Thursday, September 17, 2015

Half Assed Thirsty...

my experiment with offering 10 minute conferences with students to discuss rough drafts has been fraught with problems...not showing up...not showing up with a rough draft...students sending in emails instead of actually showing up expecting one on one service their way...and hours sitting in my office with nothing to do but stare at the hang in there kitty poster in my mind.

q: what's already gone wrong for you?


  1. Question: This has come up before may times - the "I have nothing to do but stare at the walls and wait for students" during conference time or office hours or whatever.

    This puzzles me every time it comes up. Surely we all have lots of work to do? OK, I admit I procrastinate as much as the next person. Ok, a lot more than the next person. OK, I'm procrastinating right now. OK, I have only begun my procrastination for the day.

    But still - I don't blame that on the unsurprising lack of students in my office. I could, in principle, pick up that half-written memo or that quarter-written technote or that piece of laborious calculation or that book I've been meaning to read...

    Is it just rhetorical? Or do people really have kitten pictures?

    1. I hear you. And yes there are always things to do, but these are special times I and my class have scheduled and sat aside for a very specific purpose, so I go to my office prepared for a day of talking about these drafts with a raft of ideas and things I want to pass along. I'm not in the mode of doing other office duties or other projects for research or class.

      I'm only really ready for this one thing...and when they fail to show, I feel flummoxed and defeated.

      And, no I don't have the kitty poster, but it IS in my mind, and it keeps me from losing all hope...

    2. I have to task switch so often during the day that I lose at least some of it to getting my head into whatever game has just come to the fore. I try to avoid it when possible.

      When a student fails to show, I am able to pass the time productively doing something else, but it can't be anything too deep. I feel my angst rising, for I don't want to risk sucking something into my head only to have to disgorge it if the student does arrive and I must tend to their needs.

      I'm learning to work through the apprehension. If a student comes late, I just make them wait till I finish the paragraph I'm writing or whatever. And I just come out and say, "you'll have to give me a couple minutes; when you didn't show as scheduled, I got involved in something else. Have a seat till I can get this out of my head so I can actually focus on our thing."

    3. Some people task switch more easily than others, and it's probably not surprising that some of us who made it through undergrad and grad school partly on the strength of our ability to pay sustained attention struggle a bit when we find ourselves dealing with the constant demands for attention from disparate quarters that come with undergraduate teaching (and, where relevant, service). Like Hiram, I'm definitely less productive when time appears because something I'd planned to do doesn't happen than when the time and the plan work out (not that I'm always productive in that circumstance, either, but it's a start). And like OPH, I've learned to have a backup plan (usually grading little stuff on the LMS; that well never runs dry,and if it does there's always email to read/answer/file/delete), and to tell students who show up late "let me finish this thought, then I'll be right with you." Still, adding additional task-switching to the effort of switching attention from student to student and project to project makes the whole enterprise even more exhausting (and conferencing is exhausting, any way you look at it -- well, unless almost none of the students show. Then it's just depressing, which isn't all that different in its effect on actual productivity.)

  2. My experiment: 'flipping' my lab class. I record the lecture/intro in advance and post it for the students to watch BEFORE they come to class. During lab, I hold a short Q&A/discussion to make sure there are no questions and then give them the entire lab time to work.

    I had big dreams for this. No more having to repeat myself over and over (since my teaching load is the same lab five times a week). All of the students would hear the same thing (since I'm in charge of the labs but there are so many sections that we have other instructors teaching as well). No more getting dinged on my evals for talking too much during lab and turning it into another lecture class (since there's so much material to cover).

    What's actually happening is that many of the students don't bother watching the videos. They come to class unprepared, don't participate in the Q&A/discussion, work for a little while, and then leave - sometimes two hours early.

    My colleagues have told me this is not my fault. But I'm taking it personally.

    1. I've only done it rarely, but sometimes showing students that you take it personally can be... well, impactful, to use the jargon of the 90s

    2. Impactful, maybe. But is it a high impact practice (HIP) like I've been hearing so much about lately at faculty meetings? So much jargon.

      Seriously, though, with over 150 students, there will still be plenty who just plain don't care that I take it personally. And I really don't want to show them my 'soft' side.

      Guess I'll get a good 'I told you so' after the first lab exam.

  3. Asking parents to obtain progress reports for my tutees.

    While they aren't college students (yet), I think this still counts, as the kiddies will be coming your way shortly.

  4. q: what's already gone wrong for you?

    I got out of bed.


    Actually, as my students were handing in homework today, one engineering major whined that the stapler bolted to the table in the front of the classroom had jammed. I told him to unjam it himself, it's just a stapler. He gave me a look as if I'd told him to fix and safety-certify the electrical system on a Boeing 787. This does not portend well.

    1. Even as an undergrad I would simply open the stapler and remove the offending, misshapen staple, as I'd done many times before. To my classmates, I'm sure I appeared to be performing rocket surgery.

      Well do I remember senior project proposal day, during which they proposed things that could never (and indeed, did never) work. I asked some of them what made them choose a field that they didn't like, for they clearly had never actually played around with the stuff on their own time. Their responses were that they didn't intend to actually DO the stuff; they were going to be managers.

      To escape chronic heartbreak brought on by the incompetence of my future colleagues and "superiors", I got out of that field. Out of one frying pan into another.

  6. Email from a student in a graduate course, which meets only 12 times in total, on the 1st day of term, which started quite some time ago:
    "I am away in Spain until the end of September. Hopefully this isn't a problem."
    JHC, "hopefully"? damn right you were right to put your energies into faith, because Houston we've got a problem here.

  7. The teaching stuff seems to be going pretty smoothly, maybe because I didn't try too many new things (since I taught during most of the summer, and since a few new things were foisted upon me -- and those, too, are creating less chaos than I feared they might). Or maybe I just haven't glanced at the corner from which the smoke is coming lately.

    The resolution to keep to a regular schedule, and do things like sleep, eat, and exercise on a regular basis, however? That part isn't going so well, and I need to fix that before the other stuff inevitably goes downhill in response.