Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I have so many things to write about, like the book proposal that I've almost completed, or some muddy areas I'm wandering into in regard to Douglass and the women, or the incredibly powerful impact that the fact of the Gentleman Caller is having on my life simply by showing me that intimacy doesn't have to be violent to my identity, or some of the heretical beliefs that I'm finding that I am considering in regard to Douglass and to teaching, or how my journey out of the muck that is my mind is going quite well, or the dolls at the airplane museum, or how I'm getting to the source of my vicious cycle of excessive procrastination and self-hatred, or how I've discovered where all of the people in student council or senate go when they graduate, or a zillion other things. Instead, the words keep running up against this terrible wall of frustration that I have to blurt out if I want to get on to anything productive -- like grading.

I despise this time of semester between mid-terms and finals. Mid-terms, papers, finals, and late everything, myself included. In fact, I'd like to develop a logarithm (and I don't even know what that is because I barely scraped through algebra five times between high school and college - and I was a good student -- but it seems like a math sort of thing that can take into account several variables and increasing values). This logarithm would assume that, at the start of the semester, you should assume that 1 out of every 10 students* will require an extension or make-up or some sort of special consideration on every assignment. That ratio goes up as the semester progresses, and increases with the use technology. In fact, it increases with each step involved in the use of technology.

For instance, if the assignment instructions are an attachment in WebCT, 1 out of every 10 students "can't" open the attachment. If they are to submit their assignment as an attachment in WebCT, 1 out of 10 students "can't" attach the document. If you have them turn in the assignment as a hard copy, 1 out of 10 students couldn't get to a printer. If you have online quizzes, 1 out of 10 students couldn't open the quiz, or forgot to save, or saved but the system had timed out, or saved but their computer crashed, and so on and so forth. We've all heard all sorts of reasons.

So, 1 out of 10 students needs a make-up, or an extension, or some special consideration for every assignment. The ratio goes up as the semester progresses, and the ratio goes up with each step of technology involved. The ratio also goes up if you require online students to take the exam at the school testing center.

Now, if you try to head any of this off at the pass, if you try to implement policies that say "save every ten minutes or the software will time you out, because failure to save is not an excuse," your ratio may go down, but more likely a new excuse will pop up in its place. If you try to implement a make-up policy or an extension policy, your numbers still don't go down because someone will always need an extension or a makeup or special consideration for that deadline, as well. There are enough variables running around in this logarithm to keep that number of 1 in 10 climbing at a steady pace.

This is not to say that these are not real and valid excuses. People die, break bones, get food poisoning, get sick, have children who get sick, have pregnancies that become dangerous, get arrested, have appointments with parole officers, get in car accidents and have to have their jaws wired shut, have such tight schedules as they try to get ahead in life that the slightest variation in that schedule will throw their whole lives off balance, and so on. I've seen the documentation (and I do hate the seeing the documentation because I feel as if I'm invading their privacy and violating HIPPA or some other sort of law). These things happen all semester, but they only become an issue if they interfere with a deadline. This is just life, and I have to roll with it just as much as they do.

That means that, by this time in the semester, not only am I keeping track of the regular assignments that flood in on time, but I'm also having to ride herd on X number of late, make-up, special consideration assignments, and troubleshoot technology problems (that, let's face it, are usually not as mysterious as they think), and responding to a deluge of e-mails with, "go back and read the syllabus. Remember? I am useless as Tech Help, call the Tech Help Desk."

I want the logarithm in order to predict what X will be. I like to think that, if I can predict X, then I might be able to set aside time to deal with X, and X won't be invading all of my other work during the week. I like to think that, if I can predict X, I can manage X more efficiently. That's probably NOT what would happen because it isn't really fair that a person who was sick with the H1N1 thingy, or had an emergency C-section, should have to wait until the end of the semester to get feedback.

The problem is not them. Half of the things that I bitch about as a teacher are not the students' fault - some are, like the student who dropped the American history survey because "it is more like an African American history class and I didn't sign up for that, I signed up to learn about the foundations of American idea" -- but that is another post. Most of that has more to do with a nation that "values" education, but, based on the amount of money that they put into education, clearly values education very low. Most of that has to do with the anti-intellectualism and business model worship that are used to attack and devalue actual education, or turn it into a game of trivial pursuit, or vocational training, or a political strawman.

No, half of the things that I bitch about are simply out of frustration. Frustration at the nature of this part of the semester. Frustration at my own failure to live up to my own standards of perfection that involve keeping this part of the semester from happening. Frustration at the increasing amounts of time I need for sleep and the decreasing amounts of time I have for blowing off steam by working out or blogging.

Frustration that my breaks are getting shorter and shorter (seriously, 2 weeks for winter) and therefore my time for serious research and writing are getting smaller and smaller. Frustration that no one else has taken the training to teach online, so I have to take all of the online classes including the three in the summer (again!).

Frustration that I am so fatalistic and unable to consider solutions that all I do is complain. Frustration that I am so fatalistic that any solution offered just seems like even more work that will present yet another set of variables and another way to be overwhelmed with a sense of futility that I can't see these solutions as solutions.

Frustration because I know I have a rockin' good job with good colleagues and interesting students, a job that pays really well and is much better than any other job that I have had and is located in a very desirable location, and yet still I bitch and moan and am so overwhelmed at this particular period of the semester that I don't fully appreciate it.

I'm hoping that this blog post allowed me to barf out these frustrations so that they will stop interfering with everything else that I want and need to do. The only way to find out is to dive on into this next set of papers.

Wish me luck! I wish everyone else who is in the same situation less frustration and luck to themselve.

*I have 120 students at this point in this semester in 5 different sections covering 2 different courses. So that is 12 students with every assignment, which includes: 15 weekly quizzes, 1 mid-term, 1 final, 1 paper, and two online classes (50 students) with five other writing assignments. Two online classes full of technology, and 3 regular classes that still require some WebCT work. In other words, "Aaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!!!!" and "more wine, please!" Although, I imagine that I would bitch the same amount if I only had 20 students, or 10. I'm a gold medalist bitcher.


Dr. No said...

Go ahead and barf away, get it all out! will all get done, slow and steady, slow and steady.

dykewife said...

holy shit!! that's some serious amount of teaching you do. and you do your own research as well? and try and have a life. wow!

i thought my two 15 hour days was hard. i'll stop bitching now.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I think you mean algorithm. Logarithms have to do with exponents.

Ann said...

Good lord, that's a LOT of students.

But seriously, on this on-line teaching thing? WHY do YOU have to do it? It would seem to me eminently reasonable for you to point out to your department chair that you've done your time, so now it's someone else's turn.

Digger said...

With fewer students, you'd have more time for wine *and* gold-medalist bitching practice! That is a crapload of students and grading.

RPS77 said...

That's 120 students to grade without anybody assisting you? That IS a lot of work.

I tend to think that there's nothing wrong with complaining to vent frustration if that helps you cope with the work and doesn't burden other people.

"Excessive procrastination and self-hatred" are very familiar themes for me, too.

bitternsweet said...

All I have to say is that I'm right there with you! Keep up the gold medal bitching -- it's what keeps me coming back for more.


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