Saturday, October 25, 2014

Week 10: A Quandary

I despise paper mills.

To me, there is no more egregious case of plagiarism than from a paper mill in which you had to actually pay for the paper.  And I still am often boggled by those 'academics' who write for paper mills or who ghostwrite papers, theses and even dissertations.  The Chronicle of Higher Education published a story two years ago entitled "The Shadow Scholar," which gave an inside look at those who actually write for paper mills and the pervasiveness of the practice.  But there's a certain sense of desperation for money.

So I'll let you guess as to what I've been dealing with.

This means that I'm having to go back to my chair with this problem and ask for advice, and there are some other concerns as well, but I feel like my chair has had to do nothing but hold my hand this semester.  Could there possibly be another professor in the department who has had as many problems as I have this semester?  And I realize that to a certain extent, it's probably not unusual for a new faculty member--especially one starting their career--to be in close contact with the chair, but I just cringe when I send my chair an email, even with a head's up.

I suppose this is part of negotiating the territory as a new faculty member and starting your career--not wanting to be too much of a bother, but trying to still figure out the lay of the land.

That said, I've been grading some 100 papers for conferences this week (and yes, I'm stalling, shut up.)  My 1302 classes wrote their project 2 about good and evil, and they have been pretty uniformly excellent so far.  But I just finished reading one by a student who has thought that she was a bad writer.  She works so hard, takes so many notes, asks questions, but thought she was a bad writer, and when I told her that idea was bullshit, she cried, because no one had ever told her that before.  (These teachers in high school who tell their students that they are bad writers are ones that should be publicly flogged.  There's no faster way to make someone afraid of writing and to completely dislike the process.)  Her paper was completely fantastic.  Absolutely superb, to the point where I'm sitting here almost in tears because I am just so damn proud.  For all the frustrations that I've had so far this semester, you get papers and students like this one, and you know, you just know, that yes, you are making a difference.  This paper is full of confidence and clarity, and I am just so proud, I could burst.

I discovered politics on the college-wide scale with a series of emails that went around the faculty listserv this week, and holy cow.  When you get to grad school, you get introduced to department level politics, but the college-wide political mechanisms were an eye-opener.  Once again, I'm certain that my policy of keeping my ears open and my mouth shut (okay, I know I don't always do a good job of that last one, but until I get tenure, my mouth is staying shut) will serve me well.

And of course, this week Dear Husband joined the staff at Del Mar!  We carpooled on Wednesday (he had to go to the other campus on Thursday, and I don't go in on Fridays anymore), but both Wednesday and Thursday, he was able to come eat lunch with me in my office, which was incredibly pleasant.  He's glad to be there, and I think they're glad to have him, though I got a call from him yesterday morning when he was processing drop forms in which I was chided for forgetting some information on one.  I will endeavour to do better.  (At least I have someone who will just sigh and fill it in for me!)

I've not yet managed to keep to my goal of doing some academic research/writing every day during the week.  But any new habit takes some time to kick in, but I will keep you updated.  In the meantime, my novel writing is going quite well.   I have a little over 34,000 words (you can keep up with the word count with the meter at the bottom of the page), and that is one thing I've actually been able to keep going.  It's amazing how much creative writing you can get done when you're no longer working on a dissertation.  I've written more on this novel in the last two months than I did in the two years I was working on it beforehand.

Dear Husband's birthday was this week, so I made him a Guinness chocolate cake, bought a truly massive ribeye steak, and made dinner last night.  He still had to cook the steak himself, because I wasn't confident in my ability to do so, but I fixed everything else.  He was a happy boy.  And now today is St. Crispin's Day, so we spent part of this evening while I was grading watching a compendium of different actors (including a really adorable three year old) delivering the famous speech from Henry V.  We've decided that Kenneth Branagh is the best.

So it's been a busy, but very happy week here.  Tomorrow is the newcomer's luncheon at church--to which I received a personal invitation from a fellow parishioner who also works at Del Mar this week.  We're quite looking forward to it.  We haven't been to church in two weeks, unfortunately.  The week before last, there was no Sunday school, so we didn't set the alarm, figuring that the cats, per usual, would wake us up before church.  The cats, naturally, decided to sleep in.  And last week, I wasn't feeling well, but it will be good to get back tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Mid-week update!

We had such good news this morning!  Dear Husband starts work in the registrar's office tomorrow, and it is such an answer to prayer.  My classes all got to get extra credit for showing up today--I'm that happy!  (They also the Come-to-Jesus talk, but that's entirely different.)

In the meantime, Canvas was down this morning, so I've had to lengthen the deadline for their papers to be in--when I'm having conferences with them starting Thursday!  I'm getting ready to be inundated with papers to read and give feedback on.

The book buyers are driving me crazy.  If I didn't think it would be incredibly rude to put a sign on my door that says "No book buyers," I would.

I've also decided to devote 15 minutes of each work day to writing for my own research.  I've been reading a book about academic progress and writing for journals, and the one thing that I've always seen in common with really productive academics has been the ability to write every single day and to protect that writing time jealously.

I have a lot of things to do, as far as grading, lesson planning, etc., but even 15 minutes a day is something doable, and it's not taking so much time out of my day that I feel guilty about using it.  So we'll see how that goes, and I'll keep you informed.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Week 9: Is This Semester Over Yet?

I know there's always been the stereotype of the absent-minded professor, but for me, I've (generally) thought of my professors as competent, professional people who work hard to keep up with everything they're doing.

I feel less and less professorial and more and more like I'm still a grad student barely treading water.  What, the letters Ph.D. are after my name?  Yeah, I'm not so much feeling it right now.  I know that part of this has been because I've been sick over the last week.  On the other hand, though, part of it is because of my grading.  I keep asking myself--did I really do this bad a job of teaching?  Failing midterms, pervasive plagiarism problems (not intentional, just a clear lack of understanding about how to summarize), having to continually drop students from my class due to attendance, and other concerns have me wanting to pull my hair out.  More than that, they have me wanting to go to the faculty council and demand a fall break, just so I can catch up.  I'm beginning to absolutely define the phrase 'absent-minded professor' simply because I don't always know what day it is.

In the meantime, I've been snowed under with grading, and I don't anticipate that stopping between now and the end of the semester.  I have conferences coming up with my 1301 and 1302 students, which means I need to calculate midterm grades for them.  I'm giving serious consideration to revising some of my assignments so it's easier for me to grade.

And as we go along, I still have these moments of distinct hate for Texas.  My mother-in-law is wonderful and sent us several packages of country ham in the mail because country ham is not a thing down here.  (I asked in the grocery store if they had any and got "What's that?" in return.)  The highlight of my week last week was parking behind a car that had Fayette County license plates, because it meant that there was someone from Kentucky on campus with me!

I've also been sick this last week.  Stress--even though I don't really feel all that stressed--is eating my stomach alive, and ginger ale and lemon drops have been my constant companion.  (I've had several people ask me if I'm pregnant--apparently that combination of things is a dead giveaway?  I'm not, though.  I checked.)

We did have some good news this week--potentially good news.   The job Dear Husband got turned down for at Del Mar apparently didn't work out with the original person they hired, so they contacted DH this week to see if he was still interested.  His background check form was turned in on Friday, so hopefully we won't have too much longer to wait before hearing something official.  He was very glad, particularly since he found himself watching Rachael Ray this week while he was cleaning the downstairs.  Apparently, that is the point at which a man begins going stir-crazy.

But for now, I'm taking a break from grading before my head explodes, and Cat and I are going to hang out and do something fun.  Maybe read something fun or play a computer game.  I'm sure whatever we do, she'll be right there with me.  She always is.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Week 8: New Adventures...Old Problems

I had sushi for the first time this week when I went out with some new friends I've made here in Corpus, and since I knew that no one would ever believe me if I didn't have photographic evidence (Catie Storm), one of my friends very kindly took a picture of me eating a Philadelphia roll.  I also had some fresh edamame with sea salt (which was delicious) and a spring roll with spicy ahi tuna and fried avacado (which they'd substituted for crab, since I'm allergic to shellfish).  I also had a bite of a vegetarian roll, but I didn't like it as much. I really liked the spring roll with the peanut sauce, but I think that I should put more wasabi in the soy sauce for my sushi.  Yes, I said next time!  I would not be averse to going back.  (And I know that will shock people more than anything else.)

In the meantime, it's raining...again.  And that has created yet another problem: water in the garage again.  Yay.  We're pretty sure that there is a crack in the foundation that's causing this, and once again, are very grateful that we do not own this house.  Rent may be expensive, but trying to fix this would be a lot worse.

I bought a prop at Big Lots for my 1302 class.  Meet Yorick!  I knew him well, Horatio. 
I think he'll be a  nice touch, and it will help with ideas about staging and rhetoric, I think.  My students have been having problems with the language, so we've been acting the play out in class, but I think having props also helps.  I really want to get a couple of plastic swords so we can have a Hamlet/Laertes battle at the end, as I think it would be fun to take my students outside and have the whole battle out in the quad.  A big fancy goblet would be nice too, perhaps, since, "The drink, the drink! I am poisoned." 

One the other hand, I promised that they wouldn't have to make spectacles of themselves outside of the classroom, so I may just have to see how far we can move the desks out of the way.

I finished grading my 1302 classes' identity papers this week, and can't express how many times I found myself in tears.  It's a lot different from reading other papers about identity from previous students.  So many of my students have had incredibly difficult lives--having children when they were no more than children themselves, some moving out of their homes before they can legally work full-time in order to make things easier on their families, others who escaped out of gangs.  Some join the military to escape the poverty of Corpus Christi, and there are none who go to war and don't come back changed.  It's taken me longer to grade these papers, because I have to be sure that I'm grading them on the merits of the writing, not necessarily the content. 

What has unified many of them, though, is a distinct determination to make a better life for themselves and their children.  Still, though, my heart has just hurt for so many of these students.  My 1302 students, in particular, are working so very, very hard, and I could not be more proud of them.   

In many ways, it's been odd for me as well.  I've said prayers for students before, but I've never felt the need to so deeply and specifically pray for students before.  In some ways, it may seem paternalistic (maternalistic?).  I know that I have had other students that needed prayer before, but I've never felt it so collectively.  And for as much as I am still homesick, I keep being convinced that this is the place for us to be.

That's not to say that I haven't had some difficult decisions to make over the last week.  I have.  They aren't ones that I can talk about, but they've been very stressful, and at some point, you have to start channeling the Vulcan axiom that "the good of the many outweighs the good of the few--or the one."  And it sucks.  There are things that you simply have to do, but you feel terrible about them.  And you have to deal with the consequences of that decision, however unpleasant they may be.  But I have a department that is incredibly supportive, and I can't even begin to say how much I appreciate that.

So I'm hoping that this week will be better.  Midterms are here, and I've got to get things done, so it's back to the grind.  With any luck, the cold front coming through tomorrow won't make the garage flood....again.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Week Whatever.

Dear Husband took this picture from the beach today.  If there is one nice thing about living in Corpus Christi, it is the ability to decide on a beautiful Saturday afternoon to forget about everything else, throw your stuff in the car, and head out to the gulf.  We spent the afternoon reading (and in my case, getting a bit toasted), which has been a nice end to what has seemed like nigh endless weeks of rain.

Those nigh endless weeks of rain meant another adventure with water in the garage, and this week, a migraine that lasted from Monday afternoon all the way through Friday and which has only now abated.  My students are pretty good when it comes to keeping it down to a dull roar when I ask them to, though my head was so mixed up that I gave two different classes the wrong readings and had to correct for it later.

As such, I'm not entirely sure all what went on this week!  I've felt behind this week--more behind than I actually am.  Not that I still don't have plenty to do next week, but I'm not that behind.  Part of being behind was because I ended up spending two hours Tuesday writing a paper prompt for my American Lit class that I'd not only already written but handed out to my students--and had completely forgotten about.  But because it somehow didn't get checked off my to-do list, I ended up doing it again.

I've actually been trying to write this blog post most of the evening, and realized that most of the things that occurred to me this week to put in my blog didn't stay in my brain because of that week-long migraine.  So this will be a rather short entry, I think.  Maybe next week will be more interesting, but since interesting often means stressful, I'm going to hope not.