Monday, May 2, 2011

What is it about this semester?

NB: lest anyone thinks I've got my head on the wrong side of the oven door, please see important mental-state update at the bottom of this post.

I'm teaching three research seminars (two undergrad, one grad). You'll have to trust me that this is a pretty heavy load.

And let me tell you, this semester, it seems like everyone needs to reschedule appointments, everyone is sick, everyone has family issues that need to be given priority, everyone has special needs that require an extension...

Everyone, in short, needs more of my time.

And yet, the product I'm seeing is worse than ever.

And lo, I am exhausted, because I'm being exhorted to just hold a few extra individual meetings, and to maybe grant extensions, even though summer is supposed to be my research time.

And lo, I know that my students are wroth, for I grade like unto that which I receive, and that I am going to be raked over the coals at evaluation time.

UPDATE: You know what I keep telling myself? Every semester is a chance to push the reset button. That's the beautiful thing about semesters. Squadratomagico makes a good point in the comments about setting boundaries, but as the economy tanks, my students' needs only grow greater, and I feel like an absolute shit for considering backing away in these circumstances. So there's something I could use some advice on.


Dr. Vehlow said...

Summer's almost upon us... you need a B-R-E-A-K, a real one!!

squadratomagico said...

My sense, based on this post and others from the past few months, is that you need to protect the boundaries of your time and psyche a little more. This post sounds to me like you are hemorrhaging: that you're watching your own privacy, your life, your time bleed out relentlessly and you don't know how to staunch it. And you're panicked and weary at one and the same time.

It may be too late to stop the bleeding for this semester, but you must be near the end (though I would say: don't give extensions unless the student truly has a compelling reason. Protect yourself). But also, perhaps you should take some time over the summer break to revisit your classes and assignments and figure out how to maintain psychic and temporal integrity, and not allow others' needs to bleed you dry. Self-preservation is not selfish, Notorious!

Dr. S said...

You sound almost as though you're reciting my life, Notorious. And Squadratomagico's description of your hemorrhaging *also* sounds like my life. I will say that this semester here in my corner of the world has rocked almost every single person I know--faculty *and* students--harder than any on record. For what that's worth.

Weirdly, my verification word is "gringign."

Comrade PhysioProf said...


I had to looke that uppe! Cool asse worde!

Digger said...

I experienced similar this semester. I thought it was me, until I saw that others were experiencing the same.

Jodi A. Campbell said...

I've had the same kind of semester. In addition to experience life-changing disasters and being needy, my students also seem to be, shall we say, less smart than in previous semesters. I'm not sure what the problem is, but others in my school have had the same experience this semester.

I found myself getting really depressed over how hard I was working to help them improve their writing skills and seemingly getting absolutely nowhere. I've never had a class's marks go down over the semester, but that's exactly what happened after three essay assignments. How do you keep yourself from falling under the weighty cloud of doom that I found myself under by the time finals rolled around?

Anonymous said...

I grade like unto that which I receive

Amen sister! I suspect that should be written above our office doors as a warning to those who enter. I hope you can gather some extra strength from somewhere to raise some acceptable barricades.

J. Otto Pohl said...

My advice would be to be strict on the deadlines and get everything done for the semester as soon as possible. So I am going with the do not give any extensions except in extreme cases. If you can get all the work in you can grade it and get it over with once and for all. I feel very lucky that this semester I only had to teach one class.

Historiann said...

Who cares about student evals? You've got tenure now, so chill. Everyone has a bum semester now and then.

I wonder if your post today is largely due to the fact that you're teaching THREE research seminars. These are easier than lecture classes in some ways--you can be less organized and more spontaneous, for example--but that's exactly why they're also more challenging--they don't keep you and the students on the same rigorous schedule, and the workload is all shifted to the end of the term instead of more evenly spread out. (And 3x the number of students who need and/or expect TLC from you, mostly at the same time--of course that's going to be a big challenge.)

It will all end sooner than later. But it will end, and you'll get on with your summer as though you never even heard

Dorky Medievalist said...

I'm ringing in late on this but here's something I tried for the first time this year, which is a strategy lifted from a colleague. It may not be ideal for a seminar but I used it in second and third-level undergraduate English courses. There is no grad programme in my department so I do not have any TA help with marking and I am constantly feeling swamped. This alleviated the swampiness somewhat.

I have two deadlines for every paper. If students submit for the first deadline, they receive their paper back with extensive comments and a grade. They may revise and resubmit the paper for the second deadline in order to have the paper re-graded. If students take the extra time and submit for the second deadline only, then they do not receive comments, only a grade. This way students self-select and I know the comments I labour over will be read and (hopefully) applied; students are responsible for their own education. Because of this, I do not grant extensions. I do not even respond to e-mails requesting them.

It was, I think, successful though there are a couple of things I would do differently. First, I would stress that I expect a complete and polished paper for the first deadline, not a draught, which some students submitted. Second, I would make sure that students are aware that, while their mark may improve if they revise sufficiently, if they do not, then their mark may go down. Many of my students addressed things like typos rather than the larger issues that would have required restructuring or deeper analysis and their grades remained the same. I think the possibility that their grade might be worse because they don't participate in the writing workshop aspect of the exercise would ensure that they are taking my comments and their revisions and writing seriously.

That said, at the end of both terms I had piles of papers, but none of them required extensive comments, which made this time of year much easier on me. And evals for last term suggest that students thought it was a good idea.

E. R. Truitt said...

I'm coming to this late, but I've found that, if I do a good job of setting my students' expectations for the semester, I spend less time constantly reacting and responding to their requests and needs. For example, I tell my students (on the syllabus and also viva voce) that I only respond to emails at a set time every weekday, and for a set amount of time. I tell them that I check email throughout the day, so that if something urgent comes up, I will of course respond, but otherwise, they'll have to wait to hear from me. And I don't respond to student emails over the weekend. And I don't grant extensions, but I do accept late papers. I've found that my students respond well to this--they know that I'm available to them, but not available all the time, or at all hours. And I love Dorky Medievalist's idea about two due dates for each paper.