Leaving on a Jet Plane

Well, I wish it were a jet plane, but I fear it may be a propeller plane for at least the first part of my travels to MLA 2011 in Los Angeles.

I’m done complaining about the date change (and yes, I know not everyone is complaining, but at least some others concur) and I’m ready to leave the icy chill of winter and experience the relative warmth of L.A.

Instead of an MLA blog this year, you can follow along with what’s happening via Tweets. And no, you don’t have to enter the Twitter world to follow. Just go to the MLA home page  or to the #MLA11 Daily  to see what’s happening at least amongst the Twitter elite.

Or just read Inside Higher Ed. Or the Chronicle. Though I’ll be curious to see if the change of dates means less media converage: the MLA is no longer going to provide titillating humor for a slow news week not that the world is back on schedule post holiday.

Since I’ll be missing classes while gallivanting in LA, I’ll probably use my free time to say many Hail Mary’s, bury myself in the prep and committee work I would be doing if I were staying home, and attending as many sessions as possible to justify to all my colleagues why I must miss the first week of classes.

Besides, it seems a cab to the beach costs $57.00 and a bus ride can take several hours for the 15 mile trip.

Instead, I believe there are some Starbucks near the Evil Hotel That Still Charges A Ridiculous Price for Wi-Fi, in which I can nurse my non fat chai latte for as long as it takes.

And while I may not be blogging the MLA this year (well, unless I hear/see something really juicy), I certainly will attend all those social media sessions that seem to have taken over the MLA Program Committee this year (you can see a non password protected program here). I’m so looking forward to meeting Roxie’s Typist!


Deconstructing A Calendar Change

It’s a big deal, this change from late December to early January.

Not that you’d think it was a big deal if you read  this article, which, while fun to read,  is more of a tongue in cheek series of quips about the biggest change to happen within the MLA since, well, ever.

The annual convention is now held during the first week of January, rather than right after Christmas. This is a fabulous change for the vast majority of MLAers who, on a traditional semester system have most of the month of January off anyway; however, for those of us on the quarter  or early starting semester systems, the convention happens during the first week of classes. 

The article quotes one person, a graduate student, as dismissing this as a minor inconvenience:  “the first week is probably the best week to have to attend a major academic conference.”

Well, perhaps that’s true if you are a graduate student and perhaps your professor cancels the class because she, too, is at the MLA, but if you are the professor? And if you are a non tenure track professor working quarter by quarter at the will of the college that pays you?

I’ve arranged for experienced instructors to sub for me during the classes I will miss, but I still will have to deal with the fallout of missing the second day of classes for three sections.  The first week of the term is when we are required to take attendance, drop non attendees,then  deal with the wait list of students who want to add the class: administratively, the first week is a mess. The colleagues subbing for me know how to deal with the pressure we get from students during week one, and they are not at all looking forward to dealing with MY student pressures, as much as they care for me. 

Then there is the need to establish a tone for the class, create a class “culture”: this is what happens during that very important first week, especially when the term is only 10 weeks long. 

And about those 10 short weeks (not including Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, and the inevitable snow day): in a composition class, and I have three winter quarter, I need to get students started on the work that leads up to their first major assignment, the challenging rhetorical analysis, argument evaluation essay.  Because I did not want to make my subs lecture, I’ve created an in class group assignment that at least moves students in the direction of analyzing and evaluating an article they will read for day 2: the subs will facilitate (in some ways much more exhausting than lecturing). 

Now at my college, getting a sub requires begging other full time colleagues in my department (and the sub needs to be someone who has the credentials to “teach” the class) to sub for me with bribes of wine, cookies or return subbing. Sometimes, especially when I teach at a prime time, getting a sub within my department is impossible and I just cancel the class (something I simply cannot do during week one). 

But, I still get paid.  

For part time and adjunct faculty, missing classes means missing the pay check. And, unless they can get a full timer to sub for them, that’s what happens because if a part timer subs for anyone, that part time is required to be paid by the department, which, of course, is not encouraged, especially in a department that is usually overbudget by November.

This has led to a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” system where we sub for each other under the radar.  It has been working, but for those off the tenure track, it’s a risk. 

Should my college make allowances so that part timers/adjuncts/all faculty can attend the national convention of our discipline as part of our professional improvement? Well, that would be nice. But, there are other conferences we can attend, conferences that do not happen during the first week of a quarter: it’s difficult to argue that attendance at THIS particular convention is vitally important. 

But, you ask, what about those faculty members, TT or NTT, with job interviews at the MLA?

Oh, that’s right, there aren’t any.

There are other changes that I’m all for: sessions at the annual convention this year will now end by 6:30, allowing us all more time to get inebriated, and, presumably, more time to change the stereotype of MLAers as more interested in scotch drinking than sexcapading.

So there’s that.