Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Well, so. I came home early this afternoon, spent quality time watching some NKOTB and Nick Lachey Behind the Music with the Man-Kitty and his faithful sidekick Mr. Stripey, found out that the dishwasher wasn't actually broken - it was just testy for me - and napped. And I don't feel any better.

I'm beginning to wonder if this is some post-turning-in-the-Binder funk, combined with a knowing-that-the-book-comes-out-this-month (fingers crossed) funk. I mean, there's nothing actually wrong. My classes went fine today, and things are going along fine in other areas as well. I just don't feel... myself. I feel whiny and pathetic and like I wish somebody were around to take care of me.

Ok, well, that's not true about nothing being wrong though. There's the news about my uncle being terminally ill rattling around in the back of my head, and I found out that the Collection Article that Languishes is actually further from publication than it was 3 months ago. That shouldn't be so upsetting to me as it is, but it's just depressing to have put so much work into something and for it to be trapped inside of the Collection that Languishes. Who even knows if it's interesting anymore. I had that idea nearly five years ago. I wrote the original version of the article like three or four years ago. It's just depressing to me that it sits there gathering dust. And I still haven't heard about what's up with the article under review at Fancy Journal, and that waiting is depressing to me, too, but I can't legitimately inquire about it again until like Nov. 1 at the earliest. Sigh.

But enough of this whining.

I did manage to make myself a delicious and healthy stirfry for dinner, which I am about to eat. Perhaps this shall improve my mood? I will say, I am excited about all of the cooking that I'm doing and that the healthy foods are not rotting in the refridgerator. This is positive. And tomorrow begins the Workout Regime.

People asked what I plan on doing. It's got to be the gym. It's the only way to motivate myself. I can say I'll walk places as opposed to driving, but I won't do it. I can say I'll get up and out in my neighborhood, but once I enter my home, I cannot be trusted to leave it. Or if I do, I'll cheat and not work out for as long as I should. And biking doesn't work for me because I'm shitty at riding a bike. Was as a kid. I was the kid who had no coordination or balance, and careened wildly out of control and ran into parked cars and stuff. No, biking in the world would not work.

So, it's the treadmill, the stationary bike, and the elliptical for cardio, and the circuit of machines for strength stuff. I'm not a fan of any sort of group exercise - far from motivating me, it makes me feel like a dufus. So the plan is that I'm going to start out with a half-hour a day, and work my way up to an hour. Tomorrow morning I will weigh myself, and I'll also start with the food diary. And that, my friends, is Operation Fitness.

I just have to keep telling myself that this is a priority and that if I can't make myself a priority for one hour a day, then something is wrong.

So tonight: I need to get the gym bag ready, and I need to schedule my workouts for the week in my planner. I also need to find my iPod armband thingie and earphones, and I need to maybe update my workout playlists. Oh, and I should find that journal that I was using for the food diarizing earlier this year - no sense in starting a new one.

It would help if I wasn't feeling so fussy and miserable, but perhaps the exercise endorphins will do their magic and make me not fussy and miserable.

Cranky. Fussy. Whatever You Want to Call It.

You know that the day is going to be a challenge when you:
  • Wake up with a splitting headache at 6 AM and you aren't hung over. (Note: I rarely get headaches, but when I do I wake up with them. I think it's related to the sinuses.)
  • Feed the kitties and take some advil, thinking, "Oh, I shall go back to bed for an hour." Except you turned off the alarm when you awakened at 6 AM. And so that means that you will, even though you technically woke up "early" will also manage to wake up "late" this morning. Happily, though, your head didn't hurt when you woke up at 7:40 AM. This is good because you had to rush around like a freak in order to be ready in time.
  • Still have a broken dishwasher (or a clogged one, or something) even though you called yesterday about having them come fix it. This means also that you had to put the kitties in home repair jail, on the off chance that they come to fix it when you're not home.
  • Have yet to figure out why you initiated a dramatic and ultimately teary Talk with FB last night (or, if you're honest, you maybe think you did this because you wanted attention, but if that's the only thing that made that conversation happen - your need for drama and attention - then really you're pathetic and stupid, and so you're not going to be honest but instead will pretend to yourself and others that you don't really know what your motivation was).
  • Feel like you might be coming down with some sort of cold or something, but then wonder whether you just want to be sick so that you can feel sorry for yourself and so that others will feel sorry for you. This, as was the previous bullet, is pathetic.
In other words, today is the sort of day that I would have periodically in high school where I'd wake up and end up in a screaming and crying fight with my mom within like 10 minutes of waking, and she would decide that I needed a "mental health day" and make me stay home from school. And, were it not for the fact that I have things happening in my classes that I don't want to/can't postpone, I probably should have made myself stay home today, except I'm no good at making myself stay home and really do need other people to make me take care of myself in that way if there's nothing physically wrong with me. So I am cranky, and I am fussy, and I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, twice, and I am not feeling pleased with anything, and I kind of feel like bursting into tears, and I wish somebody were around to indulge my current need to be coddled and felt sorry for.

I may be dedicated enough to teach this morning, but I am totally cancelling my office hours. Today is just not a day where I can hang. Not at all.

Monday, September 29, 2008

In Which I Solidify My Reputation as the Gleeful Purveyor of Doom

And no! I'm not even talking about the collapse of the financial world as we know it! See, I stand to lose nothing - I say nothing! - because of the financial collapse because I don't own anything - anything! - because I spent all that time in graduate school. Really, it's a win-win. Sure, I've got a buttload of debt, but who won't after all this shakes out? Nobody! But really, thank goodness I had to buy my car in June, as if I would have had to do it now, I'd have been screw-ew-ew-ed.

No, I'm talking about the way that I interact with students about the state of the profession and the field of literary studies. All students, yes, but our students most particularly. The deal is, they haven't been socialized, in the way that other students might have been, into the culture of the academy and to understand, to totally steal Mark Bousquet's book title, "how the university works." They see the university, as did I when I was a naive lass embarking on my career path, as a way of opting out of how the world works. Opting out of a life of working to live, opting out of shitty bosses, opting out of a life that deadens the mind and the spirit. And so, here I am, no longer naive, the Gleeful Purveyor of Doom. Many of my colleagues might hate me. Many students most certainly do - or at least they think I'm very scary.

Here's the thing. I've said this before, and I'll say it again: it's not that I don't believe in supporting students who want to go on to graduate school in English. Rather, it's that I think that before they make that choice, they should hear the worst of what they might be in for. I believe that they should have as much information as possible before they strap on the costs (emotional, financial, mental, spiritual) of the Ph.D. and profession in this field. If they hear my Gleeful Tale of Doom and Gloom, and they still want it, fine. If they hear it and it dissuades them, well, perhaps they shouldn't go down that road. Not because I said so, but because if their desire isn't up to the information with which I present them and the way in which I present it, then that means something. I do not believe in perpetuating myself by sending students unwittingly into academe. I believe in showing them that other options might be better life options for them. And that it's not a failure for them to choose the life that they want over academic achievement. Unless academic achievement is the life that you want, well, probably there are a lot of other better jobs.

This, perhaps, is one example of the ways in which I'm alienating to students. Oh, indeed, a fair few students find me reprehensible. BFF took a gander at my RMP page this weekend, and she was astonished at the number of ratings I had (upwards of 30 over 5 years, which is a lot for my university), the range of courses represented in those ratings (all of them, nearly, that I teach), and the extremes that those ratings exhibited. Oh yes, I'm one of those polarizing professors whom one either loves or hates. And even the lovers typically leave comments that are less than flattering. Example: one comment with the highest ratings notes that at the beginning of the semester, the student believed I was "bitter and cold" but that after getting to know me, the student realized I was just really "knowledgeable and passionate." Now, I have to say, I think that the dichotomy there is an interesting one - that this student saw those two things as opposites, in some fashion. I could very well be bitter and cold and knowledgeable and passionate, I would think, but apparently no. (Note: I haven't actually looked at my RMP ratings in like 2 years. I learned a long time ago that they would do little more than upset me.)

Here's the thing, and here's why my status as Gleeful Purveyor of Doom relates: I think that learning is sometimes tough going. I think that sometimes being introduced to new ideas and new ways of doing things freaks us out. I think that sometimes hearing the bad news about things we've dreamed about or that we love makes us angry. That doesn't mean that I aim to make it tough going for my students, that I aim to freak them out (except sometimes, in the most fun of ways), or that I aim to make my students angry. I don't. I don't think that it makes me a "good teacher" that students respond to me this way. (I think that part of their response is about my gender and age, and how those relate to the region and the institution, and I think part of it is because sometimes that's just the response that a student will sometimes have to a teacher.) And I don't think that my students suck because they have those reactions, nor do I think it's wrong for them to have those reactions as part of their education. I'm just not sure about what or how those responses mean ultimately.

I'm confident that I believe what I say, that I know about what I say, and that I am educating students. I think that I should be confident in those things, if I'm going to claim to teach. But teaching for me has never been about making them all feel great. And a lot of people would argue (whether students or colleagues) that this makes me a "bad" teacher. I don't think that I am, many former students would not think that I am, and many colleagues would not think that I am. But I do think it's fair to say that I don't necessarily make all of my students feel great, or even good. I don't aim to make them feel badly, but sometimes that does happen. But does that mean I'm a bad professor, if some students feel badly?

I'd say no, but then, I'm the Gleeful Purveyor of Doom. In a lot of ways, I teach to the student I was, and I was the sort of student who'd rather hear the bad news before the good. Because my teaching is structured and informed in that way, I do run the danger of getting extreme responses. And because my approach to advising students related to grad school is structured in that way, I also run the danger of extreme responses related to that. I don't think my fearlessness about extreme responses makes me a good teacher, necessarily, but I do think that it doesn't make me a bad one.

Teaching is so much about who we ourselves are. And maybe who I am, really, is somebody who not everybody is going to like in a medium sort of a way. And so maybe students' failure to respond to me in a medium sort of a way isn't about my ability to teach the material, or about my ability to give good advice. Maybe it is, ultimately, about me. And maybe that has nothing whatsoever to do with teaching or mentoring. Maybe it has nothing to do with those things at all.

IT'S NOON??? Woops.

Ok, so last night I did have a bit of a hard time falling asleep. I've eaten only healthy things for about 5 days, and this leads to the energy, which can lead to me having a hard time falling asleep if I don't work out. (I decided that the working out begins Oct. 1.) Anyway.

So the kittens woke me at the "normal time" around 6, but I was still sleepy. So I went back to bed, thinking I'd awaken by like 9 or 10.

Yeah, not so much. Try noon.

And the sick thing is that I wouldn't be against returning to bed. Except, of course, for the fact that I have a ton I'm supposed to be accomplishing this afternoon. Sigh.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fitness, Blah

So, as you may recall, this year all of my resolutions centered around three things: fitness, finances, and fun. I've done well with the finances and the fitness. I'm making steady progress on paying off debt, and fun has certainly been a priority (though of course one could always have more fun, but basically I feel like I'm not in some sort of fun deficiency anymore).

The fitness thing though.... let's just say I've kind of fallen apart on those goals. I feel like a fatso who doesn't take care of herself. That sucks. I can blame lots of things for this.... but the reality is that this is the first thing to go when I'm in work-hard-play-hard mode. Oh, and also I really like food and drink. This does not combine well with my lack of interest in exercise and my great interest in lying around and doing nothing.

I know, I know: you have to find exercise you enjoy! The more you do it, you become addicted to it! Fuck that. I feel like the people who say that are also the people who insist that not eating meat is no big deal and easy to do. In other words: these are the people who have a natural propensity to these things, and they are not my people. My people are the kind of have a natural propensity to lying around on their asses while eating nachos with all the fixings.

The problem is, my people end up being fat-asses with health problems, whose clothes don't fit properly, and I don't want to be one of those people.

And so, I have three months and a bit until 2008 is over. The book is done. The Tenure Binder is done. And for a while I've been wondering what my "next project" is with the completion of those things, and I have decided that the "next project" is Operation Fitness. It has to be done. And no, I don't like the idea of it really, but I also know that if I apply myself to this project with the same intensity that I apply myself to those other sorts of things that I will see results. I am hoping that with results will come greater ambition to continue on the path of fitness, instead of what typically happens with me, which is when I see results I take that as a sign that I can stop doing the fitness-related activities. Yes, I realize that my typical response is counter-intuitive. I am not totally without self-awareness. So it's a matter of really committing (and oh, how that is difficult for me to do) to this project and of keeping my natural impulses at bay until the fitness crap becomes second-nature, or at least a habit.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Poof because it was just too raw of a post. But thanks everybody for your comments. I really do appreciate them.

Catching Up - 1/3 of the Way through the Semester

It's funny, during the semester, it's always a matter of "catching up" rather than of ever being "caught up." Catching up on sleep, catching up on work, catching up on everything. And sometimes I'm really energized by that, and other times it feels super-overwhelming. This week it's felt like a bit of both, probably because it's been such a crazy week.

First there's the fact that I'm no longer preparing to go up for tenure but rather that the ship has sailed and I am going up for tenure, if that makes sense. It's weird, knowing that there's nothing I have to do for tenure anymore because it's all been turned in.

And then there's the fact that in my Glorious Stupendous Love of My Life Upper-Division Class that we're now in the home stretch of Notoriously Difficult Novel, and that has me feeling utterly spent. It's been a pleasure to teach this novel this semester because my students are so invested and so awesome. As a group, they have bought into the endeavor; they trust me to guide them through the endeavor. And that should be (and often is) energizing. But it's also, well, totally exhausting. Not because anything is going wrong, though, but just because it takes a certain force of energy to push us through this book. So as much as I'm energized, all of that energy is also sucked out of me by this book and this class, if that makes sense. In other words, being energized is necessary for the energy that I'm expending - if I weren't energized, there wouldn't be enough energy to propel us forward. I don't know if I'm making any sense anyplace except for in my own head with this train of thought, but there it is. But so I find myself looking forward to being done with the first half of the class, to being done with this novel, because once we're done with it, we move on to another novelist that doesn't produce this particular set of responses/feelings in me. I need a freaking break from the intensity of this experience. At the same time, I suppose the intensity of this experience is exactly why I'm committed to teaching NDN, even if I only do it every fourth year.

This was also a busy week in the department, what with meetings and such that were must-attend events, and well, yes. So I'm finally, today, working on the project of "catching up" knowing full well that I won't actually be "caught up" for real until the semester is over.

But so I've been very up and down this week, almost manic (not clinically or anything, but you know) at some moments and completely wiped at others. Now I'm feeling more even, but I'm trying to use that evenness to accomplish a bunch of things, because in truth when I've got the excess of energy or the deficiency of energy I can't really take care of mundane things like grading or whatever.

Anyway, so that's where I've been, and that's why blogging here has been light-ish (or at least lame-ish) for me.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

RBOC: Stupid Early Rising Cats Edition

  • Actually, it's not their fault. It's my fault. I stirred into wakefulness for a brief moment and they took that as a strong indicator of the following: "It is morning! Yippee! Breakfast! Come on! Aren't you excited!"
  • In other word, note to self and to cats: 4:30 AM is not a reasonable time to awaken, even if one went to bed early-ish.
  • Other than going to bed early-ish, I also last night made a second version of the syllabus that I'll teach for the fist time in the Spring. Oh yeah, that needed to be done. However, I think I'll use the second version, because I like the reader I did that syllabus with better, even though it doesn't have some of what I'd be into teaching.
  • I have so. much. work. to. do. It's really not cool.
  • Coffee is really nice.
  • You know what else is nice? That FB. Not because of anything in particular, really. Actually, it's mainly that I'm feeling totally appreciative of the fact that he doesn't make me feel suffocated and smothered. Now, let's note that he'd have to be one giant asshole to do that from a gajillion miles away, but I am feeling appreciative of this nonetheless, and so I thought I'd give him some props. Really this appreciation, though, is because I feel awful for a friend of mine who's feeling suffocated and smothered in her non-fake relationship. Man, doesn't it suck feeling that way?
  • I feel like I need to buy some new pillows. I keep waking up with stupid neck and shoulder pain.
  • I know it would be advantageous for me to use this morning time for work, and then take a nap in a few hours. The problem is that I am utterly lacking in motivation. Utterly. Lacking.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Word on the Word "Polarizing"

This is a word that has been irritating me since the democratic primary season, when "polarizing" became the epithet that was consistently attached to Clinton. Is it just me, or has the word "polarizing" become politically correct shorthand for saying that a woman is damned if she does and damned if she doesn't, that a woman's one option is to fulfill gender expectations perfectly or people won't like her and she'll have to be punished? That sure is what it's seeming like to me. And the thing that disgusts me about this is that somehow the use of the word "polarizing" seems to authorize this position, because "polarizing" is not technically a gendered category, even if of late we don't really see it used for, I don't know, men. Well, that's not true. Maybe it's a word used for non-white men, too, like Al Sharpton, say.

"Polarizing" becomes a politically correct way of calling somebody crazy, of putting them in their place, of dismissing them. See, it turns out women and people of color don't get to have full personalities that cause people to have a variety of reactions to them. They don't get to be complex, and if they inspire complex or contradictory responses in others, that's ultimately not ok. If we call them polarizing, that certainly helps to shut them up, or, if that fails, to make sure people don't really see what those people say as important or legitimate.

And so if people refuse to change their behavior when they've been called out for being polarizing, does that mean that they aren't taking responsibility that they should be taking? Or maybe, perhaps, it means that they're refusing to play nice and go along with expectations that are totally fucked up, and maybe, instead of worrying about how "polarizing" these people are - or what makes a person "polarizing" - we should instead worry about how fucked up that categorization is.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Boring Monday Afternoon Sort of Post

Well, I wish I had it in me to do a post that was not of this variety, but, well, I feel like writing, and I don't have any "topics of the day" that are on my mind about which to write.

I got less done today than my ambitious list of things to do had indicated I wanted to do, but I have made some headway, when all is said and done. Most significantly, I totally cleared off my kitchen counters, cleaned up the filthy cat food area, vacuumed, and took out the trash.

I also, on the work front, took care of some administrative crap for the online class.

You'll notice that I didn't end up going in to the office, didn't deal with bowing out of that other service thing, didn't deal with JWIBSNA related tasks, and, well, didn't do anything else on that list either. I have high hopes that I'll check a couple of more things off the work list before the night is through, but I've decided that even a little productivity should be celebrated and that I'm not going to beat myself up for being less on the ball than I'd hoped to have been today.

In other news, I'm just sort of feeling a bit... listless ... today (in spite of the grand to-do list). Is this some kind of "I turned my tenure binder in" hangover? Perhaps. I think one of the reasons that I didn't drag myself into the office was because I didn't want to be tempted to take the thing back from the dept. office and to play around with it. Also because I didn't want to see the people in my cohort who are also going up running around like mad before turning the binder in. Something about the fact that this is the day that the thing is due had me in a bit of a funk, though I'm not entirely sure why, especially as I already turned mine in. I guess I've been thinking a lot over this weekend about the big questions of "so what?" and "what now?"

I keep thinking that I should be considering what I want, now that I've done the last of the hoop-jumping activities. The fact is, I don't really know. I don't know really what the point of the hoop-jumping has been, nor does it give me much of a sense of accomplishment to have completed it. At the same time, I know this is supposed to be some kind of a milestone or marker. And as for the "what now?" well, I feel like things are pretty much going along like business as usual, which is fine, but it would be nice if there were a greater sense of occasion or if this having the binder out of my hair freed me up in some kind of substantive way. But with teaching four classes, what really could I expect other than to keep trudging along, according to the syllabus?

And then I keep thinking about what I want to do to celebrate when (crossing fingers) I finally get the positive tenure decision. Do I want to throw a party? I hate throwing parties and entertaining in my home, so that seems like a weird thing to consider. Do I want to take a trip? The fact is, I don't really want to spend money on that because I'm trying to get out of debt and save for a house. (Let's not talk about the economy and what that will mean for this goal, as I feel like the best thing I can do is to just keep on with my goals in this area until the sky actually falls, if it hasn't already.) Do I want to buy myself these boots? But if I do, shouldn't I buy them at the start of fall, even though under normal circumstances I'd never spend that much money on a pair of boots, so as to get the most wear out of them? But if I did that, then wouldn't I feel like they weren't really "tenure boots" (ala Profgrrrrl)? I feel as if the bloom would be off the rose by the time the decision was handed down, and thus I'd want to buy another present for myself. In which case buying them would just be an episode of conspicuous consumption. And the fact is, I've got a pair of black boots that is just fine and that's not terribly different from this pair. (I've reached the point where I keep buying the same footwear, with small variations, over and over again. It's kind of ridiculous. I think it's because at a certain point I realized that for me it only makes sense to buy footwear that is either black or brown, and at a certain point, one has all of the black or brown things to put on one's feet that exist in the world.)

And then, what if after all of this, I actually do apply for JWIBSNA and, thinking positively, that goes well, and that ends up meaning that the whole going up for tenure milestone ends up being the milestone that wasn't and I don't actually get to celebrate the milestone because I'll be back on the tenure track? And having to move. The thought of that makes me want to crawl into the bed and never leave it. I don't want for this to have been an exercise in futility. I don't want to fucking move to a new place and to start over (even if I would be awarded time served). I don't give a shit about the fact that it would be a better job than the one I've currently got. I don't even give a shit that it would be a lighter teaching load. I used to give a shit about these things, but now I feel like I'd lose something if I went after them. But all of this musing is stupid, because I know what the market is, and I'm pretty clear on where I stand in the market's trajectory, and the likelihood is that applying for JWIBSNA will end up being a waste of time, paper, and postage, other than that it's good to go on the market periodically because through doing so people realize that you exist in the profession. Seriously: I'm thinking of this more in terms of continuing to engage with the broader profession and having more people see my work and what I'm up to than in terms of actually getting a new job. This may be a self-protective impulse, however.

All of that said, I'm happy I'm not going to MLA this year and that I failed to send a proposal in for the late-winter conference I'd been considering attending. I'm happy that I'm not actually working on any research right now, and that the only research iron I've got in the fire is the article that is still out for review. Note to self: if I don't hear anything by Nov. 1 I need to contact them again. I know that I was an ass for submitting the thing at the start of June, for who expects a normal-time turnaround when all of the reviewers are off and away during the summer, but given the fact that the last word that I had was that one reader had returned their report and that they were waiting on one past-deadline person, I'd really hoped to hear something by now. I'd honestly even be cool with a rejection (though obviously a rejection would sting) because then I could send it out someplace else with a higher acceptance rate. I really do think the thing is worthy of publication, so it's not like I feel like a rejection from this particular journal would be the worst thing that ever happened to me. I just want to know.

That's actually also how I feel about the Collection Article that Languishes. How long has it (and the collection) been languishing, you ask? Like three years. I don't even know whether that article is interesting anymore. And I'd ask the editors about it, but at this point, what the fuck? It's not all the editors - as far as I know the collection went back to the press that was interested in it and asked for revisions. So take this as a warning, peeps: even if journals take an age to get back to you, that process is much less fraught than the edited collection process. I hadn't realized this because my first edited collection publications happened with the minimum of waiting and drama - and that's including one that was stalled for about a year and a half because the publisher was located in lower Manhattan and 9/11 happened. (Happy note: I realized when I did a search in Amazon to see if my page for the book was up yet that the article in that collection is cited a good amount in somebody else's book that came out last year. I feel very fancy and interesting, especially given the fact that this collection article is not in my field of specialization and was based on a seminar paper that I wrote in grad school for a theory seminar. Maybe I am a theoretically interesting person after all, even though I don't consider myself a "theory person"? And perhaps this makes me more confident that I'm currently being styled by my department as a "theory person"?)

So what else? I feel like nothing, really. So I think it's time for dinner.

A Boring Monday Morning Sort of Post

So I'm sitting here at the dining room table, having glanced at my email, at blogs, at an IHE article about gender in the academy that I didn't really read because it was long and I'd just woken up....

In other words, I am getting off to a slow start on this Monday.

The problem, at least in part, is that I have two sets of things I need to do today, and I'm not entirely certain which to do first. The first set of things is work-related:
  • Read draft for mtg. with BES tomorrow.
  • Put up ppt on editing for web course.
  • Grade assignment for web course and send the class an email about this week's goings on.
  • Talk to those in charge about getting out of a service commitment.
  • JWIBSNA letter (which I totally ignored this weekend).
  • Email people requests for LoRs.
But then the second set of things is house-related, and it primarily involves doing around-the-house things that didn't really get completed over the weekend. Now, one might argue that I should do the around-the-house things first, but then will I really be motivated to go into the office? Though actually, looking over my list of things to do, I don't necessarily have to go into the office to accomplish all of the school/work things....

But or I could do the school/work things first and then come home and do house-related things. I just don't have faith I'd actually *do* the house related things if I put them off until afternoon. Sigh.

You know, I wish that scientists would get to work on training house cats to do chores. I know that my little men are smart enough and that they could really do some things if they felt like it. The problem is, they seem to have a very strong sense of entitlement which precludes them assisting me in any way. Brats. That said, they are very cute, which may make up for their slackitude.

Here's a picture of Mr. Stripey in he Kitten Tent that he and his brother share:

And here's a picture of them entering the kitten tent from different entryways, which typically leads to one of them leaping through and tackling the other.

And then, when that's done, and they've knocked the kitten tent over, it's time for some licking of each others' faces.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

In Which I Retract My Frustrated Posts of Last Week

I think that the web course is back on track. I'm thinking that the level of frustration I experienced had a lot to do with the way time works in the web course. If one hits a bump in the road, it takes longer to realize it and then longer to get everybody back on track. Or it seems like it does. But ultimately, everything I did this week totally worked! (And a number of people dropped, which totally helped.) But so far so good. I no longer think that I'm going to fail everyone, and from what I gather, the students who remain are really enjoying the course. Who knew?

Apparently It Is a Day of Cooking

Right now, I'm making this.

My house smells so good that I might die before the soup is done. Seriously. I hope it tastes as good as it smells.

Edited to Add:
Oh. My. God. Am in Pea Soup Heaven. And that's even having changed the recipe to make it slightly less decadent (used nonfat half/half + whole wheat bread + lowfat sour cream). Again: Pea Soup Heaven.

In Which I Brag about My Breakfast

You know, I think that I have some sort of gift with the cooking of eggs. No, I mean really. It's like I just know what to do with them. Like I make perfect scrambled eggs and always have. It's like a special talent or something.

Today I decided - on a whim - to make my first ever omelet. I made it with broccoli and cheddar cheese. It is perfection. Seriously. And not greasy like restaurant omelets, nor dry. Nope. Perfect, light, fluffy deliciousness.

Ok, now back to watching the film my students are viewing this week and making up some questions for them to think about while they watch.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Processing the Tenure Process

So, the Binder is turned in, and I've been trying to think about how I feel about having passed this particular milestone, and about how the tenure process at my institution has worked for me personally. Now, I have written about tenure in general before - with a dash of the personal thrown in - so I'm going to do my best not to just rehash stuff I've written here before. But I thought I might as well write something about how I'm feeling now that the thing is out of my hands - what I've done, what I might have done differently, how I think my experience measures up to the typical narratives we hear about how junior faculty feel about the tenure process.

I've got to say, turning in the Binder was a bit of an anticlimax for me. I didn't feel some great sense of completion upon turning it in, nor do I feel like my life will be substantially different now that this part of my probationary period is done. I work at an institution where junior faculty take a really active role in all parts of the university, where we speak up about what we're thinking, where we've got a lot of freedom to do whatever we want to do. Or at least that's how it is in my department, and at many other departments across the institution (I probably shouldn't speak for everybody on this). For these reasons, what reaching this milestone means for me, in practical terms, is really just that I don't have to do the stinking Binder anymore. So if there's "relief" at all, it's really just relief that I will no longer be required to scrapbook as part of my job. Sure, if/when I go up for full professor I'll have to put together another binder, but the requirements for that are different (it's a much more streamlined Binder that one puts together - it's not about documenting "everything" so much as about proving excellence beyond the "everything" that one has already documented). But the short version of all of this is that the tenure process has never really caused me stress except for when I was in my first year and we had to start the Binder from scratch, and I have never felt like I wasn't clued in to what the expectations were.

This is where the Chronicle piece to which I linked above doesn't really fit my experience, and I wonder whether that's because my institution is some exception to prevailing norms or whether that's because the piece itself is making some sweeping generalizations about all assistant professors when really it's talking about "assistant professors at a certain kind of institution." See, the report is based on interviews with "30 junior faculty members at six universities," and so I wonder: how were the 30 chosen? What disciplines were represented? What types of institutions were included in the six? Is this really a representative sample of what all junior faculty experience? I mean, 30 people at six institutions means they probably talked to five people at each institution. Where in the tenure process were each of the interviewees? Second year? Fourth year? I think that could make a difference. I also think that the people most likely to participate in such interviews would be people who had a gripe, no? But maybe I'm just being cynical in that thought.

Anyway, the interview lists the complaints of junior faculty as the following:
  • Vague and inconsistent tenure guidelines.
  • Lack of constructive feedback.
  • A culture of "don't ask, don't tell."
  • Divergence between policy and practice.
It then lists the potential solutions to these problems as the following:
  • Adopt formal written policies.
  • Offer workshops.
  • Interpret tenure policies.
(Head on over and read the article if you haven't - I'm only recounting the bullets of it here.)

Now, when I look at the above lists, the only thing that I can suppose is that my institution - in contrast to most - is doing everything (pretty much) right. The proposed potential solutions? All firmly in place. (And I'll add that the whole "workshop"thing has always struck me as a complete waste of time - much better are individual meetings to address my specific performance.) The complaints? Well, they don't seem to be in play here (or at least they haven't been for me). The one thing that some might argue is that there can be a lack of consistency from year to year when we turn our books in. One year they suggest you should put that special issue of a journal you edited in scholarship and the next they say it counts as professional service. One year they suggest that you should include every single thing you want people to read in your personal statement up front and the next they say you should relegate most of your commentary to individual section statements. Stuff like that. And yes, that is irritating, but I suppose I've responded to it as just irritating and not as some diabolical attempt to confuse me and to get in the way of my success. Ultimately, putting together the Binder is just a matter of sticking stuff in a binder. It's not rocket science, and it's not hard to shift things around year to year - only irritating. It's just about following directions, even as they change.

Of course, I have the luxury of feeling that way because our process during the probationary period is a yearly one. While this in itself is irritating for any number of reasons, it does a lot to make the process transparent and habitual for the person on the tenure track. It's not such a big deal when you're asked to shift minor things from year to year. I imagine the anxiety about this would be much greater if one were in a position of doing just a third year review and then going up.

But so if the actual compilation of the materials isn't that big of a deal (and I really don't feel like it is: just that it's time-consuming and annoying), then why all of the angst about the tenure process for many junior faculty? Well, I think that it's angst around what "counts" and what will be regarded more or less favorably. I imagine that this can be more difficult to ascertain at a research university to some extent, perhaps. Although perhaps people might say that it should have been difficult for me at my institution, which is one that is in transition toward valuing things in addition to teaching (more of an emphasis on scholarship, more of an emphasis on serving the community) more than it has done historically. Except, here's the thing: don't we all know what good teaching, good research, and good service are? I never felt like I didn't know those things. Sure, the devil is in the details: does journal A count more than journal B; does developing new courses count more than service courses; does serving one's university count more than serving one's department? But if one gets bogged down in those details I think that it potentially gets in the way of actual productivity. If one is so busy worrying about what the "right" thing to do is, one isn't actually accumulating lines on the cv. Instead, one is spending all of that energy that could go into putting lines on the cv on hand-wringing about what lines would look better, and that results in, I think, paralysis. Or at least that's how I have felt.

So the way that I approached life on the tenure-track was (and again, this may not work at all institution types, but it worked well at mine) to be as well-rounded as possible and to try to hit certain sweet spots in each of the areas. What has that looked like? Well, let's take this in order.

Ok, so with teaching, what my institution is looking for is a bunch of different things, including: student-centered approaches, innovation in terms not only of assignments and syllabus design but also in terms of developing new courses to add to the curriculum, a commitment to teaching service courses. So over the past five years, I've kept all of that in mind and I made choices accordingly.
  1. While I tried to limit the number of service courses that I taught, I never tried to get out of teaching service courses, and when possible I tried to find a way to link some of the service courses that I teach to university efforts at retention. In other words, I waited until this year to find my way out of teaching composition, and I only did that after I pushed a new general education course through the curriculum and began teaching it.
  2. I paid attention to adding courses to the curriculum that reflected my research expertise. Now, partly I did this for self-serving reasons, but also I did it to underscore the value that I, individually, bring to the department and curriculum. I could have just taught versions of courses that were on the books when I arrived. Part of why I didn't was to demonstrate my unique value to the institution.
  3. In developing assignments and syllabi, I paid attention to how what I was doing showed a commitment to the university's mission and stated attitude to students and instruction. It's not that I did anything so differently than I otherwise might have done, but I did spend some time thinking and noting how I could "sell" what I do in that context.
Now, nobody loves service, but it has to get done. At an institution like mine, service is a key thing in tenure decisions, but that doesn't necessarily mean one has to be a slave to service expectations. It took me a while to figure out how to do the service thing without being a slave to service requests. What did I ultimately figure out?
  1. You can do service you love or you can do service you hate. It all counts the same. You get no extra credit for doing service you hate, so you might as well avoid it when possible.
  2. Part of the service requirement is about range, at least at my institution. It's not necessarily how much service one does, but that one is doing a certain amount of service across areas - department, university, community, and profession. One doesn't have to go all out in every area, but one should have a thing or two in each.
  3. When possible, choose the service that works as an easy, one-shot deal but yet that produces a line on the cv. Judging a writing contest takes maybe a few hours of your time on one day. Serving on a committee extends over many hours and many days. Each is only one line on the cv. Plan accordingly. (This is not to say that one can avoid all committee work, or that one should, but being strategic about service on committees is a good thing.)
Now, as I've noted here before, scholarship requirements at my institution aren't terribly steep and I've never felt like they were unreasonable given the other demands of the job. Still, there are some things:
  1. Especially in this area, requirements tend to increase over time. The scholarship requirement people tell you about in year one on the tenure-track will likely be less than the requirement when you go up for tenure. Thus, it makes sense not to aim for the minimum that they tell you in the beginning but rather to think about where that minimum bar may be in five years' time, and to plan accordingly. These changes are typically not drastic, but if you were aiming for one article placed anywhere when you started, and if by year five they're saying 2 peer-reviewed articles, then you're probably screwed.
  2. Consistent productivity over time is key. Publishing like gangbusters and going to a ton of conferences in years 1 and 2 and then doing nothing for years 3-5 will not serve you well. Slow and steady wins the race.
  3. We all know what "good journals" in our fields are. So do our colleagues. Why not try to publish one or two things in them just to alleviate stress? The thing with research, particularly at this type of institution I think, is to do at least a thing or two that is unquestionable to any academic. So, for example, in English we value essays in collections, while our colleagues in other disciplines don't so much. So it makes sense to make sure at least one publication is in a peer-reviewed journal, even if that's not the requirement. Make it easy for them to see that you've met the expectation. Eliminate questions about whether or how something "counts." Leaving question marks only increases one's own stress and makes it harder to make one's case that one deserves tenure.
As I've outlined all of this, I think that what I see clearly is how consistency over time and consistency across areas have really been what I've emphasized in the path toward tenure. I didn't look for specific instructions about what exactly I should do: I just took the stuff that's written in our faculty handbook about what counts as evidence in each area to heart, and I tried to come up with evidence for each area that demonstrated my specific value to the institution. I also tried, with varying degrees of success, to think about myself in a broader academic context: ultimately, my performance in these areas isn't just about my standing at this institution but about my success in the profession as a whole. At the end of the day, though, it's not about, or shouldn't be about, reading tea leaves. It's just about doing the job as best as one can.

Now, I'm not saying that the complaints that many junior faculty register about vague and inconsistent requirements, lack of mentorship toward tenure, a feeling that they can't ask questions or ask for clarification, or the divergence between policy and practice aren't real. I'm sure these are things that people experience. I just wanted to note for the record that not everybody experiences those things, that not all academic institutions mystify the tenure process, and that not every institution sets junior faculty up to fail or to fear for their professional futures.

I know that I'm not done with this process yet. I suppose that something horrible could happen at this point (knock wood that it doesn't). But I don't feel anxious that this will happen, and I don't feel like I should feel anxious about my chances. I feel like my record meets the institution's requirements and that, really, it speaks to my tenurability. And I can feel that because my institution and department have worked really hard to mentor me through the process. At the end of the day, they want to tenure every t-t hire that they make. They don't want to do another search; they don't want to weed people out at tenure. I think that's the reality at many institutions, and to indicate otherwise seems to ignore the wide range of institutions and contexts in which the tenure process occurs.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What's That Road to Hell Paved with Again?

[Extract of phone conversation with FB last night]

Crazy: So it was revealed today that my chair is calling together a committee to revamp the curriculum for the major.
FB: ...
Crazy: So here's the part where you're supposed to tell me not to volunteer for this committee.
FB: Of course you shouldn't volunteer! Are you crazy! Without tenure! Extra work! [bluster bluster bluster]
Crazy: I knew that's what you'd say. And you're right....
FB: Of course I'm right!
Crazy: But I really want to have a say in how the thing is revamped.... but I guess whoever's on the committee will bring whatever they come up with and we'll have to vote on it as a department anyway....
FB: EXACTLY. You DO NOT need to be on this committee! You know I'm right!
Crazy: You just keep telling me that.

[As I'm putting the final touches on the Binder this afternoon, less than 24 hours after that conversation, the chair sends an email asking for volunteers.]

Crazy writes: I'd be happy to serve, if you need me :)

[When Crazy walks into the department office to turn in her Binder.]

Chair: Oh! Look at that! Are you finished? [pause] I need to talk to you!
Crazy: Uhhhh....
[Crazy walks into Chair's office]
Chair: So when is your book coming out?
Crazy (slightly confused): Ummm... next month....
Chair: That's so exciting! You must be thrilled!
Crazy: Well, yeah... You needed to talk to me?
Chair: Now, it's horrible, when you're a person who does so much and does it all so well, because it means that more just gets asked of you, when other people who don't do anything never get asked because they don't do a good job....
[Crazy sees where this is going, she thinks]
Chair: And I don't know if you were even interested in being on the ad hoc committee about the curriculum.... but... [spit it out! thinks Crazy] I wanted to ask if you would chair it.
[Let's just pause for a moment and note that I really wanted to chair this committee if I was going to be on it, but that's crazy talk so I only ever admitted that to myself silently and never thought to actually say it out loud to anybody.]
Crazy: Chair, have you checked your email since you got back to the office? I already volunteered to be on the committee, and so of course I'd be happy to chair it!

[Why did Crazy want to chair it so badly? Because she wants to control the meeting schedule so that it's convenient for her. And because she wants to make sure the meetings aren't lengthy and rambling affairs where things aren't accomplished. And because she wants to decide the curriculum for the major, because it's part of her whole "world domination" scheme - one has to start small when one is aiming for "world domination."]

And rather than make a nice and healthy meal for myself, I've been eating Cool Ranch Doritos (a last hurrah before the healthy eating goes into effect tomorrow) with dip (in for a penny in for a pound - pun intended) and writing my syllabus for my new course next semester.

I, my friends, am an ass.

Binder, Done

No, really. It's done. I was going to take a picture of it, but then I realized that it would just look like a picture of a big honking binder with a bunch of plastic sleeves inside of it. Not exactly the most exciting of photographs.

I feel like I should have something profound to say about being done with it, but honestly I'm just annoyed because everybody's out of the dept. office and it's locked and they won't be back until 2:30, so I have to wait around to turn the thing in. It's not technically due until Monday, but I decided I couldn't bear the idea of having it hanging over my head over the weekend. Nah, I'm pleased enough with it, and I feel like I'm done, so I'm done. I'm turning it in, and that will be that.

My mentor was fantastic when we met about the binder yesterday. Just a few teensy suggestions, but really it ended up being a meeting where we talked about how I've done here, my career plans, etc. Awesome, awesome.

So once I can turn this stupid 400-lb. gorilla in, I'm off to the grocery store to by healthy and nutritious foods that I can cook. The time for excuses is done: I've got to get back to eating in a reasonable way and to exercising regularly. Everything went to hell in a handbasket between the book and the article and the travels and the tenure binder. Time for me to get back on top of it and to focus on me, me, me and not work, work, work.

So yeah. Those are my thoughts on this sunny day that I'm not out in because I'm in my stupid windowless office waiting to turn in a thing that's not technically due for three days. I suppose I could go to the grocery store, then stop back here to turn in the binder, and then go home. That just seems like something I don't feel like doing, though. Hmmm.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Some End to the Bitching Madness

First of all, let me just acknowledge that I've been a bit of a frustrated and whining crank over the past couple of days. And then, let me thank you all for your thoughtful comments, and for listening to me complain, because those two things combined have really helped me to strategize about how I'm going to handle things in the web course that refuses to behave.

Plans/Strategies for the short term:
  1. I'm going to be on top of posting discussion questions on the day after blog posts are due, in the event that other classmates don't do their assigned work. I've been doing this a bit off the cuff, but I haven't been systematic about when I do it, which is placing an undue burden on students who are "checked in" to the course.
  2. Should things continue to implode with students submitting (or not) their assignments, I'm going to reconfigure the commenting requirement for the blog, so that students have more agency in choosing how they fulfill it. Commenting is worth a full 15% of their course grade, so if things don't improve, I've got to do something for the non-slackers.
  3. I actually have gotten substantive feedback already from the non-slackers, so I'm reluctant at this point to do some mandatory assessment activity, to which only the non-slackers would probably respond anyway. This is not to poo-poo the suggestions about midterm evals, etc., but I do think hat one of the problems with the web format is that I can't make them do these evals in front of me, during "class time" as I would with students in a F2F environment. So I'm holding out on implementing this strategy, mainly because I think that the time investment of putting together yet another assignment that the slackers ignored wouldn't be worth my time as an instructor. I'd rather focus more energy, for the time being, on the students who are checked in.
  4. I have been alerting individual students to their grades for assignments that they are missing, but at midterm, I will send a midterm grade estimate to each individual student, which also includes a projected grade if they continue on their current paths, to let them know where they stand and to indicate their prospects if they continue in their current fashion.

Plans/Strategies for the long term:

  1. I realized today that I'm less interested in the short-term strategies for this course than in the long-term ones, not because I'm not invested in this particular section this semester but because I care about making this course good over the next three semesters in which I've committed to teaching it.
  2. First, I will do a power-point or podcast for the first week in which I briefly outlinethe expectations and demands of the course. All of this is in the course syllabus already,but I think a good number of them didn't actually read this stuff in the first week this semester, even though it was their only assignment for the first week. I think that I need to be more hardcore about course expectations - and more bullet-point-y - than I thought I had to be, having never taught online before. It's fine if they drop immediately: the problems occur when they claim to exist in the course - a course that depends on them producing and interacting throughout the semester - and yet don't really do so.
  3. I also think that my ideas about how the "commenting" requirement should be fulfilled should be more flexible than they currently are for the course blog. Originally, I thought that requiring three blog posts per semester of each student while their other work on the blog would be in the form of commenting was doing them a favor. I think I'm now going to change the "commenting" requirement in such a way that they can comment or do brief posts to fulfill that requirement. I think that this will be good.
  4. I also think that I'm going to incorporate a colleague's practice in the course policies that if you fail to submit any major assignment on the due date that you fail the course. In the F2F classroom I don't like this policy, because it feels incredibly inflexible to me. In the online environment however - particularly in trying to get them interacting with one another and investing in the course - I think it may be a good way of sending a message that they need to be keeping up and participating.

So, those are the things that I've come up with over the course of the day. They feel true to who I am as a teacher, and they feel like strategies that I can implement within the current course design, which I do think makes sense, that will make things more transparent for even the least engaged of students. I think that I tend to aim my teaching at the upper-middle of students in my F2F courses, and I think that maybe in the online environment - or the particular online enviornment of this course - that I need to aim more at the lower-middle.

See, this is one of the things that I think may be causing me static this semester. On the one hand, this course is technically, on paper, a writing-intensive capstone course for a major at the university. In other words, it's populated almost entirely with seniors. This would indicate, in a normal situation, a certain level of competency and commitment. However, this major is also typically a "completer degree," i.e., students who choose this major often do so because of its relative flexibility and (often) lack of rigor, when they have failed to meet the expectations of one or more other majors. The point of this major, in other words, is often that it constitutes the quickest way to a piece of paper that names one a college graduate. I suspect that this is even more true for those students who choose to take the course online. In other words, I think I may need to be even more of a hard-ass than I'd typically be in expressing my expectations. They don't have the benefit of seeing how those expectations play out in person - they don't get the benefit of "tone" in person. So I think I need to be even more explicitly a hard-ass than I typically am in order for this thing to work. Also, I should note, the issue here is not "distance learners" vs. my typical population that I teach. These students are *part* of the population that I teach - they're not from all over the country - but they have commitments that prohibit them from taking only traditional classes.

I suppose I mention all of this because as much as I do believe the method of delivery is part of my problem, it's not the only factor in the equation. In some respects, this problem has little to do with method of delivery and much more to do with student population. Dealing with this student population in the F2F classroom is in many regards easier, because my personality and face-time with them can motivate and carry them to a large degree. I think the discomfort that I feel with this particular class this semester is that I can't, in this medium, do the typical things that I do to force them to work. So there's a learning curve.

All of that said, I'm getting a lot out of thinking about how to articulate this stuff in another medium. I've reflected on my teaching more related to this course than I have in relation to any other in recent memory. I think that this is ultimately good for me and for my students in all courses.

In other news, I met with my mentor today about the tenure binder, and it was awesome. I have things to say about that, but that will have to wait for another post, for I am exhausted.

In Which I Whine about Teaching F2F

Or rather in which I whine about the fucked up comments that students can leave on evaluations. Oh yes, in the final stretch toward finishing the tenure crap I had to find a few sample evals. from the spring to include. May I just note that my numbers were the highest I've ever had, so it's not like I got any "negative" evaluations. And yet. You give me a score of 4 or 5 for "knowledge of material" and then complain that I'm trying to "sound smart" by using big words. Which is it, folks? Do I know my shit or am I trying to seem like I know my shit? I also love where in one breath they say that they've never learned more in a class and in the next they complain about the amount of work, because, you know, learning happens by magic - not by doing a bunch of work.

I know part of my irritation is that we are advised to include only the most glowing of the glowing samples of actual evaluations, so even one half-assed comment like the two above are perceived as "negative" and thus not presenting oneself most effectively. So even though I had near perfect eval scores, I nevertheless have to struggle to find one or two that are "perfect" in terms of the comments. (And they don't want evals with no comments, so that's not an option either.) This is annoying, time consuming, and a total waste of energy. But so anyway, let me just note for the record that I will never again look at my institutional course evals after I submit this fucked up binder. I'll do my own evaluation with my own questions, the answers to which would actually be useful to me, and I will just ignore the others. I think doing so will make me an infinitely happier teacher.

(Note: All of my teaching irritability and angst of the past day or two probably are a result of the one-two punch of the tenure application and PMS. I feel sorry for anybody who crosses my path between now and Monday. Really, I do.)

More about Teaching Environments

So, yesterday I posted about my web course, and I tried to articulate something about how it's working or not working, but I feel like I was sort of incoherent. So here's a follow-up post that may end up being as incoherent as the last one, but as I'm still trying to think these issues through, you'll just have to bear with me.

First, let's think about what makes me a good teacher in a traditional setting. I think I'm good at (based on student feedback, self-assessment, etc.):
  • Improvisation day-to-day within the constraints of the syllabus. I think that I excel at scrapping my plan for the day when it's clear that another approach would be more advantageous for my students (so just doing discussion instead of an activity or whatever, or vice versa).
  • Writing a do-able syllabus and sticking to it. I am a professor who does not like to change deadlines, to speed ahead on the syllabus, to fall behind, to cut material, etc. I feel like if the syllabus is a contract, then I'm bound by it, too. Students need to know what the heck is coming next, and they can't plan if they don't have a document they can trust. I think this also helps with making the class a community that works together rather than centering the class on my needs.
  • Appearing enthusiastic. This is a lame one, but students always seem to comment favorably on this. Are there other profs zombies who don't like the material? I will never know.
  • Making hard stuff accessible, if not easy. So relating seemingly disconnected material to students' lives, giving them strategies for approaching something that seems very difficult on their own, etc.
  • Designing assignments that build off of one another, from reading to in-class activities to papers to exams.
  • Responding to student work in ways that are substantive and that connect their ideas to what I'm trying to get them to learn.
As I look at the above list, a lot of what I'm good at really depends on what students give me. If students aren't invested, then most of the above doesn't mean a hill of beans. Which I suppose is why the "enthusiasm" thing is a positive attribute, for enthusiasm and investment are contagious. Also, I think that most of the above depends on everybody in the class being on the same page, so to speak. I don't carry the class: everybody has to carry their part of the weight.

Now, obviously all of that isn't lost in moving to a web-based method of delivery. I'm not a different teacher in an online environment. I'm still all of the above things. And in working on the web course, I worked really hard to build the assignments and the methods of interaction in such a way that we would constitute a community of learners throughout the semester, and I've set the course up to emphasize that students are at the center of the whole enterprise. For the students in the course who are committed, this seems to be working ok. The problem as I see it is that those students are in the minority of students enrolled in the course.

  • The ability to improvise on a day-to-day basis depends on everybody being on the same page, or basically in the same place at the same time. I can't change something up on a Tuesday if most of the class doesn't get the memo until Saturday night. So one thing I'll change about the course next semester is that I will put strong language into the syllabus that students are expected to check the course site, the blog, and their email at least once per day. I indicate this in a not-so-strong way now, but I want that to be emphasized more strongly, as it's clear to me that students are not keeping plugged in to the course in a consistent way.
  • It is difficult to stick to the syllabus when the students just aren't doing the work. And it's difficult to force them to do the work (whether through positive or negative reinforcement) when they're not in front of you. And so even the students who are keeping up flounder because their classmates are floundering. I feel like I can't make any major changes because that screws the students who have bought into the course, but I also can't correct for the students who just aren't showing up, so to speak. Gah.
  • How does one appear enthusiastic in an environment where you're not actually present?
  • How does one make material accessible to students when they're not telling you what they're getting out of the material, and when they're not (as far as you can tell for some of them) actually keeping up with the reading/viewing, let alone their assignments?
  • How can assignments build off of one another when students aren't doing the assignments?
  • How can one respond substantively to students who aren't actually giving you anything to which to respond?
Now, I'm not a new teacher. I'm a very experienced teacher. I know that there isn't some deep flaw in the way that the course is constructed or in the way that the assignments are constructed. The students (maybe 1/4 of the class) who are doing the work are doing just fine. The problem is with that other 3/4 of the class. And I think that part of what is causing the problem with that 3/4 of the class is one of expectations (theirs for the course) and belief (I don't think that they actually believe the course policies, the deadlines, etc.).

Now, I actually do have some insight into what these students came into the course expecting because I made them fill out a form in which they told me a bit about themselves and their expectations. So what are the majority of them expecting?
  1. A course that fits into their schedule that will allow them to graduate sooner. Most of these students are not 100% online. They're taking traditional classes at the same time that they're taking this web course. The idea is that adding a web course to their schedules will allow them to graduate more quickly. (This course is for a degree that is typically a "completer degree" for many students.)
  2. A course that allows them more ease with balancing family and work obligations, which are more central to them than their work as students. Note: I'm not judging that these things are more central to them. We all have to have priorities. BUT I think that there is a difference between "more central" and "the only central thing and I won't meet my obligations with the other things I take on."
  3. A course that fits their vague interest in the theme I've chosen.
Many of these students came into this course having never taken an online course; many of these students are totally unfamiliar with the basic technology required to participate in such a course; many of these students, if they have taken courses online, have had the experience that the course works like a correspondence course in which they just do some work and turn it in at the end with very little interaction between themselves and classmates and themselves and the instructor. I also suspect that since many of them are also taking F2F classes that those classes are taking precedence in their list of priorities because they have the constant reminder that they've got to do the work of those courses.

Now, I've sent stern emails. I've informed students about the fact that they're receiving zeros for assignments not completed. I've picked up the slack on the course blog for students who aren't meeting their posting obligations so that the rest of the class can meet their commenting obligations. I'm honestly not sure what else I can do other than what I've done.

And this is disheartening because typically I know how to get a course back on the rails in a F2F setting.

So as I write all of this out, I do think that part of the problem is just with the method of delivery. I think that many of these students think "online" equals "checked out." I'm not sure what I can do, or what I even should do, to combat this. To some extent, I feel like this is their party. If they choose not to show up, well, I can't really force them to get down and boogie. As a teacher, though, this upsets me, because I really do want them to learn and to get something out of the course.

Perhaps, though, all of this is a reminder for me of just how much teaching and what happens in the classroom isn't really about me. And that's got to be a good reminder.

It will be interesting to see, though, how things progress from this point, and how things go next semester, with a different crop of students. Maybe I've just got a bad batch? One can only hope.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

One of the Things I'd Not Anticipated about Web-Based Teaching

It seems I'm much less giving as a teacher in this medium, and I think that it has a lot to do with the fact that I don't actually know my students. The few that I do believe I'm getting to know in some fashion are really invested in letting me know them, but that seems to be exception in the online environment and not the rule. And, to be honest, I think a lot of students take web-based courses because they think that they can just do whatever and as long as they ultimately turn crap in that they will be just fine.

Well, the problem is, that's not how it's going to go in this class I'm teaching. The guidelines are very clear: this is NOT a correspondence course, and you've got to accomplish certain tasks during each week of the course. Well, you've got to do that if you want to pass.

I've already dished out something like 10 zeros for assignments people didn't bother to complete and turn in. Some of these assignments have been worth as much as 10% of the final grade in the course. And you know, I feel weirdly detached from that, in a way that I don't think I've ever felt with the traditional classroom role that I play. Ultimately, I don't think I care as much about these students succeeding. And I'm wondering whether that's a failing in me, or whether it's a failing in the students who don't appear actually to want to succeed. (Not all of them, obviously, but many in this course.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sort of about David Foster Wallace

I'm not sure how to write this post, but I feel like I want to write something. I should warn you: this will be self-indulgent and personal. This isn't going to be some literary critical endeavor, or one that promises to evoke any sorts of insights into the life or work of the Author. No, it's going to be a post about the reader, and the reader who is me.

My Most Significant Ex (who I'm sure I gave a pseudonym at some point but I don't remember it, which may lead one to think he wasn't so significant after all, though he is the only Ex with whom I've ever lived) introduced me to DFW's work. (I've still got a soft spot in my heart for the Hometown that isn't Hometown that he created in Broom of the System, which seemed such an evocative link to my experience as a telephone operator for BP there in 1994.) Most significantly, MSE introduced me to Infinite Jest. See, the halcyon days of young love between us began with me loaning him a book with my marginalia. And this then progressed, once we were thoroughly together, to us reading aloud to one another in bed, reading, I should note, his favorite books. It began with High Fidelity. (Yes, this says something about him.) The next (and last) on the list (of two) was Infinite Jest. We read his books because all of my books were grad school books, and I was in the phase of comps/dissertating, and I didn't read for pleasure independently. Sure, I'd read him passages, but no, we didn't read my books. (This also says something about him, and probably about us.) So him reading to me (though I suppose I read a bit periodically) was a way of me experiencing books for pleasure at a time when all of the books with which I typically engaged were for work. So he began reading Infinite Jest to me. And sometimes I'd fall asleep while he was reading, and he'd have to backtrack. And somewhere around the half-way-through point, we were no longer in the throes of infatuation, and he stopped reading. Or I stopped wanting to be read to. Or something.

But it was a book I wanted to finish.

So jump to the May in which I Decided to Return to My Parents' House for Free Room and Board and Dissertating Support and in which I left MSE in Grad School City, unemployed. Looking back now, this is when we should have broken up. Anyway, we didn't. And I took his copy of Infinite Jest with me. Well, during that summer, when pretty much all I did was write and watch Law and Order (which explains the excessive use of the word "alibi" in the diss), I also finished Infinite Jest. It was different reading it on my own. I was irritated by the endnotes (why didn't they just make a separate volume for the notes? I get that they couldn't be footnotes, but how much easier would it have been if the notes were in another volume?) and I spent a lot of time wondering why this book, and this writer, were so significant to MSE. I saw the brilliance of the novel. And I did love it, though I suspect what I loved had nothing to do with what he loved in relation to it. I loved the play on metempsychosis with Madame Psychosis. I loved that on her radio show Madame Psychosis read Jean Rhys's Good Morning, Midnight. I loved the whole concept of the "infinite jest." I loved it especially because of what I myself was theorizing about pleasure and representation and experience. All of these things may have nothing to do with what is most important or interesting about this book. These things were important to me in a very self-centered way - and not as a literary critic.

But I finished it. And I loved it.

And then MSE moved to Hometown to be with me, and then the crappy apartment, and me temping, and my grandmother in the nursing home, and the job market, and then the job offer, and then the final end of the whole thing. He was gone. I've not spoken to him since. Things lost: one copy of Kant's Critique of Judgment, with marginalia. Things gained: one copy (without dust jacket) of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, signed by David Foster Wallace; one copy (without dust jacket) of a first edition of Underworld by Don DeLillo; one battered paperback of Infinite Jest.

I've bought a new copy of Kant's Critique of Judgment, though I'll admit I've not reread it in even a cursory way nor have I replaced any marginalia. As for the DeLillo, I know I should read it, and probably will, sometime. As for Brief Interviews and Infinite Jest....

I'm not sure what to say. I've been thinking a lot about MSE in the past few days, thinking about who I was with him, thinking about what went wrong, thinking about the fact that he left those books when he so easily could have taken them (as he did my annotated Kant). I've also been thinking about the fact that I'm glad he didn't take those books: that those books are, for whatever reason, important to me, and that I'm glad I have them.

My mom called me re: the power outage, but made a point of mentioning that she'd heard about DFW's death on NPR that day, asked me if I knew who he was, because as she heard what he wrote about, and about his influences, she thought it might relate to my work. She was utterly inarticulate about it, because at the end of the day my mom does not understand my work really. But the fact that she felt like she needed to check in with me about this news meant something, not because of me so much, but rather because it showed me how far DFW's influence reaches. The writing that he produced is not at all about me. But it is relevant, as literature, if only because my mom can make that connection, between what I work on and what he achieved.

I'm so sad because of his death. I'm so sad that there won't be a next book. I'm so sad that the books I have are the books of the past and not just part of a collection of books that I'll come to have.

But because I'm an ass, I'm really happy I've got that signed copy of Brief Interviews, even if it doesn't have a dust-jacket and won't ever be worth much. Why that makes me happy? Well, that's a good question.

On Teaching Dirty Books

Today I had the fun in my upper-level course in my field of saying that the reason Notoriously Difficult Book ultimately was legally ruled not to be obscene was because, to paraphrase (I'm sure reductively), "it's just too much of a pain in the ass to read for people to want to masturbate to it." One of my students responded, "Well, that sounds like a challenge, doesn't it?"

Laughter all around.

I love academic freedom, and I love my students. Love, love, love.

Let There Be Light! Let There Be a Celebratory Glass of Wine!

The power has (knock wood that nothing goes awry) returned! Hurrah Power Company!

First, some things I discovered during my dark 3 days of the soul (and body):
  • Reading with a flashlight - or with a sad little booklight - gives you a headache. It also can cause some neck/shoulder pain, until you find the "system" - which of course you will only discover just before power returns.
  • Kitty cats enjoy it when it's dark and quiet all the time and when the windows are open and lots of people are out and about to observe.
  • Eating meals out solo is actually really enjoyable. Though also it can make one feel lonesome when restaurants are packed with families and couples. But servers are super-nice and attentive, and one does feel strangely liberated by the whole exercise.
  • It's also nice when lots of people have their power out because you know everyone is inadequately showered, if showered at all, and so it makes you worry less about your state of showeredness. This must be how hippie-type people feel all the time, or at the very least how they feel when they go to music festivals or similar.
  • I have a real problem with being all philosophical in situations like power outages, i.e., I do not feel that the power outage was a "blessing" that taught me to appreciate electric power, in fact causing my joy when the power returned. Dude, I appreciate electric power all the time, and when I don't have it, I'm just pissed off. I am not better than that, nor do I think that it's essential for me to be better than that.
  • There is little more awesome than hearing a stream of hoots and cheers coming from throughout one's apartment complex when power returns. Yes, Crazy's "woohoo!" was among the first of these.
Perhaps more later, but I thought I'd report that once again, Crazy and her lovely kittens have the joys of light in the nighttime.

Monday, September 15, 2008

In Which Crazy Considers Her Ability to Survive in Olden Times

Ok, well, there's not much to consider. Crazy would not have survived. Or maybe she would have, but she would have been very grumpy all the time.

See, Crazy needs electricity to be happy. No, really. It's true. She doesn't need television or radio or even computer/internet. She just needs fucking light and the ability to cook things on her stupid electric stove. (Note to self: must have gas stove when buy own home so can survive power outages without being completely bereft of things like warm food unless willing to forage in the world and to pay many many dollars in order to get it.)

All of the food in the fridge will need to be tossed. I may not have power again until the weekend. Except they're going to try really hard to give lots of people power back by tomorrow or Wednesday. So here is your charge: send good electricity vibes out into the universe for me, people. Otherwise I'll have to continue a) eating out for every meal, b) straining my eyes to read with a combination of candlelight and flashlight, and c) whining almost constantly.

More when I have power again.... unless I blog from campus (which is what I'm doing now, as I had to come here to get my cell phone charged so I could use it as an alarm clock in the morning so that I can teach my classes.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

True Confessions of a Ridiculous Person

I find myself wanting to give songs on Pandora that I don't like the thumbs up because I know I'm "supposed" to like the band. I also find myself feeling like I shouldn't give the thumbs up to Avril Levine (for example - and I apologize if I'm spelling her name wrong - I totally don't have the energy to look up how to spell her last name), even if, say, I was rocking out to the song before I went to check and see who it was.

The question is, who do I think is going to care what songs I like? It's not like anybody else sees the songs that I rate on Pandora. Who do I think I have to impress?

I do think, however, that this impulse is not unlike my impulse to cheat at solitaire. It also may have something in common with my teen-aged habit of looking at myself in the mirror when I would cry after a fight with my mom, because it mattered that I looked good crying... alone in my room?

That said, I'm done with the Binder until Monday. Which means that I can relax and think about all of the ways in which I'm ridiculous, which is infinitely more enjoyable than thinking of all the ways one can present one's ridiculous self so as to appear worthy of tenure.

Plugging Right Along

Ok, so the big nasty front of the binder letter is now done. After my tantrum last night, I tried to work for a while longer, but ultimately I gave up. So, after talking to my mom this morning, I sat down with the monstrosity again (as well as with the CV monstrosity), and I am pleased finally with both. So now, I think I'm going to take a break and have some lunch, and then I will head into the office for the super-fun task of printing out a bunch of crap and sticking it in plastic sleeves.

I still am going to have to go into the office on Monday to do last-minute wrangling of the thing before I give it to my mentor, but otherwise, I think I'm in good shape. As long as I don't procrastinate the afternoon away, that is :)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Note: Not Only Does Service Suck, But Also Writing about One's Service Sucks

You know why? Because it's all bullshit. Because the reality is that I do the service because it's the way to get tenure. Or at least I talk about it this way for that reason.

Fuck the Tenure Binder of Hideousness. Fuck It Straight Up the Ass.

That is all.

To Do

Well, readers, it is a gray day here in the land of Crazy, pissing rain, and for this here blogger, with her allergies to mold and pollen, let's just say that it is a potent cocktail that is enough to make one want to scratch out one's eyes. Well, if it were not for the two different kinds of allergy medicine that Crazy takes to stave off the symptoms of her malady.

Oh god. I'm talking about myself in the third person, like Suede. I will stop right now. And I really do apologize. I would try to argue that it's different because "Crazy" isn't really my name, but I'm fairly certain that "Suede's" name is also not the one he was born with. I feel his name at birth might have been Darryl. But I digress.

But so I'm writing because I really need to organize my thoughts and figure out what needs to get done on this shitty day. So, things to do, in subcategories:

For Tenure Binder:
  • Update CV.
  • Update main letter in the front.
  • Update letters for the different sections, which I'd taken out in the spring (foolish! foolish!) and re-include them.
  • Switch in most recent syllabi, and add in any new material that is floating around (a few letters re: service, mostly, and some evals, and the eval stats, though problematically all of that stuff needs to be found in the pile of rubbish that is my office, so this may take a wee bit of time). Oh, and some emails. Sigh.
    All that's left is to throw a few sample evals from the spring with good comments on them in there.
  • Minor re-organization of the binder, though admittedly, it's probably fine as it is.
  • Determine whether I should remove some things from the binder to be made available upon request, which I was just notified is a totally fine thing to do, according to the provost. Not sure whether that would be advantageous or not.
  • Ooh! Add thing into my binder about the fact that an early article of mine is cited a number of times in this dude's book about a thing not in my field! (Discovered this during my searching for myself on Amazon. I feel very fancy.)
  • Ask Mentor whether he can look the thing over at the start of next week.
For JWIBSNA plus One:
  • Look over updated CV to see whether there's anything that needs to be reorganized for job searching purposes, and make those changes if I decide that it is necessary.
  • Send CV to recommenders along with relevant address(es) and deadlines and ask for letters from them. This is the part of things that I least want to do.
  • Order transcripts.
  • My freaking letter, which as far as I can tell needs a semi-major overhaul. Yes, I already started working on this, but whatever. It needs work.
For Teaching:
  • Type in questions/insights into blackboard for one class.
  • Organize all info sheets in handy binder and xfer grades that I've not been recording systematically (stupid! Stupid!).
  • Grade some quizzes.
  • Lament the fact that even with the scolding email I sent yesterday to the online class they are NOT DOING THEIR FREAKING WORK. It's not rocket science, people. Just follow the syllabus and the assignments. And yet, apparently, they don't get that this course requires them to work consistently throughout the semester. It's not a correspondence course where you turn stuff in whenever you want without penalty. There's not much that I can do if they're just not doing the assignments. And not communicating with me about what they don't understand until it's too late. And not using all of the handy documents I've put together that take them step-by-step through the how-to's of the course. I'm really trying to think of how this could be my fault, because if it is my fault, it would be in my power to fix it. As it is? Well, it seems like there will be a lot of unhappy people come grading time.
For the Book:
  • I know, I was totally done, right? Well, but apparently I'm not totally done. I have a few small teensy things that I must do and get in the mail by Monday, so that we'll meet the deadline for going to press. And then, in theory, though I don't really believe this, the thing will come out in October. That's right. Indeed, the Amazon page is already up (sans image of the cover, as that's to be ready next week, apparently).
For Research:
  • Do I want to go to that conference in the early part of the Spring semester? If so, I need to figure out what abstract to submit.... Decided I'm not giving a paper if I am going, though plan to email the conference organizer with the offer of chairing a panel.
For Personal:
  • Find out whether Hometown Pal J. is coming to visit on Saturday (though I think I'm going to encourage her not to come - supposed to rain all weekend, which will make for shitty driving and will throw a wrench into our plans which were outdoor ones).
  • Clean my fucking pigsty of a house.
Yep, I do believe that's all. I think that I will practice my "60% of a list is a huge achievement" rule, and see whether I can make a dent in all of this crap that way. Wish me luck.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Water Bottle

So I mentioned that I bought a water bottle a while back, and that it took much deliberation to choose, so I thought I'd mention what I bought and give a wee review. I did not end up buying a Sigg bottle. A.) They were more expensive, B.) I'd have had to pay for shipping, and C.) I read the review about the "sports lid" and people seemed to think it was a pain. Oh, and then finally, I wanted something that wasn't a full liter but rather that was the size of a regular (i.e., a raping the earth size) water bottle. So I bought this. (18 oz. in orange sunset)

I've yet to receive the sports lid in the mail, but all in all, I may be in love. It is perfect. In all ways. And it is orange.

Water? Cold and decent-tasting. Weight? Light. Size? Easily hand-holdable in all scenarios. Yes, I fill it up multiple times in a day, but I'd rather have a smaller bottle and refill than a bigger bottle and have something more unweildy. It's the perfect size for lecturing in class, the perfect size for working out, and the perfect size to jam into my overstuffed bag.

So consider this an endorsement.