Thursday, November 23, 2017

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

This is what a real break feels like

I looked out the window this morning and watched birds at the front feeders, which may not sound particularly exciting except that this time of year I rarely see my yard in the daylight--it's dark when I leave home in the morning and dark again when I get home. And then to  be able to just sit down with a cup of hot tea and look idly out the window at the birds is doubly wonderful.

I brought no work home with me for Thanksgiving break--no reading quizzes, no drafts, no papers to grade. I'm even caught up on my course preparations. Last night I fiddled a bit with next semester's syllabi, but it was pretty low-pressure fiddling. It feels strange not to be buried under a crush of work, but I'm going to enjoy it while I can because all my students are turning in drafts or papers over the next two weeks, and then I'll have final exams. Beware the end-of-semester onslaught!

For the next four days, though, I intend to forget about classes entirely and enjoy being a grandma. The little imps will be here this evening (with their parents, of course) so I've been cleaning and cooking in preparation for doing Thanksgiving our way. The resident grillmeister will smoke two turkeys all night long, and if you're wondering why seven people need two full-sized turkeys, so am I. (Trying to clear out the deep-freeze!)

I've put together the pumpkin cookies, pumpkin rolls, and fruit salad already and I have a pile of sweet potatoes from the garden ready to cook tomorrow morning, along with dressing and all the usual Thanksgiving trimmings. I've even bought all the things I need to help the grandkids make cute candy little turkeys out of Vanilla Wafers, chocolate-covered cherries, and candy corn. (I'll post photos.)

We're going to make a mess, all of us together--a turkey-smoking, frosting-smearing, tater-tossing mess--but as long as it's a joyful mess, everyone will end up with an A+. (As long as someone else does the grading. I'm on break!)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Yes, I'm torturing my first-years again. So sue me.

My first-year students trade papers so they can offer suggestions on each other's drafts and the first thing I hear is "Geez, she wrote a book!" Number one, no she didn't, and number two, who says a long paper is necessarily a bad thing? (Probably the same people who convinced Microsoft Word that a long sentence is an error requiring correction.)

I don't expect my first-year students to write books or even chapters, and in fact I often warn them that the thesis statement they've drafted would require a whole book to cover in any detail so they'd be better off narrowing their focus. On the other hand, if I ask for a 1500-word paper, I expect something more than a paragraph, and if the topic requires further evidence, then I'm delighted when the student exceeds the minimum word count. The papers that make me crazy are those that reach the minimum and then quickly tack on an "In conclusion" to bring the whole topic to an abrupt and unsatisfying end.

The purpose of the word count, I keep telling them, is to inspire writers to make every word count. They've heard this often enough to be able to recite it along with me, often accompanied by undisguised eye-rolling. 

What they don't know is that it takes more skill to cover a topic thoroughly in a short space than to ramble on. "A really careful and concise writer can achieve this goal in 1500 words," I tell them, "but the rest of you will need more." 

They don't believe me. They'd be happy if I asked them to produce a PowerPoint slide listing bullet points, and then they'd try to negotiate the number of bullet points down from six to three or two, so being asked to read and respond to a draft five or six pages long must feel incredibly unjust. 

And if reading a five-page paper feels as onerous as reading a book, how do they respond when I ask them to read an actual book? Trust me: you don't want to know.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Soup or sabbatical?

Just got back from a mad dash on foot across town--well, not technically all the way across town but four blocks away, and a very cold four blocks it was with a brisk wind blowing straight into my face all the way there and pushing me forward on the way back, and then of course I had to get my eyes dilated and then try not to cough all over my eye doctor while he was shining very bright lights in my eyes to determine whether my retina is detaching, which it isn't so hurrah hurrah but as I walked back to campus in the cold everything was a total blur from the drops and the bright lights so I consoled myself with the promise of a bowl of hot soup at the library cafe but when I got there there was no soup, not just NO SOUP FOR YOU but NO SOUP AT ALL, on a cold day when I'd been coughing and dashing through the wind and working up a pretty good appetite so I ordered my favorite wrap even though it's overpriced and not as comforting as hot soup on a cold day and then I had to take it right back to my office because I have student appointments all afternoon even though Thursday is supposed to be my staying-home-and-writing day (except for next Thursday, which is cooking-turkey-and-all-the-trimmings-for-the-whole-stinking-family day, and the following Thursday, which is waiting-for-delivery-of-the-new-refrigerator day), but my freshman seminar students need some one-on-one time because of problems with their research projects so I promised to make some time available today, which I have done, and don't even ask me how many of those students failed to show up for their scheduled appointments this morning because it's too depressing to think about, but the good news, and the essential point of this whole rambling screed in case you were wondering, is that I've just learned that my proposal to take a sabbatical in Spring 2019 has been APPROVED and in my book a semester's sabbatical beats a bowl of hot soup any day of the week, even a day as cold, blurry, and ridiculous as this one.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Getting what's going around

Last week as I listened to my students coughing their way through an exam, I wondered how many viruses they would turn in with their test papers. I now know the answer: enough to make me sick for days and days and days. (Frankly, given the amount of coughing going on in that room, hand sanitizer wouldn't have put a dent in the problem. To contain that kind of outbreak, you'd need nothing less than napalm.)

My weekend was a dead loss: coughing, sleeping, coughing, sleeping, blowing through a whole box of tissues. On Sunday I never even left the house. Felt a little better on Monday, well enough to teach my classes as long as I carried tissues everywhere I went, but I'm not sure any of us got much out of the experience. 

I don't teach on Tuesdays so this morning I cancelled my office hours, slept until nearly 7 (!), lounged around coughing and drinking hot fluids all morning, and parked myself in a sunny spot on the sofa to respond to student drafts. The bright sunshine made my laptop screen hard to read, but I could feel the sunshine driving the sickness out of my body and I just couldn't move away.

Now I'm on campus again for some afternoon meetings. I could have gone to two meetings this morning but decided they could proceed just as well without me. I'm not carrying tissues and, at the moment, I'm not coughing. Tomorrow I expect to be pretty much back to normal, whatever that means. Soon this whole sorry incident will fade into the dim and distant reaches of memory, where it can't hurt anyone any more. (Because napalm lives there and kills all the germs.)

Monday, November 13, 2017

A hands-off exercise

Today I encouraged my comedy students not to destroy the world. 

"This is a thought experiment," I reminded them. "You're just supposed to argue that humanity should or should not be destroyed on the basis of evidence from three comic texts."

Silence. Puzzled looks. More silence.

"There is no hands-on lab component to this exercise," I added, "so if any of you go out of this room and actually destroy the world, you'll get an F on the assignment."

One guy grins: "We'll all get the big F." A little laughter. Very little.

And so I drop the philosophical speculation for a moment and show clip from Catch-22, when Yossarian gets a medal while naked. We talk about meaning and values and meaninglessness and despair, and then I pop the big question: "If life is meaningless and the only response is despair, why make a movie?"

Lightbulbs begin to glimmer dimly over a few heads. Very dim. Very few. Doing philosophy in a comedy class is a tough sell on a bleak Monday afternoon, but if nothing else, I may have left them too stunned to even think about going out and destroying the world.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Sick of exams already

What's with all the coughing? Sounds like someone's trying to hack up a lung, and those two guys seem to be coughing a call-and-response. Some sort of code? 

Oh look, the first cougher wants to go out for a drink of water. Sure sounds like he needs one, but is this just a ploy to allow him to look at his notes? 

How would I distinguish between a real cough and a fake cough? I don't generally bring a stethoscope to class, and I did not get a PhD in literature so I could become the Cough Police.

And now the other coughing guy is nonchalantly leaving the room without a word. Maybe he wants to look up that important bit of video on the course management system. Too bad I closed those links five minutes ago.

Only 20 minutes in and one student is already turning in his paper. Does he realize that there are questions on both sides of the page?

Now the coughing guys want to rummage in their backpacks for tissues. What if a clever student prepared a box of tissues with notes written in tiny print on each one? And then what if the professor felt a sneeze coming on and reached for the student's tissues?  (No, I don't want to be the tissue police either.)

40 minutes in and only a few students are left. None of them are coughing, sneezing, blowing their noses, or asking to leave the room. They're just writing. That's what I like to see.

Now I have a big stack of exams sitting on the desk, all of them thoroughly coughed on. How many germs can fit on the head of a pen? Now I'm suddenly hoping that all those coughs were fake. (If I find a chunk of lung on any of those papers, I quit.)