Monday, September 15, 2014

Ugh

Not too much to say. Busy.

But I have one student I wish would DTFO (as HH says) of my class. This is someone who is CONSTANTLY checking his smartphone. He talks to the people around him,  and when I stop and glare at him he shuts up for a few minutes. He randomly leaves class early. In lab, he does as little work as he can get away with.

This is the second time this guy is taking my class. He failed the first exam.

I'm just done. I predict eventually I'm going to progress from glaring at him to saying something, and then progress to yelling if he doesn't get a clue that WHAT HE IS DOING IS RUDE AND IT PROBABLY CONTRIBUTED TO HIS FAILING THE FIRST GO-ROUND.

He also skips some Fridays because he finds more-fun stuff to do on Fridays (And yes, he essentially told me that).

It's hard not to take all that personally - which I am kind of doing, I admit. There have been a lot of times in my career when "fun" beckoned, but because I take my job seriously, I skipped whatever fun thing I might have done in favor of doing the right thing. And someone blatantly ignoring the class tells me, "I don't think your class is important and I don't think you rate even an iota of my attention."

And yeah, I need to get over that. And teach for the people who DO give a crap, because I have a bunch in that class this semester.

But the talking in class thing HAS to stop. It distracts me, it derails my train of thought, and I'm damned if I'm walking in there with a frigging SCRIPT of what I'm going to say just so Mr. I-don't-give-a-crap can keep up his stupid talking.

I don't even get why this guy is in college. He has a job with a local agency, which is partly why he has this attitude - he knows even if he washes out of the degree, he's still employed. He gives me the strong impression he doesn't care about education, doesn't think we know more than he does....so why is he wasting someone's money (his family's, the taxpayers, or his own future income) to fill a seat and piss me off?

Thursday, September 04, 2014

dress code

So, I had a student show up to class today. Showed up in what amounted to a sports bra with sleeves (very short, very tight t-shirt - you could see her entire midriff) and a pair of shorts that looked like what I'd consider to be a reasonable bottom for a swimsuit. (I THINK they were some kind of lycra fabric; no I did not look very closely)

I don't know if the guys in the class noticed; I wasn't checking reactions. The thing is....that's just a little much, in my opinion, for a class. Understand most of the students in here show up in jeans and t-shirts, or jeans shorts of a reasonable length (rarely, there is someone in a pair of "Daisy Dukes") and a t-shirt. A few women wear skirts, usually of the maxi type lately, a few students wear those flannel not-quite-pajama-bottoms. So most of the students are fairly covered.

(Also, this is the classroom with the hyperactive air conditioning unit. I "run hot" and I have to bring a cardigan to class with me).

I don't know. That kind of thing (the inappropriate dress) makes me tired. On the one hand, yes, it's not really my business to say anything unless the student was truly violating public decency. But on the other hand, this is someone who is gunning for professional school. I just hope she dresses more professionally (or just plain MORE) when she goes for her interview....

Also, based on some things this student has said before, and based on the slogan buttons she sometimes wears, I suspect my saying something to her about her dress would be taken badly, that I might even be accused of trying to "slut shame" her. (I have no idea of her sexual proclivities or level of activity and frankly do not care).

As I said, this kind of thing makes me tired. This is someone wearing the most LOOK AT ME clothes possible, but I suspect if the guys in class WERE ogling her, there might be complaints. And I admit, I get really tired of people doing things to be 'transgressive' in some way and then complaining when people react negatively to them.

I don't know. I hope that she has a slightly more extensive wardrobe that will come out when it gets cooler outside....

I will say there are the occasional articles of masculine dress that bug me. I don't like t-shirts with sexual innuendo messages on them (Thank goodness that stupid "Big Johnson" t-shirt fad died years back). I don't like the really tight "muscle shirts," though men rarely wear them to class. Or the shirts that have the whole side seam essentially ripped out (and are sleeveless), so you see the entire armpit area on a guy. Again, I don't say anything but I find some of those things kind of distasteful.

I will say if I ever have a student in a lab I am teaching, especially one involving hazardous chemicals or boiling water, they will be asked to cover up.....I might even go to my office and get the giant old t-shirt I have advertising a now-defunct student club and give it to them to wear. Because I don't want to deal with an "accident report" for a student who got scalded on her belly because she had exposed bare skin in lab. (or the same for the armpit guys.)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

I can't, not any more.

You know the old saying about how if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention to what's going on in the world?

I don't want to pay attention to what's going on in the world any more. There's so much anger, so much outrage, and so many bad things happening. And there's screw-all I can do to fix any of it.

First, the pessimism: I think we will see more Fergusons in the coming years. For various reasons. In some cases, it may be trigger-happy cops. In others, it may be perps who push a little too far. And in some, it'll be the media or the attention-hound types who show up and make a big deal of it, and whip people up.

It's become all too easy to see other people as The Other of late.

(for what it's worth: My conclusion is there are no heroes in the situation. Everyone was wrong in some way. Even if the cop is vindicated....we will never know totally what happened at that altercation).

More pessimism: I won't be surprised if we see more terrorist attacks on our own soil. There are apparently ISL members who have US passports - who are US citizens. They could come back here and I don't know what. And quite aside from the disruption, loss of life, possible loss of a city (if they use a suitcase nuke or something and the survivors have to be evacuated and the area cordoned off), I suspect the government will use that crisis to add on more restrictions to law-abiding citizens. Because the law-abiding citizens tend to be the ones who have to deal the most with things like airport security, being stopped and checked out in some public place, etc.

Still more: I don't even know what will happen in Ukraine. Likely it will come under the domination of Russia once again. Worst case scenario is a full-blown war breaks out, and we see something like Crimea Round 2 or the Balkan Wars all over again. Well, actually, worst case scenario would be World War III.

And still more: What of the people crossing the border illegally? A lot of voices are calling for caring for the children, for caring for those claiming to be fleeing oppression. But then again: where does the money come from? We have poor kids in Appalachia, poor kids in the inner city who live under terrible conditions and 50+ years of federal programs don't seem to have made their lots vastly better. (I am fine with private charities choosing to do something, though I also think merely patting someone on the head and handing them a debit card only pushes the inevitable dealing-with of the sources of the problem further into the future).

And I look at all of this and I feel so tired. And yeah, on some level, hopeless. Even though I am a Christian and believe that Good will win, I really don't want to have to wait until "we all get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be" in order to see the world getting better.

And the other thing, as I said, except for praying (And I do. I pray for our leaders, that they will figure out some kind of wise path. And I pray for future leaders, that there will be someone good who comes forth and not merely someone who is looking to either repeatedly get re-elected or looking to merely shove the other party's face in it), there's screw-all I can do to fix ANYTHING.

I don't know. I was raised to be a 'fixer.' That if a problem came up, rather than giving up or throwing my hands up or sitting down and crying, that I was to sit down and figure out a way to fix it or at least make it better. And it's a strange feeling of detached hopelessness when it seems that the world is falling apart and there is truly nothing concrete I can do. I mean, yeah, I hear about a lot of people talking about the save-your-own-skin-and-your-family's stuff like making sure you have a good store of food and tools and other things....and I do that, but I don't want to just save my own skin. I want things to be better, full stop.

And as I said, I don't know what to do. I try to do what I can: to give my students the best preparation they can have for their future careers. To be a compassionate and caring person and to direct people in the direction of actual help when they have a problem (E.g., referring a student with bad personal problems to the counselor, so hopefully they can begin to work on them). To do volunteer work through my church and even stuff  like picking up litter in my neighborhood.

But that's all so damn small. It feels so small. It feels like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

And I realize on some level this is a "you don't control other people's behavior" situation: if someone decides to go and bust out the plate-glass window on a store downtown, simply because that store sells stuff the person can't afford and they think it is UNFAIR, I don't have control over that and frankly there's probably nothing I could say to change the person's mind. But I also....I don't know, I have such a hunger to do something that makes the world a better place and it feels like everything I can do is so insignificant. That things have got so bad that there's maybe nothing any of us can do to fix things.

And my reaction to that is to draw back. To watch cooking shows and cartoons instead of paying any attention to the news. To lock myself in my lab and work on research about stuff that really doesn't have any direct impact on humanity. To read Regency romances and detective novels and other books that flesh out a world in my head that is a lot nicer than the real world is right now.

I feel conflicted by this because part of me says that part of being a responsible person is paying attention to what's going on, partly so I KNOW but also partly so if things get bad enough I have to get out of Dodge somehow (though frankly, where I live is pretty far out of Dodge to begin with; it's probably where the rest of my family would run to if the larger cities they were in became undesirable because of being a terrorist target or something). But part of me feels that since I can't do anything, and it's destroying my happiness, and if I'm gonna wind up getting blown to Kingdom Come or have to spend the rest of my life trying to scrape out a living by farming and hunting (if the economy really goes kablam), that maybe it's better to be a happy fool now.

And I don't like feeling that way.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Odd random thought

I suppose there's probably some law against this somewhere (or maybe not constitutional), but I was thinking about how they are saying there are apparently American (and also British) citizens who have joined ISL or ISIS or whatever you want to call it, and are fighting alongside of them.

And my first thought was this: rescind their American citizenship. So maybe that makes the guy a man without a country. I don't have a problem with that. (And the same thing for Britain). Because isn't what they're doing technically traitorous?

I don't know. Of all the things in the world that worry me the spread of some kind of crazed fundamentalism worries me the most. (I won't even call it Islam, because they're killing their supposed co-religionists, and a number of Muslims have spoken out against it (though we need more to)). They've got money, they don't have any compunctions about dying (or at least, the kids they recruit as cannon-fodder don't), they will kill others horribly and brutally to make "good theater."

It's a completely different philosophy from the West, and one thing that worries me is whether we have the fortitude to fight it in the way it probably needs to be fought.

But maybe declaring any person of American citizenship who decides to go join them a traitor, and not welcome back here, and losing their citizenship (and hell, I don't know if it's legal but: having their assets in this country frozen) might be a place to start. A small place, but a place.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

So far, so good

Classes have started. We had our first full week. In general, things look good, even though I'm teaching an overload.

Though there is one in every group. I received not one but two panicked e-mails from a student detailing all of their current Life Problems (none of which would rate an accommodation from the Disabilities office, so....) and that those things are going to be the Reasons that I have to do stuff for them, or make changes and adjustments.

And it just makes me all so tired. When's the point that I get to tell someone, "Suck it up; you're an adult now. If you don't want to be an adult please apply to someone who is, hopefully a family member, and see if they'll take care of you for the rest of your life."

Part of the reason for my tiredness is that I have a lot of stuff going on in my personal life right now that are just "suck it up and deal" moments. So my sympathy right now is kind of limited.

The other thing is, and I think students forget this: I have a total of five classes I am teaching. Between those five classes I have 115 students. That is far fewer than most profs in this nation but still, 115 people is a LOT of people to learn the names of. And it would be impossible to treat each one with the degree of specialness this person is requesting.

Yes, I am happy to do things like arrange for a 'quiet room' for testing for someone with a demonstrated disability. Yes, I can arrange to get a special chair for the person who's had back surgery. No, I have no problems with the person who has hip trouble sitting in the back so they can stand up periodically when it gets to bothering them. But I draw the line at playing emotional counselor to someone who probably needs to call their mom or their sister or their best friend.

And thank goodness I don't have the darn Readings class any more; that turned into a cluster fast after we decided to do it as a hybrid class. (it's a one-credit class, which SHOULD mean one hour of work and interaction per week, but the students never took that seriously. With the hybrid format I tried to force that and it wound up with a situation where I cared more about getting the class work done than my students did, which is generally a line someone teaching should not cross.)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer's over. Except it really isn't.

I finished with my summer classes last week. By and large they were really good. I find that the summer students we get are typically more motivated and hardworking, and earn better grades, than the regular semester students. (I suppose this is because it takes a special motivation to attend college in the summer: you have one more class required for graduation and it's offered in the summer. Or if you go in the summer, you can graduate faster than an ordinary student.  Or you are an incoming freshperson and you want to hit the ground running in the fall. Or you're attending another school but can get some transferrable credits cheaper and with more individualized attention here.)

My grades are done and in. I haven't had any pleas for mercy or extra credit. (In fact, one of the small number of people who did not earn a good enough grade in my intro class came to my office after the exam to ask me to help her enroll in the same class for the fall, because "Now I think I can pass it." I hope so.)

I'm taking about a week's break to go visit family and generally decompress. Though I will say summer helped cure some of my teaching burnout - it's not me, it's the students, that make me crazy sometimes, and this spring, I just had one class who gave so monumentally small of a damn that it really wore me down. Teaching the same class this summer and having people tell me, "I was kind of dreading this class but it was really fun and I learned a lot!" or "Thank you for teaching this this summer; now I can graduate and go on to the job that is waiting for me" makes a big difference.

Then I come back. The local public schools start August 12. We start August 18, but that week before is filled with meetings - four solid days of meetings, at least two of them 8 am to 4 pm solid days. (We get fed lunch one day, I guess. The other day we're "invited" to go eat at the cafeteria - no notification as to whether we are expected to pay or not, so I'll probably pack my lunch that day).

I don't know. Mid-August feels way too darn early to start school. I understand the reasons: we get a couple days mid-fall break, we get the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we finish up well before Christmas (and give exams before Christmas break. In the era my parents went to college, exams were AFTER Christmas break, which I would have hated as a student). In the public schools there are a lot of one-off days off. They get most of the Federal holidays (we do not: we get MLK, Jr. day, and Independence Day, and Labor Day, but that's it). They also get random days off for "teacher inservice" or also, I think "parent-teacher conferences." And I guess that last one is only fair; if you're going to expect your teachers to be available between 5 and 9 pm or whatever it is to meet with parents, maybe it's a bit much to expect a full day of teaching that day....but when I was a kid, that was how they did it. (I think the conferences were also optional? My parents always went and I remember a teacher saying something like, "The parents that DO show up, they are usually the ones where all I have to say is, "Your kid is a good kid; they are doing well in their classes" and the parents I NEED to talk to don't show up.")

Anyway. It's hot. It was very hot last weekend. It's going to be very hot when campus grinds back open all the way on August 18. Those first two weeks (heck, the first month or so here) are just kind of miserable because it's so hot. Oh, the buildings are air conditioned but it's unreliable - sometimes a classroom will be "out." Or the a/c will go out in the faculty-office part of the building. Or it will be so cranked up in one room that that room is freezing. And it's hard to adapt and I often walk around with a headache from the variable temperatures.

And frankly, I think a lot of the students are not ready to be back. When I grew up, I was used to a school schedule where school started after Labor Day and let out for the year in early June. And that seemed to make more sense to me. August is kind of an awful month and it tends to be the hottest month in the summer, no matter where you are.

And yeah, I've heard all the arguments in favor of year-round school and I even agree with some of them (and heck, what I do essentially is teach year-round school for college students), but also, I think in some cases, at least for some kids still, there's value in having a big chunk of time off. Or, at least there was when I was a kid - maybe it's different now with the Internet and video games and 500 tv channels. But when I was a kid, we spend the summers playing HORSE, or having big neighborhood-wide games of Kick the Can. Or we'd go looking for frogs or minnows in a stream up the street. Or someone would set up a sprinkler for us to run through. Or I'd get a big stack of books from the library and spend the biggest part of some days reading. Or my brother and I would beg wood scraps from our dad and "build stuff." Or we'd climb trees. Or go looking for weird bugs or snakes. Or I'd beg my mom to let me bake cookies and sometimes she would let me.

A lot of it was learning to entertain yourself left to your own devices. And there was a certain degree of learning to compromise in there - I didn't like playing HORSE that much because I wasn't very good at it and until I had a growth spurt around 12 or so, I was one of the shorter kids. But I played it in the hopes that later on people would want to play hide-and-go-seek or Capture the Flag, both of which I did like. Or, I played because the only other choice was to go figure out something to do on my own, and playing a game that wasn't my biggest favorite was better than going and digging in the sandpile or something.

We were also largely left to our own devices. There were no cell phones, so if someone got hurt or something, you figured out a way to get them back home (carrying one of my smaller friends when she sprained her ankle) or you ran to a neighbor for help (like when one of the older kids got into a hornet's nest and got stung a lot of times and we were worried he was going to have a bad reaction). You figured stuff out, you were fairly independent.

I don't know if kids today are like that or if they have become less like that. I suppose if we had had cell phones back in the day, I could have called Christy's mom and asked her to come and pick her up when she sprained her ankle. Or we could have called Tim's dad and asked for help on the hornet thing. But both of those situations turned out okay, even with us left to our own devices.

And I wonder...you see these occasional stories about a parent who gets in trouble because some busybody sees their kid left "alone" and worries on the parent's behalf that something bad will befall the kid. I have no idea how widespread that is, and if kids are more overprotected today. When I was a kid - in the late 70s and early 80s - by and large we were allowed to roam the neighborhood as long as we didn't do anything to dangerously stupid or anything criminal, and our parents trusted us to know the difference. (Well, smaller kids were expected to stay close to home unless a kid in their teens invited them to tag along, and the fact that one of the kids who babysat my brother and me was the oldest sibling in one of the families we palled around with probably had some influence on the degree of freedom we were given). But I remember walking the 1/2 or 3/4 of a mile to the "creek" as an 11 or 12 year old, going to catch frogs, and all my dad said was, "Don't fall in; it's really muddy right now." Maybe in an era now when there isn't a parent at home to kind of man home base, or maybe now when the world seems more dangerous than it was, it's preferable NOT to have long summer breaks anymore, I don't know.

(Though I wonder: is the world really more dangerous? I remember several high-profile kidnappings of young girls that happened in the early 80s, including one not too far from where I grew up. And they all ended pretty badly. But I don't remember my mom or my dad telling me not to go out, or preventing me from going places; they seemed to know that I was smart and canny and would come running back home (or to a trusted neighbor) if something seemed suspicious.)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Priorities

I know that a lot of people have to work and go to school. And I know some of the stupid rules of financial aid can make it harder to go to school part time.

But for the love of all that's good, I'm just so TIRED of people with lives where their education is their very last priority. I had someone this semester who skipped class several times because he could "pick up a good shift" at the place where he worked....and of course, I am reminded exactly WHICH days those were when I grade the exams he took, because that's where his score tanks. (He wound up failing the class. And this was one of those "But I always earned As in the past in classes!" people).

And I had a couple people go on vacation. Yeah. A vacation they had scheduled knowing full well they were taking summer classes. I tried to work with them (gotta keep the enrollment up) but it was frustrating. I don't get much in the way of "days off" during the summer semester, and having to do stuff like arrange for makeup labs and makeup exams takes even more time.

I realize how fortunate I was as a student: I had just barely enough money to pay my tuition and my room and board. Not a lot of extras, not a lot of frivolities, and I did stuff like getting my shoes re-soled to avoid having to buy new ones. But at least I didn't have to work. (I did, for a little while, a few hours a week in a dorm cafeteria, so I had money to go to the movies and stuff. But I never worked more than 10 hours a week, and the dorm was really excellent about scheduling shifts around my class schedule. And if it had interfered with studying, I would have quit).

I know a lot of our students aren't in that boat - they have families to support or things like that. But we also get a certain percentage who whine about how "hard" they have to work and when you talk to them, you find out they don't have any dependents, but they have a big fancy pickup truck, and a new iPhone, and they want to go to the tropics for Spring Break, and and and. And there comes a point where my sympathy for those people dies: you're making a choice. You could cut back on hours at work and not have all those fancy things and do better in school and not have junk happen like sleeping through an exam-time and then harassing your professor into relenting and letting you take the exam late.

I don't know. Part of it is a sour grapes issue on my part: there's a lot of things I would WANT to do but don't because my responsibilities get in the way and I won't shirk my responsibilities. And there are things I might WANT to buy but then I look at my TIAA-CREF statement or my Vanguard statement and start calculating out how much I still need to be able to retire (and hope and pray there's not hyperinflation) and then figure I'm better off without whatever it is. But I get frustrated with being responsible when I see people NOT being so, and especially when their lack of responsibility means more work on my part.

I suppose I need to be tougher, and tell people, "You made your bed, now lie in it" when someone shirks class stuff and then comes crying to me for an extension or something. I usually am, actually, but with things like missed tests, it's hard and it's kind of painful to tell someone, "No, yes, I know you slept through it, but sorry. No." And then get some kind of sob story about how HARD their life is. (It's the nagging, it's the constant stream of reasons and excuses, that wears me out. Just accept my "No," okay? You understand "No means No" in other areas of your life, right? Then why not accept it from your prof?)