Thursday, April 29, 2010

Comp Tailz

I just got back some student evals from my intro to literature class, and I'm so excited by how positive they are. I didn't even have that one student (or two, or three) who finds me really annoying or lame. Amazing.

I'm not saying this to brag but rather as a preface to this confession: I know my comp evals would not be so positive. I only had to do student evals for one class this term, so I won't see comp evals this year, but I know they wouldn't be pretty. I've been doing a lot of new things this term, and, as a result, the time managment and organization has been tough for me and, therefore, tough on the students.

Let's face it. After about 13 or so years of teaching it, I have never figured out the best way to teach composition. And by "composition," I mean a writing class that focuses on argument and ends with a 10-page documented argument, which is otherwise known as "The Research Paper."

Why can't I get it together with this class? Perhaps it's because I teach at a community college and have a lot of unskilled writers, for whom I feel a great sense of panic about their lack of writing skills? Perhaps, as result of this panic, I try to do too much?

Either way, the class is too multi-faceted for me. Give me a good survey or lit class any day, for which I can adopt a rather linear curriculum and a sane and regular assignment schedule. How I love chronology, let me count the ways. But as many of you know, the comp class involves grammar, style, MLA documentation, rhetoric, logic, organization, information competency--and that's just the beginning of the list which contains all kinds of subtlties, such as not "preaching" to your reader, having strong conclusions, integrating quotations, avoiding inflammatory comments . . . the list could go on forever, right? And it's not like math when you don't have to do certain functions until you've covered them. A writing class doesn't have that kind of inherent progression. We could talk about style first. We could talk about syntax first. We could talk about argument first. We could talk about paragraphs first. We could talk about MLA first. Right?

I think it's typical for most writing instructors to have a variety of assignment types and drafts that are always coming and going. Since there are so many skills to master, we mix it up a bit. But this busy highway of work is making me--and my students--crazy. I think that sometimes we are actually losing the cost-benefit struggle. It's. All. Just. Too. Much. It's so fragmented, like a giant post-modernist experiment that refuses to cohere.

So. I think I need to do something different (although I'm sure my husband would tell you that doing something different [every term] is a big part of my problem).

But after getting such positive evals back today from my lit class, I'm thinking, "What can I do to offer a more positive learning experience for my comp students?" "Why can't I be as good at teaching comp as I am at teaching lit?" (Actually, I think I used to be better at teaching comp than I am now, but that's another mystery.)

Maybe I just need to start leaving stuff out. Focus more. It's not like they really master or even get all off the stuff I'm telling them they need to do, so maybe if I leave a few things out, they will master more of what we do cover, and we will all keep our sanity along with some degree of self-confidence. But what would I leave out?

Tell me. How do you focus/structure you comp classes? What works best for you? What do you skip? What do you hit hard? How do you make the class more linear and progressive and less like a giant spider web of skills that are so hard to master? How do you make it engaging? How do you make it coherent? How do you make it so that you enjoy it and don't drive yourself crazy?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010



I'm sick. It's not an awful kind of sick, but sick nonetheless. It's congestion, low-grade fever, painful cough, hot lungs, bleck.

And I have to go to work. I canceled class on Monday, which was great, but students are doing presentations this week, and we just can't get behind. So no more sick days.

As a result, I coughed my way through my second class (although I managed not to cough too much during the actual presentations--just when I tried to talk after them). I also coughed my way through office hours, apologizing for how gross I was, stepping out to cough in the hallway from time to time, and giving my students a farewell squirt of hand sanitizer as they left.

Typically, I avoid cold meds. I tend to think it's best to let my body take its natural, unaltered course--do what it needs to do. But, this week, I need to do what I need to do, so I decided to medicate. But, first, I tried a hot toddy so that I might sleep well*. It was soothing, but two hours later I woke up with a headache, and I still couldn't breathe. So, I pulled out the big gun: Sudafed. I took one--despite my fear that it might be powerful enough to kill me--and within about 20 minutes, my sinuses cleared, I had some productive coughing and blowing, and I slept--with my nose tilted towards the window so I could catch the stream of cool mist blowing in from the marine layer outside.

Really, I'm not sure why meth dealers actually make meth out of Sudafed. The stuff is miraculous in its original form. I'm looking forward to my next dose tonight, which I'll probably take about half way through Parenthood.

Hope you are all healthy and well during this last push towards summer.

*Sunday night was very fitful and included those weird, hallucination-type dreams which involve a lot of waking and confusion about whether one is asleep, awake, or finally going mad. In one dream/hallucination, I was stranded at a Saudi Arabian airport, and then, when I was able to fly out (on a plane that did weird tricks and dives), realized that my car was still at that airport and that I'd have to go back to get it. When I went back, someone tried to kidnap me for trafficking purposes.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Current Crush

I have a crush on Peter Krause. It's because of his role as Adam Braverman on Parenthood. He's handsome, and he cracks me up.

But yesterday morning, as I was anticipating my weekly dose of Parenthood, I was thinking about how my celebrity crushes have evolved of the the years. The evolution seems poignant. Here is a selected, chronological list of my celebrity crushes:

Shaun Cassidy
Leif Garrett
Mark Hamill
(four year gap for which I don't remember crushes)
Michael Jackson
Rob Lowe
Paul Stanley
Jon Bon Jovi
(11 or 12 year gap for which I don't remember crushes)
Paul Newman (in his 30s and 40s)
Robert Redford (all ages)
(large gap here, too, although Redford and Newman have persisted)
Peter Krause

Okay, so I don't know what's weirder--the crushes, themselves, or the weird gaps in between crushes. Help me out: Who would I have crushed on during those gaps? (1979-83 and 1987-1999)

Oh, and did I mention that I once saw Peter Krause in a pie shop near Sebastopol? So, you know, it's like we're friends.

edit:// I just remembered another crush from the mid 90s: Tobias Wolff.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I Have Read This SO Many Times

So, tonight, I've been sitting here re-reading "The Yellow Wallpaper" for tomorrow's class, and I started thinking that I've probably read this story more times than I've read any other literary text. And, strangely, whenever I read it, I always notice new lines that I haven't really noticed in the past, and I think, "Really? Was this line always in here? Has she always referred to a servant named 'Mary'? Has she always used the phrase 'nervous depression'?" It just freaks me out as I think about the seeming impossibility of me not remembering these details after so many readings, and then I start to wonder if some scholar found a different edition of the text that's now being anthologized, and then I think, "Nooooo," and then I start to feel a bit like the narrator as I get paranoid and perseverate on these details. Maybe it's worse when the moon is out.

Anyhoo, I started wondering if "The Yellow Wallpaper" really is the literary text that I've read more than any other, and I started wondering what all of you have read more than any other text--something you've taught or not. "The Yellow Wallpaper"? "Prufrock"? "The Cask of Amontillado"? Maybe we shouldn't count texts that were central to your dissertations. . . but I'm not sure what perameters to put in place here. So you decide how to answer.

Do tell!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Call for Advice

I have two issues:

1) What should I do with the many projects that the kids create? All the things that are "special" to them? Right now, their dressers and lamp stands are covered with homemade projects and various treasures such as weather vanes, little books, bendaroos, painted wood crafts, geodes, plastic jewels, toy fish, bugs (real and fake), easter crafts, and other various art projects. I don't know how to deal with all of these "special" things.

2) I'm trying to decide whether or not to apply for a Student Learning Outcomes and Assessment Coordinator position at my college. I did not apply during the first go-around, at which time the college was offering 60% re-assigned time (for several reasons). But nobody stepped up for the position (except for one person, who just wasn't qualified), and they might put the job out again (internally) for two people at 30% each (instead of one person at 60%). There's one other faculty member who I would be willing to work with, and if he applies, I've thought of applying. It's a two year position. (If he doesn't apply, I probably won't either.) Here are the pros and cons as I see them:

  1. I'm going to be doing some of this kind of work any way, and with the position, I can at least get reassigned time for that work.
  2. Less grading (I can drop a class).
  3. A more flexible daily schedule (b/c of fewer classes).
  4. I'm one of the best people on campus for the position (based on experience and understanding), and, really, hardly anyone else is stepping up.
  5. I might be able to do something good for the college.

  1. The politics
  2. A less predictable schedule and workload
  3. More meetings (which I could, perhaps, split with the other person who is also at 30%)
  4. Less autonomy in my daily job
  5. Being accountable for something that could affect the college in big ways--accreditation, faculty mood--and having to report to the VP for Academic Affairs and the Faculty Senate.

Okay! Let the advice roll for items one and two.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Looking, Looking

I've lost a few things, and I'm just wondering if any of you have seen any of them. Specifically, I can't seem to find the better part of my brain. I've misplaced a good part of my sanity as well, along with my sense of peace and order.

Perhaps they're under the piles of essays that are strewn about? Or around the corner from a Board of Trustees meeting? Perhaps I misfiled them on the computer in the Student Learning Outcomes file folder? Or maybe they are stuck between some pages of Victorian travel narrative or Modernist poetry? Did I leave them behind after a research paper presentation? Or perhaps they ended up in the playroom at home (although that would be hard to determine since I can't see the floor through all of the toys and potting soil).

Anyway, I'm finding it difficult to operate without these lost things, so let me know if you stumble across any of them--as they might have fallen out of my pocket as I tripped through Internet, or through other virtual, or even real, rooms of my life.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spring Break

I am on spring break, which is otherwise known as "the teaching hiatus of my 18-week semester during which I catch up on grading."

I have several things on my "To Do" list:

  1. Grade stray essays
  2. Grade 50 argument essays
  3. Read for dissertation
  4. Write a little bit for dissertation (even five pages would be good)
  5. Read and prep Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde
  6. Spruce up the house with some new towels and a new shower curtain
  7. Spring Clean, and, most importantly
  8. Have fun with family, and
  9. Drink gin and tonics before 3:30 in the p.m.
So far, I've done about 7-8 essays, a little bit of dissertation reading, and have had some family fun. Right now I'm drinking a gin and tonic and it's 3:39pm.

Not too shabby.

But I only have a little bit of time for work left since the we're heading to Ojai for a few days at the end of the week. I've heard that Ojai charming. I'm just hoping that it's warm enough for the kids to swim, bike, and picnic.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Second Hand

I buy very few new clothes for myself. The last new pair of shoes I bought was a pair of boots for my birthday at the end of October*. The last new item of clothing I bought was for my cousin's wedding (I was the MOH) in early October.

Instead, I tend to buy things at second-hand shops. But even so, I haven't even purchased a second-hand item of clothing since, probably, January (which is when, I think, that I bought a $3.00 sweater at a local thrift shop run by a church).

But I think I might go shopping. And I think I might even step it up from the church thrift shop and go to a local consignment shop where things are cuter but cost a bit more (but are still quite inexpensive).

Why the splurge, you ask? Because I've lost about 5-7 pounds over the past several months, and I might celebrate with a new outfit.

I'm kind of surprised that I have lost weight. I haven't been exercising, and I haven't been keeping track of weight (since I don't own a scale). But I have been back at work, teaching every day, and recently I started to notice that some of my clothes were fitting better. So I weighed myself at my mom's and, "Voila!" Apparently, teaching every day and walking around campus burns more calories than sitting around all day reading and writing for my dissertation (as I did while on sabbatical), despite the fact that while I was on sabbatical, I took the dog for hikes and walks.

I'm also probably eating less since I've been busier. When I was on sabbatical, it was easy to eat three squares a day, with occasional afternoon snacks. Now, for meals, it's more like I have two triangles and one square a day--and fewer snacks.

I'd like to say that I've been eating healthier and exercising more, but, maybe I can add those factors in this summer. For now, I'm happy that a couple of pounds have fallen away. And I'm in the mood for a new skirt . . . Maybe I can find something second hand that looks like it came from the Sundance catalog . . .

*I once went two years without buying a pair of shoes. I just didn't really need any.

**I also rarely buy new clothes for the kids. We get so many hand-me-downs that I don't really need to, and, plus, I love the second hand stores for kids' clothes. For a while, my daughter talked about "The Hand Store" (her version of "second hand store") as if it were Neiman-Marcus. I'm not sure if she's figured out the difference yet. It's been many months since I've bought something new for them (also in October, I think), and I don't think I've even gotten them anything from the second hand store since December. But don't worry. They are not naked. In fact, they usually look quite nice! I admit, however, they they are both due for some shoes . . .

Monday, April 5, 2010

Play By Play of Last Minute

33.7 seconds left.

Butler has the ball, down by one!

13.6 seconds to play. Time out: Butler.

(radio announcers are chatting, I'm having flashbacks to my college days at IU)

(while the radio announcers chat, I'll tell you that I took classes at Butler--violin, ballet--when I was a teenager; does that make me an alum?)

3.6 seconds. 2 free throws for Butler. No time outs left for Butler.

First one is good! Tie game!

Second one is missed!


Crap radio announcers! What?

It wasn't tied?


Butler lost?

How can this happen? We've all seen Hoosiers. We've all seen Breaking Away.

I mean, come ON, Universe!

edit to add//: Clearly, I was confused at the end of the game. I was listening to it on the radio with a lot of static, and I thought Butler was shooting the free throws. Actually, at first I thought Duke was doing it, but then Hubby said it was Butler. See that? See how I threw him under the bus?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Paring Down

We need to do this at Chez GEW. We need to pare down.

This is not a new realization, but every once in awhile, I realize that our failures to keep things simple are having negative effects on our children. Today, several things have brought the issue to the forefront.

As I have said in the past, I allow my children to bring bugs and small creatures into the house. I think that allowing them to do this helps build their connection to nature. However, what with spring being sprung, there is a plethora of life out there right now--caterpillars, tadpoles, salamanders, pill bugs, etc.--and too many of them are finding their way into our house. And it's not just that I am running low on kitchen counter space. No, the problem is that I fear that my kids are becoming somewhat cavalier about the life and death of these creatures. Some pill bugs died? Oh, well. There are more. A caterpillar died? Oh, well. There are more.

Since my goal is to sensitize them to nature and life cycles--rather than desensitize them--we must make a change. So last night, Hubs and I spoke to the kids about limiting our creature intake so that we can take really good care of each creature (and the increase in my kitchen counter space will also be much appreciated). We will only have about two critters at a time (not counting our permanent residents--the dog and the lizard).

And the creature realm is not the only realm that needs attention. In every way, we have too much stuff. I'm sure the kids got more Easter loot than they needed. I know they have more toys than they need. This summer will be the summer for paring down. And I mean it this time. We are foregoing the usual month-long trip to Colorado (*cue sad music*) so that we can do chores at home: clean out the garage, clean out all of the closets, have a garage sale, take stuff to Goodwill, visit the dump, etc. Will we finish the summer lighter, airy-er, and more nimble. And with, I hope, fewer critters languishing in random jars around the house.

I want my children to appreciate the value of things rather than the quantity of things--don't we all?--and I haven't done the best job of teaching them to do so. I need to do better. I was struck by my friend's recent post, in which she demonstrates that old things have value and that it's worth putting in some effort to save money while also creating unique things that you like--rather than piling up a bunch of crapola from the dollar store.

*This post is dedicated to our Betta fish (named "Betta") who is at death's door and who will probably perish before the day is done. He has been with us for almost two years, and he will be missed. Well, hubs and I will miss him. I hope the children will care at least a little bit.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Girl (and Boy) on God: Easter Edition (Warning: This Post Contains Heresy)

So in the car this morning, the kids and I were discussing movie night (Friday nights are movie nights, during which we eat take out pizza and watch a movie). I let them know that if the mail came today, we'd be able to watch Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakwell, but that the mail might not come since it's Good Friday. Of course, the Boy asked about Good Friday (because neither he nor the Girl have a Sunday School education), and after I gave the shortest version ever of Good Friday and Easter, which included Jesus's death and rebirth, the Girl launched into this, with two cents from the Boy. I just made basic listening noises, interspersed with some chuckles and brief comments about more coventional doctrines.


I think when you die, you're reborn.
Then you go to Heaven to be happy with God, and you get to play ball with God and things like that.
I think Earth is Her favorite bouncy ball!
No, Her favorite spinning ball.
We are her favorite Globe.


Yeah, she has globes of each planet. And the moons.
And she has paper sheets with stars in between them.
And that's the solar system.


I think God used to be a person.
She cared so much about people that they made her into God.
And I think when you die, Jesus becomes your brother.
I think Jesus is a Boy and God is a girl.
And I think they used to be married.

At this point, we had to stop the car because two old labradors were in the road. We got distracted by the cute dogs, and did not get back to God. Just as well, since she was really starting to tread on some tricky theological ground.