Saturday, September 27, 2014

Week 6: Homesick

I've been in Corpus Christi for almost eight weeks at this point, but next week begins week 6 of the semester, and that's the funny thing about getting into the grind of the semester--in some ways, you start running on autopilot, which lets your brain finally start focusing on other things, particularly when you get home on Friday, like how you can't just jump in the car and make the quick journey home to see the fam.

Kentucky for Kentucky has a great print with a quote from Happy Chandler that says "I never met a Kentuckian who wasn't either thinking about going home or actually going home."  And while I do generally like Texas (apart from trying to drive in traffic down here), and I'm making new friends, I am desperately sick for home.

It really wasn't so bad when we were living in Tennessee, because again, a jump in the car on Friday, and in four or five hours (depending on who was driving), we were back in God's own country and with family.

This is the longest I've ever been away from home.  And it's going to be Christmas before we get back.  Dear Husband has a bit more experience with it, having spent six months surveying in New Mexico (without me, even), and I am so blessed to have him with me here.  But I still find myself wishing for hills and green grass and for Jeopardy to come on at 7:30 like it's supposed to!

I think part of the homesickness has also been a realization that some of my teaching is going to have to fundamentally change.  I'm dealing with a different level of preparation for college than I ever have before, and in some ways, I feel like I've been doing a lot of things wrong because I've been taking things for granted that I shouldn't have.  I've had to explain to all five of my classes--Composition I, II and American Lit--the difference between a summary and a response.

On top of that, I've been reminded, once again, there are some students you simply cannot help.  You can get as many resources available, but if they don't want help, you can't make them get it.  On the other hand, there are also victories when you have a student who you can help and you do.

I ordered my books for next semester, and I've got a new appreciation for trying to order books and keeping the costs down for students, and I've decided that handbooks need to go the way of the dinosaur.  There's nothing in a handbook anymore that students can't find online for free, mostly through the resources of very excellent university and college writing centers.  So for one class, I've ordered it as recommended, but I won't be assigning any readings out of it.  I'll simply be supplementing from online, and for my 1302 classes, I haven't ordered one at all.  It's not that my students don't have grammatical problems--they do--but I think there are far more effective ways to teach grammar than handbooks.  I think the Grammar Girl podcasts will be helpful too.

So the week has been up and down, but I'm hoping that things will look up.  In the meantime, I'm going to start counting down until Christmas and charging my brothers with installing Skype on my mom's computer.  Even though my laptop is currently broken, I have it on my phone, and I'd like to at least see some people's faces.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Week 5: Into the Grind

My office is starting to look like someone actually works there, versus being a vacant space where someone's been stashed for a semester.  Books are making their way a grocery bag at a time, and my gnomes are traveling to display allegiance to proper sports teams in a heathen land. (No, we are not talking about the Reds 2014 season.  We are not.)

In case you're wondering, this picture was taken during my Friday office hours.  Del Mar doesn't really hold classes on Friday, and most of campus shuts down at noon on Friday anyway, so assuming anyone comes in on Friday at all, it's pretty casual--hence the t-shirt.  It's a good time to come in and be assured that you're going to be able to work in an uninterrupted block.

But we're into the real heart of the semester now, and I'm seeing things settle into the grind.  Students are starting to come in tired, and I'm hearing moans about exams starting.  The marathon part of the semester has started, and everyone is plodding along.  In the meantime, I keep making notes about what's working and what's not, and most of it is once again related to my syllabus.  I read this article from Slate about syllabus bloat last week, and over the last week, it's become more and more evident that not only did very few of my students read it, but very few of them listened the first day of class when I went over it (if they were there the first day.  I had several transfer in afterward).

So I've been trying to figure out, what do I actually need?  Should I put all of the required policies online and simply hand out a sheet of paper with the most important things in class, so if they want to know more, they have to go online and read the full syllabus?  I hate the idea of having to give a syllabus quiz, if only because of the fact that I shouldn't have to give one.

I also made my first foray into institutional service this week with the first meeting of the department development committee.  It wasn't a big meeting, mostly choosing a chair, going over the charge of the committee, and figuring out what we're going to do first.  There are a lot of things to discuss, a lot of things to figure out, but it's going to be productive, I think.

Finally, to close this relatively short entry, I have to say, this is an incredibly supportive department.  I can't tell you how amazing everyone has been and how much everyone has had my back when I've had an issue, or how patient people have been when I've had a question or needed someone to explain something.  They've been so helpful, and I'm so incredibly grateful.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Week 4: It Never Rains...

I mean this literally, actually.  I ran out without thinking to rescue our recycling bin this morning from the flooding and managed to grab it before it completely floated it away, but when I tried to rescue our neighbor's as well, I found myself in water up to my ankles and decided that, nope, his could get stopped by a car further down the street.  Bill Meck from WLEX has told me my whole life to turn around, don't drown, and I have no intention of ignoring him now.

Most of this was from about an hour of rain this morning from a storm that rolled in over the laguna, and I was never quite so happy to have gotten our flood insurance handled yesterday morning!  We were watching the back door quite carefully to see if anything would seep in there, but it didn't.  It might actually be the coldest it's been since we came to Corpus Christi--70 degrees! 

This week has been full of ups and downs, some of which I won't talk about and some of which I can't talk about.  But the best part about teaching are those little triumphs that make you go back to your office and punch the air and go "YES!"

For example.  My 1302 classes are reading Ibsen's A Doll House right now, and after so many of them said they'd had an easier time with A Raisin in the Sun after finding video clips of it online, I thought we'd try acting parts of it out in class.  That way, students also get to inhabit the characters and get to think about the choices of the director and the actors as well, since that so often influences how an audience sees the play.  So for Act I, I had some of my students in each class act out the first confrontation between Nora and Krogstad, and it was wonderful.  I was so amazed at how well it went and how insightful these off the cuff performances were.  In the first class, Nora and Krogstad were both played by young men (this is what happens when the teacher has to randomly select people who are then volun-told that they'll be taking part in the activity).  But it was so neat to watch, because "Krogstad" was very forceful and intimidating, and afterwards, "Nora" pointed out that "Krogstad" kept backing him in the corner, even when he tried to get out of it!

But the second class had a completely different take on it.  "Krogstad" in the second class wasn't in-your-face and forceful.  Instead, he was supercilious and slimy...but still menacing, and "Nora" (played by a woman this time) was much more child-like.  The Noras were very similar, but the take on Krogstad was so different.  This Krogstad was almost like watching James Spader as Alan Shore in Boston Legal.  And the best part was that I got to see both interpretations!  I don't know that the second Krogstad would have felt free to do that on the heels of watching the first.  It was so neat to watch, though.

My 1301 classes have been talking about blogging and writing reviews.  I'm very excited about this, because many of them are talking about doing restaurant reviews, versus movie or book reviews (and they all seem excited, because I told them I was looking forward to having them recommend places for Dear Husband and I to eat as newcomers--and suddenly that really got everyone interested!).

But we've also taken a look at blogs and blog conventions, and I think my 1301 classes have decided that despite the fact that my blog has had a bit of a makeover in the last month or needs some more work!  I've gotten suggestions that I need some new graphics, some better organization, more descriptive tagging, etc.  So my blog will be under continual construction for the foreseeable future (possibly with the help of my 1301 students).

I've found an incredibly helpful tool to keep me organized while I'm working, though.  Snarky Writer introduced me to HabitRPG a while back, and I can't even begin to tell you how much it helps.  Everyone makes to-do lists (and if you're me, then loses the to-do list), but this isn't just a to-do list.  It gives you rewards for doing your to-dos, daily or not daily.  And it's put together like a game, so rather than just a boring checklist, you actually have fun goals that you're working toward.  You accumulate gold as you check off tasks, and you can set rewards for yourself.  For example, when I get 1500 gold, I am going to reward myself with Jan Karon's new Mitford book, Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good. (I have 46 gold right now.  I've been getting equipment for my avatar to boost my stats so I can get some in-game rewards lately.)

When it comes to school, though, I've been using it to keep myself on track.  Under the dailies category, I keep things that I need to do every day, like take my medicine, etc., but also to enter attendance into Canvas.  I use my To-Do list to organize everything else I have to do--all the lesson planning, grading, etc., and because I can move things about, I can reorganize them and put the highest priority at the top.  I can also edit them and put due dates on certain tasks, particularly for things like bills that need to be paid, to make sure that they don't get lost in the shuffle of everyday life.  As a teacher, I could also really see how this could be helpful for students.  Just opening the app up after class and listing the homework for each class under tasks with the due date would help organize things, and it gives visual learners a clear picture of how things need to be organized in order to get them done. 

And the best part about HabitRPG?  It's totally free, both the online version and the app for your phone, so even if you're not going back to school, it's something to look into.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Pulling Together: Week 3

Dear Husband is here!  He, Youngest Brother, Buttermilk and Father-in-Law all got here on Saturday, to my great joy with all of our things, and our house is beginning to look like a home.  With DH here, it's beginning to feel like a home, too.  And I cannot even begin to express what a help our family was (and I cannot leave out Eldest Brother, either, who drove Youngest Brother and Buttermilk down to Tennessee and helped load the truck or Mother-in-Law, who helped DH finish packing the house).

So now, to quote Maureen O'Hara in The Quiet Man, my things are about me, DH is sitting back on the couch reading at the moment, taking a well deserved break, and I'm updating my blog.  And even Bergie is starting to emerge.  I think once furniture came in and DH arrived, he realized that we might be staying here a while and he wasn't going to have to go back in the car again.  That has not stopped midnight yowling (I think he's getting lost in the house again).

And today, we are getting things taken care of here at the house.  The dryer hookup is now working, smoke detectors have been installed, the window that needed replaced is being fixed right now, and we are going to go get a clothes rod for the closet later, as well as some new pegs for the bookshelves and clamps for the dryer vent.  In the meantime, we've been unloading books on to bookshelves that have pegs, and we may go out to the beach this afternoon now that the weather has cleared up.

But life is good!  Classes are going well.  I'm especially enjoying my American Literature class right now, and our day exploring Anne Bradstreet's poetry went very well this week.  My students really enjoyed Bradstreet's poem on Queen Elizabeth.  I've taught my poetry explication lesson three times in the last few weeks, though not with "Bohemian Rhapsody" the way I normally would in a typical literature survey, but it's seemed to have gone over well.  My 1301 students are finishing up their resume and cover letter assignments this week and rolling right into their review assignments; they'll even be reading some of the book reviews I've posted to this blog in the past.  I fully expect some of them to poke around the blog as a whole a bit, particularly since we're going to be talking about blogging as a genre of writing this week too.  (Hi, students!)

My 1302 classes are going to be writing about identity for their first paper, which I'm also introducing this week, and I'm excited to be working on poetry with them next week too.  We'll be reading Whitman, Gwendolen Brooks, T.S. Eliot, Adrienne Rich, and a poem that's one of my new favorites, Maya Angelou's "Phenomenal Woman."  I'd actually never read the poem until a friend linked it after Angelou died a few months ago, but it's such a wonderful poem, and when I first conceived of this assignment, I knew I had to use it, so I'm supplementing the book with the poem. 

Our department has added two new committees this semester, so I've signed up for one to begin my institutional service to the college.  The Departmental Development Committee is designed to put together department colloquia, professional development, oversee travel funds, as well as put together social events, etc.  It's an opportunity I'm really interested in.  One thing I really learned to appreciate at MTSU was the wide variety of professional development seminars that the department offered.  It was always a good way to glean new ideas for classes and a way to help keep up with new research, particularly in teaching composition, which is really important if your area of expertise is more literature-based than composition and rhetoric-based.   It's not the only committee I'm a part of--people who teach 1301 and 1302 are automatically on the 1301/1302 committee, and the same goes for the sophomore lit committee (which is almost everyone in the department for both, I think), but the development committee is one that I've signed up to take a really active role in.  I've offered my services to take an active role in the 1301/1302 committee too, though, particularly as we approach the 1302 assessment, as I'm familiar with the 1020 assessment process that MTSU goes through every year. 

I'm already going to be signing up for classes next week!  I meet with our asst. dept. chair on Wednesday to sign up for spring 2015 classes.  I do know that next fall, I'll be teaching Mexican-American literature, as I've been put on rotation for that, which I'm very excited about.  I think it will be a really awesome learning experience.  SV is teaching it this spring, and I'm going to ask her if I might sit in on her class once in a while this spring, just to get an idea of how she teaches it.

I am making some friends among my colleagues.  KR invited me and DH to church with her family, and we will likely be taking her up on that offer, as she is also Episcopalian.  I've continued to find the atmosphere in my department very collegial, and I can't tell you how very patient everyone has been helping me adjust.  I can't tell you how many times a week I pop my head into the office next door to ask a question, and after our department meeting yesterday morning, KR had to explain some Texas state laws that mean I have to have my vita online for students to check out.  And I still need to ask the developmental education coordinator, to explain to me how dev ed works in Texas! 

So there's lots left that I need to learn, and that's making things challenging here and there, but I feel like things are starting to pull together.  Having Labor Day off put me a bit behind, but I've caught up, and having DH here makes everything better.  Full-time academia is an adjustment, for sure, but I feel like I'm getting into the swing of things.