Archive for June, 2009

The English patient

Suffering, today, from a very bad case of inertia.  This often happens when I sleep late.   The Snork Maiden got up early and started folding laundry; I got up late and have been languishing around the house.  But there’s too much I need and want to do; I can’t just succumb.  I’m going to do dishes, make cookies, write professional emails, and when the Snork Maiden goes across the street to swim, work on a section of my book. 

Also: another cup of coffee.

The paradise job

I’ve become curiously attached to “On Careers,”which is an online offering of U.S. News and World Report–blog-type posts by outside bloggers in the business world.  I found my way there through one of the contributors, the blogger Evil H.R. Lady, who’s a good, snappy writer with a dry wit. 

None of the “On Careers” bloggers are writing about an academic context, or about a secondary-school environment, but a lot of what they say is very broadly applicable to just about any workplace.  I’m not sure why I’ve been reading their archives so voraciously, though it might have something to do with feeling settled into my SA job and wanting to explore further this interesting condition called Having a Regular Job.  I have some suspicion that, knowledgeable though I might be about literature and teaching writing, I am still pretty green in judgement when it comes to the interpersonal, politicky side of things.  At SA yesterday, I marveled at how much was going on–administrators in their offices, new students coming in for counseling meetings, construction, summer camp–and what a big, complex organization it is.  Of course, it’s still considerably smaller than even the smallest college I’ve taught in, but it is much less balkanized; I’m supposed to know everyone–or, if not everyone right now, then pretty much everyone eventually. 

Here’s something good from “On Careers”: Michael Wade’s “6 Rules for Savvy Office Navigation.”  This seems to me totally applicable to pretty much any institution, with tweaks.  Of course, “Cast a wide net” doesn’t mean that you have to consult everybody about everything–but I like the way it makes me stop and consider who else might have a stake in whatever project I have underway.  For example, this year I organized a lunchtime poetry reading during National Poetry Month, and I explicitly invited all the faculty and staff, as well as students, to consider reading a poem aloud.  I also personally invited some particular teachers and staff members, including two staff members who are particularly popular among the students–one of the security guards and the young woman who runs the student store.  Making the event more inclusive was a win all around–it made a better event, it fostered good feelings in people who might not have felt ownership over the event, and it strengthened my working relationship with the people who participated.

This area of the U.S. News site also seems like a great resource for anyone who is looking for a job, even an academic one.

Waiting for normal

To return to a recurring theme: thank goodness for the neighbors.  The Snork Maiden had friends over on Monday and Tuesday, but Wednesday and Thursday she pretty much hung with the core neighborhood kid group, three younger boys (almost 6, almost 8, and Young’un C., a solid 7; the SM is 9).  Swimming, Lego, and foam dart fights have been the mainstays, although there’ve also been some DVDs and video games.  I left her with Neighbor #2 (mom of the almost-6 and almost-8) on vacation from her nursing program) for a couple of hours today to go to Starfleet Academy and handle a few things, and when I got back, Neighbor #2 went to the pet store to buy crickets for the boys’ lizards and all four of the kids came here.  And the SM and I caught a ride to Target with C.Dad and Young’un C., which made a routine errand more fun. 

I’m writing in short bursts, sometimes getting irritated because I don’t have large swaths of time, but also recognizing that I can get work done in short bursts. 

Stubb is coming home on Sunday to see a friend whose father just died.  He can’t get here in time for the memorial service on Saturday, so I will go to that–then immediately afterward to our nephew Sniff’s second birthday party.  I’m sorry for the reason for the visit, but looking forward to seeing Stubb.  We’re tentatively planning to go see him for a few days at the end of next week.

Daughter of fortune

I did, by the way, clear up my private writing area, which is a shadowy nook at the end of our long, bowling-alley-shaped bedroom.  And I spent a little time there looking at a recent section of the book and making a few plans.  Tuesday’s general plan is to be at home until about 10:30, then go pick up the Snork Maiden’s Bestfriend.  So I should have some time to sequester myself back there in the morning, before and/or after the Snork Maiden gets up.  (She’s been waking up early, whereas I am still pretty worn out from sadness and all, and am sleeping later than usual.)

The elephant vanishes

Perhaps you remember my colleague Alpha and my concerns about her.  Turns out she’s not returning next year.

This is, I think, partly why none of us have heard for sure what we would be teaching next year–because now everything will get reorganized around this change.

I will tell you what I said to Stubb about six months ago: “It’s a pity, really, that she’s so hard to work with and annoys so many people, because she has real strengths as a teacher.”

And what he said to me: “I’ve worked with a lot of people who are good at what they do, but when they can’t do it with other people, it doesn’t matter how good they are.”

I think that the Lesson of Alpha is this: You can’t decide that you will only work well–or at all–with people with whom you feel kinship, or people who you think Get It and share your view of The Way Things Are.  You actually need to engage with, be open to, learn from people who do not see the world (the classroom, the curriculum, the school community) the way that you see it.  Yes, there will be the occasional person that you have to not engage with, because that person is not constructive or completely entrenched or batshit crazy, but that person is the exception, not the rule.

The shapes a bright container can contain

Well, when I opened up this post, I was going to write about my plans to take the Snork Maiden to Starfleet Academy this morning to finish packing up my classroom, followed by picking up the SM’s friend Dee and going to see Up, with popcorn for lunch.  But neighbor C.Dad just called to see if we could take Young’un C. for a couple of hours while C.Dad goes to a doctor’s appointment, and there’s really nothing saying I can’t go to Starfleet Academy after the movie, or tomorrow, so…okay.  Goodness knows there are plenty of items on my to-do list that can be done around the house.

But–writing.  Should I, after all, have put the Snork Maiden in a few weeks of day camp?  When she was smaller, I took it for granted that someone else had to be in charge of her in order for me to get any work done.  Now she’s old enough to amuse herself, and I do a lot of schoolwork when she’s around, but to work on this book I need space and quiet.  I need not to be interruptible, but she’s not really old enough not to interrupt me at all, or for me not to have an ear out for signs of trouble.

If I can be disciplined and flexible, though, it can work.  She’ll be going off to spend time with friends, both in and out of the neighborhood, and there are times when she is happily occupied on her own or with a pal and I can disappear for a short chunk of time (with which I’m frequently very productive). 

I can also call in the relatives: Stubb’s parents are busy active folks, but they’re usually happy to take her if I need them to, and that might be a good plan for when I need a long stretch of time. 

I think the thing to do with my unexpected time-at-home this morning, now that I’ve fired off some administrative emails and plopped responsibility into others’ laps, is to clear off my desk and get my writing space prepped.  When I’m alone, I write at the computer in the middle of the big living space (library-dining area-living room), but it probably makes sense to get the smaller, more private space ready and conducive to bursts of work when I get the time.

The octopus

So many things to do and so many things to write about!  I foresee more blogging now that the school year is over and the summer weeks lie ahead.  With great freedom comes great responsibility, and all that.  I’ve made another summer chart to try to stay on track and keep aware of how I’m using my time.  It’s a bummer in a way that my major project this summer is the same as last summer’s: finish the book ms.!  But I am actually closer than I was, thanks to last summer’s progress and the small, incremental advances I was able to make during the school year.  More on time, and how to spend it, in forthcoming posts.

Also in forthcoming posts, I suspect, are reflections on this school year and plans for next.  Briefly, though: This was a really good year in the classroom, probably my most satisfying teaching year ever.  That feeling may be partly a function of 1) the shape and length of the year, the fact that I did in fact have all but 8 of my students (the spring elective) from September through May, got to know them, recognized that they actually made progress.  Some of them bloomed.  There was an intensity and engagement that must partly be a function of time–but I think also is a function of 2) their developmental stage and 3) my growth and change as a teacher as I worked to engage them and grew accustomed to seeing them much more frequently.  I didn’t realize that I would be so happy in this very intense environment, but I was.  I’m ready for time to recharge my teaching batteries, but I’m also very much looking forward to getting back into the classroom in September.

The facts of life

My grandmother’s health started a serious decline about a month ago, and last week, she died.  I didn’t feel like blogging about it while it was going on, and I don’t have the energy to say much right now, except that I am glad I went to see her during spring break, and also glad that the three of us–Stubb, the Snork Maiden, and I–made a special trip three weeks ago to see her.  But I would like to share with you the following conversation I had with my father-in-law, Stubb’s dad, upon my return from the funeral:

F-I-L: How was the funeral?

Me: Well, you know…(lump in throat)

F-I-L: I know, even as I was saying it, it wasn’t exactly what I meant to say…

Me: Yeah, well, it was sad because we all adored her so much, but it was good, too, because…because–

F-I-L: Because you all said so.  [Meaning, we all said how much we adored her.]

Me:  Yes, exactly.

I keep feeling compelled to tell people that I know I am lucky, not just to have had a truly wonderful grandmother, but to have had her for so long (she was 94), and for the Snork Maiden to have known her, and so forth.  Intellectually, I know that all of these things are stunningly lucky, but what I feel is sad.

My left foot

I shall be using it to kick, smartly, the next person who asks me (between now and Monday) if I’m enjoying my summer off.  Leaving aside the whole question of how “off” my summer will be, I’m simply not there yet, for pete’s sake, and with eighteen more papers/finals to go before tomorrow morning, I hear the pitch of my voice creeping into the slightly hysterical zone when I reply to these well-meaning sods.  I find the Snork Maiden’s Bestfriend’s mother, who hasn’t worked for pay since the mid-90’s but seems to find it extremely amusing that teachers get the Whole Summer Off, particularly unctuous in her inquiries.

A thief of time

Grading, on the other hand, eats time steadily and predictably.  You make these mental bargains with yourself–“These five exams in the next half hour, then I can check email”–and churn away the units of time, whatever they may be.  I’ve gotten a lot done today, but the day is largely burnt.