Monday, November 29, 2010

Grading Avoidance

I'm doing heavy-duty Grading Avoidance.  It's an art.

Procrastination from Johnny Kelly on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fantasy Room

My husband's fantasy room is a place about the size of a gymnasium, filled with table after table after table.  He likes to see his stuff, all laid out on tables, and likes to be able to create a new stack whenever he likes.

My fantasy room is a room of any size filled with cupboards--lots of cupboards--like the room above.  However unlike the room above, I want lots of the cupboards to have doors on them, where I can hide my stuff away.

I found this picutre on a website where the poster suggested it was good for those people who like to pick up random stuff on their walks and bring it home.  I like that idea as well.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Thankful Post

As I was zipping down the freeway to school today, to teach students who complained mightily about having class on the day before Thanksgiving--but who all showed up for class (all but one, but he's been celebrating his 21st birthday for about two weeks now, complete with hangovers, new earring and a new tattoo, so I didn't expect him)--I was talking to my mother about how I think she's a terrific Mom.

My compliment to her had been prompted by her observation about how terrific my husband is (which he is).  And like thankfulness begetting thankfulness, when I arrived home on this Turkey Eve, I found a lovely note in my email box from a student I'd had last year.  It read:

During last two semesters I couldn't help but think just how much your Eng 101 class improved my ability to write academic papers. Not only did your classroom instruction stick with me, but I have also referred to the dozens of immaculate handouts, rubrics, samples, and activities you created for us on countless occasions. So, thank you. Thank you for creating a positive and productive classroom setting, hard copies of helpful hints. . . and your time. I really appreciate it and have raved about you to other college students inquiring about “good English teachers."

Is thankfulness like that?  If so, quickly express your thankfulness to someone, letting the good feelings flow on past you as if you are going over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house for a grand feast not only of turkey and potatoes and pie, but for a grand meal of gratitude--a necessary break from the histrionic chatter elsewhere in our lives.

Last night I could see that a few houses already had their holiday lights up, the Christmas season upon us one more time.  But instead of feeling grumpy about how this vast wasteland of material excess was intruding upon my favorite holiday, it felt more like watching the world decorate for a big party, complete with party favors.  It is always like this--that we have a moment of thanksgiving, and push onwards to the party?

I know that this year I plan to linger at the table, joining with our son Peter, his wife Megan and their dog, Allie.  Maybe I'll enjoy a story about Megan's work on the Sacramento Delta.  Or listen to Peter tell a funny one about writing websites for a living.  Or maybe I'll tell one on my students, or on myself.  Sitting there, sated on turkey and cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, I know it's seeing the world in the rosy light of harvest, of abundance, and that all too soon, they'll get back in the car and drive away and I won't see them for months.  I'll go back to the grading, the lesson prep, and Thanksgiving will be over for another year.  Yet thanks giving can go on, casting its golden glow over teachers who sit at their computers on a chilly afternoon, surprised and grateful for the impulse that prompted a student to write, to say a thank you.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Right after I posted yesterday, a student sent me this that her sister (also a teacher) had used on her blog.  It made me laugh.  So here's to all the teachers out there!  Just duplicate this and hand it out next time you get The Question.  (Because there will always be a next time.)

Question frequently asked by students after missing a class

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours.

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 percent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 per cent.

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning.
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose.

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter.
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring the good news to all people
on earth.

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human experience
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder.
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been
but it was one place
And you weren’t here.

Poem written by Tom Wayman, a Canadian poet, and published in:
Wayman, T. (1993). Did I miss anything? Selected poems 1973-1993. Vancouver, BC: Harbour

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Teaching Has Its Moments

I realize the last post was a bit hysterical--it's only because it was a hysterical day.  I fixed our favorite comfort soup, and with the comments of kind fellow-teachers and others, I made it through.

We've just finished studying Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a lovely novel about two pre-teens: Henry, who is Chinese-American, and Keiko,  a Japanese-American, who eventually gets placed in an internment camp with her family.  The assignment was to choose one of the topics we brainstormed in class, and write a compare/contrast paragraph based on a theme from the book.  I've gotten a range of responses, and they all been fairly carefully organized, with the exception of the following.  I quote it verbatim (spelling and everything):

"In the time in which the book HCBS took place, the main characters dined on lunches primarily related to there culture as opposed to the generation which are a melting pot of all ethnicities.  In the book the main characters consumed Japanese/Chinese cuisine such as breaded chicken and gravy.  Currently American lunches consist of fast food and unhealthy snacks such as fruit roll ups and hostess products.  As a result of the products that were eaten in the book, Americans decided to bully the Japanese.  It is unlikely that at lunch table today you will see foods that are multi cultural, foods that are not particular to certain ethnicities are no longer a cause for bullying instead ethnic foods are generally those that are most envied at the lunch table."

Food fight, anyone?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Parallel Tears

Once, a hundred-billion years ago, I was a long-term sub in our local high school.  They needed a teacher to take a class for a "few days" while they found/got/hired the teacher.  At about three weeks into the semester of me posing like I was their teacher, living the tiny lie in order to keep control of the classroom, one young man started acting out.  Dealt with. Then I was late one day to get in line at the copy machine, not finishing up my copies until the bell was ringing.  I heard the secretary's voice behind me asking me how things were going--not a friendly voice. I was grading five periods, prepping three classes of all ages, pretending I was having a good time at 80 bucks per day, while the secretary would take my freebie "prep" period away and have me teach another class somewhere.  I was staying up late, getting up early, and the papers to be graded stacked up like planes over LaGuardia on a foggy day.  I mentioned this state of affairs--plus the fact that it had pretty much killed any sex drive--to the librarian and she simply said "Welcome to my life."  Yuch.

The next day that same acting-out student threw a stink bomb into our portable classroom, and I called security, who never came.  So I marched the entire class down to the only available space--the auditorium--read them the riot act, had them each write a note about what they saw/knew/did.  Security arrived and wondered what the heck we were doing in there; all they cared about was that we were not in our classroom--not the fact that our classroom was uninhabitable.  I let the students out 10 minutes early.  I didn't care a bit where they went, or if I were to be canned, or anything.  I took the notes down to the principal's secretary, wordlessly handed them to her and sat down in the chair beside her desk and burst into tears.

This semester has had some similarities to that ill-fated five-week sojourn in high school.  The first similarity is the caliber of student.  One class I'm teaching is a remedial English class (oops, now we called it Developmental English) and many of those students are just now--13 weeks into the 18 week semester--figuring out that this really is college and that 43% grade is all theirs.  They earned it all by themselves.  They can't blame mom, the principal, the evil PE teacher, the bus driver, whatever or whoever.   They can only blame their lack of preparation, realizing that all that goofing around in high school has penalized their performance now in college, even at the lowest level of English that we offer.

The other class is a lovely, divine, brilliantly delightful Introduction to Literature class where I really get to talk about stories and poems and all those things I studied in grad school.  However.  It would really be all those things in the above sentence if I had half a clue what I was doing.  I feel like I'm about 20 minutes ahead of them, all the while maintaining that subtle lie that I Do Know What I'm Talking About.  I do, sort of.  But this week they hit the first of their assignments on their literary research paper and I feel like I've thrown my students into the swamp and left the rescue equipment back at the house.  Really, I'm in the swamp with them, surfing "Literary Research Papers" on the web at night, hoping to find something to guide me that will help me guide them.  There's no mentoring at this level--we're that Budget-Cut Community College you read about, where most of the teaching is done by adjuncts (80% at our school) and there's no money for anything.

Especially literary databases that will help the students with their research papers. We went to the library for some help, and while it was a fine presentation, it was painfully obvious that our little college was set up for English Comp research papers, not the more critically-intense areas of literature.  After the librarian left, I clued them all into the Big U down the freeway and suggested they head over there for database access.  But I realize I don't even have a clue how to tell them to find what they need. It's a painful realization.  Add that feeling of failure to the lack of sleep, the constant prepping, constant grading, and the realization that if I stop the machine to have a night off--like I did for Quilt Night last week--I'll just be more behind the next day.  (Hence, the dearth of posts on this blog.)

So, today in office hours, when a student started crying over her Fiction Essay, I handed her a tissue, coached her into re-evaluating her thesis, and then talked to her for another 30 minutes past office hours time about her application to Big U, her self-statement, her parents' divorce, the fact that she'd just now gotten her textbook (!), I have to admit feeling a little of the same pile-up in my own life.

When I got home, my saintly mother sent me an email with a video link to a flash culture mob of 650 choral artists gathering at Macy's in Philadelphia for a flashmob of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus.  (She does things like that to keep me in the human race, I think.)  I watched the people sing this glorious song, line by line, tenor, bass, alto, soprano and I joined in and then wept, letting the good feelings, the smiles, the happy faces of those people wash over me.  Parallel tears to my student's.  Tears for my own inadequacy.  Tears for my students' frustration. Tears for me, for the writing I don't do because I let everything else take precedence. Tears celebrating that it will soon be time to pull Handel up to the top of the playlist--tears to signify the end of this very long semester.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Happy Election Night

You can tell I'm too busy grading to put up a proper post. Only 5 more weeks after this one until I get my life back.