Monday, November 19, 2012

Great Lakes Greta Is Losing Her Mind

It's official: I'm losing what little gray matter I have that hasn't already fled willingly in response to the dumbing down and corporatization of education and the American populace in general.  I must rant, and not in verse form.

When students in your Global Hamster Issues class come to you and ask if the topic of "oceans" or "crime" or "the economy" are narrow enough for their three-page position papers that are supposed to examine how a global issue affects the local hamster population ...

... and when students in your Fundamentals of Reaching Your Hamster Audience come to you the class before their research proposals are due--two weeks after they were assigned--and mutter, "I don't know what to write about. Can you help me?" ...

... and when colleagues schedule meetings for the Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons before Thanksgiving and the Monday and Tuesday afternoons after Thanksgiving and ask if you can look over spreadsheets for the latter meetings that they'll get to you in the former meetings ...

... and you barely blink because you'll be grading three sets of essays anyway this weekend ...

... and when you physically walk your Global Hamster Issues and Fundamentals of Reaching Your Hamster Audience classes to the LD3C library and introduce them to reference librarians, and go through databases and other search options with them, and explain--endlessly--the difference between an academic journal and the popular press, and explain--endlessly--the difference between primary and secondary sources, and explain--endlessly--that they must invest time in their research, and your Global Hamster Issues and Fundamentals of Reaching your Hamster Audience students huddle for a few minutes before coming up to you and saying, "I don't know what to do" ...

... and when you've given clear instructions with examples--and even templates--for documents and essays that students must produce, and you are met with, "I don't understand!" and, "I'm so confused!" and, "What are we doing?" ...


... and when yet another student follows you into the bathroom and asks, "Are you going to your office?" and you respond with, "No, I'm going to the bathroom," and she replies, "Well, can I talk to you now?" ...

... and when you're sitting in your office with the door closed and it's not office hours and you've found fifteen minutes for some heat-and-eat meal and a crappy cup of coffee and a student bangs on the door and says loudly, "I know you're in there, Miss Greta, because I saw you through your office window!" ...

... and when another colleague says as you are walking to your car at the end of a long Monday, "I know you're on your way out, but this will only take a minute," when you both know that she's lying about the time commitment ...

... and when yet another missing student turns up and demands you re-teach everything that he's missed ...

... and when that re-emergent student threatens you with legal action when you decline ...

... and when several students confront you--angrily--about the lousy Bs they received at midterm ...

... and when a conference with a student takes a creepy but nonactionable turn ...

... and when your boss's Big Boss calls you a slacker because you refuse to take on a project that is designed to set you up for failure ...

... and when your most insufferable colleague has been made chair of that project and you are then required by your boss to join the fun ...

... and when whole classes show up so unprepared that you have difficulty making any sense of the class time because what you teach is a process and what they do is predicated on having done the previous step in the process ...

... and when you're drowning in paper work and not vodka, missing sleep and not meetings, losing hair and not weight, and fantasizing about every lottery in the Lower 48 ...

... and you're reminiscing about the retail jobs you had just before you got this TT job, even though it's Black Friday and your wages back then were barely those of the living ...

... just what the tea party are you supposed to do?!

Sigh.

23 comments:

  1. Compose a haiku?

    Find the bottle of vodka that should have been there for you to drown in???

    Take donations to help you buy as many lottery tickets as possible?

    This is true misery! Thank you for providing some perspective to my own now-less-miserable week.

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  2. [Quote]... and when yet another missing student turns up and demands you re-teach everything that he's missed ...

    ... and when that re-emergent student threatens you with legal action when you decline ...[/Quote]

    That's when you end the meeting and give the student the number of your (or any nasty on TV) lawyer and tell his lawyer to call hir.

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  3. As far as the admin goes, remember what Ed Nather said about it in "Advice to the Young Astronomer":

    "Committee assignments: the theory here is that everybody should share in the burden of administration, taking time away from their research work in the process. If you are very good and conscientious about this stuff you will be given more and more of it, since you get things done, to the lasting benefit of the department administrators. On the other hand if you thoroughly neglect it, fail to call or attend any committee meetings, and generally do a lousy job, you will get fewer and fewer committee assignments, and you can get on with your research. You should not be too blatant, though. When pressed, have a meeting by email - just send each committee member a copy of the topic to be considered (obscurity here is a virtue) and ask them to respond. Make a single file of all the individual responses and send it back to all of them, and a copy to the department chairman. This should create enough dissention and warring messages that you can tell the chairman you are uncomfortable making a decision without a consensus, and that he had better do it. You won’t be assigned to that committee again."

    For the student who threatens to sue, just laugh, because he won't. Say, "Well, then we're done today. Have your legal counsel contact the university ombudsman and we'll take it from there."

    I do hate-hate-HATE it whenever a student follows me into the bathroom. A good, generous SLOP in their direction can quickly cure them of it. This is quite easy for a man, but I'm sure you have the ingenuity to come up with something just as effective.

    Hang in there!

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  4. Big hugs, dear Greta. I wish I could transplant you to a campus with deans who are strong, coworkers valiant, and students who are a bit better than average.

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  5. There's always chocolate.

    But man, this sounds like one lousy day. I sure hope someone else is roasting your turkey (or butternut squash) this week.

    '... and when you're sitting in your office with the door closed and it's not office hours and you've found fifteen minutes for some heat-and-eat meal and a crappy cup of coffee and a student bangs on the door and says loudly, "I know you're in there, Miss Greta, because I saw you through your office window!" ...'

    You don't hear hirm because you've put on your earbuds and listen to calming Japanese flutes or a rainstorm or The Daily Show online while you eat.

    '... and when another colleague says as you are walking to your car at the end of a long Monday, "I know you're on your way out, but this will only take a minute," when you both know that she's lying about the time commitment ...'

    You reach for your phone, open it, look at it, and mouth, "I'm so sorry. . ." as you turn away in deep concern towards your car.

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    Replies
    1. I sure hope someone else is roasting your turkey (or butternut squash) this week.

      Not to speak for Greta, but that's how some of us relax.

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    2. Me too, and I do enjoy putting on a feast, but a mid-week feast following a grinding work week is just tea-partied. Hence my family's iconoclastic Friday Thanksgivings, which also let us celebrate Buy Nothing Day in style.

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  6. Am I the only one who sees the enormous typo in the title? Come on, academics, where is your petty side???

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    Replies
    1. Naw, I saw it too. But I still think it should be POW.

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    2. I figured it was intentional to show the loss of mind...

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    3. I must be really tired and miserable, because I still don't see the enormous typo in my headline. And, Academic Monkey, you can tea party off. I say that with love.

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    4. I call this spelling fix a triumph of the inane. Can I attribute my calling it out to too much grading? :)

      Now I will tea party off.
      (I love that as an insult)

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    5. I can't see it the title at the top of the post, either, but it's there in the url, which gives the title as "great lakes great is losing her mind" (the a and t are reversed in "Greta"). That probably means that is how the post was titled when first posted (I think that's when the url is generated). Either you fixed it and forgot, Greta, or perhaps the RGM fixed it.

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    6. And there should be an "in" between "it" and "the."

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  7. Wow. This is some serious misery, Greta. (And I say this as one who doesn't even have a Thanksgiving break this week.) You have my sympathies, and I second Proffie Galore's nomination for POW!

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  8. Serious misery, indeed, Greta. I third POW.

    I also second Annie's wish that your talents could be applied in a more appreciative environment. Mine has its downsides, but it's nothing like this.

    I think this post also gets at why it's so hard sometimes to describe what we do all day, and why it's so exhausting. When trying to estimate how much time our work should take, nobody ever factors in the time to deal with the x% of students who will never feel they understand until the teacher has repeated the instructions (pretty much verbatim) to them individually, in person or via email (or text or chat or whatever); the y% who will have been recently absent on any given day, for legitimate reasons or not, and need help in catching up (or believe they do); the z% who will demand a detailed rationale for every grade, however little it is worth; all the ancillary human-relations stuff that accompanies both teaching and service; and the time spend weeping, gnashing one's teeth, hitting one's head on the desk, mulling over just how creepy the creepy student is (and whether one needs to do something about it), feeling guilty about not opening the door, drinking, recovering from the resulting hangover (physical and/or emotional), or all of the above, as one strives to cope with the whole shebang. The individual tasks are manageable; the total unpredictable assemblage of demands on time and various abilities is downright overwhelming and deeply exhausting.

    I do hope that someone else is cooking Thanksgiving dinner (unless you find cooking relaxing), and that you will get at least a full day off, Greta. It's clearly much needed, and much deserved.

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  9. Thank you all for the sympathy. Now, if I could just find the tea I need to go with it...and the vodka...

    And there will be no time off this week. Yes, there are no classes Thanksgiving Day and the day following. Yes, I need at least some of that time to grade.

    And Thanksgiving Dinner will come from a microwave this year.

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    Replies
    1. Oh, dear. Microwaved Thanksgiving Dinner sounds quite bleak. I hope it's a satisfactory solution for you, given all you're juggling, rather than a depressing one. If depressing, please seek out something a little better (assuming you can afford it): maybe a rotisserie chicken and a few sides? But do whatever works for you; I've sometimes suffered far more from people worrying that I wasn't celebrating a holiday in a way that would be satisfactory to them than from the plans I'd actually made, which were satisfactory from my perspective (at least given the viable alternatives).

      I do hope you find the tea, and the vodka, and enough quiet space and time to savor each. It has sounded from some of your poems like you have some pleasant views out of some of the windows at home, and/or the chance to observe nature in other ways close to home. I hope that is, indeed, the case, and that you get some time for that, too.

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    2. There are usually places offering Thanksgiving dinner; some of them charge money, others ask you to listen to them. I can understand if going out and rubbing shoulders with other people is not what you need; I'm in that place, too, often enough. The bottom line is that there are more pleasant alternatives to the little electric box and something out of the freezer case. CC listed some of the solitary ones; I've listed communal ones.

      I like to cook, and so that is a form of relaxation for me: if I've had a rough week, a moderately elaborate dinner is a way of blowing off steam. I calibrate it to the number of dishes I'm willing to wash. <grin>

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  10. Greta, I am late to this party, but I wanted to add my heartfelt wishes that you find some moments of solace this weekend. I love your posts, feel your pain quite often, and wish you happiness and peace.

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