Actually, two questions. I have a double room reserved at the conference hotel. The person I had hoped to share with can't come after all. I haven't registered, and you have to pay up front for a dorm room. So I have two questions -- does anybody know if that "can change till April 15" includes getting a refund on a dorm room?
More importantly, does anybody who knows me IRL need a roommate or personally know a likely congenial and safe N/S person who might want to share?
Please reply to my ADM e-mail or to my personal e-mail.
Marc at Spinning Clio Has given me a Thinking Blogger award!! I'm so flattered, especially as I've been a little derelict in my blogging duties of late. Anyway, that means is that he thinks my blog is "thought-provoking." Since I've accepted the award, I now have to follow the rules:
The participation rules are simple:
If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think
Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme
Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).
So here are my five awards. I'm not going to mention some of the more confessional blogs I read all the time, not because they don't make me think, but because some blogs seems to me the kind of things that are still sort of private -- we meet those bloggers through friends, and there are few "strangers" who come by. Some of these I read every day, some less often. When I do read them, these are the blogs that are most likely to make me stop and mull things over. Honestly, though, I don't read many blogs that don't make me think. And I could easily name more than five. My choices are mostly ones that my normal readers might not read as often as I do and that represent a range of the types of blogs I read. I'm kind of annoyed, because I had to leave a lot of blogs out. So here's my list:
Tim Burke's Easily Distracted. Tim's an African historian, and a fantastic writer. He also has an interest in sff, (well, mostly sf) which results in posts that are not only interesting, but warm the cockles of my heart. I met Tim at AHA a couple of years ago. He speaks as he writes, which to me is amazing, because I can be hugely inarticulate. It would annoy me, if he weren't so darned nice!
Dean Dad, at Confessions of a Community College Dean. Dean Dad is sensible and smart. His blog combines academic life with daily life. The comment threads are filled with fantastic conversations -- and arguments -- about how colleges handle administrative decisions, hiring, and the faculty-admin divide. There's a "been there, done that" universal experience quality to it that I love.
This next one's an 800-lb gorilla of a blog, but it's one I've been reading for as long as I've been blogging: Crooked Timber. CT also did a lot to confirm for me that I wasn't a total academic fraud -- when a bunch of working academics in a broad range of fields talk to you as an equal, especially when you are in the hell that is The Job Search, it can do a lot of good. I need to get back over there today -- John Holbo has posted on Frankenstein, but in a way that will doubtless spark conversations on public domain, authoritative editions, etc.
Dr Crazy, at Reassigned Time, is another thought-provoker. I find her posts on teaching and finding balance in the life of a single academic resonate with me and give me lots of ideas for how to re-frame my approach to my own teaching and life.
My last award goes to another heavy-hitting group blog: Making Light. Nielsen Haydens, sff, and politics, all rolled into one. I especially like Making Light because so many of the posts are things that just don't often get above the radar. And, well, politics and sff. I don't go to cons, although the ones with academic panels where my friends present are really tempting. But that's really only the matter of not having had the money to do it when I had friends who did (Some of my friends and I formed a Star Trek club in 7th grade, which eventually expanded to broader sff -- one of the co-founders -- and a first real crush on a genius -- now teaches condensed matter theory at a big midwestern university), and not having any friends who would go when I had the money. Now I have both (sort of, on the $ side), but I feel like that part of life has passed me by. I'm not a fan-girl, and I feel stupid next to the academics. Making light helps me feel like I haven't entirely lost that. Maybe I'll even get to where I feel I can comment there!
So that's my list of awards. I think I'm supposed to let them know. I hope you find them all thought-provoking, too.
Today was a fantastic teaching day. It was such a good day that I thought I should write about it to counter some of the more usual whinges. I should admit that part of it was down to my not prepping as well as I should have for today, at least in some ways. Most of it, however, was because of some things I'd been dissatisfied with in terms of how the classes have been going. Because of a combination of bookstore supply problems and badly-timed snow days, I've not been as assiduous as I'd like in cracking down on students for not being prepared. Last Friday, though, none of the classes were well-attended (still snow and ice), and none of the students really seemed to be more than physically present. Since I'm very much not a chalk-and-talk teacher, even in a class of 25 -- heck, even in a class of 50, to a certain degree -- students who aren't prepared are the kiss of death.
Last night, when I was reading up for today's survey, I realized that I really needed to tie up a bunch of loose ends, some administrative and some content/context. Since that would necessitate moving from one topic (racism with regards to the Atlantic slave trade) to a very different one (the rise of the Ottoman Empire), I thought I'd shake things up with a quiz. The racism question was easy to deal with. It was a problem only because everybody knows that slavery in North America is all about race, right? Except that the primary sources the students read indicated that, although race was a factor, racism as they understand it might not have been. So after everyone asserted that slavery was all about racism, we went back over the documents and secondary readings we'd discussed the week before. The students brought up ideas of civilization and savagery, differentiations between different types of Africans made by Europeans and how that defined their treatment, and eventually came to the conclusion that it was a very complicated subject that couldn't really be reduced to one simple explanation. There was disagreement, but I was so happy to see them accept that history and historical explanations can be messy and complex, and that's okay.
The quiz was equally successful. I handed out ten terms from the reading due for the day. One student complained that they couldn't be expected to remember all of that stuff, and it was really hard, if they did the reading a couple of days in advance. Cue the 'comparison to foreign language' talk. After all, when we take foreign languages, we have to learn vocabulary and grammar and remember them for longer than the next class, right? Well, you have to learn (to a certain extent) what's in the textbook for all the classes ... "but that's foreign language!" "But it's learning!" There were jokes, and students asked if they'd get points for good joke answers or answers that connected to Star Trek, but mostly, they looked pretty embarrassed. We went over the mostly empty quiz sheets, and I asked them to not make me quiz them again. Lesson learned? I think for a few of them. The I related why knowing such things was important for class overall, and the upcoming exam in particular, and we went over how to write an identification paragraph, using one of the terms I'd given them as an example.
From there, it was easy to get them to start reviewing what they were supposed to have read (and many did have notes with them) and relate it to things we'd been studying over the past couple of weeks. How did the rise of the Ottoman Empire fit into what else was going on in Europe and its expansion to the Americas? (etc., etc.) So basically, a good class with all of us a bit more focused.
The upper-level students have been dealing with a very different issue. Well, two. Not posting to our class blog is a big one, but it's been more than that. It took me a long time to figure it out, and it's something I really wanted to work on before we went any further. I like to do a lot of document analysis. These students are very good at reading primary sources and digesting them and synthesizing them. They excel at writing analyses that say, "these laws tell you about social values and gender relations in Frankish Society (or whatever)." Then they take those "about"s and relate them back to the secondary sources. They've been very resistant to starting cold with a primary source and coming up with a bare-bones, "this document tells us that the Franks differentiated between people of different legal and social status. For example ..."
It took me a while to figure this out, but really, it's a problem I think many of us still have. We aren't willing to see ourselves as authorities, even when we should. I mean, I know I can do research and write. I have a piece of paper from a reputable university that says so. I have peers who are vastly better qualified who don't think I'm a complete idiot (I think). And I catch myself getting caught up in secondary literature every time I start researching something. I mean, I know that I should be looking at the actual land transactions I'm working with before, during, and after I look at the secondary stuff on inheritance and property rights and how women exercised them (not that I'm working on anything related to that). I know that. But (partially because I have to carve out chunks of research time and it's so hard to get to the library in the Big City) I still tend to get caught up in "what the experts say." So for my 3rd- and 4th year students, it's got to be much more difficult.
So, today, with apologies to the student who posted a beautifully synthesized essay for the other students to critique, we started from scratch on the same documents. Each student listed general themes for which a historian might use the documents as evidence. They came up with pretty much the same lists as I had, with some variation and a couple of things I hadn't thought of. So, one set of legal cases can be used to talk about women and property and feudal obligations and taxes and revenue collection and the legal system and ...? Yes! Then I put them into small groups, one theme per group, to pick out all the evidence pertinent to their theme and turn it into 2-4 paragraphs of "see? we're trying to think like historians!" Had a great question right off the bat -- two very similar cases separated by 40 years ... "is that relevant?" "Yes, so how do you turn this thing that you've noticed, that over a 40-year span, the government is still dealing with rebels, into a statement using the evidence?" "Like this?" "Yes!" And then a different student piped in with, "wait ... the punishments in the later case are harsher, that seems like it's important enough to mention .. I wish we knew if this was typical!" Such conversations came up with most of the groups, and they seemed to be having fun! Plus, when I reminded them that they should be doing 2 hours of work outside class for every hour in class, and their reading load couldn't take them more than three hours, they agreed that they really did need to be doing more work online.
Anyway, I'm not at all sure what the point of this is, except that having a day where you seem to get through makes the other days worthwhile, and does wonders for keeping my own head in the game. I feel like being productive again.
While I've been in dog-paddling land (water?), I've not been keeping up with my blogroll as well as I'd like. I had noticed thesediscussions at Dr. Crazy's (and the places where she links), and wanted to get back to them. I didn't really think I'd have a lot to say, though. Funny, how things change.
Normally speaking, I don't have much of an authority problem in the classroom. First, I'm old enough to be the mother of pretty much all my students. That wasn't true at the CCs where I taught, but there, they dynamic was so different, and I think many of the older students came with a different mind-set that said, "respect for teachers." Second, I know my stuff. The students seem to know that I know it -- although they regularly try to stump me. The good students know I come across as a hard-ass, but that I am happy to make allowances when there's good reason. Life happens.
I'm also confident enough in my classroom that I am pretty easy-going. I allow the students to make smart-ass comments, unless they're rude towards someone. I will occasionally allow students to make a call on how we approach something -- if they really don't feel like formal group work on a particular day, I'll bag it and restructure, perhaps my letting them review for a second with just one neighbor. It hasn't hurt me so far.
When I have had challenges to my authority, though -- not to my subject knowledge, but actual challenges where a student thinks it appropriate to tell me they don't like something about how I'm teaching -- it's always from young men, and it always stems from bruised egos and hurt feelings. I am not mean to my students. I will call them on things -- this semester, I've had to stop class and do The Stare, and have even simply asked, "why is it that I'm talking, and yet you are talking at the same time?" Still, I generally keep a relaxed, productive classroom where students feel free to offer their opinions.
That doesn't translate to written comments. I sometimes write things on papers like, "good point!" "Nice example!" -- and in my closing comments, I always try to say something encouraging. But mostly, especially when students don't follow very explicit directions or Just. Can't. Write., I'm blunt. Not mean. Just blunt. The same is true on Blackboard. When students go off on tangents, or post comments that aren't within the guidelines, I will generally validate what they've said (unless they're asking something that's in the syllabus), and then remind them that they need to follow the guidelines.
But I'm not touchy-feely. I'm not obliged to offer false praise to protect my students' fragile egos. And you know what? I'm not going to muddy the waters of grading by saying a bunch of nice stuff and handing out a D. That can't be good for anybody.
Why am I going on about this? Because I had a student chew my ass in class the other day. I had no idea how to handle it. We walked in, sat down, and I asked if there were any questions before we started. And this student went off on me. He felt he had been disrespected, and not only wanted to let me and the world know that I was out of line, but that he was no longer going to do a certain type of assignment because ...well, frankly, I stopped listening at that point. I stopped listening because I was madly doing about 15 things, all in my head -- trying to figure out all the following things: "Do I tell him to shut up and take it up with me outside class time?" "Will that make things worse?" "OMG, I am now totally fucked, and this class will never listen to me again and this is my favourite class!" "What the FUCK is he talking about??? I know for a fact that I was not rude to him! should I pull up the correspondence on the screen and let the class see that this young man is way the hell out of line?" "How can I fix this?" "Why am I just standing here? Why am I saying nothing?"
In the end, he stopped, I said I was sorry he felt that way, because I honestly couldn't remember saying anything that should have been taken as he'd taken it, but that I would check after class, and that if he didn't want to participate and was willing to throw out ten percent of his grade (and I did not say, "by being a big crybaby"), that was his option. We went on to talk about the reading for the day, and the student politely took place in the discussion, and even engaged with me pleasantly. The whole unpleasant episode took about 5 minutes, but I'm still entirely disturbed by it a few days later. I'm worried about the class, and I'm worried about evals. And I'm annoyed with myself, because I know that race and gender and class played parts in my not responding. All of a sudden, lots of stereotypes come into play. One's actions will reinforce some of them at the expense of others. Which ones would you pick?
The AHA panel deadline is Feb 15. I'm thinking of putting together a paper panel or a roundtable on one or two things -- one of them could be broader than early medieval -- could even include early modern. AHA is really trying to get more medieval stuff, and is willing to take papers already given. Please e-mail me offline if you are interested, and I'll let you know what I've got in mind.
One of my commenters below pointed out something important -- this is partially the result of the "prolonged apprenticeship that is academia". I didn't really mean to sound so whiney, because I do like the job a lot. But I think I, like many other people who move from visiting positions to T-T positions, had the idea that it would be easier. You'd think I of all people would know better -- I've been reading academic blogs forever, it seems. But even though I knew it would be different, and even that it would be hard, I don't think I appreciated what the differences would be. It isn't that the work is harder. It's that the stakes are higher. I think it's the knowing that I'm where I was trying to get to ... now, I have to rely entirely on myself. Well, I've had to do that forever. But I guess it seems more real now, if that makes sense. Still, I think I need to get to the gym. That will help. And get caught up on the grading.
It's not that I'm not blogging on purpose. Really. I'd like to be blogging more. I have a bunch of good pedagogical things to write about. I have a week to see if anybody is interested in putting together a panel for AHA next year -- that's by February 15. I have dozens of job applications to read by next week. I have stuff to review for Big Committee. I am still trying to keep up with the new survey prep and the brand-new upper division prep in a field not entirely my own. I have a book review to write (currently on a deadline extension). Oh ... and did I mention I have a conference paper to write? A conference paper I've barely started? OK, it's not due till May. But I really need it drafted by the middle of March, because I want to enjoy a visit from a very close friend (plus, I'd like to have it in a stage where he can read it without me feeling like a total idiot!). Somewhere in between, I need to put together a sensible plan and make arrangements to go to do some research this summer. I need to go to England, I think, as Germany is much harder to arrange. So it's BL and maybe Cambridge. And then I have to find funding. And next year, I have to apply for funding ahead of time.
So that's what I'm doing now. Not blogging much seems a good idea till I get a handle on my life.
In the meantime, full-time T-T jobs are hard. Being at a so-called teaching college that wants new faculty to publish is hard. Trying to keep up is hard. And it's different. It's really different. When you're on short-term contracts, you've got the stress of looking for the next job. Even in the best situations, and I was extremely fortunate to have had full-time visiting positions, I think you're never as invested. I was so lucky in that I got the chance to get used to service, and I was supported in my attempts to find a better job and keep up a minimal research agenda. I made great friends, people who will be my friends forever, I hope. But I always knew I'd have to leave.
I really love most of the things about my new job. I've got some great colleagues here, too. And I have never been so scared in my life. I'm feeling like an imposter again. My dean has put me on a Big Scary Committee, and my colleagues seem to think I know what I'm doing. But it doesn't help much. I've never worried so much about doing my job well enough. And, at the same time, the honeymoon is over. I'm starting to get a feel for some of the political currents (really not that bad compared to what I've seen, but they're there) and, like many new faculty, am finding that some of the promises made at hiring were based on what had gone before. In fact, SLAC has not really done the groundwork to support the kinds of things they told us we were hired to do. This makes me even more desperate to do well and get some work in press before I go up for tenure and promotion -- just in case. So, in addition to the stress of the new job, I'm putting more on myself, just in case I need to go on the market. The upshot is, of course, that I seem to be just this side of paralysis.
Ew. I just realised something about myself I'm a little worried about. I seem to be approaching both my professional and my personal life the same way. Not sure I like what that says.
As a followup, I've just seen this posted elsewhere. It's the online petition against the proposed changes and charges for BL use. I don't know where non-UK citizens/residents/ex-pats are supposed to write, though, as this seems to be purely for them:
If you do know where non-UK taxpayers are supposed to write, please feel free to post in the comments, and I'll bring it up to the main post. Thanks!
UPDATE: A suggestion has come through for the correct address for letters:
Rt Hon Tessa Jowell MP Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport Department for Culture Media & Sport 2-4 Cockspur Street London SW1Y 5DH
If you know a better one, though, please let me know, and I'll post.
ANOTHER UPDATE: From a friend ...
"According to their website, the BL is actively campaigning against the proposed cuts and Lynne Brindley has asked those who feel strongly about this issue to contact the library and explain "why the British Library is important to you and give us permission to use your letter in our campaign. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, contact number and message, or write to Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB." So if you have five minutes to spare, do send an e-mail or letter too."
Wow! I just checked my ADM e-mail, and there was a note from a nice product manager at ProQuest with a direct url (minus the diss number, which they will look up for me, or which I can add myself) to the diss, abstract, and 24-page sample. This can be done without subscription to ProQuest. How cool is the blogosphere???
I still haven't heard from my H-M rep, so yesterday I called in to the general customer service area (my bookstore having been very non-active until about three days ago)and complained politely. I was immediately transferred to a manager, and the problem was solved in about 20 minutes. My book seems to be on permanent backorder, but it's available in splits. The missing books have been overnighted. Funny how, if one actually follows up (I'm talking to YOU, big uni bookstore company that runs our bookstore), one can get things fixed.