Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Report from the Trenches and Some Thoughts on Students

Report from the trenches:
I know I've been a bit quiet of late - things are in the final stages with the book, and it's all the tedium of editing and checking references and stuff like that, which is not difficult but which is, in my humble opinion, absolutely the most annoying part of this process. I had a bit of a setback in which I realized that I didn't have a most recent version of one chapter saved and so I had to reconstruct the final content changes I'd made from the hard copy draft I had (and yes, friends, this is why one must save those hard copy drafts, and why I am totally justified in having about 45 draft versions of this damned manuscript, which I'm considering burning in a ceremonial purge when the thing finally is published), but otherwise the biggest challenge has just been in forcing myself to sit down and to do this stuff. It's not fun; it's not rewarding; it is boring. As hard as writing may be, at least it's not so fucking tedious. At any rate, though, I am at a good pace to finish everything with some room before the final deadline, especially as now I've decided that I'm not doing anything for Thanksgiving but rather using the mini-break to plow through and finish the damned thing and ideally to get a strong start on the MLA paper.

Oh, but the Thanksgiving weekend won't be all work! Oh, no sir! Indeed, the Inimitable A. shall be coming for a brief visit on Friday the 23rd, so don't be surprised if in between our planned activities (calling random people on the phone, gossiping, analyzing the current states of each of our lives, playing The Game of Life, what have you) there is an impromptu visit to Crazy Medusa's Lounge. At any rate, the anticipation of this visit has proved to be just the catalyst I needed to get a TON of work done - and efficiently, too - and sure, as a person who shall remain nameless notes, our plans are pretty much those of your average sixth grader (minus the wine, I suppose, as sixth graders really shouldn't be getting drunk together, and A. and I never would have done so when we were actually in sixth grade) but I feel that people who mock 30-something women for engaging in such activities really just don't understand exactly how entertaining A. and I find ourselves (and, really, how totally entertaining we are just objectively speaking).

Hmmm. What else? Well, a while ago I did a preliminary temperature-taking to see if people would be interested in doing an MLA meet-up again this year, and it seems there are many who would be interested, so here's what I'm thinking.

  1. If you want to be part of the meet-up, drop me a note at reassignedtime at gmail so that I can put together a mailing list of those who'd like to be involved. (I should have just had everybody do this when I initially posted about it, but I was clearly not thinking.)
  2. Lots of people are either interviewing or on searches, or are presenting or whatever. With this in mind, I'm going to throw out the idea that maybe we try to do the meet-up on the 27th, since then we can be sure most likely not to conflict parties, papers, interviews, etc. Let me know what you think about that, as I'm not sure when people are planning their arrivals, etc.
  3. Once I've got a mailing list compiled, I'll send out an email and we can start discussing the specifics of times/meeting places/etc.
What else? Hmmm. I don't know. I suppose that's enough to be going on with in terms of my report.

Some Thoughts on Students:

I think I'm going to do this portion in bullet-form, since my thoughts are kind of scattered.
  • Once upon a time, I mentioned in a post that I broke my self-imposed rule about suggesting graduate school as an option to my students. I've only done this one time in my time at this institution. That's not to say I've not supported students who have come to me with the idea already in their heads - I have - but I haven't presented it, except in this one case, as an option that a student should consider. Now, I think it's generally a good thing that I don't suggest grad school to my students. Grad school in English Literature is a pretty risky path to pursue, as it's a huge time commitment and it won't necessarily result in a full-time job with benefits even after all of that education. But even I am not made of stone. Even I can't help myself given the right set of circumstances. So, about a year ago, I tentatively suggested the possibility to a student of mine, a student whose plan was to teach high school. Now, of course I accompanied the suggestion with my usual Doom and Gloom speech about the state of the profession, and I explained my reluctance even to bring it up to the student even as I made the suggestion. (Which, it strikes me now, probably was a bit confusing for the student... but I wanted to impress upon the student that this would be a big decision and I wouldn't at all be disappointed if the student was in no way interested in such a path. Actually, an aside: my proudest moment last year was when another phenomenal student of mine announced to me that he had no interest in grad school [even though he is very, very talented as a reader, writer, and critic] because he'd rather write great books than write about them - that if he was going to choose a risky option for a future then he'd rather choose an option better than becoming a professor. So the point here, is I'm ecstatic when students see futures for themselves beyond the college classroom, and I encourage them to do so.) But so anyway, back to this student's story. When we discussed the possibility of grad school, he was resistant, and I didn't push him. In fact, I said that if he thought he could be happy teaching high school that he probably should do it. Even as I said that, though, I had a suspicion that he would not be happy doing so. Students who write brilliant theoretical papers for sophomore-level survey classes, well, they're not generally the best suited to the bureaucratic grind of education classes or high school teaching. So, this student announced to me recently that he's dropping education and is just going to major in literature. I asked him what he was thinking about doing after graduation, and he confessed that he's thinking of graduate school. In part, I blame myself. That said, if I'd not suggested it, somebody else most certainly would have done, and really, I'd rather that I mentor this student through the process if indeed he's going to go for it. He's just so smart and so engaged. How can I discourage this path if he really thinks it's right for him? How can I not encourage him when I know that he has what it takes to do well if he pursues this? I suppose what I'm saying is that perhaps I'm less jaded about this profession and discipline than I sometimes think I am.
  • I recently attended the induction of our chapter of the honorary fraternity for English. It was a nice event. So anyway, it was a dinner, and when I arrived, I saw that probably around a third of those in attendance were former or current students of mine. So do I attract strong students or do I help to make strong students? I hope it's a little bit of both. But what was most awesome for me was that I didn't sit with my colleagues who also attended. I plopped myself at a table with some of my former students, and just had the chance to hang out with them and talk about their classes and their plans and books and movies. What was so funny to me at the time was how excited they seemed to be that I chose to sit with them, but as I think about it further, I know that I'd have been excited if a professor chose to sit with me when I was in their position. And you know, it wasn't a calculated choice on my part - it was just that the event really was about the students, and I can socialize with my colleagues whenever I want. I wanted the chance to socialize with my students. I wish my department did more of that. I think it's a good thing.
  • I'm concerned about making my enrollment in my upper-level class. The topic is scary for many students for a range of reasons, and thus far, more than half of the students enrolled are students I've had in previous classes, which is both gratifying (they believe that I'll make the material accessible and interesting to them) and disheartening (why aren't students more motivated by the content of courses at this institution; why are they so afraid of things that challenge them? At another university, I have no doubt that this course would have made its enrollment pretty much immediately).
  • But it is exciting to me how many students do seem to want to take multiple classes with me. And it's not only the students who do really well who do so, which is also nice - it means that they're not taking me again because I'm "easy" or something. But so I don't have a single class scheduled next semester without at least one familiar face, and that's just awesome. It's nice to see students at different points in their academic careers, and it's nice to have the opportunity to guide them over a sustained period of time in their intellectual development.
So yeah, those are my scattered thoughts on this Sunday afternoon. Now I need either to take a nap (which sounds like a most excellent option) or to do more work (less so), or perhaps some combination of the two.


Sisyphus said...

Good luck slogging through the last boring bits of the book!!!

And way to go for being "the cool prof" who hangs out with former students.

Belle said...

Hey, I'm the one who does scattered and random, remember? BTW, I want to thank whoever hosts your blog for finally making it easy to read. I've been reading through the stripes until now, and it's much nicer this way!

Good luck on the slogging, from another in that deep trench.