Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Random Bullets of Student Crap

  • No, I will not tell you what you missed in class.  You're lucky that the only thing I tell you to do is to get a classmate to share lecture notes.
  • Well, I suppose you may add the class at this late date, if you really want to.  But you're going to blow the first evaluative assignment – I guarantee it – because I know damn well that you are not going to go out, buy all your books, read the assignments, and catch up on two weeks' of lecture notes in time to know your stuff for the assignment.  Perhaps if I simply show you a list of all the things I expect you to do in the next twenty-four hours...oh, what's that?  You've changed your mind about adding my course?  Ah, quel dommage!
  • I seem to recall you saying that you would bring in the form for that matter you mentioned.  You haven't brought me that form yet.  Doesn't make any difference to me, yet somehow I know that you're going to come hollerin' to me when you are displeased with your grades, as though I did something wrong by not knocking at your door at all hours to remind you about your paperwork.
  • Seriously, ladies, where the fuck are your pants?  Did some malevolent spirit visit all of you in the night and replace all of your mid-thigh-length-or-longer clothing with denim hot pants?  And how is it that I never see such clothing in stores, and yet all undergrad women seem to own them?  
  • Come to think of it, when did I become so goddamn old that the sight of young women in hot pants is no longer arousing, but makes me shake my head in mild disbelief while wondering what they could be thinking?
  • Maybe around the same time that I began to feel the compulsion to wear long trousers and a proper shirt even in the baking heat, because "it looks more professional."  Yeah, I'm pretty sure there's a correlation in there somewhere.
  • All right, I admit it, maybe the intense heat that will not go away is a good reason to wear as little as possible, as long as you are not professionally obligated to dress up.  I'll acknowledge that I'm getting really tired of getting into my car at the end of the work day, and finding that everything has heated up so much that my sunglasses actually burn my face.  (And they were in shade all day!)
  • Given what I have observed so far of Ghosttown and Ghosttown U., and what I have heard from my colleagues, I'm curious and terrified in equal measure to look ahead to the part of my pseudology classes dealing with race.  That material is going to hit them like a ton of bricks.  I gather that students here often think in pretty crude (in all senses) identity politics terms, and are not above blaming their unhappy grades on a teacher of name-your-cultural-Other-of-choice who "hates" name-your-own-category.  
  • This last possibility is so serious that some of my colleagues actually urged me not to declare my own identity constructions to my students at all, lest it come back to haunt me.  (As I have mentioned before, there is the distinct sense that Members of the Tribe like me are ambiguously white around here.  And, as I have been hearing, some of the Christian students here can be shockingly intolerant of the idea of learning about other religions.)  No doubt it would frustrate and anger my students even more if I ducked the question, but better that than opening myself up to frivolous internal review cases.  It might even prove pedagogically useful.
  • Frat boys: those visors you wear make you look like fucking idiots.  I don't care if they keep the sun out of your eyes.  They just look fucking stupid with your button-down shirts and your pressed seersucker and khaki shorts and your boat shoes.  You all look like you fell to earth naked and had to swipe clothing from three or four successive open windows in consecutive houses in order to dress yourselves.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

First week of classes

I have now survived my first week of teaching as a titled professor.  It's not so bad, for the most part.  There are a few little irritations, but they're nothing I can't handle.  The worst is seasonal in nature: it's goddamn hot and humid here in Ghosttown.  Walking from building to building, as I must each class day, is unpleasant.  But, as Haphazard Musings pointed out to me, this will soon seem delightful, once the summertime intensity cools off and we settle into whatever passes for autumn here.

The most unexpected aspect of my classes for me is how much the character of the class seems to be determined by the time slot.  My early morning class?  A little foggy while the caffeine does its job, but they're game to try their best.  My noontime class?  A bunch of zombies, most of them.  My afternoon classes fall somewhere in between those extremes, and I haven't worked out the finer details yet.  People can still add and drop through next week, albeit with less ease, so things may be fluid for a while.

I am amazed at how little common sense college students have.  My syllabus has a huge wealth of information on it about how the class is structured, things they need to do, etc.  And they bring the dumbest fucking questions to me, all of which reveal that they haven't clapped eyes on the syllabus at all.  No, the course reader has not sold out — you went to the wrong place to buy it.  No, I will not tell you what the readings for next class session are, because you ought to know already.  It's not some goddamn state secret.  The statistics tracking in Blackboard clues me in that a little over half of the zombie class hadn't even downloaded their syllabus by Friday.  How on earth do they expect to do anything?  No wonder my pals from grad school are always ranting "read your fucking syllabus!" on FB. 

My first impressions of my students is that they, as a rule, not terribly well educated.  Based on accumulated data about public education in this state, that's hardly a surprise.  Apparently, it's in the running for Dumbest State in the Union*.  That's a harsh idea to process, one which would rankle me to no end if I were from here.  On the other hand, most of them give me the impression that they are willing to learn, if I can show them how to go about it.  I don't know how many are willing to put in the effort for close reading, but I guess I'll find out.  I tried to emphasize that skimming will get them nowhere, and they might have to – gasp! – read things twice in order to understand them thoroughly.  I'm sure a lot of them will blow this off and, consequently, do poorly in class, but I'm starting to accept the idea that all I can do is provide good advice for how to succeed in this class, and then let them make their own mistakes. 

It's eternally frustrating to witness – and participate in? – the phenomenon that Dr. Crazy and many others have discussed, the structural discouragement of working-class kids in college.  I can see it right away: the kids who look uncomfortable among their middle- and upper-class peers, the ones who seem not to understand anything about high-level study skills, the ones whose body language communicates to me that they want to do their best, but they just don't know how in this environment.  Most of them – hell, most of my students in general, more likely than not – could easily have gotten to Ghosttown U. by coasting through K-12.  When the public educational standards are really low, a smart kid can figure out pretty fast how to sail through with minimal effort, and look super-smart and accomplished to boot. 

But pseudology isn't a subject they would have encountered in school before, and lord knows that I am not the kind of teacher that they have probably gotten used to dealing with.  I know that a bunch of my students, and not just the ones from the lower socioeconomic strata, are going to hit the rocks as soon as the first evaluative assignment comes, but relatively few of them will heed my call to come to my office hours and ask for help.  They are used to hiding from teachers when they don't have to see them.  A few of them will shut down when they see a low grade, perceiving it as confirmation of their fears that they don't belong there.  They'll stop coming to class, and then they'll drift away from college altogether. 

It angers me that they come in with the idea in mind that their peers kinda-sorta don't even want them there, and that this is their starting point.  I want to tell them that the best way to show up their snooty, preppy classmates – who are no brighter than they, but have been trained and conditioned to succeed in both classroom and in elite social situations – is to kick ass at their studies and come out of college prepared to do something better than drift back to their little hometowns and do whatever Mom and Dad did for a living.  But, for a host of reasons, this is not practical to tell them.  Sigh.  I really hope at least a few start coming to my office hours after the first assignment, when they see the difference between what I expect and what they were prepared to produce.

On another note, I made the choice to forbid all electronic devices in my classes.  These students are going to have enough trouble concentrating without dicking around on Facebook and shopping online.  While I'm not going to let myself get sucked into policing over teaching, I have found that this ban has forced me to pay more attention to people who seem to be playing with smartphones in class.  One of them definitely was, because zi didn't listen to me or read the syllabus.  The rest, though, weren't — they were just doing other stupid shit that caused them to lower their eyes and hands toward crotch level.  This has brought into focus for me just how much college-aged dudes pay attention to their crotches, in one form or another.  Five minutes adjusting your belt buckle?  Obsessively trying to scratch out a stain at the bottom of your t-shirt?  Guys, it can wait.  Was I this crotch-focused when I was eighteen?  I'd like to think not.  I mean, if nothing else, I had enough sense not to give the impression that I was literally jacking off in class.  (We had no smartphones back in the dark ages, so there was only one reasonable assumption to draw about such behavior then.)  Clearly, I need to go Zen about delivering my lecture to the students who are looking at me, and tuning out the fuck-ups who have drifted back to their junk.

*That's not the formal designation for the statistic, but you get the idea.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Midweek report

Oy, I'm tired.  Not dragged out, quite, but definitely tired.  With four classes to teach, three days a week, with first-week pandemonium all around, I guess this isn't a surprise.

Things have started off well enough, barring a few bureaucratic snafus I've run across.  Without going into details that I don't want online, I found that a few people in different parts of the periphery of my job did not do things that they should have done, thus leaving me holding the bag.  Or, if not holding the bag, then at least leaving me the only one aware of the problems and therefore responsible for getting them fixed.  I'm learning very fast to be outwardly patient and forgiving when my instinct is to throttle them.  Anyone who can screw up things that much is, by the same token, powerful enough to be needful at some future point.

I tell myself that it's too early to develop impressions of my classes, and that we need to get through at least the first week before I make judgments.  All the same, I'm getting some ideas of each class' dynamic.  I'm curious to see if those dynamics shift after the add/drop period ends, and the classes solidify.  I don't even want to write them down here yet, for fear that just putting it down in black and white will influence my thinking further.

I also took a page from numerous other professors, including a new friend of mine here (yay, new friends!), and went to the trouble of explaining proper email etiquette to my students.  I was careful to point out that this is a new phenomenon, and that I was certain that no one had ever told them about it before, lest they think I was scolding them.  (I was scolding them, actually, but I didn't call anyone out on specifics.)  I can be mildly amused when a student who is obviously trying to deploy best practice from high school addresses me in person as "Mr. Koshary," but it drives me up the wall when they email questions and demands without so much as a greeting, or identifying themselves.  I decided that I should nip it in the bud this week, rather than try to let it roll off my back.

In between, I got a TA (yay again!), figured out that the pseudology department's refrigerator is pretty much out of commission (boo), and dragged my carcass all over the central areas of the Ghosttown U. campus, since no two of my classes are in the same building.

In fashion matters: I'm currently experimenting with my wardrobe to see which trousers I can wear without dying of heat exhaustion, and which shirts will look suitably professional without bathing me in sweat the moment I step out of doors.*  I'm a sweaty guy in the heat by nature, so it's tough to feel smartly put together when the temperature is this high every day.  I did surprisingly well today with one of my best pairs of pants: some thin – tropical weight, maybe? – wool trousers that I half-expected to choke me in the thick, muggy heat of Ghosttown.  Then again, today was really overcast and unusually cool, so maybe I shouldn't speak too soon.  I went with some thin cotton pants on Monday, but sort of screwed up my control study by wearing a thin button-down with a tank-top undershirt to minimize the sweat stains.  That ensemble was sweat-inducing.  Never again.  But now that I think about it, I also made the mistake that day of schlepping my MacBook around with me.  I figured out quickly enough that I could just log into the university course management software and access what I needed directly from the computers at the lecture podiums (podia?), but I was already dragging that extra weight on my back.  When it was nearly 100 degrees out.  Never again.

Now I'm at home, blissfully free of work clothes, and contemplating a second glass of the cheapie nero d'avola that I picked up the other day.  I'm going to meet with my TA tomorrow, and then I'm hoping for a low-obligation day.

*I know, I'm a prof and I could teach in a Nudie suit if I had a mind to, but I feel like I should leave such theatrics to my post-tenure life.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


I bounced out of bed this morning at 7:30, despite having planned to sleep in one last time.  Because my classes start tomorrow!  I'm going to start teaching at 8AM tomorrow!  This is making me very bouncy!


My colleagues are cool people, and talk about interesting things over drinks!  They want me to help them design a new course!


I worked on my book today!  And my prospectus!  It is exciting!


I cooked some tasty food today!  Will cook some more for dinner!  While I do laundry!


I am using exclamation points far more than my usual!  Can't stop!


Thursday, August 18, 2011

When am I expecting?

Wow, here's a question I was trying not to have to grapple with.  I had hoped (foolishly, I now recognize) to have the entire book manuscript drafted and ready to go by the end of this summer.  Since that is obviously not going to happen, I've set myself to getting the prospectus ready in its stead, along with two chapters ready (enough) to send with it.  But this means that I must declare in the prospectus when I expect the completed manuscript to be ready. 

When the fuck is that?

Given that I have a 4/4 load this year (albeit one with few preps), and that my revised thinking about the manuscript puts it at about half-written – if I'm shooting for approximately 75,000 words – I wonder what I should say.  Can I produce the completed manuscript by the end of this academic year?  My can-do, happy-go-idiot self says, "Yes!  For sure!  You can do this!!"  The sour, self-defeating pessimist in me says, "No fucking chance.  You've never taught full-time before.  You're still on the job market.  You didn't even know a month ago that you'd look like a blithering fool if you submitted a 50,000-word manuscript as a pseudological text to a university press.  Why don't you just eat a shotgun and be done with it?" 

Clearly, the latter voice has a tendency to go a little too far with things, so I'm treating that one with appropriate skepticism.  But the former voice has previously demonstrated a slight tendency to bite off more than I can chew.  In either case, the problem for me is that I don't know what will sound reasonable to an acquisitions editor who has seen many such cases.  I don't want to sound cluelessly optimistic about how fast I can produce a usable manuscript, but it certainly won't do to put the date too far into the future, either. 

Has anyone else dealt with a similar scenario?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Diplomas in the office

Ah, finally I have finished (for this year) my long-ass driving trips across this festering cesspool of late capitalism great land of ours, and I've got all my stuff in my house.  That is, all of my stuff except for the boxes of books I schlepped over to my new office.  The living room floor, of course, has not been touched this week; apparently, the contractor couldn't locate the tiles yet.  This means that my home decorating has to stay pretty much in flux, since everything has to be moved out of the way of the contractor whenever he bothers to show up.  In sum: I can't buy any living room furniture, since there won't be any place to move it.

Naturally, this means that I can only put bookshelves in my study, and, I suppose, in my bedroom as well, but that last bit seems like overkill.  Since I have two huge bookcases in my office, I figure that I should off-load as much of the books as possible there, and then figure out what I need in the house.  There's a good bit of room in my study — too much, really, given that I'm not in a financial or practical position to buy too many bookcases.  I'm hoping to keep it to one tall sucker that I keep across the room from my desk, and a shorter, credenza-like bookcase next to the desk that could support a small printer.

All of this is preamble to a question that came into my head while transferring all my belonging to Ghosttown.  What should I do with my diplomas?  They're all framed now – BA, MA, PhD – since I wanted to keep them in good shape, and I liked the idea of treating the visible symbol of my years of hard work with a little more respect than a filing tube.  I had the idea that I should hang, if not all of them, then at least my doctoral degree in my office.

But...I'm a VAP.  I'm temporary contract labor.  Would it be weird to display my PhD in my office, when I'm expected to pack up and clear out in a year?  It feels almost like putting my feet up on a host's coffee table: too familiar and presumptuous.  Just writing that down makes me feel like I'm coming into this situation with a little less self-confidence and professional demeanor than is warranted, so I don't know now.  To what degree are VAPs really (as opposed to what polite folk will tell you) expected to act like one of the team in these little ways, and to what degree are they supposed to keep things simple and streamlined?

On a less angsty note (I think), how do you feel about displaying your diploma in your office in general?  I'm of two minds about it, partly because DOU insists on printing terminal degrees on really huge sheets of paper, and then fixing it so that their offer of framing is actually cheaper than any frame shop I could find in DOU-Town.  This yielded a framed diploma that seems half the size of a wall, rather than a clean and simple frame like you'd put around a photo print or something.  I find it all a little over-compensating in appearance, although I admit that the woodwork is nice enough.  (On the plus side, they use whatever non-acid paper thingie is supposed to make your diploma last through the ages so that the apes can smash it ceremonially after they overwhelm their human overlords and conquer the planet.)

On the other hand, I fucking worked my ass off for that degree, and I'd feel silly hanging it in my house, where almost no one would ever see it.  And it's my understanding that professors have a stronger expectation on them than most professionals to display the terminal degree in the work environment.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Re-encountering my old profs

No sooner did I settle in Ghosttown than I took off: I'm out in DOU-Town this week for moving purposes, and I'm trying to catch up and network as much as possible while I'm here.  I've had several encounters so far with my advisors from grad school, and it's been enlightening, if a bit of a shock to my system. 

I met with one of my diss committee professors, Egojab, and zi was less, um, ego-crushing than the pseudonym might suggest.  Zi actually had great advice for me, particularly on the subject of my book manuscript.  The scary part of this is that zi was not at all impressed with my idea of writing a 50,000-word book.  Zi thinks I'd be making a huge mistake, since "this is the book that will get you tenure," and therefore I must banish all thoughts of appearing on every colleague's undergrad reading lists.  Egojab actually shook hir head and laughed in astonishment when I suggested that part of my thinking was to write a book that would sell well.  Zi pointed out that even the vaunted Incredibly Awesome and Useful Text, by Mindbendingly Successful and Respected Pseudologist, was not written to be what it became.  "Zi wasn't trying to write a hugely successful book," Egojab observed.  "Zi was writing a pseudological subfield book in conversation with that stream of theory.  Zi had no idea that everyone would end up assigning hir book for all sorts of reading lists."

Egojab reminded me in fairly blunt terms that I couldn't assign too much credence to Lucifer's idea of a short pseudological book: "Has Lucifer published a book yet?  No?  Then zi doesn't really know what zi's talking about, does zi?"  Ouch!  Egojab also upended my understanding of academic books in a career trajectory: whereas I had thought that one's first book was the rawest and therefore, in some ways, the worst book one would write, Egojab argued that the first book, based upon one's dissertation, was nearly always the richest and best book that one would ever write.  (As a perfect example, Egojab pointed again to MSRP,* whose Incredibly Awesome and Useful Text remains by far the most interesting and high-quality book on hir CV, although zi has been publishing for decades.)  So now I'm back to questioning my own all-too-fallible instincts of what I should write and how.  It's hard to ignore that Lucifer is the only one who goes for the idea of a shorter book, and all of the tenured and all but one of the tenure-track folk I've consulted favor a longer monograph.  Res ipsa loquitur, perhaps?

On a similar note, Egojab also thinks I'm going off-track by trying to draft the entire book before doing the publishing prospectus.  In so many words, zi recommended I strike while the iron is hot, since a book contract carries a lot of weight with hiring committees, and could seal the deal on a much better position than I've netted so far.  And again, zi knows a lot better than my age-peer colleagues who are in essentially the same situation as I.

I also got a little face time with two profs at once, my beloved Awesome and hir colleague, Whirlwind.  (Whirlwind is almost blindingly productive, and made full professor at an age when most colleagues were still struggling to get tenure.)  They're good friends, and they've both known me for a long time, so our conversation was decidedly informal and dishy — surprisingly so for me, since they knew me for years as a grad student around whom they had to be circumspect about some matters.  It was bracing to hear them start to get into some gossip, wonder aloud if they should talk about this stuff around me, and conclude, "Ah, no problem, he's a colleague now, he's faculty!"  (Am I really?  Jeez.)  Hearing them dish on colleagues who had done this or that over the past year gave me a pretty good idea of what qualities they value in departmental colleagues, and how they want the politics of the department to flow.  Obviously, this is sort of irrelevant to my life right now, since it is no longer my department at all, but in another sense it's highly relevant, since it clues me in to how faculty at an R1 university approach professional obligations. 

All three of these profs are also kind enough to continue writing me letters for this year's job search, since I may be up a creek about my dissertation supervisor: Dr. Chair has gone on research leave to Bloody Remote Place, and may only be in sporadic email contact.  I'm not thrilled about this, since it could look awkward that my supervisor can't write tailored job letters for me, but then again, the consensus is that Chair never writes especially great job letters anyway.  (It's not a strength with everyone, you know?)  I was going to need back-up one way or another, so I guess I just have to work around this current situation. 

Tonight: drinking with colleagues.  Tomorrow: I hit the road for Ghosttown.

*I totally didn't realize that this pseudonym yielded such an amusing double-entendre of an acronym!  Good stuff, that.