Monday, September 30, 2013

A gift of guffaws

John Muir concluded his lyrical essay "A Wind-Storm in the Forest" with a vision of benevolent nature preaching a message:

The storm-tones died away, and, turning toward the east, I beheld the countless hosts of the forests hushed and tranquil, towering above one another on the slopes of the hills like a devout audience. The setting sun filled them with amber light, and seemed to say, while they listened, "My peace I give unto you."

This comforting contemplative tone, however, takes a beating in a student draft that transcribes the quote thus: "My peach I give unto you."

But I'll take it! I've been sitting in my office reading and responding to drafts all afternoon, so I'll welcome any excuse for a good old-fashioned guffaw!  

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A plethora of paw-paws

Two weeks ago I was too sick to attend the Ohio Paw-Paw Festival, but our paw-paw trees have decided to host a festival of their own. Most years the woodland critters gobble up our paw-paws before we can harvest, but not this year. This year we've got a bumper crop.

I don't know what combination of conditions produced a plethora of paw-paws, but I'm happy to enjoy the harvest in ignorance. The taste and texture are impossible to describe; if I tell you to imagine banana pudding with a hint of kiwi and a slight astringent quality, you'll go "Ewwww, yuck." But they're good! Really good! And they're a harbinger of fall, carrying a promise of the riot of color soon to be unveiled in our woods.

And best of all, I have plenty to share. Welcome to my personal paw-paw festival!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The hazards of classroom-hopping

Suppose you're up for tenure and promotion and a member of the committee charged with evaluating your worthiness visits your class to observe your teaching--but then gets up and runs laps around the room in the middle of your lecture. What do you do?

I didn't have a chance to find out today because I stayed in my chair. Yes: I am that annoying colleague who comes to visit your class, observe your teaching, and report back to the tenure and promotion committee, and I'm trying to sit quietly and inconspicuously in the back of the room but the overactive air conditioner is blowing directly onto my back and transforming my flesh into one solid ice cube so I would really really really like to get up and run around the room a few times just to get my blood pumping again, but I won't. I'll just sit here. If I freeze to death, throw me in a blender and call me Dr. Smoothie.

I've been observing various colleagues' classes for two weeks now and I've learned quite a lot, including the need to carry both a blanket and a fan to every class. I spent time today in four classrooms in three different buildings, and I froze in two and turned into an instant sweat-bomb in a third. One classroom was just right, but only because both windows were open on the side of the building facing a busy street, so sometimes the professor had to shout over traffic noise.

I've noticed some other things too. All this time I thought it was just MY students who could sit through an entire hour of thrilling and essential information without ever taking up pen to write any of it down, but apparently resistance to note-taking is a common trait, as is failing to carry or open the textbook. I've seen it in classes all over campus and I've done it myself repeatedly: 20 or 30 minutes into a class session I'll pause to mention that the material we've been covering is likely to show up on an exam in the not-too-distant future, so "You might want to write this down," and then the vast majority of the students have to go digging through their backpacks to find a pen and paper. Apparently it's bad luck or something to start the class with a pen and paper at the ready, not to mention the textbook. Textbook? What textbook? Just give 'em a study guide and a set of PowerPoint slides and forget about the textbooks!

I've seen some great teaching--in fact, that's one of the hazards of observing my colleagues: I get a taste of some really great teaching on interesting topics and I wish I could drop everything and sign up for the class. But I can't. I have classes of my own to teach, classes in rooms that might be too hot or too cold or too loud but at least I'm free to do something about it. No one can stop me from running laps around the room to keep warm in my own classroom, but I promise not to do it when I'm observing yours.   

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

These are a few of my unfavorite things

Meetings on workshops on forums on meetings,
Colleagues who greet all e-mails by deleting, 
Dirty old coffee cups clogging the sink,
These are my unfavorite thingies (I think).

Students who can't post their papers on Moodle,
Eye-rollers, hand-holders, lunkheads who doodle,
Cell phones that interrupt classes with rings--
These are a few of my unfavorite thing!

When they hog time,
When the "C" stings,
When their spell-check fails,
I try to forget all my unfavorite things
(Including my students' e-mails).

Add a verse, anyone?



Tuesday, September 24, 2013

This is my tribe

Between classes today I was sitting in the department office looking for solace. I'd just finished a horrible class, the kind of class session that makes me wonder what ever made me think I could teach, and I said to a passing colleague, "I'm counting on my next class to restore my faith in humanity."

"If you need a class to restore your faith in humanity," he said, "Maybe you should take up a different line of work."

Somehow, that didn't make my day....but my students did. 

They read to me.

Poetry. Lots of it. About basketball.

We were working on developing thesis statements for literary analysis essays, and I broke the task up into two parts: list elements of form, and then make a claim about what those elements suggest about meaning. We started off working all together on Sherman Alexie's poem "Why We Play Basketball," and I'm trying to get them in the habit of listening to the rhythms and sounds of the language so I was planning to read the whole thing to them out loud until one of my students said, "Let us read it!"

And so I did. They took turns reading sections of the poem aloud, and then we discussed the form of the poem (five sections, each containing five stanzas, each containing five lines, each containing five syllables!), the repeated words and images (love, hate, war, tribe), and the conclusions we could draw from these elements (basketball creates tribal unity).

And then I broke them up into groups and gave each group another basketball poem. List elements of form. Draw conclusions about meaning. But it out loud.

Every group struggled with the analytical part of the exercise, but I don't believe I've ever enjoyed a poetry-reading more. Before the end of the hour, nearly every student had read a poem or a part of a poem out loud, and they read with grace, passion, and skill. About basketball!

This, I told myself, is why I teach: because one day a bunch of literature-hating lunkheads will suddenly find a poem that speaks their passions, and they will turn a room full of disparate people into a community--or, as Alexie suggests, a tribe:  

These hands hold the ball.
These hands hold the tribe.
These hands build fires.
We are a small tribe.
We build small fires.


Monday, September 23, 2013

I've got to stop reading those "banned book" lists

During a summer week I've been trying to obliterate from my memory, I hunkered down in an Undisclosed Location reading essays written by high school students for the Test That Dare Note Speak Its Name, and at least a zillion of those essays tried to analyze Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. Some of the essays were good and many were mediocre, but all of them filled me with wonder: High school students are reading Ralph Ellison?! Wow! Way to blow their minds!! Send those students my way!

Now comes word (during Banned Books Week, of course) that a school district in North Carolina has removed Invisible Man from school libraries for all the usual reasons: "inappropriate" language, sexual content, violence. One school board member proclaimed that he couldn't find any "literary value" in the book (read it here).

At this point I'm tempted to return to Russell Baker's 1982 newspaper column "The Only Gentleman" (read it here), in which he pokes gentle fun at book-burners by suggesting that instead of arguing that reading Mark Twain damages high school students, school officials should argue that "assigning the book to adolescents damages Mark Twain."

Baker asserts that "Huckleberry Finn can be partly enjoyed after the age of 25, but for fullest benefit it probably shouldn't be read before age 35, and even then only if the reader has had a broad experience of American society." Further, he calls Moby Dick "a book accessible only to people old enough to know what it is to rail at God about the inevitability of death."

He has a point: expecting starry-eyed high school students to comprehend Ahab's wrath or Huck Finn's "conversion" would be like asking them to, I don't know, build a robotic locker-opener for a disabled classmate.

But wait--they did that. (Read it here.) We ask students every day to perform tasks beyond their abilities, to stretch their minds beyond their current understanding, and if we want their reach to exceed their grasp in STEM fields, why not in literature?

Sure, Invisible Man is tough reading--the Randolph County School Board got that right. And it's certainly true that the satirical method of the novel uncovers some uncomfortable truths about mid-twentieth-century American life, but, as Russell Baker pointed out so well 30 years ago, reading satire requires a sensitivity to nuance not always grasped by inexperienced readers. The sad thing here is not just that high school students in Randolph County won't be permitted to read Invisible Man but that their elders don't know how to read it.

Send 'em all back to school. I'll show 'em what to do with "inappropriate" language!  

A feast of words

"I've looked up more words than I've ever looked up before because of your class," a student told this morning, and I wanted to dance in the streets. We're reading Eric Overmyer's play On the Verge and one of my students located an online glossary for the play--very helpful! Now when I tell them to "eschew the jellied viscera," they'll know what I mean. (Except no one recognizes "eschew," so I translated: "Just say no to jellied viscera." Words to live by, people!)

Next I'm going upstairs to introduce advanced students to Deleuze and Guattari's "Rhizome," which presents an entirely different kind of challenge. No jellied viscera in there! (Or is there? You never know.) My earlier class inspired me to show video of a Euell Gibbons commercial from the 1970s ("Many parts are edible"), but my next class may require me to draw an abstract tree on the whiteboard. I almost burst into the "Let's Get Liminal!" anthem during my earlier class, but in the next I'll assume a more rhizomatic posture. Totally tubular. Or tuber-like. Perhaps even visceral. (But not jellied.)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

First lines of abandoned posts

It was the best of cabbages, it was the worst of cabbages.

When I linger over the luscious lines of Clarice Lispector, I don't know how to finish the sentence.

Any morning that starts off with a roach crawling across my toes can only get better.

Here's my idea for a literary reality show based on Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury: whoever can live three days in the Compson household without committing suicide or going crazy wins a grand prize of $3000 and an all-expenses-paid trip down a tree.

Students!!!! GAAAAH!!!! Stop me before I rant again!


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Another day, another opportunity to brutalize students

It has been suggested (never mind by whom) that the comments I insert in students' papers can sound a little, um, unfriendly. Maybe even downright harsh. I have explained that my comments are intended to be helpful but I have to keep them concise or they'll fill the entire margin and spill out over the next page, but for students in the Emoticon Age, conciseness can feel like brutality.

I don't want to brutalize my students--well, most of them, anyway--but I don't know how to make brief and pithy suggestions about syntax sound celebratory:

A comma alone is not strong enough to connect two complete sentences; try a semicolon or a comma plus a conjunction--LOL!

Check spelling--I mean, if that kind of thing is important to you. :-)

This is a really interesting point! It's so interesting, in fact, that it was made by another author in an online summary of the text! So while I applaud your ability to pull together really interesting ideas, I'm going to have to give you a teensy-weensy little grade deduction (enjoy that F!) and report your academic dishonesty to the provost. Have a nice day!

This clearly isn't working. I always find something good to applaud in each paper, and I enjoy inserting celebratory remarks for a student who shows progress, but I can't avoid pointing out areas that need work and I can't figure out how to make those comments sound friendly, or at least less brutal.

Maybe we can all just put our emotions aside and read the comments as comments. Suspend emotions while reading papers! Is there an emoticon for that?  



Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Not sure how those squeegees snuck in there

My first inkling of the problem arose on the opening day of class, when my brand-spanking-new first-year students condemned the credibility of a text because its author is a journalist and everyone knows journalists are biased.

I thought their evaluations of texts would become a bit more nuanced after we'd spent three weeks building their rhetorical analysis skills, so when we discussed a study conducted by credentialed professors and published in an academic journal (with supporting evidence, footnotes, and a lengthy Works Cited), I fully expected students to give the article an A+ for credibility.

But no. Several students (enough to make a noticeable dent in the discussion) averred that the article in question is not credible because the study addresses an issue related to gender but its authors are both women, who are obviously incapable of writing about gender without disqualifying bias.

So if women can't be trusted to write about gender without bias, who can? Men have gender too! Must we hand over all our gender-related research to genderless beings, maybe let the plankton take over the research labs? But wait, do plankton have gender? What about algae? Fungi? Squeegees? Would you trust a research article written by a squeegee? It would have to be a pretty incredible squeegee.

Some of my students seem to think that no sources are credible, that it's foolhardy to trust any source written by a human being capable of bias, that throwing the word "bias" out there trumps every other consideration. A bias against bias--how can I wipe that away? (Somebody hand me a squeegee!) 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Monday morning mail

Dear student with the wandering eyes taking my Monday-morning exam:
I'm sitting right here in front of you, and my eyes work just fine. Exactly whom do you think you're fooling?

Dear student who e-mailed me late Sunday night to complain that you can't possibly do what the assignment asks you to do:
Go back and read the assignment sheet again, because it doesn't actually ask you to do the thing you say you can't possibly do.

Dear student who dropped my class right before the first exam:
I'm sorry to see you go. You've been a faithful participant in class discussion, offering interesting insights on assigned readings. I understand that you have a busy schedule and something has to go, but I wish it didn't have to be my class.  Can't you stay in the class and persuade Mr. Roaming-Eyes to drop instead?

Dear students whose drafts I read over the weekend:
The assignment asks you to do two related things in the same essay, but most of you chose to do just one and then vaguely gestured toward the other. I know it's not easy, but I really do expect you to do what the assignment sheet asks you to do. So go back and try again. 

Dear administrator who sent out a survey first thing Monday morning:
Yes, the topic of your survey is important. Yes, I would be interested in seeing what my colleagues think about the topic. Yes, I agree that full participation will make the results more meaningful. But seriously: early Monday morning? At the beginning of the fourth week of the semester, when I'm giving an exam in one class and commenting on drafts or grading papers in all the others? When I'm still a few cups short of my Daily Caffeine Quota? Ask me again another time. I've got other things to do, like stare meaningfully at Mr. Roaming-Eyes as he takes my exam. (Yoo-hoo! I'm right here! I can see you!)  

Friday, September 13, 2013

Book-burners in my backyard

I've never assigned Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye in my classes, primarily because an author's early work is not always her best. Paradise and Song of Solomon serve my students well, and when my survey students need a small taste of Morrison's magic, I assign the short story "Recitatif." Besides, The Bluest Eye is frequently assigned in high school.

Except when it's banned. I am embarrassed to report that the president of my state school board believes The Bluest Eye ought to be banned from high school reading lists. 

In Ohio. Toni Morrison's home state. 

The Bluest Eye is set in Lorain, Ohio, but if Debe Terhar has her way, students residing in Lorain will not be allowed to read the book in school. Never mind that Toni Morrison, a native of Lorain, is our nation's only living Nobel-Prize-winning novelist and a writer whose impact on American literature has been incalculable. Terhar doesn't want 11th-graders exposed to anything "inappropriate," and she's perfectly happy to become the final arbiter of literary appropriateness.  

I didn't believe it either, but read it for yourself here. And if you figure out what another state school board member means when he says The Bluest Eye promotes a "socialist-communist agenda," please explain.

Feelin' linky

Because it's the final day of my 63-hour week and there's really nothing left in the old brainpan:

Will you survive the alien invasion? (Don't skip the comments! You wouldn't want to make the Alien Commander angry!)

If the aliens don't get you, will you survive the fog invasion? Watch this incredibly beautiful and soothing time-lapse photography of fog rolling in. And if that sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry, you haven't had the kind of week I've had. Fog rolling in is just what the doctor ordered.

Shameless self-promotion: it took too much work and endless revision, but writing this article gave me a great deal of joy which I am happy to share with others. (You have to scroll down the page to "Thirteen Ways of Looking at an Essay: Nature Writing through Multiple Lenses" for a link to the pdf.)

If I lived in or near New York or had access to a private jet, you'd better believe I'd hie me on over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to take a look at this exhibit of embroidered textiles from around the world.

And finally, I'll never get tired of John Hodgman's elegant response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Storytelling matters...but sometimes other things matter more.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Read the fine, friendly, fantastic directions!

My colleague gave our shared class a quiz on following directions, starting with "Read all the directions before you do anything" and then offering a numbered list of ridiculous actions (fold the paper in half, poke a hole in the middle, draw a smiley-face, and so on) concluding with "Do not complete any item on this list." Students who read all the directions all the way through can sit in class laughing their heads off as their classmates fold papers, poke holes, and draw smiley-faces.

Our students took this quiz in her class yesterday; today they're submitting drafts in my class. How many of them won't be able to follow simple written directions for submitting drafts online?

I was going to say we're facing an epidemic of failure to follow directions, but 20 percent doesn't quite reach epidemic status. It is, however, a very revealing exercise: if 80 percent of the class manages to understand the written directions and upload the draft, then the problem probably does not lie with the directions or the technology. If nothing else, this assignment reveals which students are going to need extra attention.

Do you think I should make them fold their drafts into origami cranes?


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Halfway through a wild week

By Tuesday evening I'd logged 24 hours on campus in only two days--but the week isn't over. Afternoon meeting today, afternoon meeting tomorrow, evening event tomorrow, afternoon meeting Friday, afternoon event Saturday--I may as well roll out a sleeping bag in my office and skip going home.

Am I doing more this year than last? Evidence from my recent annual review would suggest that the answer is yes: last year I served on a committee that met three times all year, while this year I'm on a very active committee that plays an important role in my colleagues' lives and therefore requires a huge time commitment. Also, I've already done more for my department in the past two weeks than I did all last year, and I'm doing some extracurricular things with students as well. Last year I took a step back and spent some time licking my wounds from the previous year's painful battles, but I'm through with all that now and ready to move on.

But that doesn't mean I'm excited about spending 63 hours on campus in one week. This week's schedule won't be repeated any time soon, so I guess I'll survive. But next week? Don't look for me after 3 because I'll be rolling up my sleeping bag and heading for home.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Meet the new crisis, same as the old crisis

You know you've been around too long when brand-new ideas designed to Save Our Campus sound just like old ideas recycled and rebranded with spiffy new names. While I admire the energy and enthusiasm some of my colleagues bring to discussions of innovative programs, I'm inclined to sit back and keep my thoughts to myself. Does this make me an old-fogey obstructionist fuddy-duddy? Maybe, but I'm okay with that. I've run headlong into enough brick walls in my time so I think I'll move out of the way and give others a chance. But if someone starts handing out sledge-hammers to knock down that wall, count me in!

Monday, September 09, 2013

On the contrary, it's actually just enough reading

Third week of the semester and I'm thoroughly sick of hearing complaints about "too much reading." According to (some of) my students, anything more than a page and a half is just too LONG, and anything written more than five minutes ago is just too HARD, and anything requiring complex reasoning is just too BORING.

I'm already tired of fighting their complaints and defending my reading list, so I've decided to give up: You're right, it's too long, too hard, and too boring, but you still have to read it, so quit griping and get to work.

Yes: I'm just too MEAN!  

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Bookless buncomb

Dear textbook-free student:

Textbooks are expensive--I get that. My ability to obtain desk copies insulates me from textbook prices, but I do pay attention to prices and try to order only the books you'll actually need for my class.

And I understand that sometimes you can save money by ordering textbooks online instead of buying them from the bookstore, and that sometimes the mail can be slow. I totally understand that you're just doing your best to save money and that's why you still don't have the textbook for my class.

I suppose it's possible that you could pass my class without buying the textbooks. I've had a few students try it, but they've had to work really hard: ordering books well in advance through interlibrary loan, hunting down obscure online sources for out-of-print texts, or even photocopying pieces from classmates' texts. (Copyright violation + expensive, but I'm not here to manage either your morals or your checkbook.)

What I truly don't understand is where you got the idea that lacking the textbook gives you an excuse to avoid work altogether. You've submitted so little work and skipped so many classes that I thought you'd dropped the course, but no: you assumed that you could just make it all up after you got the textbook.

That's not how it works. If you lack the textbook, you'll have to work twice as hard: haunt the library, search out the original sources for these anthologized works, hope that the poems we study are available online, make friends with classmates willing to let you borrow the book.

What you can't do is simply goof off for a few weeks and then blame the post office. If the post office is responsible for your academic performance, you're in pretty sorry shape. So do yourself a favor and stop mailing it in! Buy the book, read the assignments, and come to class--unless you want that absence of textbooks to translate into a zero in the gradebook.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Friday poetry challenge: single-sentence prose poem

This morning on the way to work I saw cotton-candy pink fog hanging languidly over the river and wondered what combination of natural forces could produce such a phenomenon, so different from the other types of fog I've observed this semester--the students feeling their way (already!) through a fog of bewilderment, the one whose peculiar interpretation of a poem relied on misreading of the word "sow" as a verb (the farmer sows the seed) instead of as a noun (the blood of a broody sow), the fog of woe that fills my mind when minority students recount their encounters with local rednecks--and my morning-fogged mind tried to write a poem about fog without going all Carl Sandburg with his little cat feet, but in the end the only thing that emerged from that pink fog was this sentence.

But maybe you can write another one.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

My ever-evolving technology policy

A colleague is upset because a student took a photo during class and posted it on social media. 

An international student wants to use a translator during exams.

A student just ordered an iPad and wants to use it to take notes in class.

Another student wants to put on earphones and listen to music while working on in-class writing assignments.

A struggling student wants to use his smartphone to take a photo--of another student's paper.

Technology used to be so easy: pencil, pen, overhead projector. As students' command of technology expands, I have to keep rethinking my in-class technology policies to deal with situations never before imagined. 

The easy way out would be to outlaw all technology in class, but I'm not ready to go that far. I outlaw texting, shopping, or using social media in class, but if an unfamiliar word comes up and I don't want to serve as Dr. Dictionary, I'll ask students to look it up on their smartphones just to give them some practice in using technology for academic purposes.

And I'll confess to some inconsistency in enforcement. I'm far more strict, for instance, in freshman writing classes because I know they're easily distracted; however, in an upper-level writing class, it's often helpful for students to have laptops in class so we can try out various writing techniques and see immediate results.

Other cases are quickly resolved: no translators during exams--ever. (They can do a lot more than translate!) I prefer that students not take photos in class and post them online without permission, but on the other hand, I don't have time to be the Social Media Police. If a student takes a video of something I say during class and posts it online without any context in order to make me look like a fool, I'm sure I'll hear about it; otherwise, ignorance is bliss. (And if a student ever outs me online as a raving lunatic, I'll take refuge in one word: tenure!) 

Taking notes in class on an iPad? I'm okay with this in a literature class (as long as it's not distracting to other students), but I'm leery of allowing iPads or laptops in freshman classes. One of my goals in freshman classes is to help the students develop effective study skills, which means eliminating distractions. Therefore, no earbuds, headphones, or music during class. 

Then there's the student who wants to photograph another student's paper. She had trouble completing the assignment and wants to see "the right way to do it." (Never mind that I had already offered an example.) If a student wants to get up at the end of class and photograph the stuff I scribble all over the whiteboard, I'm not going to stand in the way, even though I believe the student would be better served by taking notes during class. However, taking a photo of another student's paper (without that student's permission) seems different. Why not just ask the other student for a copy of the paper? Why sneak around doing the spy thing with a smartphone?

A few weeks from now my freshman writing students will be reading an article from Slate about the dangers of divided attention while studying (read it here), and I'm sure I'll get some pushback from students who believe they can't learn without a dozen different devices demanding simultaneous attention. I can't regulate how they use technology outside the classroom, but inside the classroom I can be a real pain: Turn it off--all of it--and put it away or I'll put it away for you. Allow me to introduce you to an essential piece of technology: the pencil or pen. It's portable, versatile, welcome in just about any setting, and never needs to be plugged in. And best of all, it won't distract you from the task at hand--learning.



Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Fiction, falling (with a splat)

My Concepts of Nature class was discussing "A White Heron," Sarah Orne Jewett's lyrical story about a young girl whose love for a bird causes her to sever ties with the human community, when my students started riffing on alternative endings.

She could have fallen out of the tree--or jumped! 

And landed on a white heron!

Or the white heron could have magically saved her. 

Or the hunter could have shot her--intentionally (to punish her for not revealing the location of the heron) or accidentally (not realizing that the innocent girl had been transmogrified into a heron).

I had to stop them before they started inserting vampires and zombies into Jewett's bucolic setting. Sarah Orne Jewett couldn't have written "The Writhing Bloodstained Zombie-Bird of Doom," but the task would give my students no trouble at all.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Public places, private faces

The student leaned back in his chair, drummed his fingers on the table, let his eyes wander around the room, and occasionally let out out a big sigh, his body language screaming "Get me out of here!!"

I get it--really, I do. He has more important things to think about than my silly class, which doesn't seem at all related to his major or career plans. If the class weren't required, no WAY he'd be sitting there working on writing skills on such a beautiful day. Some days I don't want to be there either.

But I wonder whether he realizes how loudly his body language is shouting. I wonder also about the students who sit there slack-jawed, slumping in their seats and staring blankly as if no one can see them. Are they aware that they're in the presence of actual people and not just computer monitors? Do they even know that their facial expressions are public? If they were aware of how absent and addled they look or what negative messages their faces convey, would they sit up and look lively?

Maybe I need to take a big mirror to class and challenge my students: If you can't be interested, can you at least pretend?


Monday, September 02, 2013

Rules for those who labor on Labor Day

1. Dress down. They can make me teach on Labor Day, but they can't make me dress up.

2. Pack your own picnic. No way I'm eating at my desk when the rest of the world is outside grilling burgers!

3. Don't begrudge the revelers their revels. The people who clean our bathrooms, make our photocopies, and answer our phones work hard for very little money and deserve every minute of their day off. I do not wish they were here working, but I do wish I could join them on their day off.

4. Office hours? Are you kidding me? No one comes to my office hours on a normal day, so what are the chances that anyone will show up on Labor Day?

5. Enjoy the commute. No public school = no school buses holding up traffic, no 20-mile-per-hour zones, and no teens racing around curves on country roads.

6. Be there. Nobody's fooled by the Labor Day flu; if my students are required to be in class on Labor Day, then I'm going to be there with them.

7. Don't try to explain it. I know we have reasons for teaching on Labor Day, and some of them may even be valid ("We can't shortchange Monday labs!"), but the real reason we teach on Labor Day is that we've never been sufficiently motivated to change it.