Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Maybe that's not how you'd want to be honored, sir...?

I found this unfortunate title while helping a student investigate the history of hunting in America. Damn, that's a pretty brutal festschrift tradition! That or someone needs a grammar review.

Monday, November 17, 2014

*Whine* I don't wanna do work! *Whiiiiiine*

Well, this sucks. After a very nice relaxing weekend doing nothing teaching-related, I pretty much wasted away today. I took all day doing my required benefits counseling meeting and doing some, but not much, class prep. I have many things to do, all of which require Unpleasant Confrontations, like email people "no" about their topic proposals and respond to angry comments about the last essay grade and resolve a weird grading problem. So I am ignoring them. But, I am now mucho stressed out and have undone all my previous weekend relaxation. It is a bad sign when your week hasn't really started yet and you are longing for the next weekend. Ugh.

I would cancel and move things around this week to do individual conferences if it were at all possible, since we are at the weird point of the writing process, but I had to schedule half of our library introduction on one day of the week and half on the other day. Theoretically, it is nice, because we can do a nice small research stint and then bring in the results --- like an article or some newspaper articles --- in on the second day as a homework assignment. But, practically, it is a week that doesn't have a whole lot for them to do that is directly relevant for their next step in the assignment process. Really, they need to just go off into the library and just do it. But since I have an hour with them beforehand I am doing a little lecture and some worksheets. Ugh. Meh.

Have any of you taught comp from Writing from Sources? I really like it --- especially since it drums quotation formatting down into the ground and the students here really need that --- but the research chapters need fixing: they have these incredibly long and multi-paged detailed exercises, and if you don't want to do all of the exercises you end up assigning 40-page chapters and then asking the students to hunt and peck among these long sample articles for the actual explanations sprinkled throughout. Not that that early morning class is cracking the book, I'm sure. Anyway, those exercises are sooooo reading-heavy (the wikipedia one has 12 pages of source material to read) that they don't work very well in class, and I don't want to assign them as the actual essay because then I would be reading the same damn essay like 90 times, so I have trouble with the class time leading up to the annotated bibliography.We will go over citation and plagiarism and do some worksheets, which I avoid the rest of the semester since it feels very high school/lower-level thinking schools, and also I generally have worse behavior and resistance when I make them do worksheets than when I make them do unusual or creative critical thinking type projects.

Today I also had lunch with some of the other instructors, and I like them and certainly I was glad to hear them complaining about a really bad batch of papers and suddenly they have had to resort to giving Ds and Fs, but also they make me worried. They still have 29 or 30 students in each of their classes --- why have mine dropped so much? They say their students come to class "most of the time" but I am unclear what exactly that means --- are those students still handing in the major essays? Even if I don't count the students with erratic attendance, I have a handful or two that are missing essays ---- which is grounds for an F in my class and I believe dept. policy. Also, have they figured out some way to not have their students be hostile and misbehaved, or do they just not ever mention that in their complaints? And they reassured me that we all think we end up in a grading bubble and worry that we are not in tune with our colleagues, but really we pretty much are ---- but what if that's not true? I think I'm just as worried as I was before I ate with them and let off steam. 

I am now officially freaking out about my upcoming tenure committee review meeting. Cue chewing on nails and ulcers gnawing on my gut.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Power of Peers

My Friday went much better than my Thursday, I should point out. Or perhaps I am just so accepting of any sort of positive interaction after the downer-ness of my one class that I can become elated based on nothing at all.

My Friday am class is, in comparison to my other two comp classes, rocketing along just fine. They are, and have been since the first day, behaving like college students. They turn in typical stuff that looks like high school, I say, "nope, that's high school," and then I push, cajole, and encourage them and they turn over and start producing college-level work.

I have no idea why I keep using the metaphor of them "turning over" --- I should really mean turning a corner, or to be even more obnoxiously hippie, "blossoming" into college students. But no, in my mind I am turning them over like rocks or abelskivers or poker cards or something. Anyway, in my courses at Postdoc U I always thought of having a period of resistance, where they struggle against me and against the constraints of the class, and then suddenly around essay 3 they start complaining a lot more, but it is a jokey complaining, and then suddenly they are struggling for me and bringing me things --- stuff they have noticed out in the world or their other classes that they are connecting with our last essay, for example, or a draft for another class, or 8 million possible sources for their essay topic do you think ma'am that these will be too much to fit into my research paper? (My class becomes heavily bimodal by the end of the semester, as students either "turn over" and stop resisting or completely give up and stop coming.)

Maybe they come to me like turtles, and my job is to turn them over and get them moving in their own slow direction? No, even for me that metaphor is too weird.

Anyway, I have a student in this morning class who has really, quite surprisingly, blossomed. Even more than weak thinking and writing, she has displayed a distracted, usually hostile and inattentive, attitude and nonverbal behavior. This student used to take it personally that college would require the credit-hour and typed assignments, whereupon I would assure her that everyone just demands it of all college students. It's just the rule of being college students.

However, this student has the luck of being in my Friday section and of sitting down between two very good students ---- one who is very studious and tries very hard and one who is probably almost smart enough to not to need to be there at all, although she has been a very good sport about it. Whenever my struggling student rails against the injustice of homework and reading quizzes or bringing a book to class, these students look at her like she is weird; of course you do all these things! That is the way life is. I do not know how much helping and coaching they have given her to bring her up to speed on the syllabus and homework and readings for any given day, but I am sorta aware (and very appreciative). This same student also showed up two or three times with material for essay three and turned in a lovely final draft --- one that looked like it had been outlined. And that almost slavishly followed the quote sandwich paragraph structure. It even had some logical ideas --- and just the fact that all the sentences were clear and easy to follow was huge. And then on Friday this student proceeded to get a lot out of our class activity, including discovering that such things as tables of contents and indexes can correlate to each other and actually have a point.

The thing is, how well would this student have changed her attitude and made great leaps of progress if she had been in my still-unturned Thursday section? There she would have been reinforced in her thinking that I was weird and mean and asking them to do pointless stupid things. And this story is heartwarming only when you ignore the fact that only one of my three classes has turned like this and while I am worried that a few of my Friday morning class will fail, I'm almost positive that all of my other two classes will.

It's telling that one of the athletes in my late afternoon class transferred into my morning class ---- to fix his schedule, he says, but also I had already yelled at that group of giggly, nonattentive guys quite a bit by then. Who has completely turned around his behavior and is writing normal-sounding C-level college student work? Who is currently failing and trying to play phone games with each other over the network during class? And who was acting exactly like that but has not misbehaved like that once since switching sections?

Uh-huh. Back when I was in band and applying for honor band and state honor band and stuff, I always liked being the worst musician in the room rather than the best --- I always felt pushed to improve, to excel. That's a huge advantage to putting a few unprepared students into a strong classroom --- but what about at a school where the vast majority of students are not the models of behavior, but need those models around them? What do you do in that situation?

Hmm. Maybe I'm not above salting my classes with "ringers" or "plants." Maybe we could hire back some unemployed recent college grads as actors. Or is that too meta?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bottoming out

**Note: I actually wrote this out by hand in a journal Thursday. On Friday, things happened that were better, but I don't know if I have the time and energy and to-do list to write up an additional post later. Maybe I will.**

I am feeling sad and demoralized. Perhaps it is the time of the semester, or perhaps it is me starting my period and I am just super emotional? I just feel unhappy and like I fundamentally do not belong here.

Part of it was from when I looked on our fin aid website and clicked on new instructions about “load” ---- basically you not only need to take a certain number of units every semester, you need to complete (not drop and not fail) a certain number so that your passing "load" is high enough. But the sample schedule they showed as a “success” made me want to cry. It showed failing math and dropping history and keeping two pass/no pass exercise classes as a success. And I don’t even think students should be allowed to take more than a few non writing or math intensive classes over their whole degree! Sigh. But for an AA degree, you can take a whole lot of what I would consider to be "not really college classes" and not ever deal with the college level ones and still be able to finish a lot of our degrees.

A while back in a meeting, the dean said something about none of the other GE classes for the AA requiring English 101 as a prerequisite. This startled me at the time, and now it worries me a lot. Where I last was, and where my nephew is going to school, English 101 is a prerequisite that "unlocks" almost all of the other classes; you have to learn this stuff because you won't be able to pass anything else without using those skills.  I know that many of the GE options here are crap as far as requiring any writing or thought ---- like personal health or personal finance ---- and while they may be educating “the whole person,” and they might be useful and necessary, they seem so light in content or difficulty that they don’t seem like they should be called a college class at all. These also make me sad. To add to this, most of what I consider “real,” academic GE classes do not have much of a writing component, and I guess you don’t have to pass English 1A before you take them either.

All of this is leading up to my dissatisfactions with my super early morning class today. It actually went fairly well, for them, but I guess that just makes me feel more depressed and out of place. They are so sure they will never ever need any of this information, like how to check out a book from the library or how to tell the difference between a book and an article. They also scoffed loudly and complained when I pointed out that 102 and 105 are different possibilities that both work for transfer; they don't plan on transferring anywhere and won’t ever need to take another English class, they complained. Sure, fine. That may be true for them and their certificates. But I am sad and worried that they are right about 90-95 percent of my class not ever being required or necessary for them ever again in their AAs here. The class just went so poorly and so many of the students were disengaged and texting and slumping and staring off at nothing. They made the one or two students who were making an attempt, making an effort, stand out pitifully.

After class I was so tired and distracted that it was hard to catch up on my grading. What I recognize that I do really really well is to make students understand the research process and really bring them to understand what it is their professors do as researchers. I am very good at understanding what they are not familiar with and bringing that out. But, most of the students here will never interact with a professor and never take another class that thinks about disciplines and scholarly research. And that makes me sad. When students have a basic desire to go somewhere with this process I am good at awakening inquisitiveness in them and having them transform into pre-majors with interests in something or other. But most of the students here, I can’t get any sort of response from them, and they won’t need any of that. I can’t get my students to understand or care about the research process because in some way, they aren’t students. Maybe I am wasted here and do not fit. There is a way in which I fit so much better at the last place, the 4-year school with many first-generation students and a willingness to boot those who didn’t get it at a basic level. Which is funny because they didn’t pay any attention to me, include me in the group, respect me, or pay me anywhere near what I deserved.

Maybe I would fit better working in a first-year experience program at a 4-year school, or the bridge/ACE/TRIO equivalent in a writing program at some sort of selective school. Sigh. But I sure don't feel like I fit in here.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Possibly the most boring post update ever

I am so tired. Not in a bad way or with any sort of drama or anything, just tired. people, the other day I stopped off after work and got myself a big Starbucks mocha and a scone to fuel me through my grading, and after eating it and grading maybe one essay and heading home, I promptly went to bed and slept straight through from 4:30 or so til my normal wakeup time of around 5:30 in the morning. Sad.

I was just on the phone for a really long time with my sister, who knows me well and is used to me ignoring most rules of etiquette like not eating or peeing while talking on the phone --- not that I did that this time --- and while she told me all of her anxiety problems (telling me the problem actually got her to find the source of the anxiety and solve it, without me actually saying anything much; and yet she is impressed by my helpfulness!) I went into my pantry and reorganized the whole thing. She was so into her own problems that she did not want to hear about how great my pantry-reorganizing was. But I have to tell someone. Hence: you.

I have now neatened up all of my beans and grains and tidied everything and put in the spinny turntables I bought (ooh, maybe I should go back and wipe everything down? hm.) Everything is in old pasta sauce jars that fit nicely on the turntables and it is easy to find everything. I wasn't sure how many more of the turntables to buy, so now I have three and don't really know what to do with that third one. But I would rather have it there for when I figure it out, so I am pleased. I need to clean out my filthy fridge and restock with some healthier convenience food, because when I am not going out to eat these days, I am making grilled cheese or omelets with whatever leftover bits are around, and I need piles of chopped up fruits and veg ---- there is a slightly higher chance I will eat them if they are all ready and packed. Particularly if I can't even handle being awake until a normal dinner time these days. I should also prep and cook stuff for next week. Though hmm. We do have Veterans Day off. This whole switch around of our school holidays and end of the semester has me discombobulated, people! And it has wreaked havoc on my syllabus schedule. I had to compensate by having all of my classes come in with assignments on the same day, and let me tell you, that is not acceptable. What i really need to do all weekend is to grade grade grade. But I might clean up one tiny part of the kitchen and go to bed now instead. Yawn. Do I want it to be thanksgiving week already or not? I'm not sure I am ready for the end of the semester crunch. Boo.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

When the going gets tough, the tough get melodramatic

You can always tell when the semester is starting to be a burden when I start responding to various people's/students'/administrators' comments and queries by singing Smiths lyrics: there's just something perfectly wry and campy and ironic and self-mocking all in one that gets at my need to pity myself. (I --- usually --- don't respond to student inanities by singing these out loud, but, hey, maybe doing that would improve the situation.)

But at a certain point, ironic mockery just doesn't cut it. I'm actually having a pretty good week, considering, but from what I am reading from fellow academics indicates that the time has come for full-on wallowing melodrama:

Yeah, when I wallow in self-pity, I don't mess around.

Sometimes it involves leaping around the room singing this at the top of my lungs while flinging myself in ridiculously tortured flamboyant poses, sometimes it only involves me whispering in response to a student's inanity, "it's been ten weeks, feels like ninety." Sometimes it involves me stacking up my ungraded essays into a bonfire and casting myself, arms outstretched, upon them.

So for those of you who've hit that point in the semester, and you know who you are, this one's for you.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Well, I survived that.

Mostly, anyway --- just like most other activities at the community college level, scheduling conferences was a bit complicated by the large number of students who happen to not be there on that day, don't check email, or just plain do not sign up. I also had probably about 10 or so miss their conference time. Surprisingly, most of them went fine and without incident.

Ooh, spoke too soon --- I have a pretty full day tomorrow and I notice that quite a few of the people I need to have stern talks with put it off until the last moment. But two of the people who were especially snotty to me the other day haven't shown up to class since, as if they are afraid or penitent. The third had a pretty quiet session with me and I didn't even bring up the attitude ---- that one skedaddled out right quick and didn't make much eye contact. Interestingly, from the comments this person made, I might have been totally off base ---- I think this person was being a little snot not because what we were doing in class was too hard, but too easy, too babyish. But since the writing I have seen is around the C+ range (though this person claims not to have put much effort into it), I don't have any evidence that this person is mis-placed in the class or that the class has been dumbed down too much. Ugh. People. I can't handle this much face-to-face time. And I hate saying the same damn thing, just individually, over and over again. Conference meetings are just not my thing.

Also, for many of my students, we didn't have much to go over ---- they already knew where they stood, grade wise, so my handing out their grade report and going line-by-line over the individual remaining points didn't really do much for them, and if their second essay was a big improvement over their first, they didn't necessarily have questions in relation to my comments. Now, I did get to make some important interventions with some of my confused-looking students (whose response to not being able to log in to their student portal, which covers everything, not just the CMS for my class, is to just shrug and wonder about it, I ask you? How did they pay their fees?) and I got some of the ones who were doing poorly to ask lots of good questions and act like they were penitent and really wanted to turn things around... but, yeah, it was a bit dumbed down from my usual methods. But I guess that is the price of community college ---- if you are smart and studious and hardworking you pay for that low tuition by being in a very diversely-prepared classroom and have your instructor spend a lot of time and energy and discipline on the less-prepared students.

And several of the students who I sent a stern email about them missing major assignments showed up and brought them to me late (and now I feel like I have to accept it) and swore up and down that they would turn over a new leaf and anxiously asked me if I thought they had a solid chance of passing --- and how can I be blunt and honest one-on-one? It's usually my offhand comments in front of the whole class that get me in trouble; I'm blunt and impatient and curt when I don't mean to be; when I'm facing someone in my office, all anxious about whether a student is going to go ballistic on me (all interpersonal communication is a defensive maneuver with me) I am too conciliatory and kind and soft-pedal the truth. What this means is that I had a bunch of students I hadn't seen in a while back in my classes, and they look so lost and tuned out compared to their classmates, who are starting to behave like college students and have expressions on their faces like they are thinking, and they are starting to turn to each other before class starts and tell each other why they hated the reading (which is often because they want to argue against a major or minor premise and not because it was some sort of knee-jerk angry reaction), and in comparison, my second-chancers zone out or pull out their phones.

I should be more sympathetic, since it is hard to change a bunch of habits at once, but maybe I should have not let them back in or been more forceful about how they are in deep deep trouble. All of them missed a lot of homework and didn't do the reading for the quiz the first day post-conference and have trouble reading and are very poor writers, and if I didn't see much change in attitude I probably won't see much change in the results either. Hmph. I did these conferences (mostly because of mentor nagging) to get my student eval scores up and to get rid of the repeated "I don't understand how she grades" comment on the evals. The side effect seems to be that besides creating a lot more work for myself I have a big stack of papers that were due a month ago and a big pile of students who were on their way out the door are back in my classroom. Yay?