Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?

Monday, May 30, 2011

In Memoriam, 2011.

The dead soldier's silence sings our national anthem. -Rev. Aaron Kilbourn

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Maternal example.

This is how I try to parent.
Have your tissues ready.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Ooops," Part the third.

It was probably the longest six weeks of my teaching career. Thank God my other classes were well in hand, and had good students. In addition, several former students, having heard the buzz on campus, started swinging the truncheons in my favor. At one point, trudging to my doom class, a very flamboyant student from several semesters previous ran up, all a'twitter:

"I just want you to know that I will NOT tolerate those snippy bitches, and the Gay Mafia has your back, sister!"

"Uhm. That's lovely, Jerome. What are you speaking of?" (Jerome is very dramatic, and everything he says has dramatic flair -- snaps in the air, gestures and eyerolls. It's amusing.)

"WELL. Carl, in my Fashion Class, told me he overheard some of those students from your *new* class badmouthing you. EVERYone knows I adore you,because I would have failed out if it weren't for you kicking my butt,  and all my friends know I just  would NOT allow that kind of shit-prattle in my presence. So Carl told me, and I took those uppity snatches in had. Ooooo, I let them have it!"

"Well, thanks. I appreciate it."

"Oh, no worries. If you have any more problems, you just let me know, because my God, those cows are just the end. All my girls are on it, too -- the Gay Mafia is you copilot!"

This cheered me slightly. Another former student, now a peer mentor, dropped an e-mail indicating that a couple of current students were her mentees, and that she had given out some ass-kickings, as well.

Maybe I would survive the semester, after all!

I used the academic calendar in my planner as a countdown, and got immense satisfaction from crossing the days off. If I could make it to Easter, I wold be home free!

Except for student evaluations. And individual conferences. And grade submissions.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"Oops." Part the second.

Once the brimstone settled, a routine was established which added several layers of adminstrative bullshit and documentation. . I would show up and lecture. I would take attendance and issue warnings for non-attendance.(Eventually I added a sign-in sheet.) I would send reminder e-mails hither and yon. I would copy-furnish the Department Head and Dean on all communications. I met personally with Department Head and Dean once a week to update them in person.

Copies of amended syllabii, course calendars and assignment sheets -- at least 300 board-feet -- were actually air-dropped over the region.

The students continued to give no fucks. Many continued to actively sabotage themselves, me and other class members. In fact, as we (I) dug in, things actually got worse. Several of the students had become close, personal, intimate companions of the previous Authority (ha!) Figure, and were doing their best to disrupt proceedings.  At least one was acting as live-in "personal assistant/au pair." A few opportunists, sensing blood in the water,  got their parental units involved. There was a great deal of drama, rancorous e-mails and phone calls were exchanged, FERPA was invoked more than once. Several dozen extra meetings and a lot of antacid consumed.

Culpability was distributed far and wide. The students, for not reporting shit (though they felt they were amply "rewarded" with lack of work, lack of class time and  the guarantee of an easy A). The prof, for being a sleazy, amoral jackbag with the ethics of a sociopath. The Department Head, for not checking up. The Dean, for not "leading appropriately." Everyone was pissed at everyone else, and the fingers of blame were pointed, Mexican-standoff-style, in all directions.

In the middle were myself and the other prof who got tagged with remediation and completion. We were there to fix things so that 1) the students would not have to re-take one or two classes, and 2) that the uni would not have to cough up cash/let them re-take for free. I can honestly say that we had giant targets on our asses for students, parents and Admin alike, and yet were the only two people who really had no blame whatsoever in the sitch. We spent a lot of time commiserating, and regretting that we had answered the call to help.

The ventilation device, having been ramped to "wind tunnel," had been thoroughly doused in a dense, brown, odiferous substance with hints of corn and peanut. Repeatedly. It got to the point that I dreaded the drive to campus, walked to class as if I were headed to the firing squad, and left feeling like I'd been bludgeoned. Twice a week. Migraines and stomach ailments became de riguer. People kept asking me what was wrong or who had died. Family members crawled up my ass and pestered me to "cheer up!"

The hell of it was, all of this personally offended the shit out of me. See, as much as I bitch, I love my job. I like teaching and I like teaching English. I enjoy the writing process and explaining it to others. Usually, I like my students; watching them transform, become more articulate, better workers....it's what keeps me doing this despite shitty pay and very little Admin support. I actually care what happens to the little bastards. I want them to succeed -- graduate, get decent jobs and have good futures. What I am teaching them is, I believe, the foundation of that success.

I'm offended at the liberties the previous prof took.
I'm offended at the dereliction of duty to students and uni alike by several people.
I'm offended at the laissez-faire attitude towards responsibility by almost everyone involved.
I'm offended by the students' lack of give-a-shit.

Mostly, I'm pissed that it only took six weeks to make me seriously sit down and ask if this was something that I wanted to keep doing. I always told myself that when teaching got to be less fun and more work, I'd walk away before I burned out.

(Part the third tomorrow.)

Monday, May 9, 2011

"Ooops." Part the first.

I knew something was up when I got four messages from Ms. Indifferent Lazy Student in a 45-minute period.

The day before, I had given their final and collected their writing portfolios, which included research notebooks and final papers. I had a stack of 35 of them remaining when my phone went bonkers. As time was limited, I ignored the messages while I slogged through grading and commenting on a great deal of dreck.

Opening Ms. ILS's portfolio was an eye-opener.

Scribbled all over her notebooks were variations on a theme: "I wish this fat bitch would shut the fuck up." "Her clothes are atrocious." "I fucking hate this boring-ass class." "This woman is a pain in my ass." "I fucking hate English now." I'm going to hit this bitch with my car." There were also several "round-robin" notes with at least three participants, all of whom were bemoaning the fact that they had to, you know, actually do work in class.

Ms. ILS's class was one that I took over in mid-March; their previous prof had "resigned for health issues" halfway through the semester. (Yeah. As in the Dean, Provost and other Admin bigwigs said, "It would be good for your continued health to get the fuck off campus and never set foot on property again, you sleazebucket." Mmmm-hmm. Improprieties abounded.)

Upon assuming the duties for the class, I discovered that there had been no work done -- period -- for all of the first (fall) semester and the first half of the spring semester. There were no grades, no assignments, no records whatsoever. In other words, we had to cram roughly 21 weeks' worth of remediation and six weeks' worth of new material into the remaining seven weeks of semester, or everyone was going to have to re-take classes.

Fuck it. I could do this! I'd drag them, kicking an screaming, through this class! They'd pass, they'd learn something ... they'd excel, God damn it! I created a plan, worked out a syllabus, scheduled extra sessions, made myself available for supplemental work, re-worked the grading scale, dealt with Deans and Department Heads falling out of my asshole...it was a shit-tonne of work. I was confident that they could do the work, and that we'd all survive the semester.

Except for the fact that they had grown accustomed to not having to do shit -- not even show up to class.

My optimism was sadly ill-founded.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Yom HaShoah -- Holocaust Remembrance Day

More light! More light! (Anthony Hecht)

(For Heinrich Blucher and Hannah Arendt)
Composed in the Tower before his execution
These moving verses, and being brought at that time
Painfully to the stake, submitted, declaring thus:
"I implore my God to witness that I have made no crime."

Nor was he forsaken of courage, but the death was horrible,
The sack of gunpowder failing to ignite.
His legs were blistered sticks on which the black sap
Bubbled and burst as he howled for the Kindly Light.

And that was but one, and by no means one of he worst;
Permitted at least his pitiful dignity;
And such as were by made prayers in the name of Christ,
That shall judge all men, for his soul's tranquility.

We move now to outside a German wood.
Three men are there commanded to dig a hole
In which the two Jews are ordered to lie down
And be buried alive by the third, who is a Pole.

Not light from the shrine at Weimar beyond the hill
Nor light from heaven appeared. But he did refuse.
A Luger settled back deeply in its glove.
He was ordered to change places with the Jews.

Much casual death had drained away their souls.
The thick dirt mounted toward the quivering chin.
When only the head was exposed the order came
To dig him out again and to get back in.

No light, no light in the blue Polish eye.
When he finished a riding boot packed down the earth.
The Luger hovered lightly in its glove.
He was shot in the belly and in three hours bled to death.

No prayers or incense rose up in those hours
Which grew to be years, and every day came mute
Ghosts from the ovens, sifting through crisp air,
And settled upon his eyes in a black soot.