a friend, K, who wasn't well somehow, but was going to see the Pope, who was in the hospital ill.  I was also hoping to visit a famous writer, perhaps James Baldwin, who was also ill.  (Dreams are weird.)  K (in my dream, K is Catholic, but in the flesh, K isn't, I don't think) went in to visit the Pope.  And I waited outside.

Then there was a little electronic ding that meant I was to go in, so I did, and there, in separate but nearby beds, were James Baldwin, the Pope (Francis), and my friend K, who'd now been admitted.  There weren't any staff folks around, and the Pope wanted to go use the restroom, so I helped him up out of the bed.  He was spry, despite being ill, and sort of bouncy, but also in need of an elbow to hold.  He was also in his white cassock, and quite pleasant, in the way he seems publicly.

So we walked through a sort of labyrinth, trying to find the restroom en suite with the hospital room, and were having trouble, and the Pope was thinking of using a floor drain, but I suggested we'd find the restroom.  And then my alarm went off.

I can only think: I shouldn't complain about the grading load, or teaching or whatever.

And the Pope thing?  I have no idea.  When I woke, it made me think of the Sharon Olds Poem.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Everything Has Changed

We faculty folks were protected a bit from the budget fallout this fall, because courses had been long scheduled and students signed up for courses before the worst came down on us.  About half of our adjuncts in our department were laid off, but the chair and dean jiggered things to make the first year writing courses survive with relatively small enrollments (20 for each) though there are fewer sections.* 

We lit (broadly defined) folks just voted to change what our majors need to graduate, loosening up the breadth requirements considerably.  This follows the news that we'll be offering only 8 upper level lit courses a term; instead, most of us will be teaching general ed courses, and we'll up the enrollment caps a bit, and that's how we'll survive as a department.  At least, that's the hope.  With our numbers, it means we'll each teach about one upper level course a year, three lower level, and two first year writing.  (In the past, most of us taught one upper, one lower, and one writing every semester, for an 11 credit load.)  The talk is that we're going to rotate based on faculty rather than period.

For me, it means I'll probably never teach Chaucer again, because I can't see choosing that over an early modern course for every other year.  And I can't see teaching it well if I do it only every fourth year.

We have four people (for now, one is nearing retirement) who teach lit before 1800 (roughly) on either side of the Atlantic, and 11 who teach lit after 1800, all but one mostly Americanists, mostly 20th century, with fairly strong representation of folks who teach ethnic literatures.  As a result, there will be semesters when, if the one retires, there will be no earlier lit taught at the upper levels.  There will likely be semesters when three out of four courses are 20th century American lit.

We hired because we assumed things would stay sort of the same, and we were wrong.  So our fairly strong representation in ethnic literatures is great in that students will have opportunities to learn some great literature, but makes the 20th century feel a bit overloaded.

*It was some very creative, and not unreasonable jiggering, truth be told.  I've seen some folks across campus come up with very creative solutions.  A bunch of general ed type courses are being offered through our extension arm; they look the same to our resident students, but they're paid for differently.  It takes money from the college because there's some tuition that goes to the extension arm, so the college doesn't like it.  But the college wants the courses taught for the big general ed needs, and the college doesn't want to pay instructors (often adjuncts) to teach them, and the departments/programs haven't been allowed to hire tenure track folks to teach them and the major/minor courses, so the tenure line folks are mostly teaching courses for majors/minors. 

What the college really wants is for the tenure line people to teach big gen eds, and for the small majors/minors to disappear.  Some of those small majors/minors are exactly the ones you think: those based on ethnic, gender, sexuality.  Others, not quite what you'd think. 

Monday, October 19, 2015


I'm worried about a student.  The thing is, I know nothing about the student's problem(s).

It's as if I'm watching someone and their bread isn't turning out, and they really need a baker to help because a baker might know how to suggest ways to improve the bread that actually make sense.  But me?  I don't know whether they're using not enough yeast, or not kneading enough, or whatever.

I'm in contact with the folks who are supposed to know about baking bread, and I hope they can help the student. 

But meanwhile, I'm worried because this is way more serious than baking some bread.

Friday, October 16, 2015

More Disaster News from the Front Lines

Our state government wants to allow concealed weapons on campus.  We're not talking about a sharp wit, either.  (I know retail workers are in far more danger from guns than I am.  I don't want them to be endangered, either.)

It came up in one of my classes, as we were winding down, and the students were really disturbed by the possibility.  One said she'd be afraid to live in the dorms if weapons are allowed. 

I got an email from a student whose friend is suicidal, and my student is trying to deal with what this all means.  I emailed and suggested that s/he's doing the right thing, helping the friend, and not to worry about my class.

And here we get to the real issue with guns on campus.  Guns are really good at killing people, and students are under loads of stress, and sometimes suicidal, and making it so that they have easy access to guns seems like it will enable suicidal students to have very effective means of committing suicide.

I got another email from a student who's going to miss class because s/he has to go to a relative's funeral.  The student politely apologized and said s/he'll get notes from someone else.  (The class session isn't an exam or anything.)

It feels like for so many students this semester is spinning out of control in all sorts of bad ways.  Others are caught up in the eddy a bit, but still keeping their heads above water for now.


My department is going to add a program that will have some of our students clamoring for independent studies and so forth.  Stuff that's great, but takes a lot of faculty energy and time.  And I don't think there's any provision for helping faculty find that energy or time.  We're going to be asked, and perhaps pressured (asking a non-tenured faculty person is always/already potentially pressuring them) to do extra work, but it won't "count" towards our load in meaningful ways.  (I'm sure our personnel letters will note the work, but that's not the same as having an independent study seen as a real part of the workload.)


I was in a meeting in a far away silo earlier this week, and one of my colleagues told me that in her department, the chair is teaching a large lecture course, using four multiple choice exams for all the grades, and claiming that he's doing 900 student contact hours, and everyone else should be doing what he's doing to contribute to teaching.  My colleague is feeling chastised for teaching a senior level course for majors with small enrollment, lots of writing and such.


This has been a week of meetings.  I had a 2+ hour meeting on Monday, an 1 hour meeting on Tuesday, a 1 hour meeting on Wednesday followed by a 1.5 hour meeting, and today, I have a 1.5 hour meeting and another 1 hour meeting scheduled.  This on top of meetings with students, teaching, grading, writing a report.  Each of the meetings was (so far) worthwhile in itself, but I am pretty much mentally done with meetings for the week, but the afternoon meetings must come.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Indigenous People's Day

We had a ceremony on campus to honor our local tree.

I think I hadn't quite realized what the tree means, so it was really good for me to learn.  And the ceremony was good (except that the way the Headmaster included our Native American "guests" misrecognized the campus folks who are Native American and aren't "guests" on the campus.  He tried, though, which is more than any other Headmaster here has really done).

Our students really led on this one, and they did a good job!  Yay students!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Mid-October Smackdown

Two of my students are in the hospital right now.  Disasters continue.

A few students are recovering from their disasters.

When I meet with students in office hours, I try to take a bit of time at the end to check in with them, and see how they're doing.  By and large, my first year students are both overwhelmed and enjoying college.  I think that's about right.  A few seem more overwhelmed.  A couple seem like they should be more overwhelmed, but don't quite realize it.

My intro to lit students are having a midterm this coming Wednesday, so Friday was our review session.  They filled the board with stuff they should know, and a couple of them commented that they didn't realize how much there was they should know.  Better they realize that on Friday, with most of a week to study, than realize it on Wednesday during the exam.

I have to write the exam.  And then grade them, of course.

I had about 10 hours of conferencing this past week.  The thing about conferencing is that you have to stay pretty focused.  Or I do.  I can't think about what's happening in a different course, or whether I did laundry.  I have to think about what's happening in the room, how I can help this particular student with this particular project and with the course in general.  It's really tiring. 

I talked to one of my colleagues who cancels class and uses that time to meet with his students.  So, for the writing course, he cancels five days of class, and each of the 20 students gets to talk to him for about 12 minutes.

I cancelled three hours of class, scheduled 20 minutes for each student, and used huge chunks of time over three days.

I think he may have the better idea, frankly.  Maybe I can cancel another day, use some extra hours, and still schedule 20 minute meetings?  (I find that 20 minutes is about right.  I finish with most students within three minutes either way, and every five students or so I give myself a 20 minute break in case I've run over, and to use the restroom and such.  I rarely get more than 15 minutes of that time, and I need it.)

My question for you: how do you handle conferences for, say, a writing course, where students really do need one on one help?

If you're meeting with students in time that you normally use to grade and prep, you need to prep at other times, and grading tends to fall behind.  Which is where I am today, and why I should be grading like a demon.  And I will.

But in the meantime, I've baked some pumpkins (now cooling) to make pumpkin mush for stuffs (pumpkin bread/muffins, probably).  I've got the seeds roasting, having tossed them with olive oil, chili powder, cumin, brown sugar, and salt.  I may have over-salted.  :(

Yesterday I went on a short hike with friends, and took a bunch of pictures on my newly cleaned camera, only to find this morning that the cleaner took out the card and didn't replace it, so I got NONE of the pictures I'd taken!  GRRRR!  I'm disappointed about these pictures, but the card is pretty easy to replace, and I'm pretty good about downloading from the camera after each session, so it's not a disaster.

Trust me.  The fall colors were AMAZING!  The friends were wonderful.  And getting outside was superb.

Thursday, October 08, 2015


I'm pretty much conferencing all day today with writing students.  I set the appointments at 20 minutes each, but I still can't see them all today, so I saw some yesterday and will see some tomorrow.

The conferences range from the student who comes in and says "I don't know why I'm here" to the student who comes in and says "Here's what I'm thinking of writing for this paper." 

I read somewhere that if you meet Queen Elizabeth, you should relax because she's so good at meeting people that she'll sort of help you chat.  (I can't remember where I read that, and have no idea if it's true.  But I also can't imagine what I'd have to say to Queen Elizabeth, or pretty much any celebrity, though I'd be very willing to try to say something worth responding to if I ever met Sherman Alexie!)

At any rate, I try to guide the students to something useful even if they don't quite understand.

I've been having pretty busy office hours in general this week, and I have to say, the quality of conversation with someone who comes in to ask about some, say, literature we've been reading is orders of magnitude more fun than with someone who hasn't been to class and so doesn't know what the assignment is.  I had a lovely conversation with a student who asked if poets just find themselves writing sonnets, for example.  That's a great question, and it came after some questions about how sonnets work, and had something to do with what we've been reading in class. 

On the other hand, I had a student basically ask if I shouldn't make my lecture notes available.  She was unbelieving when I said that my lecture notes wouldn't do her much good because I know the works we've been discussing so well that I put a few words on a piece of paper, some page number/line number type information so I can find passages quickly, and that's it.  She's missed class a bit, and hadn't gotten notes from another student, despite my suggestion (at our previous meeting) that she do so.  (The extra depressing thing is that I have students in all my courses exchange emails and such with several other people in class so that they can do so, and when I have them do it, I explicitly tell them that's why we're doing it.)

So far, I've seen nine students for these conferences (plus a few from other courses), and I'm pretty pleased.  I'd say seven of the nine were prepared and give me confidence.  The other two, I think, are way more ready to write this paper than they were before we met, so I count that as success.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Damned Ad and Security Stuffs

I got emailed an ad for a webinar on campus safety from some campus safety company.

The ad cites as recent some incidents in 2013, and says something about it being lucky that no one was hurt in these incidents.

Words aren't adequate to express my disgust in oh so many ways.


Our campus did some security stuffs a while back.  I think administrators had some training, and they put little flip cards in the classrooms, so that we can refer to them during a disaster.

One of the buildings I regularly teach in was built in the 70s, and so was built for riot control.  I teach up a couple of floors, and the door has only a little window in it.  I can imagine we could, if we heard something scary, block off the door with a table and hide, though I don't think we can lock the doors.

The other building I teach regularly in is almost brand new; it's built for light, pleasant study areas, and flowing movement.  The classrooms tend to have nice big windows either to the outside or to the inside (the fishbowl thing seems sort of weird, but the room I teach in isn't too fishbowly).  We get nice light, and the people walking by don't seem to bother to look in, and the students don't seem to get too distracted, and I'm busy teaching.  But while the glass is "shatterproof," I doubt it's bullet proof.  Someone could drive by, lower their car window and shoot at people in a row of classes or standing at the bus stop, and then drive off.  It's discomfiting to say the least.


I don't know what to say about the shooting.  Have I gone numb?  Exhausted by the situations here?  Defeated?

I've lost any expectation that politicians will do anything meaningful about gun violence, school funding, or infrastructure.  And I have every expectation that they'll do more and more to regulate women's bodies, advance fundamentalist Christianity as the nearly state religion, and make war on people who I don't want to make war on.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Another Little Step

On Friday, we had a meeting about our grad program.  And when it came time to vote, I was the only no.  I think I voted no the last time we had a vote about the grad program.  I'm not sure about the time before.  Or the time before that.

When I came here, we had a middling grad program.  We had three required courses, an Intro to grad studies type course, a research methods and bibliography type course, and a critical theory course.  We served mostly students in the area who wanted an MA in English to give them a salary boost as local teachers or students who weren't sure, but maybe wanted to go on to a PhD program.

The Ed school implemented a program where teachers could get an MA in teaching without writing a thesis or whatever, and that drew off a significant number of our student population.  Our Enrollments were low, and there were pressures, and students weren't finishing on time.  So we decided to add an MA in writing, which would attract more students.  So we did that.  And in doing that, we basically split the MA level courses being taught (three a semester, including the required courses) to be half writing courses.

The pressures continued, and we were assured that if we just got rid of the methods course, the program would be in good shape.  So we dropped the research methods course.  I took on the job of trying to integrate the necessary research skills into the Intro course.  (I think I did a pretty good job.)

And things went on a bit.  And the pressures continued, and we were assured that if we just drop the theory course, the program would be in good shape.  And we voted to drop the theory requirement.  (At least I wasn't the only no vote on that one.)  (And someone else took on the task of adding some theory to the Intro course.)  (There are now two regular grad courses taught each semester, one writing, one lit, and the intro course added in fall.  Our students take about half undergrad "double-numbered" courses where they're supposed to somehow get a graduate level experience.)

And this year, we've had another vote, and now we're implementing a new thing which will, we're assured, save the program.

We have a fairly weak program.  We have great librarians, but a minimal library budget, minimal resources in all sorts of ways.  Some of our students are really solid, most aren't.  About a third come from our undergrad program, and mostly they're pretty good, and should go elsewhere.  Here, they were pretty good sized fish in our tiny pond.  But they don't seem to have any sense that our pond is tiny, and our grad director (and some other folks) are telling them that they're basically swimming the ocean, or at least a great lake.  The new program is set up to encourage the best of our undergrads to get an MA here.  I think that does them a disservice in so very many ways. 

But, apparently, I am wrong.

Friday, October 02, 2015


It seems like this semester, more of my students are having mini-disasters disrupt their lives than is usual.  While I've labeled these "mini," I do recognize that for an individual student, they're not minimal at all, but can be incredibly serious.  But they're not widespread or shared with everyone in the area, either.

I think with the budget problems and the changes to the Federal Perkins loans, and so forth, everyone around here is under a fair bit of stress.  And that goes double for students who are most financially vulnerable.

Some of my students seem so move from one disastrous problem to another.  So, they'll run into a family disaster, and then they'll have a health problem or a car breakdown, and then they'll have further transportation problems (we don't have great public transportation in the area, though there is some in town).

I have one obviously middle-class student who had a mini-disaster to start the semester, but he has family resources to help him, and he or his family are savvy enough to get hooked into the services he needs, and so he seems to be not caught up in a cycle of one problem adding to another.  For him, the services are working as they're supposed to for everyone.

But then I have another student and even though he's hooked into the campus services and they seem to be trying, it's one problem adding to another and another.


In other news, the faculty and staff on nine month contracts around here are celebrating Octobercheck, the first paycheck since June.  Here again, social class seems to matter a lot.  Folks from the middle class (like me) mostly seem to adapt after a year or two, and are able to save enough during the school year to be fine over the summer.  For folks like me, Octobercheck is nice, but it's nice because it's good to see the checking account stabilize again, not because I wouldn't be able to pay my mortgage or rent, or wouldn't be able to get groceries. 

But I have friends and colleagues from more challenging economic backgrounds, and even though I know they're paid about what I'm paid (some more, some less, depending on field and rank and such), they can't seem to get ahead enough to make summer reasonably secure.  They'll be on their way, and then a family member will desperately need a loan, or their student loans are so immense that they're always almost crushed all the time.


One of my colleagues told me the other day that s/he has switched to multiple choice exams in most of his/her lit courses and has students do only minimal writing, most of which s/he doesn't respond to or grade.  I'm conflicted.  On the one hand, let's face it, a lot of people have harder teaching loads than we do and manage to assign and grade papers and writing, and to work with students on writing.  On the other hand, it's really hard.  This person way outranks me, in no small part because his/her research record is far stronger than my own.

And, on that other hand, I'm getting 35 short papers from my intro to lit class today, and 10 or so revisions from my writing class (a class this other colleague has creatively managed to avoid for 3 years).  Yep, I'm going to have a fun weekend.  (And they have to get done this weekend because next week is packed and then next Friday I get a set of projects from a class of 30.)

In the meantime, let's all celebrate Octobercheck!

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Worrysome Ones

Do you ever have a student, and you're meeting with them, and you can't figure out how to communicate about what's happening in a text that seems completely straightforward and "easy."  I'm not talking Derrida, but a short news article or the basic plot of a short story or a basic assignment explanation in a syllabus.

I had two of those conversations today.  We're looking together at the text, and the student can't seem to get what seems to me a fairly basic sentence.  And I can't seem to help them.

When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, I'd sometimes be "part of" a conversation in Spanish, and I knew I wasn't quite getting the conversation.  (This also happened with television shows, usually in contexts where I couldn't stop to look up a word or ask for help with a word.)  That always worried me because I knew I couldn't be certain that anything I said would make sense in the context, and there seemed a good chance that I'd say something totally wrong or inappropriate. 

I wonder if my students are feeling the same way a whole lot of the time?