Blogging the lost

A sheaf of guidebooks to English castles, from three summers ago, which should be on the shelves of my school office with all my other similar guides, and which I do not remember seeing anywhere in my home office during a recent re-shuffling of books; if they were hidden in my school office then I ought to have found them during last year’s clean-up efforts; I know I brought them back from England (that was a very heavy suitcase), and they are not the sort of thing that I de-accession.

So WHERE ARE THEY?

Update: I found them in a box in the guest room, cleared out of my study at some point, housed in an opaque plastic box/folder, such that it was not clear from the outside what was in it. NB, try to use clear box/folder thingies in future.

Anyway, yay! Now I can turn a class loose on “castle study hall,” where each student gets a guidebook to some castle, and after reading by themselves for a bit, they get together to talk about features that castles have in common, and how their builders accommodated landscape features on particular sites, and what historians and archaeologists still puzzle over. A field trip would be better, and if I taught in the UK might be easily organized. From here, however, it’s not going to happen.

I never did get to that Ozark Castle, and it’s too far from me for a class field trip.

Not entirely unfortunate

Unfortunately, I did not get nearly enough sleep.

Fortunately, waking up early meant I got to campus in plenty of time to make copies for my first class, a process that (unfortunately) was more complicated than it used to be, thanks to unfortunate cost-cutting measures imposed by the Powers That Be.

Unfortunately, no deus ex machina prevented today’s main event.

Fortunately, I was teaching during it and was able to spend the morning communing with Great Minds from the past and thinking about topics I love, instead of being subjected to the news. I may spend a lot of time living far in the past, over the next few years, unless that deus shows up at some point.

Unfortunately, I still haven’t prepared my documents for annual evaluations. I spent the afternoon grading, instead, which might seem unfortunate except for the alternatives. I avoided the news successfully and felt like a wonderfully efficient and dedicated professor.

Fortunately, I have the weekend to do the damned evil documents. “Eval,” that should read, but thank you, autocorrect, that is a fortuitous correction.

Unfortunately, I have a considerable number of Life Stuff tasks that I would like to take care of this weekend, without facing up to what I have achieved in recent years. I have done those things I ought not to have done, and left undone those things I ought to have done, and there is no health in me—could I just write that in place of my scholarship report?

Fortunately, I have one truly awesome comment from a student evaluation of my teaching, which I can report on the teaching form: one of the most discerning and intelligent students it has ever been my pleasure to teach compared me to Minerva McGonagall. That made my day, week, and month. A small thing, but a definite consolation.

Preparing for class

No matter how many students there are, I have to prepare myself for these types:

The student who annoys me by passive-aggressive techniques (I don’t understand; I couldn’t find your office; I didn’t think to ask anyone . . . )

The student who thinks he (usually he) will annoy me with open insolence (much less annoying than the first type).

The one with ADD who tries hard but cannot get it together.

The one who is deeply distracted by family problems.

The first-generation student who has just transferred from a small community college, mid-year, and is completely overwhelmed by the size of LRU’s campus and bureaucracy.

The one who suffers from anxiety and/or depression.

The one who blows everyone else out of the water . . . how to keep this one engaged and energized without depressing or antagonizing the others?

The one who is super-smart and tragically under-prepared for college-level work.

The one who conscientiously does everything by the book, without ever showing any spark of creativity or insight, and gets frustrated because A’s are elusive.

The student who thinks it will be possible to get good grades by talking intelligently in class, and turns in half (at best) of the written work that actually gets graded.

The one who doesn’t have money for books and is reading outdated editions online, on an old phone that has a cracked screen or other problem.

On the whole, I’d rather deal with the annoying ones, because so many of the others are heart-breaking. Sometimes I know how their stories come out, though. One of the smart/underprepared ones I had a few years ago just graduated, for instance. There is hope.

Fluctuations

I know there are good reasons for students to add classes shortly before the semester starts, finances being one. Nonetheless, I really wish they’d pick classes near the start of the registration period and then just not tinker with their schedules, because numbers make a big difference to my planning.

If I just lectured and gave exams, sure, I wouldn’t care: I can lecture to ten people, or forty, or a hundred. The exam dates wouldn’t change, though format might, if I had to do all the grading myself, or with a TA who had to be trained in how to score essay answers.

But that’s not what I do. I’m an English professor; I teach skills. The classroom is already flipped. We practice reading closely, we test interpretations, we puzzle out what a poet means, what motivates a character, how a writer creates atmosphere and why that matters. We talk, or we work in groups and then talk. We write, and then read each other’s writing. I collect that writing and look it over and make comments. Students write more or less complex essays, with more or fewer required assignments preparing for those essays, depending on how much time I have for grading, which depends on how many students I have.

This semester, I would like to meet individually with my students to go over at least one of their papers, preferably the first one. I’m always willing to do this if anyone wants to, but mainly students don’t come to office hours. I’ve written before about the many differences between LRU and the “typical” residential campus that many people imagine when they think about “college.” I have a lot of returning students, and even those of traditional age often have jobs and family commitments that mean they’re on campus for classes and little else. They need to relieve the babysitter or interpret for Dad or take Grandma to the doctor. The library is a luxury and going to office hours isn’t even on the radar, which is why I want to see if I can get it there. That, and my own experience working in person with the translation team, last summer: the comments on my work, which it is always uncomfortable to read (I worked so hard and they don’t think it’s brilliant!), sound so different when delivered in a real live voice coming from a person I like and respect.

The more students I have, though, the harder it will be to fit their visits into holes in their and my schedule, and the more class time I would need to cut into in order to provide conference time for those who really can’t meet outside of class. It’s a good thing for the bean-counters, for the financial health of LRU, and for my stats as a teacher that the numbers are going up. But one of my classes has nearly doubled in size since the start of December, and that definitely affects my plans. What I can do with fifteen students is very different from what I can do with 30. Not necessarily better or worse, but different. Another class is still within tolerance for the kind of fun but professorial-labor-intensive research paper I’d like to have them do. But if I get five more students, I won’t be able to teach these particular skills, because they need a lot of one-on-one. A third class has been cancelled. In theory, of course, that means more time for the others, except that (a) since I got a research release in its place, I’m supposed to be writing, and (b) it does make a difference whether students are distributed across multiple classes (or sections) or all in a single class. Just because I’m now free at a certain time of day doesn’t mean my students are.

And if I had another week to go, I’d wait and see what happens. But I have to turn in syllabuses at the end of the day, and they’re supposed to give students a good, reliable outline of what we’ll be doing, and so I have to make some decisions, based on the current numbers, and then stick to them. Shall I gamble that a few people will drop the larger course? Or that there will be a few more adds between now and Wednesday morning?

Friday’s fortunately/unfortunately narration

This is really yesterday’s post, but I was traveling then.

Fortunately, I got to see the dawn. I do this fairly frequently, wherever I am, but it was especially pretty, with a pink glow over the mountains, reflected in the bay.

Unfortunately, it was my last day of that view.

Fortunately, I had time for one more walk on the beach, where I picked up a few pieces of pink quartz and white beach glass to remind me of the place.

Unfortunately, going down to the beach meant toiling up the hill one more time, afterwards.

Fortunately, I was able to recover with brunch on the balcony, watching bright yellow birds (goldfinches?) and bright blue ones (no idea) flashing through the trees, with the occasional dancing orange butterfly adding even more color interest.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of food left over.

Fortunately, that meant the feral cats on the corner got a feast.

Unfortunately, the taxi came earlier than we expected, and I was running up and down stairs communicating with the driver and letting in the rental agent, while Queen Joan was still getting dressed, and I still had lots of things to throw in my suitcase.

Fortunately, my Spanish was adequate to the task, the driver was patient, and everything got done.

Unfortunately, when we were in the taxi and jouncing to the airport, I couldn’t find my passport.

Fortunately, once we got to the airport and I could get to my suitcase, it was in the first place I looked, scooped up along with other to-be-packed items at the last minute.

Unfortunately, that meant I had to get on a plane and leave the tropical paradise.

Fortunately, I was looking forward to seeing Sir John and our cats, and I had a whole book to read that I’d saved for the trip home.

Unfortunately, there was an 80 degree drop in temperature between the place/time I left and the one where I arrived.

Fortunately, Sir John brought my down coat to meet me. I won’t say I was happier to see it than I was to see him, but I would have refused to leave the airport without it.

Unfortunately, in spite of all our added insulation, new windows, new curtains on the old windows, the replaced front door, and whatever other energy-related improvements I’m forgetting, our house still is fairly chilly, especially in the front room downstairs. I hate living in an old house, in this climate.

Fortunately, I was very successful in sticking to my complicated diet while I was gone (Queen Joan helped a lot, and taught me to cook some things I’d never tried before), so I’m feeling very well and tolerably energetic. If I can keep managing the diet, then I hope to have enough energy to sort out this house (file, give away, pack up, throw out, as necessary) and get it on the market this spring. We’ll see what happens, since of course I will also be teaching and I do not handle multiple tasks, or switching among them, especially well.

Unfortunately, my grad class for the spring (on a very cool and most excellent topic, which I was looking forward to teaching) was cancelled due to low enrollment, as I learned when I checked e-mail at the tropical airport.

Fortunately, oh very fortunately, I have been granted a research release in its place.

 

 

Tempest-uous Spring Planning

I will be teaching The Tempest in the spring. I thought I had taught it sometime, maybe ten years back, and had some assignments to draw on. But as I search my files, it appears that I haven’t taught it since I was in graduate school.

Oh-kay. Well. I’m sure it will be fine. Advice would nonetheless be welcome. Even more welcome would be suggestions of one or more short stories with which I could pair the play: stories with thematic connections, or in which characters refer to The Tempest, or are acting in it, or reading it at school, something like that. My idea, if I can get a suitable story, is to read it first, in order to generate questions about its allusions that could be solved by reading the play itself. Thus, I’m not picky about genre. A story that belongs to the SF/fantasy genre, or aims at a YA audience, would be fine. Even fan-fic, so long as it’s tolerably literate and has a recognizable story structure.

Ideas? Anyone? Bueller?

Productive procrastination, or Working when Stupid

I’ve been sleeping poorly, again, which makes it difficult to focus during the day.

I know what’s wrong. My wonky ankle has been acting up, so I’m resting it, which means I’m not working out, which means I don’t sleep so well. This will pass. The ankle will improve, and I will work back up to a decent level of cardiovascular exercise, and all shall be well. In the meantime I try to do more yoga and other relaxing things before bed.

Anyway: what to do on a work day when I have stacks of (well, three) articles to revise, and I don’t feel like I can grasp my own arguments, let alone anyone else’s? Answer: write syllabi and plan spring classes. Tired and fuzzy-headed (or, not to put too fine a point on it, stupid) is the perfect state to work on these tasks. When I’m alert and intelligent, I get over-optimistic about wildly creative, innovative ideas that require lots of energy and a clear head to put into practice in the classroom, and I forget that I may not have those attributes on the future days when I will need them. When I’m tired, I recognize that bad days happen, and that it would be a good idea to re-use old assignments (tweaking as appropriate); to omit or re-schedule that reading that always needs Extra Energy and Enthusiasm!!!; and to leave some flex days on which I can either experiment with a new innovative assignment as a low-stakes, in-class activity so that I can work out potential problems with it, or else, if the flex day is a low-energy day, show a relevant movie or You-Tube clips with discussion of same.

Some more alert and intelligent Future Self will have to look over today’s plans to make sure I haven’t done anything really stupid, like putting all the wrong dates on the syllabus or scheduling two separate sets of readings for the same weeks. Even so, today I’ll get something useful done, and my Future Self will be glad to have a chunk of the work at least drafted.

I play one on TV

I’m not literally a foreign language teacher, and certainly was not trained in FL pedagogy. But since I teach Middle English literature, and since many of my students find Middle English baffling, I often feel like I’m teaching a foreign language, though I am without portfolio (so to speak). Usually it’s the native-born monolinguals who have the hardest time; immigrants, heritage speakers, and students who have minors or majors in a FL pick up ME just fine. They’re used to code-switching, they have a better grasp of grammar, they have a sort of mental flexibility about language and its oddities. I’ve done a lot of reading about FL pedagogy, trying to figure out how to bring those techniques into what is supposed to be a traditional literature course.

Despite my efforts, there are two areas where my current (soon-to-be former) students are really struggling: verb endings (especially second and third-person singulars, thou goest and he goeth, for example), and clauses involving relative pronouns, especially when combined with inverted syntax of a sort common in poetry and even more common in ME (“Ask I you that listen that I say . . .” where the second that, in ME, translates to that which or what: “I ask you who listen to what I say . . . “). Not getting these points means that while my students can get the gist of their reading, they’re often shaky on who does what to whom. Because I’m really teaching literature rather than language, this is a problem. If you’re just trying to order in a restaurant, you can say “Querer un cafe” and the server will probably work out that you mean “quiero.” But if you’re analyzing poetry, you need to understand the forms of words and how they interact.

It’s possible that having a small class, this term, is distorting results: if I had this many students having these problems among a group of 70-odd, I wouldn’t worry about it. In a group of <20, however, the percentage of problems stands out.

If I have any readers who really are FL teachers (Z?), do you have any suggestions?

Chaucerian grades: re-post

Since the end of the semester is upon most of us, I offer this grading scale from four years ago:

A

Right as oure firste lettre is now an A,
In beaute first so stood she, makeles.
Hire goodly lokyng gladed al the prees.
Nas nevere yet seyn thyng to ben preysed derre.

B

Al that writen is,
To oure doctrine it is ywrite, ywis;
Taketh the fruyt, and lat the chaf be stille.
. . . . . . . . .
Thow hast thee wel yquit
And gentilly.  I preise wel thy wit,
Considerynge.

C

The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne,
Th’assay so hard, so sharp the conquerynge. . . .
Of usage—what for lust and what for lore—
On bokes rede I ofte, as I yow tolde.
But wherfore that I speke al this?

D

Namoore of this.
That ye han seyd is right ynough, ywis,
And muchel moore; for litel hevynesse
Is right ynough to muche folk, I gesse.
I seye for me, it is a greet disese.

F

Thy drasty rymyng is nat worth a toord.
Thou doost noght elles but despendest tyme.

 

Hang in there. Every pile of papers comes to an end. If there are just too many, send some to me or JaneB and we’ll let our cats shred them for you!