Monday, November 29, 2010

Snowed Under --- Oh wait, those are essays

Quick! Before the enormity of my week's to do list completely demoralizes me, some Random Bullets of Crap:
  • Thanksgiving break was great for seeing my family, but kinda hell on me too. I'm not just driving down the coast anymore but spending an entire day each way in airplanes and stuck in airports. I was glad to see everyone, but a little bit wondering if I should have stayed here.
  • On the other hand, I nagged my sis-in-law and she produced not just pumpkin, but mince pies for thanksgiving dinner. Yum! It was awesome. And now I am not allowed to eat anything between now and Christmas or else I'll explode all my clothes.
  • I did not grade while at the parents' house. Well I think I graded 3 essays. But I redeemed myself by grading 20 essays on the day I flew back! Whoo-hoo! Almost caught up to where I should have been Saturday! But then jet lag kicked in and I spent a long time today napping.
  • Another benefit of the break was that I had no clear idea what to get my family members for Christmas, and now I have, not only a list, but almost all of the presents ordered. Happy Cyber Monday, everyone! I have also spent this evening balancing my checkbook and doing bills, and I am not allowed to look at or buy anything again, ever. Or at least not until Christmas. Ah well.
  • In really really random news, I watch that show "Bones" occasionally --- I don't love it, but I can't seem to find anything but crap on in the evening, and I like to have something on while surfing around and doing my bills etc. Anyway, I am strangely fascinated by the lead actress's necklaces, so much so that sometimes I look them up on line to see if any are available. As far s I can tell, they are not, not directly. But, I found other people who like the necklaces! Check this out:

Watching those stills, I was struck by how emaciated she looks, which doesn't really sink in while watching the moving images. Seriously, her jaw is huge and square! You don't get that sharp and square of a jawline on women without losing all of the fat elsewhere on their body first. Maybe that's why there's so much emphasis on her jackets and she is so covered up. Anyway, find me somewhere I can get some of those cool jasper or turquoise necklaces with the big chunky pendants! Oh wait. But not until the new year, when I'll actually have some money.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Well, this was about the perfect length of time for visiting my family --- I probably needed more time to get caught up with all the little details about all of them, but it was not so much time that they got on my nerves and I snapped at them. Not too much, anyway.

Unfortunately, I am dumb. And with next to no willpower. So while I have been vacationing this week, I have not been grading anything on my huge pile of grading. Ugh. And the slacking started before I left, too, with the excuses that travelling makes me nervous and unable to concentrate. And then I got here, which I associate with hanging out and doing nothing, and it was impossible to overcome that and actually work. Since my car is back in Postdoc City, I was effectively trapped in my parents' house in Utter Suburbia and was unable to make it to a coffee shop and grade. I regret that, but more because I went from the Mecca of coffeeshops to a new state that does not believe in coffee, and I miss my Peets or the half dozen local, independently owned places where I used to work. Ah well.

My niece has yet another hair-brained education scheme, which may in fact be the workable one; I just know nothing about it. She's very immature emotionally, I may have mentioned before, and is still living at home and fumbling her way through community college and not thinking very much or in very adult ways about the future. She did finally get her driver's license and a job selling clothes at the local mall, so that's something. Her parents are still paying for everything except some pocket money, so that's something else, but I guess I was being completely supported at her age too. I did stuff like study and plan instead of flunk out of high school, however.

So anyway: she had a chorus part in a high school musical and then worked tech on two shows at her community college, and she loves to dance (she's definitely socially/tactilely oriented rather than verbal or logical), and she had the idea she was going to become a professional actress. We were all dubious, not really because she doesn't seem very good, but because even when she was "working" at it, she had no fire. I had friends who loved acting more than anything else in the world, who were in a dozen or more shows over the course of high school and were constantly on the look out for how they could land the next audition --- they were driven in a way my niece was not. It's a competitive field and she is lazy, to put it frankly, and seemed to just "like" the idea rather than eat sleep and breathe it.

Her plan was to finish the cc and transfer into an exclusive private art school and if she didn't work at being a famous singer/actress, then she would go into "doing film." I don't know in what role because she never figured out what people did on films. (And I was interested in that type of job for about 5 minutes until I worked on a student set and learned just how boring and mind-numbing it was to sit through light setup and coverage shots and whatnot; I'm sure she would find it like that as well.) My brother pretty much hyperventilated at sending a slacker daughter to a school with that kind of price tag. Especially when she couldn't tell him what people did on set.

She seems to have given up on this idea, which I do feel a little sorry about, and has moved on to "something to do with psychology." I don't think she has taken a psych class yet. But this could be a perfectly acceptable undergrad major option. She was thinking of doing something with counseling and early-childhood psychology. She set off a red flag for me, though, when she mentioned she would rather work with kids because "their problems were much less serious, I mean in a heavy way." Hmm.

This is a kid whose room is still decorated in Disney and who still plays with toys. I worry that even the "not as heavy" problems a kid would be experiencing would be too much for her level of maturity --- if she's still squicked out by sex, how would she deal with child abuse etc etc? Are there other directions she could take a psych degree without dealing so much with trauma? Is there some sort of handy-dandy book that lists out various career directions she could take a psych degree? I'm not sure I should be the one finding the book/advice for her, though, considering that a lack of initiative and motivation has been her major problem all along. But what do I know. I am not the best source for job and career advice, no?

I guess the topic interests me also because this seems to be the case for more of my students than not these days. All of the articles about the "pressures of college" (especially in the NYT) use the overscheduled overachiever as their norm. What do you tell the students who aren't particularly driven in any areas and who have no interests? No marketable interests, anyway --- being good at the xbox or putting on makeup or decorating one's room doesn't count.

Any advice on the subject would be appreciated, however. And please grade a few essays on your way out.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Down the procrastination hole

Man, I so don't want to grade this new batch of essays. I "aged" them all weekend, not even looking at them. Perhaps this made them more tender instead of tough and stringy? I am doubtful.

And it's not like I was off this weekend, relaxing. I worked very hard all weekend and got the last paper prompts and handouts and class prep stuff done. It took the whole time. And yet, I have shitloads of essays that I haven't even touched. Essays which I am afraid to look at as I worry my students had a mental relapse and went back into "I will write about the entire history of technology in four pages without thinking that is too broad" mode. The prompt was to consider how recent technological advances (and I suggested stuff like smartphones, facebook, google, etc.) have transformed society. I haven't read it yet, but I know from talking to a student that she thought the internet was too small a topic (!!!) and so she went back and started with electricity and cars. Oy! Do we have any readings that discuss the impact of electricity on contemporary society? No! Will they all be like this? I only have beer in the house. That sort of craptacularity requires hard liquor.

I was planning on grading more essays today to hit the Monday Quota (I lied, I have whizzed through 2 essays but that is not enough), but I took an afternoon nap and then felt more crappy when I woke up than when I went down. I think part of me believes that, because I will soon be getting on a plane to visit my family, I will be able to magically grade all the essays through the time machine magic involved in time zones. Yeah, that probably won't work. But it should! I mean, I'm going to be locked in a plane for, like, days and it will be about the same time when I get off the plane as when I go in, right? Plus grading is always a little easier when you are trapped somewhere without distractions, like, say, the internet. Not "magically grade three entire sections of essays easier," however, which is why I need to get off my ass and actually vanquish an essay or 2. Or, actually, 8. Mmm, I don't think even 2 is going to happen tonight.

In other news, my cats are looking at me. They are cute. I hope they do not suffer in my absence --- I have a cat-sitter feeding them but have no clue if they will hide the whole time she is here and never come out to eat while she is gone. See? I always plan long visits with the family because I miss them but then spend those long visits worrying about the cats and missing them. Even though they are little buggers who do nothing but torment me. Oh wait, that could describe my family as well. Ah, the mysteries of life explained!

In other other news, I am working up a big post, but need the exact perfect pics for it and am having trouble and it is taking time. I'll keep at it in little bits, but probably you won't get to see it until after Thanksgiving, since I'm not taking the laptop. My essays will weigh enough, thank you. And I'm not at all worried about anything happening to them during airport security screening. Hmm, maybe I will get lucky and have my essay stack confiscated or blown up or irradiated by the TSA. Oh frabjous day, what a miracle that would be!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Foo. Blarg.

Ok, the lit papers are done and ready to go back to students. The piles of response papers are not, and I'm about to get drafts for comp --- do I even try to grade 75-something grafts over basically a day? I was thinking I'd just read over the first page of each (or find a time machine, or something) but now I feel tired and like even that is too much work. And even if I do nothing I have one section of response paper 5 and all three sections of response paper 6 to go through, so I could grade like a maniac just on those and still not get everything off my plate. To say nothing of the damn lit midterm rewrites.

And now that I'm handing back the lit papers I need to plan out their next paper prompts and the final. Oh, sigh.

My office mate randomly scheduled another day of library research instruction this week and didn't mention it, so when I went in to campus and the room was all cold and dark and empty I thought for a second she had just up and scrammed. Left the grading on a chair and flew back to California or something. It was not the case, but it sounds plausible at this point of the semester. We noticed that a whole lot of people --- primarily adjuncts --- take a lot of sick days here. We think it may be people giving themselves an extra grading day rather than actually being sick --- although a surprising number of the adjuncts are over 65 so maybe it really is illness --- anyway canceling class due to a "flu bug" sounds good to me right now. No point in doing it for a peer review day though; those are easy days to begin with. But maybe next week...?

Oh wait. I didn't cancel classes for the whole week of thanksgiving and already made a big deal of it. That would be harsh if I made people move their travel arrangements and yelled at them and then canceled class with being sick. Well, I refuse to think past Thanksgiving ---- mainly because my prep will have completely run out and I don't actually know how I will fill the syllabus ---- so therefore the idea of canceling class for "sickness" is purely theoretical at this point. And tempting. Mmm, theoretical class cancellations! Yum.

The cats say hi. I actually even took a picture of them yesterday because they were being cute, but I don't know where my phone is or the cord and don't have the energy to upload anything at the moment. But they seem to be doing ok. Yesterday started off very strong --- I got up and cleaned the catbox right away and made a big fancy omelet (as I had no milk for the cereal) and sat down for grading and boom! suddenly it was noon. I blame the cats and their mysterious powers of fuzziness. Maybe they suck the energy out of me or something, because I also went to bed early and still felt tired this morning. They are on the sofa right now, looking at me. I know it is because I gave them the wet food and they have decided they want dry food instead, but it is easy to imagine them using eye-beams like lasers to leech out all my energy. I am succumbing! I am weakening, falling under the spell of warm fuzzy bellies! They are taking over my willpower! They are .... zzzzzz (you may control me, but nothing's gonna get me off this couch and over to the food bowl now) zzzzzzzzzzz ...

Thursday, November 11, 2010


I have cramps. They are annoying. They are especially annoying in that I have had cramps for five days now --- the usual, mild ones I get --- and only now have they become heinously obnoxious.

What is this, body --- you have decided to interpret the "p" of PMS as "post"? Don't do this to me, you schmuck!

In other news, I gave up grading way before my quota today, which is why I am posting here instead. I am so behind in my grading, so behind. And exhausted. And it's not going to get any better in the near future.

And I have read about 6 of the lit papers and they are meh. They are clear, they are on topic, they pretty much have an argument, but ---- the prompt I am reading asked how this author used a certain literary effect to create a specific character, and none of them have really addressed the how, the literary aspect of this question. You know, the whole point of the course. They are in there, inside the text, making judgments about whether the character is Very Very Bad or Very Very Good. Or maybe they are looking in through a clean clear glass window, and they are forgetting that someone is actually controlling and setting up what they can and can't see in this peepshow. (And that it's not a clear window at all! It's scratched up colored glass --- it should be obvious that they are not seeing the "reality" of what is going on.) Meh. (Oh, and one didn't even quote the text once, which is silly given that our first paper was a demonstration of using a bunch of quotes for a close reading.)

So I don't know whether I'm going to say that type of answer is in the B range or the C range. I'm penciling in letters at the moment and will keep going and figure out if these are the strong or the weak papers in the batch. At one point in my career I would have said that a simple summary of a text that doesn't get at how it is put together was a failing paper, but since then I have realized the importance of rewarding clarity at least. There are going to be papers that are much worse in that pile.

You know? It's funny, but I like the socializing aspect of froshcomp. I like working with freshmen and teaching writing. It is actually easier for me to teach nonliterary texts in a comp class, because I don't care if the students hate them or butcher them, than deal with graduating seniors who cannot connect with literature in any way and who spout off about how crappy it is in a lit class. I like teaching. Teaching literature, actually, I could take or leave.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Surviving the Death March

Oh people who are used to semesters, how do you make it through? I am accustomed to the teaching equivalent of speed dating, where you get to hand off all the problematic students, jerks, people who are frustrated with you, and pretty much everyone else, every 10 weeks. Sure, you can't teach revision in that sort of a time period, but it means that by the time the honeymoon period has worn off, you're in the middle of crunch time and can see the end. Maybe you have more grading that way, but you also have less chance to get tired of your students and their writing tics. And likewise they have less time to get tired of you.

So we've done two essays and gone over all the elements of an essay by now. And we're ---- just a little over halfway through. Siiiiiigh. What the hell am I doing for the rest of the semester? Not teaching research, because my office mate decided to make the third paper a research paper and came back from the library session about to cry and wondering if she could completely change the essay directions in the middle of the process. I'm so glad I don't have to teach that and they will get a whole semester of that in the next class --- she says they were incapable of navigating the library web page and were incredibly hostile about their own idiocy around technology. And besides, it's not like my students are suddenly better writers, so I'm sure there's plenty to work on in the second half. It's just I'm not completely sure what.

It feels to me like if my students can't develop a blatantly obvious statement into a claim worthy of defending, then more practice and reviewing the same ideas about analysis aren't going to have an effect. There was a measurable change in certain students who had no clue what an academic essay did or sounded like; once I explained it to them, they said the equivalent of "aha" and then reproduced it in their essays. Then there's this other population of my classes that is not comprehending argument, recognizing it in our readings or peer review, or able to produce it. It does make me feel as if there is something to that "you can't teach writing" thing. Or maybe it's a "you can't teach critical thinking" thing. There were students who did get it but had never been told "it" before, and students who still just don't get it. Hmm.

So is this just, I do more and more of the same, teaching the same concepts and having students either write something I know they can do or can't do already? Sounds boring --- both for me and for them. Maybe if I had structured the whole semester sequence differently and hadn't worked through all the parts of an essay by now. That would require special types of early essays, though. Still pondering.

The good news, though, is that they all can write an essay paragraph, if you tell them to, that uses quotes about 80 percent correctly. --- The problem is that it is a different 20 percent messup for each person. If I hadn't been so under the gun trying to get through all the damn essays I would have left some notes to myself about what aspects of quoting they were getting wrong, and then tell them that they are getting dinged extra for not fixing these specific problems in their next paper. As of now I'll be telling them that but actually be bluffing. The other problem is that if you do not specify, explicitly and by shouting multiple times, that the paragraph needs to include quotes, they will go right back to their merry little evidence-free ways. Like just the other day in class. "Wait," they say, innocent eyes as big as anime characters, "you wanted us to put quotes in this paragraph too? Are we going to have to use quotes in, like, every paragraph in the next essay?" Like it says on the top of the handout, kiddos, pick the quote you think best shows X is being unethical and write a paragraph explaining why.

Then there was this little group in one of my classes, sharing stories --- basically reverse bragging --- about how little work their friends and significant others were having to do in other English classes. I have to hope that they were one-upping each other and this was not true, otherwise I'll just have to explode. Or implode. Or maybe just dry up like a raisin in the sun. Not sure which. One student said her boyfriend has only had to write one of the four long essays so far, and another said that his friend's essay was about which Dr Seuss book influenced him the most as a child. No quotes or evidence was required, I'm assuming. I ask you: what the hell??? Writing crap opinion pieces with no evidence or quotes or relation to any sort of scholarly community is going to help prepare you for your history or psychology or sociology class how? How does blathering about shit you've already made your mind up about help you to analyze problems or sift through evidence for reliability? Meh. I tell you, my students may be writing crap thesis statements like "everybody has their own identity," but at least they can write a semi-coherent paragraph about how two of our writers struggled to overcome adversity. With quotes. I said yes, with quotes, damn you!

Sigh. It's gonna be a loooong trek to the end of the semester.

(Sisyphus and friend combing through student prose for some analysis. In the words of the immortal Spaceballs, "we ain't found shit!")

Saturday, November 6, 2010


I should be grading. Wahhh! I have two sections normed and entered in and ready to hand back and really I should be trying to get that third one all the way done and ready to hand back next week too. But I don't think that is going to happen. Why did I think that I needed to start with a different section than the 8 am class? If I had done the late afternoon class just like the other times, I probably could have saved all the norming and grade entering for the last minute and gotten them all back. Sigh.

In addition to the comp essays I have my lit survey midterm rewrites and just got a stack of essays from them too. I fear those. Plus I have a set of response papers from the comp people and will get another set at the beginning of this week as well. Plus the in-class diagnostic they had to do and tons of their in-class work I haven't even been glancing at. Poo. I feel quite overwhelmed.

In other news ---- why am I seeing "doorbuster" ads on tv? Have they moved up "Black Friday" earlier in the year? I call foul! If they do that, are they going to have the stupid super early Christmas ads too? Grumble. On the other hand, I keep seeing ads for fabulous sales ... including coats. And this means it would be a really good time to go out and try on a bunch of things. Mmmm! Too bad all that grading is in the way.

If I am very, very good, I will go out and go shopping tomorrow. Ok then. Now I will go read and prep class. (I still need to build up some more stamina before moving back into the grading again --- I did 4 papers this morning.)

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Ahhhh! They're everywhere's! I am infested''' with ' apostrophe's! Noooo! Or, No'o'o'o'o'o'o'''!

Apostrophe's, apostrophes'! --- my students paper's' are crawling with apos'trophes! Ewwww! Get it off get it off get it off!!!!! I tried shaking''' the papers over some other paper''''s that lacked commas but the a'p'ostroph'es just crawled in deeper and now they' are in my hair! Ahhhh! ' I can feel the rule's for apostrophes' dripping out my brain along with the rules for to and too! I can'''''t beat them off with my S'trunk and White, they are so thick!

Send more red pen's' and alcohol, quick! My brain is melting, melting --- what a world, what a world!