Monday, April 30, 2012

Not surprised at all

My big, giant, huge-chunk-of-the-grade research paper was due today.

Guess who didn't show up to class to hand his in? Mr. 10-minute-rambling-phone-message, Mr. I'm-going-to-sic-an-administrator-on-my-professors-and-make-them-accept-late-work.

I'm FURIOUS. I KNOW he is going to expect that since I grudgingly accepted late labs because he had "problems," I'm going to cheerfully accept THIS late, too.

The problem is - and people don't GET this about grading - you block out a period of time in which to grade. I am setting aside about 10 hours today and tomorrow to grade these. When I am done, I want to be DONE. It is easier to do these things in one big miserable chunk than it is to try and find 30 minutes at some other time to grade the late papers that come dribbling in. Add to which, once you get into grading mindset, it's easier on you just to power through, than it is to get in grading mindset, grade a few papers, have to stop, grade a few more, have to stop and wait on late papers.

Late papers ARE a big deal. I'm always frustrated by people not in academia who go, "Psssssht, it's just a late paper. Why get so upset? You're going to spend the same amount of time grading it whether you do it today or whether you do it Friday."

My only rejoinder to that is: Oh, do you like your boss randomly dumping work on your desk, work you must do, but which you never know when it's coming in? And do you like it when your boss gets upset that something he gave you a couple hours ago isn't done yet? (I've got that from late paper people - "You didn't drop what you were doing and grade my work right away, don't you LIKE me?" No, actually, not very much right now)

Also, to me, late papers - people who are chronically late, not people who get food poisoning/have a car problem/whatever and can't get stuff in ONCE - is a sign of someone who can't prioritize. And also, in my mind, it's kind of like the people who are chronically late to meetings - some people do it because it gives them a sense of control over other people. (I know, I'm probably taking that way personally, but I have met students who seemed to feel entitled to hand stuff in late, like I was their servant and my time mattered not).

But, gah, grr. I can expect I will get one of his long, hopeless, sad-sack phone calls this afternoon listing all the things that went wrong over the weekend as to why his paper is not done.

This dude better not be coming to me for a letter of recommendation, that's all I can say.

Humor I don't get

Okay. I realize that (a) I am not big on/not familiar with "roasts" and similar things and (b) I am probably reading this through a very specific "filter" of my own. of the highly-publicized jokes from the Correspondent's Dinner was Obama riffing on Hillary Clinton "drunk-texting" him from Cartagena.

As I said: I don't always get this kind of humor but that seemed kind of hostile to me. Kind of undermining. (Don't get me wrong - I'm no big fan of Mrs. Clinton).

I just think, what if I were in the same situation? If I were her, I'd really seriously considering sober-texting the President and saying, "If you happen to win a second term, don't look to me to go make nice with foreign leaders any more. I quit." Of course, I also don't have the same level of ambition Mrs. Clinton has. And a sense of dignity is important to me.

As I said, I may be viewing this through my own filter. There is one upper-level administrator on my campus who seems to enjoy either angering faculty or trying to make them look ridiculous in front of other people. (He has regularly tugged the beard of one of my colleagues in public. I said to my friend and colleague, aghast: "Some people would consider that to be assault." My colleague just laughs it off and says, "That's just how the guy is." Yeah. A jerk.) This person has said stuff to me - fortunately, only in private - but has said stuff to me that is very rude and demeaning. I can totally see him making a "drunk texting" joke about a faculty member.

(He once made a joke - again, it was in private, or I might have gone to the dean asking for her to demand an apology from him - that I had faked my Ph.D. I was offended but luckily was able to think fast enough on my feet not to show it, because this person is the kind of person who lives for making people upset)

I think part of the reason I find it so distasteful is the power relationship that is implied. Many of the faculty on this campus kind of cringe and do that fake-laugh thing when the guy makes one of his cracks.....because while he's not in the direct line that influences tenure and promotion, he still could have the power to make a person's life hell if he wanted to. So there's this sense that he's kind of like a dog, marking his territory - or really, more like a dog aggression-mounting another dog, going "I control you and I can do this to you." It's very distasteful to watch, and when it happens to you, it's aggravating and frustrating and makes you (or makes me, at least) feel like trash. And I know that's what this person wants and enjoys.

(And no, before you ask: this is not a case of someone being somewhere on the Asperger's spectrum. I know people like that. They may say things that are blunt or awkward or that sound rude, but the higher-functioning people, if you "call" them on it, they go "Oh, that was rude" and apologize. And when someone with AS is blunt or rude, it's not CALCULATING. With this person, stuff is calculated to upset people).

I don't get why people feel the need to do that. Insecurity, I suppose. (That may be why Obama made the joke he did). I can be kind of insecure but I don't feel the need to make other people look small to make myself look bigger...I mainly deal with my own insecurity by working really hard and, like the old claim some women make, being twice as good as some other people so they can (or my own inner critic can) think me half as good.

My main strategy in dealing with the administrator in question is to avoid him as much as possible. So far, that has mostly worked.

Friday, April 27, 2012

You know what I wish?

That more people were better at assuming someone FORGOT something when they didn't do it, and not that they CHOSE not to do it SPECIFICALLY to harm the person in question.

I have BlackBoard websites for my classes. I put stuff up on them, mainly to help the good students who care (I have long debated NOT doing them, because it seems the people who don't want to come to class use the argument that "the slides are on the website" as evidence that they shouldn't have to come to class). I also put handouts up there because it's a damn sight easier to tell a student who skipped class, "Go to BlackBoard to get the handout" than it is to haul old copies to class on the off chance that someone who didn't get one is there.

But what bugs me about BlackBoard is how it feeds into the entitlement/taking-everything-personally mentality.

I forget stuff. I forget stuff ALL THE TIME. Or, I tell someone "I'll put it up on BlackBoard after class" and then when I get to my office, there's a line of people there needing other stuff.

And the stuff doesn't get up on BlackBoard immediately. And people call or e-mail me to remind me. And I don't mind the reminders - "Hey, did you put this week's material up yet?" or "I lost such-and-such handout, do you have it posted?"

What I do mind are the people - and I've had a few this semester - who take it PERSONALLY when I forget to post stuff. Like, I'm not posting it specifically to harm them or because I don't like them or something.

I just got one of those calls. I had genuinely forgot to post the material - didn't post it before class because I was making changes to it and I specifically told the person when they asked in class that that was why. Then I had about three other classes, including a lab, after that, all in succession, and so I didn't get it posted that afternoon. And then yesterday, I was busy with other stuff, had meetings....didn't get it posted.

So I get a phone call: "Wah, why didn't you post the stuff? Don't you LOVE us any more?" (okay, that was an exaggeration, but still). They act like I'm not posting stuff to spite them, when it's that I've either been pulled in fifteen different directions and updating the class webpage was the thing that lost out in the chain of priorities. Or that I just genuinely forgot.

I had one student this semester stop just short of accusing me of wanting her to fail, because she was "no longer receiving" the BlackBoard stuff. (Apparently they can set a setting so that it will e-mail them when I post new stuff, which I find ever-so-slightly creepy). The reason she didn't get an e-mail that week? I hadn't gotten around to posting the stuff.

It frustrates me because I do like BlackBoard for two reasons: one, the good students will print out the material and bring it to class and take notes on it and come in with questions and discussion prepared. And it also saves me from the "I lost the handout/I skipped class and didn't get the handout/I spilled coffee on my handout" stuff - I can just direct them to BlackBoard (if they even have to ask).

But I don't like how some students seem to assume that it's like a valet, and that it's feeding them exactly what they need. And if I'm not omnipotenent about getting everything up on the site YESTERDAY, it's because I hate them and want them to flunk out of school. And I also hate that some people feel "entitled" to skip....that they believe between my slides and the textbook they can learn the stuff, and then they get upset when they earn Ds on exams because stuff I talked about in class was NOT on the slides.

(This is why I'm very, very leery of eliminating all use of PowerPoint. I know a lot of educational experts HATE it and think it is anathema - and I kind of hate some aspects of it - but when your campus culture is such that the students expect AT LEAST data slides and keywords and main points, you go back to the old chalkboard at your peril. (I've also had students with learning disabilities complain about the chalkboard. And I have one student this semester - and this is HELLA unsettling, but he has disabilities, so I don't feel like I can tell  him no - who whips out his digital camera every time I write something on the board and photographs it. (I am VERY careful NOT to get in those photos!))

But, gah. When someone doesn't get something to me when I want it, I generally figure, "They're really busy, or maybe they forgot and I need to just neutrally remind me." I get so tired of the general (or so it seems) late-adolescent tendency to take everything that happens as a personal slight.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A different 99%

I'm having to fill out a bunch of extra paperwork for a reimbursement for something. Apparently this is now necessary because of an embezzlement case. (I'm also going to have to wait longer than I did in the past for my reimbursement).

And it got me thinking: The 1% and the 99% we should be worrying ourselves with are not WHO is making WHAT KIND OF money, but about morals and ethics.

I may be a Pollyanna here in my thinking, but it seems to me that 99% of the population (at least, 99% of the people I come into contact with) are, by and large, decent, law-abiding people.The sort of people who wouldn't embezzle, or commit nepotism, or cronyism, or whatever. But there's that 1% of the people who are the scumbags who do what they ought not to do. And then, of course, more rules and regulations get passed, it gets harder to DO things....and the people who get hurt are the 99% of the law-abiding people, because they are trying to comply with the laws and "do the right thing," even if in some cases they think the regulations are foolish. And that 1% of people - the scumbags who have no compunction about stealing money from a business or about setting their nephew up with a sinecure - are busy figuring out ways around the new regulations.

This reimbursement is for expenses incurred in March. Apparently I will see my money in July. (That's provided "they" don't claim, "Oh, it's a new fiscal year, sorry...."). It's not a huge amount of money ($70), but still, it's partly the principle of it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Doomsday Preppers"

I occasionally watch bits and pieces of this show (it's on Nat Geo). I find it moderately interesting, certainly I like it more than some of the "Let's highlight an atypical part of the culture" shows (like Toddlers and Tiaras).

I have two questions, though, about the show:

1. If you had stored up a boatload of food and even ammo, would you really want your neighbors to know? I mean, these people have (I assume, I suppose a lot of it could be faked or fake names could be being used) been filmed in and around their homes, and their faces are shown on camera. I'd rather my neighbors NOT know about my preparations for coping with some kind of unrest or shortages, because then they'd be knocking at my door. (Last night, one of the women even SHOWED how she hit one of her small arms - in a #10 can of peas. I don't think it was necessarily smart to reveal that information)

2. Do the people who expect civilization to go away forever really want to live in some kind of post-apocalyptic world? I guess they do. But for me? While I'm well prepared for some kind of natural disaster/trucking strike/possibly civil unrest that would be cleared up after weeks or months....if civilization REALLY collapsed, in the sense of "no more city-supplied running water ever" or "all the food you will ever have in the future is what you can grow or kill" I don't think I'd want to be a survivor in that event. I don't think I'd want to remain. I'm too old really at this point to be a "breeder" for the next generation, and while I probably have specialized knowledge that would be valuable (stuff like what plants are edible and how to make yeast from scratch and how to make soap and candles and pasteurize milk), still...I can't picture wanting to live in a world where climate control and toilet paper and reliable medical care are a distant memory. If that sounds spoiled then fine, I'm spoiled.

The other thing, for large-scale disruptions? I live alone. Even if I had enough ammo to defend my cache of food against all comers, I'd have to sleep sometime. I suppose that's why so many people plan on "bugging out" to somewhere in the woods (I could probably do that if I had to, though not for a very long period of time...certainly not forever, not without building a place). Or maybe the answer is, if you really think it's going to hit the fan, you band together with a group of like-minded people. I don't know.  As I said, I'd be fine given a trucking strike or some kind of natural-disaster disruption of the delivery infrastructure, or something like a fairly short-lived epidemic where we were told to stay home and avoid contact with others. And I might be okay given civil unrest. (I am guessing, in my town, any civil unrest would probably quickly be put down by the many lawful-society-friendly people who have hunting rifles or other weaponry.)

Monday, April 23, 2012


I was driving to church yesterday. I have a Sirius/XM subscription in my car. (I love it. There are NO GOOD local radio stations here - heck, I think we have three FM stations I can pick up). I listen to the Classical Pops channel most of the time.

I have one complaint about the announcers: they sometimes talk an awful lot. And they have a habit of talking up not the NEXT piece they are going to play, but one they're going to play in 20 minutes. And I get that probably most people listening to Sirius/XM are either driving for longer than that, or are listening at home. But it does bug me to hear something cool advertised and then realize that I'll be at work (or whereever) long before they play it.

But another annoyance, yesterday: the commentator noted that it was Earth Day (no biggie, that) and that "Maybe you could take the stairs today rather than the elevator. It saves power and it's good exercise."


This is one of the things that bugs me SO MUCH about the modern world: wagging fingers everywhere. Turn off that light, it wastes power. Buy ugly, hard-to-safely-dispose-of fluorescent bulbs to light your house for the hour or two you're home in the evenings, because it's good for the earth. Don't eat that Twinkie! Choke down some ungodly amount of bad-tasting vegetables (no butter, no cheese sauce!) because it's good for you. Eat your peas.  And on, and on.

One reason I listen to "noncommercial" radio that I pay for is SO. I. DON'T. HAVE. TO. PUT. UP. WITH. ADS. And I'm sorry, but nannying messages are like ads to me. While I didn't hate this PSA as much as I hated the one that one of the local AM stations runs, that basically implies if you're not giving HOURS of your free time to after school programs, YOU are to blame for delinquency, still, annoying. I like a little escape in my life and that includes not being reminded of what I "should" be doing. I'm good enough at "shoulding" on myself, thanks.

The thing is, that guy's comment made me want to go FIND an elevator and RIDE it, even though I wouldn't need to.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The world is a crazy place.

For one thing: I care a lot less about what Obama ate when he was 10 than what he's been doing for the past 3 1/2 years.

I wonder how many more "your tax dollars at work" situations of people partying/taking relatives on vacation on the taxpayer's dime/buying hookers and blow while on detail (Okay, I guess there were no drug purchases, but still).

But this is crazy sad old April. Particularly, April 20th - the anniversary of Columbine, a couple days after the anniversary of the Branch Davidian fire and the Oklahoma City bombing and the Virginia Tech shooting and EVERYTHING.

And I wonder: is there something about April that makes people who are fragile or messed up to begin with more likely to snap? I'm pretty robustly sane and I find April often finds me at the end of a metaphorical rope. I cussed out a truck driver in absentia this morning because he pulled his big-rig out in front of me (he did not have the right of way) and caused me to miss my turn. And then I felt like crying. Every time I drive to work lately it feels like I'm taking my life into my hands.

I really, really don't want to have this conversation with St. Peter:

Me: " guess I'm here now? That means I'm dead? How did I get here?"

St. Peter: "Your car got assplowed by a semi carrying sausages while you were on your way to work."

Me: (Long string of words that probably would be grounds for getting me sent to The Other Place.)

Seriously, if I'm going to die other than at a very advanced age and in my own bed? I want it to be doing something heroic, like trying to save someone's life, not getting turned into a freeway pancake by someone who is being inattentive to their driving. But increasingly, I'm afraid that's how it's going to happen.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Can it be summer?

I'm getting really fed up with a couple students and just want them OUT of my class. (Or want the class to end...I'm switching up in the rotation and will not be teaching this particular class in the fall, so if these folks fail, there's no likelihood of me getting them again in my section).

I have several people who skip regularly, and then cry poor when they miss quizzes, etc. I also have people who get sick, miss, then come to me after the fact - after I have handed back the quiz - and want a make-up. So far I've said no, but I'm expecting someone to go all Office of Disability Concerns on me at some point.

(My official policy is I need prior notification, even if it's an e-mail the morning of. Interesting how some students can manage that and some can't)

I also have one person who's earning 10%s on the quizzes. These are not hard definitions of terms and stuff. This is someone who sits next to someone who is either her boyfriend or a boy she wants to impress (I can't tell, but from his contemptuous treatment of her I think it's the second) and doesn't pay attention.

And all this stuff makes me crazy...all of the "let's sit in class and be dumb," all of the noise, all of the people groaning when I expect them to know something.

You know what? I'm tired too. I'm sick of being in a too-warm classroom too. But it's my job to prepare you for whatever future classes you may take (or, conversely, persuade you to major in something else), so I keep doing it.

(And you know? It really doesn't help to read about the GSA wasting my tax dollars on junkets places, or the Secret Service hiring hookers in Colombia....when I wind up buying my own pens and notebooks rather than using the departmentally-provided ones because I think, "What if I wind up using it for non-academic purposes, that would be like stealing." My mom used to say she taught me and my brother to be too nice; I think she may also have taught us to be too ethical.)

Monday, April 16, 2012

They're trying to divide people

I've heard the Hilary Rosen commentary about Ann Romney, and other commentators' additions to/extrapolations from what she said.(I guess Hilary Rosen did apologize, but still....when something like that is said, it often gets at what is in a person's heart/mind. You don't say that kind of thing without believing it on some level.)

It seems to me there are two factors being conflated here: first: working moms vs. stay at home moms. Second: "the rich" vs. "everyone else."

The whole working-mom vs. stay-at-home-mom argument makes me frustrated. For one thing, it's a tired argument. I remember the "mommy wars" being hashed out in the 1980s. We've been arguing about this for thirty years, people. Isn't it time to let it go? There will ALWAYS be some women who prefer to stay at home and raise their children, and some women who know they are happier having childcare and working outside the home. But I guess there's that old "Let's make people feel guilty for their choices" factor coming into play...I remember back in the earlier days, the pendulum was towards the stay-at-home moms: working moms were supposed to feel guilty because they were missing their kids' milestones. Or God knows how awful that nanny REALLY is when you can't see her. Or kids in day care are more disposed to be violent. Or whatever other scare story.

Now, the pendulum has swung...and stay-at-home moms are supposed to feel guilty. Because they aren't "contributing." Now, I realize that "data" is not the plural of "anecdote" - but when I was growing up, my mom was a stay at home mom. Several of her friends were as well. I do not remember ANY of them sitting on the sofa watching soap operas and eating chocolates. (My mom did watch "Guiding Light," but usually it was while she was either dusting or doing dinner preparation). In addition to being there for us kids and keeping the house up, my mom (and several of her friends) also had large gardens (contributing to the family food budget by raising some of the food - and my mom was hardcore; most of the stuff she grew she started from seeds). My mom also baked bread. And she sewed some of the clothes my brother and I wore (at least until I got old enough to get pissy and upset about it...I feel bad about that now, but peer pressure is an ugly thing).

And my mom and her friends did volunteer work - at their churches, for the PTA, for other groups. My mom taught several classes in different things through the local continuing-ed center (I guess that would count as "working outside the home," though it was at times when my dad was home to watch over my brother and me).

One thing I've noticed as an adult involved in volunteer work: it's increasingly hard to get people to take part. Or to take part in groups like the church women's group or the AAUW. And I think part of that is that so many women work now...women who might have, 40 or 50 years ago, done lots of volunteer work are now so taken up with what they have to do for their careers (and at home) that they don't have time.

And I think it's wrong, very wrong, for the people criticizing stay-at-home moms to discount the fact of the woman BEING THERE at home...I remember how my mom was there every day I came home from school. So, if I had an upsetting day, she was there to try to make things better. Or if I had homework I'd rather not do, she was there to push me to do it. And if I got sick at school...a phone call home was all it took to get her to be able to help me.Even beyond the logistics of it, KNOWING she was there for me was important and valuable to me. But you can't put a dollar value on that, I guess. You can't treat it as "income" and tax it. (Hm. I wonder if in some cases that's the root of the uneasiness some have with stay at home moms - they're not participating in the "economy" in the same way by generating taxable income. And perhaps they consume to less of a degree...)

But the bigger thing than "My mom was a stay at home mom and it was really great for me" is the whole idea of criticizing and belittling someone for a choice they make - a choice that is morally neutral, a choice that is individual. I've said before how I HATE the "the personal is always political" attitude. This is part of it. I  dislike busybodies and to me, someone criticizing a woman for choosing to stay at home (or, conversely, for choosing to work outside the home) smacks of busybodiness - someone who wants to tell other people how to live their lives, who wants to impose a one-size-fits-all solution on the world.

I wonder if some of this - though not all the commentators on the issue have been female - but if some of it is something I've noticed in some women. (Not all women. And probably some men do this too, but I've mainly seen it from women in my life). This is: instead of saying "I've made my choices, I accept that I have given some things up for those choices in return for gaining some things, and I am not going to regret my choices," they try to justify their choices  - make themselves feel good about them - by putting down everyone who chooses differently.

And that's so damn junior high. I'm sorry, but it is. Judging someone based on their chosen lifestyle, when it's one that's perfectly legal and moral (I would not, for example, be so accepting of someone whose chosen lifestyle was robbing banks) is just...annoying. Maybe it's because I have issues with feeling judged by people myself, but I want to scream at Hilary Rosen and anyone else who would put people down, "Try walking a mile in her shoes."

(I wonder what the reaction would be to a stay at home DAD. They DO exist.)

The other divisive factor that's gotten rolled in here - I suppose to make the Mommy Wars seem fresh and new - is the whole "The Rich" vs. "Everyone Else" argument. Ann Romney knows nothing about what "ordinary" people go through, because she's rich. Mitt Romney is "too rich" to be president. (Um, like Obama and his family are ordinary middle-class people? I think it would be interesting to know the last "non rich" president. I'd speculate Truman, but maybe he even qualified as rich....)

I don't know. The whole hate-the-rich argument bugs me. I'm not rich....though in some situations, making $60K a year and having investments and having money put aside for retirement, I'd be considered to be. I certainly consider myself to be materially successful. But I don't feel like I should feel guilty for earning what I do...I work pretty hard (as I noted in an earlier post). With the investments, I had plenty times when they tanked (a few that even went to 0)...there's risk involved in investing money and some of the hate-the-people-with-investments types sometimes seem to overlook that.

I don't really care that some people make hugely more money than I do. In some cases, the high wage-earners work awful hours. Or they do face a lot of risk - one bad year, and they're out of a job. Again, it comes down to trying to walk in the other person's shoes.

And even at that: being fabulously wealthy is not necessarily something to envy. I went to school (high school and college) with some kids from uber-rich families, and some of those kids were pretty messed up, or had really sad family dynamics. Money can't buy a functional family.

But it distresses me that there seem to be factions in our society who want to divide - who want to pit people against each other, instead of encouraging people to find solutions to things like our governmental spending problems. I sometimes, in my darker moments, wonder if pitting people against each other is intended as a distraction from other things.

Friday, April 13, 2012

This really bugged me

Yesterday, I got a phone call:

"Dr. Ricki, this is Administrator A. Do you have a little time right now?"

And I was all, oh crap what now. And I said, "Uh, I'm preparing for class, but I have a few moments."

And so, A went on: "You have Student B in your class. As you know, Student B has a number of disabilities. Student B was having problems last week because Student B ran out of medications but now has a refill."

And I'm like: okay, why are you telling me this? (And a note: Student B missed lab AGAIN yesterday).

So A says, "Student B has come to me about an assignment he handed in late."

And my response was, wearily: "I know Student B has had health issues. I've let him hand in stuff late even though I normally don't. I have the late assignment on my desk; I just haven't gotten to grading it yet."

And then she was like "No, he has an assignment right now that's late that he wants me to tell you to allow him to hand it in."

Sorry, WTF? Rather than coming and asking me FIRST, and getting my "yes, that's OK" he goes to an ADMIN and sics her on me. That's creepy and wrong and I feel very bad about it.

What's worse? As she was explaining this to me, I could hear B in the background telling her what to say.

I said "Yes, that assignment can be handed in" (in fact, it wasn't due yet. But what the hell ever.I'm not going to argue with someone whose grasp on reality isn't that tight).

But MAN. Getting an administrator to call up, and I presume bully a bit if I said no, rather than asking me first? That seems very slimy.

I'm happy to make accommodations for disabilities - I always do - but I don't like feeling like people need to get Big Brother or Big Sister to call me up and TELL me to do it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I guess I grew up sheltered

There's been a lot of discussion about Derbyshire's article on "The Talk," which apparently got him released from his contract. (He was claiming that white parents have the same avoid-people-of-other-races, they're-dangerous talk that some Black parents do).

But for me, when I hear of a parent giving "The Talk," I think of the one I got when I was about 11, from my mom, that ended sort of like:

"That is how babies come into the world. I'm telling you this now because you're growing up and soon your body will begin doing the things a woman's body does when it's mature enough that pregnancy is possible, and I don't want you to freak out or be scared by these changes because they are natural. I also want you to know that you can come and talk to me any time if you have questions. And some of your friends might start having sex in the next few years. Understand that if you're not ready for that - and I hope you won't be, not for a while - you don't have to do it just because other people you know are."

It was probably good she gave me that talk when she did, because just about a year later, one of those big changes happened. It didn't freak me out but it did surprise/shock me a little. (I remember finding out after going to the restroom before last-hour English class in seventh grade). (My reaction wound up being something like, "Oh great, I'm gonna have to put up with THIS every month from now on)

I didn't really go to her much with questions: I kind of knew what I needed to know. (And also, I knew, at 11, that it would be MANY MANY years before I was ready to do what she was talking about being done. And I also remember being moderately horrified at that age to think that - gasp - she and my father had obviously done that TWICE, because there were two kids in the family. Hahahaha. Yeah, I was a pretty innocent tween...)

(I find now I am going to her with questions about "my changing body" though. I'm about the age she was when she started perimenopause and it seems there are a lot more things happening now that freak me out a little than what happened when I was 12.)

Monday, April 09, 2012

Just a little observation:

Dear student,

If you didn't skip class, like, 2/3 of the time, you might just score better than a 10% on an exam.

But I imagine you'll blame me for failing. That's okay; I have tenure and besides the students who do come to class regularly give me positive evaluations.

However, you might want to rethink the whole going-to-med-school thing.


dr. ricki.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

There's probably nothing I could say

...that would convince people who think I'm lazy otherwise. But I'll say that stories like this annoy me.

Now, granted, it might be an apples-and-oranges comparison. Apparently the columnwriter is addressing community colleges, where expectations are somewhat different. But still, you hear from lots of places, both right and left, that college professors don't work hard enough, or they're paid too much. (For the record, as a full professor with 12 years experience, I make just under $60K a year, provided I teach in the summer as well.)

But I bristle at the same old, "Professors are only in the classroom 12 to 15 hours a week! We need to work them harder!" I got to thinking last night about a breakdown of my time in a given week.

In a typical semester, I teach 14 hours. A "full load" here is 12, but because my department is down two tenure lines and an instructor, 14 hours is the usual  minimum. Some semesters I've taught 15. (At 16 hours, we're supposed to be paid more. I've never taught that many. I think one of my colleagues is doing 18 this semester, but he's getting paid the (pitiful) adjunct rate on top of his base salary for those extra hours).

Another complication for people in the sciences - I am not sure if this happens at every school or not, but where I teach, we get one hour of teaching credit for every two to three hours in lab. So many semesters, I "officially" teach 14 hours, but am in the classroom 17, which is approaching the "magic minimum" that Levy proposes. (The semester I taught 15 hours, I was in the classroom, I think, 19 hours a week. That semester is kind of a blur now).

Also, even though I'm at a "teaching focused" university, I'm expected to do research. I try to make between five and seven hours per week during the regular semester (more in the summer) to either do fieldwork, do labwork, analyze data, write manuscripts, or read articles related to my research. I don't always get to it - because research isn't what I'm being directly paid to do, it often gets pushed to the back burner when I have a busy week.

I don't currently have any graduate students, but here, if we do, that's on top of everything else we do - there is no release time, unless you have written an enormous grant that brings in lots of overhead costs. 

:Levy suggests profs spend an hour out of class for every hour in class. That can vary widely. I might spend an hour out of class per hour in class for the classes I've taught for a long long time that require little updating beyond reviewing the material. But when you do new preps - which on a small campus you tend to do fairly frequently - or you are taking a class you've taught and replacing the textbook - it can take as much as 3-4 hours out of class per hour in class to prep. (And it can take longer if it's material that's difficult or that is less familiar to me.I always find the stuff on predation models in ecology requires a lot more review than things I actually use in my own research).

On top of that, there's grading and test-writing. I suppose some profs use the textbook-supplied testbanks, but I loathe them, because the questions are often badly written. So I write my own tests. And I write new ones each semester, because I hand the old ones back (I think there's heuristic value in students getting to read over their tests with my comments on them). It can take a couple hours to write an exam and another hour to type and proofread it (including having to do multiple forms with scrambled questions to try to defeat cheating).

Grading can take a while, as well. A half hour to an hour, perhaps, for a quiz, maybe up to 4 hours for an exam, depending on how extensively I write comments on the papers and how complex the essay questions were. And grading papers - I assign papers in most of my classes; even if they're "not English classes" as some students protest, students need experience writing in a range of disciplines. Papers can take me a couple days' worth of free time to grade. Grading labs might take an hour or so, but that's a weekly thing, that's something that's "always there" to be done. (Same with quizzes)

On top of that, I'm expected to hold 10 hours of office hours a week. Granted, I can be in my lab working or in my office grading or prepping if no one comes in - but I have to be available. (I have heard that some people believe professors come in to campus 10 minutes before class starts, and leave right after class. Not so, at least not in my department. I'm usually here from 7 am until maybe 3 or 4 pm, and I often take grading home with me).

There's also committeework. We're expected to serve on at least one campus committee. If you're clever, you can pick a low drama one like Library or Honors (and if you're lucky, you get your choice), and the amount of work is fairly minimal. But if you're a chair - or if you're on a committee like Academic Appeals - you wind up not just putting in a lot of time, but dealing with a lot of stress.

And that's actually the uncountable factor: the wear and tear and stress of some of the parts of the job. I know every job carries its own load of stress, but on college campuses there seem to be all kinds of things. I've had to pacify students who were angry about something. I've had students share awful, frightening TMI stuff with me (either medical stuff or stuff pertaining to court cases they were involved in).  I've had to write make-up exams on short notice for students who had big problems and couldn't take the regular exam, and I didn't know that they weren't just "skipping" until after the fact. I've had students in class who behaved strangely. I've served on committees where the meetings got kind of ugly and nasty.  I've had people e-mail me and tell me "Here is this thing I need you to do and I need you to do it by 5 pm." where I have to reshuffle my day's schedule. I've had interactions with administrators, where they exerted their authority over me to a degree where I went back to my office and cried. (I'm not an unusually sensitive person, I think, but when someone's told you "yes, you can make this accommodation for a student" and then when it actually comes down to them having to DO something toward that accommodation, yelling at you for putting them in that position...)

And even without problems, teaching well takes a lot of energy. I'm tired when I walk out of class, even on days when it's been a good and dynamic class. I'm on my feet a lot. 

On top of all of that, we're kind of expected to do off-campus volunteer work. And we're expected to document it. And there's other kinds of documentation....we have to keep up portfolios of our scholarly productivity, service, and teaching evaluations. And we have to participate in departmental review, and we have to do work towards accreditation renewal when that comes up. And then there are other things that come up...I had to fill out a "diversity report" last spring, on how I was incorporating "diversity" into my classes. (One of my colleagues proposed we all talk about "species diversity" on the questionnaire...which was not what it was getting at, of course, but to paraphrase the old blues musician, "The microscope don' care what color your hand is." So we tend to feel that overtly teaching "diversity" (the way it's being intended to be taught) is kind of....beyond the scope...of biology)

And there are lots of other little one-time things. Recruiting events. Interviewing people who've applied for scholarships.  Advising students. Dealing with red tape on behalf of students. (It's interesting how offices will sometimes tell them flatly "no" for something they SHOULD tell them "yes" for, and when you as a prof call up, they're willing to accommodate the student...)

Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining. I understand that there are lots of things that go along with the position of a tenured professor, that there's a lot of stuff expected of us. I find myself busier now than before I had tenure.

The thing is...some weeks I have a hard time finding time to take care of myself. I joke that I need to have at least 14 pairs of skivvies (and I do), because if I can't make time to get to the laundry for a while - well, I can wear the same brassiere a couple days in a row if I need to, and I have enough blouses that I can generally make it for more than a week without laundry (and could probably wear some more than once without washing)....but underwear, no, I need to have a clean pair each day at a minimum.

There are some days where I get home, eat dinner, do a little prepwork for the next day, and then head out to evening meetings or volunteer work - where I'm essentially involved in work from 7 am until 9 pm. I'm glad those days are rare - but they do happen a couple times a month. Some weeks I have something nearly every night of the week. A lot of times these days I feel like I'm beginning to lose "myself," because I have very little free time (And yes, I AM complaining there). When it gets to the point, like it did one day last fall, when you realize you're out of milk and you sit down on the kitchen floor crying because you don't have TIME to go out and buy milk, and you DON'T KNOW WHEN you will have time to go out and buy milk...

Some days when I do get home early, I've gone to bed at 7:30 because I was just that tired.

I suppose I do need to dial back on something. Probably the volunteer work, but I can't really see what I would's valuable to me and some of it, it would be hard to find someone else to do. (Not many people willing to lead a teenaged Youth Group...) Usually I wind up "dialing back" on doing stuff for myself...I don't read as much for fun as I used to, I don't sit down and watch movies like I used to. I sew less and knit less.

So it frustrates me when someone who might not have taught on a college campus claims we're "lazy" and that we need to be forced to work more hours. At this point, if the state legislature came to us and said, "Either teach 25 classroom hours a week or take a pay cut" I'd take the pay cut without hesitating. 

And, to end, an old joke: A senator, upon hearing of the reported workload of college professors, was enraged. "We must get these people working 40 hour weeks!" he exclaimed. And throughout the land, college professors rejoiced, because that meant their workweeks would go down by at least 1/3....

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

My office hours are over

I was wise, this semester, ending my office hours an hour before class starts for me on my long days - it gives me time to eat lunch.

And I can (legally) close my office door. (There is a new campus policy that our doors must be open all through our office hours. I find this slightly annoying and patronizing - where my office is located, I often get people who hang out in the hall and discuss things, loudly, and rather than always look like the "Get offa my lawn!" cranky lady, I just would shut my door to cut out the noise).

I have one student who has "boundary issues." In terms of time, but also in terms of what he believes it is appropriate to share with me. Several days lately I've had him show up to my office twenty minutes before my class is set to start, as I am eating, and start talking.

And keep talking. And not understand or pick up on any of my non verbal "please go away I need to get ready for class" cues. Even when I get as rude as I ever get to a student and start leafing through notes as he speaks.  And he can eat up that 20 minutes -and more, if I wasn't saying "I'm sorry I need to get to class" and walking past him. And, I'm sorry, but as I said somewhere else, I am not freakin' Mr. Miyagi and he is not the Karate Kid. I have well over 100 students to concern myself with, and he's demanding a bigger slice of my attention-pie than I can give.

And he's one of those people who just seems to be a Bad Luck Joe - the kind of person that all kinds of crazy crap happens to, and which he has to share with people around him. And, okay, I get that some people don't have a lot of people to listen to them (for that matter, I don't). But. I get tired of being the 'trouble tree' for my students (like the old glurgy story about the guy who, when ever he came home for the evening, "hung his troubles up" on a sad little tree in the front yard of his house, so he wouldn't carry them in to his family. (In less-glurgy versions of the story, the tree DIES because he burdened it with so many troubles.))

So I've taken to closing my door while I eat. That probably eventually won't stop him from knocking, but at least it's a visual message.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Something I wish I could do

Walking across the building (had to get an additional microscope for a student; one of the labs I teach in is used so heavily that a lot of the microscopes are trashed and need repair by this time of the year), I saw one of my former students. He was a good student, and he still says hello to me in the hall when we happen to meet.

Today, he was sacked out on the sofa in the student lounge. And that makes me jealous. I've long been jealous of people who can sleep anywhere. For me, I have to be somewhere dark and quiet and preferably on the cool side in order to sleep. And I can't sleep when I feel people are looking at me...I need privacy.

I also knew a guy when I was in grad school who kept a pillow in the bottom drawer of his desk. At times when he wasn't doing anything between classes, he'd go into his office, pull out the pillow, and take a nap with his head down on the desk. Even if the lights were on. Even if the other people in the lab were talking.

I wonder if it's possible for a person to retrain their mind to allow themselves to sleep anywhere? One reason why I didn't even remotely consider joining the military when I was of age was that I was afraid my sleeping difficulties would lead to me washing out - I doubted if I could sleep in a barracks setting.

I really wish I were better at "tuning out" the world so I could sleep. (I honestly wish I was better at "tuning out" the rest of the world in a lot of ways.)

Monday, April 02, 2012

My one thought

I haven't really spoken about the whole Martin/Zimmerman thing, because first, I suspected the news narrative was too simple, and second, I wasn't there to see it.

But the old saying, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind" keeps popping into my head. Especially when I see people who are calling for the blood of Zimmerman or others involved...or people who are releasing addresses that are either (thought at the time) to be those of his or his parents.

It's a bad situation all around, and it may become much worse, if lots of parties not directly related start jumping in. Already I wonder if Zimmerman will get a fair trial. (If he's guilty, he should face the penalties. End of story. But I don't think he should be tried in the court of public opinion first.)

I just have a feeling this is going to be a long, ugly, hot summer, with lots of people venting their anger at people who likely don't deserve it.