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!