Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ghost post

The students here at New SLAC, and some of the faculty, say there is a ghost in the building where I have my office. I have not seen or heard any signs of anything of the sort, but then I tend to be a hard-bitten rationalist about such things, and I do not have encounters with ghosts even when I seek them out.

I know this, for I sought out the one that lived on the third floor of the English building of the Beloved Alma Mater quite aggressively. She was (so the older students said) an unhappy soul who was studying in the building late one night when she was overwhelmed with a fit of despair about her studies, went into the bathroom, smashed the mirror, and cut her wrists with the shards. If you studied on the third floor late at night, and you were doing badly in your classes, she would come in and commisserate with you. But if you were going to ace the finals and knew it, she might throw a book at you.

I sometimes went up to the third floor to study when I was feeling particularly smug about my academic life, in hopes of baiting her into showing herself, because I was that sort of undergrad. But never, never did I have a book thrown at me, not even by anyone made of flesh and blood, though I'm sure some of my professors and classmates were sorely provoked. Alas.

The resident ghost at my graduate school, the University of Basketball, was a young man with a delightfully Dickensian name who was supposedly killed in a duel over a girl. He did not haunt the English building, which was a 1970-era concrete block monstrosity (the one at the Beloved Alma Mater dated from the 1920s, and was charming and shabby). He liked to hang out just off of campus, around one of the more eccentric and mysterious buildings in town. I never saw him, either.

I'm not sure who the ghost at New SLAC is meant to be -- I'll have to find out.

So, any of the rest of y'all have campus ghost stories?

skippin' school

There are a couple of campus events going on today and tomorrow that are extremely relevant to one of my classes, and which I have decided to require the students in that class to attend, so in exchange for the extra demands on their time, I cancelled class today.

So, whee! I get a morning off! Woo hoo! (And oh yes, I totally feel like I'm getting away with something nefarious.)

I think I'm still getting used to the fact that I can cancel classes. In grad school, we were never allowed to cancel freshman comp, ever, unless we were holding conferences with students. You got one of the other grad students to sub, and of course there were always plenty of people who could sub, unlike here, where there are a grand total of seven full-time faculty in the department.

I'm still getting used to a lot of things, actually. I went to see a movie with one of my colleagues -- an older man who DOES look classically professorial, whereas I could easily pass for an undergrad -- a few weeks into the semester, and he said something about how perhaps he should have invited one particular student to join us, but she might not want to go to a movie with two professors anyway -- and I remember thinking, "There's another professor here? Where?" and then, "Oh. Right. Me."

And, of course, part of me doesn't want to get too comfortable in my new role as yet, because who knows whether I'll still have a job here, or anywhere, after this year? I guess that's another reason why taking the morning off feels slightly edgy and daring -- because I'm in the middle of what is essentially a semester-long interview, and maybe I shouldn't be doing this sort of thing. But then again, the events we're attending instead do have a clear educational purpose, and besides, the students will probably regard the change of pace as a treat and may even say nice things about it on the evals, so it's just as likely to work for me as against me.

So I'm thinking about a lot of things, but mostly: Yay! Time off!

Friday, October 26, 2007

so, apparently bad things happen when you don't pay your library fines

... Like, for example, your grad school won't release your transcripts to prospective employers. Because you owe them ONE DOLLAR. Which you would certainly have paid if they had actually charged you the fine while you still lived there, instead of sending a bill which promptly got lost three months later.

Can I get a good old-fashioned job-market AAAUUGGHHH?


Am teaching Spenser. I got a "how would you teach Spenser?" question on my doctoral exams, Lo These Many Years Ago, and wrote a long response that could be summed up as "I'd tell the students all about Ariosto and how he was much cooler." (The professor who set the question was not impressed.) Much to my shock, I seem to have learned to like Spenser in the meantime. I'm not sure my students are impressed.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Still here. Not dead. Have finished the grading, except for late papers and the optional extra-credit revisions from the freshman comp students. Have also sent off fifteen job applications; am trying to work up the motivation to do a few more tonight.

More random things I ponder:

-- Why is it that all grade complaints seem to come from people who are getting some flavor of B, and the most vociferous ones come from people with a B+?

-- Why do all job ads that make extraordinary demands (all course evaluations from the past five years, video of your teaching, undergraduate transcripts, essay about super-specific topic) seem to come from tiny little colleges out in the middle of nowhere?

-- What's up with students who show up for fewer than half of the classes? I can understand skipping a class every now and again, but it seems only prudent to show up most of the time and not disappear for weeks on end. In particular, what's up with students who don't show up on the day papers are due?

I had one last year who attended a grand total of five classes all semester, but at least he wrote all the papers and showed up on the last day of classes to do his final presentation. (He was clearly talking out of his ass during the whole presentation, but somehow he did manage to scrape a B on the final and a passing grade in the class -- which annoyed the heck out of me.) Hmm, maybe they're all thinking they'll be that lucky.

-- Why don't I have any winter clothes suitable for teaching? Winter comes every year. I really should have figured this out by now.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

wherein my week from hell gets ever more hellish

Things I ponder:

-- Why, exactly, did I think it would be a good idea to eat chili with habaneros for dinner when my stomach felt dodgy to begin with? (It wasn't. On the bright (?) side, I have piles and piles of job apps to distract me from my misery.)

-- If a job ad says to include a self-addressed, stamped postcard with your application, does it make you look like more of a flake if you use a pretty picture postcard from Chester, England, or if you don't send one at all? (Assume, for the sake of argument, that going out and buying a nice professional blank postcard for the occasion is Just Not Going To Happen.)

-- What's up with ads that ask for personal statements about something very specific and eccentric? Do they think we have nothing better to do than write a custom-tailored essay for every application?

-- What the heck do you say in a job letter for a department where you're already a VAP? It seems really stupid to be telling them stuff about me that they already know, yet some of it would look equally stupid if left out.

Essays graded: 12
Blatant cases of plagiarism found: 2
Plagiarists confronted: 1
Job application packets assembled: 3

Monday, October 15, 2007

stats from hell week

Job apps due between now and November 2: 20
Job apps sent this week: 0

Papers collected this morning: 16
Students enrolled in the class where papers were due this morning: 20
Papers graded: 6
Cases of plagiarism discovered: 1 definite, 1 probable (but I won't be able to nail the second student without subscribing to a pay-for-papers site. Blah.)
E-mails dispatched to plagiarizing students: 1
E-mails answered: 0

Number of papers yet to be collected this week: 50 40. (Sometimes, not being able to count has its perks).

Yeesh. Why do I do this to myself, again?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Going a-conferencing

So, the conference is over. It was good. I think my paper went over reasonably well, apart from the bit in the q-and-a session when someone asked me a question that I really, really should have known the answer to, and I hadn't the foggiest. Apart from that it was fine. Now I need to polish it up and submit it to Proceedings of Conference while it's still fresh in my mind.

There were a few University of Basketball people there -- two professors, one grad student -- which was nice, because I hadn't seen anyone from grad school since I moved. (Which was, of course, only two and a half months ago, but it seems like an age.) Yay for familiar faces. It made me realize how much I lucked out when I chose a grad program, because they were all sincerely congratulatory about my one-year job at an obscure little liberal arts college and wished me luck in my bid for the t-t job at New SLAC. While I think my graduate program could have done a better job preparing people to interview for small-teaching-college jobs, no one on the faculty ever acted like those jobs were somehow lesser or unworthy, and in general, there was a lot of support for grad students with young children or other complicated family situations. (Of course, I knew nothing about this when I chose a grad school. I was twenty-one, and I picked the U. of Basketball because they offered me money and the people there seemed friendly. Which they were. Maybe those weren't such bad reasons, after all.)

They also fed us well, which is always a nice feature in a conference. Mmm, chocolate walnut pie.

I'm here till tomorrow, so I guess I'll do some exploring. (Not that I really need to be exploring instead of prepping for class, but what the hell.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

a Chronicle column

Mmm. I'm not given to griping about Chronicle columns as a general rule. (I know it's a favorite blood sport with some people, but I've written several, and it's a damned hard genre to get right -- besides, I always worry that someone is out there on the Net snarking at my stuff, so I want to be nice to other people.) That said, does anyone else feel put off by this column? I mean, yes, Plagiarism Is A Very Bad Thing, but some of the other stuff she complains about ... isn't, really, particularly in an overcrowded humanities field (and I do get an English-y vibe from the column, though I could be wrong). People have the right to change their minds about their career goals, yes? And in particular, I'm getting the impression that she considers any job not at an R1 to be a dead loss.

Ah well.

In other news: am at a conference. Whee! (Does anybody else feel like they're Getting Away With Something when they leave on Wednesday or Thursday to go to a conference? I know, perfectly legitimate, part of one's professional responsibilities, yet somehow it always feels like skipping school.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

in which I am a Corrupter of Youth

Today's five-minute in-class writing question: What do you imagine happens after the end of Othello?

Overheard after class:

"We should write Othello II."

"With a cyborg and a robot."

"And a pirate!"

"Yeah, Iago's a pirate, Othello's a robot."

"It could be a sitcom."

(I resisted the urge to tell them about Antonio's Revenge.)

Monday, October 8, 2007

twelve things to do that are not applying for jobs

1) Hold sixteen student conferences, assuming that they all show up, which isn't very likely since one has apparently dropped off the face of the earth, and another one shows up occasionally but is failing due to his extreme lack of involvement and apparent inability to meet deadlines. Explain to failing student why he's failing (if he shows up). Explain to other student that I can see him when he text-messages under the desk.

2) Ask for letter from chair. Which I should have done weeks ago, and is now much harder to do than it would have been back then. Would it look horrible if I didn't have a letter from my chair, seeing as how I've only been working here for six weeks?

3) Check to see if other rec letters are in.

4) Re-familiarize myself with conference paper that I wrote five months ago. Make handouts for conference.

5) Go to New Faculty Reception, Lunch With Library Staff, and, possibly, Music Department Concert. Gotta be seen.

6) Oh yeah, teach.

7) Go to conference. Try not to disgrace self.

8) Return home; collect fifty-odd student papers because stupid me decided to make them all due the same week. Grade, and grade, and grade.

9) Teach some more. Execute Cunning Plan by holding a class consisting entirely of film clips. Hope they're not onto me.

10) Go visit parents, as we get Friday of next week off. Probably they will not like it if I spend the whole weekend grading.

11) Teach some more.

12) Freak out, because it is now the fourth week in October and most job apps are due on the first and second of November. Eek!

I can do this, right? I've done this before, and this time last year I had a dissertation to defend, and not that many fewer students than I have now.