Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving was nice.

It was nicer still to come home.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The little-known secret of Composition courses






I hope, I only hope, that I am speaking too soon. There is still one chance for my students to redeem themselves this semester.

But oh, God, if I could physically insert the drive to cite sources into their heads, then maybe we'd get somewhere.

Does this happen to you? Do you find yourself becoming obsessed with some one thing, some single obvious thing that 80% of your students simply won't do? Like cite their sources? In a research paper???? I can't think of anything else. It's practically all I read for anymore.

OK. I will stop. I've been raging about this for two weeks now (6 conference days in 10 days, yes indeedy, that'll make you nuts). And tonight I made the mistake of figuring out that I spend about 200 hours a semester (or thereabouts; this was a highly unscientific calculation) working on comp when I teach two sections of it, as I normally do; that's five full work-weeks. And really, I'd be cool with that, if I honestly felt that it resulted in significantly improved writing. But I don't. And I'm frustrated.

Or maybe it does work, and they're all learning, but I just can't see it. Maybe. And maybe they'll continue to develop in the directions I've pointed them long after this semester ends.

The thing is, when I meet with them one-on-one, my frustration fades and I want so badly for them to get it, to succeed, to write kick-ass papers and do really really well. And I hate to hand them Ds and Fs. But love can't make them write any better, no it can't. And neither, apparently, can the textbook, multi-stage assignments, in-class discussion, group work, endless activities, feedback on a neverending series of papers, peer workshops, individual instruction, email reminders, checklists, or anything else I can come up with.

Sigh. Oh well. I'm off tomorrow night for Thanksgiving with the in-laws, and my computer will be staying home. Have a nice week, all.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Do I have time for any of this? Why no, I do not!

Nor do I have the patience!

Does anyone else simply lose patience at about this point in the semester? Ooh, I have been a Cold Bitch to my comp students this week, and have felt absolutely no remorse. (In fairness, I was only a Cold Bitch to about three or four of them, and they were being singularly annoying, in their various ways.) But oh! The papers I am grading! They are atrocious! My comp-teaching colleagues and I have decided to truly Uphold Standards this semester, and I am--disturbingly, weirdly--reveling in giving Fs and Ds to the truly F- and D-deserving papers. Normally I agonize. Am I being mean? She tried!! It's not his fault that he can't write a sentence!! But this time, I think: Can I genuinely pass this student on to a colleague with my writerly stamp of approval? Why no, I cannot!

It helps, I'm finding, to have some clear guidelines. E.g., use 5 or more sources, at least 3 of which must be books or peer-reviewed articles. So when a student uses 5 newspaper articles or websites, boom! No! Fail! (Or a seriously lowered grade.) When a 5-7 page research paper has 3 citations in it, total, wham! Demotion! It's all so shockingly...easy.

The thing is, we've spent--in one way or another--six weeks on these damn papers, including three or four peer workshops and two conferences with me. I've told them what to do. I've told them that you can't write a good research paper if you write it first and then go looking for "stats" to support it. (How I loathe "stats," and "facts," too, for that matter.) The good thing here is that, while this paper is worth 20% of their grades, they now need to write a new research paper on the same topic, but directed towards a different audience--and this will also be worth 20% of their grades. So they can fail this one and, if they work their asses off, maybe redeem themselves next time.

Tomorrow, therefore, we will not discuss the reading (which is on style, and I don't much like the chapter anyway, as it tells students to write in their own voices and not try to sound more formal--well, that's a little unfair, but it does say that, and frankly writing too formally is not a problem that besets the majority of my froshes). We will, instead, discuss Why Passing Composition Is Important, and Why Blowing Off This Course Is A Huge Mistake. I actually have some good thoughts on this, I think. See, they might know, in their hearts, that they can do research. But my responsibility is to ensure that they can do research, and so, if they don't show me that they can do it, they can't pass. Easy! We will then Review The Goals Of The Course (which include things like, "Appropriately use MLA or APA citation style"--really difficult, people, and we did spend, what, two or three weeks on this? Lordy). And then--then!--I will give them an exam. Yes, a surprise composition exam! It is genius. It will ask them to do things like cite, and create a topic sentence, and use signal phrases appropriately. It will ask them what a research-driven paper is. And, at the end, it will ask them to please tell me what it is that they're struggling with, and where they'd like more instruction. For ultimately the exam is an assessment tool, even as it is also there to scare them into giving one little damn about their next papers.

Oh, and in the meantime, one of my heart-monitor reports alarmed somebody who contacted my electrophysiologist, and starting tonight I will need to take a twice-daily heart medication "to get things under control." Dudes, my heart has pounded away since I was born, but okay, whatever. I don't mind. It's only until the surgery. The downside, though? The medication causes fatigue. And man, I have me some fatigue. Siiiiiiiiiiiiigh.

(Otherwise, all is well on the Mihi front, I promise.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Few More Notes about the Heart Monitor

I'm half tempted to take pictures of my bare chest to show y'all what I look like all wired up, but that's probably not a good idea.

I look weird. That's sufficient. I have four wires taped to myself--one above and one below each breast, more or less. What's kind of weirder, however, is how I look when I detach the wires to take a shower: like I have snaps up and down my chest. I kind of want to attach other things to them--like mittens, or something (remember mittens with snaps so you wouldn't lose them? Or am I making that up?). I could have all kinds of attachments! Under my shirt! How odd.

I have discovered the best way to wear the box: on a strap around my waist. I can shove it in front of or behind myself if it gets in the way of something. This did cause it to swing around and annoy me quite a bit during yoga, however; from time to time I would stick it into the waistband of my pants, but it would work its way out pretty quickly.

I set it off by accident three times in the first 24 hours, but have been good for the second 24.

As I remarked in my comment on the last post, the most irritating thing is how obsessed I am with the rhythm of my heart. If I concentrate, I can feel it (and if I'm lying on my side, I can feel it without concentrating at all). I need to push a button to register when I have an "event," so I mustn't miss one; after all, I don't have them very often, and these thirty days cannot be a loss. It is distracting to be so consumed with the inner workings of one's body. It is distracting indeed.

Presumably I'll get used to it soon, and can leave behind this dull subject for the sake of returning to the dull subjects of Grading, What I Need To Do, What I Have Done, and Fatigue.

Friday, November 13, 2009

It's Official:

I have a heart defect.

Yep. I have Wolf Parkinson White syndrome, which means that there's some kind of extra nerve thing that lets electricity through in the wrong place. It's not uncommon and usually not dangerous, but in a small percentage of cases, it can cause death.

(Minor) surgery is being scheduled. Far more irritating is that I have to wear this ginormous monitor for 30 days. (Aside: "Ginormous" is accepted by Blogger's spellcheck, and yet neither "Blogger's" nor "spellecheck" is. I'm not sure what to make of this.)

I had to race back from the hospital to teach class, ginormous monitor-box strapped to my hip and dangling its ginormous black cord (which snakes up under my shirt to four electrical sensors). So I just told them what the thing was--first, however, making a quip about having been turned into a cyborg, which only partly worked because one student kept asking what "cyborgs" was and seemed to have comfused them with the Borg, and...well, jokes derail, I guess.

Anyway. No need for much sympathy (although my posting about it obviously belies that last statement). This is not a particularly big deal. But I haven't had surgery since I was five, so I'm a little freaked out about, you know, the possibility of DEATH or something. But my doctor has performed 1500 of these without a single fatality, so I can probably shelve those fears.

Feh. Stupid ginormous heart monitor. And you know I don't use stupid made-up words like "ginormous" lightly.

Anyway, tomorrow I'll drag my monitor off to a yoga class and then go to the yarn store, and that will cheer me up quite handily.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

As Flaubert would say

This place is real! I have seen it!!!

...and sometimes, in bleaker moments, I wonder if this is not truly a self-portrait, if the Continental Paper Grading Co that I see in the picture (or out the train window, as it may be) is not in fact a glimpse of my own face, half-caught in a shaded mirror, as when one sees oneself in a hazy plate-glass reflection where one did not recognize a window, and for a moment, thinking that the reflection was another person--pale, expectant, with an unfamiliar expression half-formed upon the brow--recognizes with a shock that this unhandsome creature with the look of bland self-concern and the slouching, humdrum posture is oneself, a recognition that causes a dim shudder of revulsion and yet at the same time an anxiety, a desire to protect that vulnerable figure, that figure who, because semi-transparent (being a reflection in the smudged window of the Radio Repair Commission, a shop whose purpose has until now eluded you), seems so fleeting, so ill-formed, so poised to tumble into the forgetful abyss that lies in wait, always, perpared to catch every bourgeois woman, including this very one, on her fitful rounds of the cat food mercantile, the apothecary, the cheese depository....

...Yes...the Continental Paper Grading Co, c'est moi....

Monday, November 9, 2009

Nearly Perfect Weekend

The imperfect this weekend was TM's absence--he's away at a conference--but the solitude might have been good for me, to be honest; the last four weeks have been such a flurry of activity, all of it involving other people, that my powerful introverted tendencies were demanding some rest and restoration absent human contact.

So here's what I do on a perfect weekend, school-year style:
  • Schoolwork: Read nearly everything I'm teaching this week; put together next paper prompt for Survey; assigned readings and assignment for Thursday's seminar. I'm conferencing in Comp this week, so there was only a little planning to be done for that (figuring out what to tell them to bring to their conferences, a few emails to write, etc.).
  • Housework: Did all the laundry (I heart my clothesline! Laundry is my favorite chore. The fact that it was sunny and 70 degrees this weekend, while weird, made laundrifying even more pleasurable than usual); raked a good bit of the yard (well, I raked for one hour, and decided that that was sufficient; it also gave us more leaf-mulch potential than we can possibly exploit); enormous grocery trip to the brand new nice grocery store in Nominally Ordinary City, along with a few miscellaneous purchases from Discount Grocery, Standard Grocery, and the Pet Store; took out the compost. I still need to vacuum tonight before TM gets home, though. Oh! Those accursed false ladybugs that DIE all over the place! Ech. Our accursed off-white wall-to-wall carpeting doesn't help matters, either, and you can only cover so much of it with area rugs.
  • Food-wise: I cooked like crazy yesterday. TM had expressed an interest in mushrooms, so I complied with mushroom pate and mushroom pie on a spinach crust; we also now have split pea soup, a lovely walnut-onion bread (in four little boules), and granola to last for ten days. TM usually makes a huge quantity of food for lunches on the weekend, so I enjoyed being able to reciprocate--although it left me pretty wiped out by 6:30 yesterday evening. And I also had that weird thing where you cook a lot and then think you've eaten a lot, even though you haven't, so I didn't really eat enough for dinner, but that's OK. I rounded it out with a little whiskey before bed.
  • Exercise! I did some lovely yoga on Saturday night and went swimming yesterday afternoon. I cut myself a little swimming slack, though (35 minutes/1400 m instead of 40-45 minutes/1 mile), because my arms were achy from all the raking.
  • Cats: Lots of cuddle time.
  • Pleasure: Watched a goofy British movie and a documentary about gender and politics. I'm also reading Wolf Hall for this Booker-book club thing that we're organizing at Field, and it's wonderful to have a good reason to read for pleasure! And during the school year, too!
  • Scholarship: Naught. That's okay, though.
  • Sleep: Plenty, although the cats troubled my repose very early on Saturday morning. Naps on the couch both days. The house was so very quiet, all the little kitties dozing on their cushions.
  • Social activities: Why, none! I did participate in the College open house on Saturday, giving a little spiel on the Humanities with a colleague, and that was fine. It was enough, in fact; I reveled in my solitude these two days.
Ah, yes. I feel rested and relaxed. What a nice way to start the week! Unfortunately, three days of comp conferences will wear me out plenty, but after the incredible exhaustion that was killing me last Monday-Thursday (I rallied, more or less, on Friday), I'm just delighted to be starting out strong.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Technical problems

Field's webmail system has been down all weekend.

My first-years have major drafts due tomorrow.

A few of them need to redirect their papers in ways that I made clear via email.

They cannot read my emails. They cannot reply. They cannot ask questions.

Last weekend, webmail was down on Sunday, and that was plenty annoying. But really? Two full days? I know that this is probably part of the big server migration blah blah blah I don't know what that means that's happening, but oh my God, we're worried about retention and here we are making EMAIL inaccessible to students and faculty every ten days or so.

And might I mention that this shut-down, like many of the others, was unannounced? We'll probably get a message at noon tomorrow telling us that webmail was inaccessible for a few hours over the weekend, or something. Thanks, man.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bullets of weary-but-well

  • The honors admin conference was great. I took feverish notes in every panel and had to put huge stars next to every idea that I got for our program in order to keep track of them. Met with Awesome New Dean on Monday and got the go-ahead for several of the short-term changes I'd like to make; he's also enthusiastic about the long-term changes. In the end, I'm probably going to wind up doing a good bit of work over the next year or so to get these things off the ground, but I think that it could really beef up our Honors program--which would add to the intellectual climate on campus in a very positive way.
  • If I'm going to stay at Field, I want to have a hand in making it the kind of college where I want to be. So yeah, there's work. But if it can have a real impact, then it's worth doing.
  • While I was at the conference, I had dinner with one of my very oldest friends--a dinner that turned into last call in Adams Morgan and then singing along to Erasure and James in his car and finally my staggering back up to my room at 3:30. I had a great time--but reliving them, even for a night, made me wonder how I survived my party years. And kind of glad that they now only live in the occasional nostalgic recreation.
  • Brit Lit finally seems to be taking off this semester, after a half-term of perfectly fine but lackluster sessions. On Monday, I think that I actually managed to teach some poetry well--a rare victory for me. About 14 out of 17 students talked, they were all taking notes, I was bouncing off the walls--and we only discussed two sonnets. It kind of rocked. I was so wound up that I fear I assaulted a senior colleague with my enthusiasm when I passed him in the hall after class.
  • Seminar was a tiny bit poky today, because I was exhausted, but it still ran pretty well--and given that I usually leave that class in a haze of I! Love! Teaching!, I can't complain.
  • Comp is fine. No open rebellions and very few sleepers; everyone is polite and plays along. Can't complain there either.
  • Tonight was the first-ever Honors Banquet, organized and put on by me. It was exactly what I didn't quite dare to hope that it would be: fun, informal, and a very good mix of faculty and students, with an entertaining talk by the former director and some terrific mini-presentations by current thesis-writers. Awesome New Dean told me that it was excellent; a student said that she thought it would be boring but that it was lots of fun; the former director wondered why he'd never done something similar.
  • I also got to catch up with a bunch of Honors students whom I hadn't seen in a while, and who are just super cool and smart.
  • I am now drinking rum.
  • So all the whining in the last post or two aside, things are actually excellent this semester, and you know, I do think that I've started kicking ass in this job. When I look back on my first year, it's almost unrecognizable; I remember thinking that, if I knew I was going to be at Field, teaching these classes, for the rest of my career, I would seriously consider leaving it. And now--I enjoy teaching, I have a great rapport with most of my students, and I'm getting things done on campus. There is definitely too much--and some of that's my fault--but hell, I'm thriving, professionally.
  • I only hope that burn-out doesn't hover on my horizon.