Sunday, September 30, 2007

on the fine art of subconscious emulation...

So I was just looking through my Norton Critical edition of the Canterbury tales (dating from undergrad, when I had Chaucer with Professor C.), I think to check a footnote or something. And I discovered that I had written at the bottom of a page (of the Nun's Priest's Tale, natch), "Bored? Get your professor to imitate a chicken!" (I can see Professor C. doing this, totally, but I'd forgotten all about it.)

We just did a read-through of the Nun's Priest's Tale on Friday. Featuring, you guessed it, me imitating a chicken.

It's always a little eerie to discover that you're turning into your old professors without actually meaning to. Heh.

ETA: Is it just me, or should statements of teaching philosophy contain the word "chicken" more often? I mean, everyone says, "I practice student-centered pedagogy" (yawn...), but how many people can say they practice chicken-centered pedagogy?

... OK, maybe it is just me. Never mind.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Yes, you really DO have to turn in the paper on the day it's due

I really think my freshman comp students are on crack. Are anyone else's freshmen on crack? Where are they scoring all this crack, and how can I get some?

Thursday, and exhausted. That is all.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

the end of the honeymoon

So, Grading is at last rearing its ugly head. I handed out the first grades in the lit classes yesterday (for a short assignment in the Brit lit class, and for the first group presentation in drama), and I should be collecting the first freshman comp papers on Thursday. Ouch. I hate this time of semester, not only because it's when teaching starts to feel like real work, but also because the whole carrot-and-stick arrangement changes the dynamic of a class in ways that I don't like. (Most of the time, anyway. I'm beginning to feel like a few of the freshman comp students NEED to be whacked with a stick or two, but that's a different rant for another time.) Anyway, I feel like this whole exercise ought to be about inquiry, not about evaluation, or at least not about the sort of evaluation that can be expressed as a single letter. I'd really like to teach at one of those hippie SLACs that have narrative evaluations instead of grades, for all that it sounds like more work.

Freshman comp is where it gets particularly awkward, because you have all these brand-new students like little snails, just starting to poke their heads out of their shells and express opinions of their own, and then you have to smack them with the Grading Stick and send them quivering back inside.

I never had a freshman comp class when I was in college. I had what was called a Writing-Intensive Freshman Seminar, taught by an eccentric Classics professor and about an eccentric topic, with short ungraded response papers every week and one ten-page term paper. No grades until after the class was over. And I had Introduction to Shakespeare, which was really Introduction to Shakespeare and Assorted Other Stuff, including anecdotes about the Soviet news service, a look at the Victorian-era illustrated Shakespeare the professor had picked up over the weekend (and musings about how the female characters were depicted, and which ones weren't depicted at all, and why), and reminiscences about the freshman humanities program at the professor's alma mater, thirty years ago and more. It was, in short, an introduction to the kind of connections that thinking people make, and I believe everyone should have a class like that in their first semester of college.

I feel like there ought to be a way to pull that sort of thing off in freshman comp -- where better than in a course that has no set factual content and is ostensibly all about how to write and think? -- but I've never been able to make it work. I wonder if the fact that comp students are openly being graded on these abilities, rather than on their mastery of a specific body of course content, is precisely what kills their drive to think and inquire and make connections. (My Shakespeare professor would assuredly have said so; he was quite vocal about his opposition to the grading system, which didn't, however, stop him from delivering frequent smackdowns-by-grade.)

Blah. There isn't really much to be done, I guess, except to make one's own reservations about grading, and the trade-offs and limitations involved, public -- which I do intend to do, as soon as I collect that first set of papers. But I have the feeling that they are not going to pay attention to my thoughts on the subject, probably will not pay much attention to the course reading for Thursday, and will pay a great deal of attention to that single letter at the bottom of their papers. And why shouldn't they? The letter is what they will have to explain to their parents and advisors and, eventually, graduate admissions officers or employers, and none of these other people are going to care what we actually did in the class on any given day -- particularly if the activity in question is something as ephemeral as a conversation. Maybe not even an honest conversation, because how often are we honest with our judges, our adversaries, our evaluators? We say what we think they want to here (or, perhaps more often in the case of college freshmen, keep silent and hope they don't call on us).

Right, these thoughts probably aren't going into the statement of teaching philosophy any time soon...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

September 19th

Ahem. :: clears throat ::

Pool! Sir Pool! lord!
Ay, kennel, puddle, sink; whose filth and dirt
Troubles the silver spring where England drinks.
Now will I dam up this thy yawning mouth
For swallowing the treasure of the realm:
Thy lips that kiss'd the queen shall sweep the ground;
And thou that smiledst at good Duke Humphrey's death,
Against the senseless winds shalt grin in vain,
Who in contempt shall hiss at thee again:
And wedded be thou to the hags of hell,
For daring to affy a mighty lord
Unto the daughter of a worthless king,
Having neither subject, wealth, nor diadem.
By devilish policy art thou grown great,
And, like ambitious Sylla, overgorged
With gobbets of thy mother's bleeding heart.
By thee Anjou and Maine were sold to France,
The false revolting Normans thorough thee
Disdain to call us lord, and Picardy
Hath slain their governors, surprised our forts,
And sent the ragged soldiers wounded home.
The princely Warwick, and the Nevils all,
Whose dreadful swords were never drawn in vain,
As hating thee, are rising up in arms:
And now the house of York, thrust from the crown
By shameful murder of a guiltless king
And lofty proud encroaching tyranny,
Burns with revenging fire; whose hopeful colours
Advance our half-faced sun, striving to shine,
Under the which is writ 'Invitis nubibus.'
The commons here in Kent are up in arms:
And, to conclude, reproach and beggary
Is crept into the palace of our king.
And all by thee. Away! convey him hence.

Happy Talk Like A Pirate Day, y'all!

Monday, September 17, 2007

JIL post, serious version

So, the good news first: this looks like another busy year in my field, even if a lot of the early postings look distinctly out of my reach. Whoo, exciting!

Bad news: I don't want to get too specific about this, for obvious reasons, but the wording of my department's ad makes me suspect they're looking to hire someone for the tenure-track job who isn't me. Better to know this sooner than later, I guess, but ... crap.

General weirdness: I'm starting to feel the isolation here. After two years on the market, I figured I was a tired and blooded veteran who knew All About the Job Search and was ready to go solo, but ... not so much, really. I almost wish I had accepted the postdoc my graduate department offered me instead of moving halfway across the country for a one-year visiting position, although I know that if I had taken it, I'd feel like I was just marking time and I'd probably be climbing the walls by now. Most of my friends had already left, and the postdoc wouldn't have given me any opportunity to teach in my field. It was time for me to move on, and I know I've made the right decision. But ... I miss grad school. I miss being surrounded by a large, friendly cohort of people who were in the same situation, and going out drinking on payday, and being able to talk about doubts and fears and things that aren't going right in the classroom without feeling like you're showing your soft underbelly. My new colleagues are very nice, and have done a lot to make me feel welcome, but still there's an age gap and a power gap, and I don't know any of them very well yet.

I guess this is normal, especially for VAPs, and it says good things about my graduate department, so I can't really complain. Still, I can't help feeling a little blue about it right now.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Translations, Part I

While we all wait for the JIL to come out (2 p.m.?!? I'm getting seriously twitchy here), I thought I'd put up a helpful guide to the lingo of the job search for the newbies. (What, you thought a job search for an English professor would be conducted in English? Sort of, but not quite...)

The Advertisement:

Our department seeking a Literature scholar who is willing serve as Assitant Porfessor of English.

Well, we certainly NEED an English teacher, but we may not actually WANT one.

We are seeking a specialist in Chaucer and Romantic Literature. The ideal candidate would also be fluent in Old Irish.

By a truly remarkable coincidence, such a person not only exists, but is already adjuncting in our department! Isn't that amazing?

We are looking for an Early Modernist scholar.

We really want someone who does E.M. Forster, but we're about to be inundated by applications from Shakespeareans. Or vice versa. Whichever we want, it'll be the one that you aren't.

East Podunk is a cosmopolitan town with many opportunities for outdoor recreation.

We have a Thai restaurant. We may or may not have houses.

Send letter of intent, CV, five letters of recommendation, a statement of teaching philosophy, a statement of research interests, reprints, preprints, student evaluations, and undergraduate and graduate transcripts to the following address...

Nobody will ever look at this stuff again, but it helps us narrow the pool of applicants to the truly desperate.

Interviews will be conducted at the MLA convention or by phone.

We're waiting to see if the Dean will give us money to travel to the MLA, but he probably won't. Actually, we might not get enough money to pay the new hire, either.

Please inform us of our plans to attend the MLA convention.

Maybe this is a typo. But then again, it might be nice if the candidate could also teach fortune-telling.

The Letter:

I expect to complete my dissertation in May 2008.

If the planets align just right, I might finish in August.

I have nearly completed my dissertation [no date given].

I've almost started.

My future research plans include...

Fortunately, plans don't cost anything.

While my primary interest is Romantic poetry, I am prepared to teach courses in British literature from 1770 to 2007...

You only think you want a postmodernist. They're weird.

I enjoy the challenges of working with a diverse population of students, and I am therefore particularly interested in the job at the Alcatraz College of Criminal Justice.

I sure hope your college is on the right side of the bars.

For family reasons, I would very much like to move to East Podunk, so I am particularly interested in this position.

My second cousin lives in West Podunk, 150 miles away. I think I might have met her once.

I am particularly interested in the job at Confused State because I would like to work at a university with a strong commitment to diversity and public service.

Your job ad is so cryptic I can't tell what you're looking for, and your web site so confusing I can't find your mission statement, but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that even if you hate diversity and public service, you probably won't say it out loud.

I am particularly interested in the position...

... because it means I might get paid! Dude, why do you THINK people apply for jobs?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

and thus yirnez the yere in yisterdayez mony

It's been nippy out these last few days. Not cold, exactly, but you can feel the cold waiting in the shadows when you turn away from the sun.

I have always liked the coming of autumn, even though I know it's completely irrational; when I was a kid, it meant another long dull year in school, and now it means that the flurry of work that comes at the beginning of the semester is about to turn into a snowstorm, and by the end of October I'll be lucky to have a free moment. Besides, I don't like winter very much. But there is something irresistible about that first hint of crispness in the air.

We've been reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in the Brit lit class, and that poem always makes me think about cycles and seasons and the passing of time. One of the nice things about this profession is that there is a well-defined yearly cycle, even if it's a weird backwards cycle where summers are the dormant time and renewal comes in the fall; August and September bring new students, fresh chances to get things right, a bright bundle of promises. That might be one of the reasons why I like this time of year so much -- it reminds me of those first months when I was a freshman in college, reading Shakespeare outdoors under ancient trees and reveling in my newly discovered freedom. Except, of course, I'm not a freshman, and the new crop of freshmen are getting farther and farther from my age every year. When I started teaching they were only six years younger than I was; now it's thirteen and counting. I don't really feel the difference yet, but the chill in the air reminds me that it's there.

More practical and job-market-related posts to come, I'm sure (believe me, I know I've got only one day left before All Hell Breaks Loose on that front), but today I just like having a little time to reflect and a little breathing space.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

misc. stuff

1) Somebody sent me a free copy of The History Boys for absolutely no discernable reason! I love random free books!

2) Shoot me if I ever try to read Cardinal Newman with freshman comp students again. Ow, that was painful.

3) Heu Mihi tagged me for this meme, so what the heck.

4 first names of crushes:

Jeremie. Yeah, spelled that way. We met on a school trip when I was a senior in high school, and unfortunately I was too socially awkward to make things work, but I have nice memories of that trip.
Michael. He read Milton for fun, and I was hopelessly and desperately in love with him from the ages of seventeen to nineteen (kids, don't go to the same college as your high-school crush), but again, it was doomed by my hopeless geekery.
Tom. Studied abroad with him. Unfortunately, he was one of those study-abroad students who find Interesting Foreign Girlfriends, so it was not meant to be.
Daniel. As in Daniel de Bosola, whom I find inexplicably hot. (I'm prone to literary crushes, but I figured it would be cheating if I filled the list with fictional characters.)

4 Pieces of Clothing I wish I still owned (and/or that still fit):

My favorite tie-dyed shirt from high school
My brown sandals, which I threw away when I moved because they were worn out
The last pair of jeans to wear out, which were quite comfortable
The necklace I left at my boyfriend's house in March of 1999, right before he decided to do a disappearing act. I don't miss him, but I kind of miss the necklace.

4 names I've been called at one time or another:

"Bat," "Bucky O'Hare," and "Hey, stupid," all courtesy of my junior high school classmates
"Professor." I really hope some of said classmates are working at the 7-11.

4 professions I secretly want to try:

Travel writer
EFL teacher, someplace interesting and exotic
Study abroad director

4 musicians I'd most want to go on a date with:

John Lennon (before he died, of course)
Jakob Dylan (though mostly because I'd like to meet his dad)
Jim Malcolm, who is not only rather cute but has a fabulous accent
Any of the musicians at the Globe, circa 1600. Because that would be cool.

4 foods I'd rather throw than eat:

Egg, tuna, or chicken salad (which would be rather gross to throw, but better thrown than eaten, anyway)
Red Delicious apples
Bagels (I like bagels, but they look delightfully throwable)

4 things I like to sniff:

Autumn leaves

4 people I tag:

Anyone who wants to be tagged, can be

Monday, September 10, 2007

WTFQ, Norton?

So, it seems there is a new edition of the Norton Anthology out. I'm sure everybody in the world knew this except me, but I didn't, because I live under a rock, and in any case I drew up my syllabi for this year before I moved to New SLAC Town, and thus had nowhere to tell people to send desk copies. So I've only just had a chance to look at it.

Wait, what happened to Book 3 of the Faerie Queene? They didn't have the whole thing in there to begin with, but this time around they've totally and completely gutted it, with only three cantos left standing. Book 3 is the fun part, dammit! I don't even like Spenser all that much, but even I like Book 3. Who the hell decided this would be a good idea?

They seem to have deleted Margery Kempe's examination for heresy, too. Growf.

On the bright side, there is an online archive of deleted bits -- which is helpful, and means I don't have to do anything really desperate such as forcing my students to read about that bore Redcrosse -- but browsing it makes for interesting and depressing reading. They've deleted so much fabulous stuff over the years! Mankind! And "Sir Orfeo"! And the Franklin's and Merchant's tales, not to mention Sir Thopas. Substantial chunks of The Tragedy of Mariam seem to have appeared in the last edition and become considerably less substantial in this one; "Lludd and Llewelys" and a couple of Marie de France's fables have appeared and disappeared just as quickly.

Oh well. The Norton is eterne in mutabilitie, I guess. Now I just have to figure out what the heck I'm going to do about Utopia now that they've given the students the whole text instead of excerpts. I'd really like to teach the whole thing. On the other hand, I don't want to not teach all the Spenser I'd planned to cover, or the extra Shakespeare play, or... Yeah, too many great things to read, not enough time. (Most of my professors in undergrad sailed blithely ahead and said, "OK, we're going to read it all," and I was generally with them all the way, so I was well into grad school before I discovered that there are limits to the sort of reading load that most undergraduates are willing to consider reasonable.)

Oh, screw it. I think we're going to read it all.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

week two

Yay, good Beowulf class today! I tried a pair / small group activity that I invented for one of my other classes last year -- pulled about six provocative quotations from different critical articles, put them all on a handout, and told the students to get into pairs or groups of three and pick a quote to talk about -- disagree, agree, find other examples, wonder what the heck the critic meant, whatever. I usually like to do this later in the semester, when they've read a few more texts, but this class really needed a kick-start, and it seems to have worked.

And in the drama class, we watched YouTube, and it was good. I think YouTube might be the best resource ever -- I've already found clips from two interestingly different versions of Lysistrata up there, so I have another instant lesson plan.

And the bookstore finally got enough copies of the Norton Anthology in for everybody to have their own, and I got mine back from the student who borrowed it. I went back to my office (carrying the anthology under my arm because my shoulder bag is already stuffed with other books) and had the following conversation with the professor down the hall:

"Wow, that's a big book! What happened to it?"

"Oh." (I am used to looking at my anthology, so I rarely think about the fact that I have accidentally dyed it pink.) "Well, I was carrying it in a red canvas bag one time, and it started raining..."

"It looks like it's bleeding. Poor book!"

Right, I think it's time to get a new desk copy...

Monday, September 3, 2007

:: blinks ::

Whoa there, Inside Higher Ed linked to my post about new faculty orientation? Yeep! I feel like I should have said something more profound (and probably revealed less about who and where I am, come to think of it!)

Oh well, it's damned hard to conceal your identity for any length of time on the Internet, so I've always figured somebody would tumble to it sooner or later, and I don't really post anything I wouldn't tell my colleagues if they asked. At least, I find it hard, and judging by the number of times I've been able to spot the online persona of someone I know in real life (I once won a case of beer because a friend bet me that I couldn't), other people find it equally hard. It's funny how distinctive people's voices are; I had a roommate in grad school who, unbeknownst to me, started posting to a message board that I had told her about, and I kept looking at her posts and thinking, "Wow, that sounds so much like something [my roommate] would say," -- and sure enough, it was. It's happened the other way around, too; a few years ago I stumbled across an online journal by someone who was clearly a student at the University of Basketball, in which she wrote about signing up for a course that I happened to be teaching, and by the second week of class I had a fairly good idea which student it was. (That sort of thing obviously brings up all kinds of etiquette-and-ethics conundrums, and of course I didn't visit her journal after that, but eventually I did get confirmation that I was right.)

Anyway, I'd guess that this sort of story is more common than you'd expect, since people with common interests tend to flock together online and in real life, and the population that uses the Internet as a social venue is still fairly small and homogeneous. Still, it feels really weird when it happens.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

One week...

So, end of my first week as full-time faculty. So far, this doesn't feel a great deal harder than being a grad student; I'm teaching three courses instead of two, and there are more meetings, but on the other hand, I have about the same number of students and I don't have a dissertation to write. Of course, the job market hasn't hit yet, and neither have a lot of other aspects of the job.

I'm liking the drama class a lot, and, thus far, freshman English seems OK apart from the inevitable pacing problems and the challenges of negotiating a new program where People Do Things Differently. On the surface, the freshman comp program here seems a lot less regimented than it did at the University of Basketball, but there are a couple of very rigid requirements that I didn't know about until my syllabus turned out not to meet them. And then, after teaching six sections of the equivalent course at the U. of B., I could more or less do it in my sleep, while there are so many little things that need to be reworked here. But the students themselves seeme like a lively and friendly bunch, and I haven't run into any real attitude problems yet.

The Brit lit class still feels kind of dead, and I have no idea whether they hate Beowulf or hate the way I teach Beowulf. Or possibly they're just naturally quiet and don't hate anything. What worries me is that the last time I taught an early-Brit Lit survey, it sucked (this is not just my own impression -- the course evals said it sucked, too), and I'm starting to feel like this course is jinxed. Which would be a Very Bad Thing, because it's one of the core courses I'll have to teach wherever I end up. And this is precisely the class that shouldn't suck! Why is it that I'm fine in front of a bunch of business majors who don't really want to be in freshman comp, and fine in classes for non-majors that people are only taking to fulfill their distribution requirements, but I choke in front of English majors? Bleah. Oh well, maybe things will be better when we get to Marie de France and Gawain, and ... yikes, Chaucer in two weeks? I am so not ready.

Trying not to think about the fact that the MLA job list will also be out in two weeks. I have a feeling that the strategy for this year, my third year on the market, ought to be different from my last two times out -- probably, fewer applications to fewer different types of schools, more focus and tailoring in the letters. After all, I know more or less what sort of schools will consent to give me an interview; besides, I need to save my time and energy for my new department, which will be running a tenure-track search for my current position. On the other hand, I know the temptation to apply to everything in sight is going to hit as soon as I see the list. (Prior experience suggests that I am really, really good at getting first-round interviews, but spectacularly good at screwing interviews up once I get them, so I feel like I've got to spread a wide enough net to be sure of making it to the second round at all.)

So yeah, no pressure this semester at all.