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teaching resolutions

It’s a new year and a new semester.  I’m entering the last semester of my probationary period, and I find myself thinking almost constantly about ways to improve my workload, approach, and reflective practice.  But you can’t change everything all at once (and I’m definitely trying to undo a terrible baby-with-the-bathwater habit of redoing my courses every semester), so here are five things I intend to work on in my teaching practice in 2012.

  1. Saying no.  I am so bad at saying no.  So bad, in fact, that I don’t think I have said it since I got hired.  I love all the new things I get to do and I value the sense that I’m already an integral member of the department.  But!  I’m really approaching the point where I will not be able to do things well.  My philosophy throughout grad school was that everything gets done in time, and it’s always been true, but something pays the price — my own mental health, usually, but soon it could be the final product.  So!  More no in 2012!
  2. Use this blog for more frequent reflective practice.  I won’t pretend I can adhere to a schedule — you all know I can’t! — but I really want to work on remembering what a helpful resource this site (and all of you!) have been for me.
  3. Read more pedagogical theory.  I’m going to find two books to read over my non-teaching semester.  Suggestions are welcome!  I’m especially looking for writing about teaching close reading skills and about teaching literature in a hybrid environment.  Or else a book on threshold concepts, maybe.
  4. Grade early and often.  I procrastinate way too much on grading and I think I’m causing myself far more stress than is strictly necessary.  I’ve set a really reasonable schedule so far this semester, but only if I actually adhere get the grading underway as soon as the assignments come in.
  5. Down time!  I’m trying to schedule Tuesday nights for non-work time (only possible because I don’t teach Wednesdays).  Maybe I can get through this semester without an entire back 9 of Glee and Castle to watch at the end of it.

Do you dare to resolve?  If so, let me know in the comments!

top ten most surprising search phrases that sent traffic to this blog last month

Do you like the catchy title for this post?

No particular order here.  Do love Google Analytics, though.

  1. “dear professor i would like to inform that i couldn’t make an assignment because my internet connection it was very bad” (that is awfully specific, no?)
  2. “the people in my academy class are assholes” (I wonder if what this person found here was useful)
  3. “the theme for lesser blessed” (I’m not doing your homework for you, cool guy)
  4. “will they shut down the school if 15% of kids are sick” (what are you planning?)
  5. “sample graded spanish essays” (you were definitely disappointed)
  6. “post traumatic stress doctors elk river mn” (you, too)
  7. “five stages of grief rip-off” (that’s fair, actually)
  8. “in what type of courses do you tend to earn the highest grades?” (not mine, pumpkin)
  9. “i swore to make my home work assignments my first priority” (believe it or not, 7 people found the blog with this search string — sounds like February regrets if ever I’ve heard them)
  10. “i got a doctorate am i a dr” (well, not that kind)

How did you meander over here, good reader?  Hilarious search term or something less entertaining?

the five stages of grading

Everyone is familiar with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her stage model of coping with grief popularly known as the five stages of grief. What you may not know is that Kübler-Ross actually developed her theory as a graduate student, basing her conception of the process of loss on the experiences one goes through over a grading weekend.

In coping with grading, it’s important for graduate students and young professors to know that they are not alone and that this process takes time.  Not everyone goes through every stage or processes the reality of grading in this order, but everyone experiences some version of at least two of these steps.

Denial.  At this stage, the instructor is unwilling to acknowledge the size of the task ahead of him or her. An instructor in denial may be heard to say things like, “It’s not really that many essays, when you think about it.” An instructor in denial will grossly overestimate his or her potential assignment-per-hour output. Denial at the syllabus-creation stage of course development can lead to tears. Denial can also manifest itself as avoidance, where grading is put aside in favour of vastly more important activities like cleaning the fridge, baking, working out, or writing elaborate blog posts about the stages of grading.

Anger.  Usually anger begins once the instructor starts grading.  The first few papers are likely to excite the grader, but as a steady stream of errors trickles in, the instructor may become disillusioned. Commonly heard at this stage: “But we covered this in class!  A lot!” “Wait, what does this even mean?” “Redundant!  This is redundant!” Instructors at this stage of the process are likely to have unnecessarily large reactions to relatively small frustrations; for example, in one case an instructor screamed into a pillow upon discovering that every student in the class was still using “they” as a singular pronoun.

Bargaining. This stage usually begins as an earnest attempt to buckle down and grade.  The instructor might say, “If I grade five papers, I can watch one episode of House,” or, “For every page I grade, I get to eat a piece of candy.”  This process starts well, but as the instructor progresses the amount of work required to achieve the reward generally becomes smaller and smaller, until the instructor is checking Facebook after every sentence he or she grades.

Depression. At some point in a marking weekend, the instructor will come to realize that in spite of his or her best intentions, the papers won’t be marked in time for the next class. For the idealistic young instructor, this is also usually the moment he or she realizes that the assignments themselves are not particularly strong.  These realizations can lead to feelings of failure, spiralling into reality TV watchathons or video game blitzes instead of grading.  Ultimately, though, recognizing one’s limitations is a healthy part of the process that leads directly to the final stage.

Acceptance/Resignation. At some point, the instructor comes to term with the reality that the papers must be graded. This reality is usually acknowledged the afternoon before the instructor wishes to return the papers, leading to an all-night grading blitz. At some point and by some miracle, however, it all gets done, and the instructor is primed and ready to start to the process over again when the next major assignment comes in.

This blog post brought to you from somewhere under a pile of essays.

top ten things i say to my cats that make me feel crazy

10. What did I just say to you?
9. Are you listening to me?
8. I will bake you in a pie, so help me.
7. Didn’t we talk about this?!
6. We’ve been over this time and time again.
5. No. No. No. No. No. No. Fine.
4. Don’t make me come over there and tell you again.
3. I mean it this time.
2. Stop doing everything!
1. I’m totally more than a food and cuddle vending machine to you, right?