T: Amazing Husband ST: Three-year-old Wonder Prof. G: Advisor I Prof. C: Advisor II Julie: Stylish Sister Rob: Awesome Brother Belle: Our Cat Bill: Grumbling BIL Rita: Uncomplicated SIL SMU: Smallish Midwestern University Doctoral University: where I got my Ph.D.
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Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I started this blog when I was in the throes of dissertation-writing back in July 2005. I wanted an outlet for airing my frustrations about the writing process, but the blog quickly evolved into a more personal statement. If you're a regular reader, you know bits about my life, my family, my struggles and my triumphs. For the most part, I've been pleased to share these things with you and also pleased to read about your lives on your blogs.
Lately, though, I've felt reluctant to write and reluctant to read. Reluctant because I felt like this blog was pulling away from its original purpose and was turning into precisely the type of blog I didn't want it to be. I've also felt reluctant to read a lot of blogs over the past few months because the writing didn't seem honest anymore. That's probably not even true and only makes sense to me, but suddenly a lot of blog-writing seemed artificial to me. In part, I think that's what anonymity or semi-anonymity does. I felt like I was reading (and even becoming) a blogging "character" instead of a real person behind a screen. That's uncomfortable to me, both as a writer and a reader.
At any rate, this is my final post on this blog. I will keep blogging, but as myself and on a site with controlled access. I would very much like to allow access to some of my long-term readers and blogging friends; if you, too, would like to read on the new site, please send an email to academeblog AT gmail DOT com. That way, even if you don't wish to reveal your identity to me, I can be very much myself with you. And I'd be happy to do it.
Tomorrow another work week begins and I am definitely not in the right frame of mind for it. I've been reluctantly writing lectures all afternoon -- I cannot even bring myself to finish the last one for my Senior Seminar because it's just taking too much out of me. I've had to keep reminding myself all day that there are really only two more "real" weeks left in the semester; my final exams are scheduled for December 13 and 15. Then I'll have another blissful long break but still... after this short teaser break I'm completely unmotivated to work even two short weeks.
Our Thanksgiving break was lovely, positively lovely. Corinne, Ben, M (3 days older than ST) and Baby Eva (9 months) arrived late on Thanksgiving Day after getting lost in Midwestern State. (They never travel -- really, never -- and so any car trip longer than 1.5 hours throws them for a loop.) I had spent the morning of Thanksgiving preparing two turkeys (which had been in brine overnight), putting potatoes through my ricer, baking bread, and preparing my dressing and cranberry sauce. I was frantic, but then when they arrived everything seemed to calm down. They are such good friends of ours that just having them in the house made me feel instantaneously relaxed and happy. Corinne fed Baby Eva and then jumped into the kitchen to help me, T and Ben walked around our property, and ST and M giggled and laughed and ran around as only preschoolers can do. Baby Eva scooted around my hardwood floors, trying to catch Belle, our cat.
The meal turned out wonderfully, and for the first time in my life I made gravy that was actually edible and the correct consistency. (I only make gravy on Thanksgiving because it seems like the thing to do, and every year I buy a pre-made jar of gooey, gross gravy to have on hand just in case mine doesn't turn out. This is the first year I haven't had to use it!) After the meal we all sat around the table and talked each other's ears off before I served apple pie, pumpkin pie, and homemade raspberry sorbet (new recipe -- to die for).
One of the best parts of the weekend was watching ST and M. They have literally grown up together. Corinne and I shared our pregnancies when we lived right next door to each other, I was one of the first ones to hold M after she was born, and ST was born three days later (on M's due date). After the kids were born Corinne and I spent a lot of time together and we continued to do so as long as T and I lived in the neighborhood. ST and M are best friends. Watching them chatter away together, hug each other, run around like nuts, and even argue with each other was so wonderful. Although they hadn't seen each other since July 28, it was like no time had passed at all for them.
Corinne, Ben and the girls stayed until Saturday morning. By that time we had already crammed in a lot of memory-making events, including paddle boat rides on the pond, a bonfire by the pond and a visit to Santa for ST and M (where M was absolutely astounded that Santa could possibly know that she wanted a Barbie and a dollhouse... just like every other girl he talked to! ST asked for "a box of rescue vehicles from Dad's Special Store." Unfortunately, we have no idea what "Dad's Special Store" is. We've been told in no uncertain terms by ST that it is NOT Toys R Us. Hmmm). We also took in New Town's fantastic holiday light display near the lake, where we all attempted to sing "The Twelve Days of Christmas" without waking Baby Eva who was sleeping in her carseat. We were not ready for them to leave on Saturday morning, that's for sure. There was still so much left to do, so much more to talk about.
But we will see them again, and soon. This visit merely confirmed something we all already knew: we will be friends for life, no matter the distance that separates us. It's rare to find friends who are as comfortable in your home as they are in their own (Ben took out the garbage, snored in front of the football game on the floor of our living room; Corinne ran the dishwasher, poked her head in the bathroom while I was in the shower to ask me a question, etc.), and people who make you feel even more comfortable in your own home. So comfortable and happy that you don't want your time with them to end, and you definitely don't want to return to the real world the next day.
Heard on my voicemail at noon, as I walked into my office at SMU. Voice of Miss Sharon, ST's preschool teacher.
Miss Sharon: ... and anyway, no need to be concerned, but ST has been pulling on his ear all day long and has complained more than once that it hurt. He's playing just great, but I thought you should know...
I delete the message and make a call to ST's pediatrician, who has a single appointment left for the afternoon. I take it, thinking that if ST does have an ear infection, I'd better get it resolved before Thanksgiving, when his best friend in the whole world is visiting.
At the pediatrician's office, 1:30pm.
Doctor: So, ST, you have a sore ear today?
ST: (bouncing a little and grinning, because this doctor is silly and he knows it) Um, yeah. It just hurts a little on the left.
Doctor: Hmmm. Why do you think that is?
ST: (pause, very serious look on his face) Well, doctor... I think it's cancer.
Doctor has to turn his head to keep from laughing right in ST's face -- I am not so discreet. Turns out ST's ear is perfectly fine (he's never had an ear infection in his life) but honestly, where does he get this stuff?
As I mentioned in my previous post, we're not travelling "home" for Christmas this year. This is the first time we'll spend Christmas without either of our families, since my Mom called a few days ago to say that she, Dad, Julie, and Rob are not coming here, either. Just as my Dad was getting ready to purchase tickets for the whole family to travel to Midwestern State (they would have come by train), my Mom decided that she "just needed to be home this year" and so they pulled the plug on the trip. My Mom is like that -- indeed, I was never wholly convinced that they would actually come for Christmas. She's very much a homebody and sometimes invents reasons to stay there. I can't really blame her: they have a lovely home, and it's especially lovely at Christmas. She said, "maybe we'll come next Christmas," but I'm wise enough to know that the same thing will happen next year. She'll find a reason that she "just needs to be home this year."
My sister Julie called this morning, wondering if I was upset that they weren't coming and that I wasn't going to be "home" for Christmas. To my surprise, I'm not upset about anything other than the fact that Mom got my hopes up ever-so-slightly for something I never really thought would happen. Sure, I love spending the holidays with my family. We have a lot of great family traditions that T and I are both sorry to miss, and we're sad that ST won't spend Christmas with his grandparents, aunt, and uncle. But at the same time, I know that I, too, "just needed to be home" for Christmas this year. Home State isn't really my "home" anymore. I haven't lived there since 1997. "Home" for me is wherever T and ST are.
This year, then, will be fun for us because we'll be inventing our own holiday traditions. We've never decorated much for Christmas or put up a huge Christmas tree because we were always going somewhere else for Christmas. This year, I'm going to work hard to make it special for ST, so that he knows what HIS family does for Christmas. Some of my parents' traditions will carry over: leaving presents from Santa outside in the snow, for example, or listening to The Nutcracker while decorating the tree. But I'm excited to think of new things to do, things that will be etched in ST's mind as special and unique to our little family. If my parents and siblings actually DO come for Christmas next year, they'll have to fit into OUR traditions.
What makes your holiday special? What are your family's traditions?
T and I have decided to stay here in Pond House for Christmas. Typically, we travel 8-10 hours north each year to see our families and then drive 8-10 hours back home, and this year we've decided to have our own celebration here, and to invite our families to spend the holiday with us. Much to our surprise, my family is actually considering breaking a 30+ year tradition to come to Midwestern State for Christmas, which would be amazing and fun. Even if they don't come, I'm pleased that we are staying put this year (for the first time ever).
Even better: MIL has decided to spend the holiday with her parents (who are very ill) in Arizona. But even better than that: we won't see BIL and SIL over the holiday, either, which will make Christmas that much merrier (for me, at least).
Speaking of holidays, I am very thrilled that Corinne, Ben, and their girls are coming to Pond House for Thanksgiving. I invited them way back in July before we moved, never imagining that they'd actually take me up on it (Corinne is very, very stuck in her ways). They will arrive Thursday morning and leave Saturday morning. Now to plan the menu!
I got my hair cut at a new salon on Tuesday (I usually just wait for my sister Julie to cut it for me, since she always knows just what to do) and the stylist did a fantastic job. I have pretty low-maintenance hair, and it was nice to have a stylist who didn't try to talk me into spending 20 minutes a day on my hair when I know I won't. I am finally free of the pony-tail and my hair, at last, looks tidy and healthy again.
I only have to prepare one lecture for tomorrow. I am holding mini-conferences with the students in my Senior Seminar, discussing their papers that are due December 4, which means no formal lecture preparation.
Yesterday, while in the car with T, some awful Justin Timberlake song came on the radio (T actually listens to popular music -- I refuse). "Dad!" ST screamed from his carseat behind us, "PLEASE turn off this CRAP!" While I do not condone his use of the word "crap," I do appreciate his taste in music.
As of yesterday, I am all caught up on my grading. Even those stupid reading quizzes have been recorded and filed away. This means that I have no more grading responsibilities until December 5 (the day after my Senior Seminar students turn in their 10-12 page assignments).
We had our first measurable snow here last night. Our yard at Pond House was transformed into a shimmering winter wonderland. The snow will probably melt later today, but it certainly gave us a lovely reason to get out of bed early this morning.
I finished grading my exams this afternoon and posted the results for my students online. ST was sick last night and then I got sick, too, and so I had to cancel classes for today. That meant that my students won't see their actual exams until Friday (I was going to return them today), but they have already seen the grades. The grades were almost a perfect bell curve, with the average being a B-/C+ out of 88 exams. I was happy with the distribution.
The students are not, of course.
I have already received five emails from students complaining about how hard they studied and how "surprised" they were by the exam, particularly the multiple choice section. The exam contained no surprises. It contained a mix of general and particular questions, questions that would reward those who understood the broader concepts of the class and those who had done a close reading of the course materials. I think the students expected a multiple choice test to be "easier" than an essay exam. No one received 25/25 on the multiple choice exam; the highest grade, after I looked at the results again, was 23/25. When I made the curve for the exam, I acted as though the multiple choice section was out of 23 instead of 25, which raised everyone's scores slightly. But there are still three people who failed the exam, a handful who received Ds and low Cs, and then a huge clump in the mid- to high-C and B range.
Students, however, are convinced that any effort they put into the exam deserves an A. They are sure that if they work hard enough, and even if their answers are blatantly wrong, they should still get an A for trying. A B and certainly a C is simply unacceptable to them. On the one hand, that's great: they should strive for excellence. But the hard fact is that no matter how hard you strive for excellence, it is sometimes out of your reach.
Not every student deserves an A. Not every student will get an A, no matter how hard they worked or how passionately they argue in my office hours. I'm trying to figure out how to tell them that without making them bitter, but I suppose there's no way around it. Sure, I'd like to give the whole class As, to see their smiling faces looking at me when I turn the exams back, and to read the glowing student evaluations about how "fair" and "nice" I am. But giving them all As is, of course, doing them a horrible disservice. Grade inflation doesn't happen in the real world: a poor job results in a poor evaluation, no matter how much you complain.
When will they learn that? And why, oh why do I have to be the one to teach them?
Earlier this semester, I had a meeting with one of my students, Dirk, from my Intro to Subfield course. He'd just received the grade I'd given him on a paper (an A-) and was "deeply concerned" about the fact that he did not get an A. "I'm not here asking you to change my grade," he said, curly hair flipping out from beneath his stocking cap, "it's just that I've never received such a low grade on a paper before. In high school I got all As, no questions asked."
I gave him my "this is not high school" speech, explaining to him that while his paper was good, it did not deserve an A. I gave him my reasons, and he seemed to understand them. Then he pulled out a sheet of paper and showed it to me. It was an academic progress report from his last year at high school. "See?" he said, shoving the paper in my lap, "I'm smart enough to be doing better than A- work in your class. I mean, this is an intro class, after all."
I could feel the blood rush to my face, and resisted the strong urge to roll my eyes. After explaining to him that this "intro class" did not mean that it was an "easy" class, he launched into a 15 minute speech about how he's discovered that, because he's so smart, he can quadruple major. Why get just one major, or even two, when you can get FOUR? He then proceeded to tell me about how he was the smartest child in his family, and how he always had to help his older brothers and sisters in their classes (two of them are in college as well). Our meeting ended with me chuckling softly to myself as he left my office.
A few weeks ago, we had an exam in my Intro to Subfield class. Dirk always sat in the back of the class. He never took notes, despite the fact that everyone around him was scribbling madly. He would just sit there, sweatshirt flopping open to reveal a grungy t-shirt beneath, same curly hair twanging out everywhere from beneath the red and white stocking cap. He looked the same on exam day, only this time he was busy filling his exam book with his essay answer. Indeed, he was the last one in the room when the exam period ended. "Dirk," I said, "time to turn in your exam. Class is over."
He didn't look up at me. "I got the exam three minutes late," he said, writing.
"No matter -- you're already two minutes past the exam time," I said, ready to grab his exam booklet. "Finish that sentence and that's it."
"No, I still have one full minute left," he said, still writing and not looking up.
"No -- it's over." I closed his exam book and took it.
He stood up and stretched. He's one of those lanky kids who, when he stretches, seems like one of those ancient flying dinosaurs: huge, a bit menacing, and ugly.
I smiled at him. "Well, what did you think of the exam?" I asked, trying move past the exam-snatching incident from a moment before.
"Easy," he said. He walked out of the room.
A few days ago, I received the results of the multiple choice section of the exam. The exam was 25 multiple choice questions and then a long essay. The class average on the MC portion was 15/25. Dirk scored a 22/25. In class yesterday I mentioned that, while I hadn't yet graded the essay portion of the exam, I had the results from the MC portion. I told the class what the highest score was, and that they'd see their exams on Wednesday (provided that I finish grading the essays today -- ugh).
After class, Dirk came up to the front of the room. "Where's my multiple choice score?" he said, looking at my papers on the table and moving some of them around. "You said you had them."
I was miffed. Miffed that he was touching my things, mostly, and that his tone was so demanding. "I don't have them here. You'll see them on Wednesday."
"But if you have them, I want to know my score," he said, face bearing not even a trace of good-naturedness.
I shook my head. "Well, you'll just have to wait. No one else has seen their scores yet, either."
He stomped away, mumbling something about being the smartest person in the class.
Students like Dirk, although I don't encounter them very often, drive me insane. I can see that he has some potential. He's a decent writer, and he seems to study the material and know it well. I've read his essay, and it's OK. I just hate his attitude, the way that he acts like I should treat him differently because he's "smart." I wish I could just shake him and say that a truly smart person would lose the attitude, treat people kindly, and accept that the rules apply to everyone equally. When I saw his exam score, I was actually relieved -- he'll be happy with it, I think, because he'll have a solid A on the exam. I'm relieved because he won't come to my office hours again, and I won't have to listen to him blather on about how much of a genius he is. I just don't want to deal with him, because he makes me feel defensive and like I want to strangle him. Just looking at him annoys me: I discovered long ago that I cannot stand to look at men with longish, unkempt, very curly hair. I don't know why. Just bugs the heck out of me.
On Halloween night, I sat at our kitchen table grading the papers for my Senior Seminar. The papers, 6-8 pages in length, were their first "real" assignment. I finished grading late into the night, well after Superman and SuperDad were in bed.
When they wrote the papers, I asked them not to put their names on them. They included only their ID numbers in the header of the paper so it appeared on each page. I graded them (the grade is on the last page of the paper) and then handed the papers over to Amy, Administrative Wonderwoman, so she could look up the ID numbers and put the last names on the papers for me to turn them back. I recorded the grades quickly before heading off to teach, taking little notice of which grade matched which name. When I handed them back to my students yesterday, I honestly couldn't remember who received what grade.
I had a professor who used this same method, grading the papers without knowing who wrote them. I felt, as a student, that it was a more "fair" way of grading, since the professor could not let his personal feelings about the student influence the grade he gave. I know a lot of the students in my Senior Seminar fairly well (indeed, I am the faculty advisor to about five of them), and I was worried that my knowledge of their situations (e.g., Student A needs this class to graduate, Student B has never received a grade less than B+ in any course in our discipline) would color how I viewed their papers. I liked not knowing who the author was.
Until I handed the papers back.
I think I'm a pretty fair and consistent grader, and I like to believe that, by reading my detailed comments, students know why they received the grade that they did. But when I saw their sometimes horrified, sometimes elated faces as they saw their grades yesterday, I felt horrible. I didn't like the fact that I felt like they were staring up at me, feeling "betrayed" somehow by the grade they had been given. I especially didn't like that one of my best students, one who is headed to law school, looked so dejected about her grade as she sat, fully prepared for class, in the front row. (I later found out that she earned a C on the paper.)
Although it was easier on me at first to grade the papers blindly, it is harder on me later. I stick by my grades and I don't think I graded any of the papers too harshly. A C paper is a C paper, no matter who wrote it. But somehow I wish I could've softened the blow, couldn've written something encouraging and personal to the students who didn't do as well as they (or I) had hoped. Grading is definitely the worst part of this job, but facing a roomful of students who have just been graded plays a close second.