Friday, October 31, 2008

This, Too, Shall Pass?

I've been an emotional wreck lately (nothing's actually "wrong" and I'm ok... just weepy and fly-off-the-handle-y and sort of raw feeling) and so I don't really have anything I feel like blogging about. I think I'm going to take a break this weekend and see where that leaves me.

The one thing that I will say is this: book publication + being in your tenure year can really fuck a person up. You think it's going to be all happy and whatever, and while it sort of is, it's also sort of horrifying on a really deep level (at least for me). Once I've processed how I feel about it all more I'll write something about it, but at this point, I don't even know where I'd begin. I'll say this, though: the horrifyingness of all this? Not unlike how I felt in the home stretch of my dissertation. And let's note that I was such a monster during that period that I ruined the relationship with the person with whom I was living and basically lost it for about a six month period. Let's hope that I'm not the same person that I was during that period of time and that I've grown at least a little bit.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mmmm, Rest

Well, I was fast asleep by 10:30 last night, and I slept wonderfully well.

In addition, the kitties, who've been being real jerks of late, also were darling and slept well also, as opposed to trying to wrestle on top of me.

So today, I've got to work out (haven't for a few days, and that's not cool), grade (sigh), and teach. I don't think I have any meetings or anything, so that means that I can organize my day as I choose, other than that I really do have to accomplish work.

I wish my coffee were done. I am feeling quite impatient, what with all of the good rest energy.

Anyway, so that's what's ahead on this wednesday. More later, perhaps.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hurrah! Unexpected Day Off!

Apparently it slipped my notice that my university has canceled classes for election day. An extra day! In which I can catch up on grading! Huzzah!

In other news, the book won't be out tomorrow but probably like a week from tomorrow. It's still in production. This actually makes me feel better, because I'm a ridiculous person.

I will also note that I'm feeling relaxed and tired. Perhaps tonight will be a night of sweet, sweet sleep.

When a "Good Sleeper" Has the Insomnia

I'm not prone to having trouble sleeping, typically. Typically, I put my head to the pillow and I'm immediately tired, and I go to sleep. If I'm feeling stressed, sometimes I need to clear my mind for maybe 10 minutes, but then I go to sleep. It has been this way for me since childhood.

But the past two nights.... Well, Sunday night I went to sleep just fine but I woke up after like 3 hours wide awake and had a really hard time falling back to sleep. Last night, I just couldn't fall asleep. I couldn't shut my brain off, and I got that tense feeling in my stomach that typically only happens when I'm freaking out about something. And then I finally fell asleep, but had the constant dreaming of anxiety that doesn't feel like rest.

Note: there is nothing to freak out about. In my brain, I know this. However, apparently my body doesn't know that this is true.

I only recall having trouble sleeping before in my life for any extended period of time when I was in the spring semester of my junior year in college. I was taking an overload, working either one or two jobs.... I can't quite recall. The point is, though, I went through about a two month period where I didn't sleep more than three hours at a stretch. It was totally not cool. Especially when I'm typically such a good sleeper, so on top of the being cranky and sleep-deprived, I'm also angry that I'm having the problem since sleeping is supposed to be easy for me.

So, why have I been having trouble sleeping? Well, I think (dumb though this is) that it's mainly the book. Knowing that it is coming out is really freaking me out. And then there's the whole "who am I and what shall I do now that I'm going up for tenure" thing. And then there's anxiousness about certain service things that are totally overwhelming me and that I want to get rid of but nobody seems to acknowledge that I really can't do everything, even when I say, blatantly, "you need to find somebody else to do this, because I'm overwhelmed and I can't do everything." The fact is, I've been ignoring the main one of these, because I truly don't have the time or energy even to deal with getting rid of it, but I think that ignoring it is actually causing me sleeplessness related to it. This week I have to hand it off. I cannot keep having it hanging over me. And I'm way behind on grading, and yes, there's just a lot that's making me feel all tense and sleepless, and yet also paralyzed to check things off the list so that I'm not tense and sleepless.

It really sucks.

Monday, October 27, 2008

RBOC: Grading

  • All papers need a thesis statement. One that actually makes an argument and that demonstrates why that argument matters. It is best if that thesis statement actually connects to the body of one's paper.
  • Quoting is great, but when more than half of a paper (think like 3 pages out of 5) is quotations, you need to quote less and write more.
  • Not quoting is not an option, when you're writing about literary texts. Seriously.
  • Dr. Crazy is made to cry by the writing that is characterized by the passive voice.
  • Dr. Crazy also feels disingenuous about the choice of aspects that infer meaning. PRECISE LANGUAGE IS YOUR FRIEND. Imprecise language that sounds high-falutin' is the enemy. ALWAYS.
  • Some of my students are really fucking brilliant. And some of them are amazing critical writers and thinkers. And some of them have clearly learned a ton in the first half of the semester. And some of them clearly worked very hard on this paper.
Two more papers to go (not counting the stragglers who didn't submit them in class, but those students will just have to wait).

Another Meme!

Thanks to Lesboprof for the tag....

THE FAVORITE MEME. Fill in your favorite for each of the following:

1. Political show Hmm. This is a tough one. It used to be Meet the Press when Tim Russert hosted. Now... I don't know. I suppose I watch a fair amount of The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer and Countdown with Keith Olberman.

2. Picnic food German Potato Salad.

3. Mixed drink I'm boring. Bombay Sapphire and Tonic. Or, if I'm feeling kicky, Jack and Coke.

4. U.S. President Seriously? It's probably Bill Clinton. This is not to say that I think that he was the best president, but I find him entertaining.

5. Kind of student to teach Students who aren't afraid to take risks that might make them look silly or not work out but that are original and might turn out to be really, really interesting.

6. Hobby you do or wish you still did I've never been much of a hobby person. I suppose the hobby that I actually do is to cook. I certainly devote more time to cooking than is technically necessary....

7. Sports commentator Don't really have one.

8. Sport to watch on TV Baseball. Which is also my favorite sport to watch in person.

9. Animal to have as a pet See, now this is a trick question. You'd think I'd say cats, yes? And I do love my particular cats. But if my lifestyle were different, I think I'd really like a dog. And how could I compare a dog to the cats? They'd just be different. And some people's cats suck, and I wouldn't want a sucky cat rather than a cool dog. So I suppose my answer to this question is that my favorite animals to have as pets are the ones that are actually my pets.

10. Halloween costume you have worn I'm really not a halloween sort of person. Even as a kid I wasn't really into it, and my costumes weren't terribly interesting (witch, scarecrow, princess). As an adult? Yeah, I don't really do Halloween.

11. Kind of dessert apple pie with homemade crust, which I have made.

12. Comic strip In olden times I was a huge fan of Marmaduke. I don't think I've read a comic strip in like 10 years or something.

13. Style or make of footwear Um.... anything ridiculously on sale that's comfortable? I've been wearing flats very like these ones religiously for like 6 months.... I got them on sale for 20 bucks.

14. Ice cream flavor Graeter's Black Raspberry Chip.

15. College or university president No idea. Mine's quite nice, but whatever.

16. Internet news source I look at the NYT online.... (Man, I suck with all of the news questions! Hard to believe that I once thought I'd be a journalist when I grew up. Perhaps I'm just not terribly interested in news?)

17. Vacation spot It's a tie: Lebanon or Italy.

18. Wine I am in no way a wine afficianado, but I typically like a dry wine as opposed to a sweet one. Chardonnay gives me a headache, always.

19. Way to waste time instead of working Ahem, blogging. Also talking on the phone.

20. Student excuse for late work I'm not much on the excuses. In fact, I clearly state that I don't want to hear them. This may be because my favorite excuse is one that I myself made up when I was a sophomore in college. I said that I hadn't been in class for two weeks, and I hadn't submitted work, because I had mono. Apparently I looked like shit (I'd been blowing off the class because I was doing work for other classes and working, etc.), for the instructor asked whether I was really well enough to have returned to class, and allowed me to turn everything in for full credit.

21. Reality show Project Runway

22. Jewelry on a man Cuff links? Yes, I'm going to go with cuff links.

23. Pizza topping In addition to cheese, I love a pizza with artichoke hearts, olives, saussage, and carmelized onions. Sweet, salty deliciousness. But if I had to choose one topping, I'd say cheese. It's just not pizza without cheese.

24. Children's movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Or Elf. Or the old classics The Wizard of Oz or The Sound of Music.

25. Celebrity you wish would retire God, I don't know. Paris Hilton would be the easy choice, but it's almost too easy. Same with Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag (aka "Speidi"). Basically anybody who has become a celebrity just for being out on the town as a citizen of "young Hollywood."

I don't know who to tag (I'm supposed to tag 8 people), so consider yourselves tagged if you need to procrastinate. I know lots of you would like to do so :)

Remember How I Said I Was Feeling Good But Boring? Yeah, Well, in My World, That's Often a Warning Sign

It's not that I haven't been feeling good and boring, but I suppose that I'm not altogether terribly comfortable with that particular combination of feelings. It usually means that I feel like I'm not doing anything that I care very much about, or like I don't actually have control over most parts of my life. So, although all would seem to be calm when I have the good but boring feelings, it is in fact true that it usually means a tantrum of some sort is brewing, to be unleashed at an unsuspecting person, for how could a person suspect what was coming when I've been so good but boring of late?

To make a long story short, yesterday I was a bit of a jerk, had a good cry, felt sorry for myself for nearly the entire day, and then slept horribly.

The good news is that I think I figured out that the problem is one of feeling like I'm not in control of my own life, and so what I really need to do is to start thinking about how I can feel more in control in more areas (a) and to start thinking about long-range things that I want to have in my life and how I need to use the things I can control to get those things (b). This won't fix everything, but it's a start.

In other news, Crazy does not do well with change - even change that isn't really a change of much of anything - at all. Not. At. All.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

7 Things about Crazy

Indeed, 'tis a meme. Thanks to Caroline, who tagged me for it.

The rules:

  • Link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog.
  • Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog - some random, some weird.
  • Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blog.
  • Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
Ok, first, before I begin, let me say this: I hate the whole tagging thing. So consider yourselves tagged if you'd like to participate, though especially Medusa, Maude, Maggie, Hilaire, Curmudgeon, New Kid, and Sisyphus. I'm not bothering to comment anywhere to alert people of this meme. I suck that way :)

So, 7 facts about me:

  1. When I was three years old, apparently I announced far and wide that I'd like to be a cartoon when I grew up. Am now thinking this could have been a good option, as I feel like the profession of "cartoon" is much less cutthroat than the profession of "professor."
  2. You know that episode of Seinfeld where they say it's impossible to perform the "roommate switch"? I totally accomplished that feat. Much to my detriment, but I did make it happen. Note: I never engaged in any sort of threesome.
  3. I am weirdly mesmerized by the Gosselins.
  4. You should all go buy The Breeders' latest album. It is awesome. In no small part because of this song.
  5. One of my big claims to fame in high school was that I could hit the Mariah Carey high note in this song - see minutes 3:46-3:51 - (I was a first soprano in choir after all), but only when I was drunk.
  6. My hair was never died (permanently) or even highlighted (other than with Sun-In) until I was in my 20's.
  7. I had the opportunity to go see REM in concert when they were doing the Green tour (I was a freshman in highschool) and my mother wouldn't let me because I'd have been going (in a group - huff) with a boy who was a senior. I have never seen REM live, and I blame my mother. Obviously I can't have gone to see REM since then because I know (now) that Life's Rich Pageant was their best work, and so to do so would make me a poser. So indeed, my mother is to blame.

Operation Fitness, or, Feeling Centered and Good But Also Boring

I'm checking in with an operation fitness update because I just finished working out and as that is the main thing that I accomplished today, well, there you are.

Operation Fitness seems to be going really well. Here's what I've been doing:

1. I'm not really dieting. I still drink wine, I eat (and rarely feel hungry - only feel hungry when I stupidly forget to pack food for school or something), I've eaten cookies and chips (at our department meeting, without guilt). If you wanted to say I'm on a diet, you'd probably say I'm on phase 2 of the South Beach Diet, but I'm not thinking of it like that. Basically, I have cut out eating out, I've cut out sugar (except for that in fruit), I've cut out the potato (my nemesis), I've cut out processed foods. I am eating things like whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, and brown rice. Sometimes, cooking involves butter, though only in very small quantities per portion. I aim to drink at least 32 oz. of water a day. Some days I drink more, some days only around 18 oz. I do still drink diet soda, but not much as if you're going to drink that much water, there's not much time left in the day for drinking pop. When I cook multi-serving things (which is, like, always), I put it away in single-serving-size containers. When I eat a meal, I eat it on a small plate or bowl, and I make myself wait 20 minutes before allowing myself to go back for more. If I feel hungry after 20 minutes, I go back for more. Usually I don't. What am I eating? Lots of veggies, lean meat/chicken, some (though not much - I've really cut back on this, I realize now) cheese (2%, or low-fat string cheese). Most frequently I snack on nuts (almonds most of the time).

2. Every day some form of physical activity, at least 30 minutes worth, is on the agenda, but probably 2 to 3 days a week it doesn't happen. And I've decided that's ok. Mostly I've been walking in my neighborhood (glorious fall weather), but also I've gone to the gym. Depends on my mood. I've noticed that even on the days that I don't work out I'm more active, whether it's being active by cleaning up around the house or cooking something complicated or whatever, but the point is, I'm not just lying on the couch all day.

And that's it. And the fact is, this is pretty much how it's going to have to be forever, because I'm not a teenager and the reality is that when you're not a teenager you can't just eat whatever you want and be a lazy non-active person and still fit into clothes you like. And thus far I've lost around 7 pounds.

But so anyway, it's nice to make that progress, and I'm feeling pretty good about myself of late. I'm also feeling good because Operation Get Out of Credit Card Debt continues in fine fashion, and I'm well on my way to being totally done with that by June. And I've got a couple of research things brewing, the teaching is going well, and I'm burdened with service, but well, so what? I'm squeezing in the service commitments when time allows and letting them slide when it doesn't. Because something has to give, and if it's going to be anything, it's going to be service.

But so all of this is making me feel pretty boring lately. There's no drama. No intrigue. No angst. Just taking care of business, feeling centered, feeling good. I know, don't borrow trouble, blah blah blah, but I'll talk to my friends and I feel like I've got nothing to say, nothing to analyze. This feels just... uncompanionable. It's like I've got nothing to bitch about. And, frankly, that's kind of annoying. It's also weird that I feel like nearly everybody in the whole world (exceptions: FB and my diss director, and you can feel free to make of that what you wish in regard to what it says about me and significant men in my life) is more excited about my book coming out than I am. I feel like, "So what? That's over with. What's the next thing?" Maybe I'll feel differently when I actually hold the thing in my hands (still haven't received my copies, must contact my editor), but at the end of the day, I find this whole "it's coming out" thing to be a total anticlimax.

But so anyway, the only thing I have to bitch about is that everything is just fine and dandy. I hate people like me :)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Classroom Management, Crazy-Style

In the comment thread to my recent post about a student who is inspiring loathing, Joanna wrote the following:

"I would be really interested to hear how you prevent students like this from completely taking over the class. And also, if you have any thoughts on how us poor trampled upon students can resist this behavior if the professor doesn't step up."

Rather than bury my answer in the comment thread, I thought I should make it a post of its own. Let me say first that when I was a student I really despised classmates who spoke in class but who really didn't contribute to the conversation, if that makes sense. It's not that these classmates of mine were always rude (they weren't) or that they did something that made the classroom a hostile space (they didn't). It's just that every time they spoke it's like they sucked all of the air and energy from the room. I think there are pretty clear ways that one should deal with rude students who make the classroom a hostile space, beginning with stopping that behavior immediately in class (typically, for the first time, with a bit of humor, and for the second time, sternly), moving on to having a private conversation with the student, and finally to getting administrators involved if things don't improve. I've taken these steps when it's been necessary, and I've got course policies that explicitly outline appropriate participation in discussion and interactive activities to back me up. In other words, when a student is truly out of line, I don't think it's necessarily that difficult to put a stop to the behavior with a minimum of fuss.

Things become murkier when we're talking about students who aren't truly out of line but yet who threaten to derail an otherwise great class just by their tone and their presence in the course. These students, to my mind, don't truly deserve to be punished by me or reprimanded by me for what they're doing.... but I do think I have to find ways to manage those students, for the benefit of the class as a whole but also for the benefit of the student who threatens to derail or to dominate. See, I think that students who engage in this sort of behavior (I almost wrote posturing) do so because it has worked for them in the past. This is how they've learned to stand out, and they don't have the self-awareness to understand that they aren't necessarily standing out in a positive way. I think that also some of this sort of behavior can be bound up in insecurity, which the student tries to counteract by being the loudest or most frequently heard voice in the room. I've had a fair share of this sort of student, and here's how I go about handling them.

[Aside: my class sizes are small, even the lower-level ones, and my teaching is oriented around discussion and getting students to interact more than anything else. I lecture infrequently, and even when I do lecture, I typically break up lectures into 10-15 minute increments interspersed with some discussion or with group activities.]

1. Such students typically come to my attention very early in a semester. While they don't usually do anything inappropriate (being rude to other students, etc.) they do typically offer a response to a question that I throw out to get discussion going that in some way challenges the premise of the question. Again, nothing wrong with doing that, on the surface. However, I learned early in my time on the tenure-track that if I took the bait and let the student direct the course of the conversation through that challenge that the other students in the class clammed up. And once that happened, the discussion got way off track, devolving into a conversation between me and that student, with the other students looking bored and/or annoyed. So now, when this sort of student presents that first challenge, I typically respond to it briefly, but then I return to my original question, explaining why I'm starting there, but insisting that we return to it. This sends a very clear message: Dr. Crazy is the sheriff in town, class, and she has reasons for what she does; it's my party, and I pick what's on the menu. I noticed once I started using this technique that the other students in the class quickly would raise their hands when the original question was posed the second time, and the discussion that would result was typically really great. And the challenging student? The challenging student would either decide to play nicely according to the rules that I set out, or they would at least shut up long enough for the other students to speak.

2. Such students also typically restate what other students have already said in discussion, or they will bring in outside material that has nothing to do with our topic for the day, as a way of attempting to dominate the discussion. My typical response to this tactic is to address it head on: "Yes, that is an interesting point; I believe that Sally said something similar 10 minutes ago. How would you build on what she said?" or "Yes, that is interesting information that you're bringing in. But how does it relate to Peter's comment that came just before yours about the poems that are on the syllabus for today?" You'll notice that I do continue to engage the student, asking a question in response to the comment that they made, but I also make it clear that I know that they were trying to take us off track. Moreover, I force the student to engage with the classmates who are also part of the discussion. The student needs to know that it's not just the two of us who are in the class and that I expect that students engage with one another as well as with me.

3. Sometimes, the student will just refuse to engage with a text period. Typical ways of doing this are "it's boring" or "I think any interpretation is valid because all interpretations are subjective" or "we're reading too much into everything." This typically results in what I now think of as my "anti-intellectualism" speech. I've given it a bunch of times now. Sometimes I'll pepper the speech with questions, too, in which I ask us to think about what it means when we say something is boring, or I ask students to explain why we bother reading if there's no point in interpreting. "Why are you in this class?" I have asked. Not in a "get out" sort of way, but as a real question. "Why are you here? Why am I here? What are we all trying to get out of this? Why do people read things that are 'boring'? Bother making interpretations if any interpretation is as good as the next? What's the point?"

4. Whatever the Potentially Dominating Student is doing, though, I make sure that I'm doing everything in my power to get other students talking. How? Sometimes this is one-on-one. A student comes to my office hours to talk about a paper, and they'll say something insightful. I ask them to bring that up in the next class. Or I'll just note in passing to a student who contributes infrequently that I really enjoy when they make comments, and I wish they were commenting more. Sometimes I make them do a small activity in groups, and then I focus discussion when we reconvene by questioning the individual groups. (When doing group stuff, you've got to move the PDS around, so no one group is stuck with her for the whole semester.) Sometimes I'll just say, if the PDS has been really the only one talking, that the PDS just can't comment for the next 15 minutes because the rest of the class isn't pulling their weight. (I don't only do this with PDS types of students; I also sometimes will do this with really great students who are carrying a class. It's important to note this because my students are used to me doing this, and it's very clear that it's not done in anger or to be mean to the student that I tell to let others speak.)

5. I try to establish a good rapport with the PDS, getting them to come to meet with me in my office about papers, giving them lots of feedback on written work, etc., because sometimes when they're more comfortable with me, the dominating behavior stops. Or, if it doesn't, I have enough a rapport that I can more easily talk to the student about why they're style is not working for the class as a whole.

And finally, sometimes, when all else has failed, I have found that a very pointed critique of something that the student says, in which I fully engage with whatever lame and yet pompous comment the student has made and yet also clearly demonstrate each and every one of the flaws in the student's comment, fixes the problem. Sometimes they need me to prove to them that I'm smarter than they are. This is totally the Option of Last Resort, and I don't like to do it, in part because I don't like to be The Enforcer in that way with my students and in part because it can freak the other students in the course out. Ideally, if I do all of the other stuff that I do to get the rest of the class really engaged and learning, one of the other students in the class does this and then that day becomes forever known as the Day of Liberation and the PDS is finished. Note: if a student does succeed in this feat, I do not allow the other students to cheer. That happened once, and I quickly put a stop to it. The point isn't to make the PDS feel bad: the point is to get the PDS to see that their point of view isn't always right, always the most important, always the only valid one.

But what if a professor doesn't see the PDS as having a negative influence on the class? Or what if they don't care? What can students do? Well, you can always talk to the prof. This doesn't always accomplish much, but it's worth a shot. It may well be that if the prof knows that others are bothered that the prof will then step up and do something to fix it. But the only other piece of advice I have is to raise your hands. If everybody else is making a concerted effort to talk, and to keep the discussion productive, that cripples the PDS. It can be useful to make a plan for how to do this with your classmates' prior to the class meeting. (I organized such a resistance effort once in a graduate seminar that I was taking.) If everybody just sits there rolling their eyes, well, to some extent, "everybody" is making their bed and has to lie in it. Let me emphasize, though, that I'm not saying that students are responsible if they're being victimized by a classmate. I think that is totally on the professor if that's going on. I'm just talking about how to handle a classmate that is irritating and making a class suck for you by being so irritating - not one who is abusive.

I'll close by noting that I'd targeted my PDS this semester as potentially disruptive in the first week. And I've been working to keep this student in check consistently to this point. What surprised me about the student comments in the past week or two was not that this student was a potential problem, but rather that the other students so actively didn't like PDS. The students who've brought PDS up did not do so in such a way that they were expressing a concern about how the course was going or about the level of respect in the class's discussions. No, the comments were more of the venting variety, like, "Wow, that person really sucks. I cringe every time that person even seems like s/he might speak." The comments didn't indicate that they feel silenced (and, dude, they shouldn't - all of these students participate up a storm), but rather that they wished they could silence the PDS - like forever.

My hope is that maybe I can make a dent in my PDS's armor, and get PDS to have some kind of epiphany where the PDS stops sucking so hard. I feel like that would be really cool, if it could happen. That said, I'll be happy even if that doesn't happen, because while I'm great and all, even I do not have the power to eradicate all suckiness in the world. Nah, I'll be happy if I can just keep on being aware that I need to be vigilant about the PDS, keep the class going smoothly with lots of participation from everyone, and keep things on track with our conversations in the class. Honestly, this has been one of the most rewarding teaching experiences I've ever had, teaching this class this semester. And my students - even the PDS - seem really to be digging it. That, at the end of the day, is what the whole thing is about, yes?

It's a Rainy, Cold, Yucky Sort of Fall Day

Which means that I'll be making some butternut squash soup, taking to my bed with some Virginia Woolf, and maybe, if I'm motivated, some grading.

Other than that, I've got nothing.

Edited to add:
This may seem radical, but I would, were it legal, marry the soup that I just made. I made some adjustments so my version is not nearly as decadent as the recipe actually calls for (Operation Fitness and all), but even with those adjustments, it is.... otherworldly. More than I ever thought a soup could be. I think I shall settle in and watch some daytime television while I enjoy my otherworldly soup. It's that sort of a day.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

On Being Excited to Grade

It turns out that when I'm actually interested in what they're writing, I begin grading as soon as I'm done teaching. Even though I won't see those students again for 5 full days.

A certain student's paper has yet to be submitted, and that student did not attend class. I'll let you guess which student's paper that is.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Not Sure What to Title This

I have a weird situation in one of my classes. Well, I suppose it's not that weird. It's something that I remember from the student-perspective from grad school, but it's the first time that I've ever seen it in a class of mine from the other side of the desk (perhaps because I don't teach grad students?).

Let's say there's this student. This student thinks s/he is very, very bright. When this student speaks in class, there is a sort of adversarial, know-it-all quality to the comments. And the student is bright enough, I guess, but there are lots of bright students in the class, and the tenor of the other students' comments is typically much more productive and exploratory, which is what I aim for in generating discussion in my classes - not the whole adversarial thing. I'm not terribly bothered by the student - nothing so far has been inappropriate or uncool to other students in the course but rather just totally irritating - but over the past week it has come to my attention that many of the other students in the course loathe this student. Enough that they have begun to make comments to me indicating the loathing.

Now, I'm not sure there is anything that I need to do about this. I don't let the student dominate discussion (though I get the impression that if I did allow that then the student would, and so perhaps some of the loathing of the other students comes from the fact that they have other classes with this student where that is happening), but it's so weird because I remember feeling that kind of loathing, and I think a lot of it came from feeling like I couldn't believe that the professor didn't see through the blowhard student, see that the student wasn't so great but rather that the student was a bully. The thing is, I see that the student is a bully, and I don't think the student is so great. But at the same time, I think that students like that sometimes need to learn the hard way that they're not so great, and that involves giving them enough rope so that the other students will hang them.

But here's the thing: when I was a student, I always quietly seethed about this kind of student, and I never would have dreamed of expressing my feelings openly. And so it's weird that I'm getting the feedback from a variety of other students in the class. They're not complaining.... it's more like they'll just make a comment that's sort of joky but that indicates deep dislike, almost like they want me to know that they feel sorry for me that I have to deal with the student, and also to know that they aren't like that student. I've been very diplomatic in not really responding to these comments, doing a sort of nod-then-change-the-subject thing, but I'm finding it interesting, and it will be interesting to see how things play out through the second half of the semester, particularly with the material in this particular course, which may well give the other students the ammunition and fortitude to slam the know-it-all one.

So have you ever experienced this with your students? Is there something I should be doing that I'm not already doing so that the just-beneath-the-surface loathing doesn't become out-and-out warfare? (Note: I don't really think that it will become warfare - this class is filled with really smart, thoughtful students who aren't types who'd typically lose it with this sort of student. But then that is why it's weird that they're indicating this hostility to me, too - normally, they'd not do that.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hostile Students: In Which I Continue to Procrastinate by Answering a Reader Question

Oh, today has been a day of bargaining with myself, it surely has, and in which the grading has not gone according to plan. See, I remembered I'm giving a test in my class tomorrow (I can surely finish up grading their papers in there!) and that I have to meet with some students hours before that (surely I can do the other class's grading during the downtime!) and that I can easily complete basic grading for the other class by tonight's deadline without actually offering substantive comments on one of the assignments (It's only worth 3% and they have until the end of the semester to do the revisions based on my comments!). In other words, I'm an idiot. But so let me get to the question.

Adjunct Whore writes:

"i was seriously hoping that you would, or could, or had an inclination to comment about strange encounters with hostile male students."

I've been thinking about this since I saw the comment. It's not that I haven't had hostile male students. I surely have. But I don't think I've actually had many "strange encounters" with them. I surely have had male students who've pushed boundaries, in some way or another. I've surely had male students who revealed their hostility on course evaluations, even though they were silent and brooding throughout the semester and kept their hostilities in check until they could castigate me anonymously. But typically, my strangest encounters have actually been with female students. They are the ones who have, historically, left me stymied or uncomfortable or at a loss or just angry. But before I get to those, let me get to the "hostile male students" question.

First, my male students (hostile and non-hostile) typically come in two particular forms:
  1. The traditional male college student. Subsets of this include weird and outcast sort of students, hipster sort of students (typically in bands), nerdy and not-quite-hip boys who are really freaking smart, frat-boy sort of students and their close cousins, conservative sorts of students who just didn't happen to join fraternities.
  2. The non-traditional (usually much older than me) male college student. They're all typically married with kids and take everything very seriously. There are also some weirdos, but they are typically harmless.
I've only had hostility expressed directly (and strangely) by traditionally aged male students. (This isn't to say that I haven't been challenged by non-traditional male students, but typically if I meet the challenge, they decide I'm ok and are among the best students I've ever had.) The traditionally aged male students, though....well, when they've directly expressed hostility, it's been in the following ways:
  • Writing weirdly sexually objectifying papers about women, in an attempt to bait me into proving that I hate men.
  • Challenging my grading, insisting that they know more about writing papers than I do.
  • Refusing, after repeated kind, and then not-so-kind, reminders to call me anything other than "Miss" or "Mrs." Crazy, or in the worst cases by my first name, or even "sweetheart" in one memorable instance.
  • Open rudeness in class, and open hostility in class, when I correct them or ask them to support their assertions.
The thing is, usually after I grade them, or after I shut them down in class, they just become silent and surly. I've never had a hostile male student directly threaten me or go to my chair about me, write me an inappropriate email or confront me in office hours. They either drop my classes, or they write horrifying comments (feminazi, bitch, whore, not qualified to teach because she's a feminist) on their evaluations of me. I do a fair amount of hand-written assignments in all of my classes, so I can tell you that those sorts of comments have only come from the frat boy/conservative types and the weirdos. And those particular students (not all or even most of the male students in those categories) were horrifying to the women in the course as well - this sort of attitude was not reserved solely for me. The hipsters? Those boys who wear smurf-style hats and band t-shirts and flannel? As a rule they totally dig me. As do the nerdy not-quite-hip boys.

In part, I think that I've been very lucky that I haven't had any directly intimidating or strange encounters with these hostile students. I in no way think that I'm immuned to such a thing happening. But I also think that the sort of (male) student who is hostile to me is also hostile because everything about who I am is intimidating to him. I think that I haven't faced direct confrontations in large part because they don't know what to do with a person who doesn't respond at all to their efforts to intimidate or to belittle, or who doesn't respond in the ways that they're used to women responding. So either they withdraw from my courses, or they lie in wait until they can fuck me over on course evaluations. Our (fucked up) evaluations leave ample room within which they can do this. And yes, it has hurt my numbers. But it hasn't hurt my feelings. I'd rather they think that I'm a bitch than that they can steamroll me. If they stayed in the course, I figure it's because they were learning something in spite of their hatred of me.

As I noted, however, I've experienced much more... consternation... about the hostile female students whom I've encountered. Without exception, these have been non-traditional female students (either of around my age or older), and these students have, typically, had absolutely no respect for me or for my authority as the professor of the course in which they have enrolled. They have been overtly (as opposed to subtly) disruptive in class; they have been openly hostile to me in office hours; they have failed to follow directions or course policies, and have demanded that I make exceptions to those directions and policies for them; they have complained to my chair about me; they have accused me of trying to stop them from making better lives for heir families; they have called me racist; they have called me a know-it-all, who "just doesn't understand" their take on the material because I'm "not a mother"; they've called me a lesbian, or claimed that I gave them a poor grade because I'm bitter because I "can't get a man."

I should note that I've had some great non-trads who are women, and who have done excellent work in my courses and who have earned exceptionally good grades. A lot of the hostile female students' responses seem to have a lot to do with the fact that they think that because I'm a woman that I should cut them special slack, or that I should "be understanding" when they don't do their work. Honestly, I'd rather have an aggressive male student write a paper about women's breasts and how it's a woman's "natural" role to serve men and call me a whore on his evaluation of me, while yet he follows the course policies to the letter, than deal with a female student in office hours who claims that the fact that we both have vaginas means that I should throw my course policies out the window, or that because I'm not a mother that I don't have the authority (with a terminal degree in the field) to evaluate her interpretation of a literary text. Also, I have a lot more patience with a fucked up male student who has internalized patriarchal attitudes (haven't we all?) than with a fucked up female student who uses my feminism against me and who tells my chair that I've discriminated against her, when I've followed policies of which she was aware from the first day of class and when those policies have been applied equally to every other person in the course.

I will say, the accusations that I'm a "man-hating feminist" on evaluations from those hostile male students are hilarious to me, when the majority of them have done far better in my courses than those hostile female students who think I'm supposed to give them an A just because they are women.

But so, if I have any tips for dealing with hostile students, of whatever the gender or persuasion, here are my tips:

  1. Have strong course policies, and follow your syllabus to the letter. Build in enough flexibility that you never go against your own policies (for example, rather than saying "no late papers ever, even if your house burns down" [because surely if a student's house really did burn down you'd go against that rule], be clear that a late paper for any reason carries a certain penalty) and that some things are up to you ("You can request an extension, but only in x circumstances, and it's my prerogative to say no if you don't have a draft, etc."), but in general, don't be terribly flexible ("As long as you email me before the paper is due with any excuse, I will give you an extension with a negotiable deadline and you can receive full credit on the assignment") and don't make exceptions to stated rules. Don't change when things are due, and don't offer leniency in public and explicit ways. Sure, this is legalistic and annoying, but it goes a long way toward stopping complaints before they gain any traction.
  2. Conduct as many transactions via email as possible with hostile students. A written record means that you have something to show higher ups if that time comes. (This has saved me more than once.) It gives you a leg to stand on. Also, it keeps you out of personal interactions with potentially dangerous people.
  3. Know your shit. If they spot a weakness, they'll exploit it. If you show a clear command of the course material, a command stronger than anything they can come up with, that goes a long way to shutting them down when they challenge you. And "shutting down" doesn't need to be aggressive - it can be subtle and funny and kind. The point is, you need to shut down students who are trying to fuck the class up.
  4. With that being said, you can't please all the people all of the time, and it's better to make a disruptive student feel bad than to ruin a whole course by accommodating somebody who's tryng to sabotoge you and the course. The good students will hate you, too, if you don't shut the bad eggs down (something I only learned in my first semester on the tenure track, even though I'd already felt it when I was a student).
  5. If you feel threatened by a student, only agree to meet with that student with another person (preferably your chair or another authority figure like a dean) present.
I'm not sure if any of this is helpful, or if what I've written speaks to AW's concerns. But that's my experience in dealing with hostility. Do my faithful readers have anything to add?

Oh, Fall Break, I Will Miss You So (and Some Random Musings about Being a Professor)

Well, it has not been a productive fall break, but it has been a rejuvenating one. I've spent a lot of time sleeping, lounging about, wondering why Anthony Bourdain isn't somebody I actually know in life, slightly more lounging, thinking about work, putting off the work until another day, and then maybe I'd go back to sleep. Now, this is not the most glamorous way to spend a fall break, but I think that I really needed the time to veg.

Of course,what this means now that it's the final day of the fall break is that the time for lying about in a slatternly fashion has come and gone, and I've got a lot of work to do. Mostly, that work involves grading. What's annoying to me is that pretty much all of the grading that I have is not grading that I want to do.

I know what you're thinking: isn't that true of all grading? Well, not generally for me. The problem is that the batches of assignments that I've got before me are ones that I assign because they're good foundational assignments for students - and I do believe in making sure that students have some grades at midterm to judge progress by - but they aren't particularly interesting assignments to me personally to grade. For example, I always assign one of two short papers in the survey before midterm, because they need one paper early, so that they can get a sense of my expectations and grading style and so that they're digging in to the texts of the first part of the semester. The problem is, the first half of the survey is decidedly not in my wheelhouse of favorite literature to teach or about which to read. So I've got this batch of papers that I believe in students writing but that I have no desire to evaluate. And, with this course, there's no way around that. It's good pedagogy to have the assignment, in spite of my personal preferences.

That's just one example, but the problem with my fall teaching schedule (as opposed to my spring teaching schedule) is that this is true across three of the four classes, which stinks. Now, I'll say this: it's a much milder version of the problem than I used to have when I was teaching two sections of comp per semester. What I've got to do, though, is to remember that things do improve dramatically as the semester moves forward, so this, too, shall pass. But see, this is an example of the way that as much as I love teaching, teaching is a job and it's not just about "doing what I love" or something. There are things that I've got to do as a teacher that I decidedly don't love, even if I enjoy teaching generally. I think that's often one of the things that doesn't get discussed much in the profession, which is weird since I think it's a given in other professions that while one might "enjoy" his/her job, one is going to not-enjoy certain parts of it.

I suppose I wish we talked a bit more about the nuts and bolts of this in real ways rather than being distracted by complaining about how students suck or about what counts as proper "professorial" or student behavior. I think sometimes when we get bogged down in those side issues that it sets up a false binary between "good professors who love everything about the job and thus the things that upset them are the fault of other people" and "bad professors/students who have the audacity not to love every single aspect of higher education." If those are the only options, then I think that the only option it leaves for people on either side is bitterness. The "good" professors are bitter because everything would just be perfect if other people (students, colleagues, administrators, taxpayers) had the exact same passions, loves, and values that they do, which of course are pure and true and altruistic. The "bad" professors are bitter because everything would be just perfect if the whole world would recognize that this is "just a job" like any other shitty job, which of course is what it "really" is.

I think that I used to fall into the second bitter camp, but the more I do this job, the more I think that this second bitter option is just as lame as the first. When I'm honest, I don't think this is "just a job" like any other shitty job, and to claim that it is has nothing to do with "reality." But I also don't think that if there are things that I don't like about the job, or if I feel like I need a break from talking about the job that it makes me "unprofessorial" or sends the wrong message. I think, I hope, that there's some middle option that does away with all of that freaking bitterness.

Perhaps I'm getting soft the longer that I'm in this profession, but being bitter takes a hell of a lot of energy, and I don't have that energy if I'm going to teach four classes a semester, have a research agenda, and do all of the service that I'm required to do. I don't mean that statement as a self-congratulatory one - "I am really focused on the work that I have to do and so I am better than the bitter folks" - no, I think I'm just tired. I don't find bitter screeds funny or liberating or entertaining anymore. I find them depressing and exhausting and distracting.

I don't know. I suppose as I think about what it means to me to be a professor, now that I've had a moment to think about it since having turned in the tenure binder, I realize that I've become a lot more confident in that identity. I don't feel like I'm proving myself anymore, like I'm jumping through hoops. I don't feel like there's some ideal of professor-ness that I'm bound to protect or to project in order to claim that identity. I feel like that because I'm a professor, that means that I'm professorial. (This is not unlike the realization I had about a year into my PhD program, where I decided, "You know what? They let me in and I haven't flunked out, so I have as much right to be here as anybody else.")

Sure, my version of this might not look the same as other versions of professorial identity, but who cares? I didn't pursue this profession because I held becoming some ideal of fixed professorial identity as a goal. I pursued it because I love the things that the job lets me do. I never expected that by virtue of becoming a professor I'd command more respect or esteem than if I chose another career path, nor did I have illusions, past the first year of graduate school, that being a professor meant leading a "life of the mind" that wasn't subject to real-life concerns and the complications caused by human interaction. And I didn't think that I'd stop being myself when I got into this whole thing. I didn't think that all of my old interests or attitudes would fall by the wayside the moment that I was hooded. Nor did I think that I would never again develop a new interest outside of those approved by the academy.

Sure, the process of entering this profession and working in it has changed me, in some ways good and in some ways less good. But I'm still me. And me? I'm not naturally a bitter person. And when I am bitter, it's usually in a fairly joky fashion, probably better described by the word "wry" than "bitter." I'm naturally a pretty positive and happy person. I'm a person who thinks about silly, non-academic things; I'm a person who procrastinates; I'm a person who values things that are fun - and not necessarily intellectual or sophisticated fun. I'm much more likely to laugh than to chuckle knowingly or to smirk.

And the longer that I do this job, the more important that I think that it is that I value those things about myself and nurture them. Because here's the thing: I'm a person first and a professor second. Being a professor is what I do but it's not the person that I am. And I come to think more and more that being a whole person makes me a better professor. I'm certainly much less of a jerk to my students (for I do think that I used to be a jerk under the guise of asserting authority), and I'm much more confident about showing more parts of myself and being more open about my personal reactions and attitudes than I used to be.

I thought about this after a discussion in the class with Notoriously Difficult Novel (which we've finished! hurray!). I said, in an offhand way, that I do believe it's a novel that all English majors should read/study/have the opportunity to write about. One of my students asked, in a slightly challenging way but also in a truly questioning way, why. First I let some students field the question, but then I concluded by broadening the question. Because I think what was at the heart of the question was really, "why bother reading/studying/writing about literature?"

Now, when I started teaching full time, I don't think that I would have broadened the discussion, or that I even would have offered an answer of my own. Or if I had, I would have offered up an answer that was basically a lit review: Here is why Mathew Arnold, T.S. Eliot, F.R. Leavis, and Roland Barthes say that we should read literature. But I didn't do that (or I didn't do only that). Instead, I gave my "real" answer to that question - my personal answer to that question. I told them why I'm invested in literary studies as a discipline, and why I think it matters. I won't recount it here because that's not really the point of this post. I also won't recount it because, having a reputation in my department of being a hard-ass who doesn't have warm and fuzzy feelings about literature, I swore all of my students to secrecy after I pontificated, and told them that if they ever revealed my warm and fuzzy true nature to anyone that I would surely deny it. We all laughed, and then class was done.

The point is, I think that it's good that the identity that I perform as a professor is no longer so dependent on hiding or evading or excising certain parts of how I really feel about my discipline and the work that I do, in the service of being "professorial." I think that it's good that I'm not so concerned with issues of authority that my identity in the classroom bears little to no resemblance to my identity in the world. It's not that I'm more "real" now, but I am a hell of a lot more open. And I think that part of the process of becoming more open for me has been finding my way as an academic who blogs. This may not be an "academic blog" - if what we mean by that term is a blog that excises the personal or the silly or the frivolous or the non-intellectual - but I am an academic who writes a blog. And doing so has helped me to learn how to broaden my academic persona in the classroom, to stop feeling immense bitterness about my job particularly and about the profession generally, and to feel more comfortable with the many different roles I play, in the job and out of it. And, perhaps most important, it gives me an excuse to blather on rather than getting down to the work of grading. The value of this cannot be discounted.

But the last day of Fall Break is a sad day indeed. A sad, sad day.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Because That Was Really How I Needed to Spend the Past Two Hours

I've changed the blog template. It came to my attention that a) blogrolling was jacked and I couldn't fix things with it and b) I wanted my archives back on the blog. It still needs massive work. Crazy is no graphic designer. But there you have it.

If you're missing from my blogroll, tell me and I'll add you. I know I lost a gajillion links, but I think a lot of them were old anyway.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

On Guiding Students Through the Research Process

But before I begin with my musings on this topic, a few side notes. 1. I did not accomplish much today at all. I don't care. It's my fall break, dammit, and I've got two days left for productivity. 2. My "recent posts" as well as the archive of the blog seem to have disappeared. I don't know why. Ew. And when I look at the template in internet explorer the header is all fucked up. I feel like evil sprites have attacked my blog. I may need to spend some quality time monkeying with the template, even though I don't want to do so. Caro, can you hear me? Would you like to redesign my blog? I'll be your best friend!

In my two senior-level classes, the time for helping students to conceive research projects for their major paper at the end of the semester has arrived. Yes, I begin doing this with them this early.

I did not always do this. Once upon a time, when I was young and naive, I thought they all got what went into doing a research paper, and I'd start talking to them about it in earnest about one month from the deadline, although I'd give them the assignment earlier. But what I realized when I did this was that the papers that I would receive would turn out to be much more of a mixed bag, and that some students didn't understand academic research - and academic research writing - at all. And so, in the service of reading much cooler papers (my own selfish desire) and of actually making them "get it" to whatever extent they can about what "academic research and writing" means and is, I now start at about midterm, giving them two full months of periodic instruction to get them to the Big Paper.

Yes, these are juniors and seniors. And yes, they need this, even in classes that aren't writing classes, even though they've taken writing classes.

First of all, let me note for the record that I don't resent having to take class time to do this. When I was young and naive, I used to resent it - I felt like by the time they reached the upper level somebody else should have taught them this crap. Also, I resented it because I knew that I was teaching lower-level students this stuff in my comp classes, and so I wondered whether I was the only person who was bothering to do so.

Until I started getting students from my comp classes in my upper-level lit classes. And they didn't know their ass from a hole in the ground either. (By the way, that's a favorite saying of Crazy's Mom, and I really do love when I get the chance to use it.) It was at this point that I took a step back and re-evaluated. See, if they didn't get it even when I'd taught it to them, or if they didn't intuit how to take what I taught them and to translate it into advanced disciplinary research, perhaps that meant that they really needed instruction in the advanced stuff later on, when they'd be ready to get it. And maybe that wasn't something to resent, and was no reflection on students' abilities or on the quality of lower-level instruction, ultimately, but rather it meant that this stuff that I have internalized isn't actually self-evident or that even the basics don't necessarily penetrate on the first go-around.

The thing that I've realized most in beginning this early is that most students really don't have a clue about how to generate research questions independently. Thus, if their papers come out crappy, it's not that they are crappy writers most of the time. It's that because they didn't have a strong beginning they don't come out with a strong end product. So I find that most of what I do in the early stages is offering up lots of suggestions about ways to go. I ask a lot of leading questions, and I focus on getting them to narrow down further than they think that they should or that is reasonable. All of this is second-nature to me now, but for them, it's the first time often that they've ever done this, so it's not natural at all.

The next thing that I find I do a lot of is helping them to find sources. All but the best and the brightest have trouble with this, even after library instruction. They're not used to configuring their ideas in terms of search terms, and they're not used to using the many resources that the library offers. This goes hand in hand with the devising of the topic, because lame topics (I've found) come out of wanting a topic that "has enough" sources. The issue is, when a writer chooses a lame topic "that will work," a lame paper results. Often they think that there "won't be enough" on what they're interested in. It's a revelation to them when I can help them find those sources, and usually in 15 minutes or less.

Now, is this hand-holding? I'd say no. I'd say it's mentoring. See, the thing is, I'm not sure what the value is of expecting them to "get it" without demonstrating how to do it. And the fact that some students can get it without that mentoring doesn't mean that they don't benefit from it, too.

I guess I'm thinking about all of this because I've been thinking a lot of late about how my research and teaching connect, not just in terms of content but also in terms of form. See, the thing is, part of what my PhD meant was that I learned all of these techniques for how to produce scholarship. If I don't pass those on to my students, am I really teaching them as well as I could be? And what are the best ways for teaching them those techniques without insisting that they become little versions of me (a thought that I detest).

Example: a student of mine approached me to make an appointment for a meeting because "professors either love my writing or they hate it, and I need to know which kind you are." Talking to him further, I found that some professors responded very positively because he was playing with language in certain (I'd say out-dated) ways, while others called what he was doing "bad writing." I asked him for an example, and he gave me one. I responded: "Well, I would say as a rule that I would encourage you not to do that sort of thing." He asked me why. I elaborated: "Because it's not 1982, and you're not Derrida." He didn't seem terribly happy with this response. But then I went further. "I'm not saying that as a hard-and-fast rule. What I'm saying is that you need a reason for doing that sort of thing beyond that it's a cool thing to do. If you've got a reason in terms of the content that makes that sort of thing essential, it can be effective. But if you're doing it just because it's cool, then readers will think you're a joke. I'm happy to talk to you about your writing, and I promise you that I'll never just say that something is 'bad writing.' But I'm going to tell you what I think isn't effective, and when I do, I'll tell you why." He seemed happy with that, or as happy as he could be. See, now that's an example of me passing on to a student something that I only learned as an advanced grad student, something about form and not about content. Sure, I could have not had that conversation, and then I could end up unhappy with the paper that he turned in, but where would that leave either of us? And yes, I'm meeting with the student to go over his draft with him and to give him suggestions.

So anyway, this is a roundabout way of asking all of you to weigh in: how do you pass on the "scholarly tricks of the trade" to your students? Where is the line between hand-holding and mentoring? To what extent is it our responsibility to give students not just the content but also the form?

RBOC: Sunday Work Edition

  • I need to accomplish a great many things today, all of which I truly don't feel like doing. Grading, some administrative stuff for my online class, grading, and then maybe some more grading. I'm giving myself an hour to chill before I really get down to it.
  • In other news, I'm finding myself oddly annoyed by a post over at Rate Your Students that quotes from my recent cat post (without linking to me I might add, so I'm not linking to it). Let me just say this again (though how many times I've said it now, I have no idea): I'm an academic, and sometimes I write about stuff related to academia. But this is not a professional blog. It's not listed on my cv, and I don't view it or present it as a professional document. (If I did, I wouldn't go by "Dr. Crazy," for a start.) If that's the sort of thing that you're looking for, perhaps this is not the blog for you. If what you're looking for is focused, high-minded commentary on my field or the profession, which never veers off into other areas, this certainly is not the blog for you. I'm a whole person. I attempt to write about different snippets of that whole person, because I think there's value in doing so. If you don't think there's value in that, or you don't like the fun, personal, or frivolous stuff on this blog, that's your prerogative. But dude, if you're going to use my blog to make some broader point about the scourge on our culture that blogs like mine pose, the least you could do is link to it so that people can judge for themselves.
  • Did I mention that I need to grade?
  • In other news, I sent off the application for JWIBSNA yesterday, and so my whining about that task that had been looming for a month is over.
  • I've actually got some academic sorts of posts brewing in my head, but I've been too swamped with actual work to write them. The thing is, a lot of what I've been busy with is very specific, and when I post about academic things here, I like to telescope out from the specific so as to make a broader point, so this blog isn't just about me, or my students, or my department, or my institution. That takes effort, and when I'm really freaking busy with actual work, I don't typically have what it takes left over to make that effort.
  • In other news, I think I'm actually feeling like doing research again, which I've not felt since finishing my last article (still no word from Fancy Journal), finishing the book, and finishing the tenure binder. I'm hopeful that I'll be doing two conferences in 2009, and I'm hopeful that those papers will translate into either an article or into a chapter for a next book, though I've yet to decide whether I'm really game for strapping the "next book" project on. I'm feeling a sense of liberation when it comes to the research side of things right now, because I don't really have a set agenda for what I need to accomplish next. That said, I think I'm getting close to the point where I need to set some sort of agenda for myself where that is concerned. Agendas can be a good thing.
  • You know, there's a large part of me that just wants to read for my one class instead of grading. This would be productive procrastination, but procrastination all the same.
  • Enough of this bullet nonsense. I need to go start making my to-do list for the day.
Edited to add: RYS excised the words that were mine, left the changed names of my cats, and then left a note about how "the blogger" (who was plagiarized, though they didn't mention that in the note, nor did they apologize for the fact that they allowed her work to be published out of context, without citation, and without her permission on their site) didn't want her words on their blog. Whatever, it's resolved. There is a lot more I want to say, but I'm not allowing myself to do so. Not worth it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Time for a New Workout Playlist

As a present to myself when I started this whole fitness business, I bought myself a song from iTunes and made a playlist. Well, it's been two weeks since then, and I realized today I was bored with it. Progress continues, so a new playlist is the order of business, with a couple of new iTunes songs. Do you care what's on the playlist? Perhaps not. And yet, I shall post it here.

  1. Nancy, I Love You (some Arabic singer I don't know the name of - got the song off of a burned CD from a family member, and youtube does not offer this info)
  2. All Falls Down (Kanye West)
  3. Womanizer (Britney Spears)
  4. When You Were Mine (Prince, though what I've linked to is the Tegan and Sara cover)
  5. Fucking Boyfriend (The Bird and the Bee)
  6. The Prayer (Bloc Party)
  7. Boyz (M.I.A.)
  8. Dirt off Your Shoulder (Jay-Z)
  9. So What (Pink)
  10. Lazy Eye (Silversun Pickups)
  11. Gigantic (The Pixies)
  12. Oliver's Army (Elvis Costello and the Attractions)
  13. Nineteen (Tegan and Sara)
  14. American Girl (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)
  15. You're No Rock'n'Roll Fun (Sleater Kinney)
  16. Finest Worksong (REM)
  17. London Bridge (Fergie)
1:04:20. And no, I don't typically work out for that long, because I hate working out, but that gives me room to skip a song or two when necessary. And I totally stand by the Britney(though that's perhaps because of the whole "You say I'm crazy. I got your crazy." line), the Pink, and the Fergie. Those are some catchy damned songs, and they've got a good beat. That's really all that matters to me in work-out music. Well, and that the songs are AWESOME. To me at any rate :)

So I should note that the Fitness Agenda is going very well. Totally feels like a lifestyle change. Have lost four pounds in two weeks. I've got miles to go before I sleep, but I'm not feeling like I'm "dieting" or something. And it feels good to make myself move with frequency. What is bizarre is that body-wise where the change happens first for me is around the knees and in the face. The middle? Well, Rome wasn't built in a day.

So that's the fitness update, complete with brand new playlist about which I am quite excited (though of course, there could be tweaking if necessary).

In Which the Kittens Address My Readers (For Don't We All Love Some Friday Cat Blogging?)

Man-Kitty: Hello, and good day to you. It is I,the Man-Kitty. I write --

Mr. Stripey: And me too! Mr. Stripey here! At your service! Hello! Good morning!

Man-Kitty: Hmmpf. As I was saying, I write this post knowing that you must all have been starved for news about how the Cats of Crazy are doing in this very busy autumn season. As you might imagine, there are a good many things keeping us busy. For example --

Mr. Stripey: My favorite place to play is in the bathtub! I bring my toys in there! It's awesome!

Man-Kitty: Sigh. For example, we have a daily schedule that begins around 6 AM when I, the more responsible of the two of us, make it my business to awaken Crazy using a variety of well-proven tactics. Then, we breakfast, and spend approximately one hour running about the house and wrestling. Exercise is a very important part of a healthy cat's daily routine. When this is done, it is time for our first baths of the day. While we take care of most of our bathing independently, it is awfully nice to have each other for bathing those difficult to reach spots, like our ears, necks, and eyeballs. See for example this photograph of Mr. Stripey cleaning my face, which was taken about a month or two ago. He, while excitable, does do quite an exemplary job now that he is trained. Indeed, though this may be too much information, he recently had his first hairball and it was the color of my hair! What a good young apprentice!

Mr. Stripey: Hairballs are very disgusting. Even I cannot be excited about those. But it's nice to help out by bathing my brother! Yay! I'm useful! And very affectionate!

Man-Kitty: Once our bath is done, we retire for our morning naps. I enjoy privacy while napping, and so recently have taken to napping within the Tent of Kittens. In it, I look very kittenish if I do say so myself. Indeed, I look positively tiny, and very, very sweet.

Man-Kitty: My brother, on the other hand, is growing by leaps and bounds. His stripes become more and more pronounced with each passing day, and he increases in size in ways that are somewhat disturbing. Soon, I fear, he shall become larger than I, for while I appear quite majestic to the naked eye, a lot of that is just my glorious fur coat. See for example, Mr. Stripey on the top perch of the condo, which I rarely, if ever, get to inhabit since the arrival of Mr. Stripey.

Mr. Stripey: I am SO not big! I am LITTLE! And CUTE! And STRIPEY!

Man-Kitty: I never said that you weren't stripey. In fact, I said quite the opposite. You must pay attention. However, I believe if we look at the evidence, we can all agree that you are getting much bigger. Indeed, you are positively cat-sized. You cannot deny it.

Mr. Stripey: But inside I am wee! I am still the baby! You are not the baby! I am Mr. Stripey, the baby of the family! I dispute your claims to kittenishness! Dispute them, I say!

Man-Kitty: Go to sleep. You appear to be over-tired.

Mr. Stripey: You're just saying that because you want to go to sleep! ... But I am feeling very sleepy....

Man-Kitty: Yes, I know, Mr. Stripey. Come, we both need our rest if we are to wrestle as scheduled in three hours time.

Paying for College

So, I saw this article in the NYT this morning, and it's got me thinking about how the recession/depression/credit crunch/whatever we're calling it today is going to affect students paying for college. I'll admit, I'd not really given it a whole lot of thought in large part because of the students that I teach and their typical financial situations as they relate to the cost of attending my uni.

See, my student population is not one that typically relies on "college money" put aside by their parents to pay for their educations. Most of my students do not live on campus (no room/board costs), work full time or close to it, and don't rely on parents to take out loans for them or to give them tuition money (many of my students have parents who think that they should foot the bill once they turn 18, regardless of the fact that financial aid calculations typically include parents' income for traditional-aged students). Even the students who do live on campus typically are responsible for paying a good chunk of their way. And a lot of students are returning students with families of their own, so it's really their husbands/wives who are helping to foot the bill for college, or they're going to school on the GI Bill or whatever. So reading that article was a bit like reading about aliens from another planet.

This is not to say that financial aid isn't part of the equation at my university - it most definitely is - but let's just say that students who have chosen my university typically have done so with affordability as a primary motivation. We've got the lowest tuition in the state system, even with recent increases, and we don't depend much on endowment money because we are a university without much of an endowment.

What I suspect is that there will be pressure on financial aid because of an increased number of requests - not from current students but from students who want to transfer in because they can't afford to go to whatever college they've been attending and from students who decide to attend here who otherwise would have gone elsewhere. However, I also know that we have a huge space problem on campus, and this is going to limit the amount that enrollment can increase over the next five years, given the state's slashing of our budget. In a weird way, I think that one result of the financial crisis will actually be in upping the standards for who gets admitted here, just because we won't be able to admit every person who wants to come unless we get a major influx of cash for a new academic building or five.

But so back to the article. What struck me most about the article is, with all of that in mind, how foreign what it describes is to my own and to my students' experiences in higher ed. And I suppose this goes back to a post I did a long while back about the fact that "college" does not mean the same thing for all people. The fact of the matter is that the people that this financial mess is going to hit hardest are not my kind of people - people who don't have money put aside for college or people who fully expect to work their way through college because otherwise they can't afford to go - but rather the kind of people to whom a "college education" has seemed like a birthright, like something that parents "owe" their children and are obligated to provide for them. And if we take this in the context of the current political rhetoric about higher education, it's that second group of people who promise to be disappointed by whatever either candidate comes up with, because the fact of the matter is that the landscape of what solidly middle-class parents can do for their children in terms of education has changed (for the worse), and I'm very skeptical about the possibility that the federal government can do much to make a difference in that. Finally, I wonder how or if this is going to change discourses that have cropped up about "millenials" and their sense of entitlement, their need to be babied, etc., which I've always felt didn't really reflect the students that I encounter on a daily basis. Perhaps as the burden on students to finance their own educations increases, discourses about what these students are - and, in fact, who the students actually are - will change?

I don't know. My thoughts are fairly fuzzy about all of this, but these are the things that the article got me thinking about. And finally, that quotation with which the article ends - that student who says, "I’m pretty sure something will work out for me”? My students might not be the brightest bulbs in the chandelier in a lot of ways, but I'd venture the speculation that very few of them believe that things will just work out for them. Nah, they typically think that things won't work out, most of the time, and that if things do work out it's because they've busted their asses to make that happen.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dismal Weather, Dismal Students

Well, and stressed out students because they all have tests galore and they're tired and burnt out. I, too, am tired and burnt out. Am considering going home very early and taking to my bed with some kittens.

Crazy Hearts FB

Even if he's not perfect, even if he makes poor choices, even if he sometimes sucks, even if he worries that his suckitude or his poor choices make him lame.

That's what it means to heart someone. And that's how Crazy feels.

This doesn't mean everything will work out perfect, or that things will even work out great. Things may not. Things often don't. But how I feel about him? It's unconditional. And it's about what's best for him, and not about me being my typical selfish self. Not that my typical selfish self doesn't exist in this moment, but my typical selfish self just isn't the point. And that's important to say sometimes, that one's selfish self isn't the point. And I think it's important to feel that way sometimes, too, that one's selfish self isn't the point. And so that's how I feel. Period.

What does that mean? In practical terms? I'm not sure. But in emotional terms I think that feeling is important, and that it's worth it to articulate it, however inarticulately.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Because I'm Wondering

And this isn't actually about me.

Let's say that you're a person, a person who has decided to apply for an academic job.

The job that you're applying for is not an entry-level position. It's a position that would come with tenure, if you were to receive it, though the search is open, and will allow for assistant-level applicants.

You're applying for this job because it's where you'd like to be location-wise, but on paper it would be a step down from your current institution. (Think going from a research university to a regional-comprehensive sort of institution.)

Your field is not a ridiculously glutted one like English, though it's also not a ridiculously barren one like accounting.

And let's say that the job ad specifies that you are to mail your materials by a certain date to a certain address.

And let's say that you email the materials to the search chair rather than mailing them to where the ad tells you to.

If the search chair sends you a curt email in which he tells you to mail the materials as he job ad specified, should you be offended? Should you take it as a sign that your application will not be received favorably?

I've got my own thoughts, but I'd be interested to hear what others think about this.

Tired as All Get-Out

But no. Seriously.

Here was my day:

10AM - meeting with committee I'm chairing.
11-11:30AM - typed up summary of meeting with questions to consider and emailed it to the committee for electronic hashing out of details.
11:30AM - ordered books for next semester (the first time I think I've ever done it by the deadline)
12 Noon - scarfed down some lunch and typed up weekly note to online class.
12:30 - met with student about Service Obligation that Just Won't Go Away (that I never should have taken on) and then ran around trying to resolve something related to it only to have it fall back in my lap.
1 - checked mailbox to find a little note from Infamous Literary Executor. All is well.
1-3 - graded tests, signed up for online evaluation pilot thingie for one class, got some things together for night class.
3-4:30 - meeting
4:45-7 - taught while feeling as if might collapse. Ended the night with a poem about despair and wanting to kill self but knowing that one can't give in to such impulses.

Now am home. Am wondering whether it's possible to ever recover from this day. Am wondering how I shall manage to make it through to the conclusion of Project Runway. Am wondering how in God's name I will manage to be a dynamic teacher tomorrow. Alors.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On To Do Lists and Productivity

Somebody asked me in a comment about how I manage my "things to do" - Courtney I think? - and whether I've got a system as anal as my one for note-taking for research (though the commenter put it in a nicer way than that). I feel as if I've written about this before, though I can't seem to find a handy link. I have a theory of to-do lists that accomplishing 60% of any list is grand. But what is my actual process?

Well, of late, I've become a fan of iGoogle as my homepage. This allows me to indulge in my new love of Google 15, as well as to have things like the weather and Bejeweled come up every time I open up my web-browser. But also, this allows me to have the "to do" application come up, and this is a good edition to my system.

So here's the thing: I'm a fan of a traditional to-do list. On paper. I'm no good with electronic calendars and such, typically. I need to have a fairly flexible list, that can easily be shifted to different times of day and different days if necessary. I'm no good with "scheduling" things I need to do, in the way of blocking off certain hours for activities and actually accomplishing those in the slotted times. No, I need something that is more flexible. I aim for certain days and times, but I don't beat myself up if I need to reschedule.

So, the way I've typically worked is with a traditional planning notebook (non-electronic), a 5-day-a-week planner, and this has been my system really since high school. I'll admit that I've gone to one with hourly slots since entering the tenure-track (better for keeping track of meetings and student appointments) but I need to see the whole week at a glance. (I've been using a Burde weekly planner bought at Barnes and Noble for the past four or so years.) Now, I'll make a major to-do list each weekend, that has all the things, divided by topic. Then, I transfer different items on that list into certain days of the week, by which I'd ideally like to accomplish those things. Again, I hope for 60% productivity on any day. To me, this is success. I typically plan for much more than a reasonable person can accomplish, and so if I do the 60%, I'm actually being really productive. (This is something that I learned during my dissertation.)

The thing that helps with the iGoogle to-do, is that I've got something in front of my face that says what I need to do each day, and which is easily manipulatable. I've not abandoned my traditional paper system, but the electronic reinforcement has helped with things like making sure that the to-do list is on my mind, and making sure that I do "personal" to-do things as well as "work" to-do things. There is something really satisfying about changing the color of items that have been accomplished. And there's something great about deleting items and then carrying them over to the next day.

But here's my theory of the "to-do." My theory is that you've got to work with who you are. It's ultimately less productive if you try to fit yourself into a mold that isn't really you. For me, that means that I've got to be a paper-and-pen-to-do-list-person, at least for the most part. Things I type into the computer, if it's not just a repetition of the handwritten, for me aren't real. Those are things that I can (and do) ignore. Others can easily translate their lives into the electronic. I'm just not that girl. That's ok, but I need to know that in order to accomplish things.

I also do think that you need some version - in whatever medium - of a "master list," and then you need to break it down into bite-sized chunks. Whether the bite-sized chunks are on a blog (which mine sometimes are, often when I'm at "red-alert" level and really need to get things done) or whether they are in another form, switching mediums for the bite-sized chunks can help to keep your expectations realistic. The "master list" for me is sometimes overwhelming, and so putting the bite-sized chunks into the planner, or onto the blog, or onto my iGoogle to-do list, makes them manageable and realistic.

And, for me, I work better when I've got an overly ambitious to-do list, one that I know is impossible. I give myself permission to only finish 60%, but I feel accomplishment with the 60% and I'm over the moon when I do more. If I do realistic to-do lists, I typically still only accomplish 60%, and then I feel bad about myself and I'm behind, which sucks. If I accomplish more than the 60% on my current to-do lists, I get to feel like I'm awesome. And I'm ahead of the game. This is good.

So that's how I accomplish things. Maybe this will be useful for some people?

Monday, October 13, 2008

I Wish I Didn't Have a Stupid Pseudonym

Because if I didn't have a stupid pseudonym, I could link to the amazon page with my freaking book!!!!! Indeed, it has a price, and a description, and an ISBN number and, finally, a picture of the cover. And by month's end, it will be available for people to buy!!!!!

Now, I'm not too jazzed about the thought of people reading the thing.... Indeed, the thought of that makes me incredibly anxious. But I do like the idea of people buying it. So, if you know who I am, go look at my book! If you don't know who I am, but you'd like to know so that you can go look at my book, well, perhaps something can be arranged.

In other news, I am busily not grading. This is not good judgment, but it is what I'm doing.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Sprained Ankle That Wasn't, Significant Relationships, and Other Musings

Well, first of all, the ankle is doing fine, in spite of my stupidity of earlier. No longer swollen, no longer pain, no longer anything other than a normal ankle. I still plan to take it slightly easy on it over the next few days (no need to tempt fate) but I no longer think that I've caused myself irreparable damage or some such.

In other news, I learned that my friend Jezebel, who's been in a fully functional relationship with a guy who does not suck for approximately 3 months now, is on the verge of moving in with the fully functional guy. J. is 3 years older than me, and let's just say that she's had a checkered romantic past. At any rate, this thing, barring any horrifying occurrences, does seem to be a lot like a good thing. As things now stand, they'll be on the engagement path in 6 months or so (per their calculations, not mine, and not hers and mine) and he's already converting to Catholicism for her, as that is one of her deal-breakers (I think in part -if not in whole - because she herself is a converted Catholic). Let me just say, I've never known her to be happier and more centered. This is all so awesome.

A. (in case you've been wondering about her) is doing well, and her for-real One True Love (OTL) (whom I truly love with a love that is pure and true) is fantabulous. Sure, apparently he's also stalking a deer through the wee hours this evening (it's a whole bow-hunting thing... in which the poor deer came out on the bad side of things), instead of being happily in A.'s bed, but everybody has their flaws.

Grad School BFF is very stressed out about work, but things are great with GSBFF's OTL, in spite of all of the stress, and that is awesome as well. Sure, there are things, but I'm entirely hopeful that the Things are easily resolved.

So what about Crazy and the Romance? You know that she is in the midst of a fake relationship so what gives? Well, nothing gives, actually. FB and I are fantabulous, although I have recently been a colossal asshole to him. He is very patient and loving. These are qualities in him that I really and truly admire, and of which I also take advantage, which makes me feel like an even bigger ass, but what'so great about him is that he doesn't think I'm an ass when I do. See, the FB may suck (and sometimes he does) but he does love me with a love that is pure and true. Even if he's a jerk-off who refuses to admit such mushy things. I still resent the fact that Mr. Stripey loves FB with a love that is pure and true. Damn, Mr. Stripey! He does not understand, in spite of my admonitions, that the Man-Kitty's antipathy to FB is, in fact, the appropriate response.

So that's what's up, my peeps. I have much to do tomorrow (grading), but other than that, all is well.

And THIS is Why Getting in Shape is a Fool's Errand

Coming back from a restorative fitness walk in my neighborhood, I managed to stumble on the indoor/outdoor carpeting in the hallway of my apartment building and to, I think, slightly sprain my ankle. I immediately elevated it and iced it (or rather, frozen pea-ed it, for I had no ice) upon returning home, and took some advil, and what little swelling there seemed to be seems to be gone, it's not black and blue, and it's actually feeling much better. Perhaps I'm being a bit of a drama queen, with all of those facts laid out, but still. Who does that?

The visit with Mom and G. was splendid and exactly what I needed. And it's nice to have a spic and span house now that those crazies have gone, so their visit was an incontrovertible success, both in the sense of having a clean house and in having quality parental time.

ETA: I feel that the whole Sprain Scare might have been a bit of drama queen nonsense on my part. All is well. (I do believe.) Huzzah!