Sunday, April 22, 2012

Translations, Part IV: A Short Guide to Damning With Faint Praise

"This essay is about an interesting and important topic."

That does not mean you, personally, have anything interesting or important to say about it.

"There are some promising ideas here..."

Too bad they don't deliver on that promise.

"... especially in the third paragraph on page 6."

That paragraph was almost coherent; the rest of the essay was ten pages of mush.

"This is certainly an original interpretation, but it needs more supporting evidence from the text."

Wow, that's the first time I've ever heard anyone argue that Macbeth is secretly gay and he kills Duncan because he can't verbalize his love for him. I hope it is the last.

"Proofread carefully; the many sentence-level errors in the paper distract the reader from the quality of your ideas."

Note that I'm not actually saying the quality of your ideas is GOOD, just that it exists.

"You have several well-chosen quotations and examples from the text, but this essay needs a clearer central argument."

I've already freaking READ Beowulf, thankyouverymuch. Please SAY something about it already.

"You have clearly been paying attention during class discussion, but this essay would benefit from closer attention to the text itself."

The fact that you think Titus is friends with a character named "Ronicus" kind of tipped me off that you haven't done the reading.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

SAA 2012 roundup

So, another SAA come and gone. I got to see Bardiac and Flavia, whom I've met before, and I also met Fie Upon This Quiet Life and Moria (briefly). So, yay.

My seminar was kind of odd, as people spent most of the time debating the merits of one particular National Theatre production that I hadn't seen, and nobody really had much to say about my paper. Well, at least that means nobody had much bad to say about my paper, which is always a relief.

I went to a session today that had a really good paper about doublets in Othello. (In the rhetorical sense, I mean, not in the sense of what fashionable Renaissance dudes like Mike Cassio are wearing.) I hope I can remember some of the examples when I teach Othello in the fall, because the whole paper was an incredibly sharp demonstration of why close reading matters, and how words shape character and vice versa. (I always feel like I'm swimming against the stream when I try to teach close attention to language; most of my colleagues apparently don't, and the students sure as heck are not getting it in high school like I did. I've been having students memorize and recite passages in the Shakespeare class these last few semesters, which seems to help a bit. At least that way they have to look at every word.)

I saw a rather weird film of Pericles being acted out with toys, and a very enjoyable production of A King and No King (which wasn't actually part of the conference, but the student group performing it wisely timed it for this weekend). I remembered only three things about AKANK from grad school: that it was about a king who falls in love with his sister but she turns out not to be his real sister (accurate); that there was a joke about someone confusing "peace" with "peas" (also accurate); and that it wasn't very good (this turned out to be quite wrong -- I mean, I won't say it's a particularly deep play, and it certainly isn't a plausible one, but it is a heck of a fun romp).

Monday, April 2, 2012

Day of Higher Ed blogging, plus some random musings about the nature of work

Ah, what the hey. I don't know that this project will actually do any good, but it's kind of nice to have an excuse to post about something completely mundane.

So: a day in the life of an assistant professor at a small state university with a 4/4 teaching load.

8:00-8:30: Arrive on campus, do some class prep (photocopies, setting up tech equipment, cuing up film clips and web pages).

8:30-9:00: Down time, pretty much.

9:00-9:50: Basic (i.e., remedial) Comp. This is a peer workshop day, so technically I'm not "on," just responsible for keeping everyone on task. Two students show up on time. Two more eventually drift in; one of them has left her draft in her car, and spends more than half of the class period "going to get it." The other one is pregnant, and decides that this would be a good time to organize her several dozen ultrasound photos, and then drops them on the floor. Of the other two students, one of them breezes through everything and the other takes ten minutes to write a sentence. Eventually, with much coaxing and cajoling, everyone both gives and gets some workshop comments. I decide to pretend this is a success.

9:50-10:00: Shakespeare students start to drift in. I return some papers and show them the April Fool's Day post at the British library blog, just for the heck of it.

10:00-10:50: Shakespeare class. St. Crispin's Day speech, yay! Also, my awesome honors student comes by to talk to the class about her project, which results in all sorts of interesting questions about things like the Great Vowel Shift, so I pull up some Chaucer on the computer and do my best Wife of Bath imitation.

10:50-12:00: Talk to a couple of Shakespeare students about topics for the final paper, return tech equipment to office, hold office hours. One student comes to talk about final papers in more detail; otherwise, some of this is down time.

12:00-1:20: Go home, have lunch, do laundry.

1:20-2:10: Grade the four papers I didn't get to over the weekend. (This feels like it takes longer than it actually does.)

2:25-3:25: After a short break, prep for tomorrow's classes: read and make notes on some seventeenth-century poems, and pick out a sample draft from a previous semester to look at in Advanced Comp.

3:25-5:50: Down time, including a very early dinner.

5:50-7:00: Join a colleague who is coaching some students who are giving presentations at an upcoming conference. (They are both student-teaching this semester, so this has to be done after hours.) The students run through their talks, which are shaping up very well indeed, and we give them feedback and talk a little about how conferences work.

7:15-8:20: Attend guest lecture from visiting art history professor.

So: about 7 1/2 hours of actual work, maybe more like 7 if you don't count the parts of office hours when I'm not actually talking to students or dealing with work-related e-mail. And the last 2 1/2 hours were technically optional. Which might, theoretically, seem to support the Hypothesis of Professorial Laziness. But honestly? I doubt most people with nine-to-five office jobs really do more than seven hours of work a day, once you knock out breaks and faffing around on the Internet, and they usually don't have to grade over the weekends.

Also, doing this has made me think about the fluid nature of academic labor; it's not always easy to tell what counts as work. (That lecture, for example. It was fun. I enjoyed learning random things about medieval and early modern iconography. It's vaguely possible I might use some of that knowledge in my courses, somehow, but I can teach them just fine without it. And I was under no particular obligation to go, except that it's generally expected on my campus that you show up to some of these things, some of the time. Is it still "work"? Beats me.) Are office hours "work" because you have to be there, even if you spend the whole time reading blogs? Are course prep and grading somehow less work-like because they're invisible (like a lot of profs, I do them at home) and can be done, within reason, whenever you feel like it? Is Basic Comp more "work" than the Shakespeare class because every goddamn second of it feels like work, even though the latter actually took up more of my time today?

Not that I think any of these questions has anything to do with the reason why the Lazy Professor has suddenly become a focus of public disapproval; I generally concur with the analysis at Easily Distracted. To which I would like to add that a former colleague, when challenged to explain what our university did that the Big Box Mega-University Down The Road doesn't do, replied with a simple and brilliant line: "We hand-craft our students." (And this is why we come together in an empty classroom while normal people are having dinner, and coach our students through their very first conference presentations, even though we don't have to. This is who we are.)