Saturday, October 30, 2010

Safety Last

This morning, there was frost on my windshield. Cool! This afternoon, it is back up to 75, which is even more awesome. (As in, I spent the last hour "grading" outside, but really sitting there looking around and going, "it is so freakin beautiful! I love the weather!!!")

I've also been on the phone with my sister, which made me think of all things safety. You see, she is the safety manager for her plant and is thus very invested in always Being Prepared. She was chiding me about my not having a Disaster Kit (we were momentarily confused by the thought that we really couldn't call it an Earthquake Kit outside of California) and whether I should ask for emergency supplies for Christmas or go out and buy them myself now.

(My sister, being the lovable dorky one who is always Being Prepared, gave each of my young-adult cousins a car emergency kit a few years ago, including emergency food/water stuff. Since the food has expired she wants to get them an emergency kit update, but we have heard they were less-than-happy about the gift they got last time. Me, I think that I'd like to get emergency supply stuff, since I want to have it but don't want to spend my money on it. That makes it the perfect gift in my mind.)

We were also stymied by what healthy people put in their emergency food rations. I was looking around my place and telling her, I have rice, dried beans, lentils, quinoa, lots of fresh unpeeled vegetables ... and an electric stove. How the hell would I eat anything? Just hold lentils in my mouth until they softened up and then swallow them raw? Eeew! I'm also not too fond of raw veggies, so the thought of subsisting on carrots and raw beets is kinda disheartening to me. So I went out to get some granola bars at the very least (but it is not easy to stock up on those if you have a nut allergy, let me tell you) and some tortilla chips, to go along with gnawing on raw carrots and beans in the dark. (heh!) Thing is, I don't keep convenience food in the house at all, because I'll eat it, entire bags worth. So the whole "creating an emergency food kit" part is just confusing to me.

Looking on the web I see people suggesting I always have my wood-burning stove and camping stove ready... sigh. Ah the troubles of renting. Maybe I should ask for a fancy propane grill to put on my back porch! I'm not sure how often I'd really use a grill or a camping stove, but being able to heat up a can of soup sounds nice. And if I had a gas stove I'd probably be worrying about gas leaks instead ---- I am a worry-wart.

So in the spirit of avoiding grading, I ask you, what's in your emergency kit? What sort of weather-related stuff do you have stocked up? Can you add anything to my list below? (I'm going to try and get my family down with the "ship me early Christmas presents or gift cards" plan)...

I've got the basics of flashlights and candles ... and somewhere packed away is my ice-scraper. I should unearth that today.

What about these things? Are they any good? Do I need them? It says I should keep some in my car.
I'd like a battery-powered lantern so that I could read and also not burn down the apartment:

And I should probably have a news radio/charger/emergency warning thingy:
And I was looking for some way I could just cover the windshield instead of chip off the frost every morning ... or else I'm going to have to add even more time to my morning commute. Sigh.

And I need a little flashlight for my keychain. Actually that would help a lot with when I come home late after drinking, too, since I never remember to turn on the porch light. A win all around!

Any further suggestions?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Um, thanks?

In conferences today, one student is not very talkative. So I say to him, Student, I see you're not very talkative. Do you have any additional suggestions for Other Student?

He shakes his head and says, "This English stuff is just not for me."

"What?" I say.

He shakes his head again. "Man, I hate English."

Me: ...?

Him: No, I mean I hate English. I've tried to hate you so hard but I can't.

Me: ????

Him: I tried so hard. I hated all my English teachers, so much, but you're standing up there in front of class with your laughing and your smiling and your Jay-Z jokes and silly dance and I just cannot hate you no matter how hard I try. I still don't like writing essay drafts, though.

Me: Oh. ... Okay? ... Don't forget to turn in the final draft online on Friday.

The good news: I saw one of my students from yesterday's conferences signing up for a session at the tutoring center today, as I pointed the reception area out to the current peer review group sitting with me. I don't even care if it was for my class or not. I'm just glad someone who didn't know about the center is now using it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Updates and Epiphanies

First, thanks everybody for the coat advice ---- this may be the most comments I've gotten on a post! (does this say something about my academic-related writing? hmm.) Now I'll have to contemplate things before I actually do anything in the coat category. (looking at coats online and asking advice is way more fun than grading, but finding the time to actually go anywhere and try stuff on will have to wait.)

In other news, I am tired! It's been a kinda shitty week. Last week I lost my phone ---- or actually, I think that I set it down on campus and someone took it. :( Grr. So a lot of time was taken up last week hunting it down and retracing my steps and then I took a lot of time on Sunday going to the apple store place to get a new phone. Which is another expense I wasn't wanting to shell out for. Double grrr.

Now I am knee-deep in group conferences all week. Bleah. I hate conferences --- they take a lot out of me and I get stressed very easily managing all the time and scheduling stuff (I'm a control freak and this isn't something you can control very easily). Also, repeating myself with the same advice over and over again annoys me ---- I know on one level that I am telling different people, but I still find myself getting increasingly snappy at people as I repeat myself throughout the day.

But! talking to smaller groups does let me really hear what people are getting --- and doing conferences right after peer review means we can talk about how to do those as well. Also I held them in the tutoring center (everyone in my shared office is holding conferences this week, so I had to vacate the premises), so I am able to make Dire Pronouncements and then advise them to make appointments with a writing tutor before the paper is due.

I don't know why so many of my students are putting their thesis as the first sentence of the paper (is someone teaching this?), especially after we spent a lot of time on that formulaic "funnel shaped introduction," but the good news is that it was not just me telling students; some of their peer reviewers were pointing this out. And I had a couple people actually say "when I did the peer review on this person's essay, I noticed that my essay had the same problem and went to try and fix that." Hooray epiphanies! I just have to remind myself that having the aha moment and seeing what is wrong does not necessarily translate into successfully fixing a problem. Another of my difficulties, I think, is that I might have maybe 5 people really seem to pick up something from the conferences, and I can't help but get discouraged when I look at the vast majority of papers afterward that have no signs of learning.

I must say though I do like doing the conferences with the second paper, as they feel kinda burned and like they have to prove themselves (more accurately, that I'm a hard-ass who won't let them get away with things), and they are trying much harder with this round. It's always easier to deal with long days and lots of groups when they are putting in effort. And some are taking it really seriously and are very worried --- doing multiple drafts, revising between peer review day and conference day, etc. It helps that the school makes us post midterm grades and the only thing I had was the first essay. *evil grin.*

Unfortunately, not everyone gets "scared straight" and buckles down --- some behave like light-struck forest animals and run straight into the traffic. And when freaking out consists of panicked, self-destructive behavior right around group conferences, it always causes huge problems. Like borrowing a group member's anthology and then disappearing from the face of the earth problems. That wasn't here, though. But I have had a sizable number of no-shows for the peer review and people bailing on conferences, as if going into hiding would somehow erase their previous bad grade. If I knew beforehand which students could be scared serious and which will spook and trample fellow students, I would be able to do a targeted attack. Ah well. The mysteries of teaching.

Also, an update from my previous questions: this "sequence" I drilled them --- beat them over the heads! --- on paragraph structure and quotes. I tried both writing up some sample topic sentences and having students write the paragraphs in small groups, and writing up a series of softball questions and having students create paragraphs in small groups. I'm not sure if the topic sentence exercise didn't work as well because it was first, or it's just not as good. (It was much harder to come up with topic sentences while not writing an essay than to come up with some semi-directive questions and ask them to find quotes that answered the questions.) I also had them writing something, like these exercises, in class every. single. time. we met. I did almost no discussion (which I could ask as a separate post: how much emphasis do you put on discussing the reading vs. doing writing assignments in class?) and we either wrote or workshopped something every day.

The result? Well, I'm still not getting consistent topic sentences or conclusion sentences, but you'd be amazed at just how much stronger their arguments get when they are forced to be specific and bring in quotes into every single paragraph. And I had them do (again) a highlighting assignment on their peer reviews and then examine the color patterns, so I did have some students point out essays lacking topic sentences etc. They also were better at adding analysis of every single quote than on introducing or formatting any of them correctly, but since I prioritize that so much more I'm ok with that.

(Another benefit of the group conferences is that I can make Dire Pronouncements like this: "Now I notice that both of your peer reviewers marked your quotes, because none of them are connected or have page numbers. See this? I am making a note, since I just told you the same thing, and I will be looking for that to be fixed on your final draft." Unfortunately, the people I made Dire Pronouncements to today looked quite unimpressed, and are either apathetic or have a good poker face. But when they get an explicit warning like that I have no qualms about hitting their grades hard if I don't see improvement.) Now if the students already seem scared into revising things I try to be Highly Encouraging, instead. But one of the drawbacks of mixing my strong and weak students in a group is that then I have to both play the heavy and seem sweet and encouraging and nonthreatening, all in the same group. Tiring.)

I have also come around on assigning personal essays, since I did that (very reluctantly) this time. I didn't allow them to write personal essays or bring personal experience into this one, though ---- they had to compare or contrast two of the other essays. But they did find the memoir-type stuff very accessible and nonthreatening. There's no academic language in these personal essays, for example. But then they aren't getting any models. I think if I were here longer and had built up a bank of sample student essays and theses I would be able to have both worlds. But the few essays I have on file just don't work as sample material for them. Oh, remind me to photocopy some of the final drafts --- and find out what I have to do to get permission.

The bad news? Apart from the fact that I am swamped with more conferences and also need to find time to get groceries? I get my final drafts and the midterm revision option I gave the lit students at the end of the week. This weekend is gonna suh-huh-huck.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

More Coat Questions

I'm just gonna put this all here in case people don't go back to look at the comments for the last post.

Tell me more about coats ---- if I follow Absurdist's advice and zip up a snuggly sweater underneath, does that mean I should go up a size when trying stuff on? How do I go about getting it to fit well with layers? (And then isn't there the problem of becoming too roly-poly with too many layers and then a big wool coat thrown on on top of it?)

Thank you for the advice to get something lined with "thinsulate" --- see? Now I have a new term to look for when I go sniffing about in the stores.

Right now I only need the coat for going from home to my car to school on teaching days ... I'm out of the house by 7 and it is already cold and dark (bleah!) ... so I'm looking for something that will not look too awkward with nice teaching clothes or dresses. I have a camping-rain-gear coat that is bright orange, and besides being too thin already (though great on the days it has rained), I feel odd running around in something that orange and casual with my teaching clothes. Inside is pretty good since they keep the building on pretty high heat already. I hope they don't up the heat more when it gets colder because I hate bundling up and then coming indoors and stripping back down to a t-shirt or blouse ---- for one thing, it's hell on my hair with all the dressing and undressing and static. For another, I have thrown up in the past when I get too overheated. Don't need to be experiencing random nausea on winter days, thanks!

You all suggest black but I do have my old pea coat and the insane floor-length rabbit-fur collar one from mom --- what about something in that caramel color? Do those show dirt and not wear as well? Something like this? (I also quite like the floppy look of this but alas, I'm sure a red coat would limit my clothing options too much. Useful for if I got lost in the snow, however.)

I am continuing to look about. At the rate I move from "looking" to actually going to stores and trying stuff on, however, I fear it will already be the dead of winter before I get a good coat. Alas!

ETA: Ok, is this a possibility? (In the camel) I notice it's not really wool. And that it has shoulder pads (loathe!) I notice that this is only available online, erm. And it has polyester. And it has those sideways bars around the waist that make me worried. And I don't know if "polyester lining" is the same as "thinsulate lining," but I am guessing it is not. And then this seems so cute and yet totally nothing like what I need. Sigh. The perils of shopping.

Edited to add again: Where did it get the name "car coat"? And is that a standardized length? Cars come in all different lengths.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Coat Question

But first, too short?

Not me --- I mean, it's a given that I'm too short --- I mean the skirt. And I liked this outfit but looking at this pic the tights seem to be too light of a green. Hmph. Anyway, it's too late cause I've already worn it to teach. (I like that this is a cat action shot, too.)

Haven't figured out how to attach the mirror to a door without drilling holes yet. I thought they had a holder for it at Target that hung over the door back, but no luck.

Anyway, it is lovely weather here --- a beautiful California winter. It's chilly at night --- maybe getting down to 40 --- and warming up to beautiful pleasant weather in the middle of the day. Thing is, this is not California or winter. I think it's gonna get colder and become a winter winter. Already I'm going in to teach super early in the morning and it's quite cold.

I have some peacoats from the Gap --- heh, I went shopping with another grad student at Chicago MLA and she said something like "Oh, it's been a long time since I've seen the full Gap winter collection" and I said "they have a winter collection?" --- but they are not lined, and while they are cute, I'm already kinda cold when I go to school in the mornings. The middle of the day, it's nice and warm and fine.

Then I also have one really old, really heavy coat, and a really looooooong jacket I stole (em, borrowed) from my mom. It's floor-length and has a rabbit-fur collar. It's a little ... extreme for my everyday winter wear.

So I need coat-related advice. I guess I want some sort of ... coat? Well, ok, I want some sort of heavier coat, but I've been looking at down parka-type stuff and it looks too casual (and possibly bulky around my waist). Can you buy a dressier type coat (cloth, not down) that still has decent warmth? I'm looking at stuff online but can't tell if it's lined, or if it's going to be heavy enough without being too heavy, or how bulky it is. Help! Tell me what I should be looking for, and how to go about buying a coat.

If you're really nice, I 'll give you a cat picture.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Well, I finished going through the midterms for a first pass. Oh, they were terrible! And there were many strange notes in there too, both heartfelt-sounding apologies for being slackers and very angry attacks on me as a teacher ... a very chatty class, which is odd, considering the sheer number of IDs they left blank.

And I really really hate giving credit for crap. If someone does not identify the work correctly and then writes "this was important to our class because it shows that we can relate to just about any piece of writing from olden days" or "This was written in a difficult style to really make the reader slow down and think about what is being said" AND THAT IS THE FULL EXTENT OF THE ANSWER, then NO, you are not getting ANY credit!

However, giving zeros instead of Fs for individual answers really tanks the student's midterm grade. I gave out a lot of F-level points for bad answers, too. It's just that I really really hate giving partial credit to a blank page or the answers listed above.

But these answers are so bad and the tests skew so low that I got paranoid and did a quick rundown of the IDs, answer by answer:

So in this first picture you can see this first three IDs. The pencil line is the cutoff between passing and not passing for an answer. We spent an entire week on # 2 and I swore to them that there would be a midterm ID on it since it was right before the midterm. # 3 is back from the first week of class so it makes sense that even when they ID'd it, they didn't have much useful to say about it. And do you see the number of zeros???

Number 5, interestingly enough, had an image next to it on the PP slide. That's about where I want all of them to fall in terms of quality. Number 6 is completely bimodal --- and not only did a lot of people leave that blank, even more totally misidentified it as something that sounds nothing like it. I spent an entire class period on that text (and every single one of the IDs was up on a powerpoint slide and we proceeded to close read it), but I am willing to say that this was just not a good ID and give the points out for it.

Thing is, giving an extra 12 points to someone with a grand total of 31 (out of 100) isn't going to do much.

My total midterm breakdown was as follows:
5 Bs
8 Cs
7 Ds
16 Fs
(9 of those Fs are 40 % or below)

So I'm still pondering what to do next, partly because I can't really tell what was going on in the students' heads: to what extent were they lost and to what extent were they blowing it off because it is a stupid GE course and they are about to have fall break? I'm inclined to go in there next time and give them a stern talking-to, a heads up that the quality of their tests was terrible, and that even if I were to give them credit for one of the IDs because so few got it, many of them would still be failing. Then I could give them some stern reminders about working harder and maybe do a practice question or two later in the semester.

(Thing is, I am about to do a zillion comp conference hours next week and will once again be down-to-the-minute on class prep. I haven't taught this course, or even this locale and time period, before, and I spend a lot of time just reading the stuff I've assigned (which I've never read before) and figuring out how to give a basic lecture on this crap. I never have the time in my schedule to then go back and make the effort of figuring out some quiz questions or additional sample practice midterm questions. Since I'm teaching it again next semester (oh joy!) I'll be able to use my frantic prep time for actually working out some activities and quizzes and stuff, but really I can't do that on a first time teaching a course. Maybe I'm a crappy teacher, but whatever. Them's that hired me'll have to deal with that.)

Then the question is: do I do an additional curve/bump on top of that? I dunno. I have to go talk to the chair anyway, because the angry email was not the only complaint about identifying terms or "hard stuff" (like themes. Or literary movements. The ones I have as a running title across my slides.) And the other complaint was that there were too many IDs to have time to write anything on them ---- but those are the blank midterms. I don't want to dumb this shit down! If you have no clue what these passages are, then having 1 or 6 or 10 won't make a difference!

Clearly I need to be more clear that I am an evil bitch of a grader (because I am) and that I need to be harsher on my "diagnostic" close reading essay (what I think Lucky Jane called a "handshake essay"). But really, since they were soooo much better than the comp papers, I was ok with grading them all in the C and B range. Nope. I need to just rip those early fuckers apart and warn them that I will be even meaner on the midterm, and if they don't like it, they can drop the class in week 3. Then I may actually be pleasantly surprised come midterm time, instead of have a heart attack when I open up the blue books.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Midterm Moanings

Mmm. Not so good. It was the usual practice for my profs to make their TAs create the midterms, so I actually have lots of experience with that. And because TAs lead the discussion sections and review sessions, I feel like I have a stronger handle on what students can say in X amount of time and have been good in the past holding the midterms to something fair and manageable.

That was not the case with Stripey Class.

I'm not even going to comment on the nasty and horrible email I got that I read when I stupidly checked my school email on a Friday evening. Ugh. It ruined the whole night. I didn't respond and now I think I'm calmer and that it says way more about this student than about my teaching; but I think I still will need to go in and talk to the chair about this. I hope the student regretted it as soon as the student sent it, and it's really about blowing of the student's frustration at not having studied for the midterm than actually about me at all.

But then I went through the ID section of the midterm and it wasn't so solid. A handful of perfect scores, a smattering of Bs and Cs, no Ds, and then F minuses. Like 3 points out of 25 F minuses. I'm not even sure what I could do about it, as there is no way I can bump up grades on answers that were left blank. And I picked terms that I brought up repeatedly and that students suggested when I made them come up with ideas during the review session, so I thought this midterm was pretty damn easy. I'm afraid to even look at the other part.

Basically I hate reading in-class essays and find them useless if you have lots of non-majors because nobody will quote or connect things to the text, so I just did a bunch of ID passages instead. I said I wanted a sentence of the definitions and a whole page explaining the significance of the IDs. Then every single student went and bought the small blue book.

Does your school have two blue book sizes? My old school did and maybe 1 person would buy the wrong size --- or the bookstore would run out and you could see the late people buying the small size because the sizes would change as more students trickled into the room. Here they sell both sizes and everyone brought in the small one. I was also surprised at the sheer number of people who had never heard of a blue book.

But basically a small blue book is about half the size of the large ones, and I was expecting a full page on those. Instead, as I'm flipping through the pile, I got between one sentence and a half a page on the small blue book pages.

True, content is way more important than size, but if you want someone to make multiple points and to examine actual language used in the quote, they'll need to take some space to work that out. I'm afraid to grade any further tonight. I'll just drink a beer and sit in dread of them instead.

I dunno --- I could have modeled more of what I wanted for the ID part and written and displayed a sample strong answer... maybe I'll do that next time? I'm very resistant to dumbing it down from "doable in a short time frame" to "painfully easy." Maybe it's just the angry email that has me shaken. Maybe they will just need to be shocked into the recognition that this class is harder than it looks and they need to take it seriously. Or maybe, because it is a class that fulfills a requirement for non-majors, they do not care and just want to put in the minimum effort to get a passing grade and they are ok with whatever terrible midterm grade they get.

I should add that, though it was a short time frame, everyone was finished with five minutes to spare (that's when the last kid turned in the midterm) and a pretty substantial number turned in their stuff within 10 minutes. Although there's no point sitting around if you don't recognize any of the passages or terms. See, I'm a terrible judge of understanding students, since I never did that in high school or college --- I don't think I failed a single midterm. I know I had brain farts where I would blank on a name or occasionally just not recognize a passage, but never for the whole midterm.

Yeah I don't know. I guess I need to learn more about how to toughen myself up and not second-guess myself than re-learn how to make tests. It's just sucky because I want them to enjoy my class and learn useful and enjoyable things and be able to explain those things back to me. Sigh. Gotta keep in mind Dissertation Buddy's mantra: I don't need them to love me and I don't need to be their friend.

Friday, October 15, 2010

"Holiday" To do list:

- grade 25 student response papers (3)
- grade 25 student response papers (3)
- grade 25 student response papers (3)
- grade 25 student response papers (#4)
- grade 25 student response papers (#4)
- grade 25 student response papers (#4)
- grade 50 lit. midterms
- read and prep for next week's lit class
- make peer review sheet for next week's comp classes
- groceries
- check for more jobs on the JIL
- apply to about 15 job ads already printed out (mostly done)
- get on committee members who didn't update my letters of rec
- send out oodles of letters via Interfolio
- take recycling to center
- can I find time to clean something? damn.
(kicked ass! I've cleaned the entire downstairs --- kitchen, bathroom, and living/dining area, with the exception of that little linoleum spot to wash by the front door. Now if I could only figure out how to keep the cats off my freshly-washed floors. rrr.)
- fix blinds my cats chewed through?
- Thanksgiving plans (inc. find catsitter)
- scribble abstract for conference panel I foolishly volunteered for
- get hardware to mount closet door mirror I bought? (pics to come soon)
- spend time outside

Damn. It's hard out there for a Cog. Always gotta hustle for the rent.

But not right now. I'm gonna have a snack and a beer with the tv on, and maybe even a nap.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Blah! Group Blah!

So I am still sad that I don't get to take a trip to visit my friend for fall break. Like some of my readers, I never had fall break at the UC either (quarter system), but since my students are talking about taking the whole week instead of a day, I am grumpy. (If the comp kids want to take one of their absences, that's their problem and their grade. I hope, though, the lit class students keep aware that we are doing the midterm in class before break. It's not like I haven't been reviewing and reminding them for a week.)

I'm also coming up on when I scheduled student conferences. I have to have at least one set of student conferences according to the department. But I looked at the schedule, and overheard one of the adjuncts doing conferences in the break room, and then did the math of 20 minutes times 75 students ----- and ahhhhh! Oh hell no I am not doing this; I am not paid enough for that level of torment!

Therefore I've switched to group conferences (I usually do groups of 3 but I may up it to groups of 4, looking at those numbers), and I'm thinking about how short a time I can work it and still have something of use coming out of these conferences for the students. Plus I have my lit class in the middle of the day, so I'm going to have to jump back and forth between conferences and lecturing ---- and I can't do the conferences in my office since it's shared, so do I take over the break room, or commandeer a table in the library/writing center lobby? ---- and I am going to be jumpy and discombobulated and annoyed all day. Days. And I'm wondering what is my goal for these conferences even, what sort of outcome am I going to be going for?

Ok, I'm tired and mainly just thinking out loud here.

I may do a whole separate post about listening to the adjunct in the break room, who seemed nice enough, but I listened to hir do 2 or 3 individual conferences while I ate lunch, and zie seemed to have absolutely no purpose to them --- just a random chat. (Not to mention zie started telling one student all about annotated bibliographies before stopping hirzelf, realizing that was for the wrong class.) Why eat up an entire week of time doing individual conferences if all you're doing is making friendly with the student ---- if you're not even asking pointed questions about the paper or the student's writing process?

And in my MA program I had to do peer reviews and either individual or group student conferences for each paper. Bleah. Like peer reviews, I wasn't too sure about whether conferences actually worked. When students have a question or actively want to change their paper/contest their grade, they come see me --- after class, in office hours, by email --- and for the other students, it mostly consisted of me telling them the same thing I wrote on their drafts and announced in class. They either didn't take it seriously or didn't know how to translate what I said into what they have to do. Did they get much out of the conferences? Enough to outweigh the annoyance and time-suck factor for me?

I don't know. But I haven't done conferences since, until now, since I didn't think they were worth the effort --- and I'm only going to do the absolute required minimum.

What do you try to have students get out of conferences? What particular aspect of the drafts do you work on, or outcome do you expect? And what are students supposed to get out of conferences --- group or individual --- that they can't get out of class time, homework, or in-class peer review?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I'm gonna cry!

I had such big hopes and plans for fall break --- I was gonna go see Dissertation Buddy on a cross-country trip; her familial home is near A Famous Author's house and I thought it would be so fun to see her stomping ground and her and do some silly literary-touristing! It would have been so cool --- apples, trees changing colors... fall! And yet I cannot.

I finally went to check my dates and match them up with my syllabus; I only have one day off, not the entire week. Thank dog I have that at least as I am so seriously behind on grading; I haven't gotten through all three comp classes' essays yet and already they have turned in a new response paper, with another one coming soon. And I get midterms for my Literary Stripey Class right before the break. I'm gonna have to use that weekend and extra day to haul ass on grading and then just prep the rest of the week like it was a normal weekend. Sigh.

Maybe I can actually clean some of my apartment on the day off. Another sigh. I will probably haul ass on grading all weekend and then haul ass on job applications on the free day. Grumble grumble grumble. This really is hard! I don't like being a responsible grownup; I want to go back to being a grad student. Or unemployed and delusional about what I should be doing during the day.

Dude, if I had some way of sending my grading back in a time machine to myself during the time I was sitting around worrying myself sick (literally!) and feeling like there was nothing to do but wait... oh, that would be so awesome. Unemployed self had lots of free time during the day and could just do maybe 5 essays a day, no big deal. And I could put my stacks of grading in the Time Machine and just close the door and prep class for a while and then *ding* open the door to find a nice hot stack of freshly graded essays.

Someone build that machine for me, would you? I gotta make a midterm.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Peer Review Ponderings

... or problems? pontifications? I'm just really liking my alliteration lately, but since "postdoc" also begins with "p" I may be wearing people's patience thin. Hee. See what I accidentally did there?

So as you know I have been grading. Oh how have I! It is generally accepted that the "peer review" process of students getting into small groups to read over and critique each others' papers is an important and useful part of the composition class process. I build it into my classes in such a way that my students take it seriously and look like they are working hard at it. And then I see the results and despair that they are actually getting anything from it.

How can you comment usefully on someone else's paper when you yourself are almost completely incapable of writing one? Yes, I know that they are learning important things that are not directly related to producing quality essays: to wit, that a comp class is all about practice and familiarity and that they are getting models of student prose and practicing evaluating it, as well as modeling the process of being self-reflective aware writers and we hope that this process will eventually be internalized in relation to their own papers, but still it is hard to look at a crap paper with almost no comments on it except for a few "good!" and "I liked this paragraph" and "maybe this is to short bc it is only 2 pages lol" and some random squiggly underlines. Le sigh.

And it is true that quite a few of them have already had some harsh object lessons about consequences and the importance of taking detailed instructions seriously. Peer review is often a good push to get the nonserious students out of the class, the ones who only show up half the time and were probably on their way to drop anyway, and a Look of Death plus sending them home for not having their papers or returning their peer evaluations can do a lot to thin the herd. Unfortunately I still have a few (all dudes with 'tudes) that turned in about a page and a half of lol-speak that doesn't fulfill the assignment any way. My time is a precious commodity and my struggling but eager students will suck it all up; I'd rather have the lost kids drop before the paper is in and give me that much more breathing room.

(Btw, why is it some students turn in stuff that is so clearly not trying? Are they afraid they will be good at school? Are they afraid they are not good at school and therefore want to protect themselves by pre-emptively writing crap that they can turn into a big joke later? Maybe they are ambivalent about being in college or about somehow betraying their family by going to college --- I certainly have a lot of first-gen students here and could see at least some of them getting hassled rather than supported by their parents. I just keep thinking if I could figure out what was driving them, I (we?) could figure out how to get through to them.)

Anyways I blew through the peer reviews today and wondered if I should shift them from revision to editing ---- they can't find a thesis in someone else's paper (why do they all keep marking the first sentence of the essay? is some high school teacher explaining that is where you put it?), but they can do pretty good at suggesting a title, formatting fixes, grammar mistakes, the occasional missing topic sentence, stuff like that. Of course, I am trying to reinforce the notion that revision is bigger and more important than editing, but that then leads to worksheets that are empty or that say nothing even when they are filled out and not very much useful for students to work with. Hmm.

And then there is the issue of groupings ---- do you have the blind lead the blind or put the blind with the one-eyed? Do you spread out the problem students or leave them all to sink in one group? I was hoping to have the stronger students be shining examples for the weaker ones this time around, but then you have the problem where the weaker student population and the slacker/flakey population overlap and suddenly each group has only half the number of responses to turn in with the final paper. The whole logistics of getting students to take stuff home and then bring it back and give it to someone else is just a nightmare, too.

What do you all do with peer review groups? Any magic tips that will instantly, painlessly make students into good writers with the magic of peer review? Please?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Postdoc Arrrgh

Or, as I like to say in honor of regretsy: fuckery! Whimsicle fuckery, I say!

Dear innocent and misguided grad students: I am here to tell you that "postdocs" which are really highly-teaching-intensive VAPs or lectureships are the height of evil, and you should beware them.

Not only is there a high learning curve to just understand a new school and its mores, (Ooh I need to schedule a library instruction day ... where is the library? And why did I just get an email saying I need to go to the HR dungeon to sign something before they will disburse my paycheck? Oops time for the next class to start) not only is there a high learning curve for dealing with multiple preps for the first time, and not only is teaching composition incredibly time-consuming and full of official and unofficial assignments to grade --- to say nothing of the energy and money expended on moving halfway across the world --- but also, as soon as your semester has hit the high point of grading and random crappiness and your students have gotten over the "honeymoon period," the whole job application season explodes and takes up every last second of your nonexistent spare time.*


I have essays. I have other assignments I need to finish scribbling frantically on and check off in my gradebook. And I have not started any of them, because I spent all of today --- my "free day" --- schlepping out damn job applications. I don't think I even care about quality at this point anymore; they should be polished after four years of refining.

Plus I ran out of socks and underwear partway through this week so laundry today was not optional; it was a dire necessity. I'd like to clean the place, also, but that isn't looking feasible for this week (or month?) as I still have to read and prep all my classes for the beginning of next week, in addition to scaling this mountain of grading. Ooh and groceries; no wait let me count the number of cans of soup ... I'll try to put that off until next weekend.

And as long as I'm ranting, I will save some bile for the stupid online job apps that force me to give recommenders' emails and then automatically email them a letter request: look, princesses, my recommenders have between 15 and 20 students out on the market at any one time, each, and we're all going to apply to every fuckin' job that has the remotest applicability to us, so we all signed up for our dossier service, so as not to waste our recommenders' precious time with 60 or 70 goddam letter requests! It's not just that asking for tailored letters for each job is an imposition on my relationship with them, but that they are all whip-smart and I really want them to publish their next book! How will they get their work done if they are flooded with your damn letter-request emails? Arrrrgh!

Besides, Dr. Nonsequitur has yet to master Interfolio, or even, really, email. Your automated request to "hi, please upload a fresh letter with electronic signature thing to our specialized job website you will have to create a login for" is just going to make Dr. Nonsequitur very very confused, and then this person will either call me, or call in the dept. secretary for help, or bring in the dept. IT guy, or, most likely, all of the above, along with much dithering about and confusion, and finally Dr. N will force the latest slave advanced grad student who needs his prospectus signed off on to come in on his off day and find, scan, and upload my letter for the prof. I'd be worried about the grad student reading my confidential letter if I wasn't pretty sure that, given the amount of scutwork he has done editing up all of Dr. N's manuscripts, he has already helped write it. But really, people, your stupid "automated" request is going to bring at least one, if not two (I'm interdisciplinary) departments to a screeching halt. Are you happy?

* note to my students: Milton can write a periodic sentence and shake foundations. Johnson's sentences have the beauty of mathematical equations despite their length. Faulkner can write a 46-line sentence with three sets of nested parentheses and still have it parse perfectly. You peeps, however, are just dribbling effluvia onto the page without benefit of kleenex or even punctuation. May I suggest you exchange some of those apostrophes for commas and periods, and read over your dang work so that you catch where you directly contradict what you started out with at the beginning of the sentence? Don't make me Regretsy!


Dr. Cog.