Thursday, December 11, 2014

Hindenburg Student

Sometimes students explode. Sometimes they burn bright and then fizzle. And sometimes, the crash is long and slow, but nevertheless ends in flames.

This student's crash I saw from a long way off. From week 2, it was obvious that s/he was one of those students that was a voracious but sporadic consumer of facts. They'd pop out randomly in class. Yet they seemed to have little to do with the actual reading. So we had a talk about that every few weeks. I mentioned that talking about outside materials (a) didn't let me see that s/he'd been doing the classwork, and (b) shut the rest of the class out of the conversation.

Then there were the odd behaviors: the close-talking, the need for immediate verbal feedback at the end of each class, the need to shake my hand at the end of every conversation. These struck me as possible spectrum disorder issues, so I talked to hir -- gently! -- about getting to see the folks at DSS. I even mentioned a specific person who I knew was particularly helpful.

Then there were the anxieties, the near-tearful breakdowns in my office. For these, again gently, I mentioned how helpful our free on-campus counseling program could be. That it was totally normal to feel overwhelmed in the first semester of transferring from a two-year school to a four-year one. That we had lots of resources to help hir; s/he only needed to use them.

By week five, it was obvious that this airship was going down in flames and I was suggesting withdrawing from some of hir classes. By week 8, it had gotten bad enough that I was floating the possibility of medical leave: "just to give you time to get in the position where you can really succeed the way you want to."

S/he insisted that s/he was "just going to stick it out and see it through."

And today, I got the e-mail: after three missed appointments to talk about the final paper and two extensions, s/he wrote to say s/he wouldn't be turning in the paper. S/he was getting Ds or Fs in all hir classes, but s/he was going to do better next semester.

For which s/he was enrolled in five classes for a total of 16 credit hours.

Sometimes, you see a crash coming from a long way off. And sometimes, despite your best efforts, the student crashes and burns, all the while insisting that everything's fine.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Yeah, I'm one of THOSE bloggers

Namely, the kind who will retract and redact her own posts. In this case, I poofed the last post because several comments have cause me to seriously rethink what I said there, to the point where I couldn't stand behind my own words anymore. A braver blogger would let it stand, but what you've got is me. And sometimes I say some pretty uninformed things when I'm feeling cranky & peevish.

So thanks to my commentariat who is often more informed than I am, and a mea culpa to anyone who was offended.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

There ought to be a mathematical equation... express the relationship between a given student's effort on a project or in a class and the amount of time a professor spends on that student alone.

Mathematicians? Care to take a crack at this? While you're at it, I'd appreciate a bar graph with student grades plotted along the X axis, and average professor-hours per student on the Y axis.

Friday, November 28, 2014


That is, unfortunately, what my e-mail inbox looked like on Wednesday.

2996 messages.

1088 unread.

Yeah. If you haven't gotten a reply from me, it's not that I'm ignoring you. Apparently I'm ignoring everybody.

Part of this has to do with the fact that I've been writing. Focusing on other things. I've been going on these 10-week "write-every-day-even-two-sentences" binges, and while it's been really productive, it's also been keeping me hopping.

Part of it is that I don't have home internet anymore. But let's not kid ourselves -- I was bad about this long before. 

What it really is is that "keeping up with correspondence," never among my top talents, has become more difficult as the e-mail proliferates. And as the junk e-mail proliferates, the real stuff gets buried. And I think "I'll get to it later." And then I get busy again.

So, this holiday weekend has been a process of digging out. Wednesday I resolved to myself that, for every day this week, I'd shrink each of those numbers by 50%. Yes, I know -- those of you who do math, or even those who know the story of Achilles and the Tortoise -- will tell me that, at this rate, I'll never get there. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. But this morning, I'm at 600/50, and falling fast.

I really think that "keeping up with my correspondence" needs to be my major resolution in the upcoming semester.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

OGs of the Blogger World

Today I got to have a Very Special Lunch with two long-time bloggers: Historiann and Comrade Physio-Prof. Neither of these two live nearby normally, yet the stars brought everything into alignment, and lo, a lunch was arranged.

And yet, a week before the event, I had backed out.

As the Comrade might say: What the ffucke?

And I realized that sometimes, dedication to work needs to take a backseat. That I could be here in my office from sunup to sunset every day, just in case some student wanted to see me, and that I'd probably see maybe one more student a week. That while I enjoy my job, and have been really proud of how well I've been doing, it's okay to relax once in a while. It's okay to opt out of a meeting rescheduled at the last minute, even if your "appointment" was with the couch and some reading you really needed or wanted to do. That it's okay to tell a student that you're just not available for a special meeting at that time.

I'm about halfway there on this. The halfway that has learned to say "no" retracted my retraction and got my ass to the out-of-town-but-not-by-much venue and had a fun lunch, full of foods I usually don't eat, swearing, stories about college drinking, and lots of inappropriateness with a bunch o'bloggers (CP and I noting the moribund-but-not-quite-dead states of our blogs). The other half had to bail after two hours because I had office hours at 4:30. Two days before Thanksgiving.

From left: Comrade Physioprof; Notorious Ph.D.; Historiann (with spouse)

I totally forgot that I had that "work less/live more" tag. Maybe that needs to be something I work on.

Friday, November 21, 2014

It is that point in every semester...

... where I have given up any dreams that I will finish the semester well, and now am concentrating on merely surviving.

... when I have realized that my brand-new class has lived up (?) to my usual bit of sardonic advice for good teaching: "Never teach a class for the first time."

...when I am spending too much money on restaurants because my fridge has been empty for a week and I am too worn out to go to the grocery store.

...when I wonder what I was thinking taking on as many commitments as I did, and patting myself on the back for saying "no" even a few times.

...when I eyeball yet one more grant application and wonder whether I can squeeze it in...?

...when I can't even think about the holidays, and am perversely glad that I don't live near family, because I so desperately, desperately need the entire Thanksgiving holiday to get caught up.

Yeah. It's that time. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Am I Full Professor Material?

Thursday, I turned in my promotion file.

Here's the deal: at most universities, you have to go up for tenure. "Up and out," they say. Every school has its own standards: some require a book, or even a book plus progress on the next one. Some, more teaching-focused, want lots of good teaching, course development, plus more campus service than you might think is humanly possible. Some schools (primarily religion-affiliated ones, I think) want a heavy dose of community service in there -- making connections between campus and community. My school falls somewhere in the middle of all this, and people work the teaching-research-service balance in various ways across the campus. But in any case, you have about five and a half or six years to prove you're doing the kind of job they want to see. And you don't have a choice. You can't just say, "Oh, I'll take the lower salary or whatever and will go up when I'm ready." It's up or out.

Going up for full professor is a mite different, in that, at most schools, you never have to do it. And if/when you do it, you can do it on your schedule. And if you don't get it, you can try again the next year. And the next. But the file itself takes about a month and a half to put together, so you don't want to do it until you're reasonably confident that you'll pass. Most people at my school do it five years after tenure. So, last year when it was my first opportunity to go up... I declined.

I just wasn't sure. I mean, I had done some pretty good stuff with teaching. My service was okay -- nothing spectacular, but I wasn't shirking. But I still only had the one book to my name, and only one article and another in the pipeline. The second book was a stack of documents, some scribbles, a couple of conference papers, and a title (though a damn good title, I must say). How to count the first book was the toughest thing to gauge: I had sent off the manuscript literally two days before submitting my tenure file. As anyone who has published a book knows, there is a lot of work after that point -- even after you get the contract, there are months of revisions, then copy edits, then page proofs and an index... but still, it was just one book. And I just didn't think it was enough.

Here's the thing, though. I was judging my record based on the paths of the faculty at the university that I got my Ph.D. from. These were my models. And if you earned a Ph.D., you were at a research institution. But very few of our post-Ph.D. jobs are at such institutions. And sometimes we forget that our jobs are different. You can't crank out an article every year plus a well-reviewed university-press book every six or seven while teaching three or four courses a semester. You can't get to the archives every summer if you don't have research funds. And that's okay. You are doing different work. No less valuable.

So, the point of this story is that this year -- in fact, just two days ago -- I turned in my file for promotion to full professor. It has a couple more articles in it than it would have a year ago. It has a major service commitment. And it has a well thought-out book proposal. But my senior colleagues looked at my record and asked me why I didn't go up last year. The answer is that there will always be a significant part of me that doesn't feel like full professor material. But I'm trying to let that go.