Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Update: My students are smart and my class is boring

So it has been a long time since I've posted anything here or even comment on other blogs.  My excuse is a combination of both being busy and having nothing of interest happen at all.  I'm that kind of busy where my days have become very routine: work, exercise, eat, read, sleep, repeat (with more eating in there).  Pretty boring, but a boring that leaves no free time to blog.

I'm only teaching one class this semester (plus another job the department has us do) and it is one of the major reasons why I am bored and busy.  I've never taught this class so I have a lot more prep work than I am used to.  I feel like I am constantly playing around with our syllabus and class website, and I'm grading the first batch of papers right now.  But...the students are so boring. This probably means that they think that I am so boring, and together we just bore the hell out of each other.  I have never, ever had such a quiet class that I know nothing about.  It is so silent in there.  They come in the room and don't even talk to each other, let alone me.  I am trying to crack jokes left and right, jokes that are, of course, hilarious, and nothing.  Not a peep.  The biggest laugh they have given me was in response to a Harry Potter reference.  I don't know if those opportunities are going to present themselves throughout the semester, but it was a nice laugh while it lasted.

I was talking to another teaching assistant who teaches in the same room and his/her theory is that it is the room that makes the students so dull.  The room is in the basement of a building, is kind of bigger than the other classrooms our colleagues are teaching in, and has rows of desktop computers where the students sit (I think I've mentioned that before).  So, we're thinking:
  • Basement=depressing.  That's a no-brainer.  It's the middle of winter and we're stuck in a dark basement. 
  • Bigger room=less of a community/friendly feeling.  My colleague thinks that the smaller rooms elicit more camaraderie and that this big room just has too much space which allows the students to keep to their isolated areas.
  • Computers=personal entertainment systems.  I curse these computers.  We use them in class and my students are really good about not going on sites they shouldn't be on, but I think it is these computers that discourage them from talking to each other.  They come in the room, turn on the computers, and never look to their left or right again.  It is also hard for me when I look out in the class and just see these big computer screens blocking faces.  I feel like I am teaching robots.
Now the good thing is that my students are actually kicking ass on assignments and the written work.  As you may know, a majority of my teaching experience has been spent teaching basic English classes at a community college.  Many of my students in those classes could barely string together a decent sentence.  I'm very excited at the skill level of my current students, but I just wish we had a better relationship.  I can tell that my class is slipping into that boring category, and I hate that.  I don't know how to fix it yet.

However, I had my first ever office hours visit from a student.  That was exciting and I don't think he/she was bored during that meeting!  It's the little things, right?

Monday, January 17, 2011

The First Week

The first week of school is over and the jury is still out on the class I'm teaching. They have been very quiet so I'm not sure of the personality of the class yet.  Hopefully as things get going, they will warm up to me and start talking.  Next week's classes are more discussion based while the first week is a lot of me talking so that should help.

The setting of this classroom is not the best for me to learn names and get to know my students.  There is space down the middle of the room where I pace up and down.  On both sides of me are tables where the students sit, three on each side of the table so no matter where I am in the room, some have their backs to me.  Each student has a computer monitor in front of them, blocking his or her face.  It is hard for me to get a good look at them which is going to make it even harder for me to learn their names.  I feel very distant and separated from them, so I'm going to really focus on getting them to come out from that sense of security that those monitors are providing.   

This is also the first semester where I am teaching a syllabus that I did not entirely create myself.  I can make slight changes to it, but the assignments have to stay the same.  Of course I went over the syllabus, the readings, the assignments, and all those little things before class, but I feel like I don't really know this class like I've known others I've taught. Again, it is just the first week so I know I'm still getting to know the class and the students, but so far I definitely feel like I am teaching someone else's class to a bunch of people I've never met before.   

In other news, I finally have my complete qualifying exam committee. Woohoo!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Two Teaching Resolutions

This new year of 2011 will see me teaching at a new university, my Grad University.  I will be teaching freshman composition, which I have done before at Community College, but this particular course is laid out in a much different way and stresses very different things.  For this new year and new course, I definitely have some basic resolutions I hope to keep in regards to my teaching.

1.  Be more of a tough guy (or gal).  I know I let my students get away with way too much, and that is going to stop this year.  I know I am not going to completely change my personality, so I will still be more of a laid back teacher than others, but I hope to put my foot down a lot more when the situation calls.  Saddle up pilgrims, because there is a new sheriff in town and you best be listenin' up. (Hmm, I also resolve to never use Old West language again). 
            1b.  This "tough gal" persona will also affect my grading.  I think I may sometimes be an easy grader and this is another bad habit that has to stop.  We did a grading workshop last semester and we were all pretty much on the same page, which made me feel confident in my grading.  However, I felt that I might have been more lenient if I was in an actual class and knew these students.  Not again! 

2.  Grade and prep more effectively.  Or to put it in another way, do not save all grading and prep work to do the day before class.  This semester will mark the first time I have my own office.  Sure, I share it with four or five other grad students, but it is an office nonetheless!  Because of this office, I will also be holding office hours for the first time ever.  Community College never required them, I had no space there, so I was only available by appointment.  However, this semester I am required to sit in that office for so many hours and I am going to use that time wisely!  Here's my plan: I teach three days a week.  After every class, I will go back to the office and work.  I will go over whatever was handed in that day, whatever I may grade for next class, and start prepping.  I will use my time effectively. 

Those really are the two major ones.  I don't think I'll know what else to do with my teaching until I get into the classroom and see how things go.  There are things I want to make sure that I keep doing because I like them in my style.  I want to stay fun, personable, helpful, and sympathetic.  We'll see how things go after that. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Publishing A Paper=Clueless

After sending off a proposal for a conference, I decided to tackle another thing on my break to-do list and revise a paper for publication.  Then I realized that I have never done this before.

Wow, I have never done this before.  In my mind it seems so easy, but when the paper is in front of me I am at a loss.  I made the changes my professor suggested...and now I don't know what to do next.  I do, however, know these things:
  • I need to cut out about 2,000 words.  Damn.
  • I need to write up a 500 word proposal. Ugh.
So, the first thing is that 2,000 words is a lot of damn words!  I had already cut this paper down a lot when I turned it in for class, so to cut another 2,000 words is like cutting off my arm.  It hurts and I don't want to do it.  That is some serious rewording and/or even elimination of an argument or example.  Of course I will have to talk to my professor about this but it would be nice to have some sort of plan in my head.  Also, it is break, my professor is out of town, and the proposal is due kind of soon. 

Also, the proposal?  I am awful, just absolutely awful, at explaining my arguments and research.  Obviously, this is a skill I need to develop ASAP.  Last night I pretended like I was on the job market now and spent some time reading interview tips from various bloggers.  Tenured Radical wrote that so many applicants miss the easiest question of them all: explain your dissertation.  I do not want to be one of those people.  In any case, I have to write this proposal and that is not my strength. 

The one lucky thing is that there is a specific journal with a specific CFP that my paper addresses.  This gives me something to tailor the proposal to and maybe can even direct my editing of the paper.  I'm just a little worried because this paper reads so much like a class paper to me, and not like a journal article.  I'm a wee bit nervous.

So, getting a paper published = a clueless me

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Oh no. Carolers.

You know what is really awkward?  Carolers at your doorstep. 

I've never had to experience this until last night.  There was a knock on the door and I, expecting someone else, threw it open without a care in the world.  Cue "Jingle Bell Rock."  I think the first words out of my mouth were, "Oh no.  It's carolers."

There were about five of them and they were not your average Christmas time singers.  They were young, like late teens/early 20s.  They weren't dressed in Christmas gear.  They were also not great singers.  I think my fifth grade class rendition of "Jingle Bell Rock" was more in tune than this group last night.  But they did have little cue cards that they were singing off of. 

Shit.  Carolers.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my husband duck into the back room to avoid the singing strangers at the front door.  Then I heard him call out, "They want money."  Yes, I know that, but you are still supposed to listen to their song, right?  It's not like a pay and we'll shut up thing.  I stood there awkwardly, not sure what to do, as they went through the song.  At that moment, "Jingle Bell Rock" was the longest song in the world.  "They want money!" Again, not helpful.  But now I was starting to second guess myself and thought maybe they would want to see that I intended on paying them?  Maybe if they didn't see me with cash they would never stop singing?  So I left them there and went and got my purse.  Looking back, that was probably a weird thing to do as it left these people with no one to sing to. 

After an eternity, the song ended.  I think I applauded.  I stepped outside in my socks and gave them some cash and asked why they were doing this.  Apparently they were trying to raise some money for next semester's books and, and I quote, "To spread some holiday cheer." 

When it was all over, my husband, who was carefully hidden away this entire time, said, "I didn't know if you would know to give them money."  I am constantly amazed at how stupid my husband must think I am.  Oh well.  He feels the same way about me (that I must think he is stupid, not that he thinks I am stupid).     

Happy Holidays!  May no carolers appear on your doorstep (unless you like that kind of thing)!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Food Resolution

I'm taking a break from school and am thinking about food. 

Sometimes I think that my husband and I live like frat boys.  We have a nice home but suck at keeping it up.  We are insanely lazy.  There are unfinished projects from over a year ago that would probably take an hour or so to complete, but we just don't do them. 

However, what really seems to get to people is our eating habits.  I just got back from the grocery store and I think it was my first shopping trip in three months.  Husband is usually pretty good at picking up milk or bread when we need it, but that has been about it.  We usually do not make dinner and instead get carry-out probably four nights a week.  The other day I asked a friend if he eats a "real" dinner ever night.  He looked at me like I was crazy.

Let me go over some of our food issues.  Husband is a very picky eater (he may say he's not but, holy shit, he is).  He doesn't like any tomato-based sauces, anything spicy, "a lot" of melted cheese, many veggies (and any that are cooked), beans, condiments...basically, I say he doesn't really like a lot of flavor.  He is perfectly happy eating the same things day in and day out.  One of his favorite things in the world is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  He eats more PB&J sandwiches than an entire kindergarten class in a year.  He is also a food brand loyalist.  It has to be a particular peanut butter, jelly, bread, Ranch dressing, syrup, etc. 

My issue is that I don't eat meat.  I eat seafood, but no meat.  Husband loves meat.  I love those saucy, cheesy things that he isn't too keen on. 

Together we are lazy and would rather have someone else make us something than do it ourselves.  But we want to change.  We really do.  We spend too much money on going out to eat, not to mention the calories.  So here is my resolution: eat better and at home.  We start tonight with our standby meal that we both enjoy: salmon and fresh green beans.  Oh, and a salad because I accidentally bought salad things not knowing that we already have salad things so now we have twice the...salad things.  I'm hoping that since I have this winter break that I can get in the habit of making dinner and we'll see what happens when next semester starts up.

In more fun food news, I am making mulled wine for a holiday party tomorrow.  I've made a pretty excellent hard cider before, but never mulled wine.  I'm a bit nervous; I've never had mulled wine before so it sounds strange to me, but we'll see how it goes. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Braggy McBraggenpants

So, my last and final paper ever for a course?  I did really, really well on it.  So well that I feel the need to take to my blog and brag.  My professor, who I consider a pretty difficult and no-nonsense grader, used some great adjectives for my paper and said it was definitely publishable!  Excuse my excitement, but woohoo!  I guess that means I have to take Grad Director's advice and not waste any time this holiday break.

Unfortunately, the rest of my class didn't do so well.  The professor sent out an email to the class to tell us that papers were graded and other admin details.  The email continues to say basically, "Class was great, wasn't it?  Too bad a lot of your papers weren't."  Seriously.  That's kind of inappropriate, isn't it?   

Anyways, my checklist for break looks like this:

1.  Write up a conference proposal.  There is one other paper that this same professor also said is publishable, but I've been sitting on it for awhile.  I haven't had the time yet to revise it for publication, but there is an international conference next year that would be amazing.  The proposal is due early next year, but I would really like to kick it out before we ring in 2011.  However, I am having some trouble writing it.  I think I have summarized the paper nicely, but I haven't used any of the key words that were in the CFP.  I would really like to do that to tie the paper more obviously to the theme of the conference.

2.  Develop a blog for my composition class.  The University likes to use blogs for the first year composition classes and I need to get mine up and running. 

3. Read for qualifying exams.  Enough said.   

4.  Revise paper(s) for publication.  Again, enough said. 

That is my break, academically speaking.  It doesn't sound too bad, especially with a latte or two (or Schnapps, as previous commentators suggest).  Today, however, there is one big thing on my list: shovel the snow.  My husband did it yesterday and I promised to do it today.  Hopefully, there won't be a ton of snow during my break to shovel.