Saturday, May 31, 2008

Academic Groupie?

I have a friend who is an academic rock star. Not of the home-garden variety, like local celebrity. Like internationally-known, exhibits at the Whitney and then runs off to do an interview with the Chronicle, kind of celebrity. I just friended him on Facebook the other day, and I realized (which I should have known, but just didn't really internalize) that he's friends with people that I forget are real, embodied humans. All this time, I thought that they were simply word machines who existed for me to quote.

The irony, of course, is that I don't know my rock star friend via academic channels. In fact, it's only in the last few years that I started getting into his work, as my own research grew in that direction. No, instead, I know him because we were close friends in college. You know this kind of friend: you went camping together on spring break; took late night trips to the diner; had multiple soul-searching conversations with; put him to bed drunk when he broke up with his girlfriend; accidentally saw his uncircumcised junk and were freaked out for days (not because it belonged to him, but because of all of its

If, at the time, someone had told me that he would go on to be a world-renowned scholar, I would have snorted. Was he brilliant? Yes. But he also drove the wrong way up freeway exits, and forgot where he put things. He had a dorky laugh, and unwittingly manipulated women. [Suddenly, these characteristics are making him sound more and more qualified for scholarly Valhalla...]

The point of all of this is...well, I'm not really sure. ARS is often the guy that comes to mind when I think that I should be something else. He's the physical embodiment of my "why aren't you a big time scholar? You should be on your second book by now!" internal screed. And then logic kicks in. That's just not who I am, nor is it the kind of life I want to lead. [Truly. The last time I had a conversation with ARS, he looked sort of odd and nostalgic about the opportunity to teach a seminar of undergrads. That's certainly nothing that he gets to do at his big fancy R1 job. And it's not disengenuous: he was a great teacher of beginners, as I'm sure he is of up-and-coming grad students.]

Perhaps, however, the answer is that there is a significant part of me that wants a bit more prestige than I have now. That's a wee bit uncomfortable simply settling in to see whether my podunk institution can drag itself into the ranks of decent SLACs over the next 20 years. More to ponder. Meanwhile, I'll go stack up ARS books, and eat my heart out.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Imaginary, not Imaginative...

Via Prof Grrrl, and instead of working on program assessment, I give you my results for the Sesame Street Personality Test. For the record, I've always thought of myself as more of a Statler and Waldorf kind of girl, but I suppose that would call for a larger universe of Muppet personality choices.

Your Score: Snuffleupagus

You scored 58% Organization, 43% abstract, and 62% extroverted!

This test measured 3 variables.

First, this test measured how organized you are. Some muppets like Cookie Monster make big messes, while others like Bert are quite anal about things being clean.

Second, this test measured if you prefer a concrete or an abstract viewpoint. For the purposes of this test, concrete people are considered to gravitate more to mathematical and logical approaches, whereas abstract people are more the dreamers and artistic type.

Third, this test measured if you are more of an introvert or an extrovert. By definition, an introvert concentrates more on herself and an extrovert focuses more on others. In this test an introvert was somebody that either tends to spend more time alone or thinks more about herself.

You are somewhat organized, both concrete and abstract, and both introverted and extroverted.

I bet you didn't think you were Snuffleupagus. Let's find out why.

You are both somewhat organized. You have a good idea where you put things and you probably keep your place reasonably clean. You aren't totally obsessed with neatness though. Alloyius Snuffleupagus (and all Snuffleupagus') is not sloppy by nature, but he moves so incredibly slowly that it is impossible for him to be totally organized.

You both are about equally concrete and abstract thinkers. You have a good balance in your life. You know when to be logical at times, but you also aren't afraid to explore your dreams and desires... within limits of course. Snuffy generally has very basic interests, but he explores his abstract sensitive side when he plays his snuffleflute.

You both are somewhat introverted. Originally Snuffleupagus was very shy and was only Big Bird's invisible friend. However as he has aged he has started to build new friendships with new characters. Like Snuffy, you probably like to have some time to yourself. However, you do appreciate spending time with your friends, and you aren't scared of social situations.

The other possible characters are

Oscar the Grouch

Big Bird

Cookie Monster



Kermit the Frog


The Count

Guy Smiley


Link: The Your SESAME STREET Persona Test

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Rest of my Life

Done! Done! Finally!! [Or, as my sixth grade classmate mis-read in the famous MLK speech: "thank God immediately, done at last." Hee.]

Of course, done is never really done; there are books to be ordered, an article to write, a tenure file to assemble, and more pressingly, programmatic assessment to be done. Sigh. Regardless, all of this comes with the blessed benefit of NO INTERACTIONS WITH STUDENTS, which I desperately need at this point. I love them, for the most part, but damn, I need a break from having to work to understand and nurture their ideas.

So as summer really descends upon me, I find that I'm asking myself the question I always hit during this spoke in the academic cycle: what am I doing with the rest of my life? Generally, my angsty articulation of this question runs toward the long-term trajectory, i.e., where am I going to be in 20 years? But the summer brings about the other meaning of the question, i.e., what am I doing with the parts of my life that aren't my job?

There's something about the 9 month academic cycle that prevents me from engaging this second one with any amount of significant attention. Throughout the year, I tend to oscillate between two metaphors, both involving enormous boulders. I'm either A) pushing the giant boulder up a hill, a la Sisyphus, or B) running frantically as the giant boulder comes rolling down the hill behind me, pace Indiana Jones. Neither of these bouldiferous situations lead to careful consideration of activities outside teaching; research; service; p2p trauma; utter torpor/escape into fantasy to recover from the previous activities.

But with the prospect of two months of "free time" on my hands (even with the caveats above), I am pestered by the idea that I had better figure out what else my life consists of, what other proclivities, interests, hobbyhorses I should nurture so as not to become so attached to my job that it becomes the entirety of my life.

And thus, I dedicate the coming week to locating the rest of my life. [Hey, I like to start small. Maybe next summer will be devoted to building the rest of my life. Let me just find it first, okay?]


Monday, May 19, 2008

Jazz Hands

If you see a crazy woman driving around your city singing at the top of her lungs in her (thankfully) enclosed car, it's probably me. Wave hi, or feel free to join in.

I have no idea what's spurred this, but I've been obsessively listening to a particular pop culture musical all weekend long, and loving it. I put it on repeat while I cooked for some friends and cleaned the bathroom. I warbled along in the car on the way to and from my dentist appointment this morning. I've been singing it to myself for days, trying to remember the lyrics.

It could very well be that I've lost my damn mind, as this is my 18th week of teaching, or some such nonsense like that. [Three more days and counting.] It could also be that I'm atavistically returning to my high school fixations. Don't tell me it never occurred to you that I was a total drama queen in high school. [Only in high school, you ask?] Indeed. Loved the musical theatre, despite the fact that it was totally ridiculous, and if the constituent population was any indication, totally gay. I was, as Tyler Durden reminds us, the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the universe. I even yodeled, you'll be delighted to know.

God only knows what's bringing all of this on. Just be happy that you're not within earshot.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hot Night Ahead

O ho, yes indeedy, I has me a hot night ahead. I came home from class, fed the cats, worked out (not in any real way, you understand, just enough to get some of the stress hormone out of my system). Now my big plans include: putting on flip flops and fetching some take out for dinner; watching Season Six episodes of Buffy until Gray's Anatomy comes on; watching G.A., and then more episodes of former; falling exhausted into bed. If I get ambitious, a shower and lackadaisical teeth-brushing may be in order. Look out world, she's on a roll!

In the hours of intensive brain turning-off that lay ahead of me, there will be NONE of the following: thinking about my course; thinking about writing a grant; obsessing about my end of year review; grousing about available classroom technology; fixating on a single negative student evaluation out of 55; anything resembling my job.

Senor Fluff is out of town and I just finished my first week of intensive summer school. Give me a break, will you?

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Let the Countdown Begin

Yup, once the first day is over, you can officially begin the countdown. Seven more days of summer school! Only seven!!

As much as I'm not relishing the experience of getting up and going in to school tomorrow to teach, and then doing the same thing the day after, and then the day after that (repeat four more times), there is something significantly different in the summer-school vibe. I don't know how to explain it. I'm in the classroom; I'm teaching. I'm doing the dance. But I'm not exhausted at the end, I'm not gritting my teeth through some classroom discussions. [I was ravenous by the end of class, but I suppose that's to be expected.]

We'll see how this goes as I continue on, but for right now, it could definitely be worse. And why is that? A number of reasons, heretofore described as the rules governing "if you're going to teach summer school, do it like this."
Rule #1: Teach something you know.
Rule #2: Teach something you've taught before.
Rule #3: Carefully consider what can be taught in a shortened period. For instance, I wouldn't be teaching a class on the 19th C. novel right now. Not that I would be teaching that anyway (see rules 1 and 2).
Rule #4: Be realistic about what the students can absorb and how. For instance, my class by rights should meet 5-6 hours a day. How many of us could discuss or write about something for 6 hours straight? I moved part of this class online, and that has made a world of difference, both for the students and for me.
Rule #5: If possible, limit the number of students. Last summer, I taught the class with 12 students. This summer, it's 7. That's largely due to a registrar error, but boy, 5 fewer students is 5 fewer chances of random meltdowns. (Of course, a student did tell me this morning that she might have to leave class because her boyfriend was attending a bail hearing. !!)

What else makes summer school teaching less painful?


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sunshine-y Day

It is certainly sunny and beautiful here in the Northeast---for about another day, before the rain descends. All of my neighbors are out, taking advantage of the weather, so the air is rent with the sounds of lawnmowers, weedwhackers, and anything else lawn and garden-related. It must be all of the Vitamin D that's fueling our collective sense of anticipation of good things coming up.

That same sense is being echoed in our household, it seems. I start my summer class tomorrow, and I'm sure that there's a hint of dread about that, but it's tempered by the short duration (8 days!), and decent paycheck that accompanies it. Check back in with me three days from now and see if I'm still in that psychic space.

I get the feeling that Senor Fluff is also feeling the springtime magic. I know it's been a hard year for him: new job; new job turns into another new job; new job requires that he suddenly know all sorts of things he didn't previously know; new job means new responsibilities, higher profile, more chances to screw up publicly and disappoint people who he feels believed in him in the first place. A hard row to hoe, and let's face it: Senora Fluff is not exactly Little Miss Mary Sunshine to come home to after a hard day.

So how do I know that he's finding his way out of the new job funk? Well, this morning I came downstairs to a significant clue. For many people, their spouses' well-being is probably demarcated by a change in discourse, outward or marked enthusiasm, engagement in hobbies or social activities. Senor Fluff's interior can be a bit harder to chart, so I like to wait for the obvious, which I document, for your enjoyment, below:

That's my man---frustrated artist. I want to assume that all of you awake to impromptu mixed-media sculptures, but if not, here's to the weirdness that is the Fluff-household in spring.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Land Speed Record

If you heard a sonic boom yesterday at about 5, it was me and my turbo grading pen. Just in time to meet my students for their last class, I graded 16 reflective papers, four group projects, and 4 extra credit response papers. [For the record, I'm usually averse to e.c.; in this case, there were bizarre extenuating circumstances.]

I do not recommend this kind of binge grading to anyone. It melts your brain, and brings on carpal tunnel symptoms, and has the tendency to inspire rage both murderous and suicidal. There is also no margin for error. If there had been any suspicion of plagiarism, for example, I would have been hosed---no time to start googling random passages here, the clock is ticking!

But it is a sweet, sweet thing to hand back a stack of papers to students, complete with their final grades. There is, of course, always the last minute hail mary pass, the tearing eyes, the whining. But---and this is a huge but (like mine is, now, if the giant ass groove on my couch from whence the grading marathon took place is any indication), once that happens, it's generally over. As in, I get very few---like two per semester, if that---emails or phone calls disputing the final grade. It doesn't hurt that I also hand out a spreadsheet to them with every single grade they've received over the course of the semester, including daily participation. [For that, I thank a little program called Micrograde, and Lee, who introduced me to it after she moved away and no longer programmed my Excel spreadsheet formulas for me.] There was a moment at which I was afraid that giving students the numbers would give them room to negotiate every single point (but I made THREE comments that day, not TWO!), but I've found that for the most part, they are either awed by the sheer volume of numbers, or else by the fact that I quantify everything. It's a bizarre thing: I'm not one for quantification, but it seems to calm student fears that everything is arbitrary. On some level, I think that the managing the psychology of student teacher power dynamics is more important than the grade itself, for all that we criticize students about their focus on grades.

I originally intended this as the celebratory post of "I'm mostly done!" [Mostly, because of course there are stragglers, and random tasks. Like departmental assessment of seniors. F*&$.] Instead, it's turned into a post on how I manage to reduce the post-class grade panic and the unsavory interactions that usually accompany it. I think I'd account for the slippage in this way: we're not really done until the students accept their grades. And thus, sometimes, grading is not the end.

Good luck to all! The end is in sight!

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

I Just Can't Contain It...

Okay, I'm sorry, I know that this is the result of grading 10 portfolios and 18 final exams from my class, but I can't stand it. I'm usually not one to rip on the students, but here's my list of uncontainable annoyances:

1) "Loose" instead of "lose." When did this start happening? As in "The character will loose her identity." I just keep getting this image of a floating identity, wandering around in the ether. Identity, thou art loosed.

2) Fully 68% of the class thinks, randomly, that you put an apostrophe in Americans. Now, if we were all thinking about Native Hawaiian languages, and they wanted to do something interesting with it, like put it after the A (A'mericans), forcing us to have a collective glottal stop, then that might be fun. However, I keep thinking they mean that it's possessive (American's go to war), and it's making me nuts.

3) There is rampant, rampant confusion of ethnicities. Craziness. As in, the author of a memoir about American internment camps is identified as Chinese. Dude.

4) The international student to whom I gave a big fat generous "do-over" to at the beginning of class [she plagiarized on an exam. seriously. but then Senor Fluff, who works with, and was an, international student(s) reminded me that this could conceivably be a significant cultural difference]. So let her rewrite an essay question I did. And now? Fabricating discussion posts!! As in "turn in the list of your comments" and she's made up 7 of 22! And I had to take the time to check! Dammit, I hate it when I get taken for a ride!!

5) Apparently, I wrote the monster final, as I have one student who scored a 98%, one with a 91%, and everyone else in the 70's and below----like they're spring temperatures or something. So do I curve? Do I even know how to curve? Do I just spot everyone some points? Do I not wimp out and have them suck it up?

That's all for now. In many ways, they've been a fine group. But damn, all of this is chapping my hide. As of tomorrow: one down, two to go.