Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Putting Down that Load: Service to the Profession Edition

A few years ago, I made the mistake of voicing my doubts about how a certain Big Ongoing Project transition should be handled. Stuff along the lines of, "Hey, have we really thought these things through?"

Silly me: They put me in charge of it.

Anyway, Big Project ended up being a five-year commitment. Every fall, I'd start working on Big Project. Every fall, it would nag at me mercilessly, yet another thing to do. And because I'm a perfectionist, everything needed to be perfect.

And it was always later than I'd like. I always wanted it done by early October. And usually, sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas was more like it.

Here's the thing: as of two days before Christmas this year, my five-year commitment was finished. Oddly enough, "Auld Lang Syne" was playing on my parents' radio as I sent off the last official communiqué and handed the whole thing over to my successor.

Here's the thing: when you're mid-career, your service load expands. A lot. And one of those things is "service to the profession," wherein you serve on the boards of organizations, read and review book and article manuscripts, and do other stuff. This labor is mostly uncompensated. And it's actually pretty fulfilling. And it's all voluntary. So you can't complain that you're having this foisted on you. I actually enjoyed working on Big Project -- sometimes quite a lot!

But it also felt good to put it down and move on to other things.

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...

...to 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.