Friday, August 31, 2007

Deep, Dramatic Sigh

There, pity party begun.

I have driven about 1000 - 1200 miles a week for the past two weeks, going on last minute interviews in the hopes that I would find eleventh hour employment for this year. Two hiring committees that were supposed to get in touch with me by the end of business Thursday have not done so. And both were love-fest situations, but one particularly was all "We WILL be in touch. We haven't met anyone like you. You're perfect. There are nice apartments you'll love just down the parkway. We can go shoe shopping together."


Anyway, it has been my experience that hiring people fail to get in touch with you when they said they would because they have no good news for you. So, it seems that with my fancy pants suit (some dude thought I was the opposing attorney t'other day) and my fancy pants educational debt ( though not attorney debt, which is good), I will most likely be spending the next few months doing something menial and sucky for menial and sucky pay.

So, this evening I ate a giant hot fudge sundae. Because I don't need my suit to fit anyway, damn it.

And that should conclude the pity party.

Except to note this: all this waiting helplessly by the phone for someone else to determine the course my life is going to take? That's why I don't do traditional dating.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Eight Random Things About Me

I'm fairly sure that 80% of this blog is "random things about me," but I've been meme-tagged by young Chris of Mixing Memory, and I'm a sport. So, here goes:

1. I have not been able to sleep with a door ajar in the room where I am sleeping since the seventh grade, when I read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Telltale Heart." In fact, I will wake from a sound sleep if my bedroom or closet door opens. However, I can sleep very well in the living room, which has no doors at all -- just archways to other rooms.

2. I had my first HIV test before my first lover, and still have had more HIV tests than lovers, despite never having used intravenous drugs.

3. The first card in the Rorschach test...the one everyone thinks looks like a butterfly? I always see happy little poodles dancing together first, then a butterfly. But I only work to see the butterfly because I don't want to admit to dancing poodles. There's probably a pill for dancing poodles.

4. Speaking of neuroses, I have adopted a nuerosis from every job I have ever held -- even if I hated the job. Here, I'll prove it.
Babysitting -- I don't have pets and I don't have kids, but nothing with an edge smaller than a dollar coin or made of glass or containing poisons of any kind can be under four feet from the floor in my house or I start getting twitchy.
Clothing store -- all clothes in my closet face the same direction, and all hangers must be at uniform level, and at relatively uniform distances. Those pants hangers make me mad, because they ruin the uniform hanger-shaped line the rest of the closet has.
Nursing -- hospital corners all the way, baby, and I make those while facing away from the head of the bed because I was in nursing for a long time and also brought "proper body mechanics" needs away with me, too.
Undergrad student and Tutoring -- I schedule my time on a color-coded spread sheet, and put my paperwork for tasks to be accomplished in three-hole color-coded folders, that are all in a big white binder with both photos and text on the inserts at the spine and front to tell me which binder I'm dealing with.
Graduate student and TA -- I keep detailed records of all communications with teachers and students for at least a full calendar year. Why? Dunno, I might need them.
Teaching -- ditto all the teaching stuff above, and add a new reluctance to be seen in public while wearing denim.

5. My favorite lines from any song, ever, are "Er war ein Superstar. Er war so populaer. Er war so exaltiert, because er hatte flair." (Rock Me Amadeus) Dude fixed a rhyming problem by going pidgin!

6. I can reproduce the sounds of a new language well enough in a short period of time that natives will believe I can converse with them long before I even know what I'm saying. Another glitch to this ability to "sing back" words is that I have learned what I know of Spanish from various sources, so that new (to me) native Spanish speakers , upon hearing me speak a sentence start laughing and saying that was the fastest tour of South America they've ever been on.

7. This language ability was not always the case. On the Saturday before the Easter when I was three years old, I informed my eldest brother that I would not accept any syllogism in which the conclusion was "Therefore, the rabbit brings you brightly colored eggs." In my phoneme-challenged 3 year-old language, arms akimbo as they so often were back then ( I have pictures), it went something like this: " No, Gank! No Llabbits gonna bwing me no yeggs! Why the llabbit bwings yeggs cause somebunny dieds an I falld asweep?" I also thought the last four letters of the alphabet were: double-me, x, y, and z. I was adorable.

8. I look like somebody famous in England, but only there, and I don't know who she is. I do know that I get people of both sexes and many ages rushing up to gaze at me in London, and I've seen a couple of the London tall guys almost kill themselves straining to see me. Now, whenever I go to England, I feel responsible for her reputation -- whoever she is -- and make an extra effort to dress and behave well.

Monday, August 27, 2007

My Teaching Philosophy: Trial by Ordeal Edition

The infamous professor whom I use on this blog and in my life as a sort of anecdote farm to illustrate Very Bad Things also had some admirable ideas that I have adopted in my teaching: he always admitted when he didn't know the answers to our questions, and he at least stated that a student's thoughts/beliefs/opinions were always welcome in his classroom, no matter how offensive. That second part was absolute nonsense of course, he wanted to be free to be as abusive as possible to his students, particularly those in simultaneous possession of vaginas and thoughts, and felt that a "truly free academic environment" would best serve his needs. But, theoretically, an open forum -- nobody gets punished for thinking in my class -- approach is a good thing. (And here I thought that the only things I brought with me out of that department were a two-year refusal to take any course in which the instructor of record was a male of any professed political stripe, and a much clearer understanding of my mother's anger.)

Because it's harder for me to see that which is admirable in a person I find loathsome, I have concluded that being honest about the limits of one's knowledge and encouraging free expression in one's classroom (albeit with a decidedly less venomous tilt) are probably as close to really good teaching ideas as I'm going to get, and so I have implemented those ideas in my teaching.

However, I have some problems Infamous Professor did not have, and so I have found over time that I have had to define the boundaries of the open forum a bit better. Yes, I am aware that adding boundaries to an open forum creates a closed, if broad, forum. I justify this choice by citing my duties as an educator to help all students expand their abilities.

Many students, when faced with an open discussion, fall into befuddled silence. This does not help them. A little structure allows them to feel safe enough to speak, and so I try to provide just enough structure to make a safe space.

Boundary #1: "You must say something that has some relevance to what we're doing/reading."

Others start spouting nonsense just for the joy of spouting nonsense, and refuse to defend their nonsense because "she said I could think whatever I want." This is also thoroughly unproductive, and very intellectually lazy. Why so many people think "free speech" means "unchallenged speech" is really beyond me.

Boundary #2 is "You have the right to say what you think. This does not include the right to silence all disagreement."

My students very often have opinions and ideologies that they have adopted, unexamined, from others whom they admire. That's normal for their stage of development, but is also something they need to start moving away from in order to take on adult roles in the world. I am a fact-based kind of person, and so I require that my students give me opinions based on something other than their general reading of the Zeitgeist in their neighborhoods, things they wish were true because that would totally support their specious arguments, and "my dad/friend/clergyman says." The arguments can stay, and even the Zeitgeist and appeals to local authority can stay in the arguments as long as they aren't alone, but false facts are not allowed.

Boundary #3 is "You are entitled to your own opinions. You are entitled to your own interpretations. You are not entitled to your own facts."

And finally, a problem that is the antithesis of Infamous Professor's design in adopting " a truly free academic environment;" my interpretation of a free exchange of ideas means that there is no bullying of any kind, so that all group members with ideas may feel free and safe to present those ideas to the group. Unfortunately, like Infamous Professor, there are a lot, like A LOT, of young people who harbor great quantities of causeless hatred in their withered little souls, and immediately upon hearing the phrase" free exchange of ideas" think "open season on the people I hate." While I acknowledge such ugliness does exist in the world, and even encourage students to discuss the uglier urges we may have as humans through my choices of literature, I cannot allow unfettered hate speech in my classroom. Even if it didn't offend me personally, and it does offend me, I have ethical and legal obligations as a teacher to make my academic space a safe space for all students, including and perhaps especially the students that others may target for hate.

Boundary #4 is "No bullying."

Students who are prone to hatefullness really resent boundary #4, because in their minds the only free space is a space where they are free to drive out those whose biological sex/ gender identification/ skin color/ religion/ political bent/ ethnicity/ tax bracket/ shoe choice they do not like.

That was a pretty long setup, I know. Bear with me.

This summer, my intensive literature course was "Introduction to American Literature" (Because I never ever ever get to teach something I would be really great at teaching. Never. It's against the law.). This class had the slightly narrower theme of "the creation of the Other in American Literature," because it was a summer class and I needed one theme that I could hop all over American Literature with, but mostly because once you've read The Wanderer and The Wife's Lament, and royal Vitae (Alfred, Charlemagne) and anything by Gerald of Wales, you start seeing the creation of "the Other" everywhere. And then you read Puritan sermons, and millenarian sermons, and Melville's Metaphysics of Indian-Hating, featuring an indian-hater par excellence, which is almost exactly in Saint's Life format, and some later stuff too, and lo! there are socially-constructed Others there as well. And then you sift through all the witches and demons and brown people and communists and weirdos and poor people and they start to look a lot like those filthy Saxons and Vikings and Welsh and peasants and witches and demons that you've seen before.

Long Story which I typed in but Blogger lost on me -- I had a Holocaust Denier in my class. Unlike 99% of my students, all of whom came into the class with some horrifying assumptions about life and people, he did not rethink his opinion when presented with corrected facts ( like pictures of Auschwitz), but rather became more virulently hateful. Boundaries 3 and 4 clashed with each other, and true facts plus his logic made him more of a bully than ever, and I had to choose the least destructive route, which was to make school safe for most of my students, and stop calling on the one.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

What Things May Come

The teaching of intensive courses this summer has left me with many and varied experiences to discuss with you, and also with the conviction that I should be kind enough to those who take the time to read my humble blog to occasionally do some organization -n- stuff. (I can almost guarantee you I will continue to run off on tangents, since tangents are my favorite vacation spot.)

In the meantime, news that totally excites me:

My very favorite contemporary poet has a blog, and I found it, and she posts poetry on it, and yay!

Lorna Dee Cervantes

Go check it out!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

2 Weeks, No Sleep. However ...

Also, my supervisor bounced some students I was having trouble controlling (because 18-20 is WAY too young to know how to behave appropriately in a classroom setting). Which has made one of my classes go from abject hell to pretty decent. This is nice for me, and very nice for the students who really want to learn something. Though there are circling parents and their lawyers, because the five other adults who came in to observe/give me pointers in dealing with total boneheads were colluding with me against these poor, innocent students.