Finals Week Funny

So this student walks into the final yesterday and immediately launches into a story about how the printer (you know, THE printer, the only one in the known universe) doesn’t work, so s/he can’t submit the final revision of the final essay the class has been working on for 3 weeks, due at that very moment. I let hir ramble for a bit, before asking, very politely mind you: “And you are?”

You see, this student is a familiar creature at colleges across the nation, and is particularly visible fall term, when newly hatched high school students who seemed to have been given passing grades for breathing enter our fair, open admissions, hallways and continue to use what must seem to them to be a very successful strategy:  Show up to class regularly at first, then begin to strategically miss those classes where the bigger assignments are due, and finally stop showing up at all for the last two weeks only to show up at the final with a fabulous tale of woe.  Then, when reality strikes in the form of the Angry Pissed Off Professor (A-POP), who says that, as per the syllabus, only students completing, and passing, ALL the major essay assignments can actually pass the course, whether or not they hand in the final essay, the creature responds with a look of total miscomprehension and surprise:

“But, I’m HERE for the final,” it says woefully.

 “Didn’t you check your grades, posted religiously online each week with an e-mail sent from me to you telling you that grades have been updated, and those students who are failing should consider dropping the course?” 

“Uh, no.” 

Of course not. 

And yes, I know, this really isn’t very funny at all.  I’m thinking she is a theatre major, and a damned good one, because that look of stunned surprise was just so real.

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Call for Blogs

This fall, I’ll be teaching an Introduction to Autobiography course, a course I pushed through curriculum last year after we did a year-long survey of students to find out classes might interest them.  Our thought was to add spice to our standard survey and introduction to literature offerings to take advantage of the increase in enrollment (and, not incidentally, get back the many students who were using Art History and Communication courses to fulfill their general education Humanities’ requirement). 

[In case you’re interested, the most requested course idea was The Bible as Literature, but the one faculty member in our department willing and able to teach such a course, put it off another year, understandably,  after a few over the top fundamentalist students acted out on campus last year (remember my colleague’s student who would bring a cross and rosary beads to class, praying with them as s/he lectured?) ]

So, autobiography.  It’s been a challenge creating this 10-week course for non-majors, since there is so much I want to do, but I don’t want to terrify them–I want them to enjoy the immersion in this contradictory genre. 

Here’s what I have planned, and yes, it’s ambitious:  After an initial discussion of exactly what autobiography IS, we’ll start with an historical overview and an introduction to some of the theoretical debates and different modes of the genre. Students will read excerpts from several historical autobiographies, two full-length childhood-centered contemporary memoirs, a graphic memoir (Persepolis and excerpts from Maus and Fun Home), and about a dozen excerpts from other contemporary memoirs on subjects ranging from addiction to religion (I know, a risk).  We’ll also spend time on other modes of autobiography such as audio/video, diaries and letters, and blogs. [One final project choice is, indeed, for students to keep a blog all term.]

Here’s where I hope you all come in.  I need me some blogs. Yes, I read dozens of blogs each week, all neatly alphabetized in my Google Reader, but they are all, you know, about academics.  I know that Roxie’s typist is having her students read her own blog for her course this fall on blogging (which I can’t wait to read about), but no, I won’t be offering up this particular blog for their reading pleasure. Besides, I want them to discover blogs that are personal (so not just politics or celebrity gossip) but also of interest to them.

Have any ideas for blogs that are autobiographical in nature and that might appeal to our non-traditional students, ages 16-65? Is there an index of sorts I could direct students to? Please let me know in the comments.

Kindle Update: My new chocolate Kindle cover has a paperback book inside it now since it looked so sad, so lonely.  Estimated delivery of the new Kindle itself  is now mid-late September.

Love Pray Eat

That’s right. I changed the order after reading Roger Ebert’s review the other day, a review that concludes like so:

The audience I joined was perhaps 80 percent female. I heard some sniffles and glimpsed some tears, and no wonder. “Eat Pray Love” is shameless wish-fulfillment, a Harlequin novel crossed with a mystic travelogue, and it mercifully reverses the life chronology of many people, which is Love Pray Eat.”

I haven’t seen the film, though I will, probably sometime next year on Netflix.  But I have read the book, twice. The first time I read it as a beach read when it came out in paperback in 2007 or so, mostly because of the Italy chapters (I was planning a trip to Italy), which I still like the best because of the descriptions of Rome, Venice and the yummy food (I, too, went on a quest for the perfect gelato, though if I ate as much as Gilbert ate, I, too, would have gained instead of lost weight. Yes, I lost weight in Italy–all that walking everywhere). 

The second time I read it was last week: I’m teaching a Memoir course this fall, and I’m anticipating at least a few students will ask me why I didn’t include Elizabeth Gilbert’s book on the syllabus.  (One student  already has emailed me about the book, interestingly.)

It reads better the second time, mostly because I’m already over the “she’s so full of herself” response that many readers have to the self she presents us (beautiful, talented woman with a book contract gets to travel the world and eventually meet Felipe, who seems to be a combination of the Old Spice Guy and Antonio Bandaras).

Or, maybe this time, just two weeks before I’m required on campus and the whirlwind of academic life begins again, I was just more willing to enjoy the ride.

I’ve spent  months reading dozens of autobiographies and memoirs in preparation for this class, and this one was one of the few (Under the Tuscan Sun comes close) that was such pure fantasy.   The Italian twins (one shy and scholarly; one more stereotypical Italian). The all-knowing yet still dripping in sarcasm Richard from Texas.  The Australian hotty who thinks e-mail is too impersonal. And, of course, Felipe, the Brazilian gem merchant who spends hours physically pleasuring our Elizabeth.  Add the lovingly detailed food of Italy, skim the Pray sections, pausing only when Richard’s name is mentioned, and leap to the sex in Bali and this is a great end-of-summer read.

In keeping with the romance/fantasy plot structure of the story (not that there’s anything wrong with that), our Elizabeth remains celibate for most of the book, with moments of sensual release through food in Italy, yoga and meditation in India, and finally, after months of such foreplay, including an aside on the sudden ineffectiveness of her usual masturbatory fantasies involving firemen or Bill Clinton, sex with our Antonio Bandaras/Old Spice man in Indonesia.

On NPR last week, I heard an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert where she discussed her new book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage*, and while her marriage to Felipe (aka Antonio) sounds sweet, she had no problem admitting that he is, on a daily basis, quite boringly consistent.   

I’m guessing few students will ask me to add that one to the reading list.

*Time magazine’s Mary Pols has an interesting comparative analysis between Gilbert’s and Julie Powell’s (of Julia and Julia) books on marriage, preferring the more self destructive Powell to the tedious Gilbert–Powell’s is called Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession).

Poems and Wishful Thinking

Tomorrow is Poets.org’s annual Poem in Your Pocket Day. The goal is to print copies of your favorite poem and give them out to random people you see tomorrow.

So, random people of the Blogosphere, here is the poem I shall share with you this year (last year, I just gave a list of my favorite poems, so I didn’t exactly follow the rules, but since this year seems to be the year of the annoying series of unfortunate events*, I’m going to follow the letter of the law this time–wishful thinker that I am:

“Washing the Elephant” by Barbara Ras (published in the New Yorker on March 15, 2010).

* And it’s working! As I was typing this very sentence two students came to see me and both thanked me for being such a good teacher! I’m positively glowing right now, can you tell?

On Writing

We who exist in the quarter system are only now crawling toward midterm of Spring quarter.  Students in my Comp II class have practically bled over their first essay, an argument analysis essay that both stretches and frustrates them.  My Comp III students are working on their Research Proposals and Annotated Bibliographies, recognizing with some horror that they probably should have been researching a little bit more intently than they have as of now. And my literature students have received their first essay grades: some are relieved that they figured out the whole analysis bit, while others are shocked that a 5 page summary isn’t acceptable (Note: Professor Zero has a thought provoking new post on this very subject: should we expect thesis based literary analysis essays from a gen ed lit class?  As I wade through plot summaries, his question gives me pause.)

While my students struggle with new genres and writing tasks, I struggle alongside them.  The third reference article I am working on this academic year has been neglected for weeks, I’m in edit mode on article #2, and I need to find a weekend to devote to both.  My college blog team is begging for a posting from me, the Gen Ed Outcomes group needs someone to draft a rubric for the next outcome to be addressed, and peer evaluation reports need to be written.

Blogging, naturally has suffered, though that hurts no one, at least.  Facebook has truly taken over some free time since the rewards are so instant and the social interactions so immediate; even Twitter, which I mocked so blithely only a few months ago, entices me more each day, and I’m finding some thrill in distilling ideas into 140 characters.   And now, ProfHacker has showed me a brand new way to spend time writing (750 words) each day with daily points awarded.

What’s a writer to do?

Literary Studies, Gen Ed Style

Since most of my teaching load consists of various levels of composition, when I do teach a literature class (at least once a quarter) it often feels like a treat, though since my lit classes are writing intensive a la Dr. Crazy’s, it’s certainly not less work. 

I usually teach the American Lit Survey class, where there are at least some potential English majors/teachers and many of the students have some practice in literary analysis.  But this term is quite different.  No English majors, and only a few of them have taken a literature course in college–almost all with me.  The rest vaguely recalled being asked to read some novels in high school—the names of which they couldn’t recall. Others read widely on their own, but they were just as unfamiliar with the terms “plot” and “setting” as the others. 

Most are non-Humanities majors: nursing, biology, criminal justice and psychology top the list. A few said they had no major yet but they might be interested in teaching Kindergarden someday.  One student has a B.S. but wants to do an M.A. in Education with a Language Arts focus and needs some literature classes now.  At least half of the students have not taken first year composition yet (thus my presentation “reviewing” essay writing is happening tonight), and 1/3 are unfamiliar with using computers (including accessing material in Blackboard). I gave a presentation on that after the first class, at 8pm after starting my work day at 8am (perhaps  not unlike THEIR days, I know).

So it’s a challenging class, not unusual at a communitycollege, but unlike most of the lit classes I’ve been teaching lately.

And perhaps that’s why this class has an odd vibe to it, one that has been keeping me up at night:

  • One student wrote on the first day in response to my question Why Do We Read Literature?: “We read literature because it is a dying art.”
  • Another student, a woman in her 50s, came up to me after class and told me that she has been in seclusion in her house for 5 years after her family was murdered, but her therapist convinced her to get out and try a college class. She chose mine because, you know, chatting about literature is so therapeutic and all.
  • After the first class, what seemed to be a lively lecture/discussion about literature, women writers, food fiction, etc etc., and then a brief overview of all of the writing assignments during the term, 10 students dropped the course by the next morning. However, 10 more added by noon the next day.  Community College students are generally under time constraints so they usually aren’t course “shoppers”–so yes, this was odd. It’s a night class, so I’m running on empty and caffeine, which basically means I’m quite hyper.  This works well with many students, who see hyperness as a form of passion and as somewhat entertaining.  For others, it’s probably scary.

Not everything is odd, however.  There are several students I know from last quarter, ones who are comfortable with me, and who have expressed that comfort by being active participants from the start.  At least 1/3 of the students are over 40, which adds immeasurably to class discussion. There are three men (out of 35) in the class, and they seem engaged. There is one late 50s woman who has a passion for romance novels (a la Nora Roberts) and wants to do her final project on her (and in this class, that works).  I’m relieved that many of them seem excited by the open final project (a paper and a poster session on a woman writer or on a food-related subject–with food, of course, at the final).

So despite the insomnia (I basically rewrote my lecture for tonight last night in my head between 3-4am), this class may prove to be  an exciting challenge, forcing me to grow.  That’s how I’m looking at it now, at noon, after my 3rd cup of tea.

Student (Mis)Behavior

ProfHacker has a beautifully timed posting today on Disruptive Student Behavior (*Too Much Skin Edition*).  We are given two scenarios (the peekaboo butt crack, and the 1970s style (is it back??) tube top/mini skirt look).

The question posted is: what would you do, if a bit too much skin seemed to disrupt the class?

Despite living in a climate that rarely allows for tube tops, I do, alas, get a the occasional butt cracks and a few women with cleavage that certainly begs to be showed off (in, say, Stars), but both instances are relatively rare, and not disruptive (at least, no notable disruption—I can’t speak for other types).

What I’ve noticed this week are other types of disruptions, and since it’s only week 1 of the term, this makes me a little nervous:

  • One student, who is named after a famous philosopher (not kidding: first and last name), sits in the front row of a small, 26 seat classroom, and alternatively sleeps/snores, or text messages with his hand between his legs in what can only be described as a very, very suggestive manner.
  • Another student stormed into the classroom late, and while I was in the midst of one of my riveting lectures, interrupted with a breathlessly told run-on story about his car troubles and how he hoped that unlike his other professors I would not stereotype him as the always late student because it was the ONLY time he has been late to class ever, etc etc. The other students merely stared at him in silence.   Once I got over my shock, it took me a while to ask him to please save his tale for after class.
  • One student stormed into my office this morning, visibly angry that I asked the class to print the first short story from Blackboard: she said she couldn’t afford to print the “book” and how could I ask her to do so?  (Meanwhile, she was carrying an iphone, and several very expensive textbooks, including the 3 novels for my class–so part of me did assume she may have felt overextended, but still…..).  When I told her the total cost of printing the story in the campus computer lab would be $3.0o and that I would gladly give her the money, she just stormed out without a word.

Of course, the first week hasn’t been entirely filled with misbehaviors.  My classes seemed engaged already, and eager to dive into the work of the term. My women writers’ class is crowded, but lively, and there are actually 3 men in the class this time around).

And good news: my application for the NEH Workshop was accepted, so I’ll get to be a “student” this summer myself: what sort of misbehavior do NEH participants do, I wonder?