Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I was the best of students; I was the worst of students

As my most recent post explained, somehow one of the voices talked me into taking a class on a 1200-page Spanish novel. After 5 or 6 weeks (I lose track), I've figured out what sort of student I am: The one who seems really bright, but just isn't performing up to her potential.

We've all had these students in our classes. Chances are, you've got at least one right now. I've got two (in two different classes). They're great in discussion, but don't leave themselves enough time to get the As that your best professor instinct tells you they're capable of. If only they budgeted their time better! By all rights, they should be pulling straight As! How can you get through to them?

Being in the student position myself has been enlightening in this respect. Here's how my semester has gone in this class:

Weeks one and two: knocked it out of the park. Did all the reading. Took conscientious notes. Participated in class -- maybe even a little too much.

Week three: Holy shit. How did so many deadlines pile on at once? I need to finish that article, and there's that performance review that I totally spaced on and it's due tomorrow, and I'm trying to organize conferences and stay on top of the grading for once... And come the evening before the night class, I realize that I haven't done any of the reading, and I won't have time to do it the day of class, because I'm teaching all day, and so I make the decision... to skip class.

Week four: Similar to week three, except I've cleared off two of my three big must-dos, but another one that I had been putting off was due, and it was a hard deadline, so I got about half of the reading done (and no, I didn't do the reading from the week before -- no time for both). So I attended the first half of class, then skipped out at the break.

Week five: back on track. I back-burnered my grading (I'm paying for this now, I'll have you know) and managed to do all the reading again, understand what was going on, and turn in a creditable performance. Again, I probably talked too much -- something I'm acutely conscious of from my own discussion-leading experience. So I tried to shut up. But there are just so many interesting things to discuss!

And here we are at week six. And that grading needs to get done. But I just found out that a dear colleague's husband died suddenly so I'll be attending a memorial service on Saturday, and a housewarming for Voice of Reason on Sunday, and there's a college-level committee meeting tomorrow, and pick up the bike from the shop, and buy and mail off a small birthday gift for my sister. This weekend.

Which is to say: Where before I intellectually knew that my class is not the only thing going on in my students' lives, now I understand. It's been a long time since I've been in that position. Ouch.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

On being a student again, part 1: What the hell was I thinking?

I have a problem.

Apparently, when I get a manageable schedule (such as this semester's) with a reasonable and achievable set of goals (such as, again, this semester), I feel compelled to fill up any unused time with more work. Here's how I imagine the internal conversation went, sometime back in January:


COMMON SENSE BRAIN: Hey! Look at our schedule this semester! We've only got three regular courses and three grad student supervisions! And all the regular courses are the ones we've taught before! And we've only committed to one article! We may actually have a manageable semester on our hands here!

SELF-SABOTAGING BRAIN: I dunno... doesn't that seem a little... off?

CSB: Well, sure: it's not our usual way of doing things. But remember how the usual way was leaving us exhausted and overcommited? I think this is real progress. Let's focus on that.

SSB: I just don't feel right about this. It feels weird.

CSB: Tell you what: why don't we slightly revamp the readings for our upper-division seminar. Remember how that syllabus has about half a dozen articles that neither we nor the students find useful? We could look up new ones, and assign them, and then we'd be reading something new, too.

SSB: Good idea! I'll go do that!

[one week later]

SSB: Hey. I just figured something out.

CSB: [distractedly, looking up from watching latest episode of Justified and once again bemoaning the fate of Deadwood] What?

SSB: That new reading thing? That's only going to keep us occupied one hour of one day out of the week, for about four or five weeks. we've still got loads of spare time.

CSB: [gesturing] Hence this fine scripted entertainment. Pull up a chair. I think we have one last diet coke in the fridge.

SSB: You're missing the point. This is time we could be filling up with Doing All the Things. [pulls up weekly calendar] See this unclaimed block here Monday nights?

CSB: [reluctantly, hitting "pause" on the video] At the end of our 9-3:30 teaching day? That one?

SSB: Yeah, that's the one. Now listen: it just so happens that La Professora -- you remember her, right? Lots of fun; keeps trying to set us up with men we're too busy to hang out with?

CSB: I like her.

SSB: Good. Because she's teaching a class Monday nights on... wait for it... Don Quixote.

CSB: We've always wanted to read that!

SSB: [excitedly] I know, right!?

CSB: But wait a minute: That's a 1200-page novel.

SSB: But it's a novel. And we want to read it. And this will give us structure and accountability.

CSB: But... it'll mean that we're on campus Mondays from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

SSB: We can get more grading done!

CSB: I think we should give this more...

SSB: I signed us up. Here are the books. [sets down two volumes] We'll get to be talking about ideas! Hooray!

CSB: [glancing through them] These are in Spanish! And not even modern Spanish! And the syllabus says we'll be reading 100 pages a week!

SSB: Plus the critical articles... did I mention those? And the seminar is conducted in Spanish, too, so the whole thing will be great practice, dontcha think? This is gonna be awesome! [exit]

CSB: ::sigh::

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Self-Interest Disguised as Professorial Generosity

Grad student e-mail (paraphrased): Here's my outline for our meeting/discussion today. It's not what I'd like for it to be, and I apologize: I've been very sick this past week. But I'll do my best in our meeting today. Thanks.

Me, thinking about my to-do list for today (in order):
  • Read and comment grad student thesis chapter
  • Read and rank 20 potential award files
  • Reread materials for seminar tonight
  • Read/grade a dozen short (@ 3 pp.) reading reviews for same seminar and return to students by 6 p.m.
  • Read above student submission and meet with student
  • Meet with thesis student
  • Hold office hours 
  • Lead evening seminar
  • IF TIME PERMITS: grade 5-8 short student writing projects (@ 3-4 pp) from survey course; eat something; remember to put on pants.
My reply to student (again, paraphrased): Oh, you poor dear! I want you to get better, and I'd like not to get sick myself. Would it be better for you if we rescheduled later in the week?

There. With one e-mail I just crossed one item off my to-do list.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

How late is too late?


Well, I'm pleased to report that today, I sent of a manuscript of an article I've been working on. Great, right? Here's the catch: the article was due in January. Towards the end of that month, I told the editor that I'd be about a week late. Wrong: it turned out to be two weeks. Granted, that's not a huge amount of time. But still.

I'm glad to have this not hanging over my head. But I know enough people who have taken on the task of editing volumes of essays and special issues of journals to know that the M.I.A. author is the bane of the editor's existence. A very common bane.

Being past-due on a promised piece is a great motivator: I've written faster in the last six weeks than I have, possibly, in the last six years. No one sets out to be the author who makes the editor tear their hair out. Getting a reputation for that sort of thing can create problems down the road. Yet somehow, many of us find ourselves in that position.

I guess this post doesn't really have a thesis statement. But I thought I'd throw it out there, in case any of the six readers who still check in here now and then have any stories from either side of the process that they'd like to share.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Here's the post I decided to break my three-months' silence with:

Oh, Right. I have a blog.

So here's the e-mail I got from my chair this morning:

"I write to inquire if any of you have a need for a small grant (~ less than $400 or so) for either travel (must be complete by 5/15), equipment, or research requirements (ie, indexing, translation, student assistance)?"

I asked for an exorcist for my printer, which eats paper, but only when I'm rushing to print something out in the five minutes before class.

Two hours later, I receive the following e-mail from the College of Liberal Arts' research liason:

"The Chancellor’s Office has asked our University to complete a survey regarding the use of aircraft or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) by any of our research programs.  If you are using any type of aircraft or UAV in your research, please e-mail  B-- N--."

I'm pretty sure I need to put in another funding request with my chair. There has got to be a way I can incorporate an unmanned drone into my research, right?