Thursday, February 26, 2009

More highs and lows of teaching...well, all lows this time...

I am still fighting the urge to throw certain students out the window. Just some highlights from class this morning:

1) Two students (maybe roommates, definitely good friends) enter class 25 minutes late on the day we have set aside for a peer-review workshop. "Ladies, you are 25 minutes late. What's going on?" I ask.

"My printer wouldn't work," one explains.

"What about all the other printers on campus?"

"Well, I got mine to work eventually."

So that makes it okay to be 25 minutes late and disrupt the students who are already hard at work? And it's better to spend 25 minutes getting a printer to work than pay the $1.00 or so to print in a lab and show up on time?


Oh--and why does Student 1's broken printer make it okay for Student 2 to be late? Sorry, but back when I was in college, I'd have told my roommate, " keep playing with that printer if you want, but I am going to get to class on time."

2) Student who hasn't handed in anything this semester except a D- paper is well on his way to doing even worse on this second paper. He emails me before class "begging" for an extension, since he didn't have time to get a draft done for today because (of course) there was a family crisis. I email him back and explain that he needs to bring whatever he has with him to class and he should be okay. After all, what's due today isn't a final copy, just a draft for workshopping.

He shows up 20 minutes late. With nothing. Nothing.

I ask him, "Where's your paper?"

"Didn't you get my email?" he asks, as if the fact that he emailed me is enough to excuse him.

"Yes, I did. I told you to bring what you have. Do you have anything?"

"Just the article and some notes," he answers. (So nothing that can be workshopped.)

"Why are you even here?" I ask.

"Well, I figured I should at least show up." Normally, I'd respect that, but on a day where we are workshopping drafts and you have nothing? And you are already 20 minutes late? Come on.

3) Later, I am answering a question from one student and another one, sitting right next to him, let's out one of these loud, obnoxious sneezes. (Come on, you know he doesn't have to be that loud.) And then--here's the important part--he holds out his hand to examine what he's just sneezed into it. Like it's some work of art or data to be analyzed. Doesn't even try to hide it. I wonder how his peers felt as he worked on their essays with that same set of hands.

4) After class, the student from #2 above is on his way out of the room. I decide to make a valiant effort to convince him that he needs to pull it together for this assignment. "Can you at least tell me what article you are analyzing so I can give you some pointers?" (This was something he was supposed to get approved weeks ago.) "Ummm...well, I'll probably do something about 'The Lottery.'"

Did you catch that, folks? After saying earlier that all he had was the article and some notes, he is now admitting that he doesn't even have that.

"So before," I asked him, "When you said you had an article and were lying to me?"

"Uh, yeah."

"Why? You do realize that's a violation of the Conduct Code, right? Lying to an instructor?"

"Well," he says--and I am not making this up--"it was a strategic move to avoid your wrath."

I wanted to say to him, "Kid, you don't even know what wrath is yet," but instead I just told him to shape up. If he wants to fail, I'll gladly fail him. That's what these kids don't get: I can't afford to take any of this too personally--I don't have the time or energy to fight you if you are failing because of your laziness.

I won't end on a bad note, though, because my afternoon class was awesome. They are like night and day.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Arrested Development Movie... happening. This almost immediately puts me in a better mood.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Adventures in Grading: The "Am I Getting Really Old or Are They Just Completely Out of Touch with the Classics?" Edition

I just read this comment that one student made to another on a peer review sheet that made me drop my pen. So, the paper is an analysis of an article about "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" (a short story by Joyce Carol Oates) that argues for a connection between Arnold Friend (the story's "bad guy") and Bob Dylan. It's a heck of an article and the student who is writing about it did a great job summarizing the main argument. All good, right?

The peer-reviewer's suggestion to the writer: "Maybe explain who Dylan is because I have no idea who he is."

Did that just kill you a little bit on the inside? It's bad enough that they don't get references to movies like The Breakfast Club, but this strikes me as much more disturbing.

Side note: Today while I was teaching my ENGL 312 class, someone on the floor below was playing The Eurythmic's "Sweet Dreams" quite loudly. I have no idea why. The students in my class recognized the song. English majors, I have found, are generally much more conversant in pop culture references than other majors.

Anyway, I mentioned that that song creeped me out when I was a little kid and it first came out. (Seriously--I have very clear memories of my siblings playing it at night when I was in bed--they had later bed times, of course--and finding myself terrified by the line "Some of them want to abuse you.") Then I realized that most of them weren't even born then. After class, I looked it up and sure enough, the song came out in 1983. Most of this year's freshman class was born in/around 1990. Ugh.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Missing Greensboro...

Believe it or not, this cool new commercial for UNCG has made me feel a bit homesick and nostalgic. (I like the video, although I think they should slow it down a bit.)

Two of the most important decisions I ever made in my life--where to go to college and where to go to grad school--were made for entirely economic reasons (I went where I got the most money) because I wasn't willing or able to do any deep thinking about what the "right" choice should be. I just stumbled into both choices.

I don't consider myself an extraordinarily lucky person, but in both cases, I lucked out beyond measure. I couldn't have made better choices if I tried.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dollhouse Premiere

Despite my enthusiasm for the show, for a bunch of reasons (including that nasty cold I mentioned below and a couple of very busy days), I actually only got around to watching the premiere of Dollhouse tonight. If you've heard any early buzz/reviews, you probably know that they've been mixed at best. And I've gotta say, if this show didn't feature the name Joss Whedon and some of his best cronies, I'd be a lot less eager to tune in for episode two. (The buzz on episode two, by the way, is that it is much stronger.)

With that said, here are some of my initial thoughts and reactions, some good, some bad, and some neither:

1) I will love Eliza Dushku forever for her amazing portrayal of Faith on Buffy and Angel. However, she isn't that great of an actress beyond that role (and I say this having watched all of Tru Calling, and trying to deny that she wasn't very good in it, either). The scenes where Eliza (as Echo) is "blank" (that is, not in a role she has been programmed to play) are especially painful to watch. Let's hope she improves or they start focusing more on the other Actives.

2) Topher is annoying. Is he supposed to be funny? This show's Xander? I don't see it. Plus, it's hard to like the guy who wipes the memories of these women (a process that looks painful).

3) Some of the standard-pilot-exposition/introduction-to-the-show's-mythology was especially clunky. Again, this sort of exposition dumping is kind of inevitable in a pilot episode, but I think Joss is capable of more. One egregious example: When asked if the procedure Echo just underwent was successful, Topher answers, "Why don't you ask Echo? Oh, right. You can't. Because she doesn't remember!" (or something like that). We get it--the procedure was a memory dump, but again, messy execution.

4) How awesome to see Amy Acker! Why is she only a guest star? Why can't she be a series regular?

5) Despite the criticisms above, there was plenty of vintage Joss to be found in this episode. I thought the exchange between Boyd and Echo when she (or was it Eleanor Penn?) remembers her own kidnapping was especially moving. The whole "you can't fight a ghost" theme is well...haunting.

6) I also loved when "Eleanor" is talking to Gabriel, the client, and relates her memory of being kidnapped. (And again--how can it be her memory if "Eleanor" doesn't really exist?) Gabriel, full of concern for his own child, mentions "the terrible memories these men put in your head" and asks "Why would they do that?" A great line with layers of meaning and ambiguity.

7) About halfway through, I really began to appreciate how different this show is from Buffy, Angel, or Firefly just in terms of setting. After all, Dollhouse takes place in a fairly realistic world (albeit one with advanced and improbable technology). No monsters, vampires, or futuristic space travel. That's strange for a Whedon show--and might take awhile to get used to. Not a complaint--just an observation.

7) How great was it to see the "Grr! Argh!" logo on TV again?

So that's all for now except for one final observation: early in the episode, Echo discusses the phrase "blank slate." "You ever try to clean an actual slate?" she asks. "You always see what was on it before." I wonder if Whedon fans see Dollhouse this way. It's a whole new show from our beloved Joss, but we can't help but mention it to what came before and are disappointed when lightening doesn't immediately appear to strike again.

P.S. Maybe all of this doesn't matter if, as indicated here, Joss is done with TV.

Obama's Elf

This made me laugh--probably way more than it should have. I blame this nasty head cold (which has fried my brain a bit) and 75 minutes with an uncooperative class (which also fried said brain). And it's only Tuesday...

Via Andrew Sullivan.

Monday, February 16, 2009

New Simpsons Opening Sequence

So I know lots of people have stopped watching The Simpsons and say it isn't funny anymore, but I still watch regularly and was actually kind of pleased by the new opening sequence. I like that is basically the same, but with some changes to reflect the show's history. Some of my favorite additions: Marge buying "Mr. Sparkle," "The Baby with the Eyebrow" (Maggie's nemesis), and the awesome cast of characters Bart skateboards past.

Monday, February 9, 2009

GRE Flashbacks...

So Michael Bérubé took the GRE subject test in English again, wrote about it, and posted his results. Brave man.

I remember taking this's a bitch to study for. Basically, you need to know everything about literature before you even start graduate school. I think I got in the 75% percentile--good enough, I suppose. I also remember learning two answers on the way to take the test, just from reading introductions in the Norton Anthology. That should give you some clue about this test...

By the way, I remember meeting Bérubé really briefly when he spoke at UNCG several years ago. He's a scarily intelligent wonder he scored in the 99% percentile.

Some more Whedon love...

A couple of Joss Whedon links:

1) Critical Studies in Television is beginning to collect some scholarly articles on Dr. Horrible. Oh for the time to really read these! And check out the way these folks are redefining scholarship--not just in terms of subject matter, but in terms of what
an article looks like (including youtube clips, etc.) Very exciting stuff.

2) Joss Whedon on NPR talking about Dollhouse. Other than the cringe-inducing headline (seriously--that's the best they could come up with?), it's a pretty decent read and gets me even more excited for Friday's premiere. Too bad I don't live close to Someday Phd anymore, as we could have a heck of a viewing party.

Friday, February 6, 2009

31 Dates in 31 Days

Some of you who are Roanoke grads and Facebook users are probably already aware of a blog that ought to be required reading: Tamara Duricka's 31 Dates in 31 Days. Tamara was one of my coolest classmates at Roanoke and it's been so much fun reading about her adventures on the dating scene in New York. And she was even on Good Morning America today! I wouldn't be surprised if this idea turns into a movie script.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The highs and lows of teaching...

The low: This morning, in my 9:35 ENGL 102 class, I aked a simple question: "How many of you remembered to bring two copies of the workshop sheet? You know, the workshop sheet? The one I emailed you as an attachment, along with specific instructions that said you needed to bring two copies today? The one I also posted on Sakai and on the class web page? The one it says you to bring two copies of on your syllabus?"

How many of my dear angels remembered? Of the nineteen who were there this morning, a grand total of eight had them. Four didn't even have drafts of their papers.

I was so mad. (And that's an understatement.) "Completely unacceptable!" I barked at them. I don't yell at my students a lot--I don't often have the need to. But when I do, they notice. And I did more than just yell--they'll be losing major points on their essays.

If I could have, I would have thrown the offenders out of the window one at a time. As it is, I am already dreading this weekend, as I make my way through their essays, many of which are sure to be crap.

The high: After I met with my afternoon section of ENGL 102, I was in a better mood. They all had their papers and only (!) five of them had forgotten the sheets. (Can you believe five out of twenty-five forgetting something--a full 20%--is a number that makes me feel better?)

Then, on my way back down to my office, I ran into one of my favorite students. She's in my ENGL 312 class this semester and had missed class the day before. "I was so upset about missing it!" she explained. "I love Nature!" (the Emerson text we discussed that day). "I was wickedly enjoying Emerson all weekend! Seriously--I am going to stop by your office just to talk about how awesome it is."

"Wickedly enjoying Emerson!" I love that.