Thursday, April 26, 2012

Animals dissapointed in your college performance

I'm really likin' this

Probably not your wisest move...

Edited version:

Hi PUIProf first name only misspelled,

Could you pretty please be easy on me in the grading of the last parts of my work. I really want to get into a selective program, and I am borderline with an overall GPA of 2.7. I really, really need a C in your class, so please consider that and grade my stuff easy. Thanks and have a great summer!

What I wanted to say:

1. I'm sure that I have made some boneheaded moves
 in my life like this, so I can understand where you are coming from.

2. I know its a small school, but not that kind of "small"

3. Do you realize that I am seriously considering forwarding this e-mail to your advisor?

4. You did not make the maximum effort. You were late, you texted, you came unprepared, you copied your labs from your friends. You disrupted my lecture by chattering in the back with your friends. The only reason you are this close is because my Work Study/ TA is a more gentle grader than I am.

5. If you do get into [selective program], there's a possibility you might take care of my kids some day, so I guard the rigor of that process.

What I did say:

So glad to hear you got a better grade (70ish) on the MC portion of the
final exam! You earned it and you should be proud of it.

As far as the outstanding grades go, the other students (that have now had
me for I and II) will probably tell you that I am VERY concerned with
fairness and equity. So I can't, in my heart of hearts, grade your work
any differently than anyone else's. Moreover, if I do grade your work
fairly, and you do well, then you would be far more proud of yourself and
gain more confidence than if I had given you a special break that no one
else had gotten.

I'm happy to hear that you availed yourself of the tutor, and were able to
rally your studying for this course. I only had the privilege of seeing
you once during my office hours, so that was a helpful resource you did not
avail yourself of. I also recall that you sat in the very back during
lectures. These mean to me that **even though you felt like  you were
putting forth the maximum effort, I believe you have even more capacity
than YOU think you do!** It's too bad that it has come down to so close at
the very last.

I can really empathize that these final grades seem to determine a lot for
you, but your overall GPA is borderline, so that means my class isn't the
only one determining your future. An analogy would be that one play by one
person never wins or loses a game. Are you asking all of your professors
for special treatment?

Stu, in my view what you are asking me to do is unethical, and I simply
can't do it. I try my best to keep your work anonymous as I grade it, so
if I am successful, then I couldn't pull it off anyway. So I will try to
grade the rest of your work the same way I do everyone else's, and let the
numbers determine your grade.

I really care that you succeed, but YOU have to do it all by yourself.
Best wishes!


Tips for New Faculty (4)

If you use an electronic testbank to make paper exams, be very careful about copying and pasting. Most HTML or even Word-based test banks are formatted in tables, and when you edit, it isn't WYSIWYG. You may spend a lot of time formatting your exams (or asking your office staff to). Not a good use of your time.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tips for New Faculty (3)

Time spent getting to know your LMS (learning management system) is well spent. You really DON'T want to be figuring out how your LMS aggregates grades during finals week. For example, We use Moodle. I have also used Blackboard and some others. Moodle has many choices for how it can add your grades: weighted average, non-weighted average, sum... etc. None of these are intuitive (really!). If you pick the wrong one, the students freak out because their grade appears lower than it should.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tips for New Faculty (2)

If you MUST make a multiple choice exam that doesn't have a scantron or bubble sheet associated with it, force the students to write their answers on a line to the left of the question. If you allow them to only circle the answer it slows down the hand grading process immensely.

Tips for New Faculty (1)

A random installation of things I would tell myself when I was new:

Don't agree to have an unscheduled study session with students too early before the exam. Unless it is within 1-2 days of the exam, they will not be prepared with questions, and it won't be a very productive use of your or their time.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Wanna see a video of me?

 How's this for an interesting service assignment? I was asked to be in the dunk tank for the annual Spring Fling. It was fun. And VERY cold. (And there was a line when I arrived, waiting for me...)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Chair talk-No changes, feel heard, tho.

Chair came in my office and said, we need to talk. I have to note that my chair is a very gentle, kind, level-headed, reasonable guy. He may be a teeny bit on the conflict- avoidant side, but really a person of integrity that I trust. Here's the jist of our convo:

Me: I'm totally losing it. [Then I summarize the precipitating events as I did to you in this post]. I. SIMPLY. CANNOT. IMAGINE. SIX. MORE. YEARS. OF. THIS.

He: [empathizes genuinely].

Me: Last year we sat in my office like this and I said I couldn't take another year like this. 4 weeks ago I told you I was in trouble. And yet, here we are. I don't know what to do. Serious responsibilities are being left neglected, and I'm deeply unhappy.

He: How long has this been a problem, was it like this 4 yea...

Me: No, It's the babies. It's being a single Mom. Before the kids, I was managing just fine because I could work long hours and work at home.

At this moment, a reasonable synapse returned to remind me that the "work load" -though tough- is not actually fatal, its the combination of the tough workload and the single Mom lifestyle my family chose.

Me again, ranting a bit: I also realized that I don't really have a "NO" problem because no one asks me to do things. They assign it to me. [I cite several examples, some small, some huge in which this has been the case]. And its stuff that's important and needs to be done, and in a lot of cases I really am the best/ most qualified person for it. But it adds up, and its too much!

At this moment another reasonable synapse comes back on line, and we both realize that all the assigning has been done by one senior colleague- lets call him Grand Old Colleague.

He: Do you want me to approach Grand Old Colleague?

Me: I think I've made it clear to him that I am distressed. I will talk to him directly at the right moment.

Now G.O.C. is a well-intentioned guy, efficient and successful. Part of his efficiency and success comes from his ability to delegate. And many, many of the tasks that are crushing me are of his delegation. I can't be angry with him, I just needed the realization of what was going on, and put my foot down peacefully and with confidence.

Me, again: I was hoping that you could protect me from some of this stuff!

He, without being defensive: Yeah. There are a few things we have done- have you been getting requests from admissions to meet with prospective students?

Me: Come to think of it, no.

He: Good. We asked them not to call you. But I also have to be fair in my treatment of everyone in the department.

Yes, he had a point. At that point I realized that he wasn't being passive, but concerned with equity. Anything I shed has to be picked up by someone else. And no one is coasting around here.

Me: But the administration has set a precedence of taking individual circumstances into account. I have seen the Provost excuse a young mother from extraneous service obligations so she could concentrate on a big project. I have seen the Dean tell the Intramural Scholarship Committee to cut some slack for a certain faculty member because of health reasons.

He [looks thoughtfully, doesn't respond]


He: Well, as far as your contract, it doesn't make any difference to the department if you get a one-year contract, or if you take the 6 year contract and then break it a year later. But as far as the administration is concerned, it would be much, much harder to get that long term contract back...

Me: What kind of a fool would refuse tenure?

He: [looks out the door toward his office] I have to take that call...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I told the Dean to send me a one-year contract.

A bit risky politically, Meant more as a cry for help. But I mean it and will follow through. I can't take six more years of this. Would you refuse tenure if it meant you would be miserable for the rest of your life? OK, I'm being melodramatic- my kids won't be this hard to take care of for much longer- but we've all become stretched so thin that work-life balance is a joke.

Update: Mission accomplished. No longer feel ignored. Just talked with chair. Will talk with dean next week.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Flipping out.

Not figurative.

Yesterday was a presentation I had to do in front of the faculty, dean and provost presenting my "integration paper" (a hoop we had to jump through for tenure). I spent a half day (on a holiday) preparing for it. I had a carefully crafted PowerPoint, an activity, and written, rehearsed speech. I even dressed up a little. I figured that my Uni-wide colleagues would never see me teach, but they would see this. So I thought it was important.

I read it animatedly, got no response to my jokes, and light uninterested applause at the end.

Then the two others in my cohort got up. One ummed and ahhed and randomly picked read from a few highlighted paras from her paper. The next cohort-mate came in 10 minutes late, spent 5 minutes trying to log into the computer while everyone waited and admitted that he had completely forgotten about it. He shrugged off his faux pas by saying "Now I have tenure! There's nothing you can do about it!" Then he winged it for about 5 minutes and concluded by saying, "Welp, guess we are out of time".

While this should have made me proud that I had a good showing compared to my peers, I was angry, embarrassed and felt foolish. My cohort-mates are successful in their jobs. I, on the other hand, am struggling and letting balls drop all over the place. AND ENTIRELY MISERABLE. Why? BECAUSE APPARENTLY I DON'T BLOW OFF THE RIGHT STUFF.

This sent me into such a bad state that I lost my struggle to stay afloat. I cried all night last night and cried when I woke up this morning. I called Hub crying to tell him how badly I felt.

I was able to shake it off, came into work and checked my email. In it were the following demands:

You're late with arranging faculty congress elections. You need to get on it now.
Take a survey on the colleague review process (delete)
Take a survey on the promotion review process (delete)
Which video should we show in class? I'm in charge, but you're the actual expert.
Hey Prof, can you add another upload slot on the LMS?
You need to get me a summary paragraph for your summer school class NOW.
Change the deadline on the online quiz.
Order your textbooks today for next fall or your students won't get used copies.
Can you do the work of the work study students tomorrow? They will be on a field trip.
and then
(stopped in hall) How many specimens do we need to order? I have to do it today.
(drop in student) I'm going to drop out of school.

Now if you check my schedule for today, you will see that I have about 1.5 hours free. The problem is-it's the same everyday. It hasn't changed, even since I've been asking for help and telling my chair that I'm not doing well.

So I just flipped on out.

I cried in my office for an hour before class and splashed my face and went in to teach. I made it through my lecture and came back to cry for another hour. I cried to Hub on the phone and explained to him all the things I had been demanded of, and cried some more.

Then Hub called my chair and told him that this was entirely unsustainable, and that I would not renew my contract if things did not get better quicker. He e-mailed my colleague and told her to decide on her own what video to choose. He e-mailed my old best friend in Costa Rica who called today (which caused me to start to cry again, after I had temporarily stopped).

I have gone past my breaking point. I really want to quit- as in walk away right now.

I am angry that no one was listening the whole time I kept saying, that's too much for me, I can't (but its only a little simple thing!). I'm angry that the provost excused another mother of young kids from duty on one of the committees *I* chair becuase she had a big service commitment. I'm angry that when I tell my so-called friends how hard it is for me that they engage in one-ups-man-ship in which they are clearly better off (e.g. this Mom has a live-in au pair: [The cost of pottery class tonight: only 25 minutes with my kids after work, 15 minutes with my husband after class, and now 1.5 more hours of charting left over.])

It was so nice to hear my old, dear best friend remind me that I AM a happy, optimistic, and damned tenacious person. So I know things have reached their limit because now I'm the type of person who will tell strangers my troubles at a bus stop. I'm pathetic, and miserable and very, very close to tearing up this six-year contract.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Just in case you thought I was exaggerating

This is a screen shot of my Google calendar for a TYPICAL week of work. There is a reoccurring event from 5-7 which I have blocked off for picking up and feeding my kids. The rest are honest-to-God contact hours or committee meetings (on weekends church and the gym, and I see a kid-related event Saturday).

This certainly approaches the workload requested by this article. And I can assure you, I am not doing a good enough job with this many contact hours.

This is overloaded according to our typical schedule- by probably 4-5 contact hours.

Next semester I am going 3/4 time, financial consequences be damned.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Foreign Exchange Student Reports.

I may have mentioned that we took on a foreign exchange student. She has been a lovely person, does her chore (dish washing) unfailingly, is available in advance for babysitting, is fun, and loves to play with the kids.

She is however, adventuresome and therefore home very little during waking hours. One week we saw her for 45 seconds, I exaggerate not. That week I really laid down the law that we expect her to be a part of the family, and we wanted to be more than a bed and source of water for her. We came upon a compromise that she would arrange to be home ONE night per week for dinner. Its been that way for about 6 weeks. Everyone seemed happy. Is workin' great from our end...

Since that time, I've been contacted repeatedly and urgently by her supervisor and heads of her program. Even though they say its just routine, requests like insisting that every interaction with them is written and the urgency of me filling out "reports" is weirding me out. Moreover, the "reports" that I must fill out are very pedantic in nature, asking me how I've grown personally from this experience, etc. I'm totally turned off by the program's requirements and am suspicious of what "liability" they are protecting themselves from. Either that, or the whole thing is a goofy, unthinking bureaucracy. And why so urgent that you would insist that I drop what I am doing to fill out your form?

What do you think is going on here? To me it sounds as if everyone has the impression that the situation has failed? Am I over reacting? I asked Stu directly, and she genuinely replied that everything is OK from her end.

Here's a letter:________________________

In communication with Supervisor, I understand that you are having some difficulty in setting up a time to meet together with her and Coordinator. Because I know you are very busy, I thought I might chime in and ask you a few questions to learn more about how things have gone and continue to go from your perspective as you host Studentette.

Based on some of the previous communications we've shared, I recall hearing from both you and Stu at different times and am aware that while there have been some high points in the year there have also been some very difficult times between you and that you've had some pretty intense discussions.

-What more can you share about some of the difficulties you've experienced as you relate to Stu?

-What have been some of the greatest challenges you've experienced this year relating to Stu? Ongoing challenges?

-What are/were your expectations for this hosting situation? Un-met expectations?

-What did you wish you had known going into this experience? How can/could we have done a better job supporting you as Administration and the partner organization?

-What have you learned as result of this experience?

-Are you happy with the current hosting arrangement of having Stu living in your home?

I trust that you know that we value hearing from you, Prof, as we want the best for everyone involved in the program; host, partner organization, Student. Kindly take some time to think about these questions and let us know your thoughts. [I expect this to be returned on Monday.]

ADDED NOTE: Have talked with coordinator. Student FAR UNHAPPIER that she let on, or there is a major drama-amplification process from our home to the program office. In any case, I thought all was good, but alas, apparently not. I really don't like drama, besides the stuff I create in my blog ;)