Archive for the ‘work’ Category

The edge of everything

I wanted to sleep in today, the last day of break, but I woke up early anyway and there were the usual anxious thoughts about going back to school and oh well I guess I’m awake now.  That was a few hours ago, and I have enjoyed my coffee and the paper and done some prepping and am feeling a little better.

A couple of days ago I did something I haven’t done in quite a long time–I applied for a job.  Sort of.  That is, I reworked my CV and sent it to someone I know who teaches in GU’s adult ed program to pass along to the director, on the theory that I might like to do some teaching of creative writing to adults again.  (I did one semester in an online program but didn’t particularly enjoy the format, about three years ago, and it’s been almost four years since I left NLNRU.)

It’s weird how ambivalent I felt about the whole thing, I think mostly because it reminded me of being contingent faculty and always looking for more and better work.  I had to remind myself that I was doing it because I think it’s something I would actually enjoy, because it could add something to my life, because it would keep that kind of teaching on my CV and keep me growing as a teacher.  I don’t have to do it, but I think I’d like to, if the scheduling works.  It feels a little odd.

The getaway

My niece (who is 8, born the summer I started this blog) is spending the night tonight and going to a family yoga class with me in the morning.  Stubb and the Snork Maiden are away.  Niece is asleep and I’m scrolling through Facebook and seeing, among the political posts and the funny ones, quite a few pictures of people’s late-summer vacations and last-chance weekends away.  I’m finding myself suddenly sharply envious of the ones who are spending a week settled down somewhere with relatively little to do–a cabin in the woods, a condo at the beach, even an over-the-top luxury resort (there are two in my feed right now–one in Hawaii and one somewhere in southern California).

And, embarrassingly but undeniably, I’m feeling petulant about not going anywhere for something vacationlike this summer.  I was away for my usual conference, and there are many pleasures associated with that, but unscheduled downtime is not one of them.  I had planned a trip in July to stay in a rustic little AirBnB cabin for almost a week, having solo time to write but also visiting with a friend teaching at a nearby low-residency and another friend in a city two hours away.  But I ended up cancelling it because of issues with my mom’s and Stubb’s dad’s health.  That was the right decision, but because of the way I’d planned the summer, there wasn’t another chunk of time to devote to something similar–and the residency week was over, so it would have had to have been somewhere else.  (I also lost the AirBnB money–the place had a fairly strict cancellation policy, which makes me a little more wary of AirBnB in the future. Got the plane fare back, though, because I bought trip insurance, which I rarely do.) Also, I’m not sure even now that I’d feel really okay about going anywhere, since Stubb is away for work, and while my mom is fine now, his parents are still having a somewhat rocky time.

I really am excited about going back to school, but at the same time, I really wish I had had a bona fide vacation trip.  (I have also recently read several articles about the importance of taking vacations and recharging in general.  Maybe I should just get off the New York Times and Facebook.)  I just spent a little time looking at the possibility of a weekend away, either right before school starts, or on one of the first weekends of September.  I remember enjoying a quick getaway with the Snork Maiden in 2009 and feeling refreshed by it even though it was quite short.

I feel a little sheepish complaining about this–I know I get more trips than a lot of people–but what is this blog space for, if I can’t complain about stuff that bugs me?  Also, the subject of how to take care of myself is not a trivial one. I work hard and I show up for other people–Stubb, the Snork Maiden, relatives and friends–when they need me.

There have been good parts to this summer: lots of reading.  A decent amount of writing–and a very supportive and enthusiastic response from my writing group to the section I gave them in July. Leisurely time with friends. Even some nice close moments during the various health crises–it’s good to be able to be there for people when they need you.  Some lovely Snork Maiden time (not much with Stubb, though–he’s been away a lot).  Continuing to develop a yoga practice.  So I know I’ve benefitted from the time away from school and will come back at least somewhat restored.  Planning a little break will probably give me an additional boost–and in the meantime, staying off Facebook is not a bad idea.

The duckling gets a cookie!?

You wouldn’t be able to tell from this blog, but I have spent a lot of time on the room problem.  On the one hand, I am managing okay.  My classes are going well, and I’m functioning with a fair bit of efficiency when it comes to moving myself and my things in and out of the three different rooms in which I teach.

On the other hand, it takes extra time and extra brainpower to make all this work. My students and I move desks every day, always at least twice, and some days up to six times.  They know the drill now, and they like sitting in a circle, so they’re pretty willing about it, but in each room my class is followed by a class of freshmen or sophomores for which the teacher usually prefers a row arrangement, so back they go.  I am always shlepping books, papers, sometimes my laptop, a DVD.  At least once a day I want something–some supplies, another book, a piece of paper from a file–that is not to hand.  Sometimes I’ll scoot back to my room for it, disturbing another teacher in the process, and sometimes I’ll just soldier on.  Romola and I have just one free period in our room, and we each have to try to remember to carry out everything that we need during our other frees, then find a quiet place to work.  I can work with people buzzing around, but Romola needs quiet and minimal distraction.

The people most affected are Dinah, Gwendolen, and me: Dinah and I because we teach in three different rooms (though me more than Dinah because she has two class periods and two free periods in her own room), Gwendolen because she has four (four!) other teachers using her room and no free periods in it.

Others are affected, of course–there’s no one in our department who isn’t affected in some way, even if it’s just because she’s getting booted from her own room so a colleague can teach in it.  Penelope probably scheduled us to teach in other English rooms so that we’d be more likely to have what we needed, but I’m coming to think that we might all be happier if some of these wandering classes were sent to underused rooms on the hall.  In past years, I’ve taught in a math room and in Akela’s history room, and both of those were fine.  Most of the history teachers, in addition to teaching all their classes in their own rooms, have three free periods in those rooms; it seems fairer that I should deprive Akela, for example, of one of his three free periods so that Gwendolen can have at least one.

I volunteered to collect problems and inconveniences related to the room situation for a week so that we had some data, and even without everyone participating, I easily filled 60 lines in a spreadsheet with individual incidents (“moved chairs,” “moved chairs back,” “computer wouldn’t accept login,” “needed access to own materials,” “technology incompatibility,” etc.).  It seems clear that these inconveniences, while they might be small things taken individually, are truly getting in the way of our providing the best we can for the students–not least because they steal time.

Armed with the data, we had a meeting to try to figure out some short- and long-term solutions on our own, and did come up with a couple of ideas that might ease matters in the short term (like putting guest-teacher laptops in three rooms), but then we just hit a wall: we don’t see any way to improve the situation unless we can get another room.  Fortunately, Dr. Tea decided we needed to call a meeting with Penelope to figure out ways that she can make things a little better for each of us soon, and then to ensure that we aren’t screwed so much in the future.

I’m becoming aware that some of my colleagues are getting tired of talking about this, so I’m trying to squelch the temptation to keep processing the whole thing aloud.  I do think, though, that one thing all this talking has done is to keep us from getting frustrated with one another, and to keep us focused on the root problems, which are that we don’t have enough rooms and the schedule is screwed up.  Otherwise, we could easily slip into resenting one another for all these inconveniences–

  • The teacher in Gwendolen’s room before me always finishes about a minute late; never, never a minute early.  We only have five minutes to change classes.
  • A lot of us have the habit of locking our laptops when we step away (Windows + L).  It’s less time-consuming than logging off and logging back on, it lets us keep programs and documents open, and it is important, because we have students swarming around all the time, that we not leave computers unattended with sensitive emails popping up and grade files accessible.  The problem is that then another teacher can’t log in to put in attendance, and attendance is supposed to be put in during the first five minutes of class.  I’ve accidentally done this to Dinah, and Gamma has accidentally done it to me.
  • It’s distracting when someone pops into your class to get something out of her desk while you’re teaching.
  • And many more.

So I have managed not to get annoyed at my colleagues, but the situation has started to get to me.  I’m even looking resentfully at the language lab, which is next to my classroom, and which seems to get only pretty minimal use.  In theory, of course, I think we probably should have a language lab (although I honestly don’t know–given the light use, maybe it’s redundant given the resources we have in classrooms?  Maybe a couple of extra laptop carts that could be shared among three or four classrooms would work just as well?).  In practice, I’m thinking that it would make a mighty nice classroom for, oh, ME.

The head of the high school came to observe me last week as part of my annual evaluation, and he showed up a couple of minutes late because he went first to my classroom, then to Dr. Tea’s classroom, and finally to Gwendolen’s classroom, which is where I was teaching.  Ha.  Yes, indeed, what am I doing in there?

The law of nines

Seems like there are times when I have a lot to do, but I blog; times when I have too much to do to blog; and times when I have so horrifyingly much to do that I have to blog just to collect the fortitude to do it all.

This is the latter.  End of quarter grades, end of quarter comments, college recommendation letters, work to comment on from NLNRU students, arrangements to make for next semester at NLNRU (advisees, directing internships, book orders).  Registering for AWP (will take fifteen minutes but have to do it as deadline is tomorrow).  Submitting the book ms.  Prepping for the classes that are still going on despite it all.  SA’s block schedule deposited my most difficult day of the cycle on Monday this week.  (Difficult = All my classes meet, one of them for a double block.  It could be worse, though; I don’t have a meeting at lunch, and there’s a mid-morning assembly I can and will skip because of the college recs. )

So naturally this was the weekend when I had agreed to participate in an NLNRU reading at a local bookstore with some of our students, and also to turn up and be one of the speakers at an SA event.  These were both nice occasions, and I think I acquitted myself well at both, so I’m glad I did them.  The timing was not, however, ideal.

Other than the fact of being in the middle of a crunch, all is well, and I’m glad for that.  It’s been a compressed term at SA because of the late start, but it’s felt like a good one.  My classes are going fine, some days better than fine.  My NLNRU class has been a bumpy ride this semester, but I think we’re in a better place now.  The Snork Maiden looks far more settled this year.  Stubb is busy and cheerful.

All I have to do is a huge amount of work.  But that, fortunately, I know how to do.

Official business

This is the first week of real summer vacation, sort of.

Last week began with the closing meeting at SA, but a lot of the week was taken up with packing up my classroom for what should be the last move for a few years, at least, and with various other end-of-school-year tasks.  There were goodbyes, and there was also catching up on other stuff, including NLNRU stuff, that I neglected during the week of exams and grading.

And this week–well, it’s not at all vacation-y.  I have spent most of it so far across town at a college where I used to adjunct a bit–I’ve called it BAC when I’ve had occasion to mention it, but I don’t think I have actively taught there since the term before I began this blog.  I have been working on a curriculum-review type of project they asked me to come in on, and while it’s been really interesting and useful and I will get a check at the end of it, it has also been intense and tiring.  Plus, though it’s about the same distance from my house asNLNRU, it’s on the other end of just about the worst possible commute in the city.

Being back there is interesting, though, if only because it illustrates that all the work you do matters and in a way, you don’t really leave the past behind.  It’s been over four years since I stopped teaching at BAC, and when I left I was pretty sure I would never go back as an adjunct, chiefly because it really wasn’t worth it unless I couldn’t get hired anywhere else.  The pay was better than at 2YC, but worse than everywhere else, and as I believe I mentioned two sentences ago, the commute is hellacious.  I wasn’t tempted to burn any bridges–I left on good terms–but now I am really glad I didn’t, because I have had to work with all sorts of people I remember, and who remember me.  (These people didn’t invite me on to the project, and I wasn’t invited because of having adjuncted at BAC four and five years ago.)  It’s a small place, and the provost and the registrar and the dean of assessment are all the same people, and they all remember me from my adjunct days, and I remember them.

I also ended up working, one day, with an actual student I had in 2007, who is now a graduate student and who remembers my writing in a comment to her that she should have more confidence in her work.  She was a returning student (I would say she’s about my age, mid-forties) and she was always sure her writing wasn’t up to snuff, but she consistently turned in some of the best work in the class–so typical of returning students!

I have the loan of an office from a professor who’s away, and I love her office.  I love the little conference table by the window–I wonder if I could fit one of those in my classroom at SA?  I love her ergonomic chair, her plants, the colorful piece of fabric draped over her printer to keep the dust out, her photos, her books, her posters, and her candy dish.  She has burdened me with terrible fantasies about my new classroom.  If I had a Ph.D. in her field (psychology), I would consider doing one of those horror-movie things where I stalk her and take over her life, just to have her office.

The commitments

Oh dear, I really suck at ignoring the email–but to be fair, I’ve had to keep opening it to fish out info that’s relevant to the syllabus.  Also decided to order an additional text (smooches to you, bookstore people) and so had to go digging for the course ID number and other stuff.  There are also a couple of correspondence threads that I sent with high urgency and to which I really do have to respond promptly…

…but the GOOD NEWS is that everything on the list except the writing is done, plus a couple of other things (e.g. paid the mortgage, which is due tomorrow), and I still have over 3.5 hours until I need to leave to get the Snork Maiden.  Yay.  So NOW I’m going to close up all the email windows and start spreading my ms. all over the floor again.

Keys to the kingdom

Can’t remember the last time I posted so many times in one day.

The troublesome email has been written, and I’m feeling better.  You know how sometimes there is a task that paralyzes you?  Nothing significant seems to be able to get done until you get to that task, but that task itself seems too formidable and you don’t get to it?  And once you have done it, you think you were so silly, ha ha, it wasn’t even that hard!  I can do anything now!  I need a name for that task.

Anyhow, here’s a funny article in the Chronicle about student newspapers’ April Fool’s hoax articles.

Lies and the lying liars who tell them

Oh, dear, was I wrong this time, though.  Try more like five hours to handle the administrative stuff for NLNRU (revising and expanding a proposal for funding a certain project, including a couple of phone calls to collaborators), and though what I ended up with is, I think, pretty good, it made me extremely cranky to be doing it, especially in the beginning, when I really wanted to be watching the Monday afternoon Olympics coverage!  I used the rotation method (via Ancrene Wiseass, described over two years ago in this post) to get rolling, and ran through two rotations of NLNRU/SA/Other Professional Project, 15 minutes each, before settling in to steady work on the NLNRU thing.  In those two rotations, I got half an hour of SA prepping done; that, plus another ten or fifteen minutes of talking with Stubb while we cleaned up the kitchen, puts me into decent shape for Tuesday’s teaching. 

Considering that it was a three-day weekend and all, I sure didn’t write much–stupid proposal took up all my writing energy, I guess.  Grumble again.  I guess that’s the other fly in the ointment, really–the fact that teaching at SA makes it very hard to write very much during the school year.  (Doesn’t help that I have recently heard about three people I know whose first books came out within a couple of years of mine and whose second books are coming out in 2010.  Yes, comparisons are odious and also almost impossible to make effectively when it comes to how long it takes to finish a book.  And it wasn’t very easy to write when I was an underpaid adjunct, either.  Still, though–I’d better come up with a plan for this summer.  Soon.)

The lost art of gratitude

I’m finding myself surprisingly sentimental about the approaching two-year anniversary of the day I began work at SA, right after Presidents’ Day weekend in 2008.  It’s turned out to be a great place for me to work.  I’m shockingly cheerful most days; I am constantly amused and amazed by my students, and fond of them, too.  I can see them progress over the course of a year, even if not all of them progress as fast or as smoothly as I could wish.  I like a lot of my colleagues, and usually manage to keep my sense of humor about the ones I don’t like so much.  (And even those, I tend to think are probably fairly good, or even really good, at what they do.)

My teaching style and skills have developed in accordance (I hope) with what these students need and with this setting.  I’ve become a better planner in terms of objectives, pacing, and assessment, but I’ve also become more flexible within that planning.  Seeing students three or four times a week from September through May,  I can afford to deviate from my plans sometimes.  (If one-third of the class disappears because of a basketball tournament and an additional one-fourth is out sick, maybe I toss out that day’s plans and we read and discuss a poem together instead.)  

And another thing: it was just utterly serendipitous that I ended up with this job.  I didn’t decide to look for a high-school teaching job; I didn’t even apply for this job, really; I didn’t sign up with the placement agency that everyone seems to use to get jobs in independent schools.  I spoke to a group of students at the suggestion of one of my relatives; said relative told the division head that I might be interested in talking about teaching at a school like SA; and at the same time (unbeknownst to me or my relative) a position was about to come open midyear.  I came in a few days later for what was meant to be an informal conversation, and suddenly “Maybe you would come in and teach a sample class sometime” became “Could you possibly go into Dr. Tea’s class at eleven-thirty?”  I remember thinking that it was just as well that the teaching demo came as a surprise, because surely my observers would cut me some slack for that, and I wouldn’t be tempted to overprepare and get all rigid about following my exact plan. 

The only possible fly in this very sweet ointment right now is that occasionally I fret that SA might not admit the Snork Maiden.   The process is competitive and this is an area full of overachieving parents whose overachieving children play oboe in the youth symphony, start charitable foundations and earn black belts in tae kwon do.  The Snork Maiden reads, cooks, plays soccer and just learned to turn a corner on a skateboard–these are the excitements in our world.  Her grades are excellent, and her scores on the ISEE look okay to me; though the percentiles are lower than on her usual standardized test scores, the insert that arrived with the score report (clearly meant to soothe agitated parents) explained that this is typical because the pool is much more competitive.  Anyway, I think she would do fine at SA, and I also think that they try to admit faculty children unless they have real reservations about the child flourishing at SA, but sometimes (because my mind works this way) I think: Well, if they were to not admit her, she’d be fine–she would be glad to stay with some of her friends, since that’s her biggest reservation about leaving the public school system for middle school–but  my feelings about the place would probably change. 

This weekend, though, I’ve been feeling pretty good about SA, as I usually do.  What doesn’t feel so good is that I have what is realistically only about two hours of administrative work for NLNRU and one hour of planning for SA to wade through–and I don’t mind the planning but I’ve been putting off the other things and now I can’t put them off any more.  Grumble.  Oh well, I will do them and they’ll be done.  One thing that TimeTracker has shown me is that frequently I overestimate the amount of time required for tasks I don’t want to do.  They feel like they take longer because I think about them too much before I do them–especially grading, but other things, too.

A bit of Thursday, and Friday

I didn’t mention in my last post that there was a faculty meeting on Thursday afternoon that I was wondering if I should attend.  We’re starting to talk about implementing a new advisory program, and I wanted to be there to hear the initial reactions.  Stubb got back in time for me to go, so I went.  Which meant that the day’s totals looked like this:

Commuting t/f SA: 1 hour

Housework: 20 minutes of general picking up around the house

NLNRU Admin: 1 hour (emails and phone)

SA Admin: 1.5 hours (the hour-long meeting, and about half an hour of answering student emails)

SA Class Prep: 45 minutes in the morning to write up and send sub instructions

SA Grading: 1 hour at home

Writing: 20 minutes (hey, it ain’t much, but it’s something)

So about 4.5 hours of work, plus a commuting hour.

The Snork Maiden rallied and went back to school on Friday, so I did too, leaving the house at 6:50:

Commuting t/f SA: 1 hour

NLNRU Admin: 1 hour of emails on 4 different issues

SA Admin: 1 hour 15 min, including writing weekly comments on a student

SA Class Prep: 25 minutes

SA Teaching: 4 hours, including about half an hour of meeting with students

SA Grading: 1.5 hours

I did most of this work before 3:15, and then–with the Snork Maiden over at a friend’s house and Stubb getting a car tire repaired–went over to the gym and watched parts of two basketball games before meeting Stubb for dinner. 

One of the errands I did on my way home on Thursday was to Target to buy valentines for the Snork Maiden to take to her class and an indoor antenna to hook up to our TV (which we normally use for watching videos) so that we could watch the Olympics.  (It works great.  We haven’t had cable for years, though we upgraded the TV a couple of years ago to one that is capable of receiving digital broadcasts.)  I’d meant to watch the opening ceremonies with Stubb and the Snork Maiden, but I fell asleep early and slept for something like 11 hours.

I’m going to keep tracking hours through the weekend, since work doesn’t stop just because it’s Saturday, but looking at my Monday-Friday totals, I’m interested to see that even with a sick day, I spent 6 hours on administrative stuff at SA and over 5.5 hours on administrative stuff at NLNRU–and it was a fairly light week for NLNRU.   I’m not surprised by the latter, but I am a little surprised by the former, especially considering that I think about SA grading much more than I think about SA administration, but I spent about the same amount of time on grading as on administration–6 hours.