Wednesday, April 29, 2015

You'll smell me coming

We didn't know we had ramps until a tree fell on them. Who knows how long they've been growing in that little patch of woods between the meadow and the creek? Unnoticed, unappreciated, unloved--until a tree came down with a WHOMP and released from the forest floor the oniony scent of ramps.

For those unfamiliar with Appalachian cuisine, ramps are wild onions that grow in moist, silty soil. Their flavor is pungent, like a garlicky leek, and they are prized as accompaniments to eggs, bacon, or wild mushrooms.

We've overlooked that patch of ramps for who knows how long simply because they look so unassuming, their green tops resembling the early foliage of wild lilies, but as soon as we realized what we had, I started digging up recipes. Ramp risotto with asparagus and peas, ramp carbonara, cheddar biscuits with ramps and bacon, ramp and goat cheese tart--yum! We ought to have enough ramps for all those and more to give away. I had visions of myself waltzing pungently through academic buildings with a basket full of ramps, the Lady Bountiful of wild onions.

But first I had to pick them. There's nothing easier than picking onions--the ripe bulbs practically sit on surface of the soil, so you just give a little tug and up they come. Ramps, though, grow deeper and hold tighter to the soil, and the spot where they grow on our property has never been tilled or cultivated so the soil is tightly compacted and laced with roots.

"Just take a trowel, loosen up the dirt around the bulbs, and pull 'em up," said the resident green thumb, so down I went this morning to the ramp patch with my best trowel.

It was hard. Really hard. The soil was loosest next to the trench plowed out by the fallen tree, so I worked hard there jabbing the trowel into the soil, digging around rocks and roots. Sometimes I pulled too hard too soon and ended up with a handful of greens while the bulbs remained buried in the ground, and sometimes I simply couldn't work the trowel through all the roots and had to move on with empty (but dirty) hands.

I'd worked into a pretty good rhythm and nearly filled a small grocery bag when the trowel broke. Right in two. Blade in the ground, handle in my hand. That was the end of my first adventure in ramp-digging.

So I've got enough ramps to make some risotto tonight but you won't see the Lady Bountiful of ramps waltzing around campus today. Next time I'll take a shovel.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Wake me when the exam is over

My honors students are frantically writing their final essay exams but the biggest question on my mind is this: Would they find it disruptive if I were to lay my head down on the desk and fall asleep? Or would my snores disturb their writing?

My computer's battery is running low and so is mine. For weeks I've been practicing a particular presentation in my sleep, but last night I got to perform it for real in front of a living, breathing, wide-awake audience, which was pretty exciting--so exciting, in fact, that I couldn't get my brain to wind down afterward. 

So here I sit proctoring an exam for students who seem determined to make use of every single second of the two and a half hours allotted. I keep trying to send them silent messages: Give it up! Turn it in! Have some mercy so I can get some rest! 

But it's not working. They keep putting everything they have into their writing while I'm putting everything I have into just trying to remain upright. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

A flex too far

Yes, it's true that in trying times of rapid change and strategic retrenchment and decreasing revenue streams and enrollment challenges and [insert alarmist academic jargon here], it is incumbent upon all of us to be flexible. But, as a colleague succinctly pointed out to me just now, "Sometimes if you bend too far, you end up breaking."

I had just been at a meeting where it was made clear that one solution to a curricular problem is for certain people (e.g., me) to "just be flexible while we work this out." Over the years I've proven my ability and willingness to be flexible, to stretch beyond my area of expertise to cover classes or to teach at odd hours to meet students' needs, and I've even developed whole new courses on very short deadlines when that sort of flexibility was called for. So I guess I'm an expert on flexibility, but flexibility has its limits and I may have found mine today.

I'm reminded of a tree felled by the resident woodsman over the weekend, a tall, strong, hardwood tree that had weathered its share of blows and needed to be brought down before it hurt someone. My husband took chainsaw and axe to the hardy trunk, inserting wedges to ease it toward the creek, and when all was ready he just put out his hand and gave a really hard shove. Anyone coming along at that moment would have been impressed--that man just knocked down a big tree with his bare hands! But they didn't see the earlier cuts and blows that had softened it up and made it ready to break.

I'm not that tree--at least not yet--but I've weathered enough blows that's it's impossible to predict which one might just knock me right over. I may bounce back from today's crisis only to jerked in an entirely different direction tomorrow, but at some point I'm going to stop bending over, and when it happens, you'd better stay out of the way.

Friday, April 24, 2015

It's all over but the missing

Last day of classes! And I feel rotten. Didn't sleep well. Dreamed of floods. Woke with a rotten headache. Please may I be excused from class today?

Fortunately, I don't have to think very deeply in today's classes since we are reviewing for the exam in one and doing some final peer review in the other. Instead, I'll think about all the things I'll miss when classes are over:

You know that one guy who always has something interesting to say about the reading because he has not only read the required texts but also read lots of other things and thus understands both content and context? I'll miss him--a lot. I don't get students like that every semester.

My neighbor in the next office has provided laughter and insight and new ideas, but he is moving to a real city without even a job in prospect--because he can. I'll miss him but I sincerely hope that the college will hire someone to fill his spot, not just in the curriculum but in that office. Otherwise, our little hallway will get really lonely.

I'm teaching mostly first-year students in the fall so I'll miss my English majors, especially the one who seemed so annoying at first but who grew on me over time and the one who always comes in with a smile and something cheerful to say and always writes spectacular papers. 

I'll miss the graduating senior with the personalized peanut-butter jar and the one with the impressive camera and the one who likes to flash that big, bright Pioneer smile. I hope they all have Pio-tastic lives and come back to see us sometime.

And I'll miss the great works of literature I've taught this semester, the daily encounters with writers as diverse as Yann Martel, Zora Neale Hurston, and Homer. I'll see many of them again in future class, but some will inevitably stay on the shelf. By the time I find myself immersed in Ruth Ozeki this fall, I will have forgotten everyone and everything that came before. Except that one guy....

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tiptoeing through the tautologies

If I'd known I'd be spending the morning in TautologyTown, I'd have packed something to read besides this stack of quizzes. Of course, without the quizzes, I wouldn't have missed my turn and entered the neverending labyrinth of nonmeaning.

I asked a class to analyze a poem. A villanelle, if you must know, a form we had encountered in class only a week ago when we read Elizabeth Bishop's  "One Art." I outlined the structure on the board: 19 lines, with the first and third reappearing in certain set places, and only two end rhymes. "You will see this form again in next week's reading," I told them. "Be sure to keep a lookout."

So naturally when I assigned Theodore Roethke's "The Waking," I assumed that little lightbulbs would go off over their heads--or even if they didn't recall the word "villanelle" or the pattern we'd discussed in class, I assumed that they would notice that the first and third lines kept being repeated. But just in case they didn't notice the repetitions when they read the poem before class (assuming that they did so), I gave them a reading quiz with the whole poem printed on it and asked them to describe the pattern of repeated lines and draw conclusions about how those repetitions contribute to the meaning of the poem.

Some of them did a lovely job. I saw lots of little a's and b's or stars and check marks or arrows showing where the lines were repeated, and some students made strong connections between this pattern of repetition and the concept that learning requires a lot of feeling around in the dark and bumping into the same obstacles over and over again.

One student claimed that the poem follows no set pattern, which suggests a lack of attention to the most obvious features of the poem. Many more, though, wrote something like this:

The author uses repetition to repeat what he's trying to say.

The repetition reinforces the content by repeating it. 

The meaning of the poem is repeated so readers can understand what he's trying to say.

I could go on, but my brain is screaming at me. He repeats what he repeats! He means what he means! He repeats what he means and he means what he repeats! How did I get stuck in this miserable maze--and can someone please show me the way out?   

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Midweek mutterings

Note to the person driving the green SUV in front of me this morning: I'll bet you could find someone to fix that muffler so you don't blast holes in the eardrums of every random stranger who crosses your path. Then again, maybe the noise fits the lifestyle promoted by your bumper sticker: "Asshole: It's not just a word; it's a lifestyle." 

Note to whoever is responsible for the current weather: New windshield wipers definitely improve my outlook on life (and my ability to see where I'm going through the rain), but could we maybe have a day or two when windshield wipers aren't necessary? I'm not asking for much; just let me see the sun once in a while. (Cue massive drought.)

Note to every student who has e-mailed to ask for extra credit this week: As a rule I don't offer extra credit, but this semester I broke that rule twice. You've had two opportunities to do a little extra work outside of class and earn extra points toward your grade, but you did not take advantage of those opportunities. My best advice? Time machine.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Doerr delivers, in print and in person

Tony Doerr with then-student Joy Frank-Collins in 2009
Now that Tony Doerr has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the whole world knows that he is a terrific writer; when he visited Marietta College six years ago, we also learned that he is a great teacher of writing and a marvelous human being.

We invited Doerr here after I had read The Shell Collector and recommended it to colleagues and just after he had published Four Seasons In Rome (which I reviewed here). While here, he read portions of the story "Memory Wall," which became the title piece in his second collection of short stories (which I reviewed here). At his reading, he told us that writers try to draw readers into a dream and hope they don't wake up (read about it here).

His acclaimed novel All the Light We Cannot See weaves together the dreams of a young German soldier and a blind French girl during World War II, touching on many themes common to Doerr's work: memory, alienation, human suffering, and the moments of meaning and beauty that bridge the distances between people and across time. The novel well deserves the Pulitzer and I hope it will draw more readers to his other work as well, but I will always think of Tony Doerr as the guy who sat with our students and talked about their writing with an intensity and insight other writers might reserve for their own work. 

He treated our students like writers. In my book, there is no greater prize.    

Monday, April 20, 2015


Two weeks left, and one is finals week! It's almost over! How many essential activities can I squeeze into a mere two weeks?

Classes to teach: 8
Extra optional bonus workshop on documentation to lead: 1
Drafts to read/respond to: 17
Exams to write: 2
Exams to grade: 28
Papers to grade: 17
Reading quiz to write: 1
Reading quizzes to grade: 17
Extra optional bonus reading quiz to write: 1
Extra optional bonus reading quizzes to grade: some number between 0 and 17
Meetings to attend: 9
Meetings I fully intend to skip: 1
Colloquium talk to polish and present: 1
Anthology chapter to revise and submit: 1
Grades to calculate: all of 'em
Hairs to pull out: not all of 'em (I hope)

See,that's not so much. I can handle it as long as my house cleans itself and the lawn stops growing. Piece of cake with ice cream on the side!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Color on the wing

A flash of blue, a hint of rust--an eastern bluebird emerges from a box alongside the highway and disappears into the nearby woods. I wonder whether the bird sees me too, whether its eye is drawn to the flash of blue (but no hint of rust) that is my car zooming down the highway.

A splash of green and red outside my living-room window--a hummingbird, the first of the season, looking for the feeder that we haven't taken time to hang out there just yet. We hear and obey: time to brew some nectar.

Every glance out the window lights on color: a horde of goldfinches feeding on thistle, a fat yellow bee buzzing around the shrubs, a brown-headed cowbird coordinating nicely with the reddish-brown spots on the brown thrasher's breast. The dead brown ground is greening up. Time to get out and mow! Hope the noise doesn't blow the birds away.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

On not knowing what we don't know

At first glance, it appears that the primary problem in this pile of student drafts is that my students just don't know what they're doing, but that would be wrong. Most of my students know some of what they're trying to do but none of them know all of it and, more seriously, they don't know what they don't know and therefore they don't know how to find solutions to the questions they don't know they need to ask.

By this point in the semester they ought to know some things really well, like how to punctuate and cite quotations, which is why I get frustrated when I have to remind them to go back and review the quotation handout that the class covered thoroughly back in January and reviewed several times since then. I post all those handouts on the class website for a reason: because I refuse to re-teach the concepts individually to every student on every paper. Some of my students are probably sick of hearing me tell them to go look at the handout first and then come to me if they have more questions, but they'd save us all a lot of time and angst if they'd just go look at the stinking handout.

It's less easy at this point to try to re-teach the difference between summary and analysis; I can't do that in a handout or in a marginal note on a draft, and if they haven't mastered it by this point, how much can they improve in the next seven days? Nevertheless I'm telling them, for instance, that there's not much point in identifying metaphors if they're not going to unpack the implications of those metaphors and examine how they contribute to meaning. Naming things is not enough! Let's shake 'em upside-down and see what falls out.

(Which provides another metaphor they'll need to unpack. Practice makes perfect!)

And then we have the whole complicated issue of citing sources, which is a problem when some students don't even know what those sources are. Asked to produce articles from peer-reviewed academic journals, students find book reviews or quote from the article abstracts they find in the library's research databases, suggesting that on the internet, no one knows if a source is a dog. And then I'm once again explaining to a student that the word "Print" in a Works Cited listing means that he has relied on an actual hard copy of a text with pages that turn and therefore have actual printed page numbers that ought to appear in parenthetical citations, and I'm hearing, "Oh, so that's what 'Print' means. I guess I don't have any print sources." I guess not. Time to go find some!

And don't even get me started on the student who assures me that no one has ever written anything about a particular topic when a cursory search would reveal that among the many scholars who have examined that topic is, ahem, your obt. svt. 

But we are all still learning, aren't we? I'm learning diplomatic ways to tell students to go back and do it right this time, and they're learning the consequences of not having learned some essential skills earlier in the semester. So far, I give myself a B+. The students' grades will have to wait until after they revise their drafts.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Blossom time--for students and wildflowers

All Scholars' Day brings out the best in our students--their best suits and ties or dresses and heels, their best presentation skills, creative ideas, and enthusiasm for learning. This morning I heard students describe results of research into fruit fly development, learning disorders, and the impact of romantic fiction on attitudes toward domestic violence, and I heard artists describe the impetus behind their painting, photography, or graphic design projects. I learned about tendencies toward depression among migrant farm workers and I marvelled that students I knew as raw freshmen are doing research on topics that can make a real difference in the world.

Then I went home and stomped around in the mud to see how our long, bleak winter affected the wildflower population, and I'm pleased to report that things are booming on the wildflower front. I saw trout lilies, trilliums, wide swaths of blooming bloodroot, dutchman's breeches, squirrel corn, coltsfoot, and even some perfoliate bellwort blooming where I've never seen it before. I saw a few delicate fronds of Solomon's seal sprouting from the wet hillside, and I enjoyed once again the delicate pinks and greens of buckeye buds popping open. 

It's hard to believe in trilliums in the dead of winter, but here they come again just when I need them. Likewise, the chill wind blowing through academe may fill me with gloom, but here comes a whole crop of talented students to prove that what we're doing still matters. 

So I'm going to try to stop griping and bloom where I'm planted--even if I'll never be as adorable as a clump of perfoliate bellwort.   

A lasting blow

Two nights in a row I've awakened in a cold sweat from nightmares of thwarted communication: I'm writing a book offering advice to first-year students and the manuscript is due at the printers but I haven't finished the first chapter, or I'm struggling to produce a newsletter for a scholarly organization that suffers from a severe dearth of news. These dreams suggest, I think, continued angst over campus events too sensitive to be fully bloggable.

The good news is that several endangered programs seem to have escaped the chopping block--for now. The bad news is that a group of junior faculty members serving in threatened departments have seen the writing on the wall and announced that they will be leaving at the end of the semester, all for perfectly understandable reasons: to take a better job, to be closer to family, to live in a less--er, more culturally vibrant location. Nevertheless, these departures represent a real blow to the College, a blow that will echo far into the future.

Why? Because my departing colleagues are all champions of the liberal arts and really terrific teachers, mostly on tenure lines, who contribute to campus in a variety of essential ways inside and outside the classroom. Not all of them will be replaced immediately, raising questions about whether those tenure lines will be lost and how that will affect the future viability of certain programs. Departments permitted to fill these suddenly empty spaces will be searching for one-year replacements; since contingent faculty are not expected to serve on committees, this will reduce the number of faculty available to staff the committees that will  work very hard to help the college emerge from its current difficulties. And in the long term, these departures create a serious age and experience gap and decimate faculty diversity. Even after we emerge from the current budget crisis as a stronger and healthier institution (as I sincerely hope we will do), I don't know how we will fill those gaps or regain those losses.

Last semester a committee I chaired sent a letter to top administrators pointing out the outstanding level of teaching skills on campus but warning that we would have difficulty holding on to these terrific teachers if conditions continued to deteriorate, and while the administrators agreed that our concerns were valid, it was probably already too late to prevent the current exodus of talented colleagues. I love my job and I believe in the future of the institution, but before I can roll up my sleeves to start working toward recovery, I'm taking a little time to mourn our losses. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Writing on an obstacle course

A financial windfall never covers as many purchases as I expect, so I shouldn't be surprised when a gift of unscheduled time fails to accommodate as many projects as I'd like. In the distance it looms toward eternity, a big blank spot on the calendar, but as time goes on I pencil in projects and meetings and other commitments. Three whole free days! I can do anything.

But I can't. I can write a chunk of an essay before running to a meeting and then write a letter of support for a student before going to another meeting and then maybe scribble a little more on that essay before the jazz concert tonight. And then tomorrow? All Scholars' Day: I'll support students' research projects by attending presentations scheduled at various points in the day starting at 9 and ending at 5, but I do some more writing in those odd-shaped hours tucked between presentations.

And then Thursday? One class and then a whole lot of writing time to finish the essay that's due at the end of next week--except I also have student drafts coming in and a pile of papers to grade.

So my three relatively free days to focus on writing have turned into three days of snatching a few moments to write here and there between other important (and therefore distracting) events. My big empty landscape somehow got crowded with obstacles! Fortunately, there's nothing like a looming deadline to keep me focused while traversing those welcome empty stretches between all the obstacles.  

Monday, April 13, 2015

The recognitions

Pinecone, anyone?
A time of recognitions: I watch my granddaughter sing and laugh and play and I see my daughter's energy and her soundtrack and her constant curiosity about the world, but then I confront an unexpected reminder of my own childhood and for a moment I don't recognize that girl, the resentful little pleaser always working too hard to entertain her friends and not disappoint her parents.

I don't particularly like the little girl I was, the one who was always embarrassed by her clothes and who couldn't stand coming home to an ugly house but lied about loving it to protect her parents' feelings (when they had so many burdens to carry that the little girl's dislike for that house would not have even registered a blip on their radar screens), and I'm also not especially fond of the adolescent know-it-all who confronts me in an old note to a friend, the smarty-pants trying to turn every iota of pain into comedy.

But maybe it's time to embrace the little girls who turned into the adult me. Somewhere deep inside I'm still carrying their pain, but maybe it's time to say "there, there" and let it go. I wouldn't want to pass that pain on to the next generation, which has other things on its mind: spring puddles and potty training and singing singing singing. I recognize the tune and no one can stop me from singing along.   

Thursday, April 09, 2015

So much water so close to home

Ah, the sounds of a spring morning: the birds cheeping; the spring peepers peeping; the creek roaring...

Wait a minute: if I can hear the creek roaring while I'm lying in bed, then something is amiss. What did all that dramatic thunder, lightning, and rain do to my calm little creek?

Turn on the radio: flood warnings, school delays, further rain in the forecast. Will I make it to campus?

My creek is over its banks but hasn't quite reached the driveway or covered the bridge. I drive between farm fields that have turned into sudden lakes, skirt overflowing ditched and debris washed over the road, and make it to campus, where more rain keeps the morning dim and gloomy.

If the rain keeps up I may have trouble getting home later on, but inside my office I'm warm and dry and surrounded by books. I just hope I don't have to sleep here tonight!


Wednesday, April 08, 2015

How do I shut up the internal critic?

When I start urging my husband to stop being so darned reasonable, you know I need some help disabling my tiny puritans.

They live in my brain, these tiny puritans, passed down through generations of workaholics suspicious of pleasure. Their squeaky little voices shriek at me that I'm not working hard enough or wasting time on silly things or being selfish. They shriek loudest when I'm thinking about spending money on something frivolous instead of  saving for a rainy day or putting it to more practical use. If I want to spend money on myself, they kick and scream and ask what I've ever done to deserve something so nice.

You can't reason with the tiny puritans that live in my brain because they simply don't care about reason. Right now they're jumping up and down angrily simply because I'm thinking about buying a new camera, which would be a perfectly reasonable purchase, but they don't care. Selfish, they say. What did you ever do to deserve a new camera? You broke the old one!

This is true: it took me more than a year to quiet the tiny puritans enough to permit myself to buy a canoe--a used canoe--which anyone who knows me would tell you was the smartest purchase I've ever made. The tiny puritans wanted me to spend the money on paying down some debts, which would be prudent and reasonable, but here's the thing: the canoe money came out of the sky when I won our college's top prize for excellence in teaching. I earned it! If winning our top teaching prize is not evidence that I deserve a (used) canoe, then something is wrong with the universe.

So now I need a new camera but the tiny puritans are having a hissy fit. Even when my husband marshals all the reasons, the tiny puritans can't be persuaded that it wouldn't be selfish and frivolous and not at all deserved. They are loud and annoying and they won't leave me alone. 

Someone needs to beat them to a pulp, those tiny puritans, or at least bind and gag them long enough to let me have some fun. But where do I put out a contract on my tiny puritans?   

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Running out of words

Ineffable, anthropomorphic, symbiosis, syncretism--all words I've written on the board in classes this week, and if you think it's easy to define ineffable in terms a freshman would understand, go ahead and give it a try. A.R. Ammons once claimed that "Nothing that can be said about [poetry] in words is worth saying," but I haven't yet figured out how we're supposed to talk about poetry without words. 


And speaking of words, a student this morning had trouble with the word nestles, pronouncing it nest-less. A freshman shoved rudely out of a warm, cozy home without a reading habit might well feel nestless, lacking words to describe the ineffability of her overwhelmedness, but the cure is to nestle into a world of books, starting, perhaps, with the dictionary.

But this is the time of the semester when words fail. We're all too tired, too busy, or too lacking in energy to seek out the words we need. I find myself speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in this naked and endless head--or wait, that's not me; that's Allen Ginsberg.   

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Shutting down the shutterbug

My camera has accompanied me to woods and wetlands, beaches and big cities from Seattle to Florida, San Francisco to Prague. It has photographed alligators, bloodroot, cabbages, daffodils, eagles, flickers, grasshoppers, herons, indigo buntings, jewel weed, kingfishers, limpkins, mullein, nuthatches, orioles, pelicans, queen anne's lace, redbuds, seagulls, trout lilies, unidentified flittery things, veronica, warblers, xylobolus, yarrow, zebras, and more. 

My camera has helped preserve the memories of my daughter's wedding, my son's college commencement, my granddaughter's birth and growth and puddle-jumping. I have taken my camera to college poetry readings, class field trips, church dinners, and long walks in the woods with my birding-and-botanizing colleague.

And now it's heading for the landfill.

I fell. Stepped in a bit of mud the wrong way and landed--hard--on hands and knees. The camera landed in the creek, in pieces.

The pieces are sitting on a towel to dry off, but their condition does not appear compatible with survival. I don't quite know what I'll do without a camera with trillium season right around the corner followed by my adorable granddaughter's two-year-old birthday, but I'm not prepared to make that big a decision when my entire body hurts. 

Not to mention my pride. 

I fell hard in mud in front of other people and broke the camera that has been my faithful companion through thick and thin for seven years--I think I've earned the right to sit in the corner and lick my wounds for a little while.

And the worst part is, I can't even show you a picture.      

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Pop quiz!

"Sorry, we're out of everything--but we have everything else!"

In what context would the above statement make perfect sense?

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Prized plumage

White ibises were all over the place.
Oh, to live familiarly with ibises and egrets! 

--But not too familiarly. Last week in Florida I saw a family tossing breadcrumbs to a group of ibises alongside a lake. I doubt that stale crusts of Wonder Bread are suited to birds that generally subsist on a diet of crustaceans.

The fact that I've downloaded and sorted these photos suggests that I'm finally caught up on the work I missed last week. I feel as if I've spent the first half of this week running a marathon but now I can take a moment to sit back and savor some beauty. 

But not alone. You come too!
Great egret

Ibises in flight look prehistoric

Great blue heron

Nesting ospreys

My first limpkin (of many)

Tricolor heron

Further evidence that teachers ought to be treated like rock stars

Twelve hours into the 24-hour Teach-A-Thon, my colleague admitted to being tired. "This is hard," he said. "I'm used to teaching evening classes, but not after teaching all day long."

Despite his fatigue, he perked up as soon as class started, speaking with animation to a group of eight students eager to learn about Appalachian culture. He stood the whole time and never stopped moving, presenting facts and calling on students to share their stories of Appalachian life. We learned and we laughed and then some went on to other classes while others went home to sleep.

I know I couldn't teach for 24 hours straight, but two of my colleagues started teaching at 8:00 Tuesday morning and taught one 75-minute class after another until 8:00 Wednesday morning. They took a 15-minute break between classes, just long enough to visit the rest room and grab a snack before standing up in front of another group of students.

They taught all day and all night on topics as diverse as American Sign Language, Learning Social Studies through Picture Books, Diversity in the Classroom, and whether Shoeless Joe Jackson ought to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I attended the Appalachia class late last night and then came back to campus early this morning for a class in which we examined various versions of the Cinderella myth and discussed how fairy tales reflect cultural values.

I'd had a few hours of sleep but my colleague teaching the class had been teaching all night long. When we sat down around a table to examine Cinderella books, she realized that that was the first time she had sat down all night. 

"This has been an undertaking," she said. She admitted that she had felt a little punch-drunk in the wee hours of the morning, but at 5:30 a.m. she was still going strong, still leading students toward understanding and insight.

Yesterday I tried to talk some colleagues into attending Teach-A-Thon classes and I kept hearing perfectly reasonable excuses: I have to prepare my own classes. I have meetings. I'm really busy. I pointed out that no one is really busy at two in the morning, but I received only patronizing smiles. What kind of idiot would attend a class at two in the morning?

The student body president is that kind of idiot. He knows where to find good teaching! He was in the class I attended Tuesday evening and in the other class I attended Wednesday morning and he had been attending one class after another all night long. Every class had at least one student and some had many more, mostly our own students but also some local public school teachers and other community residents. Eight students showed up for the 4 a.m. class.

The topic was Happiness. 

I can't tell you how happy it makes me to know that eight people are willing to attend a class at 4 a.m. to support a good cause: the Pioneer Pipeline project, which brings students with disabilities to campus twice a week for mentoring and learning experiences. It's a cause worthy of full support, but that's not why I went to see my colleagues teach at times when I would normally be sleeping.

I went to class because I value teaching and I believe that anyone who can teach for 24 hours straight deserves a round of applause. These Iron-Man Teachers make me proud to be part of such a demanding and rewarding profession.

(And in case anyone was wondering, 4:30 a.m. is the time to find a great campus parking space.)