48 Hours in the Life of a Community College Professor

Thursday January 10, 2013

Professor is currently on day #4 of faculty in-service week. Over the past few days, the professor has answered emails, organized syllabi and begun loading course content on Blackboard. Below is a rough timeline of her day:

11:00 AM- Arrive at office.

11:05 AM: Check email/voicemail.

11:10 AM: Make “To-Do” list for the day.

11:15 AM: Begin prepping online American Lit course (this is the third day of prep for this course).

12:00 PM: Finish prepping online American Lit course.

12:05 PM: Make list of questions for course coordinator about online American Lit course.

12:06 PM: Email course coordinator with list of questions.

12:10-12:15 PM: Chat with office mates.

12:15 AM-2:00 PM: Continue to prep other courses for spring semester.

2:30 PM- Receives email from American Lit course coordinator that the professor’s section has been CANCELED  due to low enrollment.

2:31 PM: Professor’s head hits desk.

2:33 PM: Professor goes in search of interim chair so she can pick up another course.

2:35 PM: Finds interim chair. Only courses left are introductory composition courses at inconvienent times.

2:36 PM: Professor’s stomach starts to churn.

2:37 PM: Professor resigns herself to taking a section of composition that meets Monday/Wednesday night.

2:38 PM: Professor shuffles back to her office.

2:40 PM: Professor realizes none of her composition files are on campus because she has not taught this particular course since 2010.

2:41 PM-3:00 PM:Professor commiserates with colleagues about the annoyance of it all.

3:05 PM: Professor drives home. She is muttering to herself the entire way.

Friday January 11, 2013

9:30 AM: Professor arrives for day #5 of in-service week. She is armed with all her composition files collected from home.

9:35 AM: Professor vows to remain optimistic. She’s taught this course many times. It will be OK.

9:37-9:40 AM: Professor reviews composition textbook. Optimism takes a hit. Textbooks are boring.

9:45-10:00 AM: Professor begins to review/update composition syllabus. She has not taught this course since summer of 2010. Optimism takes another hit.

10:00-10:15 AM: Professor looks over assignments. 20 journals? 5 essays? 5 revisions? Optimism takes another hit.

10:15-10:30 AM: Professor realizes she cannot take her favorite turbo kick class now because she will be teaching class. Optimism is gone.

10:30-10:45 AM: Professor commiserates with collegaues. Again.

11:00-12:30 PM: Liberal Arts & Sciences Department Meeting.

12:30 PM: Meets with two colleagues to discuss creative writing student group

12:35 PM: Professor realizes that one of these colleagues had to drop a creative writing course due to scheduling difficulties. Said colleague offers this class to professor.

12:36 PM: Professor RUNS up to interim program chair and asks for the creative writing class to replace composition course.

12:37 PM: Interim chair agrees and makes the change.

12:38 PM: Professor sings praises of colleague who gave up her class. She offers her chocolate, wine, books, her first born child, whatever this woman desires. Colleague is just glad to help. Professor is ELATED.

12:38-1:40 PM: Professor chats with colleagues about how optimistic she is for the beginning of the semester.

2:00 PM: Professor arrives home and collapses onto her couch. Classes begin January 14th. 

End of the Semester: Pros & Cons

I teach writing. I teach writing at the college level. These two statements could encompass a blog post all by themselves, but at the end of the Fall 2012 term, I find myself wanting only to focus on one part of my job: grading. I teach a variety of classes, so this term the “writing” includes research papers, literary analysis papers and creative writing portfolios. To sum up how this process has been going, I will quote myself as I responded to this post (courtesy of my friend, Sam) on Facebook:

Today in back-to-back newsfeed items:

“Man, my students really are blessing me this week. One just gave me a Christmas card that really touched me and let me know that I am doing something right in and out of the classroom. Humble”

and….

“Time to get out my student-beating stick.”

My comment:

As I read this post, I am knee deep in *research papers and I feel the constant push and pull of pride and despair.

This pretty much sums up the feelings I currently have and will continue to have throughout the next week as I move through the mountain of writing before me. And with this sentiment, I give you the pros and cons of grading college essays at the end of the term.

Pros

1. Improvement. This is a huge pro. Arguably, this is the best result of a final piece of writing. It’s not that it is an “A” paper or that it is “well written” or even that the student has stumbled across some insight that has never occurred to me. It is that they finally mastered APA formatting, or they wrote a killer thesis statement, or their poem finally came together or for the love of all things, they finally formatted their title page correctly. Hallelujah! 

2. Creativity. An interesting quote in the introduction, a piece of fiction inspired by an author they admire, a well crafted sentence or a research topic that resonates on a personal level. All of these make me happy.

3. Directions. This may seem obvious and even trivial, but writing that meets the word count, writing that correctly uses APA format, writing that contains a title page and reference page, writing that includes the correct number of sources, etc. Never underestimate the power of following a simple set of directions.

4. Eloquence. Beautiful sentences, vivid imagery, clearly organized paragraphs, thoughtful conclusions, grammatically correct sentences, no misspellings, the correct use of a semi-colon and a clearly worded thesis statement. 

Cons

1. Apologies. It is not a good omen to get a message from a student before reading their essay that apologizes for how terrible it is. Seriously?

2.  APA Format. Admittedly, I don’t like this type of formatting but it is a necessary evil. It is also the #2 reason why students lose points on their papers. If you’re not sure, LOOK IT UP.

3. Directions. Repetition? This is the #1 reason students lose points on their papers. Word count isn’t met, sources are not present, APA, etc. 

4. Sloppiness. This is not be confused with “poor writing.” Poor writing doesn’t anger me. Sloppiness does. Examples of sloppiness? Sentence fragments, misspellings, typos, missing words and sentences that don’t makes sense. 

5. Laziness. My number one example of this problem? I take the time to read and comment on rough drafts. I do this so that students have the benefit of revising their papers before submitting final drafts. However, if you choose not to read my comments and then turn in the same exact paper with the same exact errors? Well, let’s just say, your grade is going to reflect that choice. 

*In this comment I refer to research papers in particular, but this applies to all the writing I am grading this semester.



First Impressions of a Fall Semester

The fall semester started at my community college August 21st and so far it’s been a solid three weeks. A fellow colleague mentioned that there “seemed to be something different in the air this semester” and it got me thinking about some of the things I’ve observed over the past few weeks.

1. The enthusiasm for extracurricular activities on campus is increasing. This may seem like an odd observation given that I work at a college, but our students are all commuters, so sometimes drawing them towards student organizations and community service events can be tricky. They are pulled between work, family and classes, so when we had our annual activities fair the second week of school it was a pleasant surprise to see lots of new and returning students signing up for email lists and asking questions about how to get involved.

2. Our campus feels more like a campus. When I began teaching at my community college, the campus consisted of two buildings at our downtown location. This past spring we moved into a brand new academic building that houses offices, student lounges, classrooms, a food court and a coffee bar. We recently finished construction on our new culinary building and we now have a skywalk that joins two of the busiest buildings on campus. I love walking into my building in the morning and seeing students line up to buy coffee.

3. Students seem more organized and better prepared for classes. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, but I think our increased attention to new student orientation has helped in terms of teaching students how to be students. A lot of our students are non-traditional, so assimilating back into a college environment presents a whole other set of challenges.

I’m embarking on some new projects this semester as well and I’m reminded of how much I like the energy and excitement that comes with a new semester. Here’s hoping that energy continues. 

A Night At the Art Museum

In Indianapolis we have the pleasure of a wonderful art museum that is free to get into. The Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) is amazing on many levels but I think what I like most about it is it a good museum to just hang out in. There are plenty of places to sit and sketch or take notes or just zone out. It is a very people friendly museum and I think that is an underestimated characteristic when it comes to public space in general.

I took my creative writing class to the museum to do some writing and while they looked for art that inspired them, I got to walk around and look at my leisure. Here are two paintings I wrote about in my journal:

Hotel Lobby by Edward Hopper

The House of the Deaf Woman and the Belfry at Erangy by Camille Pissarro

These are the journal entries about the two paintings. They’re pretty fragmented, but I think there are some poems brewing in there somewhere. From The House:

1886, Camille Pissarro, oil on canvas. When I think of Pissarro, I think of green. All different hues of green: yellow green, forest green, spring green, light (almost white) green & blue green. In this painting, green dominates. It is clearly the point. Trees, grass, shrubs, very few flowers. The woman is small, deaf to the rustling of all this green. Hunched over, knees deep in green, hands hidden. Weeding? It would be pleasant to feel if you could not hear. Could you feel young, new, sun, grass, green? Could you feel green? There is a belfry and a belfry equals  bells but she cannot hear. When she lost sound, she lost God? Is she trying to find God again in the green? Is she trying to find life? She seems so far away from the church. Isolated in this field of green.

From Hotel Lobby:

Oil on canvas. “Though this looks like a scene from a story, it’s not clear there really is one.” Two women and two men. Two older and two younger. Point of view seems to be from the doorway. Hopper’s paintings are always “busy” in terms of people but they are so lonely because the people always seem to be ignoring each other. Even in conversation they are lonely. Women are always young, blonde. There is a darkness in terms of color that seeps into the atmosphere as if something horrible is just below the surface. 



Summer Schedule

The summer semester began this Monday. I was on campus Monday for most of the day; however, Monday will be the only day I’ll be on campus for the entire 8 week term. Am I teaching this summer? Yes. Am I teaching a full load (4 classes)? Yes. So how did I manage this schedule? Online classes.

I received my online certification two summers ago and from that point on, I’ve been teaching at least two online courses a semester. Online education, its pros and cons, could be an entire post on its own and I’m sure I’ll write that post later this summer. However, from a teaching point of view, I’d like to outline the basic reasons for why I chose this track for the summer semester.

Normally, I don’t like going totally online. This past spring I taught two face to face courses and two online courses and I felt like this was a good balance. However, summer term is a whole other ball game. For starters, it is only 8 weeks long. When I started as an adjunct at the same campus, summer term used to be 10 weeks long. I don’t like the 8 week term for a lot of reasons but most of my issues come from the way my institution has decided to organize this 8 week term. Most classes are in 3 hour blocks and meet twice a week. For example, last summer I taught two comp classes face to face and one met on M/W 8-11 and one met T/TH 8-11. This might not be such a problem if students were only taking one class but many times they are taking two or three or even four. This makes for a scheduling nightmare and it is exhausting. After teaching a 3 hour class, the last thing you want to do is turn around and teach another one and that is what many instructors are forced to do.

Also, it is not a particularly effective way to learn. Students feel pressured and if they get behind for some reason, there is virtually no room for them to move. The grading is completely insane, especially if students are writing papers all semester. It’s basically a marathon and it is dreaded by most faculty in my division.

Now, online classes are not easier by any means. They are not easier to teach or grade or set up and they are not easier to take (from the students perspective). However, you can work at home, which eliminates the dreaded three hour blocks. Also, I feel already, and we’re only three days in, that my feedback is much better because I’m not overtired from teaching six hours of class. I also feel like I use my time better. This morning I got up, ate breakfast, went to the gym and then came home and worked on my classes for about three and half hours. This is normal no matter if you’re teaching face to face or online but because I was home alone (well, Kwe and Nimbus were here but sleeping) and had minimum distraction, I was able to move through my work relatively quickly and thoughtfully.

Would I teach an entire load online for Fall or Spring semesters? Probably not. A 16 week term doesn’t give me nearly the headache and again, I like the face to face contact with students. However, I think that the flexibility of online classes also works well for our students during the summer. Students in all my online classes have to post an introduction on the discussion board and I’ve lost count of how many work 2nd shift, have children or grand children at home, have two jobs, don’t live in town, etc. This option allows them to complete a class without actually having to come to campus.
_________________________________________________


Our CSA started this week. Aren’t they just beautiful? Kale, kholrabi, turnips & bok choy. We also got salad mix and pea shoots. I love summer.

Reasons Why I’m Not a Huge Fan of Collected Poems and Other Reasons Why Poetry is Hard To Read…

I am about to admit something that may seem sacrilegious coming from a reader, writer, and admirer of poetry, but I’m going to take a deep breath and say it anyway. Ready? Poetry is really hard to read. More specifically, poetry is really hard to read in large doses.

I was sparked to this topic by Daniel Handler’s, otherwise known as Lemony Snicket, commentary in the January issue of Poetry. His short essay is titled Happy, Snappy, Sappy. My favorite part of the commentary is as follows:

“I read two or three poems by Campbell McGrath in a row, and I’m infused with joy at the enthusiasm of his breadth. I read seven or eight, and it is truly admirable that he can maintain a consistency of tone and yet always be surprising. Ten or twelve and that just might be enough Campbell McGrath for a little bit, no offense. Eighteen poems without a break and, seriously, Campbell, shut the fuck up. What to do?”

I love poetry. I love reading poetry and I will read anything that anyone recommends or lays in front of me (I used to be this way with fiction until one of my students chirped “You should read Twilight!”). However, I prefer not to read the bricks of “Collected Poems.” I know a lot of these feelings stem from my academic endeavours into poetry, which started when I was in college and later in graduate school. Get ready, all you teachers and professors and poets who teach. I’m going to give you a valuable piece of advice: When your young, innocent, doe eyed students approach you after an especially thrilling discussion of Robert Lowell or Emily Dickinson or T.S. Eliot, be kind. When they ask you, with unbridled enthusiasm practically popping out of their skinny jeans (don’t worry, I wear them too), what poems they should read by Lowell or Dickinson or Eliot, DO NOT recommend the collected works. Why? Read below.

There is nothing more daunting to a reader then to pick up Robert Lowell’s collected works. Trust me, I’m not picking on Lowell, but I associate him with this particular subject because what I’ve just advised you not to do is exactly what was done to me. Naturally as a Bishop fan, I discovered Lowell and when I asked one of my poetry mentors to recommend some poems, he just said “read the collected.” Umm, have you seen the “collected?” I know that serious readers and poets may scoff at this assertion. “Well, if she were serious about poetry she would immerse herself in Lowell. She would drink it in. She would memorize every poem. She would paper her walls with his words. She would tattoo “Skunk Hour” over her clavicle and revel in the pain.” Uh, no.

I did copy many of Lowell’s poems in my journals. I studied them. I can recall many lines. I did revel in their language, but I was almost turned off by that book. It was too big and daunting and at the time I was enrolled in a low residency program where I was teaching 6 sections of English Composition, living with my boyfriend and 4 other guys, and trying to write my own poems. Throwing the collected works of Robert Lowell on top of that was a bit of a reach.

Do your students a favor. When they come to you in love with Plath or Dove or Oliver or Frost or Wright, recommend specific poems. Hell, if you’re really feeling generous, copy a few out of your books and make them a little packet. They will thank you for this gentle introduction and when they are ready, they will take a deep breath, walk into a bookstore or library and pull that brick off the shelf.

Recognizing the Danger Signs

The beginning of the semester arrived on Monday for the community college where I am a full time assistant professor. I teach composition and creative writing and recently have taken on American Lit. I only have two face to face courses this semester, the other two being online (that’s a whole other post altogether) however it’s always nice to walk into a room of fresh faces at the beginning of the term.

This morning, while I was drinking my one designated cup of coffee for the day, I came across this article in The New York Times: College’s Policy on Troubled Students Is Under Scrutiny. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’re aware of Jared Loughner opening fire in Arizona. Among his victims Representative Gabrielle Giffords. However, what I’ve found particularly compelling about this story is the narrative surrounding his attendance at Pima Community College.

I know I think this an important part of the overall picture because a). I’m a professor at a community college. 2). I had my own experience with a troubled student last spring. My student was young, erratic, and physical. He was bi-polar and ex-military. His behavior became increasingly unpredictable as the semester progressed to the point where he made his fellow peers uncomfortable. What finally drove it home for me, was when he showed up one day in my office looking for me while I was off campus for a meeting. He proceeded to talk to my officemate for several minutes, becoming more and more animated and making no sense whatsovever. When I returned from my meeting, he was long gone but my officemate and several other faculty told me I needed to file complaint. His behavior made them fear for my well being. This is the part of the story that I relate to the article from the Times. When I filed my complaint, I learned that this student had had a previous altercation in Financial Aid and that other students had complained about him. However, no one ever followed up on my complaint with me or my chair or the dean. Furthermore, my student vanished until the last week of classes when I received a letter letting me know he had been hospitalized and would not be back.

In the wake of the events in Arizona and even the incident at Virginia Tech, it is obvious that our community colleges need more support when it comes to students suffering from mental illness. I’m not saying that more resources or available care would have changed the outcomes for Loughner or Seung-Hui Cho (Virginia Tech) but I think the fact that authorities know something was wrong but didn’t know what to do about it is indicative of a larger problem. The only course of action seems to be to remove them immediately from the school, but in Loughner’s case there is speculation that this action may have served to aggravate him further.

What’s the answer? I think more education and more attention paid to students themselves. It was obvious to me that my student’s situation was not a priority and that just isn’t acceptable. We need a counseling center, with trained medical professionals. We need seminars for students and faculty. We need to stop waiting until something happens to take action.

Baking, bouquets, and the beginning of term…

This week marked the beginning of the summer semester at school. I am teaching four courses this semester but only two of them meet face to face, the other two are online. This allows me to only have class twice a week, which is a welcome change from last summer when I was teaching six hours a day four days a week.

So far my students seem friendly and energetic. My classes have already shrunk from their original twenty two. There are always students who don’t show the first week, but for the most part everyone seems to be on target, so let’s hope it stays that way.

I am teaching a section of creative writing online this semester, so I’m sure I’ll be posting on that as the semester goes on. I’ve never taught the course online before, so it should be interesting.
_____________________________________________________________________

RJ and I pledged money to out local PBS/NPR affiliate this year. We watch PBS regularly and all I listen to in the car is NPR, so it’s a cause I don’t mind supporting. Our gift for our pledge was the cookbook All Cakes Considered, and I think it’s going to successfully make me a baking addict. I already love to cook and now that it’s summer and we’re getting our regular CSA box, I’m back to cooking with fresh produce, which is awesome. I’ve made two cakes so far out of this cookbook. Last night RJ casually dropped the hint “when are you going to make another cake?” The result was the chocolate pound cake shown below:

I’m going to slowly make my way through the cookbook, so I’m sure more pictures will soon follow.

I also made almond crusted talapia last week and made a fresh salad with our CSA bounty.

_____________________________________________________________________

The rejection letters from my last round of submissions are coming in, so it’s time to get going on the next round. I’ve put that on the agenda for next week. I always dedicate the first week back at school to school because there is usually little time for anything else. However, next week it’s back to the submissions and the regular writing.

I’ve also finished two books in the past couple of weeks, The Historian and Love in The Time of Cholera. I’ll post more about these books later, but I enjoyed both of them immensely and I hope to keep up my momentum with my reading throughout the summer.

Thursday (Half Way There) Musings

Today marks the official halfway point of the summer semester. I am exhausted but so far I seem to be staying on top of grading and prepping. Three of my classes have dwindled down to what I call manageable numbers. I only have one class that remains large, so that definitely makes things easier from a grading perspective.

I’m experiencing the same phenomenon this semester that I experienced last semester and the semester before that and the semester before that…That phenomenon is students showing up to a few classes and then dropping off the face of the earth. This wouldn’t be a problem except that they fail to realize that when they drop off the face of the earth, they also have to drop the class. I’ve considered sending emails to students I have not seen in several weeks informing them that the drop deadline is July 18 and that they should probably fill out the necessary forms. However, I am a professor not a baby-sitter and they stubborn side of me says they need to learn to be responsible for themselves.

I’ve been a miserable failure at blogging this summer. I cannot believe it is almost July. The summer is flying by and while I feel I’ve been productive, I also feel like I could be doing more. I suppose this isn’t much different than how I feel during the rest of the year.

Friday (Poetry Floods My Inbox) Musings

One of the best parts of National Poetry Month, as far as I’m concerned, is getting poems from different places everyday. A number of list serves, blogs, and organizations I belong to or follow are flooding my inbox with poetry. I love it. There is such a great variety.

I’m at school today until 5. This is usually my “free day,” but grading and interviews were on the agenda for today. It seems like this week has flown by. I think the main highlight was last night in my creative writing class. My students are working on drama, the last unit of the semester, and their assignment is to write original 10 minute plays. They’re in small groups and last night was their first official brainstorming session. I dismissed class about 15 minutes early and every group left, save one. These three stayed in the back of the room until 9:50 (at night mind you) and practiced kung fu moves for their play. Is there anything better that can be said about teaching?
___________________________________________________________________

While grading I’ve had Hazards of Love on repeat…

Won’t Want for Love

Margaret:

Gentle leaves, gentle leaves
Please array a path for me
The woods are growing thick and fast around

Columbine, Columbine
Please alert this love of mine
Let him know his Margaret comes along

And all this stirring inside my belly
Won’t quell my want for love
And I may swoon from all this swelling
But I won’t wait for love

Mistle thrush, mistle thrush
Lay me down in the underbrush
My naked feet grow weary with the dusk

Willow boughs, willow boughs
Make a bed and lay me down
Let you branches bow to cradle us

William:

O my own true love!
O my own true love!

Can you hear me love?
Can you hear me love?