Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Too Tired to Think in Bullets (Yes, That IS Possible)

I think it's because I tend to think in bullets for teaching purposes. Five things that characterize the Romantic period. Three things going on in this poem. Whatever. (My apologies to google searchers who want to know five things about the Romantic period. You will have to consult your notes and/or your book. I'm mean like that.) But so anyway, I've been doing a lot of thinking in bullets, and so I want to write, but I can't organize these thoughts into bullets. Consider this my apology for rambling.

I had a great meeting with BES, my thesis student, today. She's so smart! And she takes direction so well! She is so trusting that when I tell her to do something that it will bear fruit! And she's so diligent! However, I had one of those awful moments today during our meeting when I realized the undue influence that I can tend to have over certain ones of my students. We were talking about some theory she was looking at to figure out again why she was writing her thesis, and she brought up a passage and offered up her answer to the question that the theorist was asking. Let's just say that her answer is my answer. And so I chuckled, and I said "well of course!" but then I went on to explain that this is evidence of my undue influence, and so she should be careful to resist anything that I am in total agreement with :) We both laughed, and she totally got my anxiety about it, and she promised she would try really hard not to think like me, even though she thinks we're both totally right. Ah, BES. She is fab. So we had a good meeting today, and I offered up some possibilities for ways she can go as she continues drafting (she did not do any writing for this meeting - she needed to figure some shit out before she continued), and we set up our schedule for the semester. I then picked her brain about how she thought Class with Very Difficult Novel was going, and she thinks that it's really going well and that people are into it.

This is surprising, as this is a class where I typically expect a mass exodus upon beginning Very Difficult Novel. Well, they're 6 chapters in, and I've lost just four. It's kind of astonishing to me, but looking at their reactions over the past couple of class periods (I make them turn in index cards with insights and questions each class), they're, with the exception of one or two, getting it and doing well. Sure, some are stronger than others, but as a group they're where I'd want them to be with this material. And, like BES, they all are so trusting about doing what I suggest with the book! They're so... open. I hope that I'm getting this response from students now - in pretty much all of my classes - because I'm doing something right. I'm hoping that it's not just a fluke of this semester, but that I've really worked on my teaching to the point that not only do I inspire trust but that I prove myself trustworthy by having them approach things in ways that work.

But so I'm excited about CwVDN, as I am about my other classes. I'm also convinced that with a 4/4 load, teaching one class online really makes it like a 3-and-a-half/3-and-a-half load. Yes, that class was a ton of up front work, but I'm not feeling terribly taxed by the four courses now that the semester is underway, and this is a new feeling. Yes, it helps that the other three courses I'm teaching are "in the can" so to speak, but even still: I'm not feeling like I'm burdened - as I even did when I taught four classes "in the can" in a traditional setting. So if you've got the opportunity to teach online, and you're not horrified by the thought of doing so and you're fairly tech-friendly and you've got some support for things that you aren't sure of how to do, I strongly recommend trying it out. At least for me, I think it makes a positive dent in an otherwise really heavy teaching load.

Which brings me to a conversation that I had with a colleague today. This colleague is thoroughly disheartened by the teaching load and by how things work at our university in general. You know, I get the complaints. I mean, I understand them. But I also feel like being miserable is no viable option for dealing with those complaints. This colleague basically plans to check out (and has already done in many ways). But as I talk to this colleague, I feel like she only becomes more unhappy with the job as a result of this choice. It's one thing if one can check out and really not be unhappy as a result. It's entirely another if one continues to feel disgruntled. You know, I think that's the reason why I don't check out. I think it's because I'd just be more pissed off if I did. Also, I suppose, it's because I'm seeing positive results from not checking out. Sure, during the school year, my job is "hard" in ways that other jobs are not. (Not to say that other academic jobs aren't hard: just that they're differently hard.) But I kind of think that accepting the job as it is in the ways that it's hard and actively working to change things to make it easier is a better response than passively lamenting the job as it is and the ways that it's hard, only to feel victimized and oppressed by it. Dude, nobody said that life would be easy, and nobody said that one is entitled to a perfect, happy life, even if one works for years to get a Ph.D. Life's too short to be pissed off all the time, though, so I think a lot of what I do - and a lot of my workaholism - actually is because I don't want to be constantly pissed off. This may seem counterintuitive, but that's how it is for me.

In a piece of bizarre and unexpected news, you know how I'd decided not to apply for anything this year? I think I have to do so. There's a job - what would be a great job, though I'm not hopeful they'd be into me - only an hour (driving slow) from Hometown. Note: I don't want to apply for any jobs this year. The thought is awful. I'm sick of going on the market. More than that, I'm sick of not being settled where I am, and applying for jobs unsettles me. But I think I can't not do it. Whatever the case, I'm not going to MLA to interview, and if that's a deal-breaker for them, they can suck it. Obviously, I'll offer to do a version of an MLA interview either in person (at my expense) or by phone, but who even knows if things would get to the point where that will be an issue. So I'll apply. It doesn't hurt to apply, right? There is also a job at a university in Lebanon for an English professor. I considered applying for a minute-and-a-half, until I realized I don't want to emigrate to Lebanon. If any of you would like to, though (the job doesn't specify a field in literary studies), you should totally do it because it's at a job in the North in an off-the-beaten-path place (i.e., not a hotbed of violence) no more than a 30-minute drive from where my family is (on the sea, in a city), and it would be fantastic if one is less of a dumb American than me. So if you're interested in knowing more about the country and that area in particular, dude, let me know. The job's listed in the Chronicle. Seriously: if I weren't in a tenure-track job and I didn't want to settle down where I am or near to here, I totally might consider it.

I'm exhausted by the whole Sarah Palin thing. Just exhausted. I mean, the day that the VP makes it to this website is the day that I think we all should be exhausted by it. Oh, and also the day that CNN interviews Rachel from the Real World San Francisco (which was today - I saw it.) I'm sick of hearing Republicans act as if the Republican party is the party that fights sexism (um, equal pay act anyone?), and I'm sick of the hullabaloo about poor Bristol Palin and her baby daddy (and poor the both of them for having to make an appearance at Sarah Palin's VP acceptance speech to prove they're together and that it's all about family values rather than allowing those two crazy kids just to get out of dodge and figure their own shit out), and I'm sick of the totally inadequate response by the Dems to the fact that we've all, as a nation, been distracted from things like universal health care, the economy, and energy. I don't even care whether Sarah Palin has experience or not at this point: I just care that she's become this shiny, sparkly thing that catches our eye and stops us from talking about things that actually matter to Americans in their daily lives. Incidentally, I felt the exact same way about the whole Clinton fiasco that started with Whitewater and ended with Monica Lewinsky, which ultimately resulted in the piece of legalistic porn that was the Starr Report. I'm an equal opportunity hater when it comes to distractions from, I don't know, things that actually matter, at least when it comes to politics. So fuck off, Sarah Palin. Fuck off, politicians. Fuck off, pundits and parties and whatnot. Until you start talking to me again, I shun you.

I think those are all of my rambling thoughts on this Wednesday. Indeed, I think I'm done. Let's hope that I can make it through tomorrow, because dude, I am tired.


dissertating diva said...

After an ongoing joke with my husband, I actually applied to a job in Dubai that was in there two issues ago. Free place to live, three year contract, bonus pay. Better gig than tenure track here. No reply as of yet. Perhaps they read my blog.. ha.

Belle said...

Ditto to all you said. Sick of Palin. Don't want to look for another job. Moving elsewhere if it weren't for the hassle (I'd avoid Lebanon, but New Zealand? Let me grab my animals and you can ship the rest when you get around to it...).

As a colleague said the other day: if Bristol's parent were a Democrat, there would be screams of inadequate parenting and immorality from the same people fawning over them now. Hypocrisy anyone?

Sisyphus said...

So, is Very Difficult Novel the same one you taught a group of students in a reading group a while ago, or is it a different very difficult novel?

And is your colleague who's burning out fairly new? Because if you read your own back posts you'll notice it took you a pretty long time to get adjusted to the workload and setup... maybe once she gets over the hilltop the going will get a little easier?

And we don't get to hang out and drink at MLA? :(

PS I still want to see pics of the cat on the coffee maker.

Dr. Crazy said...

VDN is indeed the reading group (that never quite took off) novel.

The colleague is not fairly new - indeed the colleague has been around longer than I've been around. I think this colleague might have influenced some of my disgruntlement, actually.

And no, we don't get to hang out and drink at this year's MLA, thought I'll be there for certain for the next three years in a row (which is why I'm begging off this year) because of professional responsibilities. We shall certainly drink and hang out soon, if not this year, Sis. Never fear.

I'll need to actually take a pic of the Man-Kitty on the coffee maker - I've yet to do so because I feel it's so horrifying that he goes up there (perhaps because I've found hairs of his jammed in the thing, in spite of my best efforts not to encourage this behavior.)

Rokeya said...

Ah, so you're trying the notecard approach! I recall your not being so crazy about the idea back when I was doing it due to managing time efficiently...I'll be curious to hear whether you change your mind with a full teaching load. I found them to be wonderful then and intend to use them again.

Dr. Crazy said...

I think you're misremembering, Rokeya... I've been doing this notecard thing for years, so it doesn't make sense that I would have criticized it when you mentioned doing it, though I suppose who knows? Sometimes I do crazy things when I comment that make no sense :)

I will say this, though: I don't think it is particularly helpful as a time management thing, having done some version of it intermittently over the past 10 years. It's good for figuring out what the students are thinking and whether they're reading, but much more efficient for that purpose in my experience is to just give quick reading quizzes. Ultimately, I find that for me it takes more time to do the notecard thing well (unless I just ignore the notecards, which sort of defeats the purpose), but that may have to do in my case with my student population and/or the fact that the notecards allow for less flying by the seat of my pants from class to class - good for this book, but not really my style most of the time.

Rokeya said...

Hm...I went back and read the posts, which were from Dec. '06 and Jan. '07. The issue was couched in a slightly different way--assessing "participation" and amount of time spent tabulating final grades--but it seemed clear to me that you weren't a fan of the notecard approach. Then again, it's possible that I didn't understand what you were trying to say.

I don't think reading quizzes really give you as full of a picture of what students are thinking as the notecards. Reading quizzes are great for assessing whether or not students read and if they have a grasp of basic concepts or plot details, but not as good at simply asking them for critical questions that they develop continuously each class. Notecards also synthesize many strands of information--historical context, what was said in their small groups, passages in which students are interested--rather than necessarily pushing them to respond to a pre-determined point.

I get that the time commitment can really be too much depending on what else you've got going on, but the notecard system definitely makes students feel that they are being supported throughout a critical thought process that they take more ownership over. It takes 15-20 seconds to scan and jot down a comment on each one...for me, it's been worth it. It's not unusual to get really interesting questions/responses with which I can sometimes start the next class...again, an indicator for students that they're really taking some ownership over what the group is learning.

Dr. Crazy said...

Ok, I think I'm remembering the thread you're talking about now, Rokeya, and I think (though my memory is fuzzy) that my resistance came from adding this into the calculating of participation, mainly because of the time-consuming nature of keeping all of those records. When I do the notecard thing, it's its own separate grade, and it's just a blanket grade for having turned them in, worth 5% just for having done them for each class meeting. If you miss x number, your grade goes down.

I do it that way in part so that students aren't so worried about the quality of their questions/insights and so that they actually ask real questions and communicate what they're really thinking. My favorite one from today's class was a student who basically just wrote a diatribe about how he hated the book and was losing his cool as a result of it, but then added (they turn them in at the end of class) that his classmates had talked him off the ledge and that he was ok now :) If I were grading for quality, I'm not sure how I'd handle such an "insight" but as it is, the cards are a way for them to work out their issues with the book so that when they come to class they can actually talk about it without that stuff getting in the way.

What I do with them once they turn them in is I go through and type them into blackboard (no names attached) - using an asterisk for questions that appear on multiple notecards. I like that the whole class gets to see what everybody is thinking about as they read, esp. in this class. And sometimes I'll have them use the notecards to generate group activities, and sometimes I'll make a point of answering certain questions to get them on track, but I think it's fair to say that the cards themselves aren't really central in many class periods.

Again, this has as much to do with my lack of detail-orientedness in how I prefer to plan class periods and how I prefer to calculate grades as anything, as well as not liking to be confined within a system (any system) for the whole semester. All of what you note about the pedagogical value of using them is absolutely right, which is why I use a version of them in certain classes, though my version is more loose than what you describe above.

And even *then* I sometimes feel confined by it. But in this class, it's the only way to go. (Oh, and I should note, I typically will only do this assignment in one class of four in a given semester, otherwise I feel too burdened by the record-keeping and by reading the cards. And that's even without commenting on them or grading them - just with reading them and making use of them in class. ~20 or so of them a class meeting I can handle. If I had to deal with them for all 80-100 of my students, though? I would never make it.)

Oh, and you're right: quizzes don't give as full a picture. They're just more time-efficient and easier to grade. I'm lucky that I typically teach smallish classes, so I can usually get a sense of what they're thinking just from regular discussion and activities in class, so in lower-level classes, I'm a fan of quizzes. It's only in the upper-level classes that I sometimes resort to the note card thing. In the classes where I don't, I just assume they're reading and wing it from there :)

Liz said...

An hour from hometown? Hmmmm.

Rent Party said...

Amen to all that, especially the Palin thing. I don't even care that they're sexualizing / pornifying Palin, prying into her family's internal affairs, etc. *EXCEPT* to the extent (very great) that it distracts the national conversation from the issues at hand.