Thursday, August 31, 2006

Note to Self

Remember that when you assign very difficult assignments to students that you always feel obligated to "model" those assignments for the students. This is why you have spent the afternoon working on a "presentation" that you have to give next week. Even though you are no longer yourself a student. This was not smart planning on your part. You are a dumb teacher who gives yourself homework.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

RfP Wednesday: There Is No Pleasure at This Time

I know. I'm the inventor of Reading for Pleasure Wednesday. And this week I feel like I've got nothing.

But wait! No! I did read something for pleasure this week.

Star Magazine.

In fact, if this is not pleasure-reading, I don't know what is. It's certainly not going to make you a better person (as the propaganda surrounding book clubs makes you think reading does) and it's certainly not going to teach you anything about the human spirit (well, unless it's about how happy the human spirit can become when gossiping, or reading the gossip put into the world by others.)

This week, the stories that really stood out were one about the "relationship" (as yet denied) between Kate Hudson and Owen Wilson, a story about visiting Baby Suri (including the Scientology Rules for Baby Visiting, which include saying, "Babyname, you're a winner!!!" to the baby along with refusing the pick the baby up), and all of the gossip and photos from the Teen Choice awards (Can you believe that Nick Lachey noted how "awkward" it was to receive an award at an award show hosted by his ex? And I guess Jess is, like, totally upset that he brought anything up, especially after she made sure that her co-host - and rumoured beau - Dane Cook didn't make any jokes about the split between the former Newlyweds.)

So why do I love Star Magazine, to the point that I have a subscription to it?

  1. It is truly trashy, both in the content of the "articles" and in the way that "pictures" (often doctored) are presented.
  2. They make a point of telling the age of every celebrity they mention. And often they will tell the weight as well. In almost every case this information is entirely extraneous.
  3. I love the way they track celebrities' weight-loss and weight-gain, as it bears little-to-no relationship to how the celebs actually look. Rather, it has to do with where the celebrity falls in what I like to call the "schadenfreude cycle," i.e., those on top must fall for our pleasure, and those who have recently fallen get to go back up. Thus, how much you actually weigh matters not at all, because sometimes you can be a "Weight Loser" and gained too much weight, or you can be a "Weight Winner" and weigh 85 lbs. Or you can be a "Weight Loser" and weigh 85 lbs. and be a "Weight Winner" at 135 lbs. (And yes, I know 135 is still pretty darned skinny, but not for Young Hollywood it isn't.) Oh, and I love how they always note that weights are visual estimates based on the papparazzi pictures and have no relationship to any real number the celeb may way.
  4. Knifestyles of the Rich and Famous, a weekly feature in which they show before and after pictures of celebs and have plastic surgeons (who have never treated these celebrities) speculate on the kind of plastic surgery the celebs have had.
  5. On top of all of this, they include fashion and beauty advice, as well as fun crossword and sudoku puzzles, and a weekly horoscope.
Sure, the fact that I read this rag probably makes me an idiot, but I LOVE it. It is my favorite. It is a guilty pleasure. And shouldn't we all have some kind of reading guilty pleasure?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Good (and Surprising) News

So a while back, a call for papers went out for a special issue of a small journal. (By small I mean SMALL, i.e., articles come in at around 8 pages or so.) Now, the special issue had a theme that entirely fits some work I'd done already, and so I knew I should submit something. And yet, I was not optimistic that this would become a publication - not at all - as I've had a somewhat ambivalent relationship with the community of scholars who work on this particular topic. (By ambivalent, I mean exactly that, in that I've gotten some amazing mentorship from these people but at the same time they have shunned me in recent years, I think maybe because my scholarship has veered away from this topic and so I'm not a This Topic Scholar exclusively, if that makes sense, which it may not since I can't actually write about this in a non-anonymizing way.) But so anyway, since I wasn't feeling optimistic, I forced myself to put something together to submit for consideration but also I didn't spend very much time doing so, as I felt like I'd be pissed off if I wasted days and days putting the thing together just for it to be rejected. So I spent about three hours. And I sent it off.

Today I heard back about it. I'm in! I'm in! Another publication on the CV! Yippee!
It's only the Tuesday of week 2 of my semester, and already I do not want to teach. I'm not in the mood to lead discussion, to interest students in the material, to lecture. Of course, I will do these things, and it will probably be great, but I'm in an f-u-n-k. I blame....
  1. PMS
  2. Horrible allergies
  3. Humidity
  4. Rain
  5. Not being used to the amount of people I have to interact with during the academic year. It is exhausting.
But so now I need to figure out what I'm doing in my classes. And maybe have a snack? And maybe some caffeine to perk me up? (Perhaps part of the problem with my motivation to teach today is the texts that we're covering today, which all fall under the heading "pre-theory literary criticism." I really think that it's good to teach these things, but the material is a little... dry.)

Monday, August 28, 2006

My Freshman Year - A Response to Bardiac's Post

Last week, Bardiac posted about Rebekah Nathan's My Freshman Year *What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student (NY: Penguin, 2006; first published by Cornell UP, 2005), and since I just recently read the book as well (I'm involved with first year programs at my university and it was recommended, and Nathan is going to be speaking in the coming months at some sort of event, and I was trying to decide whether I should bother with it), I wanted to respond with a full-length post. But before I do respond to the specific things that Bardiac brings up, I've got to put it out there: While some of what Nathan writes about is compelling, a lot of it felt like I'd heard it before or figured it out myself. She doesn't exactly get it wrong, but at the same time she doesn't entirely get it right, either. Middle-aged women don't live in dorms. Traditionally aged college students don't make real friends with non-trads. She acts as if she has some kind of insider perspective, but she doesn't, just as an ethnographer doesn't really have inside perspective when he/she goes off to observe another culture. So while reading the book was ok, it really didn't set my world on fire. But to respond to Bardiac's post...

Office Hours
Bardiac's first question is about how to schedule office hours better to accommodate students' schedules. As she notes, "Nathan talks a lot about how students manage their experience at AnyU, especially how they choose general education classes, how they fit in working for money, classwork, and the other things they do, and how they think about their management. [. . .] Nathan points out that she'd typically set up office hours during the middle of the day, before or after the lecture classes she taught (136). As a student, however, she discovered that she almost inevitably had another class to attend during her professors' office hours. She also points out rightly that more students work more hours these days than in previous decades."

Bardiac then goes on to describe her schedule and to ask readers for their suggestions about how she might arrange her schedule to accommodate students. (She is required to have 3 office hours per week and to make appointments.)

Now, my take on this may not be the nicest, but I really don't think that it makes a difference when one schedules office hours. There will always, particularly when students work as much as my students do, be conflicts between the hours that I choose and when students are available. (Incidentally, on the information sheet I ask students in each of my classes to fill out, I ask about their work-and-other commitments that might affect their work in my course. From freshmen through seniors, all but a handful work, and even those who aren't working now are planning to get a job. Most students work part-time, but many often work part-time at two different jobs, thus coming in at around 30-40 hours a week even though they don't work "full time." On top of this, more than a few also have children or other family members that they care for. With all of these commitments, when I schedule my three office hours doesn't matter much.)

So, if when one schedules the office hours doesn't really make much of a difference, what does?
  1. Offering students a range of ways to get into contact with you if they have a question about something, and encouraging students to use those means of communication. A student may be more likely to use a class discussion board online than to come to office hours, or to send an email. For some kinds of questions, I think those can be effective.
  2. Really being available to meet by appointment, and even offering to do so. I would say a good 60% of my meetings with students do not happen during my stated office hours. They happen after I negotiate with the student for a time that is convenient for us both. In some ways, I'd rather do all meetings with students this way because they are sure to show up if they schedule an appointment, whereas office hours are often empty.
  3. I think it's important to impress upon students that meeting individually with the professor is a good strategy for improving in the course, and to instill in them a belief that it is "worth" their time. If students think meeting with a professor will help, they will either tweak their schedule or schedule an appointment in order to do so. If students think it won't make a difference, they won't, whatever time the instructor schedules his/her office hours.
Reading Assignments
Next, Bardiac considers the issue of reading assignments. She writes, "Nathan talks about how students choose which reading assignments to do for a given class, and crassly, the choice comes down to which assignments they'll be quizzed on, or they'll need for homework, or for which they'll be a discussion, especially if they're likely to have to participate (137-139). Now, I KNOW that deep down, and tend to give quizzes a lot in my lower level classes. But Nathan brings out the point that more experienced students are even MORE likely to skip readings they don't think they'll REALLY need. " From this, Bardiac considers whether she should be quizzing her students in upper-division classes, or frequent papers to make sure students are keeping up with the reading. She also wonders about whether these strategies would be appropriate for graduate classes.

Now, at my institution this issue of students doing/not doing the reading is huge at all levels. My thoughts are these:
  1. Whatever you do, some students will not read. Period.
  2. I don't quiz in upper-division classes because I think it's infantilizing. (I think it's infantilizing in lower-division classes, too, but with 25 students, it's the only time-efficient way for me to monitor that they read. My upper-div classes are smaller, so I don't want to fall back on quizzing.)
  3. I think that the best way to keep students reading is to show them that it's meaningful to the day-to-day work of the class. If on a given day they may be doing an activity that assumes they've completed the reading, or if I ask the class to get things started with discussion, they are much more likely to be on top of the reading than if I'm running the show all of the time with lecturing and leading discussion.
  4. In terms of assignments, I like to offer a range of assignments that keep them participating. In upper division classes, my students have to participate in a blackboard discussion thread once a week, they have to come in with three questions/insights for each class period, and they write four short analysis/response papers (one for each unit of the course). Between each of these assignments, they will have to write about most texts on the syllabus and they will have to at least consider those they don't write about. Only the short papers are graded, though I do check to see that they are doing the other things, as well as reading what they write.
Next, Bardiac wonders how to get students to begin research earlier and to encourage students to take advantage of the full range of services at the library, like ILL. Now, this has been a question I've considered at length, and so here are some examples of things that I do.
  1. In my writing class that focuses on the research paper, I require an annotated bibliography. I do not require this in lit classes, just because I find it kind of tiresome to read them, but I do...
  2. Require students in my literature classes to submit a proposal for their final paper about 5 weeks from its deadline, and on that proposal they also have to include five potential sources that they might use on the assignment, including at least one scholarly book and at least one scholarly journal article (though with the advent of databases, they are MUCH less afraid of articles than, say, I was when I was a student and finding an article meant that one had to go through like four steps to get the actual article you wanted). This gives me the opportunity to see what they're looking at, to give suggestions, and to give them ideas about potential ways to do research on their topic.
  3. For the past few upper-div lit courses I've taught, I have students do presentations, and this semester, I've incorporated a research component into the presentation assignment, to get them thinking about research from about week 3 onward. Also, they are allowed to develop their research paper topic out of their presentation if they wish, and so this means that they are encouraged to begin doing real research quite early on.
  4. I also make sure to take students in all classes where I have them doing substantial research to the library for instruction on how to use things. One thing that drives me crazy is the way that some will insist that "these kids today" are so savvy with technology that they don't need to be taught how to navigate things on the computer. This is a lie. Yes, they can text and they can IM and they can google until they turn blue, but they don't know what a boolean search is, and they certainly don't understand how to find reputable sources or to tell what sources are reputable. We need to teach them that stuff.
Finally, Bardiac asks about diversity, but I don't really have the answer to her questions, so I will leave off here.

It's a rainy day, and I'm going home to hang out with my cat. I should go to the gym, but right now I think a nap is in order.

No Back-To-School Resolutions for Crazy

All over the place, but started, I believe, by Geeky Mom, people are recording their goals for the coming academic year. I had thought about coming up with some of my own, but every time I sit down to do it, I stop. I can't make myself make resolutions for this coming year. Not on the blog anyway. What gives? I make resolutions all the time - why not make them in this context?

I think it all goes back to the fact that I don't use my blog as a way to be accountable about my work. In a very real way, my blog is quite separate from my work. I've never used the blog to track the amount of pages/words I'm writing; I've never used the blog to make promises about work so that I'll complete tasks I need to complete. Yes, I have complained about things related to work, or I've vented stress, but I don't really think of my blog - or of my blog audience - as a policing agent that makes me (or helps me to) produce (in a concrete way - obviously the blog and my audience does help me to produce in abstract ways). (Incidentally, I'm not saying it's bad or wrong to use blogs in that way - I know that other people find blogs really useful in this way, but it just hasn't been my tendency.)

But then that's not the only thing. It's also that I think of my goals as private. Yes, even my professional ones. The goals that I tend to publicize are usually not the real goals that I'm working on, but rather goals that I know will be achieved prior to the next review (for example), which at least to me means they're not even goals. To me, goals are like fantasies, kind of, except you work really hard to make them happen. But if you tell people about them - especially if they really are lofty goals, ambitious and possibly-unlikely-to-happen goals - then when you don't achieve them it becomes a big deal, or people think you're big-headed, or people try to tell you that you can't achieve them, or whatever. On the other hand, if you keep your goals close to the vest and protect them a bit and nurture them, then maybe they will happen. I'm superstitious, obviously.

But so I make goals, but I make them in my journal. And they're always open to revision, and they're generally not particularly practical. And I often don't really believe that I will accomplish them, but I work really hard at them anyway. And maybe that's a little weird, but that's how it's always worked for me, so maybe it's ok?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Poetry Friday - Wordsworth

Yes, it's true, with the return of the school year so, too, returns Poetry Friday at Reassigned Time. Because I'm teaching a lot of poetry this semester, I've decided to post things that I'm teaching, but this may change if I get sick of it. So for today, I'm not posting an entire poem, but just some of my favorite lines from Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey.

....Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain-winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when they mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be they portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
And these my exhortations!....
- lines 134-146

Say what you will about Wordsworth (and I can and have said plenty) there moments where his poetry is just gorgeous.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Dr. Crazy's Dirty Little Secret (Secret Even to Myself Until a Minute Ago)

Ok, it's not that kind of dirty little secret, my pervy readers (and pervy googlers, too, I'm certain). No, it's this.

Right now, I am sitting here meticulously editing and re-organizing The Notebook. I was chatting with my work-BFF about this project, and she looked at me like I'm insane. (A. The Notebook isn't due until next month, B. We both kind of doubt anybody actually reads the thing.)

So why am I doing this?

Well, I didn't realize it until just a minute ago. I'm doing this because if I'm going to stay here I want to win the outstanding award for junior faculty. I'm such a nerd. And a little bit of an over-achiever. And maybe even I have some secret desire to take over the world. Though how fucking around with this book will achieve that I'm not certain.

And the Book Drama Continues....

The off-campus bookstore? The one that assured me that had ordered the correct book, after I re-sent them the ISBN #s after the problems at the campus bookstore? They ordered the wrong fucking book.

I really want to die. Why, why did they all get this so colossally wrong? (Incidentally, both bookstores got it wrong in different ways. Nice.)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

RfP Wednesday: Londonstani

Ok, so I finished Londonstani, by Gautam Malkani, last week, and I've been dying to write about it. In contrast to the review in the Independent, I did not find the book contrived - or, rather, yes, it was a little contrived, but it was good. Enjoyable, but not dumb.

I'm kind of having a hard time talking about the book because there is a twist at the end that I can't give away. Suffice it to say that Malkani talks about race and masculinity in a totally sophisticated way - a way that I think Zadie Smith failed miserably to do in On Beauty. (Don't even get me started on On Beauty. I know Zadie Smith is great and all, and I teach White Teeth, but I thought she got academia wrong - or if not wrong, just a "this is how it was at Harvard when I was a visiting writer there and so it must be how it is at all colleges" right - I thought she got American slang/dialect wrong, and I thought she got what it is to be an adolescent male wrong. I don't care if she was nominated for the Booker Prize for the book - and I do see why she was - I found the book irritating and not particularly exceptional, as books go.)

But back to Londonstani. The thing about it is that it is at turns violent (exceptionally so) and immature (the narrator is a 20 year old) and funny and surprising. It's a good story. In the way that books you read when you're a kid are good stories. But it's not just that, because there is some depth to the book, and the way that Malkani interweaves different dialects and pop culture references and religious traditions is complicated and interesting. And so what if it's pretentious or contrived feeling at times? Aren't most books that people pay attention to?

Teaching without Books - The Final Frontier

I just realized that this is a really funny post for RfP Wednesday, as it's all about students not being able to read for work. Maybe they will all take this opportunity to read for pleasure instead? We can only hope.

Once upon a time - hark, I believe it was the early-to-mid-1990s - a student could schedule her courses, and in the days leading up to the beginning of the semester, go to a bookstore centrally located on her college campus and purchase the books that her professors had ordered.

Sure, there might be a glitch here or there if she waited too long to buy her books, but in general, students could have a reasonable expectation that the books would be available to them for purchase so that they could complete their first reading assignments.

This was the world in which I attended college. This world, my friends, is no more.

Ok, it might still exist in some places, but my unscientific survey of friends at a variety of institutions - regional comprehensives to ivies to SLACs - indicates that most of us have problems with their respective bookstores filling book orders for courses. What is the common denominator in all cases? The "campus bookstore" is not an enterprise run by the university but rather a front for a corporate entity.

Now, I'm not one of these anti-establishment, anti-corporate people who refuses to go to Starbucks in order to support the local place, even though it would take me two miles out of my way to go to the local place. I've got no problem eating at McDonalds or the Olive Garden. My problem here is not one of principle.

My problem is that since the corporate machine has taken over, students cannot get their hands on the books they need to do the work in my courses.

  1. The bookstore doesn't order enough copies of books. I suppose this is because it costs money to send the books back if students don't buy their books at the bookstore. And so then the bookstore says it's the instructor's fault that the bookstore doesn't order enough books because instructors encourage students to buy their books at other places besides the campus bookstore, which of course we all do because the bookstore doesn't carry enough books.
  2. Even when the bookstore orders enough books, they send them back to wherever they came from approximately 15 minutes after the semester begins, and so if students wait to buy a book that they will not need until after midterm, students will not be able to purchase the book. Now, many students will wait to buy books for English courses until it's time to read them because the cost for books at the beginning of the semester is OUTRAGEOUSLY HIGH. I make an effort to bring in the cost of books for my courses at under $100. (It's actually under $50 for my freshman class.) That said, most of my students take 5 or six classes in a semester. That means anywhere from $500-$600 bucks on books if all of the professors try to be mindful of the high cost of textbooks and can find reasonably priced textbooks that do what the instructor needs them to do. In other words, I'm sure some students spend more. So yes, they might put off buying $50 worth of books until later. But that's not allowed, say the bookstore people, and so the students have to go elsewhere to buy those books. And then the bookstore orders even fewer books in the next semester.
  3. And speaking of the cost of books, it is interesting to note that the campus bookstore charges about twice as much for used books as does even a place like Half Price Books, which isn't exactly a mom-and-pop used book shop. Now, it is true that one can't depend on availability at a place like Half Price Books. But one sure as heck can depend on availability of used books - and great prices - if one goes on the internet for them. And don't even get me started about the buy-back policies of campus bookstores. Outrageous.
  4. But maybe I'm just being a crank and I should be more positive. At least they order some books that some students can buy, right? Oh, not this semester. This semester they just didn't order the anthology that I use in my survey class. Oh, they did order an anthology - just not the correct one. Now, I always use the same anthology for this class - yes, there is a new edition this year, but it's the same fucking book. But apparently the bookstore decided that I would not be teaching out of that book, even though they required that I put the order in for it approximately a hundred years ago, because apparently in the age of computers when Amazon can get you a book in five days without shipping costs the bookstore needs five months to get the books to them (in covered wagons? dragged by enslaved illegal immigrants? what?). And then when I found out yesterday, they tried to tell me it was because I had the ISBN number wrong on my order. Even though their ordering system plugs in the isbn when you type in the title.
This whole "I had the number wrong" issue is very interesting, incidentally, as the competing off-campus bookstore totally got the order right - and I sent identical information to them.

The problem for me is that as an instructor my hands are tied. The faculty at my university have protested, gotten bookstore manager after bookstore manager ousted, and still the problems persist. Why? Because it's not the bookstore manager's fault. It's the corporate entity's fault, because what the corporate entity wants is to make money - as much of it as possible with as little waste as possible. This is counter to what professors and students need, which is for all students to be able to get the books that they need in a timely fashion (because they really do need to do the reading, even in the first week of the semester). But I still have to order books from the fucked up corporate entity because if students get a book scholarship, or if their parents buy their books and will only do so if it comes from the campus bookstore, or if they live on campus and can't get to another bookstore, or whatever - they should be able to get the books on campus.

The problem is, they can't.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Day Two, in which I Make Students Feel Overwhelmed and Bored

Today I taught my two literature classes for the first time, one a lower-division class, and one a class in my field of specialty. This means that I'm now officially done with my "first class of the semester" in each of my classes. And this year, as in others, I have yet to answer the question:

How is it possible to take care of all of the business that needs to be taken care of on the first day of the semester (a) while at the same time appearing to be an interesting instructor (b)?

I know, I know....

1. Don't just read the syllabus.

But I don't just read the syllabus. I do go over the highlights of it, i.e., what makes up the grade, but I do not read the entire thing to them like it's a bedtime story.

2. Do something that "shows" them who you are as a teacher, rather than just "telling" them a bunch of stuff.

Ok, I try. I really do. The problem is, it's difficult to "show" who you are as a teacher when they've not yet completed a reading assignment. Oh, and don't even tell me I should bring in a short reading assignment and then have them read it and do an activity and then we'll all talk about it. I've heard it all before, and you know what? There just isn't time to do justice to that crap while at the same time announcing all of the shit I need to announce. I've tried it before - and I've always felt like I was both half-assing the "non-boring activity" as well as the announcement portion of things. And you know what else? I suspect that on the first day, students find all things you try - whether innovative or no - boring or hostile or both. I mean, I'm taking away the summer from them! I'm a mean lady!

3. Don't overwhelm the students by handing out all of the assignments they will complete in the semester.

I didn't do this in all of my classes, but I had to do it in my upper-division one. Why? Well because how are they supposed to know what to pay attention to in our library instruction session if they don't know what their assignments will be? And how will they understand how all of the work of the course fits together unless they see it all together? And who says that being overwhelmed isn't educating in itself?

4. Don't lecture.

Except see my earlier comment about it being very difficult not to lecture when the students a) have little or no familiarity with the material or aims of the course b) have done absolutely no reading and c) don't yet know me and so don't really want to participate. And how else does one give certain kinds of important information without lecturing?

So here I am, and once again I'm not especially pleased with how my "first" classes have gone. I suspect that this will be something that I struggle with from now until I finally hang it up and stop being a teacher. Though maybe it would make more sense just to get over the whole thing and to accept that I will always bore and overwhelm my audience on the first day, knowing that I don't bore and overwhelm them on subsequent days? Except of course I do overwhelm them on subsequent days sometimes, and even bore them, too, but usually not at the same time. I just wish that I could be exciting and fun and innovative on the first day - not an easy thing to do when one has to be sure to communicate things about disability services, take attendance (or face the wrath of the federal government), and hand out about a thousand things.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Day One of the Semester a Success (I suppose)

Though I will say this: I need to get better on the time management tip, so as to take advantage of being done with teaching so early on the days that I got reassigned time. If I "reassign" the time from my classroom to my office, that seems kind of lame. At any rate, here's what I accomplished today:

  • Updated my website
  • Came up with 14 online discussion-board prompts for my upper-div. class
  • Held first class with my freshmen (who seem like a good group and very sweet and wet behind the ears)
  • Emailed VSC re: letter
  • Emailed grad school administrative person re: getting new letters sent to include in my file
  • Did some work for my quasi-admin position
  • Checked to make sure all materials requested to be put on electronic reserve have in fact been put there (and they have - yippee!)
  • Chatted for a long while with new colleague, on whose search committee I served last year.
It's so weird how easy it is to get back in the swing of things. Not that I think anybody should have to be back in the swing as early as Aug. 21st, because I don't. But apparently I am.

So the plan for the rest of my day is to go to the gym, cook something yummy for dinner, and go to bed early (I hope) so as not to have the misery that I had in waking this morning (because I'm WAY off schedule).

Oh, and rather than do an individual post in response to the Potter comment thread, let me just say right here:

Why do I think that Luna and Harry are an odd, and yet destined, couple?
1. The only thing that Harry and Ginny really have in common is Quidditch and Ginny's family. To me, this is a relationship of convenience more than a true meeting of souls/hearts/minds.
2. On the other hand, Luna, too, has a dead mother, can see the thestrals, knows what it is to be awkward and an outsider. (Some might argue that Harry is Mr. Popularity, but I would argue that he's stigmatized by his scar and what happened to him, and that there are a number of periods where he is ostracized by his peers.)
3. J.K. Rowling has said that Luna and Neville definitely are not a love match because ultimately all they have in common is that they're kind of losers in the Hogwarts world. Given the way that the last book was all about pairing people off, and given that Luna and Neville both continue to increase in their importance as the books go on, it would strike me as odd that she just intends for each of them to be lonely and alone forever.
4. Remember that Neville took Ginny to the Ball in Goblet of Fire. Also think about how being with somebody like Ginny could potentially serve to bring Neville out of his shell and make him more awesome and confident. Just think about it.
5. I think it would be creepy for Harry to end up with Ginny because it's like a weird oedipal thing in which Harry is going after the one girl at the school that is like his mom (long red hair, really powerful witch, popular, etc.).

And So It Begins Again....

The semester, that is.


I'm totally not ready.

(Oh, and I plan on doing a follow-up to the Potter post later today. I have much I'd like to say in response to all of your comments!)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

RfP Wednesday: It's Time. The Potter.

Lo, what now is many weeks ago, there was a photo meme thing on which I totally dropped the ball. Part of it is I'm more of a words person than an images person, and part of it is that I just couldn't figure out what to take pictures of in response to people's queries. Well, and some requests - like a picture of my kitchen - made me feel all anxious like I should totally clean my kitchen - or like a picture of my dishes - made me feel all like I should buy new dishes because I'm just a crappy homemaker.... Yeah, so anyway, I dropped the ball. My bad.

And you may be wondering why I bring this up at the start of a Reading for Pleasure Wednesday post. It is because when I was pondering what to photograph as "the craziest thing in Dr. Crazy's house," Dr. Medusa suggested that the craziest thing in my house is in fact my Harry Potter books. But not really the books themselves. It's me with the books. It is an obsession, and not an entirely healthy one. But so I've got to talk about the Potter. It has waited long enough.

To Begin: My History with the Potter.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone came out when I was in graduate school. These were dark times indeed, when I did not read for pleasure. I scoffed at the Harry Potter phenomenon. What was wrong with all of these people that they acted like HP was so great? There have always been great books about misunderstood kids, usually orphans, who lived with their aunt and uncle, and ended up going to a magical world. Wizard of Oz much? And the adults reading the books? Were they illiterates?

I totally didn't get it.

And then I actively resisted the phenomenon, particularly when my Ex-with-whom-I-lived told me he'd talked to his pre-me-girlfriend and she told him she was reading the HP books. What. A. Loser. I was totally never going to enjoy anything that girl enjoyed, right?

So I finish my PhD, and I get my job, and my best friend from high school sends me a present at some point in that time - a Latin edition of the first book. (At other times she has purchased me joke t-shirts written in Latin, and Winnie Ille Pu - awesome. Love high school BFF.) At this point I am intrigued, but I still think it is silly to read the book in English. I think to myself that I shall translate the Latin version. Needless to say, this did not happen.

To Continue: Crazy Cracks under the Pressure and Gives in to the Potter

It had to happen sometime. No one could resist it forever. The year: 2005. I had just broken up with a guy (some of you may know him as Stupid Freud), and I was spending a lot of time on my own. The school year was ending, and I just happened to catch the first two movies (on two consecutive Saturday nights, for I am a loser) on Network TV. And then the third movie was available on-demand. And then I thought, well, I've seen the movies, and now the semester is over, and so I may as well read them, right? And so I bought myself the present of the Books 1-5 set, and I was off.

To Continue Further: Crazy Becomes Dangerously Addicted to the Potter

I have been reading the books for over a year now. Sometimes I read them in order. Sometimes I reread the same one a bunch of times - it's kind of like being a human skipping record. Sometimes I read them out of order. It's totally insane. And it makes me happier than anything. [Aside: I actually just found out that a good friend with whom I'd fallen out of touch for a couple of years does the same thing with the books, so clearly this Potter Neurosis is not unique to me. I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse.]

Why am I doing this? What is the pay-off?

Well, I'm glad you asked. The short version is this: I enjoy looking for clues into the next book and in constructing scenarios for how the series will end. The longer version is somewhat more neurotic, and because that is much more interesting than the short version, I will have to post some of my musings here. As this is an insane activity, I can only post them as random questions and insights. I believe that JK Rowling herself confirms some of my theories, and I also believe that I am not alone in this obsession. Don't believe me? Just check out The Leaky Cauldron.

Dr. Crazy's Crazy Theories Related to the Potter:

  • Is Snape evil? Of course not. But then why does he kill Dumbledore? Because Dumbledore knew of the plot to kill him, and he had arranged with Snape that Snape would kill him so Draco wouldn't have to commit murder. Also, Snape is still working for the Order of the Phoenix.
  • What, you say? Snape is evil! But you see, no, Snape is not evil. And yes, he's been horrible to Harry, BUT the thing that nobody knows is that Snape was in love with Lily (Harry's mother) and that is where the potions book comes in. Because remember: Slughorn always is saying that Harry inherits his MOTHER's talent for potions - just like he inherits his MOTHER's eyes. If Snape was so brilliant at potions, why would he need to make all of those marginal notes in his old potions book? Why wouldn't he just naturally have a knack for doing the potions? And remember also how Snape gets angry with Hermione in one of the early books for helping Neville with potions. Why is that such a problem for Snape? Because Lily helped Snape on the sly, and Snape was in love with her, but then Lily went and married Snape's nemesis, James Potter. So Snape joins Voldemort because he's all upset and hurt and such, but then he realizes that in doing so he condemned his One True Love Lily to death, and then he joins the Order of the Phoenix. This also explains why Dumbledore believes Snape - as the one thing Dumbledore believes in more than anything else is True Love, right? And THEN, when Snape meets Harry, he immediately hates Harry because, as we all know, Harry bears a remarkable resemblance to James - in every aspect except for his mother's eyes. THUS, when Snape looks at Harry, not only is he reminded of the person he hated most in the world but also of the loss of his One True Love to that person. Sucks to be Snape, huh?
  • So will Snape die in the last book? Of course, but only after we learn all of the above, thus meaning we will be devastated when he dies, as we were not actually devastated by the death of Dumbledore, because Dumbledore was ready to die whereas Snape's whole life has been stunted, he's never been recognized for his brilliance, and he's never been happy. It's going to be heartbreaking.
  • What happened to the Potter grandparents? Because if Neville lives with his grandmother, and if Dumbledore is a minimum of like 87, then wizards tend to be pretty long-lived, and there's got to be a reason why the old Potters aren't around. While we're at it, how come Harry never asked anybody about them? Or about what his parents did for a living? For a curious kid, he's not too curious about some pretty obvious shit.
  • Oh, and Harry is the last heir of Gryffindor, obviously, which is why his parents lived in Godric's Hollow.
  • Dumbledore will appear in Book 7 first in a Chocolate Frog Card to give Harry advice.
  • Harry will have to return to 12 Grimmauld Place (for many reasons, not the least of which is to get the locket horcrux that RAB - Regulus Black - left there) and there he will have some communication with Sirius, whether in the form of a portrait or using that 2-way mirror in some way.
  • The final battle between Voldemort and Harry will happen at Hogwarts, for the Hogwarts enchantments are the only thing that could put Harry on a level playing field with Voldemort.
  • I really don't think Nagini is a horcrux. I think that Voldemort did get into the school (many times, through the vanishing cabinet at his old job at Borgin and Burkes) and that he did get something from each of the founders. This would be one of Dumbledore's minor mistakes, though he is right about the number of horcruxes.
  • Harry and Ginny will not be together. Harry's soulmate is Luna Lovegood. I really believe this. And Luna is my favorite human character. I also have a soft spot for Dobby.
There's more where all of the above came from, but I'm feeling kind of exhausted from writing it all out. So that's my ongoing pleasure-reading. And yes, I realize it's really, really crazy.

Not Tagged But It - The Random Quotations Meme

I found this over at Ancrene Wiseass, and it may substitute for my reflective birthday post until I am more in the mood to write it. I do, however, know what the title of the reflective birthday post will be when I do write it. At any rate though, here's the meme:

"Go here and look through random quotes until you find 5 that you think reflect who you are or what you believe."

1. "I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it." - Pablo Picasso.

2. "Keep on going and the chances are you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I have never heard of anyone stumbling on something sitting down." - Charles F. Kettering.

3. "Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot." - D.H. Lawrence.

4. "I despise the pleasure of pleasing people that I despise." - Lady Mary Wortley Montague.

5. "This Time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it." - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I hereby tag anybody who's interested :)

Top Novelist

Well, you all know how I love a pseudonym, and for months I've been participating in the sensational Top Novelist over at Raining Cats and Dogma. Obviously, I do not write as Dr. Crazy, and so I will leave it to you, my faithful readers, to try to discover my super-secret-other-pseudonymous-identity. It's the final, and Ryan invites comments on the different final entries - I thoroughly encourage you all to join in on the fun and to throw in your two cents about who the Top Novelist winner (or loser) should be. Of course, if you think you can figure out which contestant is Dr. Crazy, I would appreciate a groundswell of support to clinch the title. Don't be shy about doling out the praise (or the snark).

An Awesome Lunch, An Awesome Colleague, A Weight off my Shoulders: The Market

I just finished having lunch with Very Supportive Colleague (VSC), a higher-up in my department. I scheduled this lunch (an entirley uncharacteristic sort of a move for the non-ass-kiss-y me) with the purpose of revealing my plans to go on the job market this year and to ask VSC for a letter of recommendation.

What I said (basically): I am very happy here, I have felt very supported in my work, but I'm not place-bound, and at this juncture - midway to tenure - I think it would be good for me to see what else is there because if I choose to stay I want to really choose this university. I want to be excited about moving toward tenure here, and I want to be excited about the role that I would play in the changes happening at the university. I don't want to be embittered the way that some people at the university are.

What the colleague said (basically): I'm happy to write you a letter, I'm so glad that you have decided to tell important people in the department about your decision, I want you to choose this place, too, if you stay, and of course this is a smart thing to do at this point in your career.

And lunch was delicious.

Colleagues like VSC are one of the best things about this job.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Things Are Improving....

Since last I wrote (whined), I have checked a bunch of things off of my to-do list, and I'm about to check off some more. Yippee! Maybe I was just in a cranky mood before because I was looking at all of my overwhelming work instead of doing it? I'll update this post when I've done a couple more things.

On an unrelated note, I'm going to try to finish Londonstani for RfP Wednesday - I'm totally enjoying it, and I'm about half-way through. Will Jas and Samira be able to get together? This is what I'm dying to find out. I so should have spent the day reading instead of taking care of business....

Things are, in fact, much improved. The syllabi are done (or as done as I am willing to make them) and I've put in requests to get them copied, as well as to get my first two assignments in the writing classes and all of the non-test assignments in the upper div. class copied. (Lest you hate me for having all writing assignments done for the upper-div. course, I always do a version of the same basic assignments in upper-div courses, so this isn't that great of an accomplishment, and I was only motivated to get it done because we're going to the library for instruction VERY early in the semester, and I think they need to know what kind of research I'll be asking for before they actually go to the library. You see.) At any rate, I've been VERY busy. Now I need to finish crapping this article together to submit to a thing (deadline today) that will probably reject it, and then I think I'll be ready to begin celebrating the end of my 31st year. All in all, this wasn't the worst year of my life or anything, but I'm kind of glad to see the backside of it, nonetheless. Will do a contemplative birthday post in the coming days, but I need to do some actual contemplating before I can do the post.

Monday (sigh)

Oh yes, folks, you know the academic year is basically underway if I'm sighing that a new week is beginning. The truth is that I've been in a bit of a funk for the past couple of days, which may have to do with any/all of the following:

  1. I either have wicked-bad allergies or I've got a cold. It is very difficult to know. I also have had a pinch-y neck for the past couple of days, so I may have spinal meningitis. Or I may have a pinch-y neck because all I've been doing is lying around and sleeping and watching tv, etc., and so I've effectively injured myself by being lazy.
  2. It's my birthday tomorrow, and I'm not excited at all, nor do I have any decent plans, but the sick thing is that I don't even care, and normally I love celebrating my birthday, which I think means that I'm depressed or something.
  3. Not only is it my birthday tomorrow, but it's also the day of the first big faculty meeting of the year. Lucky, lucky me. Oh, and I'm ticked off about some of the crap on the agenda, so I actually want to attend. Even though it's my birthday.
  4. Rhett Miller's song "Come around" just came on the Pandora - that's the one where the chorus goes, "Am I gonna be lonely for the rest of my life?" Sad, sad, sad.
  5. I'm both excited about the start of the school year and pissed off at all of the work that I've got to do to ready myself for it.
Ok, so enough of this whining. It's not really doing me any good. Better to finish the things on my to-do list, to re-adjust my attitude, and to think happy thoughts until tomorrow, so as to ring in my 32nd year on a positive note.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Ok, a Hair Query

So, I'm sitting in my office (yet again) doing more work (because something is wrong with me, I think). Anyway, I do have a hair appointment tomorrow, though, and I am of two minds about what to do.

Option one is to stay with basically what I've got, a cross between the cut of the Paris Hilton (I know, I know, but it's a great cut, and a great cut on my face) and the color of the Sienna Miller when her hair was short, with dramatic blonde highlights around the face and through the crown with the hair getting darker as you move to the back and to underneath.

Option two is to try out this hairstyle. (Scroll through the pictures. No, I don't plan on wearing my hair as if it is being blown vertically by a fan, but I like how the cut is short underneath and looks like a regular bob from the front. Also, I should note that the color is pretty close to my own - very light blonde highlights around the front, but darker behind/underneath (though not much because it's my natural blonde-y color because I couldn't face actually dying the whole head of hair on top of getting highlights - oh, and I'm getting the color done tomorrow as well, so I'll be all shiny and awesome. The color is staying the same, as I love it.)

What do you all think? (Incidentally, I do not promise to take your advice on this, but I would like some opinions other than my own. On the one hand, if I'm going to experiment with my hair, I feel like now is the time to do it because if I hate it then I can grow it into something I don't hate before MLA, assuming I get an interview. On the other, I know that stupid Paris Hilton haircut shaggy-bob-thing I've had on my head is probably the best haircut I've had ever, so maybe I should stick with it? But I like changing my hair! Dammit, I don't know. This is why I need your input.)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Cleaning Out Email

How is it that I had allowed my email inbox to accumulate ONE THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED messages? (This is not even counting mail stored in folders.) I've deleted approx. 250 already, and I am hoping that by the end of the big purge to have only 500 saved. And even that is too many, really. But Rome wasn't built in a day, right?

In other getting-ready-for-the-academic-year news, I went to Staples and purchased the biggest binder they had - only five inches. I've got to find a way to edit the reappointment/tenure/promotion binder so that I need not ever expand beyond that point. This is no easy task, as I've mentioned before.

I now have only 862 emails in the inbox. Still deleting. But can I just note the following about The Great Purge?

a) It is so sad looking at all of the calls for papers that looked interesting, that I saved, and that I never did anything with and

b) It is disheartening indeed to see how many emails I get from students. Generally I try to delete student emails immediately, but some always slip through the cracks. And let me tell you, I get a lot of student email.

c) I'm hungry again, even though I had a sandwich only two hours ago. And I feel like I want to eat something really bad for me (as I've fallen off of the good eating wagon, pathetically).

To all people who use subject lines like "hey" or "information" or "update," please be more specific. Your vagueness means I've got to do one of two things: 1) open each cryptically subject-ed email to decide whether I should delete or 2) play email russian roulette and assume that nothing of import resides in cryptically subject-ed messages. Neither option is satisfactory. Thank you very much for your cooperation.

Final Update!
I have managed to whittle down my number of saved emails to a mere 243. This took 3 hours. What a totally lame way to spend one's day.

Deja Vu All Over Again (a post about going on the market)

Last night I began working on my cover letter. I dusted off my letter from the last time around, and I set about trying to turn it into something that actually shows who I am now. See, this is the weird thing about academic job searching. As you compile the materials, and as you look at old versions of the materials from searches of yesteryear, you're really looking at a version of your self, and you're attempting to construct a self to send out into the world. I suppose this isn't unique to academic searches, but because the materials required of us are so detailed, because one can be eliminated from consideration for the smallest misstep, it's a rhetorical situation that is incredibly fraught from even the moment of deciding to go on the market.

And perhaps the worst part of it is the cover letter. It inspires you to tell lies (like that one about the "next book project" - not that you won't have a next book but that at least if you're me you haven't really thought about the work you're doing right now in those terms until you were forced to do so by the letter) and to have a big crazy rush of productivity so as to be able to put things in the letter. The CV doesn't inspire the same kind of fretting - does my personality come through in the letter? How can I make this thing shorter? How do I include the most possible information without boring the committee to tears? And at this point, the writing sample doesn't inspire the same kind of fretting, or even the statement of teaching philosophy or of research plans. But the cover letter? Well, sure, I do know how to write one now, but it's still tricky.

I suppose that's the strange thing about embarking on this process right now. It's that I know how to do it because I've done it all before, but at the same time I don't entirely know how to do it in light of who I've become as a scholar in the past three years. I'm not the same person who was finishing up her dissertation in 2002, on the market for the first time. My research has moved beyond the tiny little area on which my dissertation focused; I've taught like 7 different literature courses when then I hadn't taught a one on my own; I've done so much service you'd think that I never say no to anything, even though I do, except for when I'm too flattered to remember about the saying no. In other words, I'm a very different candidate than I was then, even though looking back over the past three years I see how I grew out of that candidate that I was.

I'm not entirely sure how to conclude this post. I suppose suffice it to say that this decision to go on the market has really made me look carefully at how I've developed since getting a tenure track job as a member of this profession, and I think that even if nothing comes of this search, going through the rigamarole of putting together the materials has made me acknowledge what I'm achieving as a professional. That's a good thing. Feeling like a professional - instead of feeling like somebody who's knocking on doors and begging to be allowed to become a professional - at this point in the process is a really good thing.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Busy Busy Busy!

Well. I have been very, very productive today, if I do say so myself. What have I been up to?

  1. I took care of some paperwork re: my "reassigned time" stuff for the semi-admin. position. And can I just say again how happy I am that the blog name is still current? How awesome is that. Maybe it's like how profgrrrl claims that blogging something that's lost will make you find it. I called my blog "reassigned time" and it's made me get reassigned time for a whole year!
  2. I sent some long overdue emails.
  3. I created the presentation assignment for my upper-division class, which, hallelujah, seems like it's going to make its enrollment. I feel kind of sorry for my students, incidentally, as it's a pretty brutal assignment. But I think they'll learn a lot from it. And my prep will be minimized (which, of course, is what I shoot for with all such assignments).
  4. I scheduled a library session for the upper-division course, which I've not done before in those but which I think is worth the class day. By the way, does anybody remember how in olden times one would only use book sources in a paper because they were easier to get a hold of than articles? This is so not the way with my students, in this age of the internets and databases and such.
  5. I emailed a VIP in my department, a preliminary step toward the very scary and delicate business of asking for a letter for going on the market.
  6. I paid my bills.
I want to take care of more business, but I also am getting a little bit hungry and I kind of want to take a nap and/or play a computer game and/or watch a movie or something. Hrm.

I also decided not to update my real life website with the upper-div. course syllabus, as I'm afraid that if the students saw it they'd all drop and then the course would not be allowed to go and that would just suck. Why would they all drop? Well, I teach in a specialty that doesn't really appeal to the less motivated students, and, well, a lot of students are less motivated than you kind of need to be to read some of the stuff that I teach. And a lot of students lack confidence even if they are motivated, and so if they see the stuff on the syllabus they're afraid, especially if they don't know me. And my class is competing with contemporary fairytales or some such, which is a hell of a lot more appealing than what I teach, at least on the surface.

Why do I teach something that people don't like? Why do I like what I teach so much when so many hate it? Ah, questions for the ages.

I really miss New Kid. Especially because Michael Berube has this fantastic post about evaluations and rate my professor and stuff, and, well, evaluations make me think of New Kid. I do hope everything is ok with her.

Hmmmm.... what else? I have a little bit of a headache. Maybe I should take an advil?

And yes I'm aware it is Reading for Pleasure Wednesday and yes I'll post, but I'm kind of not in the mood. It's because I'm in work mode. It's a problem.

In other news, my diss. adviser sent me a really warm and supportive email about the market stuff. This is pretty awesome, as most of the time he has a very House-like disposition. Oh, I should probably note that this email was two sentences long, and that what made it really warm and supportive was that it wasn't some weird one-word answer that didn't really respond to what I actually wrote. So maybe I'm so used to feeling like the adviser gives me no love that anything seems warm and supportive at this point. (By the way, he's actually been a great adviser - it's just he's not great with email. Or telephones. He's kind of best in person, which is a problem since I am hundreds of miles away from him. Oh, and I need to make him out to be a monster in my head because it's this whole "I'm going to show him or please him or something!" thing I need in order to work. Whatever.)

Ok, this is a silly, rambly post. So I shall stop. Maybe I'll go out for some lunch (cheating on my healthy eating diet) and then do some more work? Maybe I'll go try to procure a binder that's big enough for all of my accomplishments? Hmmmm.

The Reading Meme - Finally

Clare tagged me for this meme ages ago, and what better day to do it on than on RfP Wednesday!

1. One book that changed your life?
I've probably got more than one of these, but I'm going to go with To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. It was the first novel by Woolf that I read - after first not reading it when assigned it in high school - and I still think that it's one of the most beautiful books I've ever read.

2. One book you have read more than once?
So here's the thing about me. I'm a compulsive re-reader. It's almost kind of sick. And I'm not talking about for work here, though obviously the literary criticism requires one to re-read, as does teaching sometimes. But the thing is, I don't re-read that much for work-related stuff. I take crazy notes the first time around and then only re-read when absolutely necessary. But for pleasure, I compulsively re-read. Over and over again. Until I can find "that part of the book I feel like reading before bed" just by flipping through the book. Most recently, I've been reading - and re-reading - the Harry Potter series, over and over and over again, for the past year. No, I'm not kidding. It's oddly comforting. Though I'll post about this at length another time.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?
In truth? Probably Finnegans Wake because I doubt I'll ever read the whole thing without desert island conditions. And I really do want to read it. Because I'm a masochist.

4. One book that made you laugh?
Well. I laugh at a lot of books. Most recently, though, I laughed out loud at Chelsea Handler's My Horizontal Life. I think my favorite "one night stand" is the one where she eats Mexican food before a night out. I will not say more, but I thoroughly recommend that all in need of cheering up go out and purchase this book.

5. One book that made you cry?
Most recently, and this is embarassing especially as I was on a plane when this happened, tears came to my eyes while reading the third Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book. I'm not kidding. Oh, you wanted a more substantive answer? Something not quite so embarassing? Hmmm..... Gerda Weissman Klein's All But My Life.

6. One book you wish had been written?
I have no idea how to answer this one. Aren't there more than enough books to keep us happy? Does the really need even just one more book? That said, I think I think the one book I wish had been written - or rather, published - is my first one. The problematic thing about this is that I've yet to finish the proposal for publishers. Woops.

7. One book you wish had never been written?
Ummmmm..... I don't really know. Even bad books are fun to talk about, no? But I'm going to go with any book by Dr. Phil McGraw.

8. One book you are currently reading?

Londonstani. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. My book manuscript, though that's really more "editing" than "reading." And I should probably start reading ahead for my classes in the fall....

9. One book you have been meaning to read?
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. I bought it right when it came out, and I've never gotten past the first page. Babel Tower by A.S. Byatt. Many of the novels in the Doris Lessing oeuvre. And I really need to finish The Satanic Verses. I got about halfway into it a couple of years ago, and then abandoned it. Jesus, I've got to stop. I could go on answering this question until sometime next week!

10. Now tag five people:

I'm betting that most people have done this who want to, as I'm so late to it, but if you've not, and you'd like to, well, consider yourself tagged!

Academic Urban Legends

I've been thinking about doing this post for a while now. The idea is, there are these urban legends that float around in academia for which there is no proof but which nevertheless persist. I figure I'm not the only person sitting at my computer trying to finalize syllabi, so this should be a nice way for people to procrastinate, right? I'm going to start the list, and feel free to post any additions in comments.

Academic Urban Legend (AUL) #1 - That person who went to your grad program in recent memory - but of course who finished before you, or even the people who've been around for years and are still in the program, arrived - and who finished the MA and PhD in three years AND got a job immediately upon defending.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Only Time for a Quick One....

As I'm in Hometown at my mom's house and on her crappy dial-up internet connection. At any rate, I'll be here until the beginning of next week, and so it'll be until then until I respond to comments on my most recent posts. The Man-Kitty was not at all happy to make this journey so quickly again, but got over it once I got him into the carrier. He's such a good kitty-cat. In other news, going out with friends tonight, and have a weird feeling that there may be an adventure of some kind. We shall see. At any rate, now am going to go for a walk with a friend who took a vacation day from work and then to the mall or something. Tra la!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Teaching As a Job - What I Wish I'd Learned in Grad School

Well, George just sent out the call for us to dust off our posting-about-teaching fingers, as summer vacation is coming to an end, and the Teaching Carnival schedule for Fall is all lined up, and so I thought, since I'm procrastinating, that I'd do a post related to one of the suggested topics that George mentioned.

George asks:
"What kind of preparation for teaching did you get in grad school? Was it adequate? What should have been done differently? How are you preparing the next generation of grad students for the classroom? How does the way you were taught affect the way you teach?"

These are all interesting questions, and ones that I've thought about a great deal since landing in a tenure-track job at a regional comprehensive university right out of graduate school at a prestigious sort of research university. Well, not the part about "preparing" the next generation of graduate students, as I don't have any to prepare. But the rest of it? Yes. So here it goes.

What kind of preparation for teaching did you get in grad school?
Well, I actually got quite a bit of preparation. First, in my MA program, I took a course (worth actual graduate credit toward the degree and required of all who wanted to teach in the program) that was all about teaching college writing. It was both theoretical and practical; it included doing things like constructing assignment sequences and syllabi as well as reading about theories behind why we teach writing in particular ways. It also required that we tutor in the writing center at the university, and that we "shadow" another instructor for much of the semester, and that instructor (also a grad student who'd been through the course) would allow us to run certain section meetings, would xerox the papers that students submitted so we could practice grading and get feedback on it, etc. This was a really, really excellent experience for me and an excellent introduction to teaching in the composition classroom.

In my PhD program, we were required to take a course (for which we got no credit, and which only lasted like half a semester or something) that was supposed to do the same thing that the course I took in my MA did. It was much more heavily theoretical, and I felt like it wasn't particularly enlightening.

Then, in my PhD program, we also TA'd. This was the only "training" in teaching literature that we received, and experiences varied widely depending upon what professor one TA'd for. In some cases, one was pretty much there to grade and to take attendance and to show movies that were scheduled outside of class time. In other cases, there was more "training" in things like leading discussion, lecturing, developing assignments, etc. It really just depended. Oh, and there was no guarantee that you would actually get the chance to TA in your field of specialization. None of my three TA-ships were in my specialty. Oh, and there was no opportunity for grad students to teach literature classes at my PhD-granting university. And according to our contracts, we weren't to teach outside of the program - or even work outside of the program - so most people did not adjunct elsewhere during the term of their funding (4-5 years).

Was it adequate? What should have been done differently?
Well, see, this is where it gets sticky. Was it adequate? Well, I left graduate school with teaching experience. I wasn't entirely clueless about how to run a classroom. I had a "teaching philosophy." I had a commitment to good teaching and to developing as a teacher. I'm not entirely sure whether one can expect to come out with anything more than that, really.

But. Being a "teacher" at my current institution bears little resemblance to much of what I learned about "teaching" in graduate school. Why?
  1. It is a very different thing to teach one or two classes in a semester, with no other obligations, really, other than a couple of classes and/or one's own research, than to teach four classes in a semester, with many other obligations in addition to one's own research (ha!). I did not learn in graduate school how to manage my time as a teacher. I did not learn how to budget my time in order to use it where it would be most effective.
  2. The practice of having TA's give one lecture a semester, as if this will "prepare" graduate students for what it is to get up EVERY SINGLE DAY in class, is just silly. And this is what they did in my grad program. I'm not sure what else can be done, really, if one doesn't allow grad students to teach lit classes, and commit to evaluating how they do in those lit classes, but the reality is that I pretty much lecture in each course only one or two days in the course of an entire semester. I don't teach huge classes (because the rooms at my institution are too small, so class sizes are small as well) and lecturing feels ridiculous when you're in a tiny, crummy room with only 25 people.
  3. No one really taught me in graduate school how to combine my teaching obligations with my research interests. I guess this goes along with the time management thing. This was something I had to figure out how to do once I got here, and luckily I did. If all of one's mentors view research as "their own work" that is entirely distinct from teaching, it gives a person who ends up in a place with a less than fabulous teaching load very little preparation for how to squeeze in one's "own work" without dying.
  4. I have no idea what my "teaching philosophy" was in my job applications a few years ago (though I will need to dust that document off) but my real life teaching philosophy now (and not what is in The Notebook, thank you very much) is something along the lines of That Which Does Not Kill You Makes You Stronger combined with Sometimes It's Ok to Half-Ass It. In other words, I'm just trying to get by a lot of the time, and I've had to learn how to put things like eating a decent meal and having some down time for myself ahead of any fancy philosophical notions that I had about teaching in grad school. That isn't to say that I don't care about my teaching. I do. But to care about it in the way that I learned to care about it in grad school would pretty much kill me if I tried it now.
  5. I don't think I realized how much PR was involved in teaching as a grad student. Now I've got to advertise my courses, send my students subliminal messages so as to get good evaluations, etc. I think that perhaps a bit of training in that area would be a good thing, as it is the reality at many institutions. I realize that's not technically "teaching," but it is related to the teaching part of the job.
How does the way you were taught affect the way you teach?
You may think that the way I was taught doesn't affect the way that I teach, from what I've written above. But I actually see the influence of the teachers I've admired all over my teaching. The difficulty of the texts that I assign, the level of responsibility I expect of my students for their work, the kinds of tests and assignments that I design - all of this goes back to the way that I was taught. And then there is the way that I respond to students who are off the wall and just plain wrong, which apparently I inherited directly from my dissertation director. But you'll notice that these influences are mostly models for teaching - not actual teaching about teaching. And I wonder whether it really can be much different from that. Yes, it's helpful to have someone walk you through your first syllabus, through your first exam that you design. It's helpful to get feedback. But honestly the most feedback I got was in the "shadow-teacher" experience as an MA student. I didn't really learn how to teach from my teachers as a grad student. Oh, sure, I attended some retreat things. Peter Elbow was at one of them. It was awesome, I guess. I suppose that at the end of the day I'd say the biggest problem with the way that graduate schools train English Literature PhDs to teach is that they don't train them to do the jobs that they will be hired to do. They train them to do the work that the PhD-granting institution needs them to do. That's not about training the next generation of professors - that's about training the current generation of exploited and contingent labor.

Professor as Scrapbooker

I hope I don't get a lot of readers who are excited for me to reveal an as yet hidden penchant for scrapbooking, because that's not what this post is about. This post is about the review process for professors on the tenure track. A review process, incidentally, that I knew little-to-nothing about prior to achieving tenure-track employment.

So, at my university, here's the deal. Every year, every single year, one must construct The Notebook. (At many places, one only needs to do this at the three-year point and then when one goes up for tenure. I'm not sure which is worse - or better, if we're being not quite so negative - as the version at my institution means I get constant feedback but the "third year review" version means that a lot less time is spent on scrapbooking activities.) The Notebook is due every year a few weeks into the fall semester. I think the theory is that this is beneficial because people can take time to work on it over the summer. The reality is that there is no good time to have this monstrosity come due, as it's a huge time-suck, and a real pain in the ass. Oh, and I should mention: this notebook is pretty much divorced from all other methods of reviewing faculty performance. Has nothing to do with "merit pay" raises, etc., and so I complete another document a few weeks into every spring semester that relates to all that stuff. And that document has slight but distinct differences from The Notebook, so you can't just copy and paste from one to the other.

So I've been trying to get to work on The Notebook early this year (instead of crapping it together in the week before it's due) because I really need to edit the thing a bit as well as to add some things and to re-organize some things. Partly I need to do all this because I've been crapping the thing together for three years. Partly I need to do all this because the tenure requirements at my university have just been "revised." Are they all that different from what they were before? Nah. And I'm not super-concerned about how these changes will affect me (though if I had been operating under the old system for years and was going up for tenure this fall I'd be pretty freaked out, as there's no grandfather clause or anything). But this is the thing about evaluation in this profession - it requires all of this rhetorical posturing and self-conscious self-presentation in order to justify your employment. And that is... well, tiring. And time-consuming. And a little bit sickening. And even though what is actually required in the notebook (self-evaluation statements, documentation that proves you're performing in the three areas - teaching, research, service - such as emails, paperwork, publications, student evaluations, blah blah blah) doesn't really change that much, the language and organization of that documentation is supposed to be slightly different. Or so it seems. And so I'm spending all this time changing the statements that go with each section and the opening letter that accompanies the whole thing and the ordering of shit to reflect the way that the administrative tides have been turning. And even though I'm not really doing my job any differently, I've got to present what I'm doing differently. And this is a pain. A colossal pain.

And then I wonder whether all of this time spent is really just time spent procrastinating. Does anybody really read this Notebook? Really? Are they really looking for this year's buzz words or do the buzz words really work some sort of subliminal mojo on those reviewing me? And does being selective and careful with what I choose to include help or hurt me, because at first everybody advised I should put in "everything." And did I mention that every fucking thing I include needs to be in a plastic fucking sleeve? And did I mention that I'm not sure if the binder I've got will hold all the things I've got, so I may need to special order a fucking binder because I'm not sure where in middle America to buy that big of a binder?

So yeah. That's what I've been spending last night and this afternoon doing today. At least I've been in air conditioning.

RfP Wednesday: Kids' Books about Pests

I've decided for this Reading for Pleasure Wednesday to mine the vault that is my brain to talk about some books that I loved as a kid. I got the idea on Saturday, when I went to Borders and was browsing around and happened upon a copy of Ramona the Pest. This was one of the first "chapter books" I remember reading, and I absolutely loved it. I've got to say, I don't really remember much about it now. I just remember that I really liked Ramona, that I totally thought that she was misunderstood and that she wasn't really a pest. But while some of this was about identification - I think that kids at a certain point - usually at the point when they are called and define themselves as "big kids" and their parents tell them that their New Year's Resolution should be to "give up whining," not that this happened to me or anything - do begin to worry that they are "pests" - I think I also kind of envied the Ramona character, because she had a big sister who thought she was a pest. I was an only child, and I gravitated toward these books that had protagonists who had siblings - but usually siblings who found them pest-like. It wasn't until I was around 10 or 11 that I started reading what I'll call the "orphan" books, like The Witch of Blackbird Pond, the Anne of Green Gables books by Lucy Maud Montgomery, or Jane Eyre. No, from about the age of three, beginning with The Poky Little Puppy, and moving right along to one of my all-time favorite books Who's a Pest? and then to books like the Ramona books and even the Little House books, I was really into books that featured pesky little siblings who were misunderstood and who, in the end, were heroic. So any way, for those of you with kids, maybe check some of these out if you aren't familiar with them. (Especially that Who's a Pest?. You just can't go wrong with a protagonist named Homer, sisters named Lolly, Polly, Molly, and Dolly, and a giant Bear. No, you cannot. And my little half-brother loved it when I got it for him, too, so it's not just a "girl book.")

Upcoming posts in the works for RfP Wednesday: I've got a Harry Potter post brewing, which promises to reveal my total insanity, but it may take a few weeks to get it where it needs to be. Also, I've started reading Londonstani by Gautam Malkani, and I really think it's brilliant, at least so far. Technically it could become a work-book, but as I'm not reading it as such right now, I think I may break my own rule. Also, I think I want to talk about it alongside Zadie Smith's On Beauty, which also technically could be a work book but will never be because I have real problems with it. But so anyway, those are things that are in the offing. And now I need to go and accomplish something other than blogging!