Sunday, October 31, 2010
Basically, during a faculty meeting another admin (not the same instructor that I wrote of before) stands up and says, loudly, that she didn't even bother reading her students' papers. She just looked through them, the running head was wrong, and so she failed them all.
Maybe people thought she was kidding (I'm in a position to know that she was, of course, not kidding at all). In any case, she was applauded for not grade inflating and for giving students what they need--failure.
Then this conversation somehow morphed around into us needing to fire more teachers. Indeed, it seems (and I really hope that I got this wrong, but I don't think I did) that all we really want are adjuncts that can follow the rules. We are to fire good teachers, because it doesn't matter if they are good teachers, if they don't follow the rules.
I .... feel ill. Quite honestly I've spent the time since this meeting wondering exactly when this institution went insane. I know it wasn't like this when I got hired (or else I would have been fired many many many times over). It suddenly makes sense why I haven't been able to get rid of the english teacher that isn't doing her job--she follows the rules of course! She's always in dress code.
We've all worked extremely hard to make this place awesome, but it really only takes a few bad teachers to erase all that. Why is this something that the upper administration can't see? In some ways I realize that that's a naive statement on my part--I strongly suspect that this attitude is more common than I'd ever care to know. On the other hand, in the past year there has been a major ideological shift that I can't trace back to its origins. In the meantime....I can just sort of feel unwell.
1. Zola, "Ibutho" (http://www.sternsmusic.com/disk_info/CDGRUF052)
2. Pype, "Champion"
3. Angelique Kidjo and Joss Stone, "Gimme Shelter"
(nb: The video version of this is actually about Darfur and I'm a bit uncomfortable with how it fits into stereotypes about Starvistan and its neighbors, but I heart Ms. Kidjo bigtime.)
4. Lucky Dube, "Prisoner"
5. Femi Kuti, "Beng Beng Beng"
6. Fela Kuti, "Teacher Don't Teach Me No Nonsense"
7. Pitbull, "Crazy" and "Calle Ocho"
8. Ntando and Nhlanhla http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BoTe2hdS0M
9. The Rolling Stones, "No Satisfaction"
10. Vusi Mahlasela, "Thula Mama" and "When You Come Back"
11. Miriam Makeba, "Qongqothwane"
12. Wasis Diop (vars. live recordings)
13. Dave Matthews with Vusi Mahlasela, "Everyday"
14. "I'd Like to Teach the World To Sing" (Coke song), 1970s version
15. Mirage Town, "Harfe Man"
16. Checkpoint 303, "Streets of Ramallah" (Palestinian Electronica)
17. Charlie Parker, "Yardbird Suite"
18. Sam and Dave, "Hold On, I'm Comin'"
19. Papa Wemba, "Ye Te Oh" and "Wake Up" (the latter w. Koffi Olomide)
20. Mafikizolo, "Kwela"
21. U2, "Where the Streets Have No Name," (live version from Slane Castle, what are we listening for? The Edge's harmony. Excellent, you've been paying attention.)
22. K'naan "Wavin' Flag" (Spanish version)
23. Shakira and Freshly Ground "Waka-Waka" (Spanish version)
24. Kanda Bongo Man, "Lela-Lela"
25. Small Island Pride, various (through the Smithsonian Sound Archive)
26. Tinashe, "Zambezi" (Reports that it was "stuck in my head, like, ALL DAY!")
27. Tarkan, various.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
While looking them over, I had thoughts like "How do people delude themselves into thinking that if they put something on power point, they've worked hard and/or have something of value to bring into class/the department?" (this part takes a small turn near the end). There are 10's of MB of power point presentations and each is worse than the next. Each slide is full. Of WORDS. There are a few scant visual aides. One thing PPT is good for is things you can't draw on the board in an efficient or effective fashion. PPT was not used in this collection to solve such issues. There are slides that use five fonts in four colors with six or so special effects and various sizes. The fonts and sizes change from slide to slide. The system of designating hierarchy changes from slide to slide. At its best points, it's useless, for the most part, it's damagingly confusing.
Part of a faculty meeting was dedicated to praising the old man for making these available for anyone else teaching this course, or for anyone teaching another course who wants some ideas on how they can keep their course content "fresh". Because something an old man saves on his computer and uses semester after semester after semester is the new definition of "fresh". Here's the final kick... the old man didn't make them up. The company that published the textbook made them up. The PROFESSION of Educational Publishing put this slop together. (I need to hit the coffee pot before the next meeting because obviously I missed that part). I thought these were bad enough when an "amateur" made them up. But this is inexcusable.
Then I had to see what was on the discs and files I'd gotten from publishers with textbooks and proposed textbooks. It's all like this. It's all trash. There was one exception. One astronomy text came with useful visual aides. The seven other discs I pulled out of my trunk from texts I reviewed for use, but didn't use, were garbage. When I go back to my office I'll look at the stuff that came with the books I've chosen. (Am I the only one who doesn't look at this stuff when they get the book? Maybe that's bad, I'll admit that.) They are ENCOURAGING professors to suck. Is it a conspiracy? If they make enough of us worthless, are they going to take over the world with online education? WTF?
A few weeks ago, I had to add the school I teach at to my networks to add a group (best way to get information) for the academic fraternity I'm a part of. Unbeknownst to me, Facebook decided to take this opportunity to take my super crystal clear, couldn't be clearer, really, really fucking clear "friends only don't let anybody see anything ever" privacy setting and change it so that anyone in my school's network can see anything. Anything.
Now, first, it pisses me off that FB just decided to change my shit without telling me. But what's worse is how I found out about these changes. Y'see, my boss sent out a rather nice email stating that he'd had some issues with students bitching about FB and that we all needed to check to make sure of our privacy settings. I immediately looked and found the above changes as well as one of my students, one who isn't doing so well in the course and who has overall seemed pretty damn apathetic about doing anything, including coming to class, but she's never gotten anything less than an A in her entire life on a paper and here are her accomplishments and how could I ever give her a D.
My assumption that I was one of the people being bitched about was correct, of course. It was probably this girl who bitched to him in the first place. There was nothing in any way specific on there, a few "fuck" or "fucking"s, some "grr stupid students" and "damn these papers aren't getting any easier to grade"s, but mostly my status updates are things like "damn I'm up way too early" or, more and more, "need to finish this paper...." The one thing my boss specified? A general feeling of "not acting in a professorial manner."
I have never, ever even stated that I had a FB, much less made it accessible to students. As my boss said, it might be simpler to just close my FB down so it's never a problem again. Here's why I'm not doing that, though.
The page is mine. It's my personal space, used only in my personal time. I don't even check it during office hours, dammit! I am a human and as such I deserve some time, some space in order not to be simply "Ms. May." If a student sees me pushing a cart in the grocery store, that is NOT the place to ask me about their homework. It never will be. If they see me buying alcohol at the liquor store that's none of their fucking business either. And no matter how I act outside of class and office hours, that's none of their business because hey, at that point I'm off the damn clock which means I'm no longer theirs.
What I really want to do is use this girl's FB against her as she obviously did against me. Fair game and all, right? So she should be totally fine with me questioning how she, as a person not able to legally imbibe alcohol, can "like" beer pong, or why her status updates for the past week totally don't match her "I didn't turn in my paper because I was sick and then I hurt my ankle" excuse(s). I bet she wouldn't be too happy with that turnabout, now would she?
So, I ask you, is it our obligation to always act in a way that students would approve of or are we deserving of being actual people with outside lives just as they do? Am I in the wrong here or should my FB be off limits, regardless of what my privacy settings are (and honestly, who the fuck goes out and looks up their professors on FB anyway)?
Friday, October 29, 2010
But, Cher is gone. Instead, we have music I feel is entirely more appropriate for a marching band...the Star Wars Medley. Yes. Oh yes. There's nothing like running down the street with your dog to the "baaaaah-baaaaah-BA-ba-BA-BAAAAAAAA-bah" of the intro theme. From another direction, I can hear people belting out some kind of chant at some other sporting event.
I am delighted.
I recently realized that a few of the things I like about Big Southern State U are these moments of collective effervescence. That's MY marching band! Playing Star Wars! Hurrah for my school! I've seen one football game the whole time I've been here but somehow I am no longer an isolated academic toiling away in my solitary study, no, I am a Fighting Cotton Weevil! Go Weevils! Chew Weevils Chew!
Er...yeah. One of my least favorite things about my discipline is its tendency to eschew any kind of enthusiasm about anything in the name of "objectivity." That's useful from an intellectual perspective, perhaps, but it does suck the fun out of life. So, I'm enjoying my collective effervescence in secret...
I've read them now a number of times and just keep thinking I must be being "Punk'd." I understand that some people are just assholes, but I rarely see such public displays of it. Anyway. I can't wait for the next division meeting when I can introduce these two to each other. I will do it VERY SLOWLY, though, since that seems to be a crucial step to making one's point - as discussed below.
From Lester to the Humanities Listserv:
In the last five years, I've rarely had a problem in my classes about texting or phones--once the first phone goes off. I know it is going to happen, and I wait for it.
From Lester back to Warren (& once again, the rest of us.)
Why, yes, I believe you have missed something. In the adult world, where some of us reside, it's called accepting personal responsibility for the consequences of one's actions. And here's how it works: Humiliation is the price one pays for not following the rules; queasiness is your body telling you that you've just screwed up. It's that simple. And once students learn that, improper behavior disappears. I hope this explanation demystifies the process for you. If not, perhaps a visit from Mrs. Whiteman will clear things up.
My school has an all-campus Halloween Event starting at 2:30 pm. A coworker has a class starting at 3:00 pm. Shall we have a pool on how many students attend a Friday afternoon class that conflicts with a Halloween party? It’s a class of mostly freshmen with an enrollment of 32. It’s a liberal arts class, mostly lecture. The instructor is both a good teacher and popular with the students, so attendance is normally good. I will post the correct answer later when I find out the final figure.
I’ll let Fab Sun (all hail his name) decide if there’s a prize for winning.
UPDATE: I have an unofficial count. (I stood in the doorway and counted) I'll have an official count as soon as my colleague emails me. In the meantime post your guesses before 9 pm EDT.
While reading the comments to the post "Sick but Not Ill," I came across Merely Academic's response that mentioned his/her literal college nightmares. I thought about my own work-related dreams, and want to know yours!
Like many of my other repeating dream themes, my teaching dreams take place on a couple of main dream “sets,” which have remained consistent and have repeated themselves over many years now, though the plot content of the dreams is pretty much the same on all sets:
Set 1) Modern campus with immense, Tiananmen-sized plaza. On one side of the plaza is an instructional building, about five stories high, which I usually never enter. On the other side is a five-story admin. building, which apparently has a nice bathroom in the basement, since I often go in there and take the elevator down to the subfloor when the need arises. The building is always very dark, with a couple of menacing security guards patrolling around, and drab gray carpet.
This infernal campus naturally has a satellite campus, which is where I eventually realize my classes are. For maximum annoyance value, this remote campus (and my waiting class) are at the far end of a 200-foot-wide, one-mile-long pedestrian mall, and I’m always running across the huge, brick-paved plaza and then down this connecting pedestrian mall (against the wind) about 15 minutes late for my class, carrying my heavy computer bag, and usually either naked, or dressed in sweatpants, flipflops, and a torn t-shirt/tank top, which commonly become irredeemably covered in feces as I dash into a filthy restroom down the hall from my class full of students, on a last-minute pit stop before class.
There’s a distinct feeling of anxiety that my students will give up on me and leave before I arrive, and of course my attire (or lack of attire) feels completely inappropriate and makes me very self-conscious. Sometimes I do finally arrive at my room, trying to arrange my clothes more neatly at the last second, and half of the students have left, and the ones still there are totally pissed at me, so I struggle to maintain classroom order as I try to salvage what's left of the class meeting.
Set 2) Old, very big, three-story red-brick schoolhouse with large, wide, wooden stairs with banisters. This is a lot like my real-life elementary school, but I teach college here in my dream, and I just cannot find my fucking classroom the first day of the semester. I run all the way up to the third floor from the first, run down the hallways, and can’t find my room number posted anywhere (which I’ve written on a piece of paper, probably incorrectly). Maybe my class is on the second floor? Maybe the first? Maybe I'm here on the wrong day? So I interrupt lots of classes (I’m already 10 minutes late for class) and ask the bored-looking students they’re my class. They aren’t. So I run back down all of the goddamn stairs to the bottom floor, and run to the records office to ask them what my room number is. They usually have some computer problem, and can’t tell me, so I look in the paper schedule, and can’t find it. I’m getting more and more late and anxious, so I run upstairs again to try to find the fucking classroom. I repeat this upstairs/downstairs procedure about five times before I move on to another dream.
I also have lots of dreams about junior high school, wherein, similar to Merely Academic’s dream, I’ve been enrolled in a class all semester without knowing it, then discover/remember this fact near the end of the term, or right before the final exam. I freak out, run to class, and everyone wonders who the hell I am. I get really anxious about the work I missed, and dearly hope that just by taking the final exam I can pass. (This sounds like some of my real-life students at the end of the semester!) Add in a bunch of anxious scenes in which I search at length for my goddamn locker among hundreds of other ones that look identical ("Is it number 432, or 452? Is it a yellow locker, or a blue locker?") then not being able to remember my padlock combo as I spin and spin the dials on suspected lockers ("Is it 32-4-22, or 22-5-31? Maybe it's 15-3-6?") and you've got a recipe for a nice, annoying dream. I've had variations of this dream probably 50 times now in the last few years.
Clearly, teachers were often fairly obsessive students, so this personality trait carries over into our dreams, and the intensive, structured, high-expectation, deadline-oriented, super-interpersonal nature of college instruction can really affect your psyche. It’s been obvious to me that I have trouble leaving my work at work…
What are your literal school dreams and nightmares?
and I admit this freely
unashamed am I
at my weaknesses.
Why does Darla tempt me so?
Is that code?
Isn't the page going well this week?
I wish my gingivitis wasn't flaring.
There are more empty cans of beer
in the recycle bin here at home
than I remember drinking.
At my office, a man across the hall
appears to have picked up
a second job; he is often
on his phone talking tax filing.
He directs people to his website.
I wish for the election to come and go.
Bitterness and bad grammar on
all the TV commercials.
What doesn't make me annoyed
in my freshman seminar?
When was it that they left middle school?
There has been talk at my college
of edutainment. We seriously are trying
to keep the "asses in the seats."
Why didn't my undergrad college work
as hard to keep me interested?
I was left to my own devices,
and the bong nearly always won out
over the classroom.
Oh, were I as free now as then.
ZDNet, has a post up today about not dumbing things down.
It seems he was asked to read a book, The Bee Tree, and prepare a presentation on it for his son's third-grade class.
So he dug into his graduate-school calculus:
Bees, as it turns out, create a completely optimal space for their honey, raising their young, and storing food. The hexagonal shape of honeycomb cells actually maximizes interior volume while minimizing surface area. Since bees must eat about 8 times the volume of honey for a given volume of wax that they need to create their hives, wax is a precious commodity, so optimization is key. Obviously I wouldn’t expect the third-graders to be able to handle calculus-based optimization problems (in fact, the so-called Honeycomb Conjecture, [the] idea carried forward from the ancient Greeks that honeycombs were optimally arranged, was only proved about 10 years ago).
However, if the third-graders were meeting the math standards outlined for their grade here in Massachusetts, they should know enough geometry to be able to have a pretty cool discussion about hexagons and other shapes that might fit together with the smallest perimeter and largest surface area.
The upshot (and read his post for details) was that it worked very well indeed, and -- despite dire predictions from his wife and eldest son -- without dumbing it down. The kids latched onto it, ran with it, and learned from it.
His point is that if we raise the bar, kids will come up to it. At least until such time as they have been hammered down into the habit of mediocrity.
Here's the thirsty:
What do you do in your classes to raise the bar, to challenge your students? Does it work? Can and do you get away with it? Does it rouse students from their torpor, or do you just see a lot of thousand-mile stares?
Inquiring minds want to know.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
To my students in English XXX—
I know there was a paper due to Blackboard before the beginning of class today. In fact, I planned a somewhat fun, no-preparation-required group exercise to be completed during class because I knew many of you would be tired after rushing to finish up the paper (even though you’ve theoretically been writing pieces of it for homework for the last 2.5 weeks), and wouldn’t complete, or possibly even notice, any preparation I did try to assign. In short, I really tried to accommodate the realities of the situation. So, after I’d explained the exercise and told you to begin work in your groups, did 1/3 of you really have to line up in front of my desk to discuss the problems you had completing and/or turning in the paper? Couldn’t you have waited for the end of class, or even office hours, or sent me an email? Since when does “begin work with your groups” sound like “if you’d like an individual in-class conference, now’s the time”?
And I did.
I'm not ill. I don't have the flu like seemingly a quarter of my colleagues - who have been ringing me up to sub for them on a nearly daily basis. I don't have food poisoning. My man is not sick. He doesn't need a ride. I don't have a flat tire. I don't have a sick grandma.
I'm just fucking sick of my job.
So I turned around in the hallway, an office hour and then two more classes in my future, walked to my car, and am now home. (I have Norah Jones going, a cup of tea, pajamas back on, and mental health returning quickly.)
Oh I know I've done a bad thing. I know I'm a prof flake, or just a flake, period. But there was NO way I was going to be worth much to my students today.
What a crummy semester this has been, especially my trio of composition courses on TTh. My God they're needy. Lazy. Unhappy. Dull. Listless. I have tried the stern approach, the fun approach. I brought in donuts one morning...and I hate doing that. Nothing seems to jar them. It's all "Do we have to?" about everything.
Now, to clear away some questions. No, I've never done this before. No, I don't plan on doing it again. Yes, I'm wearing pajamas and not those shorts!
But seriously, my brain was fried after my first class. Another 90 minutes of pulling teeth, of working harder for their progress than they work themselves. And I've pulling them through this class for 9 weeks now, and I'm sick of it.
I have to tell you I felt GREAT leaving campus. I drove with the windows down, enjoyed seeing little kids getting off school buses, and I when I walked into my empty house at 9:30 am (when I'm never home), the sun warmly bathed my bed and invited me back in.
So, several songs, several cups of tea, and a luxurious and sloppy yoga routine later, I feel like a million bucks.
My thirsty: What would you have done? Was I bad to indulge my anger and my annoyance? Have you ever done what I did? What should I have done instead?
"Many of those who are lucky enough to graduate from high school are not ready for success in college. In two- and four-year colleges here in Virginia, 25 percent of your students must take remedial classes. That's simply not good enough. We must raise the bar."
I suspect, fairly or not, that my own Big Southern U suffers from a similar problem. Nor do I think southern schools are unique in encountering these issues in their student body.
I don't know if Virginia's "Standards of Learning" (yup, we called 'em the S.O.L.s...hah!) are the solution to this problem, nor am I sure that "Race to the Top" is the solution. But no, Virginia, you are not imagining the problem.
Disclaimer: I am the child of a primary-school educator teaching in the second-poorest district in her state, and thus K-12 education is more on my radar than it might be otherwise.
A Parting Shot: * steps on soapbox * National Media & Blogosphere, can we please stop talking about whether or not Juan Williams has a psychiatrist? The discussion stigmatizes those of us WITH psychiatrists in a big way, and as the saying in the mental health community goes...a lot of people with psychiatrists are way saner than those without them. * steps off soapbox *
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
OK, I'm an adjunct. I’ve also taught every semester for the past four years and am already on the schedule not only for the rest of this year, but for the next school year as well. I’ve been a member of the department longer than a third of the full-timers. I’ve published more peer-reviewed material than all but one of the other instructors. Hell, excepting that one other professor—who does publish quite a bit, and it’s good stuff too!—I’ve published more than the rest of the department combined over the past several years. Oh wait, that’s right, I’m just an adjunct.
"But," I hear them say, "you're not part of the college community!" Really? I've gone to see my students' art shows. My wife and I have cheered them on at sporting events. We've attended their plays and I've gone to the honors society inductions and greeted my students' parents. Students come to me for letters of recommendation. I'm even the faculty adviser for a student club. Oh wait, that’s right, I’m just an adjunct.
Seriously, if the profession is going to depend on part-timers to fill the ranks of instructors, maybe, just maybe academia needs to rethink how adjuncts are treated. Call me crazy but maybe, just maybe, we’re often scholars as well……
A student hugged me today...