Sunday, October 31, 2021

From Delagar: Do you know what your great-grandparents did?

Delagar found this on twitter, and I lifted it.

This is a hard one, isn't it?  I may have a bit of an advantage, because I knew several of my great-grandparents.

Dad's Side:

Grandfather: Steel work business, owner  (Sr.)

Great-grandfather: steel work business, owner  (Uncle Henry, aka Poppa)

Great-grandmother: Stay at home parent, kept house (otherwise, not sure...)  (Naomi)

Grandmother:  worked as a servant before marriage, stay at home parent once married, did data entry after divorce (keypunch cards)

Great-grandfather: not sure  (Pop)

Great-grandmother: not sure (may have kept a boarding house after divorce?)  (Ahma)

Mom's Side:

Grandfather:  artist, illustrator, draftsman (I found a piece he'd illustrated for Lockheed on ebay once, and got it for my Mom.)

Great-grandfather (Adoptive father):  not sure  (Kem)

Great-grandfather (Biological father):  not sure

Great-grandmother: schoolteacher until marriage, then kept house, I think.  (Grandma Kem)

Grandmother: stay at home parent, kept house; worked for an insurance company after divorce/widowhood.

Great-grandfather: steel worker   (Peck)

Great Grandmother:  stay at home parent, kept house, invested in real estate  (Blanche)

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Joys (or NOT) of Chairing

 I've asked each of the different majors groups in the department to think about the department assessment we've done, talk about it in their groups, and then email me a very short list of a couple of good things, and a couple of things they think need improvement.

Of the several groups in the department, one sent an email.

One handed me this:

And the others have sent nothing.

Seriously, a couple of sticky pages clumped together.  And the people who handed this in are amongst the more prickly about students handing in things in just this or that way.  They'd never accept this from a student for anything.  It's still better than nothing!


I just got a very bad email today and am now trying to solve a problem I didn't know about a couple of hours ago.  I have a feeling this is the tip of the iceberg.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Changing Seasons for the Chair

 We're having a gorgeous autumn here, with nice brisk days, with mostly good sunshine.  Not too cold.  The leaves seems slow changing this year.

For me as chair, I'm changing seasons.  The semester is fully in flow and I've now done class observations with all of our new teachers this semester.  Fortunately, they all went well.

I've written some letters of recommendation for folks looking for jobs.  My fingers are firmly crossed.

And now the turn is to writing letters for folks undergoing five year after tenure reviews, for folks going up for promotion, and for folks going up for tenure (and promotion).  The after tenure review letter(s) isn't as important, since there's less at stake (no promotion, no pay raise).  The promotion and tenure and promotion letters are super important, though, and take a good deal of time.

We're also finalizing plans for spring, and figuring out the last bits of filling in first year writing courses left open by the colleagues who left over the summer.  That's good because we're also about to start fall course planning and scheduling.  I never realized how far out those have to be done until I found myself on the schedules committee during my second year here.

And, of course, I'm already a couple days late ordering my books for spring semester... but I'm guessing most of my colleagues are, too.

In my class, a senior seminar, we're moving from introductory readings and short, low stakes writing assignments, to beginning to focus on the final project for the course.

In the garden, things are basically in prep mode for winter.  I need to bring some things in to prevent freezing in lines, and need to mow at least one more time.  Then there's some trimming and cleanup.  It never ends!

Friday, October 15, 2021

Treading Water

 I feel like I'm trying to swim up a swift river, and mostly treading water, barely staying in place rather than moving forward.  And then a wave comes and breaks up the analogy.

I need to do book orders.  I'm teaching Intro to Lit, which is lovely, but the rental system has dropped the textbook I'd been using (because it's so far out of print they can't even get used copies), so I need to use another that they have in stock.  It's also out of print, but our amazing admin assistant found me a used copy and that will do.


The other day a senior colleague with about as much teaching experience as I have stopped into my office to get my feedback on an event that happened in their class.  It's like when you sit in the Chair's office, people suddenly think you know a whole lot more than you actually do.  But I don't.  The colleague's handling of the situation seemed really smart and apt, so it should be ok.  Thank goodness.


There's one job that several of our contingent faculty folks are applying for, so I've been doing class visits and such, and wrote each a letter of recommendation.  I'm sort of proud of my letters because they're really positive for each of the candidates, and each focuses really well on what makes that candidate strong.  So each of the candidates has a strong, supportive letter from me, but the letters are different and don't feel at all boilerplate.  I don't feel any strong sense that one is better than the others, but that they're really good in different ways.

I've also given those candidates and another in a different department pretty extensive feedback on their application materials.  In one case, I've also looked at the revised materials, and I think the revision is massively better, so I feel good about the time that it took to give feedback.

It seems to me that the job of the letter is to get a candidate into the interview pool, and after that it's pretty much a new start.  A couple of colleagues have offered to help any of the candidates who gets an interview with a practice interview.  

I hate that there are so few jobs that our folks feel like they're competing directly.  But my fingers are crossed tightly that at least one gets the job.


There are things that I really should delegate, but the trouble of getting someone else to do the thing feels harder than actually doing the thing itself.  And so this weekend I'll be reading three masters theses (not from my department) and ranking them.


As I look at my calendar for next week, I realize that this week has been a relative breeze in comparison.  This basically means that I have to do a really good job prepping this weekend, because the week to come won't give me much free time to read, prep, or grade.  Last weekend I got caught up on grading, but now I have two small things to grade.  That won't take long, the the master's theses will more than make up for that.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

What Goes Around...

 I've had a couple of odd conversations recently with some of my younger colleagues.

A couple have told me that they like teaching on line because they can record a lecture and tell students what they need to know.

And I'm thinking, but wait... didn't we all get told by the experts that the teacher-centered, font of wisdom, pouring knowledge into heads models weren't good?

I used the term "sage on the stage" (which is better than the "cock of the walk" that a Lacanian would choose), and the colleague looked at me like I'd spoken classical Greek or something.  They'd never heard of the term.

There's a continuum, right?  on one end, is the old lecture format where the expert instructor tells the students what they need to know and the students dutifully write it down and learn it.  That's actually how I was taught mostly in college, and for some of us, it worked ok.

At the other end of the continuum is a format where students do a lot of self-discovery of stuff and the expert expertly guides them to appropriate conclusions and understanding.  That's a model that works better for skills and stuff.  So if you're learning violin, for example, the instructor shows you something, and you try to reproduce it and get feedback.  It's more the Oxbridge model of tutorials, I gather.  It takes a LOT of work from students to really get at stuff, but, at least the theory goes, the students learn the material at a much deeper level.

On the lecture side, a good lecturer can tell students a LOT about a topic in an hour, but the experts questioned the retention of that information.

On the self-discovery side, students need to put in a lot of work, and can only really discover a small amount of information or learn a small amount of skills in that same hour.

In literature, since I started back to school as a student (after my undergrad of lectures), much of the instruction was a mix of short lecture bits and student discussion which was supposed to lead to self-discovery.  Back and forth.  Tell students about X, point them to a passage, and gosh, they find X.

You could even do the reverse: point them to a passage and they notice Y, and then give a short explanation of Y.

In either case the students are, one hopes, building critical reading and discussion skills and learning how to read independently.

So there's a continuum, but are things swinging back from the discussion end to the lecture end?  Is on line teaching part of that swing?

Is the feeling that students are too overwhelmed right now to put in the work for self-discovery part of it?

Next thing, is this colleague going to want us to go back to teaching Beowulf to Virginia Woolf surveys?


In another conversation with a different younger colleague, they claimed that films aren't literature, in part, because films are created by many, many people, and don't reflect the author's intent in the same way that literature does.

And I thought, holy cow, didn't we have this conversation 20 some years ago and all sort of come to concensus that films and other media ARE all texts worthy of critical consideration and yes, can fit into a "literature" course?  

At the same time I thought, are we really back to talking about the author's intent?

And at the same time, I thought, every play is also created by many people, and Shakespeare doesn't seem to have controlled the printing of his plays (certainly not the First Folio, since he was dead), and yet we consider Shakespeare (and other plays) literature.

Then the colleague said that "we've always done things this way," and I thought, you've been here maybe ten years, and we haven't, and I've only been here 20 some years, and I can't tell you how we've "always" done things because there's never been an "always" to most of the things we do.  We're constantly shifting and changing.

Aren't I, the old fogey, supposed to be the one arguing for us to do things the way "we've always done them"?