Thursday, December 30, 2004

It. Has. Beee-gun.

It. Has. Beee-gun.

Yes, the new quarter hasn't even started, enrollments are still abysmal (but that's a whole nother story that has to do with a truly incompetant college president and her administration and their wise decision -- based on a marketing study done by a freshman marketing class on high school students in our catchment area -- to not send out any course schedules), and yet, I do have student issues to deal with. For example, I got a phone message from a student who disappeared from class, really needed an incomplete, but disappeared from that and turned her work in well into the quarter, rather than during the summer, as I agreed, asking where her grade was. Sorry, chum, but you will have to wait. You couldn't manage to turn in your work on my schedule, you will now have to learn what it feels like to be slightly inconvenienced. And then, there's this e-mail:
Dear Ms. ADM [points for not calling me by my first name, no points for not using my academic title],

My name is Student who wants to start the quarter on the wrong foot and i will be a student in your
class. But i will be unable to attend the
first week of class due to a prior engagment. And i
know that the teacher is able to drop a student after
missing two classes. But i will come to class after
the first week, so please email me if there is
something else i have to do other than notifing you of
my absence. If there is nothing else i need to do then
i will see you the second week of class.


Student who wants to start off on the wrong foot.
[some editing done to protect the student's privacy]

Um... Ummmm....WTF??

DON'T scare the FTE away! Don't do it!

So I e-mailed the student back, did not correct the student on forms of address, spelling, etc., and told the student they still had to get online and do the hybrid work and keep up with the reading, because there was no way to make it up. But really.

But on the really cool side -- the survey with the really cool students from last quarter picked up 2 more today, which makes me hopeful that there will be enough people registered to let it go. I wouldn't really mind cancelling it, because a survey class with eight students is just not going to hit critical mass, but these four students from last time are really neat people and bright and make teaching a joy, so I really want the class to go.

Also, I am now having serious doubts about the book I ordered for the 19th c. class. I really wish I'd ordered the one from Oxford UP, because I hate the organization of this one, but I just had no time to look for anything better, since my own book reps (and for pity's sake, they plague me like flies, but never have anything I want) didn't have anything better and I didn't think about the English presses ... Oh well.

Regarding the Tsunami

And in case there are conservative bloggers out there keeping tabs, this is all I have to say. It sucks and I still am having trouble getting my head around it. What else are we supposed to say?

Update on AHA Blogfest

So far, colleagues have suggested The Elephant and Castle, Fado, and McCormick's Fish House. I'm checking into other places as well. I know a couple of really nice bars, but drinks in Seattle tend to be pricey (high liquor tax) and I'd like to find something fairly central (don't forget it's a rainy place) and in a price range suitable for all of us -- and as Sepoy said, one not overrun with AHA attendees! A couple of these are on the AHA "For Grads" supplement in the December Perspectives, but I think that there are only a couple. How do these sound, and what evenings are good for people? I was thinking Thursday or Friday evening or Saturday early evening?

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Survivor's Guilt

Survivor's Guilt

New Kid is anxious, and suffering from a combination of first-year performance worries and survivor's guilt. From what I know of her, both things are silly. She's a clearly bright and dedicated teacher who came out of a solid program and managed to get her first job while ABD. She has a research agenda that she follows. And now, she's on her second T-T job. How cool is that? Mixed up in her worries are her feelings about giving up a decent job that many of us would really like, because it didn't quite "fit" her aspirations:
Nonetheless, it was not a job that was going to make my peers swoon with envy (other than through being a job at all. But it was not one of the "sought-after" jobs in that year) or that was going to make people at conferences look at my nametag twice.

And you know what? That's pretty much ok. Even looking at it from the other side of the picture -- the job hunter who would be most likely be fine with the job at Rural U., I get it. We are trained to see ourselves as failures if we're not at the top of our profession. For NK and Ancarett and me, I think that means that we should be teaching at Research I schools and padding our CVs to become Fellows of the Medieval Academy, as well as leaders in whatever our particular subfields are. Any job we take at a lesser place is only because of the dismal job market, and should probably be seen as a stopgap.

But most schools aren't Research I schools. And I doubt whether those aspirations are realistic -- or even meaningful. Some people really are cut out to be publishing stars, but most of our students aren't taking our classes because of that, nor do they really care until they are seniors or grad students. What bothers me about the whole "correct aspirations" myth is that it tends to ignore the needs of the undergraduates (and sometimes, graduate students too) and it plays on our own insecurities. If we don't get the good jobs, we're clearly not goods enough. If we get the 'lesser' or not so sought-after jobs, we probably just gamed the system -- because we clearly aren't good enough to have jobs in the dismal job market. Or maybe, we got the jobs we almost deserve, but we can't trust the places who hired us because, well, they hired us! What were they thinking?
It gets more interesting when you throw Comunity Colleges into the mix. Generally speaking, Community College job descriptions in History are very vague and require very little. Many simply ask for an MA in History or a BA in History plus graduate work in another Social Science. It's a very non-competetive type of job description, compared to the numbers of unemployed History PhDs out there. So, if a PhD takes such a job, there's little to show for it in terms of being the best for the job. It's therefore easier to discount the whole thing as a "luck of the draw" occurance. I've been very lucky in my CC job, in that the interview process was pretty rigorous, and it was clear that the breadth of my teaching fields and my teaching evaluations were really important. Moreover, I work with a lot of really bright, giving, talented people who have chosen to teach in a CC because they think it's important. They also have no reverse snobbism aimed at colleagues who try to keep a scholarly career going. And most of my colleagues can make me feel really dumb, but insist that half the time they don't know what I'm talking about, so I can be realistic about my insecurities. But it's still a hard place to be, in some ways.

The upside to CC life is that it's great for dedicated teachers. You get to work with students who generally want to be there and, because most CCs have an open-door admission policy, you get to make a real difference in students' academic development, although sometimes it's just in seeing them hit actual college-level work. On the downside, though, it's all about the survey courses you can fill. Even if you're lucky enough to teach a specialty course (oh, I would LOVE to teach a course on just the Republic, or the Early Middle Ages, or Popular Piety and Heresy), it's not that specialized. Basically, it's a 200-level survey. And if you don't have the enrollments, it's back to Western- or World Civ for you! The big trade-off is that tenure is not that difficult to get, and if you teach required courses, you'll get the FTEs that allow the specialties. Everything else is gravy. Throw in location, etc., and it's enough.
Except that we need to do better. We need to be allowed to push ourselves. And so, people like me look for jobs at Rural U, with a teaching load and emphasis that puts students first, but also where scholarship is expected, so that we don't stagnate. And I guess this is for me where the problem lies. I know I'm good at what I do. I have both student and peer evaluations that say I'm a great teacher. I also work in a field where there are very few of us working in English. Anything I work on is therefore pretty new -- especially because I don't necessarily agree with the only other person working with the same group of sources. I'm also not a bad writer -- after the first two chapters of my thesis, I only had to revise each subsequent chapter once, and my committee was made up of people who know what they're doing! But the jobs at Rural U? Or Private Liberal Arts College (the dream job)? Sometimes it seems like they're just stepping stones for the people just out of the Ivies and Research Is-- people who aren't happy, because they expect more of themselves. So they take the 'lesser' jobs and move on in a couple of years, and the jobs open up for a new crop of students.
In the meantime, the people who might once have been great fits have left academe or fallen so far behind while trying to cobble together a paycheck and move on with some kind of normal life that they're out of the running. And some of the Rural Us and PLACs will go on to hire more #1 draft picks, not realizing that they won't stay, because, after the initial joy of getting any decent job, those stars will want to leave for better libraries, a better chance at being a "somebody," or maybe (as happened at our school) because the wages don't pay enough or there isn't a job for their also-academic spouse.
This might sound a bit snarky, I know. But there are two sides to the imposter syndrome, and I would much rather be on the side that wonders how they managed to get the job than on the side where I wonder if I'm an imposter because no one wants me. That's the side that's hard to argue, after all. If you've got the job, you should know that there were probably other qualified candidates (hence the survivor's guilt), but you can also think about the fact that you're probably a pretty good fit. You can look at peer reviews and student evaluations and hopefully find tangible evidence of scholarship. If you aren't getting the job interviews, let alone the job, and still have plenty of external evidence that you are good at what you do, it's far easier to see yourself as unworthy and undeserving, just as it's far easier to discount those externals. And you know, I think that's worse, because then you're not just doubting yourself, but also the underpinnings that have held you together as an academic since you began grad school. From there, it's very hard to justify going on.

Ok -- that came out differently than I expected, but I'll leave it, I think. As you may have guessed, no one's offered me an AHA interview yet (although there is a week to go). More annoying is that only one place has actually rejected me, which means that 7 places are letting me drift in the wind. Also, on the plus side, I did just realize that one very well-known medievalist was an adjunct for around 15 years before getting a T-T job. And there are still the January apps to get out. So that's my post-holiday blues. I'd rather be suffering survivor's guilt than wondering if I'll survive.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Past Done

Past Done ... on with the Hols and the New Quarter

Grades were due at midnight last Friday. I turned mine in 23 hours early!!!! A new record, made possible by the fact that all my finals were early in the week and a couple of marathon grading sessions. Now, I can think about how my classes went.

First -- no more overloads if I can help it. Or more than two sections of the same prep unless they are all on the same schedule. It's far too confusing otherwise. Plus, I just couldn't prep as much as I would have liked. I don't think the students suffered -- Ancient/Medieval surveys are pretty much my "blindfolded with one arm tied behind my back" courses -- but as a whole, I want my courses to be more coherent.

Second, I don't know if it's me or what, but my grades were consistently lower this quarter. I worry that I don't get my expectations across, but then I look at the assignments and see that they are clearer than ever, with fairly precise steps, expected outcomes, and reasons for why the assignments should be important to the students and their learning. I also give the students copies of the grading matrices I've started to use, so that there are no surprises. Could this level of detail also mean that I must keep my grading standards at a certain place? I think so. It's amazing how a list of things like, "Essay states a thesis that answers the assigned questions," and "Thesis is supported by argument and interpretation," and even, "arguments and interpretations are supported by appropriate use of primary sources," can affect one's overall grades. I look at the matrix and realize that much of what I'm looking for is structural -- and should be easy for the students to do. Yet they don't. I do think that using the matrix and giving fair warning for what I expect not only makes it easier to grade on the same standard for all students, but makes me a harder grader. So the question is, do I change the matrix?

Third, in response to the question above. NO. History is about what happened and why we think things happened the way they did. Doing History is about learning to use sources and find the argument within them, I think. There's a horrible dichotomy here. I teach mostly surveys, the intro courses that are for many students check boxes on a list of required courses. I think they want and expect to learn History, but don't expect to have to learn to do History. It may be a problem with the field. In Math and Science courses, students have to learn how to do the work. In fact, much of what the students learn is necessarily method. That is not so true in History, in my experience. But why? Because a bunch of men decided it? No. I have just realized that I am espousing the Buffy theory of History. I am there to share my fabulous pseudo-Slayer powers -- which are not nearly as cool as real Slayer powers. What are those powers? Why, I can read primary sources and glean useful information from them! I can read secondary sources and identify the thesis and critique the arguments and use of evidence that support the thesis! I can remember basic chronology, people, places, etc.! I can construct an essay (and, by extension, an article or book) that holds water while arguing a point! I can transfer these skills to other realms of daily life, both academic and non! And I will give these powers to my students who want them.

The problem: students might not want these powers. Some students run screaming. Others drift away, saying, "but I don't know what I'm supposed to do ... there's so much work!" This, by the way is true. Students are supposed to prepare the readings in advance and bring answers to a set of questions to class. But the not knowing what to do part I don't get -- except that they don't want to believe me when I tell them I don't want them to read and synthesize -- I want them to read and pick apart, so we can synthesize in class. It's my biggest dilemma -- how to convey my wishes to the students when those wishes go against what the students think they are supposed to do. This quarter, the first assignment for the survey class will be to read Magna Carta. It's a little early for where the class starts, but I want them to see the difference between reading it and using it to illustrate arguments about individual rights that they've heard before (they will insist on doing this) and picking out things like scutage and saying, "there was something called scutage and I looked it up and it's like a kind of tax, I think ..." The former is not a learning experience, IMO. The latter leads to discussions about what kind of society this is, assumptions about taxation, tensions between different social cadres ...

That's one class. I think. Maybe two sections, but that's up in the air. Enrollmenst are down by 900 this quarter. According to our brilliant administration, this has nothing to do with the fact that we don't send out course schedules in the mail (the only CC in the area not to) and nothing to do with rising tuition and a policy of dropping people who don't pay by a certain date -- I assume there will be more adds as the quarter gets closer, since many students seem to wait for the holidays to be over to register. But then, many take the Winter quarter off to work at the ski areas to make money for Spring. SO, there's a good chance I'll be teaching one new prep I'm planning (a 19th c. course -- don't ask my why I thought that would be a good idea) and, if my surveys don't fill, one section of an online survey I've never taught before. I dread the online class, partially because my laast online class suffered 65% attrition. I think it's because I expect the students to function as an online community. Those who did, did well. Those who didn't, failed. Online presentations (3) and discussion of the readings made up 50% of the grade, yet over 45% of the students never participated in the discussions, and a few of those students still turned in the required essays, etc. I don't get it.

Oh well, three classes, three separate preps, two of them new. That means I have to be ultra-productive over break. Here's what I need to do:
  • Find a place to meet with other bloggers for the AHA
  • Get out the rest of the job apps due in January
  • Walk the dog every day
  • Do my Christmas shopping (online and late)
  • Write the book review that I've been putting off
  • Set up the Blackboard site for the 19th c class (hybrid)
  • Re-read the novels for the 19th c. class (Jude the Obscure and Fathers and Sons), which Norton has not yet got to me
  • Revise the Blackboard site for the hybrid survey I think will go (enrollment is in double-digits)
  • Wait with 'bated breath to see if I have to prep an all-new online survey or revise the other section of the survey I am supposed to teach -- not to mention, "What about a last minute book order?"
  • Bring some organization into my office
  • Finish commenting on a colleague's ms.

I keep thinking that one of the chief advantages of a T-T job must be getting paid through the summers so that more of the prep and writing can be done then. I do hope that, if you are reviewing my application, you do not see this as a lack of organization, but rather as an impressive list of goals and the ability to adapt to different academic situations.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Grading Avenger

Grading Avenger

This is me in grading mode. This is also me in "must. not. blog. must. grade. eeeeviiiiiilllll. papers." mode. Back after I'm caught up to talk about AHA, etc. Posted by Hello

Had to edit: OK -- the sword in my hand? I would like to use it on students who don't read the assignments and possibly on one or more of my bloody cats, the bastards. Someone peed on my desk. I think she (I'm pretty sure it was one of the girls) missed all the important papers, but got the pedestal and bits of the new LCD monitor I got for my birthday. Perhaps not coincidentally, the inside of my screen appears to be sprouting red and yellow inky streaks (about a pixel in width, but some that are a bunch of pixel-widths all packed together) from the top and the bottom of the screen. They seem to be spreading, but also fading after time. Does anyone know anything about what might be happening? could it maybe have to do with cleaning the screen in a strokes-not-just-in-one-direction manner? Does anyone want my cats?
And yes, I will now be covering the desk and all computer peripherals when they are not in use. Bastards.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004



Office Visit Annual: $42
Ultrasound Cystocentesis: $41
Urinalysis Complete: $38.85
Clavamox 62.5 mg Tab x 20 $22.30
Administer Fluids SubQ Level I $31

Knowing that the lovely Lily will not die of a massive bladder infection, dehydration, and their complications: $175.15 plus sales tax Priceless.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Knowing Stuff

Knowing Stuff

I came out of today's classes feeling really good. I've been behind all quarter, the students have been recalcitrant, to say the least, and I've had to cut content I think is important. Not good. But anyway, today, on our way to the
Song of Roland, I had to tie up a ton of stuff we've fallen behind on and make it fit into a picture that worked. And it did -- the students, with some prodding, were able to recall details from 7th century Germanic laws, Frankish royal genealogy, Muslim invasions, Einhard, fidelity oaths, and Vikings to help me tie it all into an overview of Early Medieval Europe. From there, we talked about the changes from partible inheritance to primogeniture, and a semi-concurrent shift from appointed office to inherited titles replete with land. From there, and the kind of weaker-king, stronger nobles, outside invaders and internal social tensions, we moved on to the dreaded F-word. Except that, this time, it wasn't dreaded. Somehow, this desperate attempt to review and make sense of what we'd been doing made it possible to talk about how there was no F-system, because look at Eastern Francia and how it changes after 911. Nothing like what's going on in the west, right? On the other hand, move forward several generations after that nice document with Rollo and Charles the Simple, and we can see something that looks like a system, because that bastard William takes over England and imposes it from above, more or less. But that's different, isn't it?

The upside is that this went really well. The downside is that it was somewhat serendipitous. It made me realize that I give myself over to the gods of coverage more than I'd like. This quarter, what with teaching an overload and burning out on three sections of the same class, applying for jobs (4 more apps in this week!), serving on a governance committee and trying to keep up with an assessment committee, and still trying to get those bloody reviews finished (and don't ask about the upcoming 19th c. class -- that's a blog for later), I've really focused on concepts and methodology and hitting a few really important themes hard in class, while leaving a lot of the larger discussion to Blackboard. It's not completely satisfying, but there are advantages. It definitely makes me want to rethink some of my approach and exactly why I assign some documents and not others. Typically, it's been the same way most sourcebooks do it -- pick documents from the period and use them to illustrate certain aspects and make them more "real" to the students. Have the students try to use the sources as evidence. I suppose what I realized tonight was that, in the back of my head, I've been tying these things together pretty well, but have probably never articulated the long-term interconnections in a way that sticks. Now that I've articulated it to me, I think I should be able to improve what's already a pretty good set of courses.

Of course, in the car on the way home, I started thinking about the class, and wondered to myself, "How do I know this? Am I just talking out of my ass? I'm sure that I've read, heard assimilated this knowledge before, but I am not able to put my finger on where." I mean, some of this is so basic, and I'm sure comes from a combination of Brown's "Tyranny of a Construct," Reynolds' Fiefs and Vassals, Ganshof, Marc Bloch, etc. But still, it would be nice if it weren't quite so assimilated. This, my friends, is why we need to keep up on our scholarship -- if for no other reason than that we forget things and need to remember not just that we know things, but why we know we know them. Or maybe that's just me and other people who do this for a living don't forget why and how they know stuff?