Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category

I know I never write anymore.  I feel guilt about that, I do.  And I don’t think the drought in posts will last forever, but it’s happening now because I’m in a transition phase and I might actually, depending on how things go, “come out” and blog under my actual name, in some fashion, at a time in the near future.  Though maybe not.  We’ll see.  But another reason I haven’t really written is mostly that I’ve been super busy, and when I’ve had time to blog I’ve been too tired to blog.  Whatever.  I’ve got something to write about today.

I’ve worked at my current institution in a tenure-track role for 11+ years, now, and I am now experiencing something that is one of the most delightful things I’ve experienced as an academic.  I love the fact that I am now in a position where I have former students with whom to connect to current students or recent grads for mentoring.  I strongly believe that it is a problem for me to be the One True Mentor to my students.  I want them to follow a path that is true to them, and I know that if I am the only voice they hear that it can be difficult for them to find their own way.

In the past month, I’ve been able to connect up some current/recent students with former students who graduated about 5 years ago who actually have done or are doing the things that my current/recent students want to do.  Why is this so meaningful to me?  A few reasons.

  1. I love that I maintain relationships with my former students to the extent that they are willing to mentor students I have right now.  I feel like that should be the norm rather than the exception, but it isn’t.  I care about what my former students are doing and have done, and I care about keeping in touch with them.  And it turns out that the benefit of this is that I can call on those relationships to help the students with whom I am currently working, even though that isn’t why I maintained those relationships in the first place.
  2. I might have good advice to give, but I don’t know all the things, and I know that I don’t know all the things.  It is so nice to be able to defer to people who know more than I know, have more experience than I have, and to indicate to my students that I am not the authority.
  3. I feel like connecting up these people models the fact that it takes a village to find success in one’s life.  You can’t depend on one person to make your life happen: you need lots of support.

So I’m overwhelmed and I’m tired and I’m really freaking busy.  But I’m really happy that the work that I do allows me to connect students that I’ve taught across the years.  That is really and truly satisfying.

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My Survey of British Literature from 1800-Present Course

I just read their second papers for me.  (Let’s note: not everybody who teaches surveys in my department actually assigns formal essays.) This second paper assignment involved them choosing a primary text from the syllabus from after midterm – so a text from 1900 onward – and they had to offer an interpretation of the text and they had to incorporate two journal article secondary sources to provide context for their claims.  Now, we have no requirement for writing in these courses (which is something I want to change down the road, for a variety of reasons, but mainly because I think they need reinforcement in between composition courses, the intro to the major course, and their upper-level courses) but I am a Mean Lady.  I was so proud reading those essays, on two counts: 1) overall they did very, very well – better than on their first papers, which were less challenging and that counted for less in terms of the final grade, and 2) they wrote about so many things! and had so many amazing ideas!

People talk about how students refuse to do challenging work or how they aren’t willing to be independent critical thinkers.  In a class of 23, I had papers on (in no particular order):

  • Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier”
  • Wilfred Owen’s “Dolce Et Decorum Est”
  • W.B. Yeats’s “Leda and the Swan”
  • T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land
  • James Joyce’s “Araby”
  • D.H. Lawrence’s “The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter”
  • Virginia Woolf’s “A Mark on the Wall”
  • W.H. Auden’s “In Memory of W.B. Yeats”
  • Stevie Smith’s “Not Waving But Drowning”
  • Stevie Smith’s “The Person from Porlock”
  • Philip Larkin’s “This Be the Verse”
  • Derek Walcott’s “A Far Cry from Africa”

Clearly, there was no “easy option” with that sort of representation of texts.  They wrote about what they cared about!  And they did some research and provided context for their claims!  And I didn’t provide assigned topics, and there was no plagiarism (though, to be fair, there were some difficulties with citation, but no out and out moments of stealing other people’s ideas).  I couldn’t be more proud of them, and I couldn’t, frankly, be more proud of myself for getting them there.  Yes, I had a GREAT GROUP this semester.  I can’t take credit for that.  But I CAN and DO take credit for inspiring the work that they completed.  And with just a handful of exceptions, they earned Cs or better.  They rose to the occasion.

A Bullshit Department Story

This isn’t really a story.  It’s really just an “issue.”  See, we have problems right now (and a problem that frankly isn’t new and that I and others have brought up prior to this) with recruitment and retention of majors, and, going along with that, there is a contingent within the faculty who feel (rightly or wrongly) that they are disenfranchised because their courses are not attracting students.  I’m not going to get into the specifics, for what I think should be obvious reasons, but “people” (people) who are very disconnected and disengaged like to blame a lot of different things for the issues with enrollments (for that the issue really is, although there are various pretexts offered that seem disconnected from that on the surface)- from the chair, to other colleagues, to students, to the curriculum, to the institution overall.  Hell, maybe it’s all about how the humanities are degraded in the current cultural conversation. All of this connects back to my Survey Says post.

How the Two Connect

Recruitment and retention of majors (and attracting non-majors to courses as well) depends not upon sacrificing rigor nor does it depend upon instituting more and more requirements – whether at the level of the course, as in Student Learning Outcomes (which let’s note, the Disgruntled in My World would not be encouraging), or at the level of curriculum, in terms of making requirements more stringent in terms of what students must complete (which The Disgruntled do seem to advocate).  You know what it depends on?  INVESTING.  INNOVATING.  INSPIRING.  And also, less abstractly, advertising, advocating, and admitting that some of this shit might be our own (my own) goddamned responsibility.

So it’s finals week and I am buried beneath the grading.  But you know what?  My students are rising.  And my courses for the fall don’t appear to be in danger of being under-enrolled.  And maybe those two facts aren’t totally disconnected from one another.

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I know I’ve been totally slack on the blogging, so two posts in one day is NUTS.  But I’ve had a lot going on!  And I wanted to do a student-oriented post and not just a bitchy annoying faculty-member post, because as annoyed as I am with bitchy faculty-member-related shit, I’m in love with my students right now.  So, this shall be a Random Bullets of Crap style post that deals with my students:

  • I am teaching a Gen Ed lit course right now, one in which I do not use an anthology, which asks a Big Question, and which is, for a Gen Ed Course that isn’t a composition course, totally writing intensive (by my design: not because it’s required).  So, their last paper assignment was a critical analysis essay in which they were asked to choose one text from anywhere on the syllabus prior to the last unit (so from weeks 1-13) about which to write in relation to the Big Question.  In the week before the paper was due, I assigned two pretty reasonable short stories, assuming students would choose one of those on which to write.  Not only did I receive papers that analyzed stuff from across the semester, I received papers that addressed some of the most difficult texts on the course syllabus.  I have 25 students in the course.  I got papers on: The Odyssey, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom (which many of them say was their favorite text of the semester, so stop with the Franzen-HATE!), A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, Philip Larkin’s “Talking in Bed,” Jane Eyre, Alexander Pope’s “Eloisa to Abelard,” Ovid’s “Hero to Leander” from The Heroides, James Joyce’s “Eveline,” and Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love.”  None of these students are English majors.  Fuck yeah!  Who says that students don’t rise to the occasion?!?!  I can’t be prouder of the work that they are doing.  And now we’re reading Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel The Marriage Plot.  And they are really reading it, and they are engaged.  And I explained the “turn to theory” in literary studies to them and they took notes.  Note: there are no formal tests in this class, other than a final that is take-home in which they have to answer the course question with support from the literature that they have read.  Seriously: to this point, there are just quizzes, two papers, a blog post that is totally connected to their real lives, and an annotated bibliography that is about them pursuing what interests them.  Oh, and participation, which honestly with the exception of 3 of them is A’s all around.  And they are so invested.  I love them.
  • Dude, one of them, I like to think of him as “facial piercing goth dude” finished The Marriage Plot two weeks ahead of time and he asked to talk to me about it in advance because “he was so into it.”  SERIOUSLY.  Again, not an English major.
  • My Survey of Brit Lit after 1800 students: SO MOTHERFUCKING AWESOME.  Animated, thoughtful, perceptive, and just generally amazing.  They come in with QUESTIONS. They lost their MINDS at Philip Larkin’s “This Be the Verse.”  (And apparently after our class on that on Monday they have no problem saying fuck constantly, which I sort of love.) They criticized Ted Hughes’s “The Crow’s Last Stand” not because they had Sylvia Plath associations but because, “this is so much like Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ‘Carrion Comfort.'”  My work here is done 🙂
  • I’m also teaching a split grad/undergrad course on The British Novel.  This course has been wonderful, and I anticipate AWESOME student papers on Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Midnight’s Children.  Huzzah!  (Yes, I taught more than those three novels, but apparently those three really spoke to people.  They’ve all written on at least three novels beyond the one for their final papers 🙂
  • My Critical Theory students are… fucking unbelievable.  In a good way.  In the best way.  I am looking forward to a papers in which students interpret Django Unchained through Fanon, Divergent through Marx, Adorno and Horkheimer, and Angela McRobbie, Beowulf through Spivak and Bhabha, Fight Club through Butler, The Awakening through Irigaray and Beauvoir…. and those are just the ones that immediately come to mind. I must confess that in introducing one of them who won a scholarship at our department awards ceremony I might have read part of something he wrote for my class in order to demonstrate to my colleagues that our undergrads are so much more capable than so many of them think that they are.  (He was embarrassed and proud: and his comment to me after was, “WHY DID YOU READ THAT?  IT’S THE WORST SHORT PAPER I WROTE FOR YOU!”  And it was the worst short paper he wrote for me, but it was the one that he turned in this week, and I had it on hand, and it is totally better than most things anybody writes for any of my colleagues’ classes.) Now, my publicizing his writing won’t hurt him at all – it will show off that he is motherfucking awesome and a number of my colleagues commented on his awesomeness to me on the basis of my excerpting of his writing – but I should admit that my motives were kind of bitchy.  Because I teach them the things that many of my colleagues all say they aren’t capable of doing!  And that they don’t know how to push them to do!  But to be fair: it’s all the student.  It is a luxury to teach an undergraduate who can think the way that he thinks.  He is original and a hard worker and intense about literary criticism.  And, as my chair said, “so many students think about graduate school and there are so few who belong there, and he belongs there.”  And, as the student said to another student at the ceremony, “I wish that my plan for after graduation would just be to spend my life reading Foucault.”  Fucking A!!!!  (Yes, I have given him the talk about the horrible job market and the way that grad school compromises your humanity and finances.  The decision is his, and, in fact, you can count on me to dissuade him, as much as I will support him ultimately if it is what he decides he wants.)
  • This is a great moment to note that BES has decided to leave her PhD program, even though she was doing very well, which is a decision that she has made thoughtfully and a decision that she made without looking for my approval, while at the same time I think she was able to make this decision in part because she knew that I would support whatever decision she made.  Dude.  There are lots of life paths that one can take, and the point is taking one you believe in.  And if you decide an academic path isn’t yours, better to admit it sooner rather than later, and better to make your decision when it’s time to make it than to postpone it because you’re afraid of what your mentors might think.  She is awesome, in all ways, and I want for her to have a happy life.  We all know that an academic career isn’t necessarily (or even most of the time) a predictor of that.

So that is my student news.  Oh, and I’m working with an amazing student on her honors capstone next year, and I’m also working with a grad student on her capstone next year, and I am infinitely excited about those of those culminating projects.


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So, every other year (in theory – ha! see what I did there? – but I say in theory because while I have an agreed upon 2-year rotation of courses, it seems that this is up for debate periodically because of various vagaries of department politics, the fact that other people refuse to have a two-year consistent rotation, etc.) I teach a theory course that is required in one track of our three-track major.  I am teaching it for the third time this spring.

The first time I taught it (2009), it was a rough ride, in part because it was my first time teaching it and in part because my dad died in the middle of the semester.  The second time I taught it (2012), things went quite well, though I was still working out kinks, and a fair few students withdrew (so I ended up with like 14 students, as opposed to the 20-25 who really should be in the course), but those who remained were engaged.  This third time – in spite of the fact that I had to change the theory anthology because the one that I adored is now out of print in the U.S., so the syllabus has changed considerably, in ways that seem to actually be really good (because the anthology I found to replace it is really, really good) – I seem to have locked this course down.  I’ve got 21 committed students.

Now, some of those students are committed because they need the course to graduate, and they intend to graduate in May.  But that is the minority (maybe seven of them).  In general, I’ve got students who are there both because they need to be and because they choose to remain.  They’ve had one short paper (a 1-page assignment I do that kicks their asses but that teaches a whole bunch – they will do three more of these) and one test (2/3 of them did fine, 1/3 got a giant wake-up call).  I also feel like I should note that all but two of the students in the course have taken our “new” (first taught 3 years ago) intro to the major course, and I think this is making a difference in terms of attrition from the course, in that they are entering knowing that such a thing as critical theory exists and that they have a sense of what critical theory is and why it matters to our discipline, and I also think the fact that the course is now only offered once per year is making a difference in terms of attrition, in that this schedule change is motivating them to remain even if they don’t adore what is happening to them, and they can’t just withdraw and take it with somebody other than me – so this ain’t all me, the fact that the students are committed and engaged and whatever.  There are contextual factors.

BUT.  The level of motivation I am seeing from these students in what is, ultimately, a junior-level class, is stellar.  STELLAR.  Particularly since the first test.  I will note that on the morning of the first test, I had to show up early to allow a student with a medical appointment to start early.  I arrived an hour before the class meets, and the first thing I saw when I got off the elevator to the English department floor was a couple of my students studying together.  Yay, right?  But what really shocked me was when I got to the classroom 10 minutes later and there were like 4 students already in there (when did they arrive?!?!) studying silently.  And then, the student that needed to start early got there, and by the time we were 30 minutes out from “test time” about 2/3 of the class was in there, studying.  Silently.  Intently.

Now, I’ve got colleagues who claim that our students don’t care about studying, are too preoccupied with life stuff to study, whatever.  (These are the same colleagues who claim that their office hours are a ghost town, which I have never experienced myself.)  But for a test that was worth 10% of their grade – just 10% !- about 2/3 of my students were intense about reviewing the material.  (Not all of those did well: some of them even failed.  But my point here is that they took it seriously, even if only 30 minutes before the test.  They were not just phoning it in.)

Since they got that first paper and that first test back, I’ve had deep one-on-one conversations with nearly half of them as a result.  They are dying to master this material, and they are dying to do well.  In a junior-level course about shit that they don’t understand and don’t, really, care about.  You don’t choose the major in English because you care about theory – if you did, you’re major in Philosophy.

The student who did best on the first test has taken to coming to my office for private consultations about his questions before class, mainly because I encouraged him to do so, I think. (Note: his initial response to his first test grade – which he saw on Bb before I handed the tests back – was “Is my grade a typo?” – because it was so high – which might be my favorite grade challenge ever), but even the students who did poorly have come to me – they want to get this shit.  They care.

This week, the students in this course read Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari, and Zizek. Ultimately brief readings from all three, but dense.  And not only did they do the reading (which was evident from their questions and their freaked-outed-ness, but also from their furious note-taking as I guided them through the readings), but also they really, really care about getting it.

My favorite part of all of this is that I had two of my students, two of my best students (one a returning student, one a traditional student), say to me today that this is the first course in the major in which they really feel like they are uncomfortable, like they are really taking intellectual risks.  Like they are doing work that isn’t just about just getting the grade.

Here’s the thing: it’s easy when you’re “good” at something never to take a risk.  You figure out what a given professor wants, and then you give that to them.  You get an A.  Done.  If you are “good” at something, and you are a “good” student, you can easily stay in your comfort zone and still be impressive.  This theory class that I’m teaching is shaking them up, but in a really exciting way, both for them (most important) and for me (less important, but awesome).  And also: I will take credit for the fact that I make my course a safe space for them to take those risks, that they know that I care more about the risk than I care about them agreeing with me.  That is all me, and I am proud of that.

But you know what else is my favorite?  That the students who are NOT the best are still really digging into the material and making sense of it for themselves!  And learning to ask questions that they never would have asked before about the literature that they love!  I don’t actually care if those are “original” questions in the sense of actual originality – they are original to them!  They are working it out!  And they are still taking risks!  Risks for them!

Ultimately, they all are taking important and challenging and meaningful and amazing risks!  And their heads are buried in their notebooks and their books when we have class so that they can write things down and figure out what the fuck is going on!  They aren’t texting or daydreaming or sleeping or worrying about shit other than critical theory!  And not because I made some technology policy or because I’m nagging them or because there is a participation grade.  Nope.  They are engaged because it feels to them like it’s worth engaging.  I’m not quizzing them on the reading, and I’m not underestimating their ability to get it on their own and just lecturing 24/7.  No: I am trusting them to learn.  And I see them learning.

And that feels really fucking amazing.


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  • It’s week 3, and I remain in love with this schedule.  Why? Because All of a sudden I am never exhausted!  And I go to bed at the same time every night!  And I am energetic in every class that I teach!  And, motherfucker, people shouldn’t be ALLOWED to teach courses back to back to back the way I’ve been doing!  Because teachers SHOULD have energy for all the courses that they teach!  They SHOULD be excited about every last one of them!
  • Now, it is true that I had planned to get back to my scholarship stuff this week, and I haven’t quite accomplished that.  But I *did* 1) do my taxes, 2) get my 6-month dental appointment out of the way, 3) take care of Major Service Obligation, 4) figure out what the fuck to do about my theory class that has already been cancelled twice because of weather, which as much as I love a class cancellation, this is the one class I wish would never be cancelled, particularly at the beginning of the semester, 5) do an MLA abstract, which was a revision but a substantial one, for a panel that’s being resubmitted this year, so kinda that’s scholarship?

But so I’m loving my schedule and I’m feeling very good about this semester, in spite of starting at a deficit because of the MLA and then because of the Miami trip.  And I know more of my students’ names now than I’ve known at this point in the semester for like the past five years, and I am excited about my students in a way that I’ve not been excited about them in ages.  To be fair, it might be true that I have an exceptional bunch of students this semester.  But I also think I am seeing their exceptionalness precisely because I’m not motherfucking exhausted because of my schedule.

What’s also kind of nice about the 5-day schedule is that I am no longer the person who can’t meet on a certain day.  Indeed, I can meet on every day, within time constraints.  And that is a much easier role to inhabit (it’s hard protecting full days, as opposed to protecting time within days) than the role of being the dick who refuses to come in on a particular day.

So, I have energy, and I don’t have to spend energy on “protecting” myself so much.  This is all good.

I’m pissy about a variety of things right now, but the other benefit of consistent sleep time and feeling so energized by teaching is that as pissy as I am, I’m not letting the pissiness rule my life.

So that’s the news for the moment.  I think I’m going to go watch some television, because, you know, I’m all caught up with everything, AND I CAN.

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So I know I’ve been falling down on the blogging.  Frankly, things have just been so nutso in real life since the end of last semester that I haven’t had the time or the energy or the writing mojo to post.  Indeed, in meeting up with some bloggy peeps at the MLA Convention, I even said that I wondered whether I was even feeling like blogging at all anymore.  But never fear!  I’m not hanging up my blogging hat just yet.  I do think, however, I might be transitioning into a new phase of some sort.  No, I’m not sure what that will mean, but I do think that maybe I’ve outgrown what the blog has been since my sabbatical in 2010.  (It might be true that every 4 or 5 years I feel like I need to adjust the blog.  My 10-year blogiversary is coming up in July, and since blog years are like dog years, it maybe makes sense that I can’t just keep going without changing it up periodically.)

But so it’s 2014!  And I couldn’t be more pleased!  I’m ready for the fresh start that the new year brings.  I’ve made my resolutions – recommit to fitness goals, have fun with dating, finish my book manuscript, accumulate new experiences and have adventures, and knit beautiful things for the people I love – and I’m feeling very positive.

And in spite of a somewhat chaotic start to January what with a broken pipe which left me without water and which got in the way of me writing my MLA paper before I actually went to the conference, things are going very well.

First of all, I had a great MLA.  It was awesome to hang with BES, who attended the MLA for the first time, and to see it freshly through her eyes.  It was awesome to meet up for coffee with another former student who is now in her first year of an MA program in the Chicago area. It was awesome because I saw some of my favorite people from my grad school cohort, and everybody is doing so well! One friend is a publishing machine and he and his partner have ended up with tenured jobs at the same excellent public R1 (in different departments).  Another friend is up for tenure at an amazing public R1, and he’s got his second book contract.  Another friend, while still seeking the elusive tenure-track gig, has managed to carve out contingent positions that aren’t terribly exploitative and he’s got a toddler and a new baby and personally he seems to be happy in his life. I saw old friends from various conferences over the ages, and I realized that I’m at the point where I actually have “old friends” (like, people I’ve known for 10+years) who are also colleagues – and we are all active and engaged in the profession in various ways, and that is grand.  I didn’t get more than 5 hours of sleep any night, and I was losing my voice by Friday because of all of the talking, and it was superb and also made me realize that perhaps I’m going to need to stop hitting the MLA quite so hard, because DAMN.  And my paper went well and was well attended in spite of the fact that it was late in the conference and many, many people had already headed off to the airport.  It was a professionally and personally energizing weekend, in spite of the delay on my flight home and in spite of the fact that I had to teach the very next morning.  (Though I will note: with these motherfucking dates, I will in the future plan to have somebody fill in for me and pass out my syllabi for me on the first day of classes if I go to the MLA – especially if the location is not in the Eastern time zone and I have to or want to stay until the bitter end.  It is totally unreasonable to try to turn around from the convention and teach immediately.  As much as the old dates sucked, they didn’t conflict with my ability to teach effectively.  These new dates actually get in the way of me doing my job well.)

But even with my frustration over the MLA happening the 4 days before my semester starts, I’m really excited for the Spring semester, in which I’m teaching courses about which I’m really excited and in which I have students who seem enthusiastic (at this early juncture – for I don’t know most of them, though the ones I do know are universally delightful and hard-working and smart, especially in the critical theory course, which is crucial since I need some delightful, hard-working, and smart students to set the tone in there).

And what makes this even better is this: I am so fucking happy with my schedule for this semester!  I know, it’s only two days in.  Let’s see how I feel around week 4 of the semester.  But seriously: I really think that this is a GREAT SCHEDULE.

You might be shocked to hear that my “great schedule” has me on campus 5 days a week.  So let me tell you the story of how I ended up with this schedule, and how I ended up overjoyed at finally getting the Scheduling Gods to agree to it.

So when I started with my tenure-track job, lo, those many years ago, my schedule tended to be 5 days a week.  I would teach two classes (usually comp) on M/W/F and then two classes (usually lit) on T/R.  This meant that I was done teaching on M/W/F by 1, and done on T/R by 3 (if not earlier).  Now, because I was new-ish, I didn’t have the service burden that emerged later, but it’s also true that it was with this schedule that I revised my dissertation into a book and managed to get my book contract and to revise my book manuscript for publication, all the while developing the 672 courses that I’ve taught in my time here, and all while teaching a 4/4 load.  Going to teach every day actually made me MORE productive, not less, in terms of research.

Things with my schedule changed (by my own request) right around the time that I was going up for tenure, for a couple of reasons that seemed great at the time.  The first issue that as my service load ramped up, I felt like the 5-day schedule would keep me on campus in ways that would obstruct any research agenda I might have, and which would make my workload “unfair” in comparison with the workloads of other people in my department.  (Regarding the “unfair” thing: one of my mom’s favorite aphorisms is “don’t measure with a yardstick,” by which she means, don’t make decisions for yourself or evaluate yourself according to what other people do.  This is really good advice, but it can be hard advice to take in a context in which it seems like you’re getting “the short end of the stick” and doing more work than other people.  It seemed to me at the time that changing my schedule would put me on more equal footing with colleagues who weren’t obligated to be on campus as much as I was, but I now realize that changing to a 2 or 3 day a week schedule didn’t actually make my workload “equal” to theirs.)  The second thing that made me change my schedule is that when we got our grad program, teaching in it required night teaching.  Since I teach every other year in the grad program, it seemed “sensible” to move to a schedule that left me two free days in a week, during which I could work on scholarship.

EXCEPT.  What I hadn’t really thought through was the exhaustion that would result from teaching three courses in one day on both Tuesday and Thursday.  Nor did I realize that after teaching a night course, from which I wouldn’t get home until 9:30 or 10 at night, I would be so keyed up that I wouldn’t be able to relax and get to bed at a reasonable time.  Nor did I account for the fact that I’d get home at 9:30 or 10 at night and then need to be back on campus no later than 9 AM, and what that would be like.  And finally, I didn’t account for the fact that since my Tuesdays and Thursdays were so jam packed with classroom time that I would always need to be on campus 4-5 days a week anyway, in order for there to be time for meetings, both for committee-work and to meet with students, and that teaching work (prep and grading) would necessarily bleed over into my non-teaching days.

So what I discovered was that on my non-teaching days either I was too tired to do active research, or I was busy with meetings so couldn’t keep a consistent schedule for research.  And further, I realized that I was actually on campus for more total time than I was on campus when I was there every single day, thus nullifying my whole “I’m going to make my workload equal to the workload of shirkers and slackers” theory.

So for some time now, I’ve been longing for the “good old days” in which I had a 5-day schedule.  And now, I have finally returned to it!

Again, I know it’s only been two days, two days in which I’ve basically distributed syllabi.  And I may retract all of this in just a few weeks’ time.  But I already notice positive differences:

1) In spite of starting the semester with a work deficit because of the MLA Convention, I am, pretty much, on track after two days of work – and by “two days” I mean about 5 hours of work outside of class time over that two days, but 5 hours in which I was energized and not totally exhausted.  And I did productive work both on my courses and on my Major Service Responsibility.  AND I’ve had time to chat with colleagues, too, and to be pleasant and responsive, which I feel like hasn’t happened in this way since before tenure, frankly.

2) Also, in spite of starting the semester with a TOTAL sleep deficit, and also possibly still hung over (because DUDE, the MLA over-indulgence), I felt GOOD at the end of teaching today.  Hell, I feel good now.  Getting a full eight hours of relaxed and solid sleep makes so much fucking difference I can’t even describe it.  Both in terms of the energy that I bring to the classroom and in terms of my own feeling of well-being.

3) I’m finding it easier to remember new student names.  I’d thought my problems with that over the past 5 or so years were about just having been teaching for so long.  But now I’m thinking it was maybe that I was seeing too many different students in one day over the past five years.

4) I didn’t wake up, either yesterday or today, with the thought, “I wish I didn’t have to teach.”  Seriously, I’ve woken up with that thought almost every single day – even at this early juncture in a semester – since I moved away from the 5-day schedule.

Look, I’m not saying that this schedule is for everybody.  I know it isn’t.  But with a 4/4 load, with 4 different preps in a semester, maybe it’s better to spread the teaching time out.  Also, maybe this works for me precisely because I’m extroverted, and this means that I actually am less productive if I don’t get out in the world with people in bursts each day.  (My theory on why this might be better for me is that interacting with SO MANY PEOPLE in two days and then seeing very few or no people the other five days throws me out of whack, making the people exhausting even for extroverted me.  Whereas, interacting with 50 people every single day, consistently, actually keeps my energy up.  I dunno.)  But I will say this: I’m thinking I may stick with the 5-day schedule even when I next teach in the grad program, just making sure that on the following day I don’t teach until afternoon.  We’ll see.

Here’s the thing: I think that I went to teaching fewer days a week in part because that is a model that “works” for research at a research university, and it fit with advice I’d gotten from mentors in grad school.  But while teaching a lighter teaching load only two or three days a week might make some sense, teaching a 4/4 load on only two or three days a week, at least for me, does not.

What I need is consistency and to feel like I can structure my available time in ways that really work for all of the parts of my job.  It’s easy to let teaching overtake everything, and then, once teaching has filled up as much time as possible, to let service take whatever tiny bit is left.  But research matters to me, and spreading my teaching schedule out makes me feel like I am allowed to set aside time for research, too, at least right now.

So for the time being, I’m feeling very positive about this change.  And I’m excited to see whether I can produce some concrete results with it.

(And it doesn’t hurt that everybody thinks I am some sort of saint for having this schedule.  Especially when I’m less exhausted than I was when people were busy envying my old shitty schedule.  It’s nice to be congratulated for doing what ultimately makes me a much happier person, as opposed to being treated like crap for doing what makes me feel like crap.)

Oh, and you likely won’t hear from me again until next week because I am going away for the weekend to celebrate my high school friend Naomi’s 40th birthday in a locale with beaches and sun (although the weather looks like it will be kinda lame for beach-related activities).

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  • The longer I teach, the more I realize that actual “grading” at the end of the semester means little.  I mean, I go through the motions, but I’ve started doing this thing where I predict what my students will earn based on their work up until about midterm/75% of the way through the semester, and typically what they earn is about what I predict (within a plus or a minus), regardless of end-of-semester assignments.  Now, part of this is because I don’t believe in weighting Finals so heavily that they can totally change a grade.  Part of why I don’t believe in this is pedagogically sound: it’s because, in the classes where this was possible, I used that so heavily to my advantage as an undergraduate, so I slacked for like 10 weeks and then I pulled out all the stops at the end, and I actually didn’t retain or learn very much.  But I won’t lie: part of why I do that now is laziness: the grading at the bitter end will be less brutal for me as a professor.
  • It’s been interesting (and gratifying) for me to see the way that certain students who started out weak at the beginning of the semester (in more than one course) and who took advantage of my offer to meet with them really were able to improve BY VAST AMOUNTS by the end.  They have improved so much, and I really see that as the result of one-on-one instruction.  Worth noting: this is why I get annoyed by colleagues who don’t hold office hours (even though we are “required” to do so) or who make their office hours so rigid that it prohibits students from taking advantage of them.  And when people say, “But students don’t come to office hours,” I will admit that my response is, “Um, mine do.  Sometimes I hold like 6 office hours a week because there is so much demand.”  Maybe it’s not that “students,” generally, won’t come, but that you suck.
  • This is also why I hate the process of student evals, though, because yeah, you might have gotten Ds on a couple of papers, but that doesn’t mean you will get a D in the class. WHY CAN’T STUDENTS UNDERSTAND MATH?  I believe in giving you the D that you deserve, but I also weight earlier grades less than later grades, so you should know that if you LEARN over the course of the semester that you will be fine.  But students (or at least my students) don’t get that, and so I get semi-crappy evaluation numbers, just because THEY CAN’T DO MATH.  They are all like, “she thinks this is a GRADUATE COURSE,” when what I’m actually thinking is, “IMPROVE!”  And almost universally, they do.  And their grades are FINE, in the final estimation.  (When I say “fine,” I mean that a large majority of my students end up in the A-C+ range. And not because of grade inflation.)
  • On Students Not Understanding Math, why do students who haven’t submitted more than 60 percent of the assignments in a course think that taking the final will allow them to pass?  Why do they show up after they have disappeared for 8 weeks?  Just why?
  • I also have had a couple of students this semester who took a course with me at the sophomore level and then another at the junior level, and it’s been gratifying to see (in terms of looking at how my grading shakes out) that those students earned higher grades in the lower level course than in the higher level.  Which, I think, is as it should be.  (Note: I didn’t do this intentionally: it was how it all shook out in terms of assessments and rubrics.)  Expectations should be higher in upper-level courses than in lower-level courses.  I’m glad that mine align with that ideal.
  • I have weird dry skin issues because of the weather this year.  It sucks.  (I typically have really good skin, so perhaps I’m being a baby.  But I am used to having perfect skin, and this is unacceptable.)
  • A thing that has been annoying me lately in my department is that a certain minority of my colleagues have been bitching at Every. Single. Department Meeting. about how their courses don’t make enrollment and about how it’s the fault of the curriculum, and they do so under the auspices of agenda items that are not about this issue, and they never bring forth a proposal (to put on the AGENDA for a vote) to solve the “problem” that they see.  (My annoyance stems from the fact that a) I have to listen to them bitch unproductively, and b) they end up getting “rewarded” with 2 preps rather than 3 preps or the 4 that I teach because their courses get cancelled.) Right, now, however, I am less annoyed because in spite of the fact that I am teaching an upper-level course next semester that is for all intents and purposes a “new” course (it’s been on the books since Vietnam – literally – but it hasn’t been taught for the 10 years I’ve been here) is totally fine in terms of enrollment, whereas some courses that should have NO PROBLEM (think: SHAKESPEARE) have been cancelled.  Here’s the thing: maybe the problem isn’t the curriculum, or the students, or the schedule.  MAYBE THE PROBLEM IS YOU.  The problem doesn’t appear to be ME, even though I am ostensibly among the toughest (if not the toughest) professor in the department.  (These colleagues often argue that the problem is because their courses are the most rigorous… except that’s totally not what’s going on.)
  • The dating.  Where do I begin?  There are two primary guys right now: Geographically Convenient Guy (who literally lives like an 8-minute leisurely walk from my house) and Tortured Artist (whom I will go out with this weekend).  I like GCG a lot. (We met Tuesday.) Partly because of the convenience, I won’t lie, but even aside from that, he has lots of good qualities.  I’m less enthralled with TA, just because he seems so EARNEST (though perhaps I will find that he is a delight upon meeting? And I do like his name better than I like the name of GCG, which I realize is weird and shallow, but a good name goes a long way).  At the end of the day, though, I’m enjoying the dating fun, and it is taking the edge off the end of the semester nicely.  Worth noting: I found both of these dudes in the sad sea of what I think is the cesspool of internet dating – Plenty of Fish.  Also worth noting: they are both better (on paper, and in life) than any guy I’ve ever found on sites that require one to pay money… it just took me sifting through the dregs of society to find them.  (Seriously: the DREGS.)  So we shall see.

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