Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Deep Breath Before the Plunge

Now that this seemingly never-ending semester is over and finals are done and Christmas has been celebrated, comes the existential dread: my tenure dossier. 

After 15 years of teaching, I am finally in the last stage of my attempt to remain gainfully employed without having to worry about a semester-to-semester contract, as I did when I was an adjunct.   My office is the only one occupied in my building; the rest of my colleagues are a) tenured, b)working from home, or c) adjunct and as such exempt from this exercise. It's so quiet that hours pass unnoticed as I toggle back and forth between documents, collecting evidence from my 6 years on this campus that will show my department colleagues that I am worthy to remain one of them. The material is there--but the process of getting it in order is very time-consuming. I'd say I'm a little more than halfway done, and the thing is due next week.

The Executive Committee of my department meets during the third weekend in January to make its retention and promotion decisions. If the vote is positive, it is then up to my campus Tenure Retention and Promotion committee to vote. If the vote from the department is negative (and this is a possibility), I will have a "terminal year" during which to look for other jobs; I will also get a chance to appeal the decision. 

This whole process has taught me a lot about myself. It's taught me that I have more energy and enthusiasm than I thought possible, even while dealing with first one, then a second child. It's taught me that I am just as dogged now [at nearly 40]  as I was in my early 20s when I pursued a double major in philosophy and English and darn near had a minor in writing before I graduated (while also on work/study and as an athlete all 3 quarters of an academic year: water polo in Fall and Spring, and swim team in Winter). 

Twenty years ago as an undergrad at Hiram College, I told my mentor, Hale Chatfield, that I wanted to become an English professor. I honestly could think of no better life than one in which I would spend my time reading, thinking, and talking to students (I hadn't really thought about grading papers...).  Though he died 10 years ago, I have thought of him often as I've moved along this path. He was a poet who was interested in computers and technology, and he probably would have loved the explosion of writing that has taken place on the interwebs. In some ways I think of my reaching tenure as a way of repaying the faith that he and my other professors have had in me and in my abilities. Their knowledge continues to be passed along--because every day, I use what I learned as student to help my own students learn. I am thankful to have had wonderful professors, and it has been my honor to follow in their footsteps.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Not.

Though I really do love most aspects of my job, grading is not one of them. In fact, it ranks lowest on the list, as it does for almost all of my colleagues, I'd imagine. Find me a professor who loves grading research papers, and I will show you someone who is certifiable.

I will admit to almost liking grading these papers, because at the end of the semester it is really easy to see who has been paying attention during my lectures on MLA style and thesis-drafting, and audience awareness. It is also gratifying to see the students who really put their all into the work; the well-written papers are a breeze to grade, and there are more that are well-written than not (at least this semester).

Then there's the opposite end of the spectrum: the students who missed too many classes, or were on Facebook during class, whose papers are poorly cited and raddled with enough grammar errors to put a professional editor into a coma. On the one hand, I could just slap a "D" on those papers and move on. On the other, I still--God[dess] help me--feel like I have to teach. So I spend some time marking them up, wondering if the students will even bother to read the comments before sticking the paper back into their portfolios.

I have such a student in my early American Lit course. He came for help early in the semester, but it was clear that he had no business being in a 200-level course. He can barely write a simple sentence. I did what I could to help him--gave him advice, told him to use the tutoring services on campus, and come to me during office hours. He came once or twice before the midterm. He failed the midterm miserably (half of it was blank, and the other half--the essay--was both incomprehensible and totally off-base). He came to see me about his midterm grade, and I told him plainly that he would have to attain an 85 B average on the remaining assignments to eke out a C. I don't know if he knew what "eke" meant. His second paper was mostly biographical notes with very little analysis. What little analysis was in the paper came from Sparknotes, without attribution. Since using the Internet for this paper was strictly verboten on the assignment sheet, his grade is a 0 F (out of 150 points). 

For some reason, this pains me. The recent Chronicle of Higher Education article about failing one's students really bothered me. Its tone was needlessly mean. Though I am a newly-dedicated  reader of College Misery, I am not nearly as bitter as CHE's Alice Fenton. 

I teach at a two-year college in a system that has 12 other 2-years and 13 four-years, as well as an online campus "presence." We are the "feeder" schools for the four-years, and from what I have heard from my former students, they come out of our school better prepared than their classmates who've been at the four-year since they were freshmen. Perhaps it is because they were not subjected to pit classes and TAs, but instead had classes whose maximum size topped out at 38 students (24 for composition and Comm/Arts speech courses). I have also been told by these same students that my colleagues and I are better teachers, but that's neither here nor there for the purposes of this post. 

The simple fact is that most of our students are underprepared (or not prepared at all). Many are first-generation; most hadn't considered college as an option until very late, and so did not take advantage of whatever preparation might have been available to them in their high school. "Biography Barry" is just such a student, and I felt compelled to try to help him. He stopped trying to get help, though, and I have had to squash whatever altruistic feelings I had. I cannot pass him. I will be clear about why--the note at the bottom of his "F" paper is about a half-page. I will not, as Alice Fenton suggests, feel good about it. I don't feel good when I catch a student willfully (as opposed to ignorantly) plagiarizing. No frisson of detective-like pleasure at catching a cheater. Just a pang in my nearly-40 year old heart, even after 15 years of teaching and seeing it all, that yet another student thinks either I'm (a) too stupid or (b) too busy to check their writing. (The ignorant plagiarists are those who do so because they do not understand or have never been taught the citation system. I can tell the difference--the willful plagiarizers don't seem to believe me when I tell everyone this in the class where we go over MLA and plagiarism.)

I still love my job. Especially when I get an email, as I did earlier this week, thanking me for helping her straighten out her research paper. I've met with this student multiple times over the semester, and she's improved immensely. It was nice of her to take the time to thank me. 

I love my job when I have a student tell me as she turns in her research paper: "This paper was the hardest thing I've ever done, but while I was doing an interview at ______ for my research, I realized what I want to do with my life." 

I will admit that when she said this, I got misty. 

So I guess I will take back the title of this post. In spite of having 35 papers (out of 70 that came in by Friday at 2pm) to grade before Tuesday, I still love my job. I have been terribly cranky in past weeks (which is partly why I have not posted, as vitriolic ranting has the potential to come back to bite one in the arse, especially in the Interweb Era). 

But today, after grading 23 research papers of varying quality, I am celebrating my life choice. Because this is my life, chosen freely of my own accord. 

And it is a good life.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Week in the Life: Friday

Ahh...Friday morning. Almost the best morning of the week (second only to a Saturday morning I get to sleep in). Usually, getting the kids up, fed, dressed, and out the door by 7:45 can be a bit stressful, as Thing One is slower than molasses in January, but Fridays we can afford to run late because I don't teach (I have a 9:00 am class MTWTh). Usually, we get on the road and I don't sweat getting stuck behind a semi doing the speed limit (55 mph on a two-lane country highway). I just put on some good tunes, and we dawdle our way into town. I drop both of them off, and head to Starbucks to begin working my way through the latest batch of papers/exams/journals. After a few hours of that, I'm usually tweaking pretty hard, so I do my errands: at Target, picking up diapers and whatnot (though the whatnot usually ends up costing $100, even when I'm trying NOT to spend $$). That usually takes about an hour. Then I head over to campus to prep for the coming week, getting my calendar written out (yes, written--it helps me remember what I'm supposed to be doing) and making any copies I might need so that I'm not stuck trying to do it 5 minutes prior to class--when everyone else is trying to get it done. Then I do my PD work--work on a new poem, search the UPenn CFP list (if I don't book time to do it, I forget to do it--and then I miss deadlines for conferences, which I can't afford to do if I want to get tenure this year). At 2:50 pm, I head over to Thing One's elementary school to pick her up myself; we then drive over to pick up her brother and head back home. Friday's the only day I leave "early"--we're usually home by 4:00. 

Well, today just wasn't one of those neatly-planned, well-executed non-instructional days.

Instead, we got up this morning only to have Thing One tell me that her head felt hot. Yep, sure enough, she had a temp of 100.4. An hour later, still over 100. 

Thing Two was extra crabby right off the bat--crying for me from his crib, which he almost never does anymore. Extra clingy. Not hungry. Great. 

I made an executive decision, and we stayed home. They're both fighting something off, and while neither of them was that sick, my feeling is that they could conserve their energy today and be ready to go back on Monday. If I'd had to teach today, my decision would have been different. I'd have probably kept Thing One with me on campus, and sent Thing Two to daycare. Thankfully I didn't have to that today--courtesy of the wonders of email. I'm very grateful for the flexibility this job affords me.

Today is the first day in over two weeks that I haven't graded some piece of student writing. It's the first day I've had "off" since...sometime in October? I can't remember. I promised Hubby that I wouldn't work both days on the weekend because we need some time to spend together as a family (and he needs--and should get--time to spend in his workshop). I'm having trouble holding to that. 

The problem is that there aren't enough hours in a work week for me to get my work done, even though I work 8:30-4:00pm straight through (I would stay until 5:00, but as it is Thing Two can barely make it to 4:15--he's ready for bed by 6:00pm most nights). I am a writing teacher; grading student writing is incredibly time-consuming. It's rewarding, too--especially at the end of the semester when I get to see how far each has come since the beginning--but it takes a long time to read, process, comment, and correct papers. I simply do not have the energy in the evenings to give the work the attention it deserves. Evenings are when I read to prepare for class the next day, so that the material is fresh for me. For grading, the only solution is to have big blocks of time on the weekends: 5 hours each day. And it's still not enough to get through the volume I collect every other week.

That's how I spent last weekend--both Saturday and Sunday, because I had to grade and give back 43 (ENG 102) and 24 ENG 101 papers this week. I'd already had the ENG 102 papers for more than a week because the previous Friday (10/29) I'd been at an all-day department conference and Saturday we had to go down to the in-laws to get the kids and help with insulating the attic; then we went trick-or-treating. I'd then had to spend that entire Sunday in my hobbit-hole in the basement, grading.

If it sounds like I'm complaining, please don't misunderstand: I love my job. Of all the jobs I've had in my life (some of which have paid better), this is by far the one I love the most. I get to make a difference in the lives of the students who take my classes, and there's nothing that can compare with that. Except maybe being the host of my own basic cable comedy news show.

So the upshot is that today was basically a wash as far as work goes, though I did check email and respond to a few questions from students about the research paper. I didn't get any grading done because I spent the day looking after my two kids: we watched PBS Kids all morning, had lunch, went to the bank and Walgreen's, came home and watched Cars for the umpteenth time. I got to snuggle Thing Two a lot ("Uggle, Mama--uggle!") and I spent about an hour coloring at the kitchen table with Thing One.

It was a good day.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Week in the Life: Thursday

Woke up at 4:30 again this morning. Finally figured out why: so used to getting up at 5:30, brain hasn't adjusted to the time change (fall back). Funny. I was worried that Thing Two would be the one waking up at 4 or 4:30.

Unsuccessful in my attempt to go back to sleep. Also notice that Hubby is missing. [He's been having a lot of trouble sleeping too, lately, so when it's bad, he goes to the "guest" bedroom downstairs aka the unfinished playroom we stuck a bed in.] Just as I'm making up my mind to go get him up, I hear him come up the stairs.

Everyone's up and out of bed before 6:00 am. I'll have to remember this when the Things are teenagers and I can't get them up before noon.

6:45 am: Everyone's been fed, so I vacuum the living room. I hate the carpeting. It's brown, it never smells clean even after it's been shampooed, and it's a dust trap. Bleh.

7:00 am: Time for Sesame Street. Thing Two wants me to sit with him, so I do until I'm able to sneak away to get dressed. No dice. He's right there in the bedroom doorway: "Mama. Mama. Elmo." (pointing down the hall). So cute I could just die.

7:45 am: We're out the door.

8:30 am: I'm on campus, doing last-minute prep for my ENG 102 class. Copying the PowerPoint lecture on conducting library/internet research (they like to have it right there during the lecture, so I'm trying to remember to do it ahead of time).

9:00-10:15 am: Assign the researched argument paper (#4). Go over it carefully, including the two worksheets that are due next week. Also give a PowerPoint on conducting library and internet research (some of which has been cribbed from handouts I used when I taught at Marquette). This is the part of the semester where things slow down just a bit. Although I collected paper #3 (22 from one class, 17 from the other) and I will be spending part of tomorrow and Sunday working through them, I won't be collecting this fourth paper until the end of the first week of December. (Though stupidly I think I'm also collecting assignments from the other classes that week two, so the second week in December's going to be fairly awful.) It's also usually their best paper of the semester, for several reasons:
  • They've been practicing for the last 10 weeks.
  • The assignments have been going up in complexity since the beginning.
  • They get to choose what to write about (as long as it deals with some aspect of technology/society)
  • They get 4 weeks to write the paper, and I have progress assignments along the way to ensure that they don't leave it go until the last possible minute
  • They get a chance to conference one-on-one with me (and believe me, if I had more time, I'd do this more often because it seems to be the single most effective thing I can do. There just aren't enough hours in the semester to cancel classes and have individual meetings. 48 students x 10 minutes each= a full 8 hours. And some students need more than 10 minutes...)
Anyway, I always look forward to this paper. I usually learn new things, and if they've paid attention to me at all (or read the evaluation sheets they get back with each paper), the paper's usually the best one of the semester. *fingers crossed*

10:15-10:30 am: Meet with student.

10:30-12:00pm: Regular office hours. Spend much of the time going through the two-foot tall pile of books and papers on my desk (maintenance needs to prime and paint my window frame, for some reason. I've been in this office since 2004 and the frame has been brown and not at all bothersome. *shrug* Of course now I'm going to be stuck smelling paint fumes all afternoon.)

12:00-1:00 pm: Campus Collegium meeting. The reports take forever because a lot of stuff is going on, and we're also making some changes to our campus Constitution, so there's a lot of discussion about those, too. So we don't get to discuss furloughs, the furlough resolution, or anything else.

1:00-2:15 pm: ENG 102. Same as before.

2:15-3:00 pm: More sifting through my piles of books and papers. Putting away materials from before the midterm. Finding articles I printed out but didn't have time to read.
2:45 pm: Student comes in to talk to me about his grade in the lit course. He's failing (bombed the midterm). Tell him he's got to pull a B from here on out to shave a C. Tell him he's going to need help from me / from a tutor to be able to do it. He's willing to try.

3:00 - 3:25 pm: Start this blog. 

3:30 - 4:00 pm: Update grading rubric, print + copy.

Picked up the kids at 4:15 pm and came home. Tonight is going to be a catch-as-catch can night. I'm tired, the boy is cranky and clingy, and nobody's hungry. Did the dishes, at least.

6:20 pm Hubby arrives home. We're all sacked out on the couch, watching Monsters Inc. Boy is cuddled up against me with his blankie. Early jammy night for us. 

7:00 pm: We're all in the kitchen. Thing Two is eating a banana and cereal, and Hubby is prepping the chili for the slow cooker. Thing One is coloring. No more work for the night except housework: putting away laundry, straightening the place up.

Good night.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Week in the Life: Wednesday

Crashed at 7:45 pm last night. Didn't sleep well (kept thinking about all the things I have to do this week, plus I had "Go Outside" from Sesame Street's guest appearance by Jason Mraz -- complete with Elmo's high-pitched humming along-- stuck in my head.) so another groggy morning. Except that since I got up early enough, I can take a shower while Hubby's still here to keep the Things occupied [he leaves at 6:15]. 

Morning proceeds as it normally does.

8:30 am: Arrive on campus after dropping the Things off at their respective schools. Hustle into my office to email myself the Douglass/Jacobs presentation (it's on my netbook) so that I can finish tweaking it. Also wolf down a bowl of generic Honeycomb cereal because my hands are shaking from the coffee. Or from the stress of trying to get everything done. Whatever.

8:55 am: Hustle over to the Large Group Instruction room to get the presentation up and running.

9:00 - 10:15 am: Team-teaching ROCKS! I love the interplay between disciplines (in this case, History and Literature). We are talking about ante-bellum reform (abolition in particular) and examining excerpts of Frederick Douglass' Narrative and Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. After we lectured for 35 minutes, we broke the students into smaller groups (3 or 4 each) to have them discuss what they thought was one of the most significant themes in either of the readings, and gave them about 15 minutes to talk (along with questions on the slide in case they got stuck). Each group had something different to say, and it was a very productive class. (Each of us has more than 25 students registered, but not everyone was there today--we had about 45 students all together.)

10:30 am -12:00 pm: My usual office hours (Monday-Thursday). Graded the remaining 6 ENG 101 papers, met with two students about their ENG 102 papers.

12:00-1:00 pm: Lunch (PBJ + pretzels, Diet Pepsi) at my desk. Prep for ENG 101 (need to start teaching them how to summarize and how to incorporate outside material into their papers). Draft a "Summary Worksheet" to help guide them. (This is off-calendar--we're supposed to start the final unit today -- on Technology -- but I need to get them practicing summaries. This is what I get for doing a new course prep during the final semester of my tenure bid.)

1:00- 2:15 pm: ENG 101. Go over writing summaries; P.I.E. (Point Illustration Explanation) as an acronym for smoothly incorporating summaries and quotes into one's own writing. Give assignment (by Monday, they have to have summary worksheets printed out for both articles, in addition to a rough draft). Think this may be too much, but will also prevent them from procrastinating until Sunday night to come up with a draft. Hope they will see (before I tell them on Monday) that the summaries they're working on are a perfect way to begin the draft.

2:20 - 2:55 pm: Grade ENG 101 D2L (Desire to Learn) posts for topic which closed Monday. I'm actually on top of all the grading!! Oh, except for the 20 literature journals that came in this morning. And the summaries I had the ENG 102 class do last week. Rats.

2:55-3:10 pm: Begin this blog entry.

3:15-4:00 pm: Prep for ENG 102 tomorrow. Assigning fourth (and final) paper: 6-8 page researched argument. Copies. Coaxing the copier to cooperate.

4:00 pm: Leave campus to pick up kids.

4:30 pm: Stop at grocery store as we are out of a bunch of stuff.

5:10 pm: Arrive home. Begin cooking dinner. Thing One asks for pretzels, and I give Thing Two the other half of his banana from breakfast. Go back to cooking dinner.

5:40 pm: Hubby calls. Finally leaving work.

5:45 pm: Dinner ready. Dish it out. Thing Two in high chair having a nervous breakdown complete with snot running down his nose. Wants his nuk and his blankie: "'nigh-'nigh! 'nigh-nigh!" So off we go to change him into his moose pajamas. He calms down, snuggles his face into my neck, and sighs. He's had a long day, too.

6:10 pm: Finally sit down to dinner. It's cold. Good thing we have a microwave. Our old one died a few months back (like, in the middle of summer when there is no extra cash for things like replacing a microwave) and the new one is really nice. It's red, too. Sick of black and white is impossible to keep clean. Anyway, zap dinner.

6:15 pm: Hubby rolls in. We can sit and talk a little, except that Thing One wants (and should get) our attention. She reads to us, then we send her to put on her pjs too.

6:45 pm: I turn on my netbook because I have to update two worksheets for my ENG 102 research paper. Because I am having my students turn them in via D2L this year (thereby saving a few trees), the sheets need to be updated into table format to make them easy to fill out.

7:45 pm: Finish tweaking the worksheets and upload the new ones onto the D2L site. 

7:45 -8:00 pm: Final update for this blog post. 

I find that I am really enjoying writing these entries, if only because when I read them I can see how much I'm accomplishing on any given day. I used to keep a journal (I have boxes full of the things, not to mention a stack on my desk at work--they're full of ideas for poems) but I have that typical 21st century problem: not enough time/energy to write long-hand.

And now, bed.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Week in the Life: Tuesday

5:40 am: Alarm goes off. [Hubby has to be at work by 6:45, and it's a half-hour drive.] After a 16-hour day yesterday, woke up groggy. Two cups of coffee only upset my stomach.

7:30 am: Go outside to get this shot: 

7:45 am: Kids and I leave for school. Day continues as yesterday (most mornings run the same way, so I'm not going to belabor it).

8:30 am: Arrive on campus after dropping both kids off at their respective schools. Spend 20 minutes considering what approach to take for my ENG 102 class because I am giving back their graded papers, and I feel like I need to spend some time exploring what I think went wrong for those who ended up in the C-range because they didn't follow directions as well as I would have liked.

9:00-10:15 am: ENG 102. Spend 45 minutes going over the last paper assignment, and talking (again) about the importance of being aware of the reader when writing. Go over (again) the assignment sheet for the current essay (due Thursday). Talk about the necessity of a well-crafted introduction to help situate the reader and make clear what the paper will cover. Talk (again) about drafting and revision and the need to give themselves enough time to revise. End class 20 minutes early to give students a chance to come and show me their introductions/thesis statements and get some advice. End up talking to 10 out of the 20 in attendance (out of 23 registered) and move the "party" to my office because someone else's class is in the room.

10:15-10:30 am: More one-on-one conferences. 

10:30-11:10 am: Grading (trying to finish the last few ENG 102 papers from the afternoon class).

11:15-11:30 am: Meet with ENG 102 student to help her with her paper. 

11:30-11:55 am: Catch up on emails that have been flying furiously all morning re: furloughs and furlough resolutions coming out of the various campuses. Morale is low.

12:05-12:50 pm: Meet with ENG 102 student who is unhappy with grade on last paper and spends time flogging the point; finally acknowledges that she can see why I'd assigned the grade. Move on to discussing current paper, and balance of summary and analysis. From there, discuss classes she needs to take next semester (I'm also her advisor, and registration starts this week). 

12:50-1:00 pm: No time for lunch, and haven't had breakfast (ran out of cereal yesterday, didn't have energy to go to the grocery store on my way home at 7:30 last night).

1:00-2:15 pm: ENG 102 runs pretty much the same as the morning class, except that at the end, only 5 students (out of 19 present--23 registered) stick around to talk to me about their papers.

2:30 pm: Culver's again (no food in the fridge in the faculty lounge, and I didn't have time to pack a sandwich other than Thing One's this morning). Still have about 6 ENG 101 papers left to grade, but I am cached at this point. Eat my "lunch" and watch "Castle" on my computer. Also read more furlough emails. Some people think we should be happy we have jobs (I am), but I'm not going to sit back and accept the absurdity of the furlough situation (that we have to take furlough days on non-instructional days), or accept the Republican governor-elect's campaign promise to make me fund more of my own benefits out of my already lower-that-average salary. What do I do on non-instructional days? Stay tuned to find out! (Friday)

3:30 pm: Abruptly remember that I'm team-teaching tomorrow on Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs with my friend the American History professor. Find the PowerPoint from the last time we did this and send it over, hoping she'll see it before I have to leave at 4:00 to pick the kids up at the daycare center. She does, and we agree that I'll add a few things to the slides, clean them up, and get them ready to roll for our 9am combined class.

3:55 pm: Email myself the presentation so that I can work on it at home.

4:05 pm-5:00pm: Leave campus to pick up the kids.  Collect them from the daycare center (which thankfully has an elementary school pick-up service, otherwise I'd have to leave campus at 2:45 to pick Thing One up at three--which is what I had to do all last year). Get gas. Drive home. 

5:00 pm-5:45 pm: Dinner is frozen pizza because the sink is still full of dirty dishes. Ugh. Thankfully I'm still full from my late lunch so the kids get milk and pizza and fruit while I do the dishes. Second shift has begun. I also open the PowerPoint and start tweaking it.

5:45-6:00 pm: Give Thing Two his bath, as he has smeared pizza sauce all over his face and hair. It's adorable and I get 15 minutes to play.

6:00-6:45 pm: Work on Douglass/Jacobs PP. Not done, but I'm running out of gas. Also realize I haven't updated this blog since 10:30.

6:45-7:05 pm: Update blog. Wish I could be more eloquent (after all, I'm an English professor, right?). Just too damned tired. Thing One and Hubby are watching Looney Tunes. 

And cue my exit from the work day.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Week in the Life: Monday

4:15 am: Wake up with Hubby's alarm for his meeting in B___ today. He has to leave by 5:00 am to make a 7:30 am production meeting.

5:00 am: Go back to sleep for an hour. Bliss. Except for weird dreams involving my children, a hike from the Summit County Fairgrounds with my two small children to the house of an old boyfriend from high school, his wife, their friends, and a ride in a convertible BMW down some "mean streets" lined with bikers bearing futuristic-looking shotguns.

6:00 am: Alarm goes off. Time to get the kids moving toward breakfast, followed by Sesame Street so that I can get dressed and drink my coffee.

7:45 am: Leave the house.

8:15 am: Drop off Thing One at her elementary school.

8:25 am: Drop off Thing Two at his daycare center.

8:30 am: Arrive on campus. Eat 3 strawberry frosted mini-wheats and two chocolate chip cookies. Final prep and printing copies of discussion questions for today's ENG 262 (American Literature before 1865) class on the first chapter of Walden

9:00 am - 10:15 am: Good class on Walden. Students are prepared, and work in groups for 20 minutes before coming back out to have discussion on "Economy."

10:20-10:30 am: Meet with student who is currently failing the course about how he can pull his grade up. Tell him he will need to average a B on the rest of the assigments for the semester to shave a 74% C. Tell him he will need to get as much extra help as he can, from me or from a writing tutor. Tell him that I'm here to help him. He smiles and seems willing to do it. Hopefully he will. I like to reward hard work.

10:30-10:35 am: Update Duotrope.com listing for three poems submitted to Blast Furnace. Received acknowledgment of submission on Friday, and will be notified in the coming weeks as to whether or not any of them will be accepted.

10:40-10:55 am: Begin this blog entry.

11:00-11:30 am: Talk to colleague about possible classes/direction for the classes

11:30-11:45 am: Prep for meeting for which I am the convening chair.

11:45-11:55 am: Zone out on Facebook.

12:00-12:55 pm: Chair meeting. Productive discussion.

1:00-2:15 pm: ENG 101 (Composition 1) class discussion of excerpt from An Inconvenient Truth (from textbook section on Nature) and excerpt from A Sand County Almanac (a handout I'd given them on the last section on the book regarding reasons for wilderness conservation and land use ethics). Sluggish start which got better after I warned them that I wasn't going to drag them backwards by the hair through the material, which I know they've read because they had to write about it on our course website--and all but five did. Maybe I was a bit cranky with them because I'm tired (poor sleep on top of waking up at 4 am will do that). But they shook themselves out of their torpor, and we had a great class. Assigned their next paper, which will have them working with one pair of the unit's readings (on food, garbage, or the environment) to explain what's going on to their friends.

2:15-2:30 pm: Chat with Hubby, who's finally on his way back from his meeting. It went well. Yay.

2:30-2:45 pm: Meet with ENG 102 student about her paper (due Thursday).

2:45-3:00 pm: Update this blog.

3:00-4:00 pm: Grade ENG 102 papers.

4:15-5:00 pm: Go to Culvers. Wolf down cheeseburger and fries at desk while reading papers. Keep grease spots to a minimum. Hooray!

5:10pm: Walk across campus to the Art building for observation.

5:30-6:45 pm: Observation of adjunct faculty member's ENG 101 class (one of my duties as campus department chair is to make sure that the people we hire can actually teach). Good thing my netbook is charged and ready because I can type faster than I can hand-write. Three single-spaced pages later, I'm glad I got to do the observation. Great class, and I may have to steal one or two of his ideas.Things like this make me love my job.

6:45-7:15 pm: Chat with adjunct faculty member about his class, and teaching, and movies, and Joss Whedon, and network vs. premium television programming. Good times.

7:20 pm: Update this blog post again.

7:30 pm: Head home. Happy that I get to hear "Exploring Music" with Bill McLaughlin via Wisconsin Public Radio.Not sure who or what we're exploring, as the program's half over at this point, but I always learn something when I listen.

7:42 pm: Pass dairy farmer driving tractor with manure spreader (empty, thankfully) back to his barn. Perspective: At least I'm not him. And thank heaven there are people like him willing to work like that so that I can have milk and cheese. And cheeseburgers not unlike the one I had 3 hours ago.

7:43 pm: Get the crap scared out of me by what I'm assuming is an early composition by Aaron Copland: seriously, this is not music to drive down a dark country highway. I actually jumped and half expected to see a deer bounding in time to the timpani right before I hit it. Luckily, no deer, but sheesh...

7:44 pm: Heart rate almost back to normal. Pass another dairy farmer on a tractor. This guy's been up since the crack of dawn too, and worked a lot harder (physically) than I have today. That's part of what I'm trying to get a handle on: how a life of the mind is almost every bit as tiring as working physically all day. After 20 papers, my brain is mush and the rest of me feels goopy too. I've had both kinds of jobs. The main difference I can see so far is that after a day of working outside in 15 degree-weather, I slept like the dead; not so with this job. Brain seems to want to keep working long after Body has given it up as a bad job.

7:55 pm: Music was Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, composed when Copland was 23. Didn't really like it all that much, but it does have the early signs of what I think of as the "cinematic" quality of his later work. Turns out this week on "Exploring Music" we're exploring Aaron Copland. Huh.

8:00 pm: Arrive home. Make cup of tea. Must grade at least 5 more papers tonight, leaving 5 for tomorrow (I have to give them back tomorrow: I promised my students on Thursday that I'd have them done by the next class meeting, and I just couldn't finish the last 10 yesterday--Sunday, after grading 20 on Saturday--so I've got to get them done now). Hubby and both Things are out cold. *sigh* At least I get to grade in my jammies, surrounded by cats. Grading also made easier by new rubric (which still needs tweaking).

9:00 pm: Final update of blog. Can't grade anymore--eyes are scratchy. Might have something to do with poor sleep last night and early start to the day. Sleep beckons. I picture her as a dark-haired woman with a white streak at her temple wearing midnight (haha) blue silk robes. She has kind eyes.

'Night all.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Week in the Life: Preview

I have been keeping track of my work schedule in a notebook I keep on my desk. It's the place where I have all 3 of my course calendars' topics and assignments written down for the week so that I know what's coming. I also use it to keep track of what I'm doing during office hours and the hour and a half I have after my last class of the day before I leave to pick up my kids at 4:00pm. It's analog because for some reason, the act of writing it down again actually helps me remember what I'm going to need to do--more than typing it up or even keeping all 3 calendar documents open on my computer does. I've found it helpful in remembering what I've done when it's time for me to write up my annual Faculty Activity Report, which never gets shared with anyone outside the academic community.

I've decided that I'd like to share my week with the wider world, with an eye toward turning it into a possible op-ed piece for the newspaper. I think it would be really helpful for the wider community to see what it is that their tax dollars are paying for so that they can have a clearer understanding of what they're talking about when they debate whether or not taxpayer-funded higher education is a good idea, because if I believe what I read in the comment posts about higher-ed, I'm the most overpaid, underworked public servant in existence (other than the guy who holds the SLOW/STOP sign and directs traffic during highway construction).

I realize that I'm biased: my salary is funded partly by tax money, partly by tuition, and partly through some alchemical combination I've yet to understand (only about 24% of our operating budget comes from the state legislature). But as I sit here in my sunlit bedroom on a Sunday morning with my cup of coffee and 21 composition papers that have yet to be graded (after spending my Saturday grading 22 composition papers), I realize that I'm also annoyed with the way I'm commonly portrayed in the media and by politicians looking to cut even more money from the system in which I am employed.

I'm not overpaid. Far from it, if the reader considers that I work at least 10 hours per weekend in addition to my 40-hour work week (with lunch eaten at my desk most days while I'm working on some project or other). So I'm going to write my day-in-the-life, every day this week (since the following week I get to be a single mom when Hubby goes out of town for work). It's a typical week: assignments coming in, courses to prep, committees to attend and/or run.

I know I'm not the only person on the planet who works hard. I am not approaching this activity in the spirit of a complaint session. But there have been a lot of times lately that I feel like the general public has no idea what it takes to do what my colleagues and I do all day, every day, 6 or 7 days a week. I'm sick of it.

So buckle up, Dorothy, because Kansas is going bye-bye.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why I Love What I Do

Today's class discussion was the last one on Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food. My students made connections between the book and the documentary King Corn, which they watched last week when I was out sick. They asked great questions that did not have any easy answers.

For example, at the start of class, one student asked "How did we get here? How did things get so bad?" Another student raised his hand and said that in the film, when the two students interviewed Earl Butz, Nixon's Ag Secretary, it seemed like what he really wanted to do was provide people with cheaper food so that they'd have money to spend on other things. Another student echoed the comment about how our economy is driven by consumer spending on things other than food, and that all of this is connected. The previous student said that he didn't think Butz meant for his policies to make us fatter and sicker, but that since this is what's happening [according to Pollan], we need to do something.

Later in class, when I asked again "How did we get here?" one student said that it was partly because women went to work in the 70's and when both people are working, no one has time or energy to cook. We were careful [as Pollan is] not to blame women but to talk about the socioeconomic conditions that have helped fuel the sales of convenience food. One student mentioned that she sees families arriving at the restaurant chain where she works at around 6 or 6:30, after practice is over. Busy lifestyles leave little time for cooking. They also talked about how we eat alone, in our cars or while doing other things, how when we eat and watch TV, we eat more because we're not paying attention to whether or not we're feeling full.

When I asked how practical Pollan's advice is, most of the students said that they could follow what he recommends. I didn't ask if they were going to do it because I don't want to proselytize. I want them to think, and to judge by today's discussion, which went the full 75 minutes with almost 100% participation, they're thinking.

Days like these make me so glad that I'm a teacher.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald weather + mild stomach bug = a good day to stay home

I don't enjoy missing class for any reason. However, since Thing Two brought home a mild stomach bug late last week (I say mild because at least I'm not throwing up), I've been couch-ridden since Sunday. I managed to get up yesterday and get both kids off to school, and once on campus I realized that there was no way I could stand in front of my class to lead discussion; I drove myself back home and slept for 5 hours. For more than 24 hours I'd had nothing to eat but Nilla wafers and darjeeling tea. Made Bob's Red Mill Vegi soup w/ some organic chicken broth I found in the pantry, and warmed up some French dinner rolls; managed to eat that without getting sick, and I thought I was better.

Fat chance.

On the way to drop off Thing One, 5 minutes before we get to school, she says "My tummy hurts and so does my head." Oh good. So I decide to keep her with me today--our faculty lounge has a couple of comfy chairs and a tiny TV. We drop Thing Two at his daycare, and head to campus. As I got out of the car, another wave of pain hit my abdomen. Great. Luckily today involved a viewing of the documentary King Corn, so I trudged to the library, got the DVD, and begged my office neighbor to start it for my two classes today. We packed back up, picked up Thing Two, and came home. 

Lucky for me, we have cable internet and I have a new netbook, so I can grade online discussions and have "virtual" office hours while ensconced on the couch and the kids watch The Little Mermaid  for the umpteenth time.

The clouds are gorgeous--multiple levels all racing like maddened horses as the wind tears out of the south. Another front is approaching from Minnesota, bringing cold air--which is why we're under a tornado watch in October. High winds are expected to continue through tomorrow (we're talking 50-70 mph, sustained). The same weather pattern a bit later in the year would have dumped snow by the foot, so I'll be content to watch the sun sneak out in between sheets of driving rain.

So You Want to Get a PhD in the Humanities...

This cartoon is so true to life in the Humanities that it's almost physically painful to watch. And yet, it's freaking hilarious.

Click here http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/7451115/

Friday, October 22, 2010

No, I haven't dropped off the face of the earth...

...I've just been buried under an avalanche of student writing. As a composition teacher with three sections, I get 24 papers per section every time I collect an assignment, each of which takes at least 20 minutes to grade. I also teach Early American Literature, so I get journals, papers, and now midterm essays to work through.

I really want to write for the Steampunk Challenge but I have to get out from under these piles of papers first.

I have started reading Cherie Priest's Dreadnought in the late evenings the last few days, instead of catching up with "The Big Bang Theory". I am finding it better reading than Boneshaker and Mercy Lynch a more engaging heroine than Briar Wilkes.

That's all I've got for now.

Mamalayne, out.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Steampunk Challenge 1

Today's is the first post for the year-long Steampunk Challenge put on by Rikki Donovan. From October 1, 2010 to September 30, 2011, I will be reading and reviewing works of the science fiction sub-genre known as steampunk.

I am choosing to take it as a fairly broad category; some critics will only call a work steampunk if its setting is an alternate-Victorian era (e.g. George Mann's The Affinity Bridge  and its sequel, The Osiris Ritual) as opposed to a society whose technology is dependent on steam power. Others (myself included) are inclined to be a bit looser, if only because it adds to the pool of cool books to choose from.

Here is my [initial, unofficial, in-no-particular-order] list:
  • Boneshaker and Dreadnought, by Cherie Priest
  • The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson
  • The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
  • The Affinity Bridge  and The Osiris Ritual by George Mann
  • The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers
  • Steampunk, edited by Ann Vandemeer
  • Steampunk Prime, edited by Mike Ashley
  • The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack, by Mark Hodder
  • The Parasol Protectorate (Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, and [forthcoming] Heartless, by Gail Carriger
Each of these falls under the narrower definition of steampunk, though I will also be reviewing Ship Breaker and The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (these are set in a climatologically altered future where fossil fuels are gone/nearly gone and the remaining people are forced to improvise). All of them are readily available through Amazon (some are new, some not so much).

My first exposure to the genre came with The Difference Engine, and I have been steadily building my collection. I look forward to reading (or in some cases re-reading) these books and getting into good discussions with my fellow Steampunk Challenge participants.

The first of my reviews (forthcoming, after I've graded my most recent batch of 72 composition papers) will be on The Difference Engine by my favorite SF author bar none, William Gibson (written in conjunction with his co-author Bruce Sterling).

Some Good News!

I have had two poems ("Mutual" and "The eagle in the red pine watches") accepted for a forthcoming print edition of Verse Wisconsin. I'm so excited and happy. The editors are both working poets so I am feeling pretty darned good about having two of the three poems I submitted accepted for publication in the new iteration a beloved Wisconsin journal (formerly known as Free Verse). It is a step in the right direction on my quest for tenure.

I also have a brand-new rubric to use when I finally sit down to grade this weekend. I am looking forward to reading my students' papers--it's always a treat to see what their interviewees come up with in response to the question: "What is the invention that has most changed your life?"

I've gotten papers on everything from canned vegetables (available in the store) to snowplows (!!) to indoor plumbing to (of course) the computer.

Life is very, very good. I love my job.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Seriously, Am I Lapsing into a Foreign Language?

Today is the due date for the first paper from my two sections of English comp 102. On Thursday, as my students were wrapping up peer review, I put the following instructions on the board:
  1. Name, date, class section up at the top. I don't care if it's left, right, or center. Just on the top. On the first page only.
  2. Paper needs a title.
  3. Final draft should be stapled in case of toddler. *I even told a funny story about my toddler son who likes to go through my bags, and that this is why their papers should be stapled.
  4. In the folder: final draft + rough draft and completed peer review sheet.
My morning class must not be fully awake. Almost half of them turned in a paper without a folder despite the fact that a) I said it out loud, b)it's on the syllabus, and c) I put it on the board.

I don't know yet how many of them followed directions 1,2, and 3 but the prognosis does not look good.

Luckily the afternoon class swooped in and saved at least part of my day: all of them had folders.

And of course this is coming on the heels of grading a significant number of journals (more than half) from my literature class that did not follow the explicit instructions I handed out.

What is it about these people that they cannot follow relatively simple directions? I understand that students have always been sort of goofy their first semester, but not in such large numbers (though I can't remember being this goofy myself--which may be why I ended up a professor). For heaven's sake, I was the campus Engaging Students in the First Year coordinator for 3 years--I know what they're like! I am constantly trying to figure out ways to reach them! And I'm not succeeding (at least not the way I'd like).

Is it me? What am I doing? Why are my words not having their intended effect? I have been strongly encouraged by my department mentor to be proactive (and not complain in my tenure dossier that my students aren't paying attention) but honest to heaven I do not know what else to do. I post instructions on the board. I say them out loud. I post them on the course website. Still don't get it.

I am reminded of the exercise my department did this past spring with using augmented assessment in the placement process (that is, instead of placing students in composition courses using only the simple Wisconsin English Placement Test, which oddly does not have a writing sample--go figure), one of our campuses has made strides in using a diagnostic essay to help better gauge a student's writing ability, thus (hopefully) making success in an appropriate-level course more likely.

We worked for about a half hour on a couple of files (for which our colleagues already had the right answers). My group debated quite a bit, and it was very stimulating and helpful to discuss how each of us interpreted the students' writing samples. Once we were done, we gave our answers ("Comp 101 with an hour of tutoring per week" "Comp 102 no restrictions" etc.) and we got the actual placements, as well as the results of those placements (they were from the previous semester).

What was unsettling to me was that one of the files we'd spent the most time on, to figure out how to give the student the best possible chance of success, was for a student who had eventually dropped out without a trace midway through the semester.

And perhaps I was unwise to volunteer what I was thinking (and am being unwise again in writing about it here), but I said, "You know, it's kind of funny that we work so hard to help them succeed, and they just take it for granted."  All that work, for nothing. No return on the investment. (Though I suppose that the augmented process gives better results for a larger pool of students, so statistically it's a better idea to use it.)

Of course, that's not why we teach. We teach to try to reach the students who want to be reached. I guess that's what I really need to keep uppermost in my mind. The ones who listen and process and engage are the ones who will succeed, and I have to stop worrying about why the rest are deaf to the help I'm trying to give them.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Money Money Money

Always Sunny In the Rich Man's World...

OK. You'll just have to forgive the ABBA reference in today's post. I've been thinking a lot about money (struggling to make it through September, as I don't get paid until October 1 and we have to make it on Hubby's salary and whatever I managed to save through my 9-month contract).

I went to the grocery store yesterday, early (like 7 am) because we were out of creamer and milk. The headline greeting me on the Sunday edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel?

$100,000 incomes common at MATC

I threw up a little bit. [MATC stands for Milwaukee Area Technical College, FYI.]

And reading the comments on the website just makes my head throb. Yes, I'd agree that it seems that some of the faculty are overpaid for what they do. I'd also agree that MATC's independent taxing authority is the reason that they can pay these people what they do. The UW System is dependent on two things: tuition and state allocation. State allocations are down, WAY down, from where they should be (I'm not going to get into it, but suffice to say that my campus' operating funds from the state constitute 24% of the overall budget).

What kills me is that most of the comments I could read (before I had to quit to lower my blood pressure) accuse ALL faculty of being over-paid, under-worked whiners who couldn't get a "real" job (read: in the corporate sector), which is frankly just so much BULLSHIT.

I have two Master's degrees (an MA in literature, and a terminal MFA in creative writing). I have 15 years of teaching experience. (FYI, I could not get a job teaching high school English in Wisconsin with these qualifications.)

I teach a 4/4 load over a 9-month contract, for which I am paid a grand total of $44,439, per my contract and the UW System Redbook. My salary also covers campus and departmental committee obligations, which in the past have added up to 15 hours to my average work week, which is approximately 45 hours long. I do not have a TA. I teach 12 hours a week; I have office hours, grading, and committees (including ones I do for the students' benefit, like the creative writing group). I will be the first person to admit that I make a living wage. Am I fairly paid compared to someone at the System level (who teaches 3/3 with similar committee work)? No. I work UNPAID over the summer so that I can keep my job (tenure-track).

I had a job in the corporate sector, making over $50K/year. I wasn't happy because I wasn't teaching, which is what makes me happy. I took a pay cut that I still have not made up because I would rather teach than work in corporate world. I work very hard to make my classes worthwhile and engaging--in fact, I work harder as a teacher than I ever did as a corporate monkey. For less money.

And Hubby wonders why I periodically chat up Steve, my friend in the State Department about job openings. I sometimes think about going back to my old boss to see if he'd have anything for me, except that I don't really want to go back to Chicago. I want to teach. I just want to be paid commensurate with my credentials, experience, and actual work done.

Too bad pay equity is about at the bottom of the list for the Wisconsin State Legislature (except for Glenn Grothman, who is a complete idiot for a variety of reasons). So in the meantime I will keep the light on for my students, who need me and my extremely dedicated, hardworking colleagues in every discipline. What would they do without us?

Hmmm....according to Glenn Grothman in the article, well I guess they'd hire the other poor slobs out there who'd be happy to work for $40k, atleast until they look around and wonder why the fuck they're working so hard while the rest of their colleagues at other institutions are making twice that (or more). 

And don't let's start talking about administrative salaries....

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Well, that's done.

Found out about the Wisconsin Arts Board's biennial fellowship awards on Sunday. Night. Deadline: 3:00pm today.  Have spent every spare minute at work gathering, winnowing, and writing. Finished at 12:30, submitted the e-Grant application and put the manuscript copies in the outgoing campus mail. The fellowships are $8000 each (7 are awarded to poets). That money would go a long way toward buying me some freedom. Childcare during the summer. Funds toward some trips. Also, winning one would really help me get tenure.  I've sent in my best new work. 

Now for the waiting.

The panel meets in October. Notification is in December. Tenure promotion file is due Jan. 4th. Decision made by the Executive Committee the last weekend in January.

The waaaaiiiiting is the haaaarrrrdest part....

Friday, September 10, 2010

Despite All My Rage

Two posts in one day. I'm in a sharing kind of mood.

On my drive to campus today, I realized (quite belatedly) that the reference to the Smashing Pumpkins song "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" in yesterday's lecture on "The Pace of Life" probably went over most of my students' heads, as the majority of them were born in 1991. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was released in 1995.

And here I shall insert some of my favorite lines from TS Eliot's "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock":
"I grow old... I grow old...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled..."


Things I'm Looking Forward to Seeing/Doing

Thursday, September 2, 2010

One Down...No, Make that Two.

Today was the first day of the fall semester--both classes today were my composition 102 sections, both full at 24 with several students trying to add. It's a nice day, usually--going over the syllabus, cracking jokes, having the students work on a short diagnostic essay. No problem.

Thing Two was at Bopbop and Grandma's, so it was just Thing One and I this morning getting ready for school. You'd think that it would be easier and go more smoothly, but you'd be very wrong about this. Every single thing was an argument this morning: outfit, shoes, what to eat, etc. I gave up and got into the shower at 7:05. I just stopped trying to get her to cooperate and concentrated on getting myself duded-up for the first day, first impressions being what they are. She did manage to get herself together and eat some cereal, so we got out the door only 5 minutes behind schedule.

We drive through beautiful farm country--rolling hills of cornfields and soybeans and alfalfa. It makes me really happy to live where I do, as I grew up in Ohio on a horse "farmlet" and I always feel better when I'm at least able to see nature out the window. Living in the city for 5 years cured me of any curiosity I'd had about what it would be like...Chicago has great food and great art but it's like any other major urban area: dirty, smelly, and the predominant color is concrete.

As we neared the beefalo farm, I looked to my left and saw a stubbled cornfield positively filled with sandhill cranes--there must have been 30 or 40 birds stalking (haha) around eating niblets left on the ground by the harvester. Since we were flying by at 60+ mph and we were late already, I just took a mental picture and thought about cranes as a symbol of good luck. Except that Google says they're traditionally symbols of longevity, which explains why my luck went south again today.

My first class went really well--the students responded with laughter in the appropriate places (I'm pretty manic after 3 cups of coffee and a decent night's sleep)--and I got off-campus for a while afterwards to buy a new pillow (neck and shoulder issues recently, and I so do not want to go in for yet another MRI). Had a bit of lunch, had a nice chat with some colleagues, and sauntered off to the second class, which met at 1:00pm. 

Cue ominous music.

A little less than halfway through the class, the classroom phone rings. It's the Dean's secretary with a message from Thing One's school: she's got a fever of 100.3 and a headache. Hubby is two counties away at a meeting. Guess who has to bolt out of class to pick up sick kid number 2. 

So yet another day shot to hell. I really and sincerely hope that this is not a predictor of how the rest of the semester is going to go down. I've been making arrangements to stay on campus later to get more work done (having Thing Two picked up by van and taken to Thing One's daycare will help enormously) but every time I've made plans this week, they've gone awry.

As Mal Reynolds said, "Once, just once I want things to go according to the gorram plan!"

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Trials and Tribulations of the Working Parent

I don't even know where to start this... I suppose that chronological order works best, so we'll start with Thing Two's starting at his new daycare last week.

Wednesday dropoff went well. He was interested in the toys, but did get a bit worried when I said I was leaving.

Thursday dropoff...not so good. He started to cry as soon as I said "I've got to go...You have a good day!"

Friday dropoff...total nightmare. As I carried him into the building, he started hyperventilating, and he wrapped his arms around my neck. I sat down in a rocking chair with him, and gave him some time to adjust. But when I said "Bye, buddy" he let out an almighty shriek and charged for the door. His teacher scooped him up and my last glimpse of him was of a screaming 20-month old baby crying "Mommy! Mommy!" I almost threw up in the hallway my stomach clenched so hard. When I picked him up that afternoon, he was hoarse.

Saturday was a trial of its own--I could not leave the room without a constant stream of "mommy mommy mommy" in a steadily rising pitch.

Sunday came with its own brand of fun. I laid him down at 3 but he didn't sleep--and by 4:30 when I went in to pick him up, he was hot to the touch. Fever of 102. Off to Urgent Care we went. The doctor said that a viral fever is making the rounds in this area, and the only thing we can do is give him ibuprofen to keep the fever under control. Argh. Daycare policy is that the fever has to be gone for 24 hours before they'll take the child for care. Double argh, but understandable.

The upshot of this was that I couldn't go to campus on Monday to finish my syllabi and get my copying done before the inevitable copier-malfunction/breakdown. I stayed home all day until it was time to take Thing One to her school for pictures and to drop off her supplies/meet the new teacher. Hubby met us at Culver's, and took Thing Two (whose appetite was way off) home.

At 6:50pm I get a cellphone call from Hubby just as Thing One and I are leaving the elementary school: he and Thing Two are at the ER because Thing Two's "meat and two veg" are red and swollen. The diagnosis (erroneous, it turns out) is a fungal infection, for which the only treatment is Nystatin 3 times a day. Oh goody. Thing Two doesn't like anyone touching him there, so it's a two-person job when he's in this much pain.

So Tuesday (yesterday) I was home again--Thing Two incredibly cranky and/or clingy due to pain. Fever finally broke late morning but pain remained. I missed the campus Opening Meeting. This is my tenure year, and I missed the Opening Meeting because I have no other option than to stay home with my sick child. Hubby does not have paid sick leave (he works for a private company that does hundreds of millions in sales and purports to be about "treating people right" but he doesn't have paid sick leave).

Which brings us to today, Wednesday September 1st. I had less than 4 hours to do the work I'd been planning to do on Monday and Tuesday in preparation for my first classes on 9/2. Why? Because the only well-baby appointment I could get this week was at 1:00 today. I dropped Thing One off for her first day of first grade (when she said as we pulled up, "You don't have to walk me in, Mom. I'm not afraid.") and drove Thing Two over to his daycare. He started to cry as we pulled into the parking lot, and did not stop as I handed him to his teacher and walked out. I am dying inside.

I know that this is something all working parents go through. I know that he will adjust and learn to enjoy it (at least I hope so, because I never did). Thing One was at the same place from birth all the way through 4K, and we only had a few episodes of crying. This is the third place Thing Two has been in since he was born, and though I want to think that he can't remember, I feel as though the familiarity of TinyTech would have made this easier. He's miserable. He cries when I drop him off, and he cries when I come to pick him up. His teacher says that he does play but he has bouts of crying. And thanks to my pediatrician, I think I know why.

At our well-baby visit, I described his symptoms to our pediatrician, who is wonderful and whom I adore. She listens, and she gives helpful homeopathic advice. She examined him, and said "He has hand-foot-and-mouth." The fever, and now the spots on his hands, feet, and lips and the inside of his mouth--DUH. The only treatment is a cocktail of Maalox and Benadryl to help ease the pain in his mouth. It's highly contagious, so no daycare until he stops drooling, which is probably going to be a few days from now.

Well shit. What do I do now? The first day of classes is tomorrow. I cannot cancel class on the first day. Hubby cannot take off work (we depend on his paycheck until I start getting paid--October 1st). Shit shit shit.

Hubby calls his mom. They can take him, but they're leaving for the cottage tomorrow. Shit. OK. I pack all of his gear to get us through Monday (we're leaving for the cottage on Friday afternoon). Hubby takes gear and Thing Two to the halfway point. Thing Two is now going to hang with Bopbop (Grandpa). Thank god for Bopbop. Thing One is pissed because she doesn't get to go hang with Bopbop because she has to go to school. Wheeeeee! What fun!

OK. Evening is falling. I hear the hallway door. Hubby is back. Time for a cosmopolitan.

And I did manage to get my copying done before the copier crapped out. Hooray!